Nanak is the only mystic of this country who went all over the country, and beyond the boundaries of the country, too. He reached Kaaba, the holy place of the Mohammedans. It was evening and he was tired and his disciple, Mardana, made a bed for him. But the priests of Kaaba were very angry. They had heard about Nanak because he had been singing in the nearby villages, and thousands of people were influenced by his songs. They were waiting for him to come one day. But they had never thought that he would do something so sacrilegious: he was sleeping, keeping his feet towards the holy stone of Kaaba. The priests came….
The story goes this way: They said to Nanak, “We have heard that you are a spiritual man, but what kind of spiritual man are you? You can’t even recognize a small thing: that your feet should not be towards the holy Kaaba.” Nanak laughed. The story is beautiful; whether it is true, whether it is historical or not, it does not matter – it is significant, immensely meaningful. Nanak said, “You turn my feet towards any place which is not holy. I am in a difficulty, I have to put my feet somewhere. Kaaba is holy, but the remaining universe is not unholy. You turn my feet.”
The priest turned his feet, and wherever they turned his feet, they found the Kaaba also moved in that direction. That may be fiction, but a fiction worth loving, significant; it may not be a fact, but it is a truth. The stone of Kaaba may not have moved, but the priests must have recognized that they were being stupid. The whole existence is holy…what is the point? They moved in a circle and finally they gave an apology and kept Nanak’s feet towards Kaaba.
Rabindranath never went to any temple, never worshipped any God, was never, in a traditional way, a saint, but to me he is one of the greatest saints the world has known. His saintliness is expressed in each of his words.
The lines that you have quoted are very pregnant: Obstinate are the trammels, but my heart aches when I try to break them. Freedom is all I want, but to hope for it I feel ashamed.
He is saying something not only about himself, but about all human consciousness. Such people don’t speak about themselves; they speak about the very heart of all mankind.
Obstinate are the trammels…. The hindrances are great, the chains that prevent my freedom – I have become too attached to them. They are no more chains to me; they have become my ornaments. They are made of gold, they are very precious. But my heart aches, because on the one hand I want freedom, and on the other hand I cannot break the chains that prevent me from being free. Those chains, those attachments, those relationships have become my life. I cannot conceive of myself without my beloved, without my friends. I cannot conceive of myself absolutely alone, in deep silence. My songs have also become my fetters, so My heart aches when I try to break them. Freedom is all I want…
This is the situation of every human being. It is difficult to find a man whose heart does not want to fly like a bird in the sky, who would not like to reach to the faraway stars, but who also knows his deep attachment with the earth. His roots are deep in the earth. His split is that he is attached to his imprisonment, and his deepest longing is for freedom. He is divided against himself.