Non-violent ways of relating: Love, healing, and beyond
Abstract: The paper begins with a brief outline of the Indian Rasa and Bhava perspective on emotions given by Bharat in his Natya Shastra. The potential of this view for bringing about more effective realms of being (ego transcendence and development beyond ego-consolidation) is then highlighted. It is proposed that such a shift in one's emotional life offers a unique way to overcome differences, barriers, and conflicts between individuals as well as communities. To exemplify this assertion, it is first noted that Indian depictions of human-beings focus on their inherent "goodness" deriving from the divine essence at the core of each person. The history of the sub-continent reveals how during different periods, people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, managed to live together in harmony. This is not to deny that conflicts are not common place — in this regard India has had its share of war and violence — but what is unique is the way differences between groups have been minimized and often transcended. A cursory glance at the history of social movements on the sub-continent reveal that over the centuries, some of the most prominent movements have had a spiritual foundation — one that emphasizes the oneness of all humanity and which paves the way for lowering barriers along ethnic, religious, caste, as well as gender lines.
Further, by way of a "case study", the paper underscores the contribution of the Bhakti saint Sant Kabir Das. As Virmani (2010) notes, Kabir defied the boundaries between various religious and caste groups, and sharply criticized sectarianism. Kabir shows us how the fissures in our own mind, the violence (gross or subtle) and the dishonesties that we are capable of when we construct and defend our ego. He shows us how we subtly "other" multiple categories of people in order to consolidate our identity and how this "othering" keeps us locked in dualistic ways of perceiving ourselves and the world — ways that are ultimately violent and divisive. Kabir escapes the narrow categories of "Jain, "Hindu", "Muslim", "Christian", "Jew", "Buddhist" etc.; and no doubt, his message of love has great relevance for all societies and nations. Kabir helps us in traversing hearts and minds, crossing bridges of understanding, despite difference, and maps a way forward toward transforming self and society.
Keywords: Rasa, psychic, spiritual, love, harmony, bhakti, healing.
In Sanskrit, the term used to depict a state of well-being or good health is svastha, which means "rooted in the self". The self which is being referred to here is the deeper or higher self, and so perhaps it is more appropriate to use the term "Self". The Self is our true identity, the hidden divinity within each of us, concealed under the outer sheaths of our being. We may also use the term "soul" for our divine essence, our essential core, which lends us our unique identity as an individual. Sri Aurobindo uses the term "psychic" or "psychic being" for the soul. What is unique in Sri Aurobindo's depiction is that, though in agreement with the pre-existing conception of the soul's immortality and its transmigration from body to body, the psychic is not a static entity, but immensely dynamic in the sense that it continues to evolve from lifetime to lifetime. The psychic is that part of us that responds to the true and the beautiful; joy and love being its essential nature. Perhaps the single most defining characteristic of psychic consciousness is its groundedness in a deep and unconditional love, devotional in essence, accompanied by a state of sincere and total surrender to the Divine.
This brings us to the subject of bhakti. In Bhakti Yoga, the emotional life of the aspirant or seeker undergoes a gradual transformation, and she begins to reside more and more in a state of pure and unconditional love of, and for the Divine. Looking at it from the rasa śāstra perspective, the Indian meta-theory of emotions developed by Bharata in the third century AD in his treatise entitled Nāṭyaśāstra, the aspirant attempts to reside more and more in the eighth and highest rasa, that of love (Paranjpe, 1998).
The rasa theory of emotions and Bhakti Yoga
Rasa is translated into English variously as emotion / meta-emotion / sentiment / aesthetic mood. The details of the theory have been discussed by many authors in different contexts (e.g., Gnoli, 1956; Jain, 1994; Kapur, 1998; Lynch, 1990; Masson & Patwardhan, 1970; Misra, 2004; Pandey, 1959; Paranjpe, 1998; Shweder & Haidt, 2000; Sinha, 1961).
