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India's two greatest Medieval poets, Mirabai and Kabir, are among the finest mystic poets in all world literature. The exquisite devotional lyrics of Mirabai, and the knotty, acerbic sayings of Kabir, still resonate with seekers of all spiritual traditions.

Mirabai and Kabir illuminate the deep struggle that is required in order to achieve spiritual development, making these poems as relevant today as it was when Mirabai and Kabir originally wrote.

This collection presents twenty-one of Mirabai lyrics, and eight poems by Kabir, as well as two Upanishads. The translations written during a six-month stay on an ashram in Rajasthan.

The way is walked without feet
– this is Kabir’s message –
the city has no inhabitants,
the Guru is without flesh.

Paperback. 106 pages
8.5 x 5.5 inches
ISBN:
978-0-473-14862-1

FROM THE PREFACE

THE LIFE OF MIRABAI

Legend says that, as a baby, Mira was found in a river near Kurki, in Rajasthan, and was taken into the household of the local king, Ratansi. The truth is somewhat more prosaic.

Mira was born on 15 April 1498, in Bajoli, a small village six miles south-east of Degana Junction, on what is now the Delhi-Jodhpur railway line. Both her parents were of royal lineage, her father being Ratansi Dudawat, her mother, Kusumb Kanwar. On Mira’s birth, Ratansi had a new palace built at Kurki which became her home for her early years. An interesting story relates a supposed incident from this time. It is said that one day Mira saw a marriage party and, on asking what was happening, the event was explained to her. Mira then asked who her husband was. Perhaps jokingly, perhaps seriously, her mother said Lord Krishna. From that day, Mira began worshipping Krishna as her husband.

While Mira was still a child, her mother died. Viramdeo, Mira’s father’s oldest brother, then called her to live with him. Merta became her home. A story from these years indicates the strength of her devotion.

Every day Mira accompanied the king to the temple where they offered milk to the statue of Krishna. One day the king was unable to attend, so Mira took
the milk alone. She asked Krishna to accept the milk, but nothing happened. Then she pleaded, saying he should drink or the king would become angry with her. Lord Krishna then appeared from within the statue and drank the milk. Later, Mira told the king what had happened but he didn’t believe her; so again she took the milk, and again Krishna appeared and drank it.

While we don’t know why Mira chose Krishna to worship rather than some other form of God, we do know a saint gave Mira a statue of Krishna, which she worshipped daily. This statue, called Saligram, now rests near the statue of Charbhuja, in the Mira temple at Merta.

THE LIFE OF KABIR
As with Mira, legend says of Kabir’s birth that he was found as a baby in a river in or near Benares, in this case by a Muslim couple who then adopted him as their own. An alternative birth story is that Kabir was born to a widowed Brahman, and that his (miraculous) birth had been foretold by Ramananda, Kabir’s eventual guru. Whether he was actually adopted, no one knows, but when his reputation became established both Hindus and Muslims claimed him as a saint.

Details of Kabir’s spiritual development are equally scarce. One tradition maintains that he taught from an early age but, as he lacked a guru, people laughed at him, refusing to accept he had any authority to teach. He then decided he needed a guru. The teacher he was drawn to was Ramananda (c. 1400–1480), who was leading a revival of Vedic knowledge in Benares. But there was one obstacle to Kabir becoming Ramananda’s pupil. This obstacle was that Kabir was a Muslim, and traditionally Muslims were not accepted by Hindu teachers.

Accordingly, so the story goes, Kabir hid on the steps down which Ramananda walked on the way to his daily bath. Stumbling over Kabir, in surprise he uttered, “Ram!” After this, Kabir claimed, he had been initiated and was now Ramananda’s pupil. Later in his life, Kabir’s guru was possibly the equally revered Sufi Pir, Takki of Jhansi.

Kabir was no desert ascetic. He was married, most likely at a young age as was the custom, and had a son and a daughter. One story relates that when Loi, Kabir’s wife, first met him she asked him what his caste was, and he replied, “Kabir.” She then asked what his religion was. Again he responded, “Kabir.” Finally, she asked what cloth he wore. Yet again came the answer, “Kabir.”

Kabir’s outlook was his own, derived from his spiritual experiences. In expressing his vision, he bluntly criticized both Muslims and Hindus for their blind attachment to dogma and ritual forms.

After Kabir’s death, both Hindus and Muslims claimed the body. Legend says, however, that when they lifted the death-shroud all they found were two flowers. Each group took one flower, and both were satisfied. Hindus and Muslims have continued to revere Kabir ever since.

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SAMPLE: Three poems by Mirabai


I cannot live without you

Beloved! I cannot live without you.
I long for us to meet, yet what am I to do?

