The human race is in serious trouble. The last of the global time-space barriers to human intercourse have fallen to the jet age. The physical barriers preventing world community are gone, and the crying need of the times is a world community in which people everywhere can participate productively and peacefully. Yet the walls of fear, prejudice and anxiety stand all too firmly in the midst of our anachronistic tribalism. Human beings are at home neither with themselves nor with the realm of nature. Nevertheless, contemporary women and men are being forced to cross a new frontier, the frontier, bridging religious, social and economic systems, of a greatly heightened awareness of what it means to be a human being. One of the expressions, to be found in the Western World, of this heightened awareness of what it means to be human is a mushrooming concern for a better understanding of the religious experience of the "non-Christian" world, from which influences of unprecedented power are felt coming as it emerges into a fuller participation in the design of world history. Indeed, my own interest in Kabir may be counted as a part of the concern. And yet to pursue this concern is fraught with innumerable perils. Certainly, for no one is the injunction to tread softly more relevant than for the historian whose study carries him into regions beyond his own society. Should his study extend to what other people hold sacred the injunction becomes a compelling necessity. For this reason the Western Christian who ventures on a study of Hinduism must do so with caution and almost inevitably with a measure of trepidation.
It is only very recently that the specific problem of intercultural understanding has begun to concern those engaged in the task of studying an alien society or religion. In the present case it means, among other things, that I as a student trained in the West share in an academic tradition which has, especially during the last two centuries, explored Indian culture with the various scholarly tools ands cultural predilections of the West. A significant principle of thi academic tradition has bcen the claim to objectivity, an overriding concern for the accurate determination of historical facts rather than with the supposed supramundane realities which may be of paramount importance for the religious person or group being studied. In an to present a more balanced picture I have included a description of some of the more strongly traditional legendary materials related to Kabir's life.
In a similar vein, Prof. John Carman has rightly observed that the prejudices of Christian theological interpreters of Hinduism have been much more evident to "objective" western scholars than the obstacles in the way of their own understanding If the historically minded western scholar has recognized the gulf between his understanding of the facts of Hindu history and society and the self-understanding of contemporary Hindus, he has been inclined to ascribe it to the distortion of history caused by tradition or to the rewriting of history by modern Hindu reformers. Western orient lists, however, have recently become much’s more aware of the limitations of their own approach and have attempted to utilize more extensively both traditional Hindu materials and the world of modern Indian scholars, who have tried to combine traditional-Indian and modern Western approaches. Such is our present attempt, as I hope will be amply clear to the reader. Indeed, a significant part of the rationale for this study has been to make accessible the latest developments and arguments in Sant and Kabir scholarship published in Hindi.
My own introduction to Kabir dates back to a visit to Azamgarh, U.P. in 1966, during which I was charmed and fascinated by a recitation of his poetry in a village once evening. However, it was not until as the verses found in glok Bhagat Kabir Jiu Ke, has appeared in English. However, the reader will. I feel confident, have no trouble realizing that Dr. Vaudeville, the literary critic and I, an historian of religion, have approached this fascinatingly complex man with concerns and methods which are by no means isolated.
The reader might legitimately expect our study of Kabir to be based on a corpus of his compositions personally ferreted and authenticated from the numberless collections, both published and unpublished scattered around India in personal and public libraries. As we have pleaded in chapter III, dealing with "The Sources", our present circumstances of finance and time have not permitted this since the task is such as to require an extravagant amount of time and money. Further, the religious rather than literary thrust of the study would seem to render such an attempt less than mandatory. Nevertheless, we readily acknowledge the importance and desirability of such a project.
With only rare exceptions, all the Kabir's bani(s) have been rendered in English only, the pattern also followed in the case of quotations from other works in Hindi. Many of the extracts from the primary sources have been translated with some freedom in an effort to bring out their meanings with greater clarity, which often meant sacrificing felicity of style. Where available I have consul-ted with great benefit Dr. Vaudeville's excellent translations as well as the modern paraphrases provided in a number of Hindi commentaries. Without any facility in Panjabi, I have had to rely primarily on Dr. R.K. Varma's Hindi rendition of Kabir's bani(s) in the Adi Granth.
Since Kabir so evidently rejected classical Sanskritic' forms in favor of the more popular bhasa and since this study draws heavily on Hindi secondary sources, words which are common to Hindi and other North Indian languages have been transliterated in their Hindi forms (Sabd instead of Sabda, avatar instead of avatara, etc.). Transliterated forms have presented the usual problem of when to retain the diacritics and when to dispense with them. In most cases the diacritics have been retained, the only 1968,exceptions being a few words which have acquired s standardized form in English usage. In general I have followed the standard international system for transliterating the devanagari script in roman script. Plural forms of non-English worlds, have been designated by means of "s" in brackets (s) immediately following the singular form of the word.
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