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Are these absurdities or miracles or what? || Acharya Prashant, on Saint Kabir (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
19 min
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Brother, I have seen some astonishing sights. A lion keeping watch over pasturing cows; a mother delivered after her son was; a guru prostrated before his disciple; fish spawning on treetops; a rooster is eating a cat; a gunny sack driving a bullock cart; a cat carrying away a dog; a tree with its branches in the earth and roots up in the sky, a tree with flowering roots. Says Kabir—this verse, if understood, is your key to the universe (lit. understanding the three worlds).

~ Kabir

Questioner (Q): I have read this poem multiple times, and each reading bewilders me more and more. Kabir says that this is your key to the universe, if you can figure the verses out. Is Kabir Sahib talking about the different shades of Prakṛti (physical nature)? A guru prostrating before his disciple and a tree with flowering roots have left me totally blank. What is the meaning of this?

Acharya Prashant (AP): No, it’s not the way the universe is; it’s the way we live. It’s a commentary on the ego. It’s the way our world runs, not the world. It’s the way the world of the ego runs, our world runs.

So, “ Ek achambha dekha re bhai, thhada singh charave gai — a lion keeping watch over pasturing cows.” That’s the way our world runs. If there is somebody who is keeping watch over you, you usually feel that the fellow is your well-wisher. Prakṛti is honest. In Prakṛti , a lion would never watch over grazing cows; the lion would simply take away one of the cows, leave the rest, satisfy himself, and be gone.

Therefore, when such a thing is represented in Prakṛti , it appears so odd. It appears so odd that you have been compelled to ask me a question. In Prakṛti this would never happen because Prakṛti is straightforward. Lion wants the cow, the lion eats the cow—that’s how Prakṛti is. Therefore, when in Prakṛti you are told that the lion is watching over the cow, you feel perplexed. That’s the motive of Kabir Sahib—to make you feel perplexed. Because you do not feel perplexed looking at yourself, therefore he is saying, “What if Prakṛti , too, starts behaving like you do?” Then you do feel perplexed, right?

You are never befuddled with the way you are. You are never amazed by the way your personal universe is. So, Kabir Sahib is saying, “What if the prakṛtik universe also starts behaving like your personal universe? Then the prakṛtik universe would look something like this,” and he goes on to give an entire description. He is saying, “If the prakṛtik universe were to behave like the personal universe of human beings, then this is how the prakṛtik universe looks.” And it looks very, very odd, it looks very perplexing; it is absurd, it is annoying—it is terrifying. But it looks terrifying when it is demonstrated in the dimension of Prakṛti ; then you find it terrifying. But when the same thing is happening in your home, then you don’t find it terrifying, right?

Now do you see why Kabir Sahib didn’t talk of your home but the jungle? We are blind to what is happening in our homes, so Kabir Sahib says, “If the jungle were like your home, then this is what would be happening in the jungle.” Our home is so dear to us, our home is so close to us that we just cannot see what is really going on in our home. That’s our personal universe.

So, Kabir Sahib doesn’t bother to tell you what is really happening in your home. He says, “Let’s say that the jungle starts behaving like your home. If the jungle starts behaving like your home, this is what you would find happening in the jungle.” What is it that you would find happening in the jungle? The lion is very carefully, very compassionately watching over the grazing cows. And the cows are thinking, “Oh, the lion is our well-wisher!” But what does the lion want? He wants the cow to be a little fat. That’s how it is even in our homes. It’s just that we do not know the way it is.

In every home there is a lion and there is a cow, and the lion keeps watching over the pasturing cow. And the cow thinks, “Oh, my lion, my supporter, my man!”—you know, Sher Singh of the family. And the cows of the family are so happy: “We have a Sher Singh amongst us!” And the Sher Singh is actually protecting the cows as well. If some hyena or jackal or some wolf were to come towards the cows, what would Sher Singh do? Sher Singh would simply roar away the wolf or the jackal: “You go away! My cow! Don’t you dare look at my cow!”

