Kabir’s Garland

A sandalwood bead necklace that belonged to the 15th century mystic poet Kabir, a gift from his guru Ramananda, was stolen from the Kabir monastery in Varanasi on November 30th. The necklace is considered priceless, but could fetch as much as $200,000 on the underworld market. Three Thai nationals were arrested Saturday in Varanasi. Police also detained a fourth man, a monk, who was a regular at the monastery. The necklace/prayer beads have not been recovered.

Hopefully the item will be found at some point. In the meantime, what a perfect opportunity to say a few words about Kabir and present some of his poetry.

Kabir (1440–1518) is revered as a saint in India. Very little is known about his life, however there are many legends surrounding it. According to these stories, Kabir was born to a Brahman widow who left him abandoned, and later he was adopted by a family of Muslims. Although he is considered somewhat of a holy man, he did not lead a particularly ascetic existence. He lived the life of a householder and made his living as a weaver. Evidently, he was illiterate, with no formal education. According to legend, he learned to write only one word his entire life: Rama. The seventh avatar of the God Vishnu in Hinduism. Rama is also said to be one of the last two words spoken by Gandhi as he lay dying from an assassins bullet.

Kabir believed in traditional Indian concepts such as karma, rebirth, and unfortunately, atman; however, he was not interested in sectarianism, rejecting the dogmas of both Hinduism and Islam. His work was influential on the Bhakti, a medieval movement similar to Sufism.

As I mentioned, Kabir was a mystic poet, and he stands among the great poets of the world. Rather than try to describe how beautiful his poetry is, perhaps it would be better to simple let you read for yourself. Another great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagor, whose phrase “the endless further” I took as the title for this blog, translated Kabir’s poetry into English. Here are some selections:

VI

The moon shines in my body, but my blind eyes cannot see it:
The moon is within me, and so is the sun.
The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me; but my deaf ears cannot hear it.

So long as man clamours 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.
For work has no other aim than the getting of knowledge:
When that comes, then work is put away.

The flower blooms for the fruit: when the fruit comes, the flower withers.
The musk is in the deer, but it seeks it not within itself: it wanders in quest of grass.

XVI

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.

XXIV

More than all else do I cherish at heart that love which makes me to live a limitless life in this world.
It is like the lotus, which lives in the water and blooms in the water: yet the water cannot touch its petals, they open beyond its reach.
It is like a wife, who enters the fire at the bidding of love. She burns and lets others grieve, yet never dishonours love.
This ocean of the world is hard to cross: its waters are very deep.
Kabîr says: “Listen to me, O Sadhu! few there are who have reached its end.”

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