Was Saint Kabir Das a Hindu or a Muslim? or a Sufi?

Saint Kabir Das

Image: Saint Kabir Das

Whether Saint Kabir was a Hindu or a Muslim? Was he a product of composite culture? has been a debate recently on social media. Some consider him a Hindu while others called him a Muslim, let us go through his life and find for ourselves whether he was ideologically a Muslim or a Hindu.

Birth of Kabir Das

Kabir was either born in 1398 or 1440 according to different historians in Lahartara near Kashi.

There are different legends about his birth and family. 

Version 1: He was born to a Hindu Brahmin woman without a man contributing the seed, she is said to have delivered him through her palm.

Version 2: He was found abandoned by a childless Muslim couple named Neeru (Father) & Neema (Mother) and they brought him up.

Version 3: He was born to the Muslim couple of Lahartara - Neeru & Neema. [This is Saint Ravidas's Version, he was a contemporary of Kabir and had personally met him]

Verdict: What we can conclude from these various accounts is that regardless of his birth & whereabouts of his birth parents, for sure he was brought up by a Muslim couple.

Life of Kabir Das

Discipleship of Swami Ramananda: Kabir had prayed to Advaitic Vaishnava poet Swami Ramananda to take him as his disciple, Ramananda had no disciples and had rejected Kabir's requests, Kabir covering himself fully in a rag lies down on the steps of the river Ganga fully knowing that Ramananda was coming back from his morning rituals, Ramananda accidentally steps on Kabir and utters 'Rama Rama', which became a form of initiation from the Guru. 'Rama Rama' became the mantra of Kabir which he repeated  throughout his life.

Verdict 1: Discipleship is not a big deal in Islam, Guru is not more than a teacher in Islam (who teaches Quran properly) where as it has immense importance in Hinduism and the significance goes beyond the scope of scriptures. 

Verdict 2: Rama, a word associated with a historical person in the Hindu epics indicates divine incarnated in the person of Rama, While using any equivalent name for God like- Deva, Bhagavan, Prabhu might be appropriate (according to Islam), It is forbidden to associate any human with God in Islam, in fact it is considered the worst sin according to Islam.[1]


Teachings of Kabir Das

Reincarnation

Like the monkey with a handful of grain, who will not let go because of greed
just so, all the deeds committed in greed ultimately become a noose around one's neck.
Without devotional worship, human life passes away in vain.
Without the Saadh Sangat, the Company of the Holy, without vibrating and meditating on the Lord God, one does not abide in Truth
Like the flower which blossoms in the wilderness with no one to enjoy its fragrance,

so do people wander in reincarnation; over and over again, they are destroyed by Death.
This wealth, youth, children and spouse which the Lord has given you - this is all just a passing show.
Those who are caught and entangled in these are carried away by sensual desire.
Age is the fire, and the body is the house of straw; on all four sides, this play is being played out.
Says Kabeer, to cross over the terrifying world-ocean, I have taken to the Shelter of the True Guru.

- Sri Guru Granth Saheb Page 336, verse 9064-9065

Verdict: Reincarnation is uniquely Dharmic (Hindu/ Buddhist/ Sikh/ Jain), Some Sufis like Rumi, Mansur Al-Hallaj mention it, nevertheless Reincarnation rejects the eternal Hell/ Heaven concept of Islam. 

World as ocean is referred to in Bhagavad Gita 12: 6-7 as well : "But those who dedicate all their actions to me, regarding me as the Supreme goal, worshiping me and meditating on me with exclusive devotion, O Partha, I swiftly deliver them from the ocean of birth and death, for their consciousness is united with me." 

 


Importance of Guru

O brother, my heart yearns for that true Guru, who fills the cup
of true love, and drinks of it himself, and offers it then to
me.
He removes the veil from the eyes, and gives the true Vision of
Brahma:
He reveals the worlds in Him, and makes me to hear the Unstruck
Music:
He shows joy and sorrow to be one:
He fills all utterance with love.
Kabir says: "Verily he has no fear, who has such a Guru to lead
him to the shelter of safety!"

