Rabindranath Tagore:


José da Conceição Souza (BIMB, 132, 1982) “I have something in common with the dust and the rocks, the grass and the trees, with all animals, and with all men. But in the field of my ego that stands as an individual, I have nothing in common with others, here I am completely different from the rest. That ego is unique without a second, matchless, incomparable. In the midst of the creation of this universe, the creation of my ego is mine alone. Into this world can enter only the Lord: ‘who knows the heart of man’, and no one else. For that ego which has no equal in this whole world, what a frightening solitude, what an infinite loneliness. Yes, it would be frightening if that ego were not meant for your love. Therefore, in this field of free ego my greatest of all sorrows will my separation from you, that is, sorrow of my egotism; and the greatest of all happiness is union with you, that is, the happiness of love. It is your free love, which constitutes me as an ego, not the common law of the Universe. Of all manifestations, man is incomparable. The human self is unique, because in it God reveals himself in a special manner”. In this essay I intend to give a systematic exposition of Rabindranath Tagore’s philosophical and religious views Tagore’s religion cannot be tackled apart from his philosophy. His philosophy is only the ancient wisdom of India restated to meet the needs of modern times. (1) His philosophy and religion went hand-in-hand. He himself was deeply aware of the fact that his essentially poetic approach made his philosophy some-thing distinct. If by philosophy it is meant academic philosophy with theories and counter theories, then Tagore has philosophy. But if philosophy is only an insight into reality, he is as much a philosopher as he is a poet. The central idea of Tagorean philosophy is the concept of evolution that makes his religion something spontaneous to man and subject to growth. His aim is to synthesize the elements of highest worth in every religious and philosophical tradition to soften the edges and take a middle course between contending viewpoints, to mediate between extremes. He is t h e supreme peacemaker in the domain of modern thought. (2) He begins with Brahmoism, passes through a liberal Hinduism and finally settles on the universal religion, which centres around man. He calls this universal religion the ‘Religion of Man’. (3) Tagorean religion is not worship, but primarily a personal, living experience. I. Religion and Evolution In his grand description of evolution, Tagore shows us the outflowing of the whole process. First came the light as the radiant energy of creation starting the ring-dance of atoms in a diminutive sky and also the dance of stars in the vast, lonely theatre of time and space. Then came a time when life was brought into the arena in the tiniest little monocycle of a cell, facing the ponderous enormity of things. With life’s gifts of growth and power of adaptation, it contradicted the unmeaningness/meaninglessness of their bulk and became aware not of the volume but of the value of existence. But the miracle of creation did not stop there; in that isolated particle of life launched on a lonely voyage to the Unknown there were a multitude of cells bound together in a larger unit. A perfect coordination of functions was kept, not through aggregation but through a marvellous quality of complex interrelationship. (4) The march of evolution unfolded the potentialities of life. However, this evolution comes to an end and does not continue on the physical plane. All exaggeration of this physical aggrandizement becomes a burden, which breaks the natural rhythm of life and leaves everything in an absurd and perishable state. A change was required. It came when Man appeared and diverted the course of this evolution from an indefinite slavish march of physical grandeur in a freedom of a more subtle and royal perfection. Thus evolution finds its value and climax in Man, in his own body, its most perfect inward expression. As a nineteenth-century thinker, Tagore could not help being happy with the theory of evolution, the key-note of the thought of that time. Tagore states that this is the evolution of which Science talks, the evolution of man’s Universe. Here Man attains its realization in a more subtle body outside his physical system. He finds the divine principle of unity, the principle of an inner interrelationship. And this principle of interrelationship makes him find his Religion. “In the ideal of unity”, says Tagore, (Man) realizes the eternal in his life and the boundless in his love”. (5) Man finds immortality in his multi-personal humanity. He becomes conscious of unity and this consciousness is spiritual. It becomes for him an energizing living truth and not a mere subjective idea. The effort to be true to this living truth is man’s religion. The external senses give man the vision of the physical universe. But the inner faculty, his luminous imagination, helps man to find his relationship with the supreme self of other men, the universe of personality. The result is quite surprising. When the course of evolution advanced to the stage of Man, its character changed; it shifted its emphasis mainly from the body to the mind.” (6) Yet, as I said above, there is not only body and mind in Man: there is also and above all the personal Man. This personal man is the highest in him. It has personal relations of its own with the great world and comes to it for something to satisfy its personality. This relationship is the fundamental truth of this world of appearances. The divine principle of inner interrelationship leads man to find the truth which reveals the divinity in him-his humanity-the humanity of his God, or the divinity of Man, Eternal; in other words, the religion of Man. The individual man is the expression of the Great Man. He finds fulfillment in Him and thus accomplishes in Him the sense of perfection, which ideally dwells in the Supreme Man, inspiring love for this ideal in the individual and prompting him to realize it. This urge for realization comes from the feeling of intimacy with Nature-not the physical Nature, but that which satisfies our personality, makes our life rich and stimulates our imagination. But this true enjoyment of our personality can never be had through the satisfaction of greed, but only through the surrender of our individual self to the Universal Self. For this world, which is all movement, is pervaded by one supreme unity. (7) Hence, the highest aim of our life is to reveal in ourselves, through renunciation of self; the God of this human universe whose mind