The syncretism of Kabir’s philosophy of simple love of God is reflected as well in the apocryphal tales surrounding his personal life.
Legends that he lived to over 120 years of age must be critically examined, and the notion that his body disappeared from its coffin before burial more than hints at allegory.
These stories surrounding his death and followers, however, do highlight the inclusive, syncretic nature of his writings: anti-caste and thoroughly unorthodox, Kabir had disciples of both Hindu and Muslim persuasions. When during a supposed argument over the proper method of interring their master’s remains—whether burial or cremation—the coffin is found empty, both groups of followers are able to point to divine intervention and claim a miracle, reflecting their teacher’s own non-sectarian attitude.
But these ideas central to the bhakti path continued on in Indian philosophy long after the death of Kabir and the other sants—“of the various paths based on the teachings of sants who adored the Formless God and the Name, the only one that has established itself as a thriving separate religion is that of Guru Nanak” (Heehs 375), supposedly a disciple of Kabir and the first of those today called the Sikh Gurus.
A Hindu who, inspired by the more democratic teachings of Islam, rejected caste, Nanak’s Sikh faith, which means “disciple,” shares much in common with its bhakti predecessor: an emphasis on emotion, personal devotion, and a loose definition of God.
Sikhism too was “conceived by Nanak as a doctrine of loving devotion to the ‘one God, the Creator,’ whose name was Truth” (Wolpert 125). And as Kabir was known as an opponent of orthodoxy in all forms, Nanak, comparably, is said to have pronounced “There is no Hindu, there is no Muslim” after a mystical experience of the formless “Presence of God” (Heehs 377).
With its roots in theistic devotion and Islamic Sufism, and giving rise to a modern-day successor in Sikhism, the north Indian bhakti movement of the 14th and 15th centuries produced mystic poets such as Kabir, whose non-sectarian contemporaries focused on direct connection to the divine and an intense, personal romantic love for God.
Preaching accessibility to the divine for all, but also promoting vernacular literature that gave even non-elites access to contemporary philosophical thought, sants such as Kabir encouraged the spiritual equality of all people, diversity of religious opinion, and syncretic fusions of contemporary faiths—values which, incredibly modern in their democratic nature, ensure that Kabir’s poetry continues to be relevant and moving even 600-odd years later.
This is the final excerpt from a paper I wrote for an Asian Civ class at the University of Alabama. My sources can be found below–and YOUR sources, if you choose to use this, is this:
Morales, Isabela. “What is this love of mine?–the poet Kabir.” <https://thescattering.wordpress.com>, 2 April 2010.
Look at that! I put it in MLA just for you! I guess Alabama’s made me polite…
Stanley Wolpert, A New History of India
Peter Heehs, Indian Religions: A Historical Reader of Spiritual Expression and Experience