Let me advert first to the Alvar saints of the South, the earliest of whom belonged to the second and the latest to the tenth century, A. D. They all wrote psalms or songs in Tamil, a Dravidian tongue of South India. They were inspired by the teachings of Vaishnavism when it travelled from the North to the South. Their doctrines were more or less similar to those touched upon in the preceding lecture in connection with the bhakti mysticism of the Bhagavata Purana and the Gita. They are embodied in psalms and not in any connected philosophical treatise. Describing his insatiable love of God, Nam Alvar says:
“As I dote on the Lord of Katkarai (God)
Whose streets with scarlet lily are perfumed
My heart for his wonderful graces melts
How then can I, my restless love suppress?”
With reference to Nam Alvar, Govindacarya has said: “Briefly, Saint Nam Alvar declares that when one is overcome by bhakti exaltation, trembling in every cell of his being, he must freely and passively allow this influence to penetrate his being, and carry him beyond all known states of consciousness; never from fear or shame that bystanders may take him for a madman, ought the exhibition of this bhakti-rapture that deluges his being, to be suppressed. The very madness is the means of distinguishing him from the ordinary mortals to whom such beatific vision is necessarily denied. The very madness is the bhakta’s pride. In that very madness, the saint exhorts, “run, jump, cry, laugh and sing, and let every man witness it.”
Let us now pass on to other saints of the South, Namdev and Tukaram. The bhakti school referred to in the last lecture, and most of the other branches of this school, developed under purely Brahminic traditions and in the shadow of Brahminic scriptures, the Puranas and the like. And though in the Bhagavata we find that even the foreign and aboriginal races of the Kiratas, Hunas, Andhras, Pulindas, Pukkasas, Abhiras, Suhmas, Yavanas, Khasas, etc., become pure if they are attached to God, yet the Brahminic civilization had such a hold over the country that the cult of bhakti grew up around the traditional cult of Rama, or Krishna, Shiva or Shakti. Representation of God in images and their worship by the bhaktas, faith in the legends of Krishna and other inferior deities as told in the Puranas, preferential treatment of the Brahmin caste, respect to the Vedas, etc., became very intimately associated with the doctrine of bhakti preached in the Puranas and other Sanskrit scriptures. We know, of course, that the bhakti cult spread also among foreigners. Thus, in the second century B. C., the Greek king Heliodorus, son of Dios, dedicated to Vasudeva a flagstaff bearing an image of the bird Garuda, on which the God Vasudeva or Krishna was said to ride. Now, though the sons of some demons are also known to have been great bhaktas, as described in the Puranas, yet the latter all accepted the traditional God Vasudeva and they regarded the legends associated with Krishna or Vasudeva as real episodes of his life. In the thirteenth century A. D., we find that Visoba Khecar, the teacher of the bhakta Namdev, denounced the worship of images as a substitute for the God Krishna or for any other god. He is said to have instructed Namdev to abandon image-worship, saying: “A stone god never speaks. What possibility then of his removing the disease of mundane existence? A stone image is regarded as God, but the true God is wholly different. If a stone god fulfills desires, how is it he breaks when struck? Those who adore a god made of stone, lose everything through their folly. Those who say and hear that a god of stone speaks to his devotees are both of them fools. Whether a holy place is small or large there is no god but stone or water. There is no place which is devoid of God. That God has shown Nama in his heart and thus Khecar conferred a blessing on him.” Namdev was a tailor by caste and he worshipped the idol at Pandharpur in the Maratha country in South India. However, he had a full knowledge of the true nature of God, as had other bhaktas of Sanskritic traditions. Thus he says: “The Veda has to speak by Thy might and the Sun has to move round; such is the might of Thee, the Lord of the Universe. Knowing this essential truth I have surrendered myself to Thee. By Thy might it is that the clouds have to pour down rain, mountains to rest firm and the wind to blow.” Again: “Vows, fasts and austerities are not at all necessary; nor is it necessary for you to go on a pilgrimage. Be you watchful in your hearts and always sing the name of Hari. It is not necessary to give up eating food or drinking water; fix your mind on the foot of Hari. Neither is it necessary for you to contemplate the one without attributes. Hold fast to the love of the name of Hari.” “Recognize him alone to be a righteous man, who sees Vasudeva in all objects, eradicating all pride or egoism. The rest are entangled in the shackles of delusion. To him all wealth is like earth, and the nine gems are mere stones. The two, desire and anger, he has thrown out, and he cherishes in his heart quietude and forgiveness.” Again he says: “Firmly grasp the truth which is Narayana. Purity of conduct should not be abandoned; one should not be afraid of the censure of people and thus accomplish one’s own purpose. Surrender yourself to your loving friend (God) giving up all ostentation and pride. The censure of people should be regarded as praise and their praise not heeded. One should entertain no longing for being respected and honored, but should nourish in oneself a liking for devotion. This should be rendered firm in the mind and the name of God should not be neglected even for a moment.”
