This Book was first published in 1978 as part of a series on the lives and teachings of different Eastern mystics. Saint Tukaram a poet mystic from Maharashtra in India, was included in the series because his teachings contain truths that transcend all limitations of time, place and language, and coincide in their essence with the teaching of all the great spiritual teachers.
Tukaram's teachings, like those of other Maharashtrian saints, have been passed on in the form of Abhangs, a style of devotional poetry particular to the Marathi language. The literal meaning f the word abhang is ceaseless or unbroken; it therefore seemed fitting to include the word ceaseless in the title of this book. The Ceaseless Song also refers to the Shabd, the Word, the name of God, the infinite energy by which this universe and all the heavens were created and through which the soul returns to its Creator.
Tukaram taught that the purpose of human life is to remember the Lord, who lives within each one of us and can be realized through a method Tukaram call s the easy way. But we can only follow this way and merge in the Song that is ringing within us if we find a living teacher who has already gone where we wish to go, and who is therefore in a position to help us. Tukaram's poetry describes his own search for God and the bliss of surrender to the Lord and his Master, and offers advice to others treading the same path.
This book presents a summary of Tukaram's life and teachings as well as a sampling of his poems. Although we may find it of interest as history or even as literature, Tukaram's purpose in writing his poetry was to inspire and support those who wished to follow his teachings. Tuka was himself a model he lived completely in accordance with his lofty teachings. When he found a Master who taught him the method of realizing the treasure within, he went against the orthodoxy and exhorted people to stop looking for the Lord in outer observances and to engage in meditation- the business that will profit you". Tukaram's story is a story of devotion and detachment in the face of hardship, and unflinching faith in the Lord and his teacher. His poetry tells this story.
Tukaram's poems are given in this book in the order in which they appear in the Marathi collection to allow readers to browse from one poem to another and discover for themselves the breadth and depth of his work. For those who wish to find material on a particular topic, a subject index has been included. Explanations of technical, philosophical, mythological, Indian language and other terms with unusual usage have been provided in a glossary. Sources for all quotations are given in the endnotes, with page citations and the first few words of each quotation provided for ease of reference. For those who are familiar with Tukaram's work in the original, an index of first lines of the poems in Marathi using roman script is appended.
In this third edition, additional information has been added to the Life and Teachings section, and the poetry section has been expanded to give the reader a chance to more fully explore the treasure of Tukaram's teachings.
Radha Soami Satsang Beas
FROM THE THIRTEENTH CENTURY to the seventeenth century, the State of Maharashtra was blessed with a great many saints. Their forceful teachings urged people to live with determination, fear- lessness, humility and compassion. They awakened the slumber- ing masses and inspired them to strive with faith and devotion towards God-realization. These saints of Maharashtra produced a vast treasure of mystic literature which continues to inspire people today, irrespective of their caste, creed, race or nationality. During these four centuries the seeds of sainthood seemed to fall like manna from heaven, and at least fifty saints were born in Maharashtra into various castes and social strata. Dnya- neshwar, Eknath and Ramdas were brahmins, Namdev was a tailor, Narhari a goldsmith, Gora a potter, Savata a gardener, Sena a barber, Chokha Mela a sweeper (an untouchable), Jani a maid servant and Joga an oil-press worker. Tukaram was a kunbi (peasant farmer) by caste and a trader by vocation. Each of these saints earned his or her own living. None was a burden on society, unlike many of the priests and preachers of that time, who would often take advantage of people's blind faith.
This span of four centuries was a very special period in the history of the bhakti movement, not just in Maharashtra but also in other parts of India. This movement emphasized seeking God-realization by means of true devotion to God without expectation of any reward-in other words, by means of complete surrender. The saints taught and their teachings were written down in their local languages instead of in Sanskrit, the language of the scriptures.
