Kabir and His Teachings
The central personality in the religious history of medieval
India was Kabir. It is a remarkable historical fact that he belonged to
a period of political turmoil and racial conflict produced by the Turkish
impact. Replacing the prosaic gyana with dynamic bhakti, he
stirred the socio-religious life of the country. He struck boldly at the
root of caste distinctions, idolatry pilgrimages/, vows, fasts and all the
external paraphernalia of religious life. He preached the gospel of love
to the people in their own language and attempted to reconcile Hinduism
with Islam propounding the ideal of religious unity and universal brotherhood.
His call resounded in almost all corners of the country and laid the foundations
of the saint traditions in India.
A mystic as he was, he preferred love and devotion to
a formless reality. His Ram and Hari signify the Supreme Being different
in nature from Rama of Ramayana and Hari of Bhagwat. As these names were
common among the masses, he preferred to teach his gospel of love through
According to him the Supreme Being can be attained through
the grace and mercy of the Satguru. He exalted the Satguru to a position
much higher than Govinda and said that Satguru alone can direct the devotee
to a path essential for the discipline of the soul and therefore in the
three worlds and nine regions none is greater than the Satguru. Kabir believed
the shabd or the holy name to be the true companion of a devotee. It emanated
from the Supreme Being Himself in the course of creation. Through contemplation
and inner practice known as sahaj-yoga the devotee can catch hold of the
shabd and traverse the higher regions of the creation. He proclaimed that
the highest aspiration of the human soul is to attain ultimate union with
the Supreme Being, and nothing short of it, not even paradise, would satisfy
it. By practicing sahaj-yoga, a devotee would cast off the evil tendencies
of the mind and acquire humility, love, patience and perseverance, with
the result that the self would be completely effaced. It would not mean
a life of asceticism and renunciation and that both yoga (asceticism) and
bhoga (enjoyment in family life) were necessary for a devotee.
Kabir realised that to tread the path of love was to walk
on the keen edge of a sword. According to him one who would sustain to
the end and develop incessant love and devotion at the feet of master would
attain the desired goal. His teachings, especially his emphasis upon the
formless Supreme Being, the concepts of Satguru and shabd present striking
similarities to the precepts propounded by the founders of the Radhasoami
faith. Like Kabir, they approve of family life and assert that love and
devotion at the feet of the Supreme Being would result in a feeling of
complete detachment from the world and its objects, even for a man living
in family. Their surat shabd yoga resembles Kabir's sahaj-yoga. In fact
it appears to be exactly an improved form of sahaj-yoga. Their emphasis
on guru bhakti conforms to the Kabirian tradition. Their criticism of superfluous
and superstitious socio-religious practices and their anti-traditional
and anti-ritualistic approach show definite Kabirian impact. The founders
of the Radhasoami faith have themselves admitted that their religion is
testified in the teachings of Kabir Saheb. They acknowledge the supreme
position of Kabir as param sant in the hierarchy of saints, who incarnated
from the highest spiritual region far above the second region known as
Brahmand to make the atmosphere congenial and set the stage ready for the
incarnation of the true Supreme Being whom they call Sat Purush Radhasoami.
Nanak and Sikh Teachings
By the time guru Nanak came to join the line of the bhakti
tradition, Islam had been well-established in northern India and its
influence was visible in social life. Mutual hatred, animosity and mistrust
between the two major committees-Hindus and Muslims-had taken hold of the
society. Nanak, like Kabir, asserted that God is one and indivisible, above
every other being howsoever highly conceived. He is not a God belonging
to any particular people - Muslims or Hindus - but is the dispenser of
life universal. The universe is an illusion which is not final and abiding
in itself, but real only because of God's presence in it. The ways to realize
God are not many but only one. The way is neither knowledge nor formalism
or meritorious action but love and faith, aiming at attaining God's grace.
One should sing in His praise and mediate on His name. Those who regularly
repeat the holy name and have faith and love in the grace of Satguru
will attain salvation.
Nanak condemned the superstitions and formalism of both
Hinduism and Islam. He condemned the caste system and social inequities.
He recommended family life, but also a complete detachment from the world
and thus traced a mid-path between extreme asceticism and sensuous pursuits.
He believed in the transmigration of the soul and the laws of karma.
The evil-doers, he asserted, would suffer the pains of birth, death and
The Sikh religion under the succeeding gurus, made striding
progress. They brought about a revolution in society by further eradicating
caste distinction. According to them, the reformer saints had admitted
in their fold true seekers from weavers, barbers and shoe-makers, but the
privilege of equality was not extended to men in general. Kabir and Raidas
were honoured by people of higher castes but the masses still remained
depressed as usual. The Sikh gurus declared the whole humanity to be one,
and that man was not honoured because of his caste but because he emanated
from God who had given him the life and soul. This approach brought a new
hope and courage to the downtrodden masses and women who stood low in society.
Women as well as men could equally share the grace of God and hold equal
responsibility to Him. The Sikh gurus condemned the system of sati
long before any notice was taken of it by Akbar. They called woman the
conscience of man.
In Sikhism, Satguru is envisaged as a true and
perfect being. As is God so is the guru and as it is the guru,
so must be the follower. He is the central unifying personality, in spite
of the rule of succession; when human form changes, the essence of personality
is held to be identical with his predecessors. After the tenth guru, no
one succeeded to the gaddi and the injunction of the former was
that the Granth was the guru and any selected assembly of
five Sikhs devoted to religious pursuit was as holy as the guru
The ideas of Nam and Satguru, the theory
of the succession of the gurus and the sangat and the pangat
present striking similarities to the teachings of the Radhasoami faith.