This is an extract from a long article by Swami Rama Tirtha (Punjab, India, 1873-1906) which appeared serially from 1900 onwards in his Urdu magazine Alif under the title “Peace or War? Waves of the Ganges.” The extract here presented was written shortly after the Swami’s retirement to the forest as a monk, and deals with the theme “God manifests Himself in love and through love”, illustrated from various Hindu traditions.
The first tradition concerns the poet-teacher Kabir (1440-1518). Towards the end of it there is a reference to two events recorded in Hindu sacred lore—the fight of the Lord incarnated as Rama with Ravana, and His fight incarnated as Krishna with Kansa. There are also references to God under the name of Shiva.
After a passing reference to Paramahansa Ramakrishna (1834-1886), the well-known saint of Calcutta, the article proceeds to illustrate the theme taught in the story about Kabir from other Hindu traditions. The first concerns Mahaprabhu Chaitanya (14841537), a Krishna-devotee of Bengal who was taken by his disciples to be himself an incarnation of Krishna, a point to which a Sanskrit verse quoted by the Swami makes allusion. There is also apparently a reference here to the story of the conversion of the drunkard Jagai by the power of Chaitanya’s glance, and the Swami compares this to the spiritual healing power of the loving glance of Jesus, which sees God under the mask of the sinner.
The second tradition to which the Swami refers concerns the visit of the Lord incarnated as Rama, in the company of His consort Sita, to Shabari, the wild woman of the woods. And the last refers to an incident recorded in the religious epic called Mahabharata, where God, incarnated this time as Krishna, washes the feet of all those present at a great sacrificial gathering.
It is evening. From the corner of a small garden comes the following chant, sung in love-laden tones:
I will live to please my Rama!
I will go to the forests
And will not brush against the trees
Nor disturb the branches.
There will I contemplate the Indestructible One Who abides in every leaf.
I will live on roots
And will not resort to medicines
Nor send for a doctor.
I have met the only perfect doctor.
The Indestructible One—
To Him alone will I show my pulse.
I will live to please my Rama.
Who is the singer ? The great devotee Kabir. A certain youth called Rama Dasa hears this heart-piercing song and becomes filled with the spirit of renunciation. With tears in his eyes, he places his head at the feet of Kabir, and, clasping his hands together, makes the following supplication: “You are allpowerful. Grant unto me also vision of the Lord.” Seeing Rama Dasa’s true spirit of devotion, Kabir could not refuse him his request. In a little while he promised he would show him the Lord in two days’ time, and he added various practical instructions.
The next day Rama Dasa sold all his belongings in great joy, and, with the help of the proceeds, assembled rice, sugar, clarified butter, ginger, milk and other requisites for a feast. On the appointed day an excellent meal was prepared, and men of the district were invited to participate in it. In one room the various special dishes stood ready prepared; and in another room men were coming in and sitting down and engaging in their devotional repetitions and reading. Rama Dasa sat in another room apart, performing his worship in a spirit of heart-felt love and devotion and hoping that at any moment he would see the Lord.
The arrangement was that when Rama Dasa had had the vision of the Lord, all men would sit down to eat, each in his appointed station. All await the auspicious moment with ill-concealed yearning. But morning passes and then afternoon, and still Rama Dasa has not had the vision.
The emptiness of some of the younger of men began to prompt them to address the Lord in a somewhat different strain as follows: “Alas! What is this obstacle which has been set up between our stomachs and all that wonderful food?” Some grew despondent, others began to criticize Kabir, others wrote Rama Dasa off as a lunatic who had set his heart on an impossible quest. Yet others were still flattering themselves with the hope that they themselves would receive a vision of the Lord through the grace of the feet of Rama Dasa. Expectancy continued to mount, and since, according to the Persian saying, “the ear of a fasting man is the Gateway of Allah All-high”, the ears of all the fasters were largely intent on catching some word from Allah All-high which would put the fast to an end.
Well, let us leave these people to their various meditations and cross over to see what is happening to the food in the meantime. What is this carnage going on in kitchen ? Where did that buffalo get in from? The pots of sweetened milk are already overturned, and there is the buffalo with its head in the cauldrons of halwa. The cakes have been well and truly slobbered over, the vessels of dal broken, and now the buffalo has actually knocked down the clay-oven with one of its horns, besides trampling the whole place down with its hooves and defecating wherever it felt inclined. Now it has raised its head and is bellowing lustily.
On hearing this inauspicious noise coming from the direction of the kitchen, men awoke with a start. Their minds were already restless under stress of the day’s fasting, and when they saw the wreck of the kitchen and of all their hopes their anger burst forth more violently than the occasion warranted, and the waves of tamas guna (the base element in the mind) began to surge unspeakably high. Rama Dasa came out from his place of retirement in a fury brandishing an enormous staff. men surrounded the buffalo in a circle to prevent its escape, and Rama Dasa began to beat it mercilessly till it vomited forth all it had eaten. Some of men were cracking jokes at Kabir’s expense, some were abusing him, and others were showing off their general aptitude for bitter and sarcastic remarks.
Eventually the buffalo, in a sorely stricken condition, its body all covered in blood, limping and bellowing in agonized tones, managed to drag itself off to safety in the direction of the comer of the garden where Kabir was staying. Rama Dasa and men were following along behind it with the evident intention of settling accounts with Kabir themselves. But what do they see when they arrive but the devotee Kabir embracing the neck of the buffalo and saying in compassion and deep agitation, “O my Lord! O alas! Today You have received worse wounds than You received in Your fight with Ravana. O alas! Today You have received sufferings worse than anything You encountered in Your struggles with Kansa. Alas! Today, You. . .”
