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When he sings, I just stand and listen || Acharya Prashant, on Kabir Saheb (2019)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Questioner: Kabir is generally not very known in the West. In fact, even during my time in India over the years, you are the only one who has mentioned him to me. If time permits and no other question requires your attention, would you please share something about him to us? Who is Kabir to you? What do you admire about his life on earth, and what is the core of his teaching?

Acharya Prashant: Kabir Sahib… How do I talk about him? Bare honesty. Honesty, honesty, honesty! Honesty, thy name is Kabir!

He worked his entire life, first of all. He was a weaver, a small-time weaver from Varanasi by profession. Worked all his life—and there is a very strong reason why I am mentioning this in the first place as the most important thing about him. There has been an abundance of so-called religious teachers who do not bother to work. They just yak; all they have is gab—gab, talk, talk, and talk, not work. Kabir Sahib worked. He was a weaver and he would weave every day, and he would live out of what he would earn from there. Not that he is the only one who would work, there are many others in history. But India is a place where the devotional sentiment always runs high, and he was born in the Bhakti age, he belonged to the 14th and 15th century, and he lived in Varanasi, the center of all orthodoxy. He could have easily managed to have as much money and worldly goodies as he wanted. He never had anything from his people, his audiences. Never. And he wasn’t a beggar either. Neither was he a seated and decorated guru who would collect donations in lakhs and crores—people would come and offer millions to him, none of that: he never bothered to establish himself as a high-flying guru—nor was he a beggar. He wouldn’t say, “I am a bhikṣu (mendicant)”; he wouldn’t take the begging bowl and go about collecting alms. He worked like any ordinary person.

And he would call himself Kabira or Kabir. He would never give himself a title or sobriquet, nothing. He is Kabir, just Kabir. At least his addresses to himself never go beyond calling himself Kabir or Kabira. That’s honesty to the bone, to the core. Later on, his followers started calling him Sahib and Satguru Kabir and all those things. He never did all that. It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful!

In fact, I have this grudge against India. Just because Kabir Sahib was so humble about himself, so India has not really given him the place he deserves; we still address him as Kabir. Very, very ordinary and far lesser folks are addressed far more admiringly and respectfully, but the greatest of them all is called Kabir. And not that he did not know that the world lives on pretense and showmanship, he knew all those things, and yet he would say, “Kabir.”

Once he said, “ Kabir kutta Rama ka, Motiya mera naam (Kabir is Rama’s pet dog, Motiya is my name).” It requires guts, and your Acharya Ji is sold out to this beautiful display of guts. Only somebody with the utter heart of a lion can dare to proclaim in public: “ Kabir kutta Rama ka Kabir is the pet dog of Rama.”

And he didn’t stop at that. He went ahead and christened himself as Motiya (a general Hindu name): “ Kabir kutta Rama ka, Motiya mera naam ; gale Rama ki jevadi, jit khinche tit jaun (Kabir is the pet dog of Rama, Motiya is my name; I have the chain of Rama around my neck, I go wherever he drags me).”

And when you come across something like this, you feel delighted to be alive at that moment. When I am with Kabir Sahib, I feel grateful for being alive. I am grateful I was born so that I could come up on Kabir.

And he lived in Varanasi which, I said, is the seat of Hindu orthodoxy, and yet he had the courage, the devotion, and the conviction to say, “ Pathar puje Hari mile to mai pujun pahad . If one could attain God by worshiping stones, I would rather worship the mountains.” At another place he says, “ Devtan se kutta bhala (Even a dog is better than the gods).” And he told to all the idol worshippers that “Even dogs are better than all these gods that you worship. At least dogs offer you some protection and security in the night. What do these gods offer you?” Macho man. My hero! And I have been a fanboy. He is my superhero!

And the sheer depth of his realization, and the absolute simplicity of his expression:

Maya Maya sab kahein, Maya lakhe na koi; jo man se na utare, Maya kahiye soye (Everybody is chanting, ‘Maya, Maya’, but she is understood by none. That which rides your mind, call it Maya).”

And there are volumes upon volumes trying to describe what Māyā is. The entire world is perplexed about Māyā : “What is Māyā ? What is Māyā? ” And Kabir Sahib dismisses all this talk about Māyā like this, with one flash of his hand: “ Jo man se na utare, Maya kahiye soye .” As if he is saying, “Son, the question is so simple. Why can’t you see the answer?” Like a maths teacher consoling a beginner who is grappling with an actually easy but apparently unmountable problem. “Son, it is so easy. Just say Y is equal to E raised to the power X, and you will get the answer. Just substitute E to the power X with Y, and you will get the answer.”

Jo man se na utare, Maya kahiye soye — done, done, dismissed! And Māyā is cringing and squirming: “Ugh! Finally somebody got the better of me.”

Jo man se na utare, Maya kahiye soye . That which keeps occupying your mind, that which you cannot get rid of, is Māyā . Is there any other who has ever put it across so simply and so beautifully and so totally? There is nobody.

Kaal kaal sab kahin, kaal na jane koi; jeti man ki kalpana, kaal kahave soye (Everybody is chanting, ‘Time, time’, but time is understood by none. The imagination of the mind is time).”