The literal meaning of the word "rasa" is "essence" or "relish", and it is more commonly used to describe the aesthetic experience that follows from watching the expression of emotions in various forms of art. Bharata, whose main concern was developing guidelines for actors and directors of plays, identified eight major rasa-s, viz. — śṛṅgāra (love), hāsya (the comic), karuṇā (the pathetic), raudra (the furious), vīra (the heroic), bhayānaka (the horrific), bībhatsa (the odious), and adbhuta (the marvellous). A later commentary on Nāṭyaśāstra by Abhinavagupta adds a ninth rasa — the śānta (quietude) or the mood of total freedom in which neither happiness nor unhappiness occur (Misra, 2004).
To enter into the state of pure unconditional love, the devotee commonly uses the aids of chanting the name of the preferred deity (Rāma, Kṛṣṇa, Durgā etc.), and singing about his love for the chosen form of divinity. In so doing, the aspirant, or shall we say rasika, experiences a dissolution of his ego self, wherein everyday connotations and experiences in the mundane human realm around the emotion of love are transcended, and the devotee enters into a state of pure and absolute universal love, devoid of any sense of "I" or "mine".
In general, when we are immersed in an aesthetic experience via exposure to art (for example, music or dance), the experienced emotions are located in a context far removed from one's everyday personal life, and hence we are able to derive rasa or a sense of pleasure or delight, even if we are experiencing so called negative emotions like anger and fear. In a sense, the personal or "I" element melts away, and we find ourselves transported to the realm of pure emotion, devoid of any ego involvement.
An important development in understanding the nature of emotional experience came about when scholars in Bharata's tradition recognized that spectators of a drama collectively share a specific aesthetic mood grounded in a basic emotion (Paranjpe, 2008). The rasa theorists thus proposed the concept of sādhāraṇīkaraṇa (generalization) of emotions. This apparently simple idea has profound implications for recognizing the nature of emotions as a phenomenon not restricted to individuals, let alone lodged in bodily tissues, but as belonging to a trans-individual domain of reality.
Now, in Bhakti Yoga, the aspirant as a seeker of the Divine, gradually disidentifies with all emotions except that of love. Thus, Rupa Goswami offered a reinterpretation of the original rasa śāstra perspective in terms of major and minor devotional states (Paranjpe,1998). In this depiction, love is conceived of as the major rasa, the essential emotional state to be sought and attained by the bhakta (devotee). All other emotions, the minor devotional states, are to be understood as resulting from our seeking of love, which in the early stages of bhakti often eludes the devotee, resulting in a state of frustration in our seeking upon encountering failure, or loss of the love we thought we had possessed.
Over time, through continuous and sincere sādhanā (sustained effort for any spiritual discipline), the devotee begins to reside more and more in a state of universal love and ānanda (joy/bliss) which is the very nature of the soul and the Spirit. Then out of sheer joy and sense of completeness of the act, we surrender our entire being to the Divine. In other words, the attempts of the devotee to ground herself in universal love, leads to the coming forward of the soul or psychic being, which is our divine Essence. The coming forward of the psychic being results in a shift of power in terms of what element of our being exercises control over our life, from the ego to the psychic. This is accompanied by a major affective transformation in our life, as well as profound behavioural change. Our life becomes increasingly characterized by a feeling of goodwill towards all human beings, and we view all and relate to all in terms of unconditional love. For, true love is not about taking or getting, it is only about giving; and thus selfless service becomes part of our very nature. Perceiving our ground in the Divine, and the ground of all other human beings, all of existence for that matter, in the Divine, we at last experience the truth of the age old tenet "vasudhaiva kuṭumbakam" (the entire world is one family).
The coming forward of the psychic being has another profound consequence. The search for direction in our life, for which we often seek a guru (teacher), comes to a close, with the inner guru, our psychic, now performing that function completely and perfectly. There is a certain knowingness about psychic consciousness, which acts as a sure guide in matters of truth and the good and the beautiful. In short, our life is transformed from the life human, to the life Divine.
