The Relevance of Kabir

INTERPRETING ANEW THE RADICAL 15th CENTURY PHILOSOPHER-POET

Tag: criticizing religion

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Todd

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Excerpt from The Relevance of Kabir

“Belief, right or wrong, affects our behaviours.

For example, my father returned late from work after being gone for several days. It was hot despite being quite late. My mother slept why my father disrobed and prepared for bed. He thought to open the sliding glass door opposite the bed to let in some air. As he slid the door open, he heard the faintest noise, in spite of the fact that he was hard of hearing. Being familiar with the sound of a hammer being pulled back on a 357 magnum, he said, “Honey, it’s me.” Then, my mother, who had been silent until this point, and had almost shot her husband, commenced to give him a piece of her mind in a rant that he did not contest. Take my word for it, my father was as close to dying as one can be and still live. You see, my mom mistook him for an intruder, and a naked one at that. All she saw was the silhouette of a naked man. What we believe matters a lot, especially when it is wrong.

Not everyone is lucky enough to have access to facts that controvert flawed beliefs. Still, when events threaten our viewpoints, we may excuse contrary facts as an exception to the rule and the beliefs stand as strong as before. The more serious the disillusionment, the more difficult it becomes to explain away contradictions. When events of our lives surpass our capacities to rationalize, then our confidence will shatter, particularly regarding beliefs about ourselves. Kabir’s poems take the place of disillusioning events to quicken our understanding about life. When we let go of prejudices, we gain access to alternative ways of responding.”

There is nothing but water at the

holy bathing places; and I know

that they are useless, for I have

bathed in them.

The images [gods] are all lifeless, they cannot

speak; I know, for I have cried

aloud to them.

The Purana and the Koran are mere

words; lifting up the curtain, I

have seen.

Kabîr gives utterance to the words of

experience; and he knows very

well that all other things are un-true.

Kabir,

Translated by Rabindranath Tagore

Kabir Scrutinizes Religion

ToddThere is nothing but water at the holy bathing places; and I know that they are useless, for I have  bathed in them.

The images [gods] are all lifeless, they cannot speak; I know, for I have cried aloud to them.

The Purana and the Koran are mere words; lifting up the curtain, I have seen.

Kabîr gives utterance to the words of experience; and he knows very well that all other things are un- true.

“Many people would call the above verse intolerant, but Kabir neither persecuted nor limits anyone’s choices. Do not confuse criticism with oppression. To challenge a belief by demonstrating a reason to think it false shows concern for others. Controversy is a difficult matter when one is in an extreme minority. Kabir expended the effort to help others in spite of the fact that the exertion did not raise him financially. His prose invites observation in judging beliefs. We can misunderstand facts, but, if we wish to challenge our ideas beyond verbal scrutiny, then experience will show us what is untrue through trial and error.

We have a sacred tool called experimentation and this long dead poet dares us to test our ideas. Furthermore, Kabir spoke this statement approximately three centuries before David Hume insisted experience was a formidable challenge to beliefs. Hume had the advantage of education; he learned the best scientific and logical methods of his time. Similar learning was not available to a poor weaver in 15th century India. Kabir grasped the argument he used intuitively. To cultivate such reason, almost completely alone, and against the popular ideas of his day tells us a lot about the integrity and capacity of this poet.”

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Poem Translation, Rabindranath Tagore, [Public Domain]

A chapter In the book, Scrutinizing Religion,  I devoted solely  to the poems of Kabir that fault religion. Some people only meet a ‘whitewashed’ Kabir. After his death, the religions he criticised appropriated his words. I felt surprise when the largest supporter of this book, Chandra Kotaru, learned of Kabir as a school boy but did NOT know of the more daring poems.  If we only hear of Kabir as a ‘saint,’ then to meet his criticism of saints is a shock. This is one reason I took four translations and collated sceptical examples in one chapter. If we dilute our wisest benefactors from the past, we rob living generations of the inheritance these brave souls left as treasure for us all! Kabir is not the only poet to suffer this fate.  Greeting cards and calendars quote the beloved Rumi  but his poems involving sex seem curiously and often absent. To castrate the most intelligent is a vulgar crime that usually goes unpunished. The wonderful book Delicious Laughter by Coleman Barks is one of the books that corrects the lie of omission often done to Jelaluddin Rumi.