In his discourse on religion, Tagore repeatedly asserts the deep personal bonding with the Almighty. This sacred communion manifests itself in the absolute identification of the atma, the transcendence of ‘the utmost bounds of his humanity and find himself in a pure state of consciousness of his undivided unity with Parabrahman’.
In the words of the bard: ‘To this Being I was responsible; for the creation in me is his as well as mine.’ This personal bonding, as Tagore clarifies in The Religion of Man, paved the way for a much deeper consciousness.
Combined with the lyrical afflatus, it manifests itself in Tagore’s two-fold devotion towards spiritual communion and creativity: ‘It gave me a great joy to feel in my life detachment at the idea of a mystery of a meeting of the two in a creative comradeship. I felt that I had found my religion at last, the religion of Man, in which the Infinite became defined in humanity and came close to me so as to need my love and cooperation.’
In this context, it is interesting to remember that Tagore addressed a great deal of his poems to his Jivan Devata whom he refers to as ‘the Lord of my life’ ~ ‘I see thine eyes gazing at the dark of my heart, / Lord of my Life, / I wonder if my failures and wrongs are forgiven. / For many were my days without service/ and nights of forgetfulness; / futile were the flowers that faded in the shade not offered to thee.’
It is this personal or individual exploration of spirituality that is crucially and critically significant in the present world scenario, where the nasty over dominant voice of fanaticism occasionally tends to drown the iconoclastic unorthodox voice of individualism or individualized cult of independent thinking.
The drowning or abnegation of the autonomous voice today permeates several aspects of life, often encroaching upon the creed of freedom and worship of the individual artist, irrespective of the field of exploration.
But the central question remains as to how Tagore’s philosophy can offer succour in such times of anguish, despair and spiritual sterility? Readers and followers of Tagore are well conversant with the notions of mysticism, pantheism, Upanishadic monotheism (as advocated by the Brahmo faith).
However, it is significant to remember the relevance of these notions in the contemporary world. Much beyond conventional religion and practice of rituals, Tagore asserts the utmost importance in the espousal of the cause of altruism, humanism, love and philanthropy.
His rejection of conventional ritualistic worship is clearly reflected in his numerous proclamations in various works, the most notable being: ‘While God waits for his temple to be built of love, men bring stones.’
Indirectly, he subjugated the cult and tradition of ceremony, underlining the greater triumph of love: ‘Love is the magic stone, that transmutes by its touch greed into sacrifice.’
The deep spiritual nature of this love is further asserted when he clarifies: ‘For the sake of this love heaven longs to become earth and gods to become man.’ In tune with Tagore’s philosophy, his spiritual vision ran parallel to the world of art. As he asserts, an artist’s aspiration lay in being unfettered from the knot of egocentricity, in quest of eternal truth and freedom. Similarly, in the spiritual realm too, in tune with his thoughts, it is natural for the individual soul to seek ‘its freedom from the ego to reach that disinterested joy which is the source and goal of creation.’
It is this mukti or freedom that leads to the realization of the Truth or Supreme Reality for the human aspirant. In tune with the bard’s prayer: ‘Lead us from the unreal to reality. For satyam is anandam, the Real is Joy.’
Tagore’s cult of faith repeatedly underlines the significance of personal space, solitude and the constant process of revision and evolution of the belief system or spirituality in an individual’s life.
These little explorations in this private space leads to an illumination of the mind aiding in the transcendence of the parochial boundaries of orthodox religion, to which an individual is born.
Such transcendence is an imperative to blur the margins between all forms of organized religion and participate in the quintessential sacred essence of various forms of faith. Faith in that sense is not a limiting factor but a gateway to the limitless ocean of infinity, love and humanism.
Writing to Mahatma Gandhi in March 1933 Tagore pointed out: ‘It is needless to say that I do not at all relish the idea of divinity being enclosed in a brick and mortar temple for the special purpose of exploitation by a particular group of people.
I strongly believe that it is possible for simple-hearted people to realize the presence of God in the open air, in a surrounding free from all artificial obstruction…
The traditional idea of Godhead and conventional forms of worship hardly lay emphasis upon the moral worth of religious practices; their essential value lies in the conformity to custom which creates in the minds of the worshippers an abstract sense of sanctity and sanction.’
Tagore did not hesitate to criticize the social injustice in the name of religion. Writing to Mahadev Desai from Santiniketan (4January 1937) Tagore vindicated his humanism by sternly criticizing the social injustices perpetrated throughout the ages in the name of religion.
As Tagore’s biographer Krishna Kripalani observes: ‘His humanism came to him more directly and with greater certitude from this wisdom of the heart than from the subtle speculations of the Upanishads or from the Vaishnav lyrical mysticism or from the liberal humanism of Western thought.’
Even Romain Rolland cited from Tagore to exemplify the larger vision that lay beneath his religious creed: ‘The infinite personality of man (as the Upanishads say) can only come from the magnificent harmony of all human races. My prayer is that India may represent the cooperation of all the peoples of the world.’
In the present context, in tune with Tagorean philosophy, it is imperative to foster among all individuals a deep consciousness of the fundamental unity of all religions.
The poet-prophet put it succinctly in the following words in The Religion of Man ~ “That which I value most in my religion or my aspiration, I seek to find corroborated, in its fundamental unity, in other great religions, or in the hopes expressed in the history of other peoples. Each great movement of thought and endeavour in any part of the world may have something unique in its expression, but the truth underlying any of them never has the meretricious cheapness of utter novelty about it. The great Ganga must not hesitate to declare its essential similarity to the Nile of Egypt, or to the Yangtse-Kiang of China.”
It is in realization of this fundamental unity, according to Tagore, lies the redemption of the humankind. As he further reiterated in his work Sadhana: The Realization of Life: ‘This is the ultimate end of man, to find the ONE which is in him, which is his truth, which is his soul; the key with which he opens the gates of spiritual life.’
The writer is the Dean of Arts, St Xavier‘s College, Kolkata.