The place of love in psychotherapy and spiritual healing
Being a psychologist, I cannot stop at this point, for I must reflect on the fuller psychological consequences of the emergence of the psychic as the true center of our being, and its impact on individual and collective well-being. Well, first of all, we evolve from a "seeker" to a "finder". In general, an individual who resides in a psychic consciousness radiates an aura of "healthiness" and well-being. For the psychic, which by its very nature is integral and complete, ever guides us to what is good for our whole being, and the dominant emotions are that of love and joy.
Consciousness is contagious, and psychic consciousness is more so. Thus, in my opinion, a psychologist or more accurately a counsellor/psychotherapist who is chiefly concerned with restoring a state of health and well-being in his clients, must himself be a relatively permanent member of the abode of well-being, which in itself is a hallmark of psychic existence. In other words, to be an effective therapist (one who facilitates healing, and thus restores health), a tremendous amount of self work/sādhanā has to be carried out by the therapist. More than anything else, it is the consciousness of the therapist interacting with the consciousness of the client that brings about a positive change in the client, from a state of suffering to a state of well-being. In my opinion, to be a truly effective counsellor/psychotherapist, the helping person must have first found his soul before he helps others in the coming forward of their psychic.
As Pandey (2011) has noted, the Indian view of existence is that of the journey of the Divine in a person. All struggles and suffering in life represent a movement from an infra-rational (animal) existence, to a more rational (human) existence, and further, towards a yet greater supra-rational (divine) existence and the end-state of Truth – Bliss – Peace – Beatitude. This is the human journey; from a life of obscure beginnings in a half- lit animal-human consciousness, to an increasingly diviner humanity. The counsellor/therapist who can assist us in this journey is but of course, a fellow traveler who has walked ahead of us from a life of relative darkness to a life of increasing Light. Only one who has mastered swimming to a high degree can save the one who is drowning, and so is the case with therapy.
For convenience, the process of psychotherapy can be divided into two stages. The first is the movement from a weak ego state (low level of autonomy) to a strong ego state. This is the goal of most psychotherapy in the West. The second and, in my opinion, the more important goal is the movement from the ego to the Self, or the shift in government from the ego to the psychic. This is a more common goal in the context of spiritual healing. Thus, Sudhir Kakar, the noted psychoanalyst, stated (in a personal conversation) that "Psychoanalysis is undergraduate work, and spirituality is post graduate work". Freud had stated that the goal of psychoanalysis is, "To make the unconscious, conscious". In the original German text, Freud (in Sen, 1998; p. 111) said, "Wo es war soll ich warden" — Where it (impersonal and unconscious) was, let the I (personal and conscious) become. Kabir Das has beautifully expressed the transformation that takes place on the spiritual path: "Jab mai tha tab Hari naahi; Ab Hari hai, mai nahi" — "When I was, God was not; Now God is, I am not" (in Das, 1996; p. 65). Thus from the vantage point of spirituality, the goal of psychotherapy/healing and growth is summarized, in my words, as such: "Where I was, let Thou become".
In general, I can confidently state that the most essential pre-requisite on the part of the therapist/spiritual guide for healing to take place, is a posture of and groundedness in unconditionallove. Without this, healing cannot begin, and thus the importance of self work/sādhanā. This has been notedin the Western context by the eminent psychotherapist Carl Rogers (1961) in his emphasis on the absolute necessity of the attitude of "unconditional positive regard‟ on the part of the therapist toward the client, and more explicitly by the eminent psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (1978) in his well known work, "The Road Less Travelled". A moment's reflection on healing in the traditional Indian context immediately reveals that when individuals in distress approach their guru, the healing process begins with the love and unconditional acceptance of the person in distress by the guru. Thus, at the risk of overstating, I again underscore the key importance of self-work on the part of the therapist/guru.
The Road to Human Unity
In general, Indian depictions of human-beings focus on their inherent "goodness" deriving from the divine essence at the core of each person. The history of the sub-continent reveals how during different periods, people from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds, including the marginalized, managed to live together in harmony. This is not to deny that conflicts are not common place — in this regard India has had its share of war and violence — but what seems more unique is the way differences between groups have been minimized, and at times even transcended. Thus the Parsis' continue to have a prominent place in society, the Syrian-Christians retain their independent identity, as do the Sikhs and Muslims, to name just a few. In the post independence era, the Dalai Lama fleeing from Chinese oppressed Tibet was welcomed, supported and provided with a home in India, which allowed him to create a base for Tibet's struggle for autonomy in India.