-----

It is the mercy of my true Guru that has made me to know the
unknown;
I have learned from Him how to walk without feet, to see without
eyes, to hear without ears, to drink without mouth, to fly
without wings;
I have brought my love and my meditation into the land where
there is no sun and moon, nor day and night.
Without eating, I have tasted of the sweetness of nectar; and
without water, I have quenched my thirst.
Where there is the response of delight, there is the fullness of
joy. Before whom can that joy be uttered?
Kabir says: "The Guru is great beyond words, and great is the
good fortune of the disciple."

 

Verdict: This poem stresses on the importance of Guru, that Guru opens the disciple to the sound of OM, that he is crucial in the experience of enlightenment, that he showers true love, that he teaches equanimity. In Hindu traditions, Guru occupies a larger picture, he is also deemed necessary for liberation. Where as in Islam there is no concept of Guru, teachers are those who clarify the teachings of Quran, not those who open the disciple into other dimensions by mere touch. 

-----

Guru Govind dou khade, kake lagoon paay,
Balihari Guru aapno, Govind diyo batay

[Guru and God were standing together, I wondered whom I should bow down to, God told me to bown down to Guru first]

Verdict: Bowing down to Guru is a sign of gratitude for helping the disciple attain the highest state of realization, even God telling Kabir to bow to Guru is a very Hindu concept. God of Islam considers any such practice as a grave sin.


God is within us/ Union with God

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

If Ram be within the image which 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: He is my Guru, He is my Pir.

[Kabir, III.2, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore]

-----

Where is the need of words, when love has made drunken the heart?
I have wrapped the diamond in my cloak; why open it again and
again?
When its load was light, the pan of the balance went up: now it
is full, where is the need for weighing?
The swan has taken its flight to the lake beyond the mountains;
why should it search for the pools and ditches anymore?
Your Lord dwells within you: why need your outward eyes be
opened?
Kabîr says: "Listen, my brother! my Lord, who ravishes my eyes,
has united Himself with me."

 

Verdict: In Islamic teachings God is not to be found in the world or inside the living beings. Where as in Hindu teachings God is within the (philosophical) heart of all beings[2]. The poem is valid from Hindu point of view, but no according to Islam.


Criticism of Texts & Rituals

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.

Verdict: Hinduism is based on experience, it stresses on experiencing the 'Highest state of being' for oneself, all texts are guidelines and are discardable. In Islam, Quran cannot be discarded and any opposition to its teachings equates to Blasphemy. This verse is in opposition to Islam while in accordance with the Dharmic(Hindu/ Buddhist/ Jain) idea of self-realization.


State of Samadhi

Where spring, the lord of seasons reigneth, there the unstruck music (Anahata) sounds of itself,
There the streams of light flow in all directions, few are the men who can cross to that shore!
There, where millions of Krishnas stand with hands folded,
Where millions of Vishnus bow their heads, where millions of Brahmas are reading the Vedas,
Where millions of Shivas are lost in contemplation, where millions of Indras dwell in the sky,
Where the demi-gods and the munis are unnumbered, where millions of Saraswatis, goddess of music play the vina,
There is my Lord self-revealed, and the scent of sandal and flowers dwells in those deeps.

— Kabir, II.57, Translated by Rabindranath Tagore

Verdict: This poem is an explanation of samadhi status, a state of experience of oneness with all creation, this is a uniquely Hindu concept. It is to be noted that the experience of samadhi liberates one from bondage as per Hinduism and that is the goal of all spirituality, where as in Islam, the goal is to do good and go to heaven.


Condemning killing of cows

We have searched the turaki dharam (Islam), these teachers throw many thunderbolts,
Recklessly they display boundless pride, while explaining their own aims, they kill cows.
How can they kill the mother, whose milk they drink like that of a wet nurse?
The young and the old drink milk pudding, but these fools eat the cow's body.
These morons know nothing, they wander about in ignorance,
Without looking into one's heart, how can one reach paradise?

— Kabir, Ramaini 1, Translated by David Lorenzen

Verdict: Kabir condemns killing of cows, it is in line with the Hindu view, but it can be the view of any non-violent person, this does not necessarily prove he is Hindu, but in Islam it is alright to kill cows.


Sahasrara Chakra/ 100 petal lotus within

Do not go to the garden of flowers!
O Friend! go not there;
In your body is the garden of flowers.
Take your seat on the thousand petals of the lotus, and there
gaze on the Infinite Beauty.