The essence of the teachings of Namdev, as of almost all the other bhaktas of whom I shall now be speaking, is purity of mind, speech, and deed, utter disregard of castes, creeds and other social distinctions, a tendency to leave all for God, and in love and joy to live in God always, utterly ignoring all social, communal and religious prejudices, narrowness, dogmas and bigotry. It is held that God is omnipotent and omnipresent and that He cannot be identified with any particular deity or his character properly narrated by any particular legendary or mythical ways of thinking. At the same time it is contended that we may call him by any name we like, for He is always the same in all.
Another great Maratha saint was Tukaram of the seventeenth century. Tukaram was a low class Hindu. His father was a petty trader. When his father, in his old age, wanted to give over his business to his eldest son Savji, the latter refused the task since he did not wish a worldly life. So the business was entrusted to Tukaram when he was at the age of thirteen. Four years later his father died. Then Tukaram was imposed upon by crafty persons and his business was wrecked. His wife, however, procured a loan; the business was restored and then he began to prosper. Once, however, while he was returning home, Tukaram met a man who was on the point of being dragged to prison for his debts. Tukaram at once gave all that he had to this debtor in order to achieve his release. From that time on Tukaram renounced all worldly vocations and devoted his life to singing the glories of God and the dearness of our relations to Him. He employed a particular kind of verse which he often composed extempore and in which he frequently spoke. Thus Tukaram says: “God is ours, certainly ours, and is the soul of all souls. God is near to us, certainly near, outside and inside. God is benignant, certainly benignant, and fulfills every longing even of a longing nature.” Again he says: “This thy nature is beyond the grasp of the mind or of words, and therefore I have made devoted love a measure. I measure the endless by the measure of love. He is not to be truly measured by any other means. Thou art not to be found by processes of concentration, sacrificial rites, practice of austerities, or any bodily exertions, or by knowledge. Oh Kesava, accept the service which we render to thee in the simplicity of our hearts.” Still again: “The Endless is beyond, and between him and me there are lofty mountains of desire and anger. I am not able to ascend them, nor do I find any pass. Insurmountable is the ascent of my enemies. What possibility is there of my attaining my friend Narayana (God)?” He expresses his heart full of longing for God in the following words:
“As on the bank the poor fish lies
And gasps and writhes in pain,
Or, as a man with anxious eyes
Seeks hidden gold in vain,–
So is my heart distressed and cries
To come to thee again.
Thou knowest, Lord, the agony
Of the lost infant’s wail
Yearning his mother’s face to see.
(How oft I tell this tale.)
O, at thy feet the mystery
Of the dark world unveil.
The fire of this harassing thought
Upon my bosom prays.
Why is it I am thus forgot?
(O, who can know thy ways?)
Nay, Lord, thou seest my hapless lot;
Have mercy, Tuka says.”