The academic question then is — What is it in the Indian ethos that permits co-existence, mutual respect, and harmonious living of different groups? Part of the reason may have something to do with the Hindu worldview derived from the monism of the Advaita Vedanta emphasizing the origin of all existence in the one Truth, God or Brahman. This leads to the acknowledgement of the oneness of humanity and simultaneously the recognition of the Gods of all religions as rooted in the same Brahman. Thus Krishna notes in the Gita "Whomsoever you pray to, you pray to me?" — by no way making claims to the supremacy of the Hindu God, but that all resides in Brahman. More generally, a genuine spiritual outlook fosters greater harmony and promotes a healthy and vibrant co-existence. It thus becomes important to examine what is it in spirituality that helps in reducing conflict.
Academic psychologists have shied away (with some notable exceptions) from enquiry in the spiritual domain, but interestingly, many among the founders of academic Psychology in India led double lives — they practiced Psychology as a western science in their professional lives, but in their personal lives they derived guidance and insights from traditional scriptural sources. Not only that, they even published in non-academic settings, writing on the efficacy and potency of Indian spiritual Psychology. I suspect that the situation today may not be very different. At this point it may serve us well to be reminded of the Mahabharata as a treatise par excellence depicting the nature and dynamics of group conflicts.
A cursory glance at the history of social movements on the sub-continent reveal that over the centuries, some of the most prominent movements have had a spiritual foundation as their inspiration — one that emphasizes the oneness of all humanity and which paves the way for lowering barriers along religion, caste, as well as gender lines. In particular, Buddhism as a socio-political movement, the Bhakti movement, the advent of Sikhism, and Mahatama Gandhi's mobilization of the masses for attaining independence, stand out as shining examples which enabled people with diverse social identities to come together. In contemporary India, many of the ashrams and spiritual communes provide us with vivid illustrations of people from diverse backgrounds — in terms of nationalities, race, religion, caste, class, gender and age — living and working together in great harmony, and at times mingling with local communities promoting inter-dependence. Such places stand out as islands in the ocean of conflict rampant all around us. One outstanding example of this is Auroville, a commune comprising of more than 4500 people from 53 different nations. Located in Tamil Nadu, Auroville is essentially an experiment on collective living which may serve as a model for future societies.
It appears that the spiritual perspective on social psychological processes may serve to complement the social-identity theory for if inter-group conflicts can be reduced by enlarging the social categories used for identity, the spiritual dimension would serve to capture the experiential dimension of widening the categories which allows us to accept the other (out-group member) as one of us (in-group member). Thus D. Sinha (1998, p. 20) notes:
The interrelatedness of the whole of humanity is stressed not only when one is enjoined to do good to others and regard the universe as one's relation (basudhaib kutumbkam) but in the Upanishadic doctrine of ever expanding ego or the self, where one begins with concern for oneself and gradually expands one's ego to encompass one‟s community and ultimately the entire world. Similarly in one of the verses of the Mahabharat it is stated that for the sake of the clan one gives up the individual (person), for the sake of the village one gives up the clans, for the sake of the country (janpada) one gives up the village, and for the highest good one gives up the earth. Concern for others has been given the highest place and the target is the larger group.
The Bhakti Movement in India
Hindu and Muslim communities interacted over a period of several centuries at several levels, viz. — religious, intellectual, political and commercial. There was a mutual influence of the two communities on one another, especially in the arena of religion, where they were compelled to interact. At the same time, it may be noted that both religions had amidst their fold, non-orthodox mystics who very similar to one another, and who interacted with each other culminating into what has been referred to as the "Bhakti Movement,". Thus Hadayetullah (2009) notes:
The Bhakti Movement — a religion of devotion — is a combination of the efforts of Hindu and Muslim mystics who, in their highest spirituality, transcended all distinctions between man and man religiously, as well as socially. The religious message of these bhaktas or the great souls of God was characterized by such universality that their message was accepted by Hindus and Muslims equally. Further, the rank and file of their disciples was swelled by Hindus and Muslims indiscriminately. In other words, the Bhakti Movement created an atmosphere of harmony and concord in the religious life of medieval India (p. xiii).