Bloomed lotus without water, night sky with no moon;
I'm a sad woman; lover, when will you return?

Anxious, anguished, I roam lost night and day;
Separation eats my heart, I cry out like one flayed.

Days I feel no hunger, nights I cannot sleep;
When I try to explain, I find my tongue won't speak.

Yet what am I to say? Talking's what strangers do!
Lover, come now and fill my being with you.

You own my soul, so why this tortuous absence?
Come to your captive and end this tearful sentence.

Mira has dedicated many lives to you.
She longs to kiss your feet – and prays you want that too!




Mira’s tied bells to her ankles

Mira's tied bells to her ankles, see how she dances!
There's magic in her feet, and fire in her glances!

Why has such ecstasy into her been poured?
Because she declared herself the servant of the Lord!

People stared and shouted that she's become insane.
Those of ‘high caste’ said she only brought her house shame!

Ranaji has sent a cup of poison for her to drink.
She drained it with a laugh and didn't even feel sick!

O Mira's beloved will never not be.
He's eternal delight, and she’s found him so easily!




Always remain before my eyes

Beloved! Please always remain before my eyes.

Enter my vision and there permanently reside;
No, never leave; no forgetting nor chilling goodbyes.

I float on this world's cares without attachments or ties;
Take care of your lover so she never has cause to cry.

Ranaji has sent poison, he wants me to die;
I pray, turn this to a cup of nectar; show I don't lie.

May Mira at last meet the one she most admires;
And may there be no parting after, just love's eternal fire!



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SAMPLE: Three excerpts from Kabir


On the Grace of the Guru (excerpt)

All creatures roam the universe
like cows lost in the jungle;
we only ever find God through
the Guru’s instruction.

I found a competent Guru
through whom all is gained.
Now both my caste and creed have been
completely washed away.

Knowledge urged me to find a Guru
competent to teach truth;
by God’s grace I was brought
under such a one’s roof.

Yet Guru and God are the same,
all else is futile fog;
and only by destroying the ego
can we attain to God.

The Guru has consoled me,
through him was my mind inspired;
on the shores of Lake Mansarovar
I found a sparkling diamond.

By the Guru’s grace, my mind was stilled
and consoled. Now I know:
God roams the heart; this is a story
all living creatures follow.

Only Kabir says it,
“Sit on movement for consolation.
Practice meditation fearlessly,
allowing no diversion.”

All the universe suffers
the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ of doubt;
only they who catch the Guru’s words
ever throw doubt out.

I was sliding backwards, enmeshed
in the world, selfish;
midway I met the Guru,
he gave me the lamp of knowledge.

This lamp is filled with oil,
its wick endless and burning;
the way thus lit, I journeyed with
the aim of not returning.


On how to recognise the Guru (excerpt)

No competent Gurus nor pupils I found,
just players of greedy games;
all sank in maya’s sea,
for they sailed boats made of stone.

If the Guru is blind, naturally
his pupils are blind too;
and if blind lead the blind, fall in
a well is all they can do!

I say, cut off that Guru’s beard whose
teaching doesn’t scythe doubt;
for not only does he sink, but
he drags his pupils down.

An incompetent Guru means
the pupil is incapable;
grasping pupil, profit-seeking Guru,
and both are in trouble.

As rain seeks no payment for filling
reservoirs and streams,
so the Guru infuses freely with
his endless qualities.

Without a competent Guru
you’ll remain an illiterate fool.
Dress like a saint, inside you’re an idiot
begging from door to door.



On separation (excerpt)

To those with love’s pain,
worshipping pir’s tombs gives no peace;
they will only be pacified
when darshan of God is reached.

The snake of longing dwells in the body,
no mantra has any effect;
such people soon die, or if they live,
become insane and deaf.

The snake of longing dwells in the body,
it wounds within;
such people don’t journey anywhere,
and they eat whatever pleases them.

Longing is born of pain,
yet it is liked – bitterly.
Then ramnam tastes very sweet,
for death has eaten the body.

Put a wick of all creatures into
the lamp of your body;
use your blood as oil;
the eyes see Ram then only.

Don’t say separation’s bad,
for in truth it’s like a sultan;
and that heart is a burial ground
which lacks separation.

All saints say it: God is in the heart,
he’s locked within.
Only longing supplies the key,
and God supplies longing!

Love butchers the eyes – the meaning
of this only the eyes understand,
for they became bloodshot
because of their love for Ram.

When the eyes look only on God,
from God don’t blink or dart,
when such occurs it is said
true love consumes that heart.

Kabir says, leave laughing, make
your heart ready for weeping;
you won’t meet your dearest friend
unless you begin weeping.

Laugh and you forget your pain,
yet weeping saps your strength;
remembrance is like a worm that,
inside, eats and drinks.