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Lover of Truth versus beggar of world || Acharya Prashant, on Guru Kabir (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
25 min
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If dry bread pieces are all your fare, will salty or saltless taste really matter? If you are benumbed by slumber, can you wait for cushion or cover? Says Kabir—unique is the path of love. If you sever your head, why do you shed a tear?

~ Kabir

Questioner: What does Kabir mean by these verses? When he talks of severing one’s head, is he referring to ending one’s suffering?

Acharya Prashant: The difference between the lover of Truth and the pursuer of the world is stark. For the lover of Truth, the world and all the worldly experiences are just one thing, one unit, one entity, one taste, one monolith. For the one besotted by the world, chasing the world, the world and the experiences it offers are a complete spectrum—a complete spectrum holding an infinite number of distinct possibilities, an infinite number of distinct tastes. To all these possibilities and tastes, the pursuer of the world assigns different names, different connotations; to all these names correspond different feelings. At the two ends of this spectrum are the two states that most excite him. There is happiness at one end and there is sadness at one end, and in between there are various mixtures, combinations of happiness and sadness.

You go to someone who is enamored by the world and ask him, “How are you feeling right now?” He will have one description to offer to you; note down that description. Go to him after a couple of hours and ask again the same question, “How are you feeling now?” He will have a separate word to offer you. I am assuming his vocabulary is rich enough to depict all his different experiential states in different and suitable words. He will offer you a different, distinct word. Go to him again when he is in a different situation, a different mood, and repeat the same question. What is the question? “How are you feeling? How are you experiencing?” And he will offer you a third word. Go to him four hundred times, and I say that if his vocabulary is rich enough, and if language has possibilities to precisely and sharply indicate each color of man’s mood and mind, then he will have four hundred different words to offer you.

So, he remains engaged. There are four hundred different possibilities, you know; and it doesn’t stop at four hundred. Between happiness and sadness, what is the number of points you can come to? Infinite. If I give you even this much a length (indicating a small length with fingers) in space, in how many different parts can you divide it? Infinite. It’s just that you need to have a razor sharp enough. If you can have a pencil sharp enough, then you can draw an infinite number of lines between these two points, and these two points correspond to happiness and sadness.

So, man is always engaged; there is so much happening, there is so much to keep him busy and hopeful, and an infinite number of possibilities are there. If one thing doesn’t satisfy you, you feel that there is something else on offer; life doesn’t stop, ever. But it doesn’t matter what your current state is, the dimension is always linear: the dimension is between happiness and sadness.

If it is required to point out your state, it can always be depicted as αh+βs (alpha h plus beta s), where β = 1-α (beta is equal to one minus alpha). It is so silly, it is so predictable, it is so uni-linear, uni-dimensional; you would always be found somewhere between this and this (depicting the two ends of the spectrum by holding index fingers apart) . It’s just that since there are infinite possibilities between this and this, so you keep feeling as if you have arrived at a new place, whereas you never arrive at any new place; the mind just keeps moving between these two poles.

You know, if you dig a tunnel from the North Pole of the Earth to the South Pole and you drop a ball in that tunnel, what would that ball do? The ball will keep performing simple harmonic motion in the tunnel. The North Pole is happiness, the South Pole is sadness; the ball is the mind. And the mind takes it to be quite an adventure. For the mind, it is quite a thrill to be journeying in the tunnel. It’s a long tunnel, you see. The mind never comes to realize that the tunnel is really its captivity, that the tunnel is really the prison that defines the mind.

So, the mind is never really bored. How many points are there between North Pole and South Pole? Well, if there are an infinite number of points between even these two fingers, then between North Pole and South Pole, obviously, the number of points is just beyond any count. The mind keeps feeling thrilled; the mind keeps saying, “Well, something new is happening in life, you know. I just moved to a new point, a different point.” What the mind does not realize is that it is the same axis, the same dimension.

So, the worldly mind is always looking forward to the future in the hope of coming to a new point. In the mind of the worldly man, the world is a diverse place in which there are certain good things and certain bad things. The role of human life, the purpose of human life is to get more and more of the good things and avoid more and more of the bad things. You go to a common man and he will admit—if he is honest—that this is the purpose of his life. There are some good things, they are all found on the North Pole; and there are some real evil things, and they are all found towards the South Pole. And, then, what is the purpose of life? Please stay closer to the North Pole; if possible, attain an equilibrium right on the North Pole; if possible, simply stick to the North Pole. That is the purpose of the ordinary man’s life.

What is the North Pole? The pole of happiness. And therefore, the purpose of the common life is happiness. Behind it is an assumption and a lot of ignorance. What is the ignorance about? The ignorance is about the laws of simple harmonic motion. If you go north, you will have to go south. Physics calls it SHM (simple harmonic motion); spirituality calls it the basic law of duality, basic duality. But the commoner thinks that it is possible to violate this law. The commoner lives in the constant hope that a day will come when the ball will ultimately stop at the North Pole, and he dreads the opposite: he dreads a situation in which the ball has stopped at the South Pole. It doesn’t matter whether you demand it or dread it—the ball will keep moving between the poles. That is your fate as a human being.