As S. G. Tulpule says, "They gave to India the concept of democratic mysticism." The doors of these mystics and spiritual teachers were always open to all seekers, irrespective of their caste or social status. Whoever entered was welcomed as a brother-nay more, was honoured as a saint and was addressed as sant (saint). The mystics were noble souls, but they addressed their devotees as sants, not just out of humility but also because they saw in each devotee the capacity to become a saint. Even in the Adi Granth, the Gurus address their devotees as santo (O saints) or sadho (O sadhus).
Pandharpur, a town 480 kilometres from the city of Mumbai (Bombay), became the centre of the bhakti movement in Maha- rashtra. There, the movement was popularly known as bhagavat dharma, which is defined as "a religious way of life based on devotion as the means for the realization of the identity of the Supreme Being and the individual soul".
In Pandharpur there is a temple dedicated to Vitthal. The abhangs (devotional poems) of the saints make it clear that "Vitthal" is just another name for God. Out of their deep love for the Lord, saints called him by many names, including Vitthal, Pandhari, Pandurang, Ram, Krishna and Hari.
The spiritual activities of the temple focused on nam sam- kirtan (spiritual discourses), kirtan (solo and group singing) and meditation. Nam samkirtan, as the name suggests, means praising the Name of God in discourses. The importance of remembering the Name of God and repeating it was stressed in the discourses. During kirtan, devotees sang songs of longing for divine union composed by these saints. These songs were not just pleasing to the ear but also pregnant with mystical thoughts.
They emphasized finding balance and harmony between spiritual and worldly activities, which appealed to the people, especially as they were composed in their native tongue, Marathi. This set them apart from the Hindu scriptures which were written in Sanskrit and as such beyond the comprehension of the common people Prof. K. V Belsare explains that Indian culture is basically an idealistic one, which believes in a spiritual reality that gose beyond the senses, yet most Indians also believe in keeping a harmonious balance between spiritual and worldly activities Sense pleasures are not rejected but kept in their proper place The following abhang by Tukaram illustrates this approach:
Indulge not the body in sense pleasures,
But do not inflict penance on it either,
Nor take recourse in renunciation-
By itself the body is neither good nor bad.
Make haste, says Tuka, dedicate yourself To the Lord's Name.
The term 'saint' is used throughout this book in a spcial sense. A saint is a person who has reached the supreme height of self-realization. He sees God face to face and enjoys unal loyed divine bliss. He knows God so intimately that he himself becomes divine. His life is holy in all its aspects. He is master of himself and belongs to the Kingdom of God. He is a war- rior-but a warrior of a particular kind. He has had to overcome tormenting conflicts between self-will and surrender to the will of God. A person reaches sainthood when he wins this battle Then the light of God burns steadily in his heart.
Through inner knowledge, a saint understands the divine purpose at work not only within himself but throughout the entire universe. Realizing the presence of God both within and without, he is able to willingly cooperate with the divine purpose. As such he is able to face the ups and downs of life with sublime serenity. He remains unmoved by the calamities of worldly life because he sees the divine hand working behind every event. Holiness, fearlessness and love for all beings are the marks of a saintly life.
A saint derives great strength from his contact with God. He pours that strength into the hearts of those men and women who labour to find peace in life. Hence a saint is a constant source of inspiration and solace to the sorrow-ridden world. His benevolence knows no bounds. He is untouched by narrowness or meanness. He is a great soul in every sense. He is a wise man who carries the torch of knowledge to dispel the darkness of human ignorance. He leads people towards God with gentleness and tact.
Unfortunately, the contemporaries of a saint often treat him with contempt. The wicked generally persecute and torment him, but this neither affects his faith in God nor disturbs his inner peace. Though a saint outwardly resembles an ordinary human being, inwardly he is one with the Lord. Tukaram was a saint to whom all the above applied. Of all the Marathi-speaking saints who have left an indelible mark upon the culture and the people south of the River Narmada, Tukaram has been acclaimed as the greatest in terms of popular esteem. More than any other saint, his life and teachings, his personality and his compositions have penetrated deeply into the religious, cultural and social life of Maharashtra. Even today, some four hundred years later, his abhangs are sung with ardour and enthusiasm in many a Maharashtrian home.
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