by Ashwini Mokashi, Ph.D.
Continuing with our discussions of Saint Kabir’s poetry and his philosophy, we would like to focus on a Doha, which describes the importance of breathing. This Doha is taken from a book called ‘Paramartha Sopan,’ compiled by Professor R. D. Ranade (1886-1957). He was a Vice-chancellor of the Allahabad University, a prolific author of many books on Philosophy and Spirituality, and a founder of the ‘Adhyatma Vidyapeeth’ or the Spiritual University Nimbal, which still attracts thousands of followers. He was also known as Gurudev Ranade. The book ‘Paramartha Sopan’ is a collection of various poems of the Hindi Saints gathered from local people, who sang devotional lyrics, with whom Prof. Ranade came in contact during his stay in Allahabad. We notice the oral tradition on display, which is put to deep meaning by a spiritual master like Gurudev Ranade.
The poem we have chosen today is as follows:
श्वास श्वास पर हर भजो, वृथा श्वास मत खोय |
श्वास बिराना पाहुना, आना होय न होय ||
स्वांसा की कर सुमिरनी, अजपा को कर जाप |
परम तत्त्व को ध्यान धर, सोऽहं आपै आप ||
कबिरा माला काठ की, बहुत जतन का फेर |
माला साँस उसाँस की, जामें गाँठ न मेर ||
Take care of every breath and pray to God in each breath. Do not let a single breath go waste.
A breath is a strange guest, as it may or may not come again.
Remember the breath and remember to meditate continuously with each breath.
When you remember the Ultimate Reality, then becoming one with the Brahman happens by itself.
Kabir says the string of wooden beads is difficult to move through the fingers.
But the string of inhaling and exhaling is relatively easy, as it has no dips or mounts.
Saint Kabir begins his Doha at a basic physiological level by teaching us how breathing is life and how every breath is essential. When we think about God with every breath, we have utilized every breath and made it meaningful. There is no guarantee of when the breath may stop and when life may end.
Then next, the poem talks about how easy it is to do meditation on every breath. Saint Kabir says that it is easier than moving the wooden Rudraksha beads through one’s fingers. That takes care of any potential complaints that people might have about this expectation.
The biological fact is that breathing is done automatically by our body, as that is how the body survives. But if we do this with awareness, then it can lift us even beyond all our miseries. The continuous understanding of the Ultimate Reality or the Brahman leads the path to become Brahman, almost like a natural result.
In modern terminology, one can say that Saint Kabir is talking about mindfulness and awareness in breathing at all waking moments. Scientific research shows that breathing can have beautiful results on our state of mind and body. It has excellent benefits. It helps us gain a new perspective on stressful situations, develop skills to deal with stress, increase self-awareness. It focuses our attention on the current moment. It reduces negative emotions, increases imagination, creativity, also patience and tolerance. It teaches us to focus on what is essential. By reducing mental and physical pain, it thereby works as an anti-aging device. More oxygen to the brain helps the brain function better. A better functioning brain results in better life leading to peace, joy, and happiness.
The teachings of these saints feel the pulse of the society and help people improve their lives. Hence, they are relevant throughout the ages.