It was middle school that introduced me to Sant Kabir’s dohas, or couplets. But only in recent years’ have I begun appreciating them — for their startling combination of profound wisdom and simple expression.

One of the dohas that has stayed in my memory is:

ऐसी वाणी बोलिए, मन का आप खोए,
औरन को शीतल करे, आपहुं शीतल होए

Aisi vaani boliye, mann ka aapa khoye,
Auron ko sheetal kare, aaphun sheetal hoye.

Aapa” can be roughly translated as “feeling of self”, or “ego-sense”. So, when we speak without an ego-sense in our minds, then not only do our words sound sweet and calming to others, they also bring us peace. This leads me to the following free translation:

Such should be your speech, it pays your ego no mind.
The listener is at peace, and peace is what you’ll find.

What exactly is this ego that Sant Kabir asks us to discard? The definition offered by Vedanta appeals to me. It defines the mind through its four functions — mana, buddhi, chitta, ahankara:

  1. mana: the considering part of the mind — “Which route should I take to work?”
  2. buddhi: the determinative faculty that answers the questions raised by the mana — “The route past the metro station is the quickest way to work.”
  3. chitta: the memory — “This is the turn I should take.”
  4. ahankara: the ego, which adds the I, me and mine — “this is my route to work; there is my office, I will take a cab today.”.

Ego has also been described as “that which appropriates to itself, what is not its own”. For instance, when a car hits the one I am in, my reaction is, “You hit me!”. My sense of ego is so strong that it expanded to include a 1,500 kg piece of metal.

Vedanta takes us in the opposite direction. It demonstrates how “I” am neither the body, nor the mind, let alone a motor vehicle.

And through his doha, I believe Sant Kabir wanted to make this philosophy accessible, with a simple, everyday test — examine your speech to examine your attitude, and modify your speech to modify your attitude.