The interaction of Hindu-Muslim ideas through bhakti mysticism produced a number of great mystics in India during the medieval period. The characteristic feature of these bhakta-mystics was that by no orthodox criterion could they be identified as purely Hindu or Muslim. They were the whole-hearted devotees of One God; they found no distinction between man and man, such as Hindu and Muslim; and they considered so called religious observances, rites and ceremonies as useless for actual spiritual progress. In short, the type of bhakti mysticism which these devotees formulated and propagated was a simple religion of devotion (bhakti) to God which required no outward performance of what are called religious duties, but needed only a pure heart and a sense of absolute surrender to a beloved God. As these bhaktas considered themselves whole- hearted lovers of God, the essence of their religion was love for God (p. ix).
Sant Kabir Das
The greatest of all these mystics, who were products of an environment engendered by the interaction of Hinduism and Islam, was Kabir Das (1440-1518) of Varanasi (also known as Banares), North India. Kabir occupies a unique position in the history of Indian national heroes, for he is one of the few figures to emerge from the history of Indian religion during the medieval period. Kabir's greatness lies primarily in his sustained efforts to unite the Hindus and the Muslims, who had been antagonistic to one another for centuries. Kabir came to realize that the quarrel between Hindus and the Muslims was fundamentally based on religion. And it was religious prejudice and bias which prevented the two communities from developing a sense of unity and harmony, even though they were living together in the same society. Therefore, in order to achieve his mission, Kabir overtly denounced both Hinduism and Islam.
Kabir held that that the traditional form of Hinduism as well as Islam was only a creation of Hindus and Muslims themselves, for, he maintained, the One God, Allah or Rama, has created only one human race without making any distinction between man and man. Further, Kabir argued that since there is only one God, regardless of the different names used for Him, and one human race, there could not be many religions. By breaking down all denominational differences based on religion, Kabir tried to formulate a new religion and spirituality, consisting of good elements from both Hinduism and Islam; and Kabir hoped that his views, based essentially on bhakti, would be acceptable to both Muslims and Hindus.
In his life-long endeavour to unite Hindus and the Muslims, Kabir went to great lengths keep himself above all established religions; and thus he never identified himself as a Muslim or a Hindu. Hadayetullah (2009; p. xx) notes:
The only available evidence of his identification is that of a weaver of Banares. Thus, having kept himself above the level of Hindu-Muslim religious categories, Kabir found himself justified in denouncing both Hinduism and Islam with equal severity. He maintained perfect neutrality and showed no soft heart or preference to either religion.Kabir‟s distaste for sectarianism can also be seen in the fact that, unlike many bhaktas, he refused to organize any sect of his followers. His understanding of one race and a universal brotherhood of human beings prompted him not only to reject and denounce the Hindu caste system, and all sectarianism that was fostered by either Hindus or the Muslims, but also to refuse to constitute a sect of his own followers.
Kabir's Concept of the Unity of God
Kabir denounced idolatory, image worship and polytheism. He thus taught the unity of God (in Hadayetullah, 2009; p. 204):
Brother ! From where have the two masters of the Universe come? Tell me, who has invented the names of Allah, Ram, Keshab, Hari and Hazrat? All ornaments of gold are made of a unique substance. It is to show to the world that two different signs are made, one is called Namaz, while the other is termed Puja. Mahadev and Muhammed are one and the same; Brahma and Adam are the one and the same. What is a Hindu? What is a Turk [Muslim]? Both inhabit the same earth. One reads the Veda, and the other the Qur'an. One is a Mawlana and the other is a Pandit. Earthen vessels have different names, although they are made of the same earth. Kabir says: both are misled, none has found God.
