The ‘Headless Rower’ of Sant Kabir

नैय्या मोरी नीके नीके चालन लागी

आँधी मेघा, कछु ना व्यापे
चढ़े संत बड़ भागी।
नैया मोरी नीके नीके चालन लागी।
– संत कबीर

Different paths point towards the same truth. The Zen masters talk of ‘no-mind’, Nisargadatta Maharaj talks of ‘death of mind’. Krishnamurti talks about a state where observer is the observed. All these masters had somehow realised what is often perceived as man’s best friend in the world is his biggest hindrance when it comes to transcending the misery of it.

Sant Kabir talks about the ‘headless rower’ whose boat sails in the stream of life, without any hindrance. When the water is shallow, the boat doesn’t get stuck nor it sinks when the waters are deep. As Kabir says, even if it turns upside down, not a hair is bent.

In the last stanza of this Nirguni Bhajan, Kabir talks about the sailor of the boat – the one who rows the boat without using his head. In my talks and courses, whenever I come upon this last stanza, I see a few eyebrows going up.

“How can one act without using the mind?”

“Won’t it be catastrophic if we just shut our minds and acted in a mindless manner?”

“Should we just accept all the violence, injustice, and suffering around us and close our mind?”

These are some of the reactions that I receive from people when they hear this stanza. Somehow, we find it too difficult to let our mind go. To understand what Kabir is saying, let’s look at it again.

Our mind is a great tool when it comes to doing certain ‘operations’ on things that we already know (memory). Often, our mind might give us a sense that it has created something new but what it actually does is arranging the same old facts in a newer way thereby creating an illusion of ‘creation’.

For instance, when someone came up with the ‘original’ idea of iPod, it was actually an outcome of a different combination of problem statements and possibilities due to use of technology. So as an idea, even though iPod was a new concept, it was not something profound or original.

iPod is an example of actual product which actual people use. When we talk about the inner ‘problem’ and the ‘solution’ for it, the solution cannot be found as a result of re-arranging what is already known.

For instance, if I have to get rid of my violence, it wont happen by using my mind. Rather, mind would tend to strengthen the same old patterns. As J. Krishnamurti would often say – mind is conditioning. Mind cannot de-condition itself, it would be like you sitting in a bucket and trying to lift it.

To let go of a mental pattern or conditioning, one needs a slight crack, through which the light can slip in and make the darkness disappear.

This is what Kabir is hinting at when he says let the mind go and just be open to the flow. It was when the tiny lamp on his boat got extinguished by the wind that Rabindranath Tagore realised the all pervading light of the moon.

To sum up, Kabir says let the tiny lamp of your mind disappear; only then you will be able to experience the all pervading consciousness.



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