Kabir, 1825 Painting of Kabir Weaving, Public Domain
Kabir was a mystic and poet born in India around 1398. As an infant, he was abandoned on the streets of Benares. He was taken in and raised by a Muslim family.
As an adult, he became a weaver–of cloth and of words. He wrote eloquent poems and songs that teach of the essential oneness of all religions.
He was critical of all meaningless rites and mindless repetition, yet he belonged to the disciplined, intense and exacting guru tradition.
From Hinduism Kabir accepted the ideas of reincarnation and the law of karma, but rejected idolatry, asceticism, and the caste system. His poems speak with the voice of the Bakti tradition, which is the way of the heart, a tradition that speaks of God as “The Lover.”
From Islam, Kabir accepted the idea of one God and the equality of all men. He fits well into the Sufi tradition.
Revered by both Hindus and Muslims, he is also considered a forerunner of Sikhism.
His ideas led to the founding of several sects, including the Kabir Panth, which regards Kabir as its principal guru.
As his works have been translated into English, he has received a wide following among Westerners of all spiritual traditions.
Here are two poems of Kabir, translated by Robert Bly:
Are you looking for me? I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
Not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing
When you really look for me, you will see me
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says, Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
Have you heard the music that no fingers
Far inside the house
What is the sense of leaving your house?
Suppose you scrub your ethical skin
until it shines,
but inside there is no music,
Mohammed’s son pores over words,
and points out this
but if his chest is not soaked dark with love,
The Yogi comes along in his famous orange.
But if inside he is colorless, then what?
Kabir says: Every instant that the sun is risen,
if I stand in the temple, or on a balcony,
in the hot fields, or in a walled garden,
my own Lord is making love to me.