Nevertheless, life is full of changes for the common man; this much must be evident, right? Things are changing—now one is a student, now one is a husband, now one is a father, now one is an employee, now one has gray hair, now one’s kids are going to the college, now one has to get his kids married, now one is a grandpa, now one is booking a slot for himself in the graveyard. Every movement there is something new that life offers you. Have you not heard this statement many a times? There are people who come to you and say—especially spiritual teachers—they would say, “Life is new every moment.”

These so-called spiritual teachers keep you in a dastardly hope. They keep telling you, “Every moment in life is new, you see.” What is new? All the time you are just oscillating from the North Pole to the South Pole, from the South Pole to the North Pole. And in this oscillation you are being tutored that the journey is new, every day is a new day. What is new? Same old tendencies, same old thoughts, same old hopes, same old tendency to keep hoping, same old fears. Even if the fears appear new, the tendency to remain afraid is very old. What is new?

But be it the shrewd advertisers or renowned spiritual teachers, all want to drill it deep into you that life is new every moment. What is new in life? “Why, I just had a baby. Isn’t that a new thing?” Seriously? Are you so sold out to names and forms that you think that having a baby is a new thing? Look seriously into it, and you will see that the tendency to have babies has always been there. The baby might have appeared in a physical form right now, but you have always been a mother and you have always been a father. The body itself is the mother and the body itself is the father. When have you not been a mother? Is it the first time that something is attracting you? Is it the first time you are so excited about a new arrival? It has happened again and again, and you are again demanding for the same thing, totally forgetting how you have been thoroughly and repeatedly disappointed by all such previous hopes. But you want to try once again. Have you no care and love for yourself?

But anyway, that’s the common average life—to keep thinking that one day something new will happen. Woh subah kabhi to aayegi —waiting for that one great morning. Or if you are not waiting for that one great morning, if you say you have some worldly wisdom, then you will say, “No, you don’t need to wait for one great morning; every morning is new!” And that sounds so cute, so smart; one feels like buying into it, no? “Every day is a new day!” Not Kabir Sahib. See what he is saying. He is saying, “If dry bread pieces are all your fare, will salty or saltless taste really matter?”

To the saint, the world is just one experience, the entire expanse of the senses is just one experience. In this particular verse, Kabir Sahib says that the experience is of dry bread pieces. Dry bread pieces—that’s how the world feels like to the knower or to the lover. It is the shared, common exclaim of both the realized one and the devoted one—the world is just dry bread pieces. Now, how does it matter whether the bread pieces are salty or saltless?

The common man creates a great distinction. He says, “You know, salty bread pieces are far more preferable to saltless bread pieces.” Salty bread pieces he calls as happiness, saltless bread pieces he calls as sadness. The saint says, “How does it matter if those bread pieces have been salted? After all, fundamentally they are just dry bread pieces, and I do not agree with dry bread pieces; I just cannot bring myself to a state where I start delighting in dry bread pieces, whether salty or saltless.” The common man says, “No, it is great when bread pieces are salted. It is bad only when the bread pieces are saltless.”

You get the difference in the positions of the saint and the common man? The common man is saying, “It is possible to enjoy these dry bread pieces, provided they are salted.“ The saint says, “It doesn’t matter whether they are salted or saltless; I cannot enjoy that.” So, to the saint the world is not a spectrum; to the saint the world is just one thing. What is that one thing? Dry bread pieces—something that gives you no consolation, no comfort; something to which you can really never agree.

Therefore, the saint does not try to find satisfaction in the world. The saint has finally declared, declared with finality—what? “The world is not where I am going to find contentment; the world is just dry bread pieces. It’s just that some of those pieces are salted, some are saltless; some of those dry bread pieces are colored, some are colorless; some are aromatic, some have no aroma; some of them come in fancy packaging, some of them do not even look good; some are named very eloquently, and some have a bad name.” It doesn’t matter what the names of the bread pieces are; it doesn’t matter what their forms are; it doesn’t matter what their descriptions are, what their social standings are. The saint says, “A bread piece is a bread piece, and that too a dry one. I do not like dry bread pieces. The world is just one, big, dry bread piece. All the diversities that are found in the world are superficial. Those diversities cannot fool me.”

