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Kabir, Rumi’s Heir
The wisdom of the great
15th Century Indian poet
Kabir holds true for our life
today, says Jeremy Ball.
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Jalal ad-Din Muha mmed Rumi, who
lived in what wa s Persia from 1207
to 1273, is without doubt the world’s
most fa mous a nd revered poet. Even
in the English language and more than
700 yea rs since his soul reunited with the
divine, volume s of his poetry sell more
than a ny others. It seems nowadays e very
funeral, wedding and blessing ceremony
is perfumed, no longer with Shake spe are’s
sonnets or passages from the Bible, but with
Rumi’s s weet s acred prose.
When hearing or re citing Rumi’s words,
people universally proclaim them as inspired
in the fullest meaning of the word. Rumi
was a prince among men, tall, elegant and
noble in character. Yet it was not until he
met Sha ms of Tabriz, a tiger of a person,
dark and powerful in spirit, that he flowered
into the great poet we know today.
Shams, whose name means Sun in
Arabic , wa s a wa ndering mystic disguised a s
a mercha nt, who sought out Rumi in Konya ,
now in Turkey. Rumi instantly recognised
Shams’ depth of spirit and the cutting
truth in this most mysterious of people.
Rumi quickly beca me c ompletely devoted
to Shams as his disciple and, through this
relationship and Rumi’s surrender to it,
Shams was able to blaze away the younger
Rumi’s e go. Shams cre ated a clear mirror for
the rays of the divine to shine through in
Rumi’s poetry, like a skilled diamond cutter
creating a glittering gem from a shiny stone.
Almost 200 years later, another man
destined to be a great poet of the soul, K abir,
was born in India. Less well known than Rumi,
in the Western world at least, Kabir’s students
were to found a religion, which currently has
more than nine million followers.
On reading Kabir’s work, it appears as if
the wildness and fervent ferocity of Shams
and the regal majesty of Rumi have met in
The details of Kabir’s life are the subject of
legend; what we do know is that he was born
in Northern India in a time of great rivalry
bet ween Hindus and Muslims. It is believed
he was born to a Hindu family but orphaned
or given up and raised by a poor Muslim
weaver. Both Hindus and Muslims claim him
as their own, but for Kabir his loyalty is clear
seeing all as one. During a discussion with
a visiting pilgrim, Kabir uttered these lines:
1. Brother, whence came two divine masters
of the world? Who has led you astray?
Allah, Rama, Karim, Keshava, Hari,
Hazrat, are but names given.
2. Jewels and jewels are made of one gold
bar; but in it is one nature only. In
speech and hearing only, two are made:
one Nama z another Puja,
3. He is Mahadeo, he Mohammad : Brahma
is called Adam.
One is called Hindu, one Turk: both live
on the one earth.
4. One reads the Vedas, another Khutbas:
one is Maulvi, one is Pande. Each is
called by a separate nam e; both are pots
of the one clay.
Kabir carries the spiritual insight and
divine connection of Rumi with the
devastating cutting edge of Shams. K abir
lived for much of his life in what is now
Varanasi, the city of great spiritual thinkers
and universities on the banks of the great
Ganges River. But coming from a humble
c aste and neither Hindu nor Muslim, nor
a ligning himself to any creed, he wa s a
radical. Kabir pointed his gnarly finger at
the naked emperor of the caste system and
the pomposity, piety and conceit of much
of the spiritual elite, as is clearly displayed
in this piece of prose:
1. Pandits have gon e a stray reading and
studying the Vedas: they do not know the
secr et of their own selves.
2. Their evening and morning prayers,
their six modes of worship: and many
things like these they consider virtu ou s
3. They made the Gayatri to be recited in
all four ages: go and ask them who has
thus found salvation.
4. If touched by another you wash your body:
but tell me, who is meaner than you?
5. These are your good deeds, yet you are
consumed with pride: from such pride no
one will derive any benefit.
6. He whose name is the breaker of pride:
How can He tole rate your pride?
7. Sakhi: “They who give up pride of race
and attachme nt and search for the word
alone , R enouncing the shoot and seed of
all desire, these men become freed from
body and from space
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