Book Reviews

Seeds for Absolute and Eternal Living

The Bijak of Kabir, Linda Hess & Sukhdev Singh,
Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, 2nd Reprint, Delhi, 2015

Kabir is held in high respect and with devotional reverence all over India and the world by Hindi knowing people. His work is matter of fact making readers look around widely, think deep and get transformed.

The blurb of the book is best quoted in full: “…he preached an abrasive, sometimes shocking, always uncompromising message exhorting his audience to shed their delusions, pretensions, and empty orthodoxies in favour of an intense, direct, personal confrontation of truth.”

The Introduction stirs our thinking and makes us prepare ourselves to be made sadder and wiser, taught, cajoled, ridiculed and stupefied. The writers Linda Hess and Sukhdev Singh spur us into straight, thoughtful, cleansing action, if we really can learn.

Kabir is believed to have been in north India between 1398 and 1448 as the years of his birth and death. He insisted on the penetration of everything, in essential, every layer of dishonesty, ignorance and delusion. We are told that he was a seeker and that his poems bristle with questions, assaults, paradoxes and enigmas. We find his statements irritating and always fascinating. He displayed a passion to engage people making them awake and affect them. His dictum was this in his own lines:

Kabir says, plunge into Ram!
There: No Hindu. No Turk.

The writes are very understanding and they go to the extent of explaining the word Bijak “… Literally it means “seed”—the tiny kernel that contains a whole tree. It also means, through religious traditions going back more than 1,000 years before Kabir, bija-mantra, seed syllable: the one word that can reveal the mystery of existence, the fundamental vibration.” They carefully lace parts of the text with pastiches of lines from various poems. The authors are right and extremely understanding and they say that Kabir seems to be a god at the heart of his enlightenment. They say that Kabir sketches a cartoon of himself as a teacher.

Kabir goes on shouting,
Perched on a sandal tree.
I show the way, they don’t take it.
What’s the loss to me?

At the end of the chapter there is a very interesting narrative of the authors’ meeting with a Kabirpanthic - Gayabanandji.

I always rue the stupidity of not learning Hindi. Here a few translations (since not all could be placed here) for the benefit of the people like me who do not know Hindi.

From Sabda

Dear swan, where will you go
when will you leave the lake?
You used to peck up pearls there
and taste such pleasures -
now water shrinks from the leaves,
the bed is dry, the lotus withers.
What’s taken away today, says Kabir,
will it come again tomorrow?

Here’s how the world fights against God:
as a snake grabs Garuda,
a mouse loves a cat,
or jackals strike lions.
What a wonderful world,
where dogs conquer elephants!
Kabir says, listen seekers, brothers:
a rare person
makes the connection

Hey pandits, who didn’t die?
If you find out, tell me.

Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva died,
Parvati’s son Ganesha died,
so many suns and moons died,
Hanuman the bridge builder died,
Krishna died, the maker died.
One, the Original, didn’t die.
No fall, no rise.
Kabir says, that one never dies.

If seed is form is god
then, pandit,
what can you ask?
Where is the intellect? ego? heart?
the three qualities?
Nectar and poison bloom,
fruits ripen,
the Vedas show many ways
to cross the sea.
Kabir says, what do I know
of you or me,
of who gets caught
and who goes free?

Who will be sheriff
in a town littered with meat
where the watchman
is a vulture?
mouse in the boat,
cat at the oars;
frog sleeping,
snake on the ground;
bull giving birth,
cow sterile,
calf milked
morning, noon and night;
lion forever leaping
to fight the jackal.
Kabir says, rare listeners
hear the song right.

Son of a slut!
There. I’ve insulted you.
Think about getting on the road.
You don’t even dream of meeting
the master of your house.
Brahmin, Kshatriya, Baniya,
don’t listen to what I say.
Yogis and creeping creatures
follow their own way;
and yogis at their leisure
don’t withdraw
from pleasure.

Is there any guru in the world wise enough
to understand the upside down Veda?
Fire burns in water, blind eyes see.
Cow ate lion, dog ate jackal.
crow pounded on falcon, quail conquered hawk
moue ate cat, dog ate jackal
He who knows the primal teaching
Is dressed right,
One frog ate five snakes.
Kabir shouts:
both together one!


No one knows the secret of the weaver
who spread his warp through the universe.
He dug two ditches, sky and earth,
made two spools, sun and moon,
filled his shuttle with a thousand threads,
and weaves till today: a difficult length!
Kabir says, they’re joined by actions.
Good threads and bad,
that fellow weaves both.

Wise, subtle, skillful people!
A single cleverness isn’t clever.
A double cleverness misses the point
(creation, destruction, day, night).
They’ve turned it into a retail business—
rules, piety, self control, God.
A lord like Hari can’t be forsaken,
Yet children sing songs of weddings in heaven.

Where have the dead men gone
who drank the gurus’ tonics?
Know Ram’s name to be your own,
throw away unreal things.

The one whose name is unsayable, brother,
why sing a ramaini
to him?
The meaning—something like
a traveller on a boat, a
holding and letting go,
moving while sitting.
The body stays
but don’t confuse
nature with dress.
Mind still.
Don’t talk.

Mind goes without body,
body goes without mind.
Mind and body one:
Kabir says—there’s a swan.


The scent from Malaya Mountain
penetrates many trees.
It never penetrates bamboo
though they touch for centuries.

Poor man! What to do
with his empty body?
Not even a glimpse
of the creature appears.
At whom is Kabir shouting?

Kaliyug is bad, the world blind,
nobody hears the word.
When I speak to a man of his own good,
he leaps up, my enemy.

Gold, a good man, a saint, can break
and mend a hundred times.
A bad man is a clay pot:
Just one blow and—CRACK!

She belonged to one, then to many:
a whore has plenty of husbands.
Kabir says, who’ll she burn with,
everyone’s woman?

Good men became bad men
listening to every man’s talk.
Bronze turned to copper,
worth less than a penny.

Where buyers swarm, I’m not
where I am there’s no buyer.
without awareness they wander,
plucking at shadows
of the word.

You’re a holy man? What are you
if you gab without thinking,
if you stab other beings
with the sword of your tongue?

If you are true, a curse can’t reach you
and death can’t eat you.
Walking from truth to truth,
what can destroy you?

Squinting, staring, peering,
he couldn’t hit the mark.
All his arrows missed.
He threw down his bow
and stomped off.

Kabir recites couplets
every day right on time
the dead do not come back,
no, they do not turn around,

The sakhi is wisdom’s eye—
look in your heart, understand.
Without the sakhi the struggles
of the world will never end.

These are just a few since it is neither possible nor necessary to put all in a review.


More by :  Dr. Rama Rao Vadapalli V.B.

Top | Book Reviews

Views: 3368      Comments: 2


The review inspires to delve deep what the great saint said. The lines :

If you are true, a curse can’t reach you
and death can’t eat you.
Walking from truth to truth,
what can destroy you?
speak of an eternal truth.
A very nice prop to those who wish to understand the great soul.
Thanks Dr Sahib.

p c katoch

16-Dec-2016 06:36 AM

Comment The review prompts the reader grab the book immediately! Kudos, sir!

13-Dec-2016 00:44 AM

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