I have come to realize that the bread in the pizza is stale. Now, will the topping change things? You have just come to see that the bread in the pizza is stale. Now, would it help if the topping is fancy and eye-catching? Would it help? The common man is taken in by the topping. The saint looks at the dry bread piece and says, “This pizza has dry, stale bread. It doesn’t matter whether you put a lot of salt or a lot of oregano or a lot of cheese or a lot of whatever…”

And you know, if—and especially if—your bread is dry and stale, it becomes very important to top it well. Freshly baked bread you can have even without jam, cheese or butter. Stale bread, dry bread—you require salt, you require many other kinds of spices and additions. You know, most people do not eat the pizza for the bread; they eat the pizza for the toppings. That’s the common man—he forgets the base. Who is the saint? One who remembers the base. The saint remembers the base.

The common man looks at the topping and sees a lot of differences. And the chef, with all his experience and wickedness, is smiling, and the customer is acting very smart in his own eyes; he says, “You know, a little bit of this and that and add that as well!” And you know what is the one thing that the customer is not talking of? The base. And the chef is smiling; the chef is now saying, “The bugger doesn’t even bother to enquire whether the base has any substance.” The base is totally rotten, and the customer is busy specifying the toppings. To this customer, the pizza is bad if the topping is bad, but there is a great possibility that the pizza is good provided the topping is good. To the saint, the pizza is definitely bad because the base is just dry bread.

That’s what Kabir Sahib is talking of here. This is in front of a pizza shop in Varanasi in the 15th century. I tell you, seriously. What do you think, 15th century Kashi did not know of pizza? Here is the proof!

“If you are benumbed by slumber, can you wait for cushion or cover?”

If you really are desperate for that final relaxation, will you attach conditions to your sleep? Sleep here stands for relaxation; sleep here stands for a state of consciousness in which the world is no more. Kabir Sahib here is not talking of ordinary sleep; he is using ordinary sleep as a metaphor to point at the final sleep that each of us craves for. And he says that if you are talking too much about beds, mattresses, pillows, cushions and covers, that only shows that you are still not sleepy enough; that only shows that you still have appetite left for the normal state of consciousness; that only shows that you can still be hanging around for another thirty minutes with your eyes opening into the world; you have not come to the point where you say, “Enough is enough. I do not want the world to enter into me anymore through these eyes. These eyes must close; I want sleep right now, immediately. The world has to cease.” And when you are so very sleepy, then you do get to sleep because then you drop all your conditions against sleep.

It is not that sleep is not available. Man refuses to sleep for two reasons. One, he feels there is something important in the world that is waiting for him, pending. So, he says, “How can I sleep? Something is yet to be done.” Even in ordinary sleep that happens, does it not? If something important is pending, then you find that sleep is difficult to come. Similarly, the spiritual sleep cannot come to you if you keep thinking that some important matter in the world is still to be closed. And as far as we are concerned, the list of important items pending in the world just keeps forever increasing. We are never going to come to a point where we may say, “I am done with the world. All pendencies are cleared, nothing remains hanging or lingering, so I can now retire.” That is one reason: attaching importance to the world.

And the second reason is attaching conditions to sleep. One says, “I will sleep when such and such conditions relating to sleep are met.” What are those conditions? “Well, you know, I am a man of high stature. How do I sleep on this ragtag mattress? Even my liberation has to be a special liberation, because I am a special man, you see. Maybe there are several who get enlightenment, but mine should be enlightenment plus. Or do you want me to identify as a commoner?”

So, there are conditions, you see. “I want to sleep, but the linen has that spot in the bottom left corner. So, unless you replace the linen, I am not going to sleep.” Such are your conditions. “I will come to liberation when—(fill up the blank).” And you will never be short of sentences to fill up the blank; you would never come to a point where you say, “Nothing is remaining to fill the blank; I am done with everything.” There would always be some condition standing against your liberation, against your union with the Beloved; and you honor that condition. You are too full of respect towards the world; you do not look at the world as just a dry bread piece. To you, the world stands as something very appealing.

What is the attitude of the saint towards the world? For the saint, the world is not an end but an opportunity. To the common man, the world itself is the end. The common man says, “The purpose of life is happiness, and happiness comes from attainment in the world.” That is the philosophy on which 99.99% of humanity works. You might say that they are not philosophers, but in fact everybody is a philosopher. And what is the philosophy they subscribe to? It can be summed up in two sentences: one, the purpose of life is happiness; second, happiness comes from worldly attainments. That is the common motivating philosophy of the world.

What does the saint say? The saint says, the world is an opportunity to gain liberation from the world. There is no option but to use the world as an opportunity, because the bodied one is finding himself in the world, so there is no escape from the world. And if there is no escape from some place, then that same place has to be used as an opportunity. Where else is the opportunity? If the embodied being finds himself in the world, then the possibility of liberation from the world, too, must be where he is. And where is he? In the world. Therefore, he uses the world as an opportunity, searches for opportunities.

