Kabir: The Man, The Myth, The Mystic, The Master and More

Kabir: The Man, The Myth, The Mystic, The Master and More... Kabir was one of India's leading spiritual saints who lived in the northern part of India in (and around) the holy city of Benares (also called Varanasi). He is widely renowned for his pithy couplets and songs that connect life and spirituality in a simple yet powerful way. Kabir's genius has been in that he has inspired the scholars/poets like Rabindranath Tagore and the common masses. His words were in a universal language that, literally and figuratively, broke down barriers to experiencing the divine.

It is intriguing that there continues to be many unknowns about Kabir's life despite the extensive and global awareness of his verses and sayings. In fact, even basic information on his life—for instance, when he was born, who his parents were, what his family life was like, and when he died—is shrouded in mystery. Indeed, very little appears to be known about him with any degree of certainty. Perhaps, these controversies can be attributed partly to the parochial manipulation of his life history by various religious sects. Hindus want him to be a representative of their religion. They claim that he was born to a Hindu woman, even though he was raised by a Muslim family and that he was a disciple of a Hindu Guru, Ramananda. Some dismiss theories of Kabir's illegitimate birth by claiming that his birth-mother, even though unmarried, had an Immaculate Conception. Muslims tend to emphasize his Muslim upbringing and his initiation into the Sufi traditions. The celibate/ascetic sects claim that Kabir never married and if evidence of his marriage is presented, they retort that he never had an intimate relationship with his wife. Proponents of tantric traditions point to Kabir's songs to show that he was influenced very much by the Kundalini practices. Sikh and Shabad-based traditions say that the essence of Kabir's practice was based on tuning in to the internal sounds, even though they vehemently deny that Guru Nanak was Kabir's disciple and tend to support the theory that Kabir died before the birth of Guru Nanak. In summary, each sect's claim on Kabir appears to be self-serving and, hence, cannot be considered as providing reliable information on his life. Indeed, it is likely that divergent viewpoints and claims on Kabir's life will continue to exist despite the efforts of historians, philosophers and literary scholars to reach consensus.

In my opinion, it is ironic but no coincidence that such conundrums on Kabir's physical existence persist. Perhaps, Kabir would have liked it that way? He was quite unimpressed and even irreverent to the dogmas of organized religion and society. His essence was far more subtle, pervasive, unconstrained and universal — in short, beyond the boundaries laid down by religious, sectarian and social traditions. In this article, I attempt to humbly share with you my personal understandings and experiences of Kabir that, despite my own biases and limitations, continue to have a life of their own within me.

Kabir, The Man

We can safely say that Kabir lived during the 15th or 16th century. Even though his exact birth and death times cannot be ascertained reliably, it is quite likely that he lived beyond the age of 50. It would be reasonable to assume that he was not formally educated because his songs and couplets lack the erudite tone and have a refreshing rustic quality. That he may have been a weaver is evident from his songs and couplets that draw inspiration and metaphors from the weaving profession. It is also likely that he was born and brought up poor and continued to work throughout his life as he strongly upheld the working-to-earn way of life.

It is clear from his songs and teachings that he was a very observant and thoughtful person, who questioned everything that was taught or presented to him. It is likely that he spent considerable time observing nature, as his teachings also draw inspiration and learning from the trees, animals, birds and the ocean. Long-standing traditions of Kabir in the states of Gujarat, Maharashtra, Bengal, Punjab and Madhya Pradesh indicate that either Kabir or his leading disciple(s) traveled to those parts, and/or his popularity drew seekers from these parts to come and learn from him and later returned to establish a following in their native areas.

What distinguished Kabir from other"gurus"Were his inner conviction and an undying trust in his own self and experience. He seems to have questioned and challenged all scriptural teachings, traditions and rituals, until he himself was able to validate their truth. This, however, should not be taken to imply that he rejected all teachings and practices. To the contrary, given his familiarity with, and his use of stories/teachings from, a variety of traditions, he appears to have openly embraced and accepted any path that could be validated by his own experience. Perhaps, this is why it is so difficult to typecast Kabir into this or that faith or tradition. Sometimes, he was this, sometimes he was that and at other times he was neither this nor that!

What is clear is that Kabir was courageous enough to speak his truth even in face of societal pressures and coercion. From his work, we know that he was quite critical of hypocrisy especially among religious leaders. Even though we cannot ascertain whether he was tolerant of genuine devotees who worshipped physical forms of God, we can be reasonably confident that his own spiritual path was focused more on an internal form of devotion to God and Guru—terms that he often used interchangeably to convey the cosmic force. In essence, the core of Kabir's life and teachings are based on honesty, truth, conviction and simplicity, renewed continuously by inner experience and propelled by an unceasing detachment from the web of physical and mental realities.

