Reaching over the Barriers

By Dr. Ashwini Mokashi

Continuing with our program of the ‘Kabiriyat,’ next we will discuss yet another beautiful poem by Saint Kabir, which describes how despite the superficial differences in religious practices, all religions teach the same abstract principles and how these spiritual principles bind the world together.

Below are the two versions of the poem – first written in the Roman script followed by Devanagari script.

Jo khuda masjid vasat hai aur muluk keh kara,

Teerath-moorat Raam-niwaasee bahar kare ko heraa,

Poorab disaa Haree ka vaas pachchhim Alah ka mukaam,

Dil mein khoj dilhee mein khojou, yahin Kareem-yahin Raam,

Jete aurat-marad upaan-ee so sab roop tumhaaraa,

Kabir –hai Alah-Ram ka so guru peer hamaaraa

 

जो खुदा मस्जिद वसत है, और मुलूक कहे कारा

तीरथ मूरत राम निवासी, बहर करे को हेरा

पूरब दिसा हरी का वास, पश्चिम अल्लाह का मुकाम

दिल में खोज दिल ही में खोजूं, यही करीम यही राम

जे ते औरत मरद उपानी, सो सब रूप तुम्हारा

कबीर है अल्लाह राम का, सो गुरु पीर हमारा

 

Nobel Laureate Ravindranath Tagore mentions the poem in his book ‘One Hundred Poems of Kabir’. He translates the poem as follows:

If God be within the mosque, then to whom does this world belong?

If Ram be within the image you find upon your pilgrimage, then who is there to know what happens without?

Hari is in the East. Allah is in the West. Look within your heart, for there you will find both Karim and Ram.

All the men and women of the world are his living forms.

Kabir is the child of Allah and of Ram, for He is my ‘guru’, he is my ‘peer’.

 

Interpretation of the Poem:

Saint Kabir talks about God as a spiritual principle, which binds all and is common to all. In the 15th century India, the significant religious difference was among the Hindus and Muslims. His advice was that different names in their religious systems know the same ultimate reality or the highest principle they worship. Hence the differences are superficial.

He asks very insightful questions, such as if God Allah stays within the mosque, then who is looking after the world? Alternatively, if God Ram is in the pilgrimage, what happens when the pilgrimage is not taking place? If one God stays in the East, the other stays in the West. However, God is in one’s heart, and the men and women are all the manifested forms of that spiritual principle. Hence Saint Kabir belongs to his guru and his peer, where the Sanskrit word ‘guru’ and the Urdu word ‘peer’ both refer to a spiritual guide.

As we know, during the time of Saint Kabir, there was much unrest between the two religious camps. Saint Kabir’s spiritual work, personality, and belonging to both the religious one by birth and one by adoption led to a tremendous impact of both the camps uniting to a great extent. Both the Hindus and Muslims still follow spiritual guidance and respect Saint Kabir’s authority as a spiritual leader. People from both these backgrounds still sing his songs in various ways, trying to relate to his teachings musically and spiritually. Upon his death, there was a question about how to pay him last respects and which tradition should be used?

Following in his footsteps, we can also say that there are still many fractions in the global society today. Sometimes we are divided by religion, sometimes by culture, sometimes even by language, accent, or the way we speak, the way we dress, our communities, or our faith. Even if the abstract principles are the same, we expect others to do or say, follow the same traditions or else face disapproval. The acceptance of diversity comes slowly to people. One of the best ways to accept diversity is understanding that the abstract philosophical and spiritual principles governing any faith are the same. Every faith talks about compassion for others, belief in the goodness of people, trust in ourselves, and trust in others. These principles get challenged each day as we experience hostility, insults, uncivil behavior from others. However, those are the results of our instinctual behavior. When we learn always to follow and trust the principles, the friction and fractions do not seem overwhelming. The question is not whether it is true, but whether we can follow it for a reasonable amount of time.

 

Modern Relevance:

Diversity and inclusion are very prominent topics in our workplaces, schools, and any gathering in the contemporary world. It refers to showing respect to different and diverse traditions and ways of living. At times, people have difficulties appreciating a different viewpoint or ways of living. That makes it challenging to be open to other people. When we understand that human beings are the same everywhere, their needs are the same, their concerns for safety and dignity are the same everywhere, we understand how to treat people with respect. Saint Kabir had much success uniting two conflicting religious groups by helping them understand the spiritual principles. That message is still valid.

The spiritual principles, such as compassion, positive thinking, and generosity for others, bind us together as a community. They can be learned much more quickly, and we can apply them to our friends, neighbors, and others in the hopes of creating a global world of peace and happiness.

 

 

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