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साईं इतना दीजिये, जा में कुटुंब समाये
मैं भी भूखा ना रहूँ, साधू ना भूखा जाये

saayin itna dijiye, ja mein kutumb samaye
main bhi bhookha na rahoon, saadhu na bhookha jaye

Kutumb (family/household) is included in the idea of self for Kabeer. And not only does he feel responsibility towards his kutumb, but also towards the sadhu. My view of sadhus today is of the ash-smeared, cell-phone toting, ganja-high people I saw by the dozen in Haridwar.

Kumbh sadhu with mobile phone

AFP photo

But I think Kabeer is referring to the original meaning of saadhu; the ascetic, the holy man, who had renounced the worldly living and was focused on the contemplation of the brahman. The guys who would eat whatever the people cared to offer them. If no body offered them anything, they would simply go hungry. Kabeer is clear that if he cares about anything other than his family, it is making sure that he can contribute in this worthwhile (to him) journey that the ascetic is undertaking.

In some ways, the simple life of Kabeer the cloth weaver could not have been much more than subsistence but his recognition of the fact that he still owed something to a charitable cause is noteworthy to me. And in fact, if I stretch if further and go by the whole world is one kutumb philosophy, which likely Kabeer was highly familiar with, it may be that Kabeer is actually including the global village in his idea of the self.

I guess the important thing to me is that the message of this doha is very relevant today as we are constantly trying to define what is enough for us. We are running after a number of things, dividing our time between activities, slicing our attention to achieve more and more. We plan, we optimize, we improvise. But, when do we know that we are doing enough. That we have got enough. That we are on the way to a life of ‘enoughness.’

Clearly, we know that there is a lower bound. If we choose to do nothing at all, the joy of pursuit of happiness is lost. But my question is about the upper bound. When does the pursuit overtake the joy?

If I use Kabeer’s intuitive wisdom to answer this question, I would say that the critical component of identifying when it is enough, is to include in your idea of the self, your family, your extended family, even people and organizations who you value and who need your help. When I start thinking of their needs, and understanding that at the end of the day, we are all in this together, I lose some of my unreasonableness, and am closer to arriving at a good upper bound for myself.


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तिनका कबहुँ ना निंदिये, जो पांव तले होए
कबहुँ उड़ आँखो पड़े, पीर घनेरी होए

tinka kabhoon na nindiye, jo paanv tale hoye
kabhoon ud aankho pade, peer ghaneri hoye

This couplet definitely highlights the emphasis that Kabeer puts on humility, though the way that he chooses to convey it is through fear. It reminds me of a story we used to hear as kids where a mighty elephant was humbled by a lowly ant who slipped into the trunk of the elephant causing much grief and eventually leading to the elephant realizing that no creature is completely powerless.

But I wonder why we need to allude to the fear or retribution aspect at all. What if the ant had no way to get back at the elephant, or the tinka (twig) had no way to get into our eye and cause pain? Should the stronger entity then continue to trample on the weaker one with impunity? Where is the humility in doing something out of fear?

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All in good time

धीरे-धीरे रे मना, धीरे सब कुछ होए
माली सींचे सौ घड़ा, ऋतु आए फल होए

dheere dheere re mana, dheere sab kuch hoye
maali seenche sau ghada, ritu aaye phal hoy

Cherry Blossoms

Cherry Trees in Washington D.C., a gift from Japan to United States as a gesture of goodwill, that bloom just two weeks in a year in the spring, during the Cherry Blossom Festival*. You can't rush them and you can't will them to stay.

Kabeer’s ability to crystallize a profound thought doesn’t cease to amaze me. He takes the most mundane and familiar of things, and uses them as guided missiles to get his message across.

I have felt the urge to skip through parts of my life numerous times. I am not sure how common that is, but for me, if I am working towards a goal, the stuff in between seems like a waste of time to me. I think that if only I could rush through the boring parts and get to the time where I get to actually realize the fruits of my efforts, wouldn’t that be great.

But of course that can not and does not happen. Even if a time machine existed, the stuff that needs to happen in between will not happen on its own. The idea of steady dedicated effort is something that we take a while to accept and internalize. Notice any young kid devouring his stack of goodies on Halloween rather than spreading the loot over a few days and you will understand that delayed gratification is not something that we are born with.

But Kabeer’s words, gently insistent, urge us to remember that things don’t happen in an instant, but rather in their own sweet time, and that is, in fact, their beauty and joy. And that not everything instant is great. Actually many people are now realizing that instant is most likely never great, which has led to this whole slow food movement (and to more tongue-in-cheek counterparts like the International Institute of Not Doing Much).

But to me, slow somehow doesn’t quite capture it. I would prefer to use a word like सहज (sahaj) that encompasses the state of being centered, natural, in sync with the earth. However you choose to refer to it though, seems like at least this is one of Kabeer’s teachings that is totally relevant today.

*Check out the Cherry Blossom Festival which is from March 27th through April 11th this year.

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चलती चक्की देख के, दिया कबीरा रोये
दुई पाटन के बीच में, साबित बचे ना कोए

Chalti chakki dekh ke, diya kabeera roye
Dui paatan ke beech mein, sabit bache na koye

A traditionally dressed woman using a chakki or a stone mill

A traditionally dressed woman using a chakki or a stone mill

In the days of supermarket aisles, frozen rotis, store-bought breads and pre-made pasta, it is difficult to imagine the time when a chakki (stone mill) was a good metaphor to get across the point that no matter who you are, life is a darn hard thing. Or as Kabeer says, that in the stone mill of life, no one comes out in ‘one piece’.

I wonder if this is relevant today. Are we still living through the stone mill, or with changes of lifestyle and technology, are we better off than Kabeer’s generation?

Actually, I feel blessed in so many ways that I can not remotely claim that my life is in any way close to a stone mill (and also my ego would never let me to say that I have allowed life to break me in some way). But I also think that, in a way, this attitude of Kabeer would be good to have. If you admit that life by definition means getting ground to powder, most problems would stop bothering you and even small positive things would make you happy 🙂

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10 days, 500 Palestinians, 5 Israeli soldiers. But Israel has a right to aggression to defend itself. Because all men are created equal, but some are more equal than others.

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