William & Mary

Poems in the Style and Spirit of Kabir

RELG 213: Introduction to Hinduism

Kabir teachingKabir 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 each of us.

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 “Hinduism” course (Fall 2017) at William & Mary.

Here is a link to some of Kabir’s own poetry: http://www.poemhunter.com/kabir/poems/
Here is a link to The Kabir Project, which produced four documentary films and ten audio CDs and poetry books exploring how Kabir’s poetry intersects with ideas of cultural identity, secularism, nationalism, and religion in South Asia today: http://www.kabirproject.org

Student Poems:
You pledge allegiance to a flag: Leia Moran
You pledge allegiance to a flag
like an army of mindless robots.
The daily promises you make
are as empty as the pockets of your neighbors.

A nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all?
The mindless pledge ceases
You take a seat in an informally segregated classroom
Brother, you tell me, is a nation indivisible when its institutions are divided?

After school you’ll visit a hired tutor while your peer at the next table over
struggles to complete assignments
with no one at home but the siblings he must care for.
Brother, you tell me, as you stand at the Valedictorian podium, is that justice for all?
When tragedy strikes overseas you’ll pledge your support to yet another flag
while you turn your head away from the violence in your own backyard.
You wear the guise of a pious man, but didn’t God say to love thy neighbor as thyself?
Brother, you tell me, is this one nation under God when you turn your back on those in need?

Kabir says: What makes any neighbor so different from yourself?
What makes each flag so different from the one waving on your pole?
After all, won’t we all will end up indivisible
When all that remains of us is 10 feet underground?

--Leia Moran
In temples of stone: Parker Toro

In temples of stone
Men with hard hearts
Praise in dull tones
And shallow ritual.

truth strains
Under the weight of the world
As a lover is panged
by loneliness.

Brother, Kabir says
keep your eyes up
towards the mystery
of the infinite dark.
--Parker Toro

Satisfy the Hunger: Khaile Forbes 

You follow the rules laid out before you,
Know them as if second nature.
But Ram is not convinced.

Hours spent preparing a puja,
Days spent decorating a shrine,
Yet you’re no closer to the goal.

Each day offers a new opportunity,
A chance to engage with the divine,
Yet you treat it like a chore.

Beyond a hunter’s astuteness,
It is the hunger that truly makes him formidable.
The tactics of hunting are solely to satisfy that hunger.

Why do you do the things that you do?
The comfort of routine traps you.
Kabir says, don’t just do, think as you do

--Khaile Forbes

Foolish Pundit: Tim Terlizzi

Foolish Pundit,
You claim to follow the teaching,
You claim to know what is right,

Blind to the truth you replace idolatry with idolatry,
Worshiping a man the same as you foolishly did the gods.

Kabir says:
Do not blindly follow the teaching,
Look within, to Ram!
Only internally can truth be reached.
--Tim Terlizzi

Listen to what Kabir says:
There is no difference in reverence of gods or men,
Each will lead the self astray.
Only Ram, when worshipped within,
Will awaken what sleeps.
--Tim Terlizzi

You call yourself Christian: Kayleigh Webster
You call yourself Christian.
You say this means you treat everyone
how you want to be treated.
You say this means all sins are equal.

And yet, everyone hears you scream
Hateful slurs at two men
Holding hands in the street.
You say they will burn in Hell for it.

And yet, we all hear you speak
About the woman in the short skirt,
Exclaiming her supposed impurity.
You say she will burn in Hell for it.

Tell me, brother, what do you care?
Why do you treat them as if they are lower than dirt?
You said all sins are equal.
Aren’t insulting people and spreading slander sins?

How you must hate yourself
if this is how you want to be treated.
All sins are equal, Christian.
If they go to Hell, so do you.

And flames burn the same temperature for all.

--Kayleigh Webster
Cross necklaces of gold: Laila Drury
Cross necklaces of gold
And ornate, antique, woven
Robes garnish
The necks of they who
Preach generosity,
Selflessness, and compassion;
Yet just bus rides away
Children cry, mothers
Sob, poverty
A backdrop for their entire existence;
They pray, and
They pray.

But, Kabir asks,
How can they pray to
The same God?

--Laila Drury
Pundit, why are you so blind?: Peter Bean

Pundit, why are you so blind?
You will only sow the seeds of destruction in the wars over religion
            unless you seek true peace in Ram.