we share in all our true knowledge. Through our limitations we have to realize the Supreme Man who has no individual limitations. (8) Science cannot give us that with which it is not concerned. Science is concerned only with the impersonal world of truths. Religion realizes these truths and links them up with our deeper needs, thus giving universal significance to our individual consciousness. Religion applies values to truth and only when bur Universe is in harmony with the Eternal Man, we know it as truth, we feel it as good and beauty. (9) The deepest and the most earnest prayer risen from the human heart according to Tagore is: “O thou self-revealing one, reveal thyself in me.” (10) This should be our prayer at every moment, for “we are in misery because we are creatures of self–the self that is unyielding and narrow, that reflects no light, that is blind to the Infinite. Our self is loud with its own discordant clamour–it is not a tuned harp whose chords vibrate –with the music of the Eternal”. Our shallow hearts are troubled with all kinds of regrets and anxieties, discontent and failures because we have not found our souls and not manifested the self-revealing spirit within us. The change in the world, the continual process of evolution makes us more and more hungry for the love and wisdom that belong to the Supreme Person whose Spirit is over all of us, who loving Him loves all creatures, exceeding all other loves in depth and strength. (11) 1. Evolution and the Universe After having seen how Tagore bases his whole conception of Religion on Evolution and why there was a need of man’s appearance in the world to turn its former process, let us now see how this evolution takes place until it reaches man. Tagore describes the course of evolution by an illustration where he shows a child improvising a story. He writes that the child made him imagine himself to be in a dark room locked from the outside. Then it asked him what he would do in order to come out of the room. In reply he said that the first thing would be to shout for help. But to prevent any success the door was imagined to be made out of steel, and the bunch of keys Tagore had with him would not fit, so that the child was very happy at the development of the whole scene as at each obstruction proposed the captive would not find out a means of removing it. (12) The improvisation develops the process of thinking and progression in the child’s mind. According to Tagore, the same manner of development is seen in the life’s story of evolution. There is creativeness and continual process of conquest. Thus was the bird gifted with a marvellous pair of wings in order to resist the air; the fish was furnished with appliances for moving in the water; and there was one success after the other in dealing with the laws of the guiding Nature with the invention of new instruments. This was a life of ruthless competition. But this evolutionary progress being on the physical plane emphasized the professionalism of its subjects, making them specialists in their own place, thus defining their special efficiencies to narrow compartments. This form of progress was inevitable because it dealt with materials that are physical and necessarily have their limitations. So far success is limited. And the reason is that “the units of single cells formed themselves into larger units “, thus leaving gaps between them. “While the unit has the right to claim tile glory of the whole, yet individually it cannot share the entire wealth that occupies a history yet to be completed”. So the material world being a world of quantity has its resources very limited and there is a need of superior weapons to win a victory. As I already said, there is in the Universe a continual process of conquest and there is also a progress for the kingdom of life. There is a search for Truth. The adventurous Life that is, the Spirit of Life) seems to carry on her experiments and add to her inventions just on the physical level. The evolutionary process of the world is making headway towards the revelation of its truth. It is in search for inner value, which is not in the extension in space and duration in time. This inner value will be found in religion. So far this advance has been purely physical. Evidently what is purely physical has its limits like the shell of an egg; the liberation cannot but be in the atmosphere of the Infinite that is indefinable and invisible. Consequently, religion can have no meaning in the enclosure of mere physical or material interest. Religion is nowhere except in the surplus we carry around our personality the surplus which like the atmosphere of the earth brings to her a constant circulation of light and life and also delightfulness. Only man has reached multicellular character in a perfect. manner both in his body and his personality. For centuries his evolution has been one of consciousness that tried to avoid the bounds of individual separateness and to include in its relationship a wholeness that may be easily called Man. This relationship, mostly on instinctive level, wants to find its full awareness. Physical evolution is seeking efficiency in communication with the physical world, but the evolution of Man’s consciousness seeks for truth in a perfect harmony with the world of personality. (10) Since I have spoken about the “evolutionary progress” it would be helpful to see what Tagore means by progress. By progress he means the increasing provision of facilities (both material and moral) for the all-round development and free expression of the human personality without discrimination. From his own words one sees what he expects from life “I believe “, he writes, “only when it is progressive, and in progress’ only when it is in harmony with life. I preach the –13 freedom of man from the servitude of the fetish of hugeness, the nonhuman (14) Without progress life becomes meaningless Progress is the very heart of the significance of human life. It means our evolution into greater and richer being. (1 5) To sum up: First, the evolutionary process has been mechanical and meaningless. Then life has appeared and the plant began to exist. There is no mental awareness and consequently there is no higher and subtler grade of activities in it. And this is only a superficial progression on the road to higher ranks of values, which are realized in Man. 2. Evolution and Man Evolution reaches man and all instinctive dependence upon nature is broken. Man as an animal is still dependent on Nature, but as a Man he is ‘a sovereign who builds his world and rules it. He proclaims freedom against the established laws of Nature. In man evolution