The sight of the devotee Kabir thus weeping and lamenting occasioned a change of heart in all those who observed it. As fire turns into fire all it touches, so the influence of Kabir on the minds of Rama Dasa and men was such that their minds became so pure that nothing other than the perfect non-duality and bliss of the Absolute could remain therein. All notion of the existence of anything other than the Absolute was destroyed once and for all. The veil of duality was removed. Everywhere, in every object, they found the one Self alone.
My mind became pure as Ganges-water.
In the form of all objects of the world
Shiva was following me about Crying “Kabir! Kabir!”
All pain and melancholy, all thoughts of sense-objects, all bodily desires vanished. All bodies in the world revealed their true nature as the Self of the beholder, as Rama, the Delight of the Universe. What a strange vision, where the one who gives the vision and the one who receives it are not different. Thou art the spectacle, and Thou art also the beholder of the spectacle. What a wonder! It is Shiva Himself perceiving that He is Himself the reality in every phenomenal being, in beast, in bird, in man, in the whole world.
O ye devotees of secular learning! Are you going to waste your whole lives in counting the leaves on the bunches of grapes in the vineyard of this world, in examining the grape- seeds, in weighing the juice and dissecting the vines like a botanist ? Take but a sip of the wondrous juice hidden in the grapes of this vineyard and the taste will grow on you and keep on growing for ever.
Ever since that day when first my glance
Met and mingled with the glance of the Friend
A thorn has become wedged in my eye-ball for ever.
This potent daughter of the grape, this intoxication of love, will give you the courage to draw back the veil from the face of the beautiful darling of your heart. It was this wonderful intoxication that enabled Paramahansa Ramakrishna to behold Kali, the Mother of the Universe, while seated in a scavenger’s hut. His first act was to bend down and sweep out the hut with his long hair. Mahaprabhu Chaitanya the Fair-limbed (Gauranga) discovered that his own body was Kali, the Mother of the Universe, and would lift up the passers-by into his lap in an access of motherly affection. Worse still, he would lick them, like a cow licking her calf!
O skin-deep natural science, out and away from my sight! O veil misnamed philosophy, get thee gone!. Take a leaf from Mahaprabhu Chaitanya’s book. First he was a professor of logic and philosophy. But lo! One day that professor disappeared, and soon was seen with his arms round Krishna, weeping tears of love. Round Krishna? No, no. That is not Krishna but some notorious wastrel of the day, lurching home from the tavern, flown with wine. O squint-eyed vision of duality and difference, that sees a wastrel within this thine own Self, avaunt! Get treatment for your eyes at the hospital of the Upanishads, then you will be fit to understand this teaching. See what has happened to your supposed wastrel now! All his thoughts, all his acts, all his sayings proclaim that he is Krishna Himself. He was a wastrel only till that moment when Chaitanya glanced at him with the eye of true vision. Truly, Jesus also was able to cure the leprosy of sin by a single glance. And Chaitanya converted a vagabond into Krishna Himself, Lord of the Three Worlds. Nay, Chaitanya himself was verily Krishna returned to earth:
I bow to Hari—oh, see!
He has assumed the disguise of a monk
Whose eyes are streaming like fresh clouds,
Whose smiles disconcert the devas,
Who is beautiful as the spring season,
Sparkling like a stream of nectar.
Come, let us see who has set up this useless hut in the middle of the forest. O leave it alone! It must have been someone of low caste who made it, and if you go inside you’ll only have to have a bath afterwards. What do you expect to find anyway? There’ll be nothing there. Still, in the end they go in. Heigh, who’s this ? They hold their breath in wonder. Reader, who is it who is seated in this hut? Do you recognize Him or not? What Hindu or Muslim exists in India who has not heard the cry “Sing victory to King Rama” ring out at the Dashahara festival and seen the great king carried by in a beautifully decorated palanquin ? That same King Rama is now seated in this hut on a ragged old mat, in company with His consort Sita. His face is radiant with joy.
On the lower ground in front of the mat sits Shabari, the wild low-caste woman of the forest. With a melting heart He is holding a conversation with her that soars beyond all telling. In the season of the ripening plums, she had picked a store of choice plums against His future coming. She had bitten all of them, and had eaten the sour ones and put the sweet ones aside for Him. Rama is stretching forth His hand asking for the plums in a sweet tone, though He knows they are by now desiccated and shrivelled and have been bitten into by a low-caste woman of the forest. On beholding this action of Rama, the model of propriety and good conduct, how long will the sectarians of modern India continue with their prejudices and vain disputes?
Perhaps your mind does not take kindly to Shabari’s wretched hovel? Well, come along, we’ll take you for a walk round Delhi and show you the splendour of the Brahmins and Princes and mighty Kings. Do not go away, there is a big sacrifice in all its pomp afoot. Oho! What is this? Whose tender fingers are grasping that foot? Who has begun to wash the feet of the whole assembly!
Reader, do you remember? All the great kings of the earth are trembling in hope of taking the dust of His feet on their forehead. All the moon-faced beauties of the world are aching for a touch of His lips. The sweet notes of His world-bemusing flute stir the hearts of lovers, while the teachings of His Gita thrill the minds of the intellectually inclined. And this Krishna has lovingly assumed the duty of washing the feet of the whole assembly, great and small. If Krishna had love like this, what then is your own duty, O men of India? Do not forget the Persian verse:
My father sold two sheaves of wheat
In the Gardens of Paradise.
I am not a worthy son
If I fail to sell a grain of barley.