The Philosophy of Kabir follows the path of devotion enunciated in the earlier scriptures. The central feature of this path is the realization that God is the self of all creatures. The universe is the body of God, the souls are the temples of the Absolute Spirit. God is accessible, adorable, is nearer than anything else to man, is capable of being known, enjoyed and entered into. The path of devotion comprises two divisions, bhakti and prapatti. The distinctive feature of the prapatti, which is taught by the Gita, is that it means seeker’s refuge in the Divine Godhead by means of integral surrender. It is the way of unselfing which entails the act of making God the sole enjoyer (Bhokta) and controller and sovereign of oneself. It combines the path of devotion with the reign of Grace. Whilst bhakti, like other yogas namely jnana and karma, lays stress on the fitness of the individual (adhikara), a fitness that is for all practical purposes determined by his birth and status, in prapatti there is no such restriction. The only fitness is the possession of the ardent unquenchable desire for release, for being saved. It is for all those without any distinctions of caste or creed or faith, whose hearts are sore and bleeding, who have nothing at all, akincana, who are weak, weary and poor. Ramanuja taught both the paths as paths that lead to deliverance.
Kabir is the direct inheritor of this prapatti tradition through Swami Ramananda, who was well-known as a devout and scholarly teacher of the doctrines of Sri Ramanuja, who settle down at Kashi (Banares). Kabir was born in1398 A.D. He lived for 120 years. Kabir was born of a poor Mohammedan weaver’s family, but was very early inclined to the worship of Sri Rama. Kabir could not got initiated directly by Ramananda, and it was by means of a ruse that he got initiated. Kabir placed himself on the steps of the ghat that Ramananda used to frequent for his bath in the early hours of the morning, and Ramananda unwittingly treading on Kabir muttered thrice the holy name of Rama, as was his habit and lifted up Kabir, who in exultation announced himself initiated as disciple, Ramananda was glad. This appears to be almost the first real conversion of any one of another faith into the Hindu-fold. Kabir however used to say that both Rama and Allah meant the same Absolute Personality of god.
Kabir’s acquaintance with Hindu scriptures is much more close than with Islamic thought. Not even Sufism seems to have influenced him much. Kabir practiced the trade of the weaver and lived simply. He also travelled much over North India. He performed miracles too. His life was one constant watch against all types of restrictions and superstitions, whether Hindu or Mohammedan, He had to undergo the usual trials incidental to realization of the Absolute, ridicule, repression and finally respect was gained. Kabir composed and perhaps sang his hymns and poems. Kabir was a poet of beauty. His poetic compositions are called Bijak and comprise Ad-mangal, Ramainis, Sabads, and others. Tagore, our Nobel Laureate, has translated some of his most beautiful pieces.
Kabir’s philosophy of Reality comprises two important features. First and foremost like the other mystics he stresses the importance of the conception of God as the benevolent transcendent Godhead, the Para, and Isvara, who is the true releaser of man from samsara. This godhead could be contacted by means of sincere dhyana on the sacred name learnt form the Guru. This Sacred name leads to the realization of the Godhead within and one finds oneself as coming from the Unconditioned, Para transcendent Being Himself. Kabir says “Now have I come from the Unconditioned; I was bodiless, I took body and I came; In this body I am called Kabir. The Swan1 which has been separated from birth to birth I came to raise him up. I was called the unseen Purusa, Maker, Immortal. With all my body I belong to the sat-lok. I dwell in every heart. Kabir says Hear “O brother sadhus! I have manifested the true name”. these words said to have been spoken by Kabir even as an infant, reveal that the Divine who was Para incarnates in the individual soul and even assumes the name of the soul, and if the individual understands that he is indeed different from his body and has Isvara’s grace his salvation is sure. The constant repetition of the Lord’s name is the means to the realization of the unity with Brahman, who is Hari and who is indwelling in all forms and things, and keeps them as His temple. The realized soul is indeed the temple of God.
1 The swan is the discriminating Soul i.e. himself.
He is the Acharya or the Guru. So much so, Kabir says that the name of God is Kabir, or for the matter of that it can be the name of any great Acharya or Guru in whom the Divine has manifested Himself in full knowledge. Thus the more general theory of Kabir synthesizes the view-points of the infinite Transcendent’s beneficence which is manifested by His central and full immanence in the hearts of all creatures who have given themselves up to Him. Man’s whole being must be offered up to God and man’s work lies in concentration upon the task of weaving the name of Hari constantly. Kabir true to his hereditary vocation as weaver says in his Bijak:
“Weave, weave the name of Hari on which gods, men and Munis are meditating. He stretched the warp and took the shuttle. The four Vedas are the wheel. One beam is Ram Narayan, fulfilling the purposed work.