Thus, Kabir tells us that the Hindus and the Muslims are only different manifestations of the same substance. Therefore, they are the children of one God. In Kabir‟s words (in Ziad, Rao & Virmani, 2008; p. 24):
Kabira kua ek hai, pani bharen anek
Bhaande may hee bhed hai
Our paani sab may ek
Says Kabir, the well is one, though water is filled by many.
The shapes of the vessels (our bodies) are different.
But the water (consciousness) is one.
Kabir's Concept of One Humanity
Kabir preached the equality of all human beings. He took great pains to articulate his views about the unity of human beings. He held that while all the religious differences are only fortuitous the essential humanity is always the same. Kabir thus speaks of one humanity in the following words (in Hadayetullah, 2009; p. 210):
I and you are of the same blood, and one life animates us both; from one mother is
the world born; what knowledge is that which makes us separate.
All have come from the same country and have landed at one ghat (place), but the
evil influences of this world have divided us into innumerable sects.
From whence have Hindus and Turks come?
By whom have these been started?
Finally, in line with his concept of one human race, Kabir forcefully and with reasoned arguments, denounced the Hindu caste system. In his efforts to convince the Hindus about the reality of one humanity, Kabir traced the beginning of the human race to Adam and says (in Hadayetullah, 2009; p. 211):
Adam who came first, did not know
Whence came mother Eve.
Then there was no Turk nor Hindu;
Then there was no race, no caste.
If thou thinkest the maker distinguished castes:
Birth is according to these penalties for deeds.
Born a Sudra, you die a Sudra;
It is only in this world of illusion that you assume the sacred thread.
If birth from a Brahmin makes you a Brahmin,
Why did you not come by another way ?
If birth from a Turk makes you a Turk,
Why were you not circumcised in the womb ?
If you milk a black and white cows together,
Will you be able to distinguish their milk.
Saith Kabir, renounce family, caste, religion, and nation,
And live as one.
Walking with Kabir
In her remarkable autobiographical essay Walking with Kabir, Virmani (2010) points out that Kabir helps us in realizing the schisms in our own way of thinking and the violence and dishonesties that are part and parcel of our egoistic self-structure. Thus we tend to perceive the world in terms of "us and them" and engage in what Erik Erikson has termed as "pseudo-speciation", i.e., we are more human than members of the "other" group. This is the basis of all differences between individuals and communities and is the source of all conflict and violence. We thus see how this inner reality links with our outer one, "how a dishonesty and violence at the individual level unfolds into pogroms and war at the larger level, as we "other" whole communities while defending our collective egos of sect or nation.
Buraa jo dekhan mein chalaa, buraa na milyaa koi
Jo man khojaa aapna, mujhse buraa na koi
I set out to find evil and found no evil one.
I searched my own self and found no one as evil as I."
[Virmani, 2010; p. 1]
Virmani (2010; pp.1-2) further notes:
The metaphor of a "home" unfolds in deeper and deeper ways, but one immediate reading points to the walls of identity we build to separate us from them. Kabir pushes us out of these comfort zones, our carefully constructed identities and self-images, which quite like our houses, are material, located and very fragile. They need to be constantly defended and protected from the quakes and storms of change and time. We don't have to jettison all our frameworks or forms, but surely we should be able to step out of them from time to time and with a certain lightness, wonder and even humour, observe our own particularity within a multiplicity of others.
Kabir inspires us to transcend cross-cultural boundaries, and to make our ego boundaries more porous which in turn makes us more open-minded. Kabir helps us in "traversing hearts and minds, crossing bridges of understanding, despite difference.
Kabir haldi peeyari, chuna ujjwal bhai
Ram snehi yun mile, donon varan gavai
Kabir says, turmeric is yellow
Limestone a brilliant white
Two lovers of Ram met thus —
both shed their own colours!"