Desolate and disconsolate for the love of God he prays at His door:
“A beggar at thy door,
Pleading I stand;
Give me an alms, O God,
Love from thy loving hand.
Spare me the barren task,
To come, and to come for nought.
A gift poor Tuka craves,
“O save me, save me, Mightiest,
Save me and set me free.
O let the love that fills my breast
Cling to thee lovingly.
Grant me to taste how sweet thou art;
Grant me but this, I pray,
And never shall my love depart
Or turn from thee away.
Then I thy name shall magnify
And tell thy praise abroad,
For very love and gladness I
Shall dance before my God.
Grant to me, Vitthal, that I rest
Thy blessed feet beside;
Ah, give me this, the dearest, best,
And I am satisfied.”
Leaving this bhakti movement of the South, which dates from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century, from Jnanesvar and Namdev to Tukaram, we pass to the bhakti movement of North India, represented by Kabir, Nanak and others. It followed the line traced by the Gita and the Bhagavata. Having been developed in the vernacular, however, it appealed directly to the masses. It largely dissociated itself from the complex entanglements of Hindu mythology which had enmeshed the devotional creed of spiritual loyalty to God in the legend of Krishna and his associates.
Kabir (1440-1518) was an abandoned child, probably because of the illegitimacy of his birth. He was brought up by a weaver, Niru, and his wife, Nina. Throughout his life he lived in Benares, probably himself following the profession of a weaver. He is said to have been a disciple of Ramananda, a disciple of Ramanuja, the great Vaishnava teacher of the South. But he likewise came into touch with some Mohammedan Pirs and was also probably acquainted with certain forms of Sufism. His was a religion which derived its life from what was best among both the Hindus and the Mohammedans. However, he disliked the bigotry and superstitions of all formal religions and was consequently persecuted by both the Hindus and the Mohammedans. With him and his followers, such as Ruidas and Dadu, we find a religion which shook off all the traditional limitations of formal religions, with their belief in revealed books and their acceptance of mythological stories, and of dogmas and creeds that often obscure the purity of the religious light and contact with God. Kabir considered the practice of yoga, alms, and fasting, and the feeding of Brahmins, not only useless but improper without the repetition of God’s name and love for Him. He discarded the Hindu ideas regarding purity, external ablutions and contact with so-called impure things with as much force as he rejected the Mohammedan belief in circumcision or the requirement that a Brahmin should wear a holy thread, or any other marks of caste. When Kabir’s parents found that they could not subdue his Hindu tendencies they wanted to circumcise him, and at this he said:
“Whence have come the Hindus and Mussulmans? Who hath put them in their different ways,
Having thought and reflected in thy heart, answer this–who shall obtain Heaven and who Hell.”
Now we know that the doctrine of bhakti had a great levelling influence. Even according to the Gita and the Bhagavata Purana, bhakti removed all inequalities of caste and social status. We know that Haridas (his Mohammedan name is not known) was converted from Mohammedanism to Vaishnavism by Chaitanya and Nityananda. In lauding him Chaitanya once said: “Your holy thoughts are as the streams of the Ganges in which your soul bathes every hour. Your pious acts earn for you that virtue which the people seek in sacrificial rites prescribed in the scriptures. You are constantly in touch with the loftiest of ideals which give you the same merit as the study of the Vedas. What sadhu or Brahmin is there who is good and great as you are?” 8 In the Brihat Naradiya Purana we find that even a candala (the lowest caste among the Hindus) becomes the greatest of all Brahmins if he loves God. So the new religious ideal of bhakti, in all its enthusiastic circles, dispensed with the considerations of caste, creed, and social status.
There was, therefore, nothing particularly novel in Kabir’s insistence that the time-honored distinctions of caste, creed and social status are absolutely valueless or in his emphasis upon the need of bhakti for all, as that which alone exalts a man. But in Kabir we find a reformatory zeal. He never tires of reiterating the worthlessness of all these superstitions of caste, creed, social status, external purity and impurity, penances, asceticism, and all sorts of formalities which passed by the name of religion though in fact having nothing to do with it. Thus Kabir says:
“If union with God be obtained by going about naked,
All the deer of the forest shall be saved.