“This is the world. In this world, where do I find that tunnel, that secret tunnel that takes me out of the prison? This is the world enclosing me; where do I find the crack in the wall that I can exploit to break through?” That is the attitude of the saint. He too looks carefully at the world, but not to get happiness, but to get liberation. The common man looks carefully at the world, searching for opportunities for happiness. The saint looks even more carefully at the world, searching for opportunities for liberation. That is the difference.

The common man looks for happiness without realizing the dual nature of happiness, without realizing that the ball is performing a simple harmonic motion between happiness and sadness. The common man knows neither physics nor the metaphysical. He looks for happiness and gets a bit of it, no doubt; sometimes the ball is indeed at the North Pole or close to the North Pole. Sometimes it is, is it not?

So, the common man looks for happiness and gets a bit of happiness, some crumbs of happiness. But along with the happiness that he gets, he gets an equal share of sadness, and then he feels both puzzled and motivated. He feels puzzled because he had never bargained for sadness, and he feels motivated saying that “Now that I have sadness, I will look for happiness with even more determination. Even after all, sadness is an unwanted state of mind and it has to be removed or balanced out.”

The common man faces defeat in what he wants; the saint succeeds in what he wants. The saint succeeds because he is wanting something that is fundamentally different from what the common man wants. You too can win this great war, provided you look for the right kind of victory. The victory in this war is a word that begins with ‘L’, not with ‘H’. The victory in the war called life is not happiness but liberation. Is it too tough to understand?

Kahen Kabir prem ka marag, sir dena to rona kya re (Says Kabir—unique is the path of love. If you sever your head, why do you shed a tear)?”

Once you have offered your head, now why do you cry? This is the path; this is the war in which you are fighting against your own head. There is no enemy outside of you. It is a very peculiar kind of battle.

In general, in common wars, your enemy stands outside of you and aims for your head, and your role in the war is to protect your head, right? That’s how a common war or battle proceeds, does it not? The enemy is outside of you and he is gunning for your head. And what are you trying to do? You are trying to protect your head. The real war called life proceeds, we said, a little peculiarly. How does it proceed? The enemy is not outside of you; you are the enemy. You are fighting against your own head; your head is the enemy you are fighting against. To save itself, your head keeps on misguiding you by telling you that the enemy is outside of you. The head must save itself, so the head gives you fake information, like one usually gives to the enemy. What kind of information do you give to your enemy? True, genuine? Fake information.

Now, your head, being your enemy, gives you fake information. What does it tell you? It tells you, “The enemy is there, 47 and ½ degrees to your right at a distance of 3.82 meters!” And if you are not careful enough, not discrete enough, then you will be fooled by your head and you will start aiming for the enemy, assuming that the enemy is outside of you; and somebody here (pointing towards the head) keeps smiling: “Keep shooting wherever you want to, but you will never shoot at the real enemy!” Who is the real enemy? The one you consider your friend; the one you consider not only your friend but are actually very closely identified with—your head.

Your head will not tell you who your real enemy is. Your head will never tell you who your real enemy is, because your head itself is the real enemy. Now, why do you rely on your head to determine your friends and foes? How wise is that? You are still trying to comprehend me through your head? Many of you are. It’s like depending on your born enemy, sworn enemy, to know where your welfare lies. Consulting your head to know how to win this war is like consulting your enemy on how to defeat him—not only consulting him, but actually abiding by his advice, fighting the war on the principle suggested by your enemy. That’s how intelligent we are.

Kabir Sahib says, “Smaller battles can be fought later on; let’s slaughter the main enemy first. As you enter the war, sever your head.” The commander-in-chief of the enemy forces has been killed; now how long will the enemy hold on? Who was the commander-in-chief of the enemy forces? Your own head. He has been shot down. Your enemy cannot stand his ground for long; the war is as good as won.

For all the lovers of Truth and peace, Kabir Sahib has just one simple advice: kill the mole. There is a spy in your ranks; the commander-in-chief of the enemy forces is acting as a mole and has entered your camp; and not only has he entered your camp, he has actually become the commander-in-chief of your forces. And you are so hopeful!

Love does not tolerate resistance. The lover becomes especially sensitive and discrete. There is one thing that he becomes very, very alert to: “Who is impeding my progress? Who is preventing me, directly or indirectly, from reaching my target?” Ordinarily, he might not come to know who is secretly blocking his path, but in love he becomes so very particular about reaching his target that he comes to know with great sensitivity who is blocking his path. And the lover doesn’t stand him; the lover has no sympathy for him. The lover is not divided; the lover’s devotion is totally concentrated on the One, on the Beloved. So, anybody who even obliquely or partially blocks, prevents, resists, impedes the lover’s movement is bound to be slaughtered. And if the one blocking the lover’s movement towards the Beloved is the lover’s own head, then too bad for the head—gone!

But such things can happen only in love. And you will know no love if you are happy with dry bread pieces. Next time, do bother to check the pizza base. The eyes usually fail to see a few things. Senses deceive, don’t they?

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