A living river of the spirit
The beloved legacy of the Bhakti poets is their burning desire to see, feel and merge with God.india Updated: Jun 13, 2006 11:10 IST
Tomorrow is Kabir Jayanti and as we gladly recall his luminous spirit, it's fascinating to think what a critical link he and the whole glorious company of Bhakti saint-poets were in thepravaha or flow of our spiritual life.
For instance, it's a marvel how they discarded Puranic junk and instead seem to have climbed the pure, lofty heights of the earlier Upanishads. They took profound and lovely concepts from those “Himalayas of the soul” and brought them down to earth in simple language that everyone could understand and be inspired by. Not all of them knew Sanskrit. This can only mean that the Upanishads had been so dissolved and drunk by far-ranging swathes of Indian people that even millennia later, reformers and rebels used those concepts naturally as their own, with deeply internalised ownership.
Here’s a lyrical example. Kabir’s doha says: Jaise til mein tel hai, jyon chakmak mein aag, tera Sayeen tujh mein hai, tu jaag sake toh jaag. “Like seed contains the oil, and flint stone, fire, Your Lord is within you, realise Him if you can.” The Isha Upanishad (1:15) says: Tilesu tailam, dadhineeva sarpir, aapas srotassu, araneesuchagnih, evam aatmaatani grhyatesau, satyenainam tapasyonupashyatih. “As oil in sesame seeds, as butter in cream, as water buried deep in dry riverbeds, as fire in friction sticks, so is God hidden in my own soul, if I search with honesty and true effort.”
A Sanskrit variation, treasured as a “DhyanaBindu” or focus-point that becomes a gateway for the mind, goes: Pushpa madhye yatha gandham, payo madhye yatha ghrtam, tila madhye yatha tailam, pashaaneesh iva kaanchanam… “As fragrance in a flower, butter in milk, oil in a sesame seed and gold in a golden reef, so is God in all things.” Now consider this verse from Guru Tegh Bahadur’s solemn, beautiful Vairagmayi Bani: Puhap madh jiu baas basat hai, makar mah jaise chhayi, Taise hi Hari base nirantar, ghat hi khojah bhai.
“As fragrance in flowers, as your face in the mirror, so God dwells within: seek Him in yourself, brother.” From across the Sahyadri comes the passionate voice of Mahadevi Akka, the medieval rebel-poet, who was fanaa on Shiva as Chenna Mallikarjuna, the Lord white as Jasmine. One of her vachanas (poems) says: “Like treasure hidden in the ground, taste in the fruit, gold in the rock, oil in the seed, the Absolute is hidden away in the heart, no one can know the ways of our Lord white as Jasmine.” (Translated by A.K. Ramanujan).
The examples are endless and breathtaking. Remains only for Swami Vivekananda to say, “Man is potentially divine and the sole purpose of this life is to discover that divinity. The time to do is here and now.” But there’s more. The beloved legacy of the Bhakti poets is their burning desire to see, feel and merge with God. While pining for this union, the best way to clear the path and keep one’s covenant with life, they felt, was to love one’s fellow-beings and indeed all Creation - or at least try not to detest them.
Saying essentially the same thing but with violent imagery, are the sturdy tones of Baba Bulle Shah, the current Sufi chart-topper: Masjid dhaade mandir dhaade, dhaade jo kuchh dhainda; ik kisi da dil na dhaavin, Rab dilaan vichh rehnda. “Break the mosque and break the temple, break what can be broken. But spare only the human heart, which is the house of God.”
Says Kabir gently: Pothi padh padh kar jag mua, pandit bhayo na koye, dhai aakhar prem ke, jo padhe so pandit hoye. “The world passed away reading books with none becoming wiser; only the one who deciphers the letters of Love becomes wise.” Brooding over this life code, we’re startled suddenly to hear across the aeons, the calm, steady voice of the Maitri Upanishad: “Only when the mind has dissolved into the heart can there be true understanding; the rest is mere multiplication of books.”