When I started singing the shabds in rāga bhairo a few weeks ago, I wondered, “how will I get through three weeks in rāga bhairo when my heart is already breaking on the second day?” Acutely aware of self-loathing, how can a creature feel they are not good enough for their creator? Overwhelmed by responsibilities in the world of work and relationships, the shabds remind us that it is all maya. But we still engage and remember nām, remember the flow, see with the eyes of devotion, know it is all good.
On day three, Bhagat Kabir Ji showed up with his sense of humor, laughing at the futile efforts we humans make to try to manipulate God, like a plaything. Disregarded by others as insane, Kabir Ji laughs it off, and prays “I’m insane, but I’m yours!” Then the songs of praise in rāga bhairo begin, “khub khub khub khub khub tero nām!”
I enjoy rāga bhairo and it is one of the first rāgas we learned from Bhai Baldeep Singh. Threre are many shabds from the bhagats like Kabir Ji and Nam Dev Ji in rāga bhairo and the raga evokes that deep state of clarity, seeing through the eyes of devotion the whole expanse of life, the universe, and God.
I recently saw a documentary by an American film maker, Vikram Gandhi, who posed as a guru to better understand how it is that people become attached to teachers and teachings, even false ones. I wonder how Bhagat Kabir or Bhagat Nam Dev would like this movie. The intensity of human longing and commitment is actually quite astounding. What is it that drives us to keep looking, keep trying?
During this American election season I see religious groups, including Sikhs, clamoring to get in line behind one candidate or another. Is it the same “innocent” gullibility that inspired intelligent professionals in Arizona to latch on to a false teacher like Vikram Ghandi’s Kumare, a guru whose name means “wrong path”? Are people so uncertain of their own relationship to God and goodness that they are willing to abandon even basic values to climb into bed with haters and corporate greed in the name of religious values? Or are the religious groups also looking for validation, social status, influence and empowerment, using and being used by the politicians and the powerful people? Did Vikram Gandhi discover a basic human tendency when he created the character Kumare?
I feel almost as sad completing the shabds of rāga bhairo as I felt starting them. These shabds are deeply moving and are dear companions. But the sad place of seeing the sorry state of reality is not where these shabds leave us. The last few shabds in rāga bhairo are a gift. They leave us smiling, laughing with Bhagat Nam Dev at the image of a “man without a nose who does not look handsome even with 32 beauty marks.” The gurus and bhagats get us to smile at our humanness, our misguided efforts and trust in kirpa, in goodness and grace, to see the beauty and power surrounding us, flowing through us. Remembering the shabd, remembering the name brings relief to the mind. Removing the veil that distorts the vision, you can see clearly and grace arrives.
One shabd has my name in it, so it seems an invitation to pay close attention: nirvair purakh satigur prabh date. Singing in our desert home this stormy morning as the thunder roared and rains poured down, “when he is pleased dry wood becomes green. When he is pleased rivers flow across desert sands… mind and body are cooled, in the mind Amrit rains.”