Kabir, the human body is a mighty ocean, Its depth is difficult to fathom. Only one who dies while living —Who dives within —.Can find its pearls. I am a diver in this ocean: In a single dive I bring to the surfaceSuch pearls of knowledge As are unknown to the world,
This book is humbly and reverently dedicated to Maharaja Charan Singh Ji who used my hands to write it and gave me the inspiration and strength to complete it.
As long as I talked unceasingly about the Lord, The Lord stayed away, kept at a distance. But when I silenced my mouth, sat very still And fixed my mind at the doorway of the Lord, I soon was linked to the music of the Word And all my talking came to an end.
This book explores the life, teachings and poetry of the saint Kabir, who taught the mystic path of God-realization in fifteenth-century India. Kabir is one of the best known of the Indian mystic poets, his poetry having been translated widely into other languages by both Eastern and Western religious and literary scholars. With the publication of this book in 1966, however, Isaac A. Ezekiel offered a fresh perspective on Kabir’s work. Rather than present a scholarly analysis, Ezekiel’s mission was to explore the spiritual significance of Kabir’s life and poetry and share it with seekers of both East and West.
In his life as disciple, poet and spiritual teacher, Kabir transcended religion, nationality and caste. His was a world without boundaries, a world in which all beings are equal in divine essence. According to tradition, he was raised a Muslim yet came to seek initiation from Ramanand, a Hindu adept and teacher of spirituality. His God was the God of all people—the one creator of all.
Kabir shared a natural affinity with the people. Born in a poor family, he never learned to read or write and barely made a living as a weaver. As poet and teacher, he communicated in versed couplets, using the vibrant idiom and imagery of everyday life, so his meaning was easily understood and remembered. Yet, however simple the language, his poetry calls every human being to climb the summit of human experience. Kabir exhorts, inspires, reasons, cajoles and even jokes with his Audience or reader—all in order to ignite and intensify their desire to experience the highest level of reality and truth by following the path of devotion to a true master and to the Shard or Word. Both timeless and immediate, his voice rings through the centuries for all who seek to know the truth. Isaac Ezekiel was a twentieth-century spiritual seeker following the same path of Shad taught by Kabir. He was initiated into Sent Mat, the teachings of the mystic saints, by Maharaj Sawan Singh, the spiritual master at Bees, Punjab,India. After his master’s passing in 1948, he continued to beguided and inspired by his master’s successors and wrote threebooks on Indian mystics in service to his master.
Writing at a time when colonial relations between the West and India were still fresh in many people’s minds, Ezekiel draws parallels between the teachings of Kabir and those of Christ, and demonstrates their fundamental similarity to the teachings of many other Eastern mystics. He does this not only to indicate how universal Kabir’s teachings are, but also to show how vibrantly contemporary and relevant they remain for us almost six centuries later. The poems consistently de-flounce and expose the hypocrisy and rituals of established religion and society—obstacles that confused the people of Indian Kabir’s times and equally obscure the face of truth today.
For this new edition of Ezekiel’s work, the explanatory text has been modified in several ways to accommodate general shifts of thought and language from 1966 to the present time. Ezekiel’s writing reflects his upbringing in a long-established Jewish family in Bombay and his involvement as a leading journalist in colonial as well as independent India. Where hi-story in his day was seen largely from the Western perspective, today’s information age enables the past to be viewed more objectively. The serious modern reader is also more demanding in terms of accuracy of information,
Where Ezekiel wrote each chapter like an article in a periodical with substantial repetition and colorful detail to keep the reader’s attention, for this edition an attempt has been made to concentrate and streamline the content in relation to Ezekiel’s two main objectives: to present the mystic teachings of Kabir and to illustrate that the spiritual message of the Jewish and Christian traditions and other world religions offers the same timeless truths.
To this end, unrelated or unverifiable detail has been omitted. By bringing together sections or chapters dealing with the same subject, much repetition has been avoided. The numerous mini-chapters of the first edition are now presented as two larger chapters: “Kabir’s Life and Times” and “Kabir’s Teachings”. Some additional verses from Kabir’s writings have been introduced in the Life and Teachings chapters to substantiate points made by Ezekiel.
Ezekiel presented an abundance of quotes without mentioning his sources. For the present edition, great effort has been made to reference them wherever possible. Since the author in. most instances presented multiple quotations, those that could not be sourced have in general been removed. Ezekiel sometimes omitted lines here and there in his quotations to facilitate the flow of ideas, and when he did so in poetic quotes, ellipses have been omitted for ease of reading.
The verses in Part Two of the book were chosen from Kabir Sakhi Sangrah (Belvedere Printing Works, Allahabad), a collection of Kabir’s couplets arranged thematically and painstakingly collated in the early years of the twentieth century from oral traditions and old manuscripts at Kabir Panther centers. Ezekiel selected couplets from this collection, translated them and built them, himself, into English-language ‘poems’, often adding explanatory or transitional lines or phrases to his translation to bring the verses into a coherent whole.
Several resources have been added to the book: endnotes with sources for the quotations and verses as well as supplementary explanatory notes, a glossary, notes on saints and devotees mentioned in the text, an extensive bibliography, an index of Hindi first lines for the couplets, and a subject index.
Ezekiel’s personal response to Kabir’s poems colors his translations, tempering the strictly literal with minor additions to make them alive and meaningful for the English-speaking world. As part of the process of revision, his translations have all been carefully compared verse by verse with the original Hindi and changes were made where necessary for accuracy of meaning. Language and syntax have also been altered to improve clarity and coherence. But Ezekiel’s characteristic approach to translation—his unique interpretation and amplification of the verses—has been preserved.
All souls perfected in love, like Kabir, experience the supreme truth and the true One directly, not from reading or ritual. They know spiritual reality through experience of the same sublime journey within. As they have each merged with and known the One, their message can only be one and the same. Kabir chose to share this message through poetry. That his poetry is still widely known and recited in India today points to its universal and timeless appeal, its beauty and its grace. The hope with this present edition is that it will inspire readers to listen afresh and be moved by Kabir’s vital, vigorous and ever contemporary message.
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