FOR OVER FOUR CENTURIES there has survived in India a group of religious men and women called the Kabirpanthis – followers of the path of Kabir. They are quiet, truth-loving, nonviolent, unobtrusive house­ holders, somewhat like Quakers, refusing to recognize caste, seeing God in all men, seeing the same God behind all names of God. They are aspiring devotees of their great master, the fruit of his teaching. They are the molds into which the white-hot mystical love of Kabir was poured.

In the fifteenth century, Mohammedan invaders were ruling north India and trying to impose Islam upon the people. If reason and persuasion did not work to make converts, the Moslem rulers were not averse to using a ruthless, ferocious persecution. The Hindus lived in constant fear of the Moslem sword and resented the tax exemptions and other favors which the Mohammedans enjoyed. But, strangely enough, the Moslems disliked and distrusted the Hindus simply because of their philosophy of bhakti which turned out, in the face of all persecution, to be not only firm but contagious.

When Kabir was born in 1440, life was religiously intolerant and socially insecure. There was need for a powerful religious movement, a resurgence of faith to reassure the troubled hearts of men and remind them of tolerance and mutual respect. What kind of a giant could start such a movement? The answer: a gentle little Moslem householder, a weaver by trade, with a heart full of love for God.

This remarkable man began by proclaiming himself a child of both Rama and Allah. He said, “Hari is in the East, Allah is in the West. Look within your heart, for there you will find both Karim and Ram.” And surprisingly, in that bitterly divided society, he eventually was to be claimed by both Hindus and Moslems as their own. It is said that at his funeral, the Hindus wanted to bum the body, the Moslems to bury it. Then Kabir appeared to them in a vision and motioned them to lift the cover of the bier. When they did, they found not his body but a large mound of flowers, which they joyfully divided between them. This pleasant legend is not illogical. All the activity of Kabir’s life moved in the direction of compromise between the Hindu and Islamic faiths.

In spite of the attempt of Hindus of later times to ascribe a miraculous quality to his birth to explain away his Mohammedanism, it seems irrefutable that Kabir was born a Moslem, son of a weaver, and, from the Hindu point of view, a person of a low caste. But he was a bright child with spiritual hunger in his soul. And he had the good fortune to live in the holy city of Benares, a city whose atmosphere was charged with devotion. There was also a great influence at work in Benares- the Hindu Saint Ramananda was there, teaching with divine authority the way to union with God. The boy Kabir, wandering through the temple city in search of something to satisfy his heart, came finally, with the sure instinct of a true mystic, to the feet of that great teacher. How Ramananda’s clear message must have thundered in Kabir’s soul!

But to receive a mantram and instructions, to be the disciple of Ramananda, was not only difficult for Kabir but almost an impossibility. So great was the prejudice and rigidity of both faiths that even Ramananda, who preached the foolishness of caste, was unwilling to accept a Moslem as disciple. He turned the boy away many times. Then Kabir resorted to a trick. This is the classic story of his initiation.

Kabir knew where and at what time, before dawn, Ramananda was accustomed to bathe in the Ganges. One dark morning he went to the bathing ghat and lay down across the steps where the teacher would walk. When Ramananda, descending the steps, felt his foot on some­ one’s body, he was startled and exclaimed, “Rama! Rama!” Whereupon Kabir jumped to his feet and asked, “Master, may I say Rama, Rama?” Ramananda answered, “Yes, say Rama, Rama.” That Kabir actually did become the disciple of the great Hindu teacher is substantiated in one of his own poems in which he says, “I became suddenly revealed in Benares, and Ramananda illumined me.”

The same strong, one-pointed will is shown in Kabir’s whole life. He challenged the narrow traditions of both religions. He was not afraid to speak out against violence, against caste, purdah, sati, and formal rituals. He had no use for philosophers whose hearts, he said, were bricks with no place for a drop of love. “Reading and reading, they have become stone.” “Pandits have gone astray reading and studying the Vedas, because they do not know the secret of their own selves. I know that reading is good, but better than reading is meditation.”

