In this Sabad, it is said that the senses whose indulgence in worldly pleasures separate the being from IkOankar (the Divine) leave the being when the consciousness departs from the body. Therefore, one ought not to indulge in the senses; rather, one ought to keep them under control. The being who contemplates and enshrines IkOankar in their mind breaks all bondages and becomes liberated while alive.
gagan  nagari  ik  būṁd  na  barkhai    nādu  kahā  ju  samānā.  
pārbraham  parmesur  mādho   paramhansu  le  sidhānā.1.  
bābā    bolte  te    kahā  gae   dehī  ke  saṅgi  rahte.  
surati  māhi  jo  nirte  karte   kathā  bāratā  kahte.1.  rahāu.  
bajāvanhāro  kahā  gaïo   jini  ihu  mandaru  kīn̖ā.    
sākhī  sabadu  surati  nahī  upjai   khinci  teju  sabhu  līn̖ā.2.  
sravnan  bikal  bhae  saṅgi  tere   indrī  kā    balu  thākā.  
caran  rahe    kar    ḍharaki  pare  hai   mukhahu  na  niksai  bātā.3.  
thāke  panc  dūt    sabh  taskar   āp  āpaṇai  bhramte.  
thākā    manu  kuncar    uru  thākā   teju  sūtu  dhari  ramte.4.  
mirtak  bhae    dasai  band  chūṭe   mitra  bhāī  sabh  chore.  
kahat  kabīrā    jo  hari  dhiāvai   jīvat  bandhan  tore.5.5.18.  
-Guru  Granth  Sahib  480  
Literal Translation
Interpretive Transcreation
Poetical Dimension
This composition is by Bhagat Kabir, one of the 15 bhagats (devoted beings) whose compositions are included in the Guru Granth Sahib. Bhagat Kabir imbues this composition with the musical mode of Rag Asa, which is devotional and evokes a mood of hope, inspiration, and courage. Honesty and a satirical conversation style set the tone, signaling that thought-provoking questions lie ahead. These confront our entrenched beliefs about various existential themes and compel us to delve deeper.

Through the rahau line, Bhagat Kabir poses a profound inquiry: O honorable seeker! Where has the life-force gone, which once resided and spoke within this body, which used to dance and narrate stories in consciousness? Here, the term ‘Baba,’ literally addressing the honorable seeker, encompasses both the yogi mentioned in the composition and our innate yogic nature. It signifies the seeker within us, striving for liberation through external disciplines. The seeker is challenged to reflect, despite mastering various techniques to control the body, where has the vibrant essence that animated the body and its movements with full awareness disappeared after physical death? A parallel is drawn between the rigorous discipline cultivated by a yoga practitioner and the strict methods we adopt, presuming they will lead us to the freedom we inherently seek. We may begin to reconsider the narrow viewpoint resulting from a steadfast adherence to rigid practices. Bhagat Kabir boldly asserts that both yogis and we, in our pursuits, misunderstand freedom by assuming it can be achieved through externally imposed cultivated rituals. Despite a yogi’s mastery of techniques to manipulate the body, it’s crucial to acknowledge they are not yet liberated. Bhagat Kabir does not dismiss the value of hard work; instead, he acknowledges the practices, disciplines, and insights one gains. He recognizes the sincere efforts invested in the methods pursued by seekers while simultaneously asserting their ultimate ineffectiveness. Since all physical actions of the yogi have ceased, the question arises: do physical practices have any bearing on ultimate freedom? The conventional understanding of ‘death’ and the true significance of our rigorous methods are challenged. Are the disciplines we cultivate pathways to freedom or mere distractions? Many of us anticipate a death that we believe will liberate us, yet we are compelled to reconsider if that assumption holds true.

