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the mind made a swing

Between the poles of the conscious and the unconscious, there has the mind made a swing:
Thereon hang all beings and all worlds, and that swing never ceases its sway.
Millions of beings are there: the sun and the moon in their courses are there:
Millions of ages pass, and the swing goes on.
All swing! the sky and the earth and the air and the water; and the Lord Himself taking form:
And the sight of this has made Kabir a servant.

- Kabir, from 'Songs Of Kabir' (online / pdf) translated by Rabindranath Tagore (1915).

Kabir, the fifteenth century mystical poet from Benares (Varanasi) who claimed to be both "the child of Allah and of Ram", but also stressed that God was to be found "neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash". As Evelyn Underhill wrote in her introduction to the volume:

Living at the moment in which the impassioned poetry and deep philosophy of the great Persian mystics, Attar, Sadi, Jalalu'ddin Rumi, and Hafiz, were exercising a powerful influence on the religious thought of India, he dreamed of reconciling this intense and personal Mohammedan mysticism with the traditional theology of Brahmanism.

In this poem (#16), the dazzling imagery of infinity and the primacy of the mind (even God is suspended from the mind's swing) are deeply Vedantic, while the image of a cosmic swing appears to have been a favorite of Kabir, and he returned to it in different variations. But even though his swing might be "held by the cords of love", it doesn't take away from the rebellious, anti-dogmatic nature of his poetry. Here's another, more confrontational poem (#42), which exposes the two religious institutions of Hinduism and Islam in one fell swoop:

There is nothing but water at the holy bathing places; and I know that they are useless, for I have bathed in them.
The images are all lifeless, they cannot speak; I know, for I have cried aloud to them.
The Purana and the Koran are mere words; lifting up the curtain, I have seen.
Kabir gives utterance to the words of experience; and he knows very well that all other things are untrue.

After his death, legend has it that a sectarian fight took place over Kabir's dead body. Underhill comments, with a hint of sarcasm:

His fate has been that of many revealers of Reality. A hater of religious exclusivism, and seeking above all things to initiate men into the liberty of the children of God, his followers have honoured his memory by re-erecting in a new place the barriers which he laboured to cast down. But his wonderful songs survive, the spontaneous expressions of his vision and his love; and it is by these, not by the didactic teachings associated with his name, that he makes his immortal appeal to the heart.

indian infinity

India is all about infinity - an infinity of gods and myths, beliefs and languages, races and cultures; in everything, and everywhere one looks, there is this dizzying endlessness. In ' Travels with Herodotus ' Ryszard Kapuściński desc… Read the full post »

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