Picked up a beautiful little book the other day: Songs of Kabir, Translated by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra with a preface by Wendy Doniger. I bought it for my daughter, who dances and teaches classical Indian Dance but who does not have any real background in Indian Culture. We wound up reading it aloud yesterday. The brief discussion of nir-guna and guna, which my daughter knows through chance references in dances about various deities and their avatars, was illuminating.
I highly recommend it. Doniger's intro is worth it, alone, but the poems, in this punchy translation, are also wonderful.
Here's one poem, but really they were all great:
O pundit, your hairsplitting's
So much bullshit. I'm surprised
You still get away with it.
If parroting the name
Of Rama brought salvation,
Then saying sugarcane
Should sweeten the mouth,
Saying fire burn the feet,
Saying water slake thirst,
And saying food
Would be as good as a belch.
If saying Money made everyone rich,
There'd be no beggars it he streets.
My back is turned on the world
You hear me singing of Rama and you smile.
One day, Kabir says,
All bundled up,
You'll be delivered to Deathville. (KG179)
Except that it robs you of who you are,
What can you say about speech?
Inconceivable to live without
And impossible to live with,
Speech diminishes you.
Speak with a wise man, there'll be
Much to learn; speak with a fool,
All you get is prattle.
Strike a half-empty pot, and it'll make
A loud sound; strike one that is full,
Says Kabir, and hear the silence.