In the following couplet, Bhagat Kabir employs poetic vividness as he describes how the Sovereign of Maya, the transcendent and supreme IkOankar, took that supreme swan-like life-force and departed. ‘Parbraham’ and ‘Paramhansu’ represent the transcendent IkOankar (the One Universal Integrative Force, 1Force, the One) and the supreme swan, respectively. Parbraham conveys the idea of a Supreme Being beyond ‘Braham,’ the creator of the universe. It is a synonym for IkOankar, and implies an innate transcendence beyond our comprehension and the one who created the allure of material relationships and things. This word choice reinforces the earlier theme of transcending our limitations and urges us beyond what we perceive, understand, and do. It reminds us that our habitual patterns and conditioned thoughts restrict us from delving deeper within ourselves, confining our focus solely to the physical and external. Thus, the question arises: When all external aspects cease with physical death, is it not crucial to cultivate a change that transcends physicality? Without inner awareness, achieving internal change and transformation remains elusive. The supreme swan symbolizes innocence, inner strength, grace, and love, among other qualities. It encourages us to view behavioral transformation as the pathway to freedom. The serene symbolism of the swan inspires us to contemplate: How can we embody such qualities? It suggests that the potential to become a supreme swan resides within each of us, and by acknowledging this, we attain freedom. Contemplation, reflection, and self-observation can aid us in becoming a supreme swan, but only if we are willing to surpass our limited self-understanding. Without behavioral changes, we obstruct the expansion of our self-awareness and deny ourselves the opportunity to become a true ‘yogi.’ We often overlook that the transcendent IkOankar is the timekeeper, offering us the chance to become a supreme swan. However, do we recognize and seize this opportunity?

Bhagat Kabir calls upon the inner yogi within us and says, O honorable seeker! Your ears, which used to be your constant companions, have also become powerless. All other organs have become feeble and have stopped listening and working.” Apart from urging us to reflect on how we can internalize the knowledge we acquire, this invocation prompts the yogi within us to ponder: How do we utilize our physical abilities? We dedicate our lives to honing their skills and potential, yet they remain employed in the same manner throughout, only to become defunct once time elapses. Once again, Bhagat Kabir asks: Did we merely use our senses for essential functions like eating, sleeping, walking, and seeking pleasure, or did we endeavor to discern the greater purpose for which our unique capacities could have been utilized?

Bhagat Kabir reminds us that the five thieves, the five vices who steal divine virtues, have also become exhausted from wandering around for their pleasure. Who are these five thieves, these five vices? They are lust, anger, greed, attachment, and ego, which rob us of our essence. Often, we become so engrossed in measuring the length of our lives that we forget to consider whether our hearts resonate with what our minds perceive. Bhagat Kabir simply highlights our tendency to chase after desires merely because our minds crave them impulsively. Under the influence of these five vices, we become so blinded that the voice of our hearts is drowned out. By the time we realize the importance of listening to it, time has slipped away. While invoking the fleeting nature of time, a poignant question arises: Is anything genuinely worthwhile if pursued without inner alignment? Is any action meaningful if carried out under the sway of the five thieves? Allowing our hearts to speak loudly while alive can lead us towards freedom. However, once physical death arrives, this becomes impossible, as even death has the power to exhaust the influence of the five thieves.

Bhagat Kabir concludes that if, through the contemplation of IkOankar, the seeker controls senses in this life, all types of bondages break. The seeker who does this, experiences liberation while living, but that is a rare one. All relationships and attachments come to an end with physical death. But must we wait until death to be freed from our bonds? The one who meditates, reflects, and contemplates upon the All-Pervasive One, the Fear-eliminating One, the 1-Light, breaks all shackles even before the physical body ceases. It’s about attaining freedom while alive, achieved by becoming like a supreme swan through cultivating love with the Divine. With this love comes connection, union, and liberation—the freedom to transcend shackles and limitations independent of physical death.

Bhagat Kabir offers us an opportunity to challenge our preconceived notions about concepts like ‘physical death,’ ‘detachment,’ and ‘liberation.’ By urging us to broaden our perspectives, he weaves together the threads of the physical and metaphysical realms, where hope serves as a bridge, allowing us to transcend earthly limitations in life. Merely relying on surface-level beliefs to evade confronting earthly attachments does not lead to true freedom. Our society has normalized impatience, leaving us wired to rush toward conclusions. However, genuine liberation cannot be achieved through wellness practices or intellectual growth alone; it requires establishing a personal connection with the All-Pervasive 1. We possess the agency to embark on a journey of profound self-reflection, delving into the depths of our inner being to uncover the hidden treasures of our potential—if we so desire. To embark on this journey, we ask ourselves: What does freedom mean to us? Is our understanding merely an automatic response, or does it stem from authentic insight? Are we inclined towards shortcuts and superficial answers because we fear delving into the unknown or neglecting the process of nurturing genuine conclusions?