Kabir: the Bhakti Poet Essay

In the India of Kabir’s day the Moslem influence was predominantly in the form of Siifism, and the poetry and philosophy of the Persian mystics such as ‘Attir, Rinmi, Sidi, and Hifiz inspired Kabir. •From the Hindu side, Kabir was a product of the bhakti movement of devotional theism which represented a reaction against a decadent Buddhism and the intellectualism of the Advaitist Vedinta philosophy. •This move-ment had its philosophical expression in the eleventh century in the theistic Vaisnavism of Riminuja, who also made great strides toward the liberaliza- tion of the social and religious life of India.

In the fifteenth century R~mi- nanda carried this tendency further. incarnation. Riminanda, however, re- moved virtually all caste distinctions and further relaxed rules of worship which had been retained by Rim. inuja. 3 Kabir, building upon this founda- tion, carried the rejection of ritual and formalism so far that in this respect his protest has been compared to that of the Quakers. 4 For Kabir, one thing alone is needful-to look beyond oneself to the ground of all Being, in union with which lies perfect bliss. As the bhakti movement liberalized Hinduism, so the Sfifis liberalized Islam, and by one of the fortunate accidents of history the full development of each movement occurred in fifteenth-century India.

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These two streams of thought met in Kabir •In the use of the metaphors of love, the bhaktas were in almost direct opposition to much of traditional Hinduism, which as late as the time of the Bhagavad-gita was teaching that the realization of God could be accomplished only through the abolition of all sense-desires. The image of Krishna was thus appropriated in the divine love play, the raas lila. Sufism used dance and song to reach god, the ecstacy provided by wine to be found intoxicated in religion. •Men of vidya, or vision, say what lan- guage and logic were not invented to say. “8 The symbols of language are inevitably naturalistic, having arisen early in the history of the race through the need to communicate at a thoroughly utilitarian level of life.

Kabir was well aware of these limitations, for he said, “That which you see is not, and for that which is you have no words •The limitations of language go deeper than the difficulty of finding appro- priate terms. Language involves a division between subject and object, be- tween the self and the not-self. This implies dualism or pluralism while mystical thought in general and much of Indian idealism in particular holds that the distinction between the individual and God is phenomenal only and not real.

In the mystical experience, subject and object are felt to be transcended, and Kabir shared with Samkara the conviction that when igno- rance is abolished the soul knows itself to be one with the Supreme Atman. •Of the soul, Kabir said, “It should not be given a name, lest it call forth the error of dualism. “12 To describe God at all, or even to give him a name, one must refer to his attributes, a process which, since “all determination is negation,” limits and falsifies his nature. It makes of God an object, setting him over against the individual.

Sariakara was con- vinced that such conceptual, attributive knowledge was only relative and must necessarily miss the essence of God •Kabir’s philosophy (qualified non-dualism) can be placed in contrast to advaita school of samkara which held that the phenomenal world known through apara vidya (lower knowledge) and at this level god is known as the sargun brahman, there is no way conceiving him except by means of his attributes. God as an object of knowledge, the principle of non-dualism is violated. violated. The true knowledge of God is the higher knowledge (pard vidya) by which God is known as Nirguna Brahman, Brahman without qualities.

The soul in the state of moksa, liberation from ignorance, knows itself to be one with the qualityless Brahman, but cannot express this truth except in negative terms. To every possible affirmation one must reply with the famous phrase from the Upanisads, “neti, neti,” “not this, not this. ” •emphasizing the reality of the empirical world, Kabir holds a view similar to Aristotle’s that universals exist in particulars rather than apart from the •Kabir sometimes referred to God as R~im, but it is clear that he did not mean the epic hero but the “True Guru,” the “One Lord. immutable. Every soul expresses the essence of God, and yet individuality is not lost in the Infinite. God is the ground of all being and the creator and sustainer of all finite existences, not only in idea, but in actuality. As Kabir expressed it, If I say that He is within me, the universe is ashamed: If I say that He is without me, it is falsehood. He makes the inner and the outer worlds to be indivisibly one; The conscious and the unconscious.