Details of the birth of Kabir or Kabirdas is not clearly known to
us. A Bhakti
saint, who sang the ideals of seeing all of humanity as one, his
name, Kabir, is often interpreted as Guru's Grace. According to
the legend, childless Muslim weavers named Niru and Nimma found
him near Lahara Tara lake, adjacent to the holy city of Varanasi
by, and adopted him. A weaver by profession, Kabir ranks among the
world's greatest poets. Back home in India, he is perhaps the most
quoted author. The Holy Guru Granth Sahib contains over 500 verses
by Kabir. The Sikh community in particular and others who follow
the Holy Granth, hold Kabir in the same reverence as the other ten
Gurus. Although he was drawn deeply into spiritual life, he openly
criticized all sects and gave a new direction to the Indian philosophy,
with his straight forward approach on various aspects of human existence.
It is for this reason that Kabir is held in high esteem all over
the world. To call Kabir a universal Guru is not an over exaggeration.
Kabir is also considered one of the early northern India Sants.
He lived to be 120 years old.
Kabir was associated with the Sant Mat, a loosely related group
of teachers (Sanskrit: Guru) that assumed prominence in the northern
part of the Indian sub-continent from about the 13th century. Their
teachings were distinguished theologically by inward loving devotion
to a divine principle, and socially by an egalitarianism opposed
to the qualitative distinctions of the Hindu caste hierarchy and
to the religious differences between Hindu and Muslim.
The Sants were not homogeneous, consisting mostly of these Sants'
presentation of socio-religious attitudes based on bhakti (devotion)
as described a thousand years earlier in the Bhagavad Gita. Sharing
as few conventions with each other as with the followers of the
traditions they challenged, the Sants appear more as a diverse collection
of spiritual personalities than a specific religious tradition,
although they acknowledged a common spiritual root. The first generation
of north Indian Sants, (which included Kabir), appeared in the region
of Benares in the mid 15th century. Preceding them were two notable
13th and 14th century figures, Namdev and Ramananda. The latter,
a Vaishnava ascetic, initiated Kabir, Raidas, and other Sants, according
to tradition. Ramanand's story is told differently by his lineage
of "Ramanandi" monks, by other Sants preceding him, and
later by the Guru Nanak and subsequent Sikh Gurus. What is known
is that Ramananda accepted students of all castes, a fact that was
contested by the orthodox Hindus of that time, and that his students
formed the first generation of Sants.
His Teachings and Philosophy
Kabir was influenced by prevailing religious mood such as old
Brahmanic Hinduism, Hindu and Buddhist Tantrism, teachings of Nath
yogis and the personal devotinalism from South India mixed with
imageless God of Islam. The influence of these various doctrines
is clearly evident in Kabir's verses. Eventhough he is often presented
to be synthesizer of Hinduism and Islam: the observation is held
to be a false one.
The basic religious principles he espouses are simple. According
to Kabir, all life is an interplay of two spiritual principles.
One is the personal soul (Jivatma) and the other is God (Paramatma).
It is Kabir's view that salvation is the process of bringing into
union these two divine principles. The social and practical manifestation
of Kabir's philosophy has rung through the ages. It represented
a synthesis of Hindu, and Muslim concepts. From Hinduism he accepts
the concept of reincarnation and the law of Karma. From Islam he
takes the outer practices of Indian Sufi ascetics and Sufi mysticism.
Not only has Kabir influenced Muslims and Hindus but he is one of
the major inspirations behind Sikhism as well. Despite legend that
claims Kabir met with Guru Nanak, their lifespans do not overlap
in time. The presence of much of his verse in Sikh scripture and
the fact that Kabir was a predecessor of Nanak has led some western
scholars to mistakenly describe him as a forerunner of Sikhism.
His greatest work is the Bijak (that is, the Seedling), an idea
of the fundamental one. This collection of poems demonstrates Kabir's
own universal view of spirituality. His vocabulary is replete with
ideas regarding Brahman and Hindu ideas of karma and reincarnation.
His Hindi was a vernacular, straightforward kind, much like his
philosophies. He often advocated leaving aside the Qur'an and Vedas
and to simply follow Sahaja path, or the Simple/Natural Way to oneness
in God. He believed in the Vedantic concept of atman, but unlike
earlier orthodox Vedantins, he followed this philosophy to its logical
end by spurning the Hindu societal caste system and worship of murti,
showing clear belief in both bhakti and sufi ideas. The major part
of Kabir's work as a Bhagat was collected by the fifth Sikh guru,
Guru Arjan Dev, and forms a part of the holy Sikh scripture "Guru
While many ideas reign as to who his living influences were,
the only Guru of whom he ever spoke was Satguru. Kabir never made
a mention of any human guru in his life or verses, the only reference
found in his verses is of God as Satguru. Traditionally a Vaishnav
saint, Ramananda, is held to be his guru.