What mattereth it whether man goeth naked or weareth a deerskin,
If he recognize not God in his heart?
If perfection be obtained by shaving the head,
Why should not sheep obtain salvation?
If, O brethren, the continent man is saved,
Why should not a eunuch obtain the supreme reward?
Saith Kabir, hear, O my brethren,
Who hath obtained salvation without God’s name?”
Again he says:
“They who battle in the evening and the morning
Are like frogs in the water.
When men have no love for God’s name,
They shall all go to the god of death.
They who love their persons and deck themselves out in various guises,
Feel not mercy even in their dreams.
Many leading religious men call them quadrupeds,
And say that only holy men shall obtain happiness in this ocean of trouble.
Saith Kabir, why perform so many ceremonies?
Forsaking all other essences quaff the great essence of God’s name.”
These allusions to bathing and other activities refer to religious practices followed by many Hindus but vigorously denounced by Kabir.
To a Yogin who said to Kabir that one could not attain deliverance without chastening his heart by the performance of yoga Kabir said:
“Without devotion the qualities of the heart cling to the heart,
Who secured perfection by merely chastening his heart?
What holy man has succeeded in chastening his heart?
Say who bath saved any one by merely chastening his heart.
Every one thinketh in his heart that he is going to chasten it,
But the heart is not chastened without devotion.
Saith Kabir, let him who knoweth this secret
Worship in his heart God, the lord of the three worlds.”
Kabir in speaking of the search after God says:
“When I turned my thoughts toward God, I restrained my mind
and my senses, and my attention became lovingly fixed on Him.
O Bairagi, search for Him who neither cometh nor goeth, who neither dieth nor is.
My soul turning away from sin, is absorbed in the universal soul.”
Describing the view that God is not confined to any mosque, church or temple, Kabir says:
“If God dwell only in the mosque, to whom belongeth the rest of the country?
They who are called Hindus say that God dwelleth in an idol:
I see not the truth in either sect.
O God, whether Allah or Ram, I live by Thy name,
O Lord, show kindness unto me.
Hari dwelleth in the south, Allah hath his place in the west.
Search in thy heart, search in thy heart of hearts; there is his place and abode.
The Brahmins yearly perform twenty-four fastings . . . the Mussulmans fast in the month of Ramzan.
. . . Kabir is a child of Ram and Allah and accepteth all gurus and Pirs.”
Describing his great love and intoxication for God, Kabir says:
“I am not skilled in book knowledge, nor do I understand controversy:
I have grown mad reciting and hearing God’s praises.
O father, I am mad; the whole world is sane; I am mad;
I am ruined; let not others be ruined likewise;
I have not grown mad out of my own will; God hath made me mad–
The true guru hath dispelled my doubts–
I am ruined, and have lost my intellect;
Let nobody be led astray in doubts like mine.
He who knoweth not himself is mad;
When one knoweth himself he knoweth the one God.
He who is not intoxicated with divine love in this human birth shall never be so.
Saith Kabir, I am dyed with the dye of God.”
Thus, on the one hand, Kabir waged war against the prevailing superstitions, rituals and litanies of all religions and religious sects; and, on the other hand, he dived deep in the depth of God’s love and he beheld nothing but God on all sides, becoming as it were one with Him in spiritual union. Thus, he says:
“With both mine eyes I look,
But I behold nothing save God;
Mine eyes gaze affectionately on Him.”
The motto of his life was, as he often said, “Remember God, Remember God, Remember God, my brethren;” and in his own life he felt that he was absorbed in the Infinite.
Rui Das (also called Ravi Das), a shoe-maker by caste, was another great disciple of Ramananda. His songs and hymns are full of humility and devotion. However, he evidences none of the reformatory zeal that animated Kabir. I shall quote the translation of only one hymn which seems to me typical of Rui Das’s attitude of love towards God. He says:
“There is none so poor as I, none so compassionate as Thou;
For this what further test is now necessary?