But the wolf knows much more than the cows do. The wolf is an outsider, but he at least knows the real relationship between Sher Singh and the cow. And therefore, even as he is being chased away, he just pauses for a while, turns back, looks over his shoulder, and says to Sher Singh, “ Akele akele (alone alone)? Would you enjoy her all alone?” And the Sher says, “Go away!” And even as the wolf is running away, he says, “ Apna bhi time aayega (my time will also come)—because, Sher Singh, you are not there to just compassionately watch over her; you have a purpose.”

What the grass is to the cow, the cow is to the lion. It’s just that the grass is not full of images and expectations; the grass just passively sits. And when the cow comes, the grass says, “Alright, have me. I know who you are. So, a big part of me is hidden safely below the surface. Graze me as much as you want to. When you go away, I will reappear.” The grass is smarter than the cow; she at least keeps her roots hidden. But the cow, she falls so much in love with Sher Singh that she exposes all of herself. The grass can only watch the foolishness.

Pahale poot peechhe bhai mai —a mother delivered after her son was.” This pertains to how we reason out and create an entire cause-effect story. In Prakṛti , the mother comes first and then the son. But look at our universe: the action comes first and then the justification. But we say that the action came from the justification. The action comes first, and then we dream up arguments to justify the action. Does it not happen that way? The action is really coming from the subconscious tendency, but we don’t want to admit that. So, what do we do post the action? We come up with a nice argument to justify the action, as if the action is a product of the argument, the justification. The fact is, the child came first and then the mother was invented; the mother was invented to justify the child. The real mother is somewhere else; the real mother is the ‘I’-tendency. But you don’t dare to admit that, so you come up with a fictitious mother and you say, “You know, this is why I am doing this.”

Sher Singh will say, “I love you so much that I must have you inside me. I cannot bear this separation, Kamala! Kamala, this physical separation is too much! That’s why I repeatedly want to have intercourse. But even then our bodies get to meet only briefly; the depth of association is not much. So, I now want to have you fully inside me”— tu mujhme samaa jaa (come inside me), as the Sufis say. And he will go to her and teach her, “You know, fanaa (oblivion, annihilation) is a very high state of spiritual dissolution. Now is your time to reach fanaa in love. And what greater end can you meet? Come unite with the lover!” The tendency is just to have flesh but a justification is invented, and then it is claimed that the action is coming from the justification.

“Pahale poot peechhe bhai mai” —when it happens in our homes, in our universe, then we don’t find it strange. But if it starts happening in Prakṛti , then you will see this kind of oddity. The child is there, and after the child is born, the mother is born. And then you will say, “Oh my God! What Kali Yuga (age of darkness)! The child is born and the mother is younger than the child!” But that is happening every day in our personal universe, and we never find it odd.

Then, “ Chela ke guru lage pai (a guru prostrated before his disciple).” If you start seeing that, then you will say, “Oh, too bad! The guru is prostrating in front of the student! What is going on? Evil times!” But that is happening all the time in man’s universe. There is no teacher worth the name who has not prostrated in front of the disciples. The disciple prostrates externally; he will say, “ Gururbrahmā, gururviṣṇuḥ (The Guru is Brahma, the Guru is Vishnu).” This is just physical, external, for namesake. It is the teacher who is actually prostrating in front of the disciple: “Please, listen to me. For a second, can you please give up your prejudices? Once in your life, can you please pay attention?”

But our eyes see only the external. And seeing the external, they are happy and satisfied; they will say, “All is well. All is as per course and order.” The students are paying obeisance to the guru—this is what the eyes see. But what is really happening? The guru is all the time requesting the student, touching his feet, flattering him, nudging him, entertaining him. But that is not obvious, just as what is obvious to the grass is not obvious to the cloud.

