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The madness called man || Acharya Prashant, on Guru Kabir Saheb (2018)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
8 min
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How do you, asks the chief of police, patrol a city, where the butcher shops are guarded by vultures, where bulls get pregnant, cows are barren, and calves give milk three times a day, where mice are the boatmen, and tomcats row the boats, where frogs keep snakes as watchdogs, and jackals go after lions? Says Kabir—does anyone know what I am talking about?

~ Kabir

Questioner (Q): What is the meaning of this poem? What is Kabir talking about here?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Kabir Sahib is talking about the inherent nonsense in the ways of man, the baffling contradictions, the inexplicable discrepancies. Cows are barren and bulls are being milked; vultures are guarding the shops of the butchers; frogs are keeping snakes as pets; jackals are chasing lions. These things should not happen, cannot happen, but are happening in this city.

Kabir Sahib is asking, “How to regulate this city? How to police this city? How to bring a modicum of order to the city? It is a city upended, it is a city distorted beyond any order.” He is pointing at the affairs of men; he is pointing at the way our cities are, our houses are and our minds are. That which cannot happen, that which should not happen, is happening.

Vultures are guarding meat shops. Vultures won’t guard; they will fly away with the meat. Similarly, we have appointed the mind to guard our peace. Using the mind to guard peace is like using a vulture to guard a meat shop. Jackals are chasing away lions; the feeble one is proving himself powerful over the superior one. In the world of man, ego seems to be driving away God. Ego driving away God, prevailing over God is just the same as a jackal prevailing over a lion: it cannot happen, but is happening.

Frogs are keeping snakes as pets. It cannot happen; the snake will consume the frog. But look at men: they are keeping prestige, property, relationships as pets. You keep a pet mostly for company or for entertainment. Similarly, man thinks that all his collections, all his relationships are there to serve him, just as a man keeps a dog to serve him. But just as if a frog keeps a snake as its pet, the pet would not serve the master but would instead gobble up the master. Similarly, the kind of pets that man keeps do not serve him; instead they finish him off.

Look at your pets. A pet is somebody you feed. See what you are feeding. A pet is someone you have deliberately brought to your house, your mind, your company. See who you have brought to your house, your mind, your company. Is it serving you, or is he finishing you off?

Most of the pets that we have kept are like snakes kept by frogs. The frogs must be feeling pretty exhilarated: “See, froggy, what I got; it’s such a long, slimy and shiny thing! We’ll call it Cobri—Cobri the Cutie!” And there are too many ‘Cobri the Cutie’s in your life. You deliberately dragged them into your life, like a man catching a snake by its tail and dragging it into his house. How wise would you call that man?

But look at all the things that were not easily coming to you: you caught them by the tail and forcefully, with effort, pleading in front of them, dragged them into your house, either the physical house or the mental house. And now those things are chipping away at you; they are slowly finishing you off. A frog is lucky if it has kept a snake as its pet: the snake would at least finish the frog in one stroke. Our pets do not finish it off in one stroke; our pets keep gnawing at us, bit by bit.

Kabir Sahib is saying, “How do you guard such a city? How do you help such a city? How do you help a man who is his own worst enemy? How do you help a city where the thieves are the watchmen?” The city is man. That which is being looted away is your life, your time, your peace, your true love. “ Koi thagwa nagariya lutal re (Some thug has robbed the entire city).” Why is the city being robbed? Because you are trusting the wrong guard: you trust yourself too much. You are just the wrong one to protect yourself or to guard your self-interest.

If you want to really help yourself, then stop helping yourself. Everything that you personally do for self-help boomerangs: you want to hit the target, instead you end up hitting your own face. But man is very confident and he has a deep belief in his thoughts, calculations, cleverness. ”I know what is best for me. I will decide. Even the words of the Guru would be firstly judged by me before I accept them. The Guru might be high, but I will be higher. I will judge even the Guru. I will have complaints even against God.”

Kabir Sahib says, “How to help this city? How to help a man who is intent upon his own destruction?”

Q: How can I practice detachment with my children when my relationship with them has always been a bond of attachment? How to just let go and remain detached even when I know that they are making wrong choices?

AP: Detachment does not mean passivity. Detachment merely means that now you have your hands free to make the right action. If your hands are tied to the hands of another person, how will you help him? Tell me. If your hands are tied to my hands, how much can you do for me? It will be difficult for you to even serve me some medicine; it will be difficult for you to even cook some food for me. When you are detached from someone, you gain the freedom to actively help that person.

Detachment is not about passive observation. Kindly get over that concept. Detachment does not mean that now you have nothing to do with the person you are detached from; detachment rather means that now your love is free to act rightly. In attachment, how will you act rightly? Very difficult. And love and right action go together. Therefore, in attachment there is no love. Detachment and love go together—and this must be sounding a bit strange to you, because usually the love image is two people hugging each other, and the detachment image is a man looking passively, nonchalantly, almost in a forlorn way at the ways of the world.

So, the house is on fire and your detachment story says the detached one just kept watching as the house burnt. No, detachment does not mean that the detached one will keep watching as the house burns. Detachment means that when the house burns, you still stay right at your center; you do not allow your feelings or instincts or attachments to cloud your wisdom, and therefore you remain capable enough to act vigorously, rightly, helpfully.

Detachment is not about breaking relationships. Detachment is setting relationships right.

Many householders find the word ‘detachment’ very scary; equally, they find the word ‘attachment’ quite attractive. You tell someone, “I am feeling quite attached to you,” and that someone will find it difficult to hide a smile. It is so very flattering! ”You know, these days I am feeling a bit attached to you.” Whereas, this is the most scary statement you can hear from anybody. When somebody tells you he is feeling attached to you, run away. Tell him to turn around and count till twenty and say, “When you reach twenty, I will demonstrate how attached I too am!” Twenty should be enough for you to fly away ten miles—so hard must you run!

Attachment means the other fellow is now going to act almost as a parasite—a parasite, a blood sucker, or a possessor; and there is nobody who wants to possess you as much as a parasite. A parasite has a deep need to possess its host, its prey.

Detachment and love go together. In fact, you cannot have love without detachment. If you find that you have love accompanied by attachment, then your love is very polluted. Love is when you do not care about your self-interest and your objective is the welfare of the other. Attachment is when you cling to the other for your own sake. Now, can love and attachment go together?

So, stay detached, stay loving, and act fully, act rightly.

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