Verdict: In the Yogic system Sahasrara Chakra (1000 petal lotus) is said to be the gateway to infinity, Kabir is taking about the state of enlightenment (either from his own experience or that he learned)


Reference to Om & state of enlightenment

The moon shines in my body, but my blind eyes cannot see it:
The moon is within me, and so is the sun.
The unstruck drum of Eternity is sounded within me; but my deaf
ears cannot hear it.
The musk is in the deer, but it seeks it not within itself: it
wanders in quest of grass.

Verdict: "unstruck drum of Eternity" refers to the sound of OM that is heard from all directions in the state of Samadhi, with all the blazing of spiritual light, referred to in the poem as Sun and Moon. The musk deer searching for musk is an analogy for humans searching for happiness in the world, while his very core is bliss. This is in line with the Hindu thought of self-realization (where essence of self is same as the infinite), where as in Islam highest state attainable is heaven and the goodies there.


Use of Hindu terminology as well as concepts

O friend! this body is His lyre; He tightens its strings, and
draws from it the melody of Brahma.
If the strings snap and the keys slacken, then to dust must this
instrument of dust return:
Kabir says: "None but Brahma can evoke its melodies."

-----

When He Himself reveals Himself, Brahma brings into manifestation
That which can never be seen.
As the seed is in the plant, as the shade is in the tree, as the
void is in the sky, as infinite forms are in the void—
So from beyond the Infinite, the Infinite comes; and from the
Infinite the finite extends.
The creature is in Brahma, and Brahma is in the creature: they
are ever distinct, yet ever united.
He Himself is the tree, the seed, and the germ.
He Himself is the flower, the fruit, and the shade.
He Himself is the sun, the light, and the lighted.
He Himself is Brahma, creature, and Maya.
He Himself is the manifold form, the infinite space;
He is the breath, the word, and the meaning.
He Himself is the limit and the limitless: and beyond both the
limited and the limitless is He, the Pure Being.
He is the Immanent Mind in Brahma and in the creature.
The Supreme Soul is seen within the soul,
The Point is seen within the Supreme Soul,
And within the Point, the reflection is seen again.
Kabir is blest because he has this supreme vision

Verdict: Kabir not only uses the explicitly Hindu terms like Brahma, Maya. But from his experience of 'supreme vision' explains that "The Supreme Soul is seen within the soul, The Point is seen within the Supreme Soul", a way of explaining that self and supreme are never separate."


Chakras and Nadis

Within this earthen vessel are bowers and groves, and within it
is the Creator:
Within this vessel are the seven oceans and the unnumbered stars.
The touchstone and the jewel-appraiser are within;
And within this vessel the Eternal soundeth, and the spring wells
up.
Kabir says: "Listen to me, my Friend! My beloved Lord is within."

Verdict: This is reference to 7 chakras and innumerable nadis (in the yogic sense) that illuminate the astral body. 'My beloved Lord is within' refers to the Hindu idea that core of the self is Lord himself/ herself.

Seven Chakras

Image: Seven Chakras

 


Analogies to Hindu texts

The river and its waves are one
surf: where is the difference between the river and its waves?
When the wave rises, it is the water; and when it falls, it is
the same water again. Tell me, Sir, where is the distinction?
Because it has been named as wave, shall it no longer be
considered as water?
Within the Supreme Brahma, the worlds are being told like beads:
Look upon that rosary with the eyes of wisdom.

Verdict: The analogy of wave and ocean (for self and God) is used in the Yoga Vasishta and other Indian texts. It shows the oneness of Self and divine. Picturization of world as beads on a thread is also used in  Bhagavad Gita[3], Kabir's experience of manifesting world is strikingly similar to the verse from Bhagavad Gita.


Nature of Atman

Fire does not burn it, and the wind does not blow it away; thieves cannot get near it.

- Sri Guru Granth Saheb Page 336

Verdict: This verse is parallel to Bhagavad Gita 2:23 "The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind."


OM as God

All things are created by the Om;
The love-form is His body.
He is without form, without quality, without decay:
Seek thou union with Him!
But that formless God takes a thousand forms in the eyes of His
creatures

Verdict: God is Om-Tat-Sat in Hindu tradition, Om is the vibratory sound that makes the manifestation come into being out of nothing. Om as divine is part of Upanishads as well [4]


Oneness of self and Divine

O How may I ever express that secret word?
O how can I say He is not like this, and He is like that?
If I say that He is within me, the universe is ashamed:
If I say that He is without me, it is falsehood.
He makes the inner and the outer worlds to be indivisibly one;
The conscious and the unconscious, both are His footstools.
He is neither manifest nor hidden, He is neither revealed nor
unrevealed:
There are no words to tell that which He is.

