Rabindranath Tagore has been called a poet rather than a philosopher; but as every intellectual man has his own view of philosophy, so had Rabindranath Tagore. Poet Rabindranath Tagore reshaped Bengali literature and music as well as Indian art with Contextual Modernism in the late 19th and 20th century. Being the author of the profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful poetry of ‘Gitanjali’, Rabindranath Tagore, in the year 1913, became the first non-European and the first lyricist to win Nobel Prize in Literature. His poetic songs were viewed as spiritual and mercurial – however his elegant prose and magical poetry remain largely unknown outside Bengal. His writings depict the philosophy of this literary man. One of the coherent view of his life is : “Let that little be left of me whereby I may name thee my all”.
The oneness of man and God - According to Rabindranath Tagore, men are the part of this inscrutable, immanent God. The finite is a part of infinity, whom God has created after putting a barrier in Him. As Rabindranath Tagore said, “Thou settest a barrier in thine own being / This thy self-separation has taken body in me” (Poem 71). Man should not be lost in the grief of separateness because ultimately he has to meet his creator, his inevitable source, the father of mankind – God. Man is the coloured shadow of God, God separates Himself into many forms, one is man. Rabindranath Tagore believes that the same life runs through the vein of man which runs through Him. Rabindranath Tagore speaks of all the pervasiveness of God. He is the impelling force within man. He is ‘the innermost one’, who ‘awakens my being within his deep hidden touches’. But man forgets about this truth because of God’s creation of ‘maya’ and man seeks Him everywhere with an unsatisfactory mind and soul as he is unable to feel this omnipresence in himself - as in Upanishads, said by the rishis about this mystic experience.
“The Purusha (man) alone in all this universe, sacrifice, penance, Brahma, the highest mortal; he who knows this, hidden in the cave of the heart breaks the knot of ignorance even here, O gentle youth!” Again, - “The person of the size of a thumb, resides in the middle of the body, as lord of the past and the future, and hence-forward fear no more”. (Kathopanishad IV.12) - This is the intense Advaita faith : yet no abstraction. The divinity, the poet-self humanity, all living beings form the world of natural phenomena – these are all unified in an indescribable rhythmic process of vitality, which is also unutterably serene. The philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore is that everything flows towards God as everything comes from Him, being His own part. Everything ‘run back to thee undiminished’ to the poet’s poet, lord of life, to the ultimate aim, the creator, the mother, the father, the infinite one. So, short is ‘the pang of separation’, ‘the sorrow of separation’.
Love of God, based on Nature - Life is harmony and the law or principle which governs its rhythms is the principal of love and joy; and the love dwells everywhere as His Omnipresence. Like man, nature is also one of the myriad notes, God’s creation, the source of joy and His love for mankind. The river, flower, sun, moon, stars, trees, leaves – all symbolize God’s love for mankind. These are the token of love of God for man. That is why - “Thy gifts to us mortals fulfil all our needs and yet run back to thee undiminished” (Poem 75).
The rivers run through villages and wind at the end to wash the feet of the Almighty. The flowers sweeten the air and offer themselves upto Him. The world thus gets so many benefits in Nature from God. The morning with the golden basket in the right hand with the sunbeams – ‘The golden light all is wrapped with His love comes to mankind’. Rabindranath Tagore feels his immortal love, care, affection and human joy in the light coming from his heavenly abode.
“Light, my light, the world filling light, the eye kissing light, heart sweetening light!” (Poem 59) - This light that dances upon the leaves and the joy that engulfs the whole world in laughter is nothing but His love. Nature and God are in the Vedantic terminology – ‘Prakriti’ and ‘Purusha’, the two aspects of Absolute. Meditation on nature or an aspect of nature leads to realisation of God.
About Gayatri, Rabindranath Tagore said, “The text of our everyday mediation is the gayatri, a verse which is considered to be the epitome of all the Vedas. By its help, we try to realise the essential unity of world with the conscious soul of man. We learn to perceive the unity held together by the one eternal spirit whose power creates the earth, the sky and the stars and at the same time irradiates our minds with the light of consciousness that moves and exists in an unbroken continuity with the outer world”. According to Rabindranath Tagore, Nature is the melody of God; it ennobles man. Man is ultimately bound with nature.
Shri Khanolkar narrates one incident which he calls the turning point in the life of Rabindranath Tagore – “One morning the poet was sitting in the veranda with his face to the East, he beheld an extraordinary sight just before him, the sun was climbing inch by inch, through the top most sprays of the thickly leaved trees in the free school compound at the further end of the road. Masses of golden light streamed from the foliage. As Rabindranath Tagore gazed wide-eyed, it was as through a curtain was ripped aside to snow an altogether different scene. The familiar pattern of the world was transformed and filled with a wonderous radiance. On every hand, his eyes met wave upon the wave of beauty and happiness”. Was he experiencing in himself the scripture’s ‘Peace and love of God-in-man which shines after the form of bliss immortal? With that brilliance flooding all the poet’s heart, the layers of grief and despair were stripped away, and waves of delight and loveliness ripples through his innermost being’. This was the turning point in his life - the whole attitude to life was changed at once. He left an inner conviction that the world had risen from a sea of joy. From there onwards, he was free from any kind of grief. To Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Nature’ is not just an imaginary country in the fairly land. It is the embodied joy of the infinity. Friendship, love and compassion are life’s necessities. In order to know God, we need not turn away from life and world. The bridge by which we can pass from the imperfect to the perfect is ‘love’.
Representation on God - God, for Rabindranth Tagore, is the eternal, all pervasive, immanent, inscