In the last several decades Radha Soami Satsang Beas has published a series of books on the mystics of the East reflecting the unity of mystic teachings. Sant Namdev and Sant Tukaram, two saints from Maharashtra, a state in western India, have already been represented in the series. In researching the lives and teachings of these two poet mystics, it became clear that medieval Maharashtra was blessed with an abundance of saints who taught the bhakti path, the way of devotion. The discovery led to the preparation of this book.
The easier part of this project has been sharing the teachings of the mystics - all write of love for the Lord and the master and all speak of the bhakti practice. The more difficult endeavour was finding reliable biographical information about the mystics, who themselves gave no importance to recording chronicles of their lives. We have therefore tried to portray the mystics simply as they are known, remembered and loved by the people of the region.
Translation can never truly capture the sweetness and depth of the mystics' own language. In this book the attempt has been to adhere to the expression of the mystics as far as possible while rendering the verses into clear and inspiring English. To convey, the rich variety of names used by the saints for the Supreme Being, descriptive phrases giving their meaning have been made a part of the translation.
The book begins with an introduction giving a taste of the themes of the themes of the mystics, followed by a small sampling of their songs. It then expands into a discussion of their lives, times and teachings. The poetry section that follows is organized alphabetically by Marathi-language first lines, which are indexed in roman script at the end of the book. This choice has been made since many of our readers are familiar with the words of the poems in their original language. Brief sketches of the lives of the mystics mentioned in the book are provided. The sources of all quotations and poems are given in endnotes, and a glossary and subject index are also included.
It is our hope that Many Voices, One Song: The Poet Mystics of Maharashtra will serve to convey the relevant and needed today as it was in medieval Maharashtra.
Visionaries and mystics - great human beings of unbounded heart and compassion - enable us to see a world without divisions. Through them we see the potential of human beings to know their common spiritual nature and live a life rooted in spiritual values that unite all humanity. Inspired by them, we too may choose to direct the course of our lives towards our higher objective.
Whether we think of such visionaries as emissaries of God or whether we see them as human beings of exceptional wisdom makes little difference. What is significant is that they teach a way of being that leads to the experience of the Divine, and that they themselves are living examples of a path of action that is a possibility for everyone. They ask us to walk with them and reflect on their teachings, to seek the universal spiritual reality that is our very essence. Experience what we have experienced, they advise, and learn from the many who have come before us: human beings are all in essence one divine family, so value our diversity but value most our spiritual unity, our shared inheritance. Seek this inheritance, they urge. Walk the inner way, the way of One, the way of love!
Many Voices, One Song: the Poet Mystics of Maharashtra opens a window onto the lives and teachings of some of the many mystics who lived in Maharashtra, India, between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries and taught the universal path of irfher devotion. The abundance of mystic poetry that emerged in those centuries reflects not only the humility and profound spiritual understanding of the mystics but also the receptive minds and hearts of the people of their time - their commitment to seek beyond the hardships of daily living, their courage to choose an unconventional way beyond the ritual practices of the day, their passion to know a deeper and higher reality.
Imagine for a moment being born in fourteenth-century Maharashtra, a world in which your birth determines your social status and how you live. Imagine you have been born with little status in the eyes of your fellow human beings. You may not even have the right to worship in the temple with those of higher status. The practice of worship seems to be a privilege exclusive to particular sections of society, or to those who study and recite scriptures in a language you do not understand. Your 'accident' of birth, a fact beyond your control, appears to have denied you a relationship with God and determined the pattern of your days till you die. Imagine this as your lot.
But this is just one side of the picture. The other side is that you have the opportunity to meet, in person, experts in the subject of spirituality - mystic adepts and teachers. Some call them saints — in Maharashtra, they are known as sants (saints), mahatmas (great souls) and sadgurus (true masters). They live as ordinary human beings, but their teachings and the way they explain life impress you in an extraordinary way. The powerful positive energy that surrounds them attracts you to them. Their songs and words ring with truth and you want to know more. They give you love and respect with no concern for your background. Theirs is a message filled with compassion and hope as they invite you to make your life meaningful - to understand the all-embracing nature of truth.
The path of devotion taught by the poet saints of Maharashtra can be found at the heart of all religions. In India, those with a Hindu background are generally known as Bhakti mystics and those within the context of Islam are called Sufis. All honoured their own religious tradition and spoke its language, yet they travelled and taught the same essential inner path. All held love of the Divine and a life of devotion as the objective of life. Their universal message lives in the hearts of devotees all over the world, reminding us that the ultimate reality is within everyone; it has no form, shape or qualities and belongs to no one religion. 'God' is love, and the simple fact of being human creates a unique opportunity to consciously experience divine reality. This has always been the revolutionary message of the mystics.
The reality of which mystics speak is also at the heart of modern science in its quest for a 'theory of everything', a theory that would explain all phenomena with one single model. But divine reality is too subtle ever to be known through research in the physical arena. In essence, every human being is a microcosm of this ‘everything’ sought by science. Mystics, as experts in the science of the soul, come to know its nature through meditation within ht elaborator of the self. In stillness and quiet they experience more than what the body and mind can ever know. Through meditation the mystic practitioner knows and merges with that most subtle and powerful energy that vitalizes the world, that originates and gives life to all creation.
Mystics of all cultures and times record their experience of this primal power as extraordinary, enrapturing light and luminous sound within themselves-the ultimate experience of intoxication and bliss. The mystics of Maharashtra called this power Nam, which is translated as ‘Name’. Nam has two aspects. Initially a seeker encounters Nam as the name or names given by the guru to repeat as a mantra. The practice of repetition, infused with the power of the guru-disciple relationship, focuses and stills the disciple’s mind. Once the soul is free of the limitations of the mind, of the true, unspoken Name. This Name is the goal and destination of bhakti practice.
The mystics of Maharashtra-the bold, the dedicated, the divine-intoxicated- sang their abhangs, their ceaseless songs of devotion, to awaken longing for the eternal transcendent Name . Through their verses, they shared their experience of bhakti. It would therefore seem fit to this study with nine gems of devotion in the mystics own words.
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