----

To Thee Thou hast drawn my love, O Fakir!
I was sleeping in my own chamber, and Thou didst awaken me;
striking me with Thy voice, O Fakir!
I was drowning in the deeps of the ocean of this world, and
Thou didst save me: upholding me with Thine arm, O Fakir!
Only one word and no second—and Thou hast made me tear off all
my bonds, O Fakir!
Kabîr says, "Thou hast united Thy heart to my heart, O Fakir!"

-----

Where Spring, the lord of the seasons, reigneth, there the
Unstruck Music sounds of itself,
There the streams of light flow in all directions;
Few are the men who can cross to that shore!
There, where millions of Krishnas stand with hands folded,
Where millions of Vishnus bow their heads,
Where millions of Brahmâs are reading the Vedas,
Where millions of Shivas are lost in contemplation,
Where millions of Indras dwell in the sky,
Where the demi-gods and the munis are unnumbered,
Where millions of Saraswatis, Goddess of Music, play on the vina—
There is my Lord self-revealed: and the scent of sandal and
flowers dwells in those deeps

The middle region of the sky, wherein the spirit dwelleth, is
radiant with the music of light;
There, where the pure and white music blossoms, my Lord takes His
delight.
In the wondrous effulgence of each hair of His body, the
brightness of millions of suns and of moons is lost.
On that shore there is a city, where the rain of nectar pours and
pours, and never ceases.
Kabir says: "Come, O Dharmadas! and see my great Lord's Durbar."

-----

He who is meek and contented., he who has an equal vision, whose
mind is filled with the fullness of acceptance and of rest;
He who has seen Him and touched Him, he is freed from all fear
and trouble.
To him the perpetual thought of God is like sandal paste smeared
on the body, to him nothing else is delight:
His work and his rest are filled with music: he sheds abroad the
radiance of love.
Kabîr says: "Touch His feet, who is one and indivisible,
immutable and peaceful; who fills all vessels to the brim with
joy, and whose form is love."

 


Conclusion:

The philosophy of Kabir is directly in line with the teachings of Upanishads & Gita, 'self and God are one' is among the most commonly uttered ideas by him. He has been critical of many Hindu rituals, but so have been many Hindu texts like Upanishads & Gita, so have been numerous Hindu philosophers. Kabir's philosophy draws extensively from Hindu concepts, it appears that he was a realized Yogi and thus the yogic explanation of the enlightenment.

His acceptance of Islam is minimal, it is limited to acknowledgement of one God (though in the Hindu Advaitic fashion), his criticisms of Islam are against the commandments of Islam. He did not think highly of Quran (neither of Puranas), while it is acceptable not to like puranas as a Hindu, it is unthinkable for a Muslim to reject Quran.

Thus, Kabir is a through and through Hindu, while his teachings have some similarity to Sufism, they are definitely not in line with the main Islamic thought. He is Hindu more than anything else. His self-critical ideas, honesty in thought, rejection of illogic is evidence of that. A Hindu can reject illogical stuff even if it is from the holiest of texts, while a Muslim is commanded by the Quran to completely obey the text[5].

Kabir stresses on experience more than just believing in the text, for text is mere text while experience is the true thing. Dharmic religions are built around taking a practitioner to experience.

References

  1. Quran 112.3 states "He neither begets nor is begotten". suggests God cannot come as Rama who has a earthly father in Dasharatha.
    • Quran 4:48 states "Allah does not forgive association with Him, .. And he who associates others with Allah has certainly fabricated a tremendous sin." This suggests calling Rama as equivalent of divine is unacceptable according to Islam
  2. "I am the Supersoul, O Arjuna, seated in the hearts of all living entities. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings."- Bhagavad Gita 10:20
  3. There is nothing higher than myself, O Arjun. Everything rests in me, as beads strung on a thread. Bhagavad Gita 7:7
  4. "Aum as all states of time, Aum as all states of Atman, Aum as all states of consciousness, Aum as all of etymological knowledge" -Mandukya Upanishad Verses 1-12
  5. Quran 2:7 and onwards