Hazrat Inayat Khan talked about the use of symbols by the wise, particularly those with a prophetic mission. Since it is never really possible to put the infinite Truth into plain words, symbols may be offered as a teaching, to allow the seeker to slowly unwrap the mysteries therein according to her or his own time and understanding. In recent posts, we have looked at the symbol of the cross, and the spontaneous revelation provided by a symbolical heron. Regarding the heron, the ancient Egyptians found in this bird the sign of renewal, perhaps because it was not always to be seen; it appeared in abundant flocks when the Nile flooded, and thus was a sign of new growth. But to tell the truth, to the ancient Egyptians almost everything had a symbolical aspect. Because they lived very close to nature, and their natural world had a very stable rhythm, they could find meaning all around them. For ‘modern’ people distracted by transient material culture, it is more difficult to find things that speak to our deep understanding.
It can take time to tease out the meaning of a symbol, just as it may take several readings to penetrate the meaning of a poem, particularly a poem from another culture that has suffered the indignity of being translated once or even twice. From some comments received about the recently posted poem by Kabir, it seems it might be a good idea to explain something about the thought behind it.
Although we know very little about the biography of Kabir, we know from his poetry that he was a weaver of low caste, and that notwithstanding his illumination, his profound grasp of Reality, the priestly Brahmin caste had no regard for him. For this reason, a number of his poems–or of the poems attributed to him–attack the caste system, showing it to be artificial and meaningless in the face of Truth. In the poem The Bhakta’s Caste, the poet takes a different approach to the same theme. Here, he states that all the castes are ‘good’: the brahmin, the washerman, and so on, all these are fine. But where then to place the ‘bhakta’ – meaning the devotee who is consumed with love for the divine? Of course, there is no caste for such a person, and indeed, several such devotees, people of great insight and holiness, Raidas and Supach, were from the very lowest caste. Thus, by turning the question so that it cannot be answered, the poet shows that the question itself–’What is your caste?’–is wrong.