Friday, May 25, 2012

Kabir: The Snarky Ecstatic Saint Poet

Today's post is brought to you by the letter "K" in the Pagan blog project. :)

 Poetry plays a large part in my spiritual practice. Poetry is visceral. It is emotive. It connects us to our deeper selves, often bypassing the rational. The language of poetry reaches deeply into our being and our wild core. It taps into our sense of awe and connection. It challenges us to be fully present.

Poets seem to tap into universal truths and Mystery. This is especially true of poets whose inspiration is Mystery or the gods. Kabir is one of those poets. He is a 15th century mystic who lived in India. Although born to into a Muslim family, he became a student of the bhakti saint Ramananda. Like so many of us these days, Kabir lived in the real world, choosing not to live as an ascetic or guru which would have been customary for the time. Instead he married, had children, and earned his living as a weaver. He was also very irreverent and outspoken. I call him the snarky saint of India.

Philosophically, Kabir was a nirguna bhakti mystic, meaning that he believed that God could not be named, conceptualized or understood. That mystery is beyond our rational understanding. Instead God can be found in the ecstasy of life and living. He was suspicious of religious institutions and doctrines. God is not found in forms. God is found within and in those easy moments where we everything seems to flow with great connection.

It's not difficult to see why I am drawn to his poetry, and how it resonates with my own spiritual practice as an ecstatic witch.

Here are some poems. They are often short, more like meditations. None of the poems have names, so I've just used the first line of the poem as  it's name. The epithets at the end are short stand-alone stanzas. Note that Ram is Kabir's naming of God

Go Naked
Go naked if you want
put on animal skins
what does it matter till you see the inward Ram?

If the union yogis seek
Came from roaming about in the buff,
every deer in the forest would be saved.

If shaving your head
spelled spiritual success,
heaven would be filled with sheep.

And brother, if holding back your seed
Earned you a place in paradise,
eunuchs would be the first to arrive

Kabir says: Listen brother,
without the name of Ram
who has ever on the spirit's prize?

That Master Weaver
That master weaver, whose skills
   are beyond our knowing,
   has stretched his warp
      through the world.
He has fastened his loom
   between earth and sky,
   where the shuttlecocks are the sun
     and moon.
He fills the shuttle with the thread
   of easy spontaneity,
   and weaves and weaves
     an endless pattern.
But now, says Kabir, that weaver!
   He breaks apart his loom
   and tangles the thread
     in thread.

Pundit, How Can You Be So Dumb?
Pundit, how can you be so dumb?
You’re going to drown, along with all your kin,
     unless you start speaking of Ram.

Vedas, Puranas—why read them?
     It’s like loading an ass with sandalwood!
Unless you catch on and learn how Ram’s name goes,
    how will you reach the end of the road?

You slaughter living beings and call it religion:
     hey brother, what would irreligion be?
“Great Saint”—that’s how you love to greet each other:
     Who then would you call a murderer?

Your mind is blind. You’ve no knowledge of yourselves.
     Tell me, brother, how can you teach anyone else?
Wisdom is a thing you sell for worldly gain,
     so there goes your human birth—in vain.

You say: “It’s Narad’s command.”
     “It’s what Vyas says to do.”
     Go and ask Sukdev, the sage.”
Kabir says: you’d better go and lose yourself in Ram
     for without him, brother, you drown.

Tell me, O Swan,
Tell me, O Swan, your ancient tale.
From what land do you come, O Swan? to what shore will you fly?
Where would you take your rest, O Swan, and what do you seek?

Even this morning, O Swan, awake, arise, follow me!
There is a land where no doubt nor sorrow have rule: where the terror of Death is no more.
There the woods of spring are a-bloom, and the fragrant scent "He is I" is borne on the wind:
There the bee of the heart is deeply immersed, and desires no other joy.

The Guest Is Inside You
The Guest is inside you, and also inside me;
you know the sprout is hidden inside the seed.
We are all struggling; none of us has gone far.
Let your arrogance go, and look around inside.

The blue sky opens out further and farther,
the daily sense of failure goes away,
the damage I have done to myself fades,
a million suns come forward with light,
when I sit firmly in that world.

I hear bells ringing that no one has shaken,
inside "love" there is more joy than we know of,
rain pours down, although the sky is clear of clouds,
there are whole rivers of light.
The universe is shot through in all parts by a single sort of love.
How hard it is to feel that joy in all our four bodies!

Those who hope to be reasonable about it fail.
The arrogance of reason has separated us from that love.
With the word "reason" you already feel miles away.

How lucky Kabir is, that surrounded by all this joy
he sings inside his own little boat.
His poems amount to one soul meeting another.
These songs are about forgetting dying and loss.
They rise above both coming in and going out.


My mind was soothed
When I found the boundless knowledge
And the fires
    that scorched the world
To me are water cool.

The sense of separation:
A snake inside the body
     that no snakecharmer's sounds
     can control.
And separation from Ram:
     that's loss of life--
     or worse, of mind.

The instrument is still,
Its strings snapped.
What can the poor thing do?
It's player's no longer there.

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