“Jal ki machhli taruvar byai, pakdi bilai murga khai; bailhi daari gooni ghar aai, kutta ku ley gayi bilai” —all these four instances refer to an upending of the normal order in Prakṛti . The normal order has been inverted, upended. Jal ki machhli taruvar byai —the fish in the water is residing and procreating on the treetops. Pakdi bilai murga khai —the cock has got the cat and devoured it. Bailhi daari gooni ghar aai —the material, the gunny sacks, are leading the oxen as they are coming towards the house, so the cart is leading the bull. Kutta ku ley gayi bilai —so, the cat has now had its revenge. The cock or the hen took away the cat, so the brother cat took away the dog. Now Sher Singh is in danger because the dog too will have his day. As they say, each dog has his day.

So, the normal prakṛtik order is being shown to be reversed. When it is reversed there, then you say, “This is not proper. This is against Tao. This is against Ṛta .” But when the same thing happens within man, then you do not find anything funny at all. In Prakṛti , the one who is supposed to be higher up in the food chain must consume the one who is lower down, and the reversal cannot happen. Inside man, that which is higher must lord over the lower, and the reversal must not happen. But it is always happening. The higher one must be given preference over the lower, but that rarely happens. The lower wins, the higher loses; tendencies win, thought loses; thought wins, discretion loses; mind wins, Ātman (Self) loses; influence wins, intelligence loses.

And Kabir Sahib is Kabir Sahib; he is having a good time describing how we are. And even as he is very accurately describing how we are, he is also having fun at our expense: “ Kutta ku ley gayi bilai !” That’s why, you know, I feel just like a fanboy in front of him. Who am I? A little fanboy. This utter flamboyance, this total carefree attitude! Where do you find God or Sanskrit or big words or scholarliness in this? Kutta ku ley gayi bilai —and he has said everything. Such simplicity can come only from someone who has gone to the utter depth of it.

So, it is both strange and revealing that in the same session in which I had to launch a broadside, a tirade against the greats, I feel honored to say that when it comes to Kabir Sahib, I am a fanboy. And now that you have sent this, this is going to resonate for a while— pahale poot peechhe bhai mai . So, whenever somebody, anybody outside of me, or maybe I myself, come up with an argument to cover up an expression of what is essentially a vṛtti (tendency), this is what ought to be said: “ Pahale poot peechhe bhai mai (a mother was delivered after her son); thhada singh charave gai (a lion keeps watch over the pasturing cows).”

So, the parents are fondly taking the little chhotu to school for admission. From the car the two of them emerge and chhotu is walking in the middle of both of them, one hand with Sher Singh, the other hand with Sherni Singh. And they are both professing their love to chhotu and saying, “Now we are going to admit him in the school”— thhada singh charave gai . It is going to stay for a while.

And obviously, “ Chela ke guru lage pai (A guru prostrated before his disciple).” I don’t even need to remember this—I live this every moment! So, it’s a good thing to put on a Facebook profile or WhatsApp status or something— chela ke guru lage pai —just to be reminded of how things really are. Eyes live in deception; this is how things really are. “Can you please, please send me the report?” Chela ke guru lage pai . Sixth reminder and a cute smile! “ Chela ke guru lage pai. Kaun guru kaun chela (Who is the guru and who is the disciple)?”

Talikar sasha oopri kari mool, bahut bhaanti jad lagey phool; kahey Kabir ya padd ko boojhe, taaku teenyu tribhuvan soojhey (A tree with its branches in the earth and roots up in the sky, a tree with flowering roots. Says Kabir—this verse, if understood, is your key to understanding the three worlds).”

This actually comes from Chapter 15 of the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita . Shri Krishna very vividly describes this world as a banyan tree with its roots to the sky. Maybe Kabir Sahib is quoting from the Gita; maybe it is his own imagery. But it is interesting how these coincide and how the greats have always seen the world as an exercise in negativa. That reminds me of the negatives. You know, before the digital age, there used to be negatives in photography. And what is the characteristic of those negatives? The light was dark and dark was light. Have you seen those negatives?

