Towards a Comparative poetics of Buddha, Kabir and Guru Nanak: From A Secular Democratic perspective

Автор: Aparna Lanjewar Bose

Журнал: Revista Científica Arbitrada de la Fundación MenteClara @fundacionmenteclara

Статья в выпуске: 2, Vol. 4, 2019 года.

Бесплатный доступ

This article shows how democratic secular values existed 2500 years ago with the Buddha and later during the saint tradition in India, around 14th and 15th century, with Kabir and Guru Nanak even before they were legalized and enshrined in the Indian constitution. No other nation or community in the world probably possesses such a complete consequential philosophy of holistic liberation as India does. And that in a multilingual, multicultural multi-religious Indian ethos there can be a potential dearth of interdisciplinary religious studies or comparative religious departments is in itself the greatest paradox of our times. This paper therefore shall explore the revolutionary emancipatory potential in their philosophical beliefs and egalitarian worldviews that made them popular amongst all sections of the society. It’s a known fact that all the three chose lives as commoners and used the popular language and dialect spoken of their times. All three questioned the efficacy of the Karma Kanda (Vedic rituals) and its hegemonic approach. Their ideological orientations elicit a scientific and an open democratic debate on true nature of things. The rationality, equality and liberal ideology preached by them stands in binary opposition to irrationality, inequality and orthodoxy prevalent. The most important rationale and achievement, extracted out of all the three philosophies, is the psychological freedom ushered to those disqualified and despised because of caste, class, gender and opening up newer vistas of investigation and inquiry that could protect the weak against the onslaught of the strong and mighty. The teachings of Buddha, Kabir, and Nanak move beyond community, religion, language, culture and nation to provide a universal panacea and a paradigm of hope.


Buddha, Kabir, Nanak, Indian History, comparative poetics, philosophies, emancipatory potentials, secular democratic perspectives

Короткий адрес:

IDR: 170163661   |   DOI: 10.32351/rca.v4.2.85

Фрагмент статьи Towards a Comparative poetics of Buddha, Kabir and Guru Nanak: From A Secular Democratic perspective


Today as we are heading more and more towards a progressive global community, virtues such as fellow feeling, kindness, loving sympathy and compassion are gradually getting replaced with individual self interests, hatred and bigotry. Oppressive hegemonic structures are transmuting into newer forms and even greater proportions, leaving humanity extremely vulnerable and susceptible to its distorted and gilded disposition at times. The culture of silencing dissent and encouraging discourses on war and animosity is rampant. While debauched forces are tirelessly working to rip humanity apart on violent religious political lines, the grand philosophic tradition too seems to be appropriated, regimented and tethered to squarely serve rabid fundamentalism, sectarianism and parochial religious interpretations perhaps more regressive than progressive. This is leading to proliferation of greater superstitious practices and baffling taboos.

Buddha, Kabir and Nanak belong to 3 different time frames of Indian history and yet what was it in their voice or speech that swayed the masses from all strata? What humongous strength their philosophical underpinnings must have to make their opponents consistently indulge in conspiracies, intrigue and subterfuge. What precisely was it that made them appear as potential threats to the rigid upholders of the Varna system? What is it that after several centuries behind they still continue to hold sway over popular imagination despite attempts at de- legitimization by caste Hindu mainstreaming? My paper argues that rather than isolating these three historical greats within the narrow confines of their religious creed as most scholars on religious study do, thus mindlessly elevating one over the other and making sweeping generalizations, it would perhaps be more worthwhile to also look at the differences and the commonalities in their world views, besides their individualistic approach to prevalent disparities and evils. The three were revolutionaries in their own ways as their teachings challenged the existing social mores and encompassed the suppressed subaltern voices, placing the common man and his suffering at the centrality of their discourse. They deflated the hegemony of Sanskrit language by rejecting its sophistication in favor of a crude language and dialect understandable by the people. What is it that makes them so unique in the saintly tradition and why is it that they continue to hold relevance across centuries in our chaotic times?

The problematic of comparative poetics is nothing stranger than religious polemics. In that a lot of academic apparatus is built around some saintly figures with whom often comparison is elicited wherein also lies the danger of elevating one at the expense of derogating the other. There is huge body of literature surrounding the lives of the Hindu saints for instance which is quite exhaustive but lacks comparative approach. At times individual religious affiliations and beliefs tend to dominate and influence a researchers’world view on a vital subject of reverence thus arbitrarily dismissing any further exploration on core democratic issues where commonalities can be possibly drawn between egalitarian philosophies. This eventually, admits a schism between philosophies which can otherwise lead to some consensus often relegating to religious philosophical essentialisms both on the part of the readers and the researchers themselves by thoughtless dismissals and abundant elevations.

In the Bhakti tradition for instance, eliciting comparison of Nanak and Kabir is not new however, the researchers are lured to privilege one over the other. There are scant efforts on their part to compare the secular democratic possibilities or the quintessential goodness of their individual teachings, its uniqueness or the emancipatory potentials entailed within their revolutionary, ideological formulations. There is reluctance to contextualizing thevery spiritual ethos that possibly presupposes a liberated un- complicated, jargon free, understanding of pivotal issues confronting us today. Nevertheless, these philosophies still hold relevance and provide a universal panacea to heel bruises of those oppressed by the vague incomprehensibilities of classical religions.

Therefore, rather than probing into the mystical understanding, religious and spiritual aspects of the triumvirate, this paper attempts to dwell more objectively, on how the three enlightened men, revolutionized not just their own times but the entire gamut of human understanding about self and the world around them. The poetics and philosophies of Buddha, Kabir and Nanak entails dynamism, newer liberation discourses underpinning the foundation of secular democratic principles perhaps unheard of before in history of mankind.

