The ecstatic poetry of Mirabai and Kabir have been sung in India since the Middle Ages. Even long before their contemporaries, St. Theresa in Europe and Rumi in the Middle East, mystic lovers have known that their Divine affair with the Beloved comes and goes.
Still, they can’t stop loving the Divine, even when no one seems to be listening. Because, to paraphrase Rumi: the longing for the Beloved is in itself God’s response. There is no need for any other sign from God than That.
But for some yogi and mystic lovers, enlightenment becomes a steady, inner blossom: small love sees through the effulgent eyes of Big Love. Lover and Beloved become One.
Once, while living on the banks of the Bagmati river in Nepal, I was walking down to the river to take my daily bath. After crossing one sand dune after another, I suddenly saw a flock of a hundred swans in the distant sands. When I got closer, however, I realized the swans were people dressed in white. Sitting crosslegged, these hundred or so wandering ascetics were reciting the poetry of Kabir.
After finishing my bath and my meditation on the river banks, I started to walk back to the small ashram where I was living. The swans of Kabir, these lovers of spiritual poetry had mysteriously lifted and moved away, their limber legs still visible in the sands.
Kabir says to all breathing, loving yogis:
When you really look for me, you will see me
You will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.
And, to those who only thinks their aching heart has only lived and loved once:
If you make love with the divine now, in the next life
you will have the face of satisfied desire.
Kabir says: When the Guest is being searched for,
It is the intensity of the longing for the Guest that
does all the work.
Look at me, and you will see a slave of that intensity.
In other words, if you feel you have done these practices, sung these songs of devotion in some other life time; it’s because you have. And if meditation comes really easy to you, and you can’t seem to wipe that satisfied glow off your face; it’s because you have lived it again and again.
American poet Jane Hirshfield writes of the mystic, female yogi and poet Mirabai:
“She…offers two central teachings of liberation, each grounded in her fierce and unwavering passion. One is the consummate freedom passion calls up in us, and the other is the surrender of self that passion’s fulfillment requires. In these two ways, Mira demonstrates over and over, that the lover meets fully and intimately the energies of awakening. And through reading her poems, we begin to discover that these two teachings are not separate.”
Mirabai knew already 500 years ago that owning the latest yoga water bottle, burning incense for statues of Krishna and Buddha, and eating nothing but organic vegetables from Whole Foods can’t possibly buy us enlightenment. Forget it, she says, only the deep passions of Bhakti Yoga can bring us closer to our Beloved’s arms.
“If we could reach him by munching lettuce and dry
Then the goats would surely get the Holy One
If stone statues could bring us all the way,
I would have adored a granite mountain years ago.
Mirabai says: The heat of midnight tears will bring you
Listen, my friend, this road is the heart opening….
She is not saying we should leave our organic vegetables behind, of course. She is simply reminding us that the yogi worship of the inner Beloved is fierce and non-compromising. Mirabai gave up a comfortable life and a husband and became a dancing wanderer. Kabir gave up religious security and dogmas and gave us iconoclastic teachings that speak to the hearts of mystics from all traditions.
Are we ready for this kind of wild abandon, or are we too timidly attached to our Prius’ and our cappuccinos? Can we only stomach the self-help love handed to us by Oprah or Dr. Phil?
Robert Bly writes: “Kabir mocks passivity toward holy texts, toward popular gurus, and the passive practice of Yoga, but we must understand that he himself is firmly in the guru tradition and that he followed an intricate path, with fierce meditative practices….”
In other words, this kind of passionate love for Spirit is not found on the cover of Yoga Journal. It is rare, even in Boulder.
Kabir’s poetry also tells us, we don’t quite get it by singing kirtan once a month in a yoga studio, or by chanting Om once a week at the beginning and end of yoga class.
Breathe in that word out of which the Whole Milky
Way has come!
That word is your Teacher; I heard that sound, and I am its disciple.
How many are there alive who has taken in its
But there’s hope. If we have known the intensity of human love, we have also experienced the intensity of the spiritual love Kabir speaks of.
When we want That, which is deep inside, as much as we desire water when we are really thirsty, or as much as we intensely love our partner during the honeymoon period, then we know the kind of spiritual devotion Kabir and Mirabai speaks of.
In Tantra, that kind of longing becomes the fuel on the fire of Bhakti Love. It becomes part of the Ishvara Pranidhana the Yoga Sutras speak of; part of our wholehearted dedication to spiritual practice. And we taste that everything we do can become part of the practice, can become madhuvidya, worldly experience laced with spiritual honey.
Filled with this kind of fierce Love, our heart and mind unites in the pranendrya, the seat of intuition, where our longing and seeing embrace in the stillness of peace.
Then we know that the Yoga of Love still sits deep inside our heart, like a bee inside a flower.
Note: All translations of Kabir and Mirabai by Robert Bly and Jane Hirshfield.