Kabir disparaged the life of ascetic withdrawal and preached the honest, useful, devout life of the householder. “In the home is the true union, in the home is the enjoyment of life; why should I forsake my home and wander in the forest? The home helps to attain Him who is real. So stay where you are and all things shall come to you in time.” All his life he pursued his plain vocation of weaver, side by side with his holy mission. He made no pretense of being educated or literary, but his simple, warm, and loving songs penetrate the soul in a most affecting way. “Put thy cleverness away,” he says simply. “Love is something other than this.” Devotion is his keynote. “Open the gate with the key of love. By opening the door, thou shalt wake the Beloved.” The love of God wells endlessly from his heart. “From the beginning until the end of time, there is love between me and Thee; and how shall such love be extinguished?” Society is always shaken when God lets loose a great mystic in the world. And anyone who shakes the social structure makes enemies. Kabir made them on all sides.   The      Moslems            resented his conversion to Hinduism. He was unpopular with the brahmins because he was of low caste and a Moslem, and because he rejected their formal ceremonials. The ascetics despised him as a householder who insisted that asceticism was not necessary. The scholars looked down upon him and resented his outspoken rebukes of their dry scholarship. And the priests feared him because he called images dead things, temples unnecessary, and both the puranas and the Koran mere words.

The furor of the small people grew, and finally in the interests of peace, this man, who preached only harmony and brotherliness, was banished from his home in Benares. But God was his mainstay, God was his home. He had long since taken his own advice: “When you have found Him, give yourself to Him utterly.” In exile, with a small group of disciples, he continued to preach and sing the love of God for the remainder of his life. He died in 1518 in Maghar, not far from Benares.

More than five thousand stanzas are attributed to Kabir, many of them found in the Guru Granth, the basic scripture of the Sikhs. For, besides his own followers, the Kabirpanthis, the Sikhs are also Kabir’s spiritual descendants, and their scripture is largely stocked with texts drawn from his compositions. Evelyn Underhill describes his work as “love-poetry which is often written with a missionary intention.” This is true, but many of his poems are simply joyous outbursts in the spirit of “Behold how great is my good fortune! I have received the unending caress of my Beloved!”

There is no overlooking the fact, however, that for the aspirant in mysticism, Kabir’s poems are an invaluable help. There is a hint on every page. He says, “The man who is kind and who practices righteousness, who remains passive amidst the affairs of the world, who considers all creatures on earth as his own self, he attains the Immortal Being.” He says, “So long as man clamors for the I and the mine, his works are as naught. When all love of the I and the mine is dead, then the work of the Lord is done.”

Kabir gives a beautiful picture of the perfect teacher, “who teaches the simple way, other than rites or ceremonies, who does not make you close the door and hold the breath and renounce the world, who makes you perceive the Supreme Spirit wherever the mind attaches itself, who teaches you to be still in the midst of all activities.” And he, who was a perfect teacher, advises:

Know yourself, then, for He is within you from head to foot.

Sing with gladness, and keep your seat within your heart.

He did not make pilgrimages, he did not practice austerity or celibacy, he did not study. His one spiritual discipline was loving God with all his heart. He was not Hindu; he was not a Moslem; he belonged to both, and to all. In his ecstatic poems in praise of God, Kabir has left to us an exquisite mound of flowers to be divided infinitely among all, to instruct and comfort and inspire.

Nancy Pope Mayorga


Between the poles of the conscious and the unconscious, there has the mind made a swing:

Thereon hang all beings and all worlds, and that swing never ceases its sway.

Millions of beings are there: the sun and the moon in their courses are there:

Millions of ages pass, and the swing goes on.

All swing! the sky and the earth and the air and the water; and the Lord Himself taking form:

And the sight of this has made Kabir a servant.


My body and my mind are grieved for the want of Thee;

0 my Beloved! Come to my house.

When people say I am Thy bride, I am ashamed; for I have not touched Thy heart with my heart.


Then what is this love of mine? I have no taste for food, I have no sleep; my heart is ever restless within doors and without.

As water is to the thirsty, so is the lover to the bride.

Who is there that will carry my news to my Beloved?

Kabir is restless: he is dying for sight of Him.


0 Friend, awake and sleep no more!

The night is over and gone, would you lose your day also?