May my heart obey thy words, fill thy servant therewith.
I am a sacrifice to thee, O God;
Why art thou silent?
For many births have I been separated from Thee, O God;
This birth is on thine own account.
Saith Rui Das, putting my hopes in Thee, I live; it is long since I have seen thee.”
Still another great saint of love was Mira Bai, a princess of Rajputana, who from her childhood (born about 1504 A. D.) was devoted to an image of Lord Krishna called Girdharlal. Her marriage proved unhappy. At the time of going to her husband’s place she became very disconsolate. She wept until she became unconscious at the idea of leaving the image of Girdharlal behind. So her parents gave her the image as a part of her marriage dowry. It proved that Mira could not get on well with the family of her father-in-law, for she was always given to the adoration and worship of her little image, representing to her Lord Krishna, and it was this image that she considered as her husband. Her father-in-law made attempts to kill her, but she was miraculously saved. Ultimately she left his abode and went to Brindaban, the place of Lord Krishna’s activities, to have her passion for Krishna realized. Here again, in the case of this princess saint who left her all for Krishna, we find the potency of the Krishna legend.
I shall quote here the translation of one of Mira Bai’s hymns which show her great attachment for Krishna, in an image of whom, at Dvaraka, she was, as the tradition says, ultimately lost. Her soul was so full of deep longing for Lord Krishna, or Girdhar as she called him, that she proclaims:
“I have the god Girdhar and no other;
He is my spouse on whose head is a crown of peacock feathers,
Who carrieth a shell, discus, mace and lotus, and who weareth a necklace;
I have forfeited the respect of the world by ever sitting near holy men.
The matter is now public; everybody knoweth it.
Having felt supreme devotion I die as I behold the world.
I have no father, son, or relation with me.
I laugh when I behold my beloved; people think I weep.
I have planted the vine of love and irrigated it again
and again with the water of tears,
I have cast away my fear of the world, what can anyone do to me
Mira’s love for her god is fixed, come what may.”
India is a land of saints. There are hundreds of them of whom one could say much. But my time is limited and I have well-nigh exhausted your patience. Yet I cannot conclude without referring briefly to Tulsidas, the greatest Hindu poet of India and a great saint. Tulsidas lived in the seventeenth century. He did not inaugurate any new faith, but accepted the Hindu mythology and the theory of the incarnation of God, the appearance of the attributeless God as a God of infinite attributes. In his view Rama was the incarnation of God, the savior and father of mankind. An all-surrendering devotion to him, he believed, is our only duty and the sole legitimate passion of life. God is great not only in His greatness, but also in his mercy. He knows the sins and the frailties of men, and is always prepared to help them repel their temptations. To run counter to the will of God is sin, and it is only by acknowledging our sins and taking an all-surrendering refuge in Him, in love and faith, that we can be saved. Connected herewith was the doctrine of the brotherhood of man and of our duty toward our neighbors. Tulsidas is said to have been very much attached to his wife in his early life. On one occasion he followed her to her father’s place, much to her annoyance, and she said that if he had as much love for God Rama as he had for her he would be saved. This struck Tulsidas to the heart and he renounced the world. By his great strength of character, his remark-able poetic gifts which he applied to religious subjects, and by his strong faith, Tulsidas soon endeared himself to his countrymen. No one has exercised a greater influence than he over the Hindi-speaking people of North India.