takes place in a. different direction: We have in man a transition from vital mind to reflecting and thinking mind and consequently we have in him a higher power of observation, invention and aesthetic creation. After it reaches the human stage evolution differs from what it has been on two scores: one, it is henceforth conducted by conscious effort; and two, it is not confined to the progression of surface nature. Man is a person and as such he has to realize his personality. Man desires perfection and this perfection can be attained only in freedom. One freedom leads to another and man attains the freedom of view and action which gives him analogous mental freedom through his imagination. Freedom of view and action gives man the freedom “to make mistakes, to launch into desperate adventures”. (16) Freedom first breaks the law and then makes the law, which brings it under true self-rule. Man has put a bend in the path of evolution and refused to remain subject to it. Man has crossed the boundaries of animal nature, since the important difference between the animal and man is as follows: while the animal cannot move beyond the limits of is necessities like a retail shopkeeper who is satisfied only with a small profit from his trade, man in life’s commerce is like a big merchant who earns more than he usually spends. There is a tremendous excess of wealth in man’s life, which makes him free to be useless and irresponsible to a great extent. This is the only time when man is conscious of himself. It is the surplus of feelings resulted from freedom, seeking his outlet in Art that makes man feel his personality. Animals have no real self-consciousness. Personality is born from the excess of feelings and there is yearning to express himself. This self-expression of personality is attained by Art (that is, perfection in harmony). Thus, man becomes creative and desires to build up his religion. But it does not mean that Art is the only adequate expression of personality. There can also be an artist without personality on the one hand; and there can be a simple man with personality, on the other; and yet both of them can have union with God. (17) Free as he is, man naturally claims kinship with God who perfects him and the Universe and makes his religion broad-minded. This creative power is a distinguishing mark of man. “(Man) is aware that he is not imperfect, but incomplete. He knows that in himself some meaning has yet to be realized… The call is deep in his mind-the call of his own inner truth. which is beyond his direct knowledge and analytical logic”. (18). Tagore meets God, the eternal spirit, in all objects. To him the eternal spirit is personal: he is the Supreme Person. He says that since man is born for perfection, the urge for it takes man back to the source from where •he came. Man is restless until he finds union, truth and kinship with God. His freedom makes bin:- long for a spiritual union that he is able to acquire only through religion. (19) Religion makes man determined to establish the bond of kinship with the Supreme Being. Man wants to go deep into the mystery of his own self and therefore cannot help feeling that the truth of his personality has both its relationship and its perfection in an endless world of humanity. Since this union has to be established with a Being whose activity is world-wide and whose dwelling-place is the heart of humanity- it cannot be a passive union. Therefore, Tag9re seems to give much importance to the need of action. He says that life by its very characteristic cannot be complete within itself. It must come and find its truth also outside. And the body cannot live if it has no relation with the outside light and air; it fails, if the inner activities stop ” Yet”, Tagore writes, “this is not enough; the body is outwardly restless all the while. Its life leads it to an endless dance of work and play outside; it can net. • be satisfied with the circulations of its internal economy, and. only finds the fulfillment of joy in its outward excursions ~ (20) If the body cannot remain passive, much more the soul. if man wants to complete and perfect himself, he has to do it and can do it only by the identification of his soul with the Soul of all people. Tagore says: “It (the soul) cannot live on its own internal feelings and imaginings. It is ever in need of external objects; not only to feed its inner consciousness but to apply itself in action, not only to receive but also to give. The real truth is, we cannot live if we divide him who is truth itself into two parts. We must abide in him within as well without. In whichever aspect we deny him we deceive ourselves and incur a loss. Brahma~ Ji~s ‘;o~ l~f~ mB,~l~t me no~ ~ea~e Brahman”. (11) This mutual interchange of give-and-take implies divestment of our selfish interests and only then it will make us world-workers restlessly working for all. However small in extent our work be, if it is good, it manifests its universal character For the Divine Being the world-worker who is the Great Soul, in the everi?1herent dweller in the hearts of all people. Finally, man as the satisfaction of seeing his religion coming to a higher state, where he gets the human truth of personality. Tagore insists very much in the union with Brahman-the human truth of personality-which silently cries for mukti, the freedom in truth which is expressed in action. (‘~). And he continues that action is the play of joy. Needless to say, we cannot achieve this union with God except by bearing always in our mind a loving thought for all creatures. I –17 3. Evolution and Freedom In the beginning man’s religion was only on a physical basis in the sense that his efforts were directed more towards gaining a perfect communion with the bidden forces of Nature. Man’s chief preoccupation was to unveil the secrets of the external world without bothering a b o u t the inner values ~ existent in it. For only physical dealings with the external world secured the maintenance of his life, the life which he had to live in common with the other creatures: Consequently, the first and the best expression his religion at the time had to be psychical, binding him with regulations of external observances. (93) Man owing to his freedom diverted “his mind to his inner nature” and placed higher importance on the “mystery of his own personality”. “And instinctively his personal self sought its fulfillment in the truth of a higher personality”. (24) Zarathustra, the great pioneer prophet in Persia, breaks the ice by teaching that religion has its truth in its moral significance, and

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