Hinduism brought in the Varna Ashram Dharma[1]. The Hindu Dharam-shastras brought in the 4 Varnas –classes– namely Brahmin –priests–, Kshatriyas –warriors– Vaisya –traders– and Shudras –skilled unskilled labourers doing menial tasks– they are the present day savarnas. Those outside this four-fold ladder were the Ati-shudras [2]. This was a hierarchy primarily class based [3]. But each of the class became a regimented compartment accessible only by birth in other words, a caste. This caste system and later class system were given religious sanctions in the Hindu texts written by Brahmins that spread the Brahminical theory that it was god made. The socio- political, economic religious restrictions laid down by the Brahmins in their religious texts were implemented by the kings/Kshatriyas. In other words, both religion and state joined hands to bind the lowest classes into social and cultural slavery and untouchability. Caste system in India was based on exploitation and an exploiting system adheres to a philosophy or system most favourable to it. Social inequality and untouchability were convenient and necessary for earlier rulers and so it was retained. Religious sanction and the cultural development and philosophy or system that supported exploitation were encouraged to flourish. This prevailed till the British advent in India and even much later.

The scriptures of Hinduism treated the weak and oppressed as enemies, by also indulging in vicious propaganda against them. They were mercilessly indulgent in hatred, malice, pride and scorn, against the Shudras and Atishudras who could never find a rightful place. Therefore, the values of liberty, equality, fraternity, rationality, ideas of democracy and socialism have no mythical significance in the society of the Hindus. It has no roots or normative basis in Hinduism. The literature of professed Hindu saints failed to accommodate these democratic principles. Rather, Racism, fascism, perversity occupy a larger domain. With the Islamic invasion, its function was to prop up the crumbling Hindu state and curb Islamic proliferation. It succeeded in spreading the Varna ideology. However, amidst the anarchy and chaos the period witnessed the decline of Hindu saints and the rise of Muslim saints. This was also the time when artists, intellectuals and protagonists emerged from lower classes/castes and women as Hindu oppressive machinery became rickety. But the Hindu rulers survived by accepting subservient positions under the Muslim rulers or by remaining sovereign. This led to the reappearance of the Varna system. The Muslim autocratic rulers retained the status quo for it ideally suited their own oppressive purposes. With the advent of British, the creative potential in society withered completely. The literature of saints belonged to this period of transition and is written against the background of centuries of warfare. The bhakti or the feeling of devoutness expressed by theseHindu saints could not spread the message of equality. And though the bhakti marg[4] was widely accepted yet different bands of devotees remained committed to the caste ideology. Belief in fatalism, doctrine of karma and rebirth was prevalent. Some bhakti poets like Tulsidas echoed the prejudices of upper classes. The catchphrase below bespeaks it all.

Dhol gawar shudra pashu nari, teeno taran ke adhikari[5]

With national enlightenment movement there was an awakening of the castes that challenged Varna system. Brahmins had the religious power and the Kshatriyas had political power. The intelligentsia of the Indian national leadership divided the enlightenment into 2 war zones- political and social movement and called those who organised social movements or theorised on agriculture or industry as stooges of British. The national movement turned into a form of historical mythological movement and ancestor worship. They rejected socialism.They wanted science and technology but clung to Varna system and invoked the Vedas. They wanted reform but resisted struggle for social democracy. And people who spoke of the misery of the masses were called as traitors and attacked.

Today interestingly, democracy and Varna system coexist in India. The country has two social orders. But democracy cannot coexist with caste/ class divisions for they mutually oppose each other. A healthy democracy cannot have a Varna system. But if it exists in India then it only means that democracy here is farcical, existing in form and not in spirit. Presently it is a capitalist democracy pandering to the moneyed classes- privileged by religion, to monopolise wealth and the national resources.


Список литературы Towards a Comparative poetics of Buddha, Kabir and Guru Nanak: From A Secular Democratic perspective

  • Ahir, D. C. (1972). Buddhism in modern India. Nagpur : Bhikkhu Niwas Prakashan.
  • Ambedkar, B. R. (1957) The Buddha and His Dhamma. Bombay: Siddhartha College publication.
  • Bose Lanjewar, A. (2006) Contextual and Sociological Challenges to Buddhism in 21stcentury. in Muktigatha (special issue) Nagpur: Diksha Bhoomi, Sept.2006.122-128.
  • Dangle, A. (1992) Poisoned Bread. Bombay: Orient Longman.
  • Grewal, J S. (1979) Guru Nanak in History. Chandigarh Punjab University
  • Gurinder S. M. (2010) Guru Nanak Life and Legacy: An Appraisal. Journal of Punjab Studies Volume 17.1-2
  • Hawley, J. S. (2005) Three Bhakti Voices. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
  • Hawley, J. S. And Mark J. (2004) Songs of the saints of India. New York and Delhi:Oxford University Press.
  • Kabir, 15th cent., Shah, A. (1917). The Bijak of Kabir. Hamirpur: A. Shah.
  • Mcleod, W. H. (1969) Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Mcleod, W. H. (1997) Sikhism. London; New York: Penguin Books.
  • Schomer. K. (1979) Kabir in the Guru Granth Sahib, An exploratory essay. In Sikh Studies: Comparative Perspective on a Changing Tradition, edited by Mark Juergensmeyer and N.G. Barrier. Berkeley: Berkeley Religious Studies Series and Graduate Theological Unions.
Статья научная