Others, who have wakened, have received jewels;

0 foolish woman! you have lost all whilst you slept. Your lover is wise, and you are foolish, 0 woman! You never prepared the bed of your husband:

0 mad one! you passed your time in silly play.

Your youth was passed in vain, for you did not know your Lord;

Wake, wake! See! your bed is empty: He left you in the night.

Kabir says: “Only she wakes, whose heart is pierced with the arrow of His music.


Where is the night, when the sun is shining? If it is night, then the sun withdraws its light.

Where knowledge is, can ignorance endure? If there be ignorance, then knowledge must die.

If there be lust, how can love be there? Where there is love, there is no lust.


Lay hold on your sword, and join in the fight, 0 my brother, so long as life lasts.

Strike off your enemy’s head, and there make an end of him quickly: then come, and bow your head at your King’s Durbar.

He who is brave, never forsakes the battle: he who flies from it is no true fighter.

In the field of this body a great war goes forward, against passion, anger, pride and greed:

It is in the kingdom of truth, contentment and purity, that this battle is raging; and the sword that rings forth most loudly is the sword of His Name.

Kabir says: “When a brave knight takes the field, a host of cowards is put to flight.

It is a hard fight and a weary one, this fight of the

truth-seeker: for the vow of the truth-seeker is more hard than that of the warrior, or of the widowed wife who would follow her husband.

For the warrior fights for a few hours, and the widow’s struggle with death is soon ended:

But the truth-seeker’s battle goes on day and night, as long as life lasts it never ceases.”


The lock of error shuts the gate, open it with the key of love:

Thus, by opening the door, thou shalt wake the Beloved.

Kabir says: “O brother! do not pass by such good fortune as this.”


0 friend! this body is His lyre; He tightens its strings and draws from it the melody of the Lord.


If the strings snap and the keys slacken, then to dust must this instrument of dust return:

Kabir says: “None but the Lord can evoke its melodies.”

He is dear to me indeed who can call back the wanderer to his home. In the home is the true union, in the home is enjoyment of life: why should I forsake my home and wander in the forest? If the Lord helps me to realize truth, verily I will find both bondage and deliverance at home.

He is dear to me indeed who has power to dive deep into the Lord; whose mind loses itself with ease in His contemplation.

He is dear to me who knows the Lord and can dwell on His supreme truth in meditation; and who can play the melody of the Infinite by uniting love and renunciation in life.

Kabir says: “The home is the abiding place; in the home is reality; the home helps to attain Him Who is real. So stay where you are, and all things shall come to you in time.”


0 Sadhu! The simple union is the best.

Since the day when I met with my Lord, there has been no end to the sport of our love.

I shut not my eyes, I close not my ears, I do not mortify my body;

I see with eyes open and smile, and behold His beauty everywhere:

I utter His name, and whatever I see, it reminds me of Him; whatever I do, it becomes His worship.


The rising and the setting are one to me; all contradictions are solved.

Wherever I go, I move round Him, All I achieve is His service:

When I lie down, I lie prostrate at His feet.


He is the only adorable one to me: I have none other.

My tongue has left off impure words, it sings His glory day and night:

Whether I rise or sit down, I can never forget Him; for the rhythm of His music beats in my ears.

Kabir says: “My heart is frenzied, and I disclose in my soul what is hidden. I am immersed in that one great bliss which transcends all pleasure and pain.”


There is nothing but water at the holy bathing places; and I know that they are useless, for I have bathed in them.

The images are all lifeless, they cannot speak; I know, for I have cried aloud to them.

The Purana and the Koran are mere words; lifting up the curtain, I have seen,

Kabir gives utterance to the words of experience; and he knows very well that all other things are untrue.


I have stilled my restless mind, and my heart is radiant: for in Thatness I have seen beyond That-ness, in company I have seen the Comrade Himself.

Living in bondage, I have set myself free: I have broken away from the clutch of narrowness.

Kabir says, “I have attained the unattainable, and my heart is colored with the color of love.”


That which you see is not: and for that which is, you have no words.

Unless you see, you believe not: what is told you you cannot accept.

He who is discerning knows by the word; and the ignorant stands gaping.

Some contemplate the Formless, and others meditate on form: but the wise man knows that the Lord is beyond both.

