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Lions Roar : November 2011
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2011 81 notions of caste, gender, and sect. But how many times need we be reminded of the noose of death hanging over us? I read and wonder, where is Kabir, the lover? Perhaps the voice of selfless love and devotion feels out of place in a post- modern sensibility. Robert Bly’s Kabir too is radical, funny, and iconoclastic, and this side of him pro- vides much of the delight. But he’s not only an iconoclast. The greater part of him is a lover and a friend. Love is every- where on his lips. He pines, dreams, cries out for love, thrills, leaps at the Beloved’s touch. “The Guest, who makes my eyes so bright / has made love to me!” “Kabir saw that for fifteen seconds, and it made him a servant for life.” Mehrotra explains that he is working from a different Kabir manuscript than the one Tagore used for the translations Bly relied upon, and that this accounts for much of the difference. John Stratton Hawley, in an afterword to the most recent reissue of Bly’s Kabir: Ecstatic Poems (2004), explains how the Kabir legacy branched into two different traditions in eastern and western India: “The western Kabir is far more intimately, devotionally (bhakti) oriented than its eastern coun- terpart...” In the eastern we find “the salty, confrontational Kabir.... He goads, he berates, he challenges.” Perhaps, then, Bly’s Kabir is simply more western, and Mehrotra’s more eastern. As traditions within Indian spirituality allow us to choose an image of the Divine that most appeals to us, so it seems we get to choose the Kabir we like best, too. For more than thirty years I have returned again and again to Robert Bly’s Kabir, for he is wildly, hopelessly, ecstatically in love. He topples icons, but that’s mostly because of the dancing. And perhaps Kabir, the enemy of dogmas and certain- ties, would enjoy nothing better than to see our trouble in pinning him down and figuring him out. How to choose? Read both versions and see which gives you wings. Then ride that one all the way to heaven. ♦