Jews, Muslims, Christians—why must you fight in the name of Ram?
            You all speak of the same God yet kill each other for your differences!
You do not understand the true teachings of Ram,
             for if you did you would love instead of fight.

You fight and kill and die in the name of your religion:
            tell me, brother, how this spreads peace?
How can you claim to follow religions of love and goodwill
            when you cause as much harm as good?

 You say: “We are following God’s word.”
            “We are justified in protecting ourselves and our religion.”
Kabir says: you need to follow in God’s loving footsteps;
            you must truly love one another, brother, for the best protection is peace.         
--Peter Bean

My friend, why do you waste your time?: Zach Ferry
My friend, why do you waste your time?
You spend it half-heartedly with others of the same.
I hear the drinking songs you sing, but your songs mean nothing.
You will not find yourself at the bottom of your drink. 
Take comfort in your faith, let it guide you.
Worldly possessions do not follow you to your next life.
Kabir says: time is the most precious thing, spend it wisely. With the right people, focusing on the important things.
--Zach Ferry
Brothers and sisters, we must listen to one another: Devon McCann
Brothers and sisters, we must listen to one another.
Remember, we must be taught what we do not know and teach others.
Muslims, Hindus… to know oneself is to know another.
Why sit in silence and ignore God’s calling?
Listen to the music of another man’s heart.
--Devon McCann
The wise call devotion to the Great One by many names: Thomeka Watkins
The wise call devotion to the Great One by many names;
Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Christian, Muslim, they are all one in the same.
Caste, rank, wealth, ritual– none of these earthly things are key to attaining liberation;
nor does it matter if you bury your loved ones or you prefer cremation.
Anyone and everyone who holds true devotion to the Great One in their soul,
can become one with the Great One and truly become whole....
--Thomeka Watkins
Rituals - are they good or bad?: Monica Ouellet
Rituals - are they good or bad?
They create a community
But also lead to a hierarchy

Why sacrifice an animal
When it doesn't contribute to liberation
Why spend hours praying in a temple
When it doesn't bring you any closer to the truth

Your time on Earth is limited
Why spend your days on your knees?
Instead, look within yourself
And only then will you find the salvation you need

There is a light within yourself
That leads you on your way
Follow me down this path
And you will never stray

No Qur'an, nor Upanishads
Will make it any more clear
These scriptures don't convey verity
That you need only listen to yourself to hear. 

--Monica Ouellet
Following in the path of scriptures: Marriya Schwarz
Following in the path of scriptures –
     no questions asked
Even when Ram points to another trail
This “devout” crowd speaks of knowledge
But there’s blindness in their eyes

Time ticks down in the hourglass
Age is made tangible
      through aching backs from crouching over books
Although eternal, Ram will not wait forever
Seek him out through more than letters on a page
--Marriya Schwarz
Why do we put such an emphasis on all of our differences?: Abby Shukan

Why do we put such an emphasis on all of our differences?
With loss and despair, we are all the same.

How terribly we combat and injure:
When each of us craves the same thing.

These unforgivable words and deep wounds
All originate from soft lips and clasping hands.

Destruction: it rampages homes like fire.
Division: it shatters families like glass.

And still, people keep looking for the differences –
Until they are left alone and apart
            From all others.
--Abby Shukan 

Castes are burdensome: Jonathan Harper
Castes are burdensome.
They are earthly creations, designed to divide,
             multiplying life’s challenges in every circumstance.
Therefore, says Kabir:
Live in Ram to be liberated from man’s schemes
Love Ram to find boundless joy in life.
 --Jonathan Harper

What is the purpose?
Is money, power, prowess, fame,
            all for which humanity should strive?
Is there more?
Seek not the superficial distinctions of the world,
but seek Ram endlessly.

Thus, Kabir teaches:
Ram is all-satisfying and pleasing
Detach from the world and be surrounded by divine knowledge
Only then will you be fulfilled.
--Jonathan Harper
At the end of your days: Moira McDermott
At the end of your days,
To the clay you will return,
And your dharma has been followed,
Sacrifices made yet rebirth on the horizon?

Did you follow a god,
or a principle of action?
What’s the meaning of practice,
When practice becomes the meaning?

When the intentions of man get buried in translations,
Do we find sacredness in practice or is just man’s way of fitting in?
--Moira McDermott