Kabir was a 15th/16th century devotional poet and social critic from northern India. The songs of Kabir are known (and passionately performed) far and wide in India today. Beloved for his rough rhetoric and irony, his bold, blunt language, and fearless attitude, Kabir criticized both Hindus and Muslims, promoting a religion of the heart in which priestly mediations, ritual practices, doctrinal commitments had no significant place. Whether through paradox, playful wit, or cutting satire, Kabir sought to expose the hypocrisy and pretension of so much “organized religion” while emphasizing the preciousness of life, the power of selfless devotion, and the presence of Ram (his favorite name for the inconceivable Divine) within.
The poems below were each written in the style and spirit of Kabir. Some address themes and topics that Kabir himself engaged, while others take on aspects of our modern world and experience from an intentionally “Kabirian” perspective. All of these poems were written by students in Professor Patton Burchett’s “Religions of India” course at New York University.
For some of Kabir’s own poetry, click here.
For a fantastic documentary on modern-day performance of Kabir’s songs and modern-day understandings and appropriations of his message and memory, click here.
Red and blue, divided house
Speak loudly and say nothing on the floor
You close your ears and open your mouths,
Influence the pundits and the media
While representing the wealthy who fund your campaigns.
Push personal agendas while keeping bills from passing
When they don’t agree with party lines;
Compromise only as a last resort
After wasting months of time –
And those who suffer in the end? The people,
The voters, the ones you leave behind.
–RYAN J. MILLER
You say you are seeking god, my friend, you say you long to be beloved
Love with abandon, love with joy, love with great devotion
But there is one rule.
There is no point endlessly searching for something outside of you when the beloved you want and need is within
Take salvation in that and not some empty ritual, a soulless house of worship.
You may love, you may have joy, you may be devoted but it must be within
Take salvation in the within.
–BRINDA J. DIXIT
An elephant and donkey play chess,
Turn by turn they pit their pawns against each other,
The same pawns that protect and support them,
Now sacrifice their individuality for the game
The pawns wish to end the conflict,
So they follow orders in hopes of victory,
But both players prolong the game
to keep their seats at the board
An eternal stalemate continues
There is no progress
There are no winners
The game is out of our hands
What is this “immediate liberation,” Varanasi?
What does “instant entry” mean?
Heaven is not California Screamin -
God gives out no FastPasses.
If you practice yoga to fashionably burn calories
or ogle the butts of cute girls,
You’ve a better chance at moksha
drinking a ten dollar kale smoothie.
People cannot talk anymore
since technology controls our lives.
As much as we try,
there is no way back.
Why worry about who looks best,
or what new phone to buy?
There is violence—
in India, in the rest of the world
that must be extinguished!
we text more than we speak,
and “like” more than we share our opinions.
What of human connection?
It has ceased to exist—
for me, for many,
eventually, for everyone.
I said to myself:
Why do you feel lonely?
You are in the greatest company
when you are alone.
Do you believe the stories of your life should be recited aloud,
so as to gain momentum and tangibility?
The softest stories are the ones that will grow within you;
they darken your joints and stretch your skin,
until you are taller and wiser.
Your shadows are your only friends!
They will count to ten and dance;
with or without you!
You will never be as present as they are absent,
until you see you are made up of the brightest cosmos.
You are blessed with life
Lucky to explore the earth
Why fill your life with sorrow and worry?
You are just wasting the time
Between now and your death
Those who have everything
are no better off
than those who have nothing.
Look into yourself,
fill your mind with Ram,
then you will know
what it is to be rich.
May the murtis stay near to your heart,
keep the diyas close to you
for when Death comes,
of course you shall
take it all with you
Or you can rid yourself
Of your need of things
Empty your mind
See what peace
Thinking only of Ram brings
Finding it hard to believe in the idea of God
We instead turned to science—
Why yield to the unseen, untouchable,
When Higgs boson is in front of our eyes
On commutes and in class,
At home and in relationships,
Eyes straight ahead and mouths open
We feign disinterest
Until the time comes when
What we pretended becomes genuine.