Time is another of our obsessions and we never seem to get the better of it. “Time, what is time? What is time? What is space-time?” And Kabir Sahib says, “ Jeti man ki kalpana, kaal kahave soye (The imagination of the mind is time).” And here he has hit two birds with this one arrow. And he says, “ Jeti man ki kalpana, kaal kahave soye .” By kāla he means not merely time but also death.

Such fantastic mastery is rarely seen elsewhere. Obviously, you get glimpses of it in many other places as well; I respect all of them; all of them are very, very dear to me; I worship them. But when it comes to Kabir Sahib, I said I am a fanboy. When he speaks, when he sings, I can just stand and clap all day. Brute honesty and childlike simplicity—how can you put these two together? Kabir Sahib does—brute honesty and childlike simplicity and innocence.

I sometimes say to the ones around me, “If I am very unwell and dying, don’t offer me Gaṅgājala (holy water) and all that. Just sing Kabir to me. Not that that would take me to heaven—that might actually make me get up! I am not interested in heavens or svarga . But if you bring Kabir Sahib to me, chances are I will just spring back to my feet.

No mumbo-jumbo, no miracles, no otherworldly stuff—Kabira. The highest that the world can ever know is calling himself Kabira. Who will not fall in love with such a hero? And work and work; work, work the entire day. Work! And have the courage to speak truth to power, the bare truth, the hard-hitting truth. Never mix it up, never dilute it; put things as they are. And Sahib was attacked, he was attacked from all sides, because he did not belong to any side. He didn’t relent.

On one hand, to me he is the greatest scholar of Advaita. You would not have heard such a description of Kabir Sahib; he is mentioned as a Bhakti saint. To me, he is a great Vedanti. He is the greatest scholar of Advaita that the world has known, and he is also the greatest devotee when he says, “Rama.” Of course, his Rama is not Maryādā Puruṣottama Rama (Rama, the best of men). These two streams become one in him: Jñāna (knowledge) and Bhaktī (devotion). You cannot describe him as a Bhakti saint. The knowledge of the entire Vedic corpus shines simplified in Kabir Sahib, and yet he has the integrity to say, when the Vedas talk of animal sacrifice, “ Kahe Kabir Adharm ko Dharm bataave Ved .” It goes something like this:

Ashwamedh, aajmedh, sarpmedh, nermedh; kahe Kabir Adharm ko, Dharm bataave Ved (Horse sacrifice, goat sacrifice, snake sacrifice, human sacrifice; Kabir says—the Vedas narrate Adharma as Dharma).”

When it came to cruelty towards animals, Kabir Sahib is in another league. He is probably the only well-known figure in the history of religion who has spoken very clearly, loudly and unsparingly against cruelty to animals and flesh eating. He did not spare even the Vedas. And the Vedas said that aśvamedha should be there—you know what aśvamedha is, right? A sacrifice in which the horse is offered. Similarly, ajmedha in which the goat is offered. So, Kabir Sahib says, “ Kahe Kabir Adharm ko, Dharm bataave Ved .”

And that is another reason why I so closely identify with him. Today, veganism is a cause we espouse. Kabir Sahib was a vegan in those times. He was the staunchest vegetarian at least, and he was very clear that if you eat flesh, if you kill animals and if you eat animal flesh, then you are entering into evil and no forgiveness, no redemption would be available to you. Nobody, just nobody has spoken so strongly against flesh eating. In fact, there have been teachers who were themselves flesh eaters, and in that background, when you look at Kabir Sahib, he is exemplary, all alone in a league of himself.

So, not only does the Vedic stream but even the Buddhist stream and the Jain stream come together and merge in him. He is the greatest sangam (unification) this country has known. And I would also say, India in particular and the world in general have yet not given Kabir Sahib his due. His real place in the history of mankind is yet to be ascertained and evaluated. We take him very casually. Just because he never put up a great show about himself, we take him very casually. Go close to him and go close to all others, and then you will realize how singularly, brightly he shines.

I can speak all night on him, so stop me! In fact, I have spoken more on Kabir Sahib than I have done on anybody else, both in Hindi and English. And I think as long as this body is there, I will continue doing that. And his entire corpus is enormous; there is so much to speak on. And a sense of humor that is not easily found among religious, spiritual people. My boss has a terrific sense of humor! People sometimes tell me that they look up to me not merely as a teacher but also as a standup comedian. They have probably not met my boss. Meet him, and his brand of humor is delicate and drip-splitting, both insightful and casual. He is extremely casual. You will not find him serious; he just says things. And what he just casually says, people take an entire lifetime to interpret—and he has just casually said something. Now you interpret!

Kabir das ki ulti vani, barse kambal bheege pani .” He is saying, “Kabir Das talks of it in an inverted way: quilts are raining and water is being wetted.”

At another place, he describes the wedding ceremony of an ant: “ Chinti ka byah (the marriage of the ant).” So, now the ant is having a grand wedding, and the elephant has come over, and the mouse has also come, and the entire thing is described, and in the end he says, “The one who can realize what is being said here will cross over. If you can interpret what is going on, you will cross over.” And the entire description is outrightly funny. He not merely out-meditates you—he outwits you. The zenith of all wit!

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