[Virmani, 2010; p. 3]
Further, Kabir pushes us to confront how religion leads to a division in society, and how this then ties in to rituals, on the basis of which different religious identities are asserted. But it is not that all rituals are useless and futile:
One must appreciate the power and attraction rituals can hold, as seasonal place markers of what we hold valuable, as aesthetic reminders of values we want to dedicate ourselves to, as moments of shared community with like-minded seekers. I see how easily we become judgmental. Somehow our rituals are always more palatable than theirs. Sometimes the rituals we've embedded our lives in are not even visible to us as rituals, while theirs appear offensive in their "blindness and superstition". Through this…journey I developed a more complex and empathetic understanding of ritual. I now recognize how Kabir's exhortation is not against scripture, ritual or the community per se. His argument is that without the life force of powerful personal experience and critical self knowledge, we can at best clutch onto scripture, ritual and community as ways to secure our insecure egos. Then all these become empty props, meaningless enactments that can strengthen social exploitation and divisiveness.
[Virmani, 2010; pp. 3-4]
Kabir continues to live in parts of North India and of Pakistan via his poetry which is often invoked and serves to empower individuals as well as whole communities. The word bhakti (devotion) also means "participation". In the folk music of the villages of India, where during the all-night satsangs (in the company of like-minded seekers) and jagrans (staying awake through the night, in a religio-spiritual context) the bhakti poetry of Kabir and other mystic saints is sung and lived, various boundaries begin to dissolve — "those between singer and listener, between singer and song, between self and other, between self and God.
Laali mere laal kee, jit dekhun tit laal
Laali dekhan mein gayee, mein bhee ho gayi laal.
The redness of my beloved is such —
wherever I look I see that red.
I set out in search of red, I became red myself."
[Virmani, 2010; p. 8]
Perhaps the biggest lesson that one takes from Kabir is the place and value of love (in Das, 1996; p. 67):
Pothi padh padh kar jag mua, pandit bhayo na koye
Lhai aakhar prem ke, jo padhe so pandit hoye
Reading books where everyone died,
none became anymore wise.
One who reads the four letters of Love,
only becomes wise.
In sum, Kabir defied the boundaries between various religious and caste groups, and sharply criticized sectarianism. He escapes the narrow categories of "Hindu", "Muslim", "Buddhist", "Christian", "Jew" etc.; and no doubt, his message of oneness and love has universal appeal for reconciliation, and relevance for the marginalized.
Love and Psychological Healing
Love has an extraordinary transformative power which can heal all breaches and wounds in our consciousness, and eventually liberate us from fear, guilt, and egoism. It is via the showering of love from without that love awakens in our being, may it be love in the romantic human sense, or in the spiritual Divine sense. One of the greatest discoveries that we can make in our lifetime, is that of the source of love being within us, and not without. Till some such time, we continue to roam about lost like the musk deer, forever seeking the fragrance of love all about, not realizing that the secret source of love lies within us hid deep in our very bosom, waiting to be discovered. Thus Smith (1997, p. 334) notes:
It remained for the twentieth century to discover that locked within the atom is the energy of the sun itself. For this energy to be released, however, the atom must be bombarded from without. So too, locked in every human being is a store of love that partakes of the Divine — the imago dei, image of God, as it is sometimes called. And it too can be activated only through bombardment, in it's case, love's bombardment. If we too felt loved, not abstractly or in principle but vividly and personally, by one who unites all power and perfection, the experience would melt our fear, guilt, and self-concern permanently. As Kierkegaard said, if at every moment both present and future I were certain that nothing has happened and nothing can ever happen that would separate us from the infinite love of the Infinite, that would be the reason for joy.
In the context of the West, Smith (1997) in his profound work on early Christianity, speaks of the impact of Jesus on his immediate followers, in explicit detail. He notes (p.331-33):
The people who first heard Jesus's disciples proclaiming the Good News (Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour), were as impressed by what they saw, as they were by what they heard. They saw lives that had been transformed — men and women who were ordinary in every way except for the fact that they seemed to have found the secret of living. They evinced a tranquility, simplicity and cheerfulness that their hearers had nowhere else encountered. Here were people who seemed to be making a success of the very enterprise everyone would like to succeed at — that of life itself.
