If we wrote about most of the known bhaktas of India then we would easily fill the rest of this book. It is possible to write an encyclopaedia on them. To give you an idea of the aspirations of these bhaktas we intend to give selected quotations from two great bhaktas – Kabir and Ramakrishna.
Kabir is one of the most famous bhaktas of India. The word kabir means ‘great’, and this exactly describes this exuberant bhakti poet. He is often called Kabirdas, which means the slave or servant of the supreme.
He was born near Benares in 1440. His whole life was an expression of bhakti. He earned his living as a weaver. He sang countless songs, many of which have been recorded by his disciples. They all generate an atmosphere of devotion and bliss and are widely sung throughout India. And still, even though they were written hundreds of years ago, they continue to transmit overwhelming devotion and feeling. When these songs are sung the whole atmosphere is charged with the devotion of Kabir. The air becomes vibrant; the heart starts thumping with joy. This occurs even for those who do not understand the language.
For Kabir everything is blissful, as he sings in the following song:
The supreme dances in rapture
And when his great joy
Touches the body and mind
They cannot contain themselves.
He holds all that is Within his eternal bliss.
Though he sang thousands of songs, he emphasized time and time again that it is impossible to talk or write about the supreme consciousness – it can be only tasted and felt. It is only in this way that you will know the sweetness of bliss. He sang:
Since the day when I met my Lord,
There has been no end to the play of our love;
I see with my eyes open and I smile
And I behold his beauty everywhere.
I utter his name, and whatever I see,
It reminds me of him.
Whatever I do, it becomes his worship,
Wherever I go, I move in him.
All I achieve is his service and grace.
When I lie down, I lie prostrated at his feet.
It is only he that I adore – none other,
My tongue no longer utters useless words,
It only sings his glory day and night.
Whether sitting or standing, I can never forget him
For the rhythm of his music beats in my ears.
Kabir says: I am totally immersed in the intoxicating bliss that transcends pleasure and pain.
Remember, this is only a translation. In the original language, with music and amid a large group of people singing, the power of devotion is electrifying.
Kabir was a practical man. He advised aspirants to: “.. . go to the master, receive the word (mantra) and worship the Lord. This leads to liberation, declares Kabir most emphatically.”
As the oil is in the oil seed
And the fire in the flint
So the supreme is within thee, unrevealed.
Follow the guru’s simple and true instructions.
Keep strict vigil at midnight and so find him.
Kabir was not a person of blind faith. He had transcended all religious barriers. In his poems he continually tries to show people that there is no contradiction between Hinduism and Islam. He had reached the culmination of all yogic paths. Knowledge and devotion were the result of expanded awareness. He sang:
The inward and the outward have become
as one sky;
The infinite and the finite are united;
I am drunk with the sight of this all.
If you want to know more we suggest you read a book which gives translations of Kabir’s songs. We recommend Poems of Kabir translated by Rabindranath Tagore.
The second bhakta we will briefly discuss is Ramakrishna. He was born near Calcutta in 1836. He is a good example to show that illumination does not depend on education. He was illiterate, yet through bhakti, merged with highest knowledge. Because of this, his power of intellect became very powerful, and many highly educated people would sit and listen to his words. The educated came to an uneducated person for guidance and wisdom; this almost seems to defy understanding. Many of his disciples, such as Vivekananda received extensive education, yet they adopted Rama-krishna as their guru. Higher awareness does not depend on formal education.