I have now described, though but briefly, some of the main types of Indian mysticism in their mutual relations; others could not be so much as touched upon owing to the limitations of time. I am fully alive to the imperfections of my treatment. Great as they are, they must have appeared to you even greater on account of the difficulty that you must have experienced in placing yourselves on the mental plane of these mystics. The subtle metaphysical and philosophical background of these different types of mysticism I have here been compelled to disregard. But I have elsewhere undertaken an historical survey of all the different systems of Indian Philosophy. Through oral instruction, tradition, and the example of great men who renounced the world in pursuance of the high ideals of philosophy, the essence of these different systems, with their spiritual longings and their yearnings after salvation and the cessation of rebirth, have gradually been filtering down into the minds of the masses of the population. The tiller of the soil and the grocer in the shop may be uneducated and often wholly illiterate, but even they, while tilling the ground, driving a bullock cart or resting after the work of the day, will be singing songs full of mystical meaning, and for the moment transporting themselves
to regions beyond the touch of material gains and comforts:
“The sky and the earth are born of mine own eyes.
The hardness and softness, the cold and the heat are the products of my own body;
The sweet smell and the bad are of my own nose.”
“Nobody can tell whence the bird unknown
Comes into the cage and goes out.
I would feign put round its feet the fetter of my mind
Could I but capture it.”
A traveller in the village of Bengal or on board the steamers plying the rivers of the interior of rural Bengal, may often hear a middle-aged or old Mohammedan or a Hindu singing mystical, philosophical or mythical songs of the love of Krishna and Radha, or of the renouncement of the world by Chaitanya, while a large crowd of men is assembled around the singer listening to him with great reverence and feeling. The singer is probably describing the world as a mirage or a mere phantom show of maya, or is expressing the futility of his worldly life on account of his having lost his friendship with his own self.
“My hope of the world is all false,
What shall be my fate, O kind, good lord?
I am not in love with him (self) with whom
I have come to live in this house (body)
O kind, good lord.”
So the sublime teachings of philosophy and the other-worldly aspirations of mysticism, with their soothing, plaintive and meditative tendencies, have watered the hearts of Bengal right into the thatched cottages of this land. Wealth and comfort they all appreciate as do people everywhere, but they all know that money is not everything, and that peace of mind and the ultimate good of man cannot be secured through it or any other worldly thing. They are immersed in the world; but still the wisdom of the ages and the teachings of the saints have not been in vain, and at times they are drawn away from the world–their souls unknowingly long for deliverance and find a mystic delight in it. It is only the educated or Anglicized Hindu who, dazzled by the gay colors of the West, sometimes turns a deaf ear to the old tune of his country–the flute of Krishna calling from afar through the rustling leaves of bamboos and the cocoanut groves of the village homes–and, in the name of patriotism and progress, installs a foreign god of money and luxury in the ancestral throne of the god of the Indian heart–the god of deliverance. The thoughts and aspirations of the ages, our myths, our religions, our philosophies, our songs and poetry, have all interpenetrated and formed a whole which cannot be expressed through a portrayal of its elements. They represent a unique experience which I feel with my countrymen, but which is incommunicable to any one who is unable imaginatively to bring himself into tune with that spirit. The British in India have understood as much of the country as is necessary for policing it, but no foreigner has ever adequately understood our land. Those of you who see India through newspapers and the strange tales and stories of tourists who “do” India in a month, can hardly hope to go right to the place where the heart of India lies.
But, you may perhaps ask, what may I gain by knowing India as it really is at its heart? Well, that is a different matter. Perhaps you may derive gain, perhaps not. You may further ask what is it that one gains through such spiritual longing, realization, or mystical rapture. And I shall frankly confess that one certainly gains nothing that will show itself in one’s bank account. But with all my appreciation and admiration of the great achievements of the West in science, politics and wealth, the Upanishad spirit in me may whisper from within: What have you gained if you have not gained yourself, the immortal, the infinite? What have you gained if you have never tasted in your life the deep longing for deliverance and supreme emancipation? And the spirit of the saints of ages whispers in my ears: What have you gained if you have not tasted the joys of self-surrender, if your heart has not longed to make of you a flute in the hands of Krishna, that master musician of the universe, and if you have not been able to sweeten all your miseries with a touch of God? (Excerpts from “Hindu Mysticism”)