So, it’s a bit similar to negatives. That’s how Shri Krishna has described it. That’s also what Kabir Sahib means here: what works in this world doesn’t work there. That’s one way of looking at it; it is an exercise in the negative. Secondly, the roots are up, the flowering is down. You are really coming from there (points upwards) ; you are only flowering here. And even if you want to flower here, even if you want to blossom here, you must first of all take care of the root which is upwards. If you do not take care of the roots, then you cannot prosper on the earth. If you do not take care of the sky, then you cannot prosper on the earth.

Then he says, “Bahut bhaanti jad lagey phool.” So, the flowers are there, the roots are flowering. But the roots are not where they are usually supposed to be; they are skywards. Skywards roots blossom; those whose roots are in the earth, they will just shrivel and die down. Those who feel that they are rooted in the earth, those who feel that they belong to the earth, will meet no prosperity and no blossoming; whereas those who feel as if they come from there (pointing upwards) , as if they belong there, as if they are rooted there, they will rule the earth.

Belong to the earth, and you will be a beggar on the face of the earth. Belong to the sky, and you will rule the earth. The earth doesn’t reward you for belonging to it; the earth rewards you for bringing the sky’s message to it. You are like the sky’s messenger to the earth. The messenger is greatly rewarded if he brings the message; if he brings the message, then he gets stuff—sweets, clothes, money, greetings, gratitude. But what if he starts living in the house to which he has brought the message? Then he is merely tolerated, and after a time he is abused. His value does not lie in his existence; his value lies in the message that he brings.

You too must live like the one coming from the sky and merely visiting the earth to deliver the message. If you are a visitor to the earth, you will be respected on the earth. If you live like a visitor, a mere visitor to the earth, then you will have great respect on the earth. But if you start living as if the earth is your home, then all you will get is neglect, abuse, disrespect, uprootedness.

Kahey Kabir ya padd ko boojhe, taaku teenyu tribhuvan soojhey . If you can know what has been said in these verses, then you have known the entire universe. That’s what Kabir Sahib is saying. He plays with you, he challenges you and invites you when he says, “If you can figure out what has been said, then you will be somebody. So try, try, try! Here is the lollipop; now try! Come on, come on, jump over the hurdles!” And there he is, standing behind all the hurdles, flashing the lollipop to you: “Come, come, come! Jump over! Don’t be shy!”

And when you say, “No, no, no, but these are just too high for me. I don’t know what you mean by the cow, the grass, the lion, the fish, dogs, the dog, the tree—too many things and too difficult for me!” then he says, “One more! Not one world, but tribhuvana (three worlds). Here is the third one as well. You can have three of these sweet things—just come over, come over!” And the fanboy says, “Okay, I am coming!” And he is not unfair—I duly do get my reward!

Q: What these verses point towards—that is, the surreal nature of our lives—is something that we see only sometimes. There might be occasional moments of clarity, but soon we fall back into the old patterns and fail to see the surreal as abnormal. So, how can we retain our clarity and vision to discriminate between the surreal and the real?

AP: The surreal will give you suffering. The surreal will deceive you. Your own tears are the test. See what pushes you into needless conflict. See what is it that promises and does not deliver. See what is it that appears smooth and shiny on the surface, but forbids any kind of deep probing. It’s easy.

The Truth attaches no qualifications to itself. So, the Truth has made it very easy for you. Where to find the Truth? If it were to be found somewhere, it would have become difficult for you, no? You would have needed to go there and dig it out. Where to find it? Everywhere and nowhere. Easy!

Where does the Truth end? Nowhere. So, if something ends somewhere, it is false. If something is found only somewhere in particular, it is false. If something is having boundaries, if something changes with time, if something is a product of something, if something gives rise to something, if something is the opposite of something, it is false. Truth has made it very easy for you, very easy.

The fact is, in the world stuff is difficult. Truth is the easiest. Easy, but not common. Commonly it is very difficult; actually it is very easy. It is so easy that we miss it.

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