Kabir, The Myth

As we discussed earlier, many controversies exist about Kabir's birth, upbringing, family life, teachings, practices and death. In my opinion these "myths"Are irrelevant to the essence of Kabir. Indeed, I would say that those who are enamored or engaged by these myths are, probably, missing the point. Still, for the record, I would now like to propose clarifications on a few other widely-held beliefs about Kabir.

Kabir is often considered to be a social or religious reformer who tried to bridge the gap among various castes and religious sects. Even though Kabir showed a healthy disregard for conventional boundaries of society and organized religion, his intrinsic pursuit was rooted in spirituality and spirituality alone. In the process of conveying the innate spirituality of all of creation, Kabir, in all likelihood, had to deal with and overcome prevalent parochial barriers. But this ought not to be misconstrued to imply that his intent was to reform society or religion.

Another prevalent myth is that Kabir was primarily a literary figure, a poet and an orator. But, Kabir's life was deeply ingrained in spirituality, and in the process of conveying his teachings he probably used poetry and metaphors. Therefore, his magnificent contribution to Hindi literature is only secondary and, indeed, a testimony to the fundamental spiritual message of his teachings.

Finally, there are many written or sung verses attributed to Kabir in circulation in the commercial/spiritual marketplace. It is my opinion that many of these are altered, modified, embellished or corrupted. After an extensive study of Kabir's work, it is my understanding that Kabir did not use the name "Ram"to imply the deity, Rama. Rather, to Kabir, Ram is a symbolic representation of the inner sound or experience. Similarly, it is unlikely that Kabir used any reference to Krishna or any of the other Hindu gods, as his practices were primarily inwardly directed. Indeed, we should be careful not to mistake the use of the signature line"Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho..."to imply authenticity. In fact, this signature line makes it easy to create"believable" altered/corrupted writings.

One could lament," What a pity! We can't really ascertain the truth from the untruth." But, isn't this exactly what Kabir is really trying to teach us here? Wasn't his life about not taking anybody's word as the truth until we could validate it ourselves? The experience of Kabir is likely to unfold when we are impelled to put aside the irrelevant myths and instead, focus on an honest and intense quest for the truth.

Kabir, The Mystic

Kabir's uniqueness and ingenuity is that he communicates his message through the use of easy-to-understand metaphors, drawing inspiration from day-to-day life. Whether it is comparing God to a weaver, body to a cloth, Guru to a washerman, ignorance to a crow, cosmic experience to the ocean, senses to the deer, humility and steadfastness to the tree, grace and beauty of solitude and completeness to a swan, longing for God to the longing of a newly-wed bride, he is able to establish a very vivid and instantaneous channel of communication with his audience. Perhaps, this is one of the reasons why Kabir's followers and admirers come from a wide array of backgrounds.

However, Kabir's true mysticism becomes apparent only when one starts living the words. The authenticity of Kabir's words is rooted in the depth of his own experience that has a seed-like latent quality to it. That is, through one's care and nurturing, Kabir's words have the potential to flower into a variety of experiences that are not immediately obvious in the first engagement. For instance, it is one thing to intellectually understand the meaning of"Chalti Chaaki Dekh Kar Diya Kabira Roye, Dui Pataan Ke Beech Mein Saabat Bacha Na Koi", but totally a different thing to experience the truth of that statement. I have found that if a couplet or song of Kabir engages me, it is likely to have much more in store if I further introspect on it. In other words, what is obvious in Kabir's words is often suggestive, but what's veiled is significant. Kabir himself describes this mystical instruction as —"Gunge Ki Sain Jin Jani Un Mani" (Those who recognized the indication of the mute, found the truth).

Besides his more obvious teachings, Kabir sometimes poses (seemingly) illogical riddles to his audience (e.g., A child was born before The Mother's birth, the Guru is touching the feet of the disciple, the fish are swinging on the trees, or the lion is riding the waves of the ocean), challenging them to find a solution. In my opinion, these riddles do not necessarily have any solutions or meaning per se, but, perhaps, are intended to draw us into a deepened state of introspection. They may make one question the direction of flow of time. They may enable us to experience the ability of the human mind to create any reality. Or, they may make one realize suddenly that the flow-based creativity within us is like a fish. In my limited experience, the meaning of these riddles or words is exactly and precisely the experience they generate within us, and it is futile and even counterproductive to look for the right answer.

Kabir's true mysticism is in his personalized instruction for each one of us — which is likely to reveal in its fullness when we abandon ourselves to the search for the ultimate truth that Kabir so completely personified.