He made the ocean of the world a trough; therein he kneads the starch. The body of starch is stiffened: few new it as starch.
Moon and Sun-the two are the treadle: in mid-ocean (light) the warp is made. As the Lord of the three words brushed on the starch Shyam joined the broken ends. He sets the pegs, and when he took the reed, then Rama was bound. As the reed beat up the warp, the three loks were bound. None he left free. The three loks were made one loom; the warp worked up and down. The eternal Purusa bade me sit beside him. Kabir entered into light”
(Sabad 64 trans. –Rev. Ahmed Shah)
In the above verse we can see the Agamas fourfold description of the Divine as the transcendent, as creator-source, as avatar, as the inner companion of the soul who watches over it and leads it by the path of light. Kabir wonderfully represents by means of the metaphor of weaver and the weaving the process of creation and liberation. Weaving is a wonderful profession so said Valluvar, the great author of the Kural, who also was a weaver by profession.
Kabir’s vision of the Absolute was that of the absolute immanence of God in all forms and yet no form exhausts Him. There is no doubt that God can be in all things even like the whole sky could be contained in the pupil of the eye. Says Kabir, “I saw a passage smaller than a needles eye. Therein I saw thousands of camels and elephants passing on their way”. This path is the path of inner vision, the vision of the Godhead in the heart is capable of being attained through the apparently trifling act of surrender, by speech of surrender by wearing the name of God always. Kabir entered a wider stream of consciousness when he began to proclaim that he was the Absolute himself even like the Vamadeva of the Upanishads. He was the seed of Brahma he said, the unbounded himself was he. Kabir was a siddha.
The knowledge of the transcendent nature of God alone is insufficient. The knowledge of the immanent nature of God alone is also insufficient. The two are not irreconcilable attributes of God. God is mahato mahiyan, anoroniyan and pervades all things both inside and outside, antar bahisca. Thus alone must God be contemplated upon. Else ignorance will persist, if not result. The Upanishad states that this dual realization will make one cross over death and attain the Immortal. Says Kabir. “The world will die. But I shall not die. I have got one giver of life. Infidels will die; saints will not die. They will fill and drink the immortal juice. If Hari dies, then I will die: if He does not die then now why should I die. Kabir says I fixed the mind in the mind: I became immortal and obtained the Ocean of Happiness”. The saints attain the supreme abode. Saints do not die. They only become flowers of the Divine, are gathered by the Divine for being worn eternally as ornament. The idea is not new. Pattanathar, a siddha, became a heap of flowers on dying. So too did Kabir become a heap of flowers when he passed away. The perfume of his realization spread over the face of Northern India. A new spirit was set afoot and steadily it became the most powerful influence towards communal accord in religious History. For Kabir was the Guru of Guru Nanak the founder of Sikhism. Both faiths claimed him. It is the nature of any universal message to cut across the frontiers of difference by penetrating down to the inner layer of individual being. “In every abode the light doth shine: it is you who are blind that cannot see. When by dint of looking and looking you at length can discern it, the veils of this world will be torn asunder. “The temple of God is a place at which all persons without any difference can worship. A living temple God is the teacher, the prophet and the seer. But he is not all. One should become born again of the flower one had become. So were the alvars, some of them. The world is a place of worship, a temple of the Lord. Says Kabir “By saying that Supreme Reality only dwells in the inner realm of spirit, we shame the outer world of matter and also when we say that he is only in the outside we do not speak the truth”. The world is not contradictory to God. The world and souls are organic to the Divine Lord.
Thus Kabir was conformity with the Bhagavata doctrine. The point of departure of the theory of Kabir from Ramanuja consists in the fact of refusal to recognize idolatry or the Arca-form. In this respect he shows his inclination to the Nirguna form, the truth of the Islamic tradition which has been consistently opposed to image worship of any kind. When reality is present why worship images? When we have the real mother before us why play with dolls of the mother? so asked St. Nammalvar and Tirumangai. This would be to take the representation for reality. This of course is not the meaning of the Arca-form of the Southern and the Agama Schools. But the refusal to recognize idol or icon worship was in tune with the spirit of Islam and was the meeting ground between the Hindu and Mohammedan conceptions of the deity. Thus Kabir reformed Hinduism and led the way for the emergence of a new phase of Hinduism in the North. He established Bhakti through surrender through repetition of Name as the means to realization. He showed the robust way towards the realization of the Divine even here and even in this body itself. He taught the four-fold truth of the nature of Godhead. He affirmed the reality of the process of divinization of Man, God’s nearness and accessibility and grace.