That beauty of His is not seen of the eye: that meter of His is not heard of the ear.

Kabir says: “He who has found both love and renunciation never descends to death.”


The flute of the Infinite is played without ceasing, and its sound is love:

When love renounces all limits, it reaches truth. How widely the fragrance spreads! It has no end,

nothing stands in its way.

The form of this melody is bright like a million suns: incomparably sounds the vina, the vina of the notes of truth.


Dear friend, I am eager to meet my Beloved! My youth has flowered, and the pain of separation from Him troubles my breast.

I am wandering yet in the alleys of knowledge without purpose, but I have received His news in these alleys of knowledge.


I have a letter from my Beloved: in this letter is an unutterable message, and now my fear of death is done away.

Kabir says: “O my loving friend! I have got for my gift the Deathless One.”


When I am parted from my Beloved, my heart is full of misery: I have no comfort in the day, I have no sleep in the night. To whom shall I tell my sorrow?

The night is dark; the hours slip by. Because my Lord is absent, I start up and tremble with fear.

Kabir says: “Listen, my friend! there is no other satisfaction, save in the encounter with the Beloved.”


He is the real Sadhu, who can reveal the form of the Formless to the vision of these eyes:

Who teaches the simple way of attaining Him, that is other than rites or ceremonies:

Who does not make you close the doors, and hold the breath, and renounce the world:

Who makes you perceive the Supreme Spirit wherever the mind attaches itself:

Who teaches you to be still in the midst of all your activities.

Ever immersed in bliss, having no fear in his mind, he keeps the spirit of union in the midst of all enjoyments.


The infinite dwelling of the Infinite Being is everywhere: in earth, water, sky, and air:


Firm as the thunderbolt, the seat of the seeker is established above the void.

He who is within is without: I see Him and none else.


0 man, if you do not know your own Lord, why are you so proud?

Put your cleverness away: mere words shall never unite you to Him.

Do not deceive yourself with the witness of the Scriptures:

Love is something other than this, and he who has sought it truly has found it.


When at last you are come to the ocean of happiness, do not go back thirsty.

Wake, foolish man! for Death stalks you. Here is pure water before you; drink it at every breath. Do not follow the mirage on foot, but thirst for the nectar;

The saints are drunk with love, their thirst is for love.

Kabir says: “Listen to me, brother! The nest of fear is broken.

Not for a moment have you come face to face with the world:

You are weaving your bondage of falsehood, your words are full of deception:

With the load of desires which you hold on your head, how can you be light?”

Kabir says: “Keep within you the truth, detachment, and love.”


If God be within the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?

If Ram be within the image which you find upon your pilgrimage, then who is there to know what happens without?

Harl is in the East: Allah is in the West. Look within your heart, for there you will find both Karim and Ram;

All the men and women of the world are His living forms.

Kabir is the child of Allah and of Ram: He is my Guru, He is my Pir.


The jewel is lost in the mud, and all are seeking for it;

Some look for it in the east, and some in the west; some in the water and some amongst stones.

But the servant Kabir has appraised it at its true value, and has wrapped it with care in the end of the mantle of his heart.


0 my heart! you have not known all the secrets of this city of love: in ignorance you came, and in ignorance you return.

0 my friend, what have you done with this life? You have taken on your head the burden heavy with stones, and who is to lighten it for you?

Your Friend stands on the other shore, but you never think in your mind how you may meet with Him:

The boat is broken, and yet you sit ever upon the bank; and thus you are beaten to no purpose by the waves.


The servant Kabir asks you to consider; who is there that shall befriend you at the last?

You are alone, you have no companion: you will suffer the consequences of your own deeds.


To whom shall I go to learn about my Beloved?

Kabir says: “As you never may find the forest if you ignore the tree, so He may never be found in abstractions.”


I am neither pious nor ungodly,

I live neither by law nor by sense, I am neither a speaker nor hearer, I am neither a servant nor master, I am neither bond nor free,

I am neither detached nor attached.

I am far from none: I am near to none. I shall go neither to hell nor to heaven.

I do all works; yet I am apart from all works.

Few comprehend my meaning; he who can comprehend it, he sits unmoved.

Kabir seeks neither to establish nor to destroy.



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