Specifically, there were two qualities in which their lives abounded. The first of these was mutual regard — a total absence of social barrier; "it was a discipleship of equals"... [Second], they had laid hold of an inner peace that found expression in a joy that seemed exuberant… Life for them was no longer a matter of coping. It was glory discerned… They were released from the burdens of fear, guilt and the cramping confines of the ego.
Smith (1987) asserts that Paul's famous description of Christian love in the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians is not meant to be interpreted in terms of an attribute one was already familiar with in the West. His words describe the extraordinary qualities of a specific person, Jesus Christ. In phrases of sublime beauty it describes the Divine love that Paul conceived Christians would feel towards others once they had undergone the experience of Christ's love for them. Paul's words (in Smith, 1987; p. 335) have to be interpreted as a description of a unique capacity which fully manifested for the first time "in the flesh", only in person of Jesus Christ:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong doing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
[I, Corinthians 13:4-8]
Loving-kindness and Compassion in Buddhism
In Threvada Buddhism, wisdom (bodhi) is the foremost characteristic of enlightenment, which means attaining a deep insight into the essential nature of reality, the factors underlying suffering and anxiety, and the absence of a sense of separate selfhood (Smith, 1997). Out of these realizations, the Four Noble Virtues emanate spontaneously, viz. — equanimity, joy in the well-being and happiness of others, loving-kindness, and compassion. Karuna (compassion), cannot be taken for granted from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism. Compassion must have priority over wisdom, from the very beginning. Meditation gives access to a personal power which can harm others unless a person has consciously cultivated a compassionate outlook toward others, as an essential part of the meditative practice. Smith (1997; p.123) notes "A guard I would be to them who have no protection", runs a typical Mahayana invocation; "a guide to the voyager, a ship, a well, a bridge for the seeker of the other shore". The theme has been most eloquently depicted by Shantideva (in Smith, 1997; p. 123), who was a poet-sage quite like Kabir:
May I be a balm to the sick, their healer and servitor until sickness never comes again;
May I quench with rains of food and drink the anguish of hunger and thirst;
May I in famine of the age's end their drink and meat;
May I become an unfailing store for the poor, and serve them with manifold things for their need.
My own being and my pleasures, all my righteousness in the past, present, and future, I surrender indifferently,
That all creatures may win through to their end.
In this way we obtain a glimpse of the extra-ordinary transformative potential of love. To begin with, to reside more and more in a state of love is in itself an extremely positive state of being, one most conducive to health and well-being. And this also has a profound impact on one's dealings with others, as these are characterized by a posture of giving and serving, devoid of any ulterior motives of gaining something. A groundedness in love is perhaps the most essential quality which must be present in the being of a helping person/spiritual healer. This quality cannot be obtained by any external study or degrees, and can be acquired only through intense self-work (sadhana). The role of love in the healing of psychological wounds and hurts, and the transformative power of love is only beginning to be fully appreciated by psychologists, in India and elsewhere.
But most important in the present context are the insights provided by Kabir, Jesus, and the Buddha amongst others, for attaining individual and collective transformation, leading to a lasting human unity and global peace. Such a state of affairs, of course, encompasses increasing goodwill between all of humanity residing in the vast number of countries on Earth. We must replace conflict and antagonism with reconciliation and goodwill. As Daisaku Ikeda has pointed out, we must uphold the values of universal harmony and brotherhood, leading to an ethos of positive coexistence. In this way we can truly create an era in which all people enjoy the fruits of peace and happiness, and celebrate their limitless dignity and potential. In this way we may pave the way for the realization of a world of love and of peace, a peace which is more than a mere interlude between wars.
In closing, I am reminded of the words of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and one of the greatest champions of human unity:
Subsae baandu haath rae
Subko humara salaam
Nanak hamara naam rae
Ekta hamaara kaam
I hold everyone's hand in an eternal bond,
And I salute to all.
Nanak is my name,
And uniting people is my sole aim.
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