Kabir, The Master

Kabir speaks to us in a direct and uninhibited tone that invariably shakes us out of our slumber-like existence. His candid and frank style is so beautiful and refreshingly crisp. The instructions are simple yet deep, obvious yet multi-layered, challenging yet caring, powerful yet empowering, irreverent yet deeply devotional. Indeed, Kabir, lived what he preached, or, more accurately, preached what he lived. Like a true master, he always spoke the highest truth regardless of the circumstances. Kabir's completeness and humility becomes obvious in how he addresses every seeker as a Sadhu and himself as the commoner, Kabira. Sometimes one gets the feeling that the conversational teachings of Kabir, are actually a dialog between Kabir, the Master and Kabir, the disciple, inside of him. Despite his open criticism of dogmas and sects, Kabir is very embracing of every seeker and includes himself in that category. It's a bond of friendship that Kabir extends to everybody by his simple calling —"Kahat Kabir Suno Bhai Sadho...". In this simple way he affirms the intrinsic divinity in each of us and opens up an intimate and direct channel of communication with each one of us.

In conclusion, I would like to share with you my personal encounter with Kabir — one that changed me profoundly:

I was visiting my parents in India on vacation. One of Kabir's songs was playing in the background on the portable boom box. I walked into the kitchen and noticed that the middle-aged maid, who was cleaning the utensils, was using her saree to wipe her tears. I could not understand why she was crying and I did not feel it appropriate for me to ask her. After a few minutes she herself spoke softly in her village Hindi dialect —"Bhaia, yeh theek hi toh bolta hai. Bhagwan ka kare jab hum hi bhul gai usko?"[Brother, he (referring to Kabir's words) is speaking the truth. What can God do if I myself have forgotten him?]. Intrigued by her comment, I asked her if she understood the meaning of what he was saying. She simply replied," Haan bhaiya, theek bolta hai"[Yes brother, he speaks the truth]. Her simple reply instantaneously threw my intellectual understanding into insignificance. The words of Kabir became less important than the truth of her realization. Kabir had manifested himself through her. In that moment Kabir Das taught me Truth-101 through that divine lady. I got a true introduction and initiation to the experience of Kabir.

— Maalok
May 20, 2002


The fulfillment of the promised divine eschatological instruction
“The original meaning of the word ‘apocalypse’, derived from the Greek apokalypsis, is in fact not the cataclysmic end of the world, but an ‘unveiling’, or ‘revelation’, a means whereby one gains insight into the present.” (Kovacs, 2013, 2) An apocalypse (Greek: apokalypsis meaning “an uncovering”) is in religious contexts knowledge or revelation, a disclosure of something hidden, “a vision of heavenly secrets that can make sense of earthly realities.” (Ehrman 2014, 59)
Shri Mataji
Shri Mataji Nirmala Devi (1923-2011) was Christian by birth, Hindu by marriage, and Paraclete by duty.
“The Paraclete will come (15:26; 16:7, 8, 13) as Jesus has come into the world (5:43; 16:28; 18:37)... The Paraclete will take the things of Christ (the things that are mine, ek tou emou) and declare them (16:14-15). Bishop Fison describes the humility of the Spirit, 'The true Holy Spirit of God does not advertise Herself: She effaces Herself and advertises Jesus.' ...
It is by the outgoing activity of the Spirit that the divine life communicates itself in and to the creation. The Spirit is God-in-relations. The Paraclete is the divine self-expression which will be and abide with you, and be in you (14:16-17). The Spirit's work is described in terms of utterance: teach you, didasko (14:26), remind you, hypomimnesko (14:26), testify, martyro (15:26), prove wrong, elencho (16:8), guide into truth, hodego (16:13), speak, laleo (16:13, twice), declare, anangello (16:13, 14, 15). The johannine terms describe verbal actions which intend a response in others who will receive (lambano), see (theoreo), or know (ginosko) the Spirit. Such speech-terms link the Spirit with the divine Word. The Spirit's initiatives imply God's personal engagement with humanity. The Spirit comes to be with others; the teaching Spirit implies a community of learners; forgetful persons need a prompter to remind them; one testifies expecting heed to be paid; one speaks and declares in order to be heard. The articulate Spirit is the correlative of the listening, Spirit-informed community.
The final Paraclete passage closes with a threefold repetition of the verb she will declare (anangello), 16:13-15. The Spirit will declare the things that are to come (v.13), and she will declare what is Christ's (vv. 14, 15). The things of Christ are a message that must be heralded...
The intention of the Spirit of truth is the restoration of an alienated, deceived humanity... The teaching role of the Paraclete tends to be remembered as a major emphasis of the Farewell Discourses, yet only 14:26 says She will teach you all things. (Teaching is, however, implied when 16:13-15 says that the Spirit will guide you into all truth, and will speak and declare.) Franz Mussner remarks that the word used in 14:26, didaskein, "means literally 'teach, instruct,' but in John it nearly always means to reveal.” (Stevick 2011, 292-7)
Stephen E. Witmer, Divine instruction in Early Christianity   
F. B. Meyer, Love to the Utmost Robert Kysar, John, the Maverick Gospel 
Danny Mahar, Aramaic Made EZ Lucy Reid, She Changes Everything
David Fleer, Preaching John's Gospel: The World It Imagines Berard L. Marthaler, The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology
George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament In Spirit and Truth, Benny Thettayil
Jesus and His Own: A Commentary on John 13-17 Marianne Meye Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John
Eric Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus' Miracles D. R. Sadananda, The Johannine Exegesis of God: an exploration into the Johannine understanding of God
Michael Welker, God the Spirit Georg Strecker, Theology of the New Testament
Tricia Gates Brown, Spirit in the writings of John Michael Welker, The work of the Spirit: pneumatology and Pentecostalism
Robert Kysar, Voyages with John: Charting the Fourth Gospel John F. Moloney, The Gospel of John
Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith Robert Kysar, John
Robert E. Picirilli, The Randall House Bible Commentary George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament 
“The teaching of the Paraclete, as the continuation of Jesus' teaching, must also be understood as the fulfillment of the promise of eschatological divine instruction.”
Stephen E. Witmer, Divine instruction in Early Christianity

