Tagore's Spiritual side…
Maxwell Pereira


One is left with wondrous awe at the deep spiritual side to most Rabindranath Tagore's works. In example, in one of his most memorable poems, he begins with the line: "The world is insane with violence, every day there emerges a new kind of cruel conflict". This prompts him to pray to the Almighty to instill love and wisdom into a world afflicted with myriad ills - truly, reflecting the core of his spiritual humanism.

For Debendranath, Tagore's father, it was a monotheistic religion based on the Upanishads. Likewise, Rabindranath too was inspired by Advaita Vedanta. But his independent nature made it difficult for him to adhere to the rigidity of any institutional creed or dogma.

Religion, according to Tagore, "is not a fractional thing that can be doled out in fixed weekly or daily measures as one among various subjects in the school syllabus. It is the truth of our complete being, the consciousness of our personal relationship with the infinite; it is the true centre of gravity of our life."

He wrote, "If religion, instead of being the manifestation of a spiritual ideal, gives prominence to scriptures and external rites, then does it disturb the peace more than anything else." This has led some to describe Tagore's religion as the religion of humanity comprising all that is superb in all religions.

So religion for Tagore was a matter of personal conviction. He had greater faith in the individuals "all over the world who think clearly, feel nobly and act rightly", thus becoming channels of moral truth.

'The Religion of Man', for him, was an appeal for faith in man's sublimity, for nothing is greater than the Divine in man. He describes his own experience, "When I was 18, a sudden spring breeze of religious experience for the first time came to my life and passed away leaving in my memory a direct message of spiritual reality…. That which was memorable in this experience was its human message, the sudden expansion of my consciousness in the super-personal world of man….. Suddenly I became conscious of a stirring of soul within me. My world of experience in a moment seemed to become lighted, and facts that were detached and dim found a great unity of meaning… I felt that I had found my religion at last, the religion of Man, in which the infinite became defined in humanity…"

Tagore gave expression to this idea in his poems addressed to the Lord of Life, whom he called Jeevan Data. He believed in spiritual freedom, and referred to the uncontrolled excesses of passion that upset our balance and obscured the underlying harmony between the individual and universal spirit. This malady, which he called 'sin', distorts our freedom in the realms of matter, mind and spirit.

Tagore never considered himself a theologian or a philosopher. He was content to be known as a poet, describing himself as "Ami Kobi" (I am a poet). Always one with nature, he derived inspiration from it, seeing it as the physical manifestation of the Universal Spirit. He expressed this experience through his poetry.

His meditations on God, man and nature, especially in the Gitanjali - offerings of songs to the Infinite - not only echo the Vendantic perception of the Absolute but also convey the ardour of a Vaishnavaite bhakta's love for God.

As a humanist, Tagore perceived a symbolic relationship between different world religions and tried to project in his writings their quintessential meaning. He found the eternal values of Buddhism, no less significant than the idea of a Supreme Being in the Upanishads. The anguished soul of a poet in him cried out for the healing touch of the Buddha in the face of the human spirit afflicted by greed, hatred and violence. "O Serene, O Free / in thine immeasurable mercy and goodness / wipe away all dark stains from the heart of this earth."

The British honoured Tagore with knighthood. He renounced it in protest against the Jallianwala Bagh massacre in 1919. Though he stood by his country against all odds, he was wary of chauvinistic excesses in the name of patriotism - as echoed by Atin, the protagonist of Tagore's short novel Char Adhay. For him, "that the life of the country can be saved by killing its soul, is the most monstrously false doctrine that nationalists all over the world are bellowing forth stridently". Ghare-Baire and Kabuliwallah are his other works where this spirit of humanism also finds expression.

Tagore's invocation to the Divinity for his country's redemption in Gitanjali is one of his most memorable poems, sung as a hymn even in Catholic churches today: "where the mind is without fear and the head is held high / where knowledge is free: / where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;/ where words come out from the depth of truth;/where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection:/where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;/where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action-/into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake".

A Jesuit analyst on Tagore's spirituality comments: Tagore's life was a sustained search for a universal form of religious expression, rooted in the spirit of Indian tradition. He considered himself a solitary pilgrim in the eternal quest for boundless bliss perhaps beyond the realm of human experience.

900 words: 07.12.2004: Copy Right © Maxwell Pereira: 3725 Sec-23, Gurgaon-122002. You can interact with the author at http:// www.maxwellperira.com and maxpk@vsnl.com


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