“Jesus therefore predicts that God will later send a human being to Earth to take up the role defined by John .i.e. to be a prophet who hears God's words and repeats his message to man.”
M. Bucaille, The Bible, the Qur'n, and Science

“And when Jesus foreannounced another Comforter, He must have intended a Person as distinct and helpful as He had been.”
F. B. Meyer, Love to the Utmost

“The Paraclete has a twofold function: to communicate Christ to believers and, to put the world on trial.”
Robert Kysar, John The Meverick Gospel

“But She—the Spirit, the Paraclete...—will teach you everything.”
Danny Mahar, Aramaic Made EZ)

“Grammatical nonsense but evidence of the theological desire to defeminize the Divine.”
Lucy Reid, She Changes Everything

“The functions of the Paraclete spelled out in verses 13-15... are all acts of open and bold speaking in the highest degree.”
David Fleer, Preaching John's Gospel

“The reaction of the world to the Paraclete will be much the same as the world's reaction was to Jesus.”
Berard L. Marthaler, The Creed: The Apostolic Faith in Contemporary Theology

Bultmann calls the “coming of the Redeemer an 'eschatological event,' 'the turning-point of the ages.”
G. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament

“The Paraclete equated with the Holy Spirit, is the only mediator of the word of the exalted Christ.”
Benny Thettayil, In Spirit and Truth

“The divine Paraclete, and no lessor agency, must show the world how wrong it was about him who was in the right.”
Daniel B. Stevick , Jesus and His Own: A Commentary on John 13-17

Stephen Smalley asserts that “The Spirit-Paraclete ... in John's Gospel is understood as personal, indeed, as a person.”
Marianne Thompson, The God of the Gospel of John

“The Messiah will come and the great age of salvation will dawn (for the pious).”
Eric Eve, The Jewish context of Jesus' Miracles

“The remembrance is to relive and re-enact the Christ event, to bring about new eschatological decision in time and space.”
Daniel Rathnakara Sadananda, The Johannine Exegesis of God

“The Spirit acts in such an international situation as the revealer of 'judgment' on the powers that rule the world.”
Michael Welker, God the Spirit

The Paraclete's “Appearance means that sin, righteousness, and judgment will be revealed.”
Georg Strecker, Theology of the New Testament

“While the Spirit-Paraclete is the true broker, the brokers they rely on are impostors.”
T. G. Brown, Spirit in the writings of John

“The pneumatological activity ... of the Paraclete ... may most helpfully be considered in terms of the salvific working of the hidden Spirit.”
Michael Welker, The work of the Spirit

“The pneuma is the peculiar power by which the word becomes the words of eternal life.”
Robert Kysar, Voyages with John

“The gift of peace, therefore, is intimately associated with the gift of the Spirit-Paraclete.”
Francis J. Moloney, The Gospel of John

“This utopian hope, even when modestly expressed, links Jesus and the prophets to a much wider history of human longing.”
Harvey Cox, The Future of Faith

“Because of the presence of the Paraclete in the life of the believer, the blessings of the end-times—the eschaton—are already present.”
Robert Kysar, John

“They are going, by the Holy Spirit's power, to be part of the greatest miracle of all, bringing men to salvation.”
R. Picirilli, The Randall House Bible Commentary

“The Kingdom of God stands as a comprehensive term for all that the messianic salvation included... is something to be sought here and now (Mt. 6:33) and to be received as children receive a gift (Mk. 10:15 = Lk. 18:16-17).”
G. Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament

“But today is the day I declare that I am the one who has to save the humanity. I declare I am the one who is Adishakti, who is the Mother of all the Mothers, who is the Primordial Mother, the Shakti, the desire of God, who has incarnated on this Earth to give its meaning to itself; to this creation, to human beings and I am sure through My Love and patience and My powers I am going to achieve it.

I was the one who was born again and again. But now in my complete form and complete powers I have come on this Earth not only for salvation of human beings, not only for their emancipation, but for granting them the Kingdom of Heaven, the joy, the bliss that your Father wants to bestow upon you.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh
December 2, 1979—London, UK

“I am the one about which Christ has talked... I am the Holy Spirit who has incarnated on this Earth for your realization.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh
New York, USA—September 30, 1981

“Tell all the nations and tell all the people all over the Great Message that the Time of Resurrection is here. Now, at this time, and that you are capable of doing it.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh
Cowley Manor Seminar, UK—July 31, 1982

“This is the transformation that has worked, of which Christ has talked, Mohammed Sahib has talked, everybody has talked about this particular time when people will get transformed.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
Chistmas Puja, Ganapatipule, India—25 December 1997

“The Resurrection of Christ has to now be collective Resurrection. This is what is Mahayoga. Has to be the collective Resurrection.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
Easter Puja, London, UK—11 April 1982

“Today, Sahaja Yaga has reached the state of Mahayoga, which is en-masse evolution manifested through it. It is this day�s Yuga Dharma. It is the way the Last Judgement is taking place. Announce it to all the seekers of truth, to all the nations of the world, so that nobody misses the blessings of the divine to achieve their meaning, their absolute, their Spirit.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
MAHA AVATAR, ISSUE 1, JUL-SEP 1980 (Date and place unknown)

“The main thing that one has to understand is that the time has come for you to get all that is promised in the scriptures, not only in the Bible but all all the scriptures of the world. The time has come today that you have to become a Christian, a Brahmin, a Pir, through your Kundalini awakening only. There is no other way. And that your Last Judgment is also now.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi

“You see, the Holy Ghost is the Mother. When they say about the Holy Ghost, She is the Mother... Now, the principle of Mother is in every, every scripture — has to be there. Now, the Mother's character is that She is the one who is the Womb, She is the one who is the Mother Earth, and She is the one who nourishes you. She nourishes us. You know that. And this Feminine thing in every human being resides as this Kundalini.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
Radio Interview Oct 01 1983—Santa Cruz, USA

“It is the Mother who can awaken the Kundalini, and that the Kundalini is your own Mother. She is the Holy Ghost within you, the Adi Shakti, and She Herself achieves your transformation. By any talk, by any rationality, by anything, it cannot be done.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi

“She is your pure Mother. She is the Mother who is individually with you. Forget your concepts, and forget your identifications. Please try to understand She is your Mother, waiting for ages to give you your real birth. She is the Holy Ghost within you. She has to give you your realization, and She's just waiting and waiting to do it.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
Public Program Mar 22 1981—Sydney, Australia

“The Kundalini is your own mother; your individual mother. And She has tape-recorded all your past and your aspirations. Everything! And She rises because She wants to give you your second birth. But She is your individual mother. You don't share Her with anybody else. Yours is a different, somebody else's is different because the tape-recording is different. We say She is the reflection of the Adi Shakti who is called as Holy Ghost in the Bible.”

THE MOTHER: Messiah-Paraclete-Ruh-Devi
Press Conference July 08 1999—London, UK

The Great Goddess is both wholly transcendent and fully immanent: beyond space and time, she is yet embodied within all existent beings; without form as pure, infinite consciousness (cit) ... She is the universal, cosmic energy known as Sakti, and the psychophysical, guiding force designated as the Kundalini (Serpent Power) resident within each individual. She is eternal, without origin or birth, yet she is born in this world in age after age, to support those who seek her assistance. Precisely to provide comfort and guidance to her devotees, she presents herself in the Devi Gita to reveal the truths leading both to worldly happiness and to the supreme spiritual goals: dwelling in her Jeweled Island and mergence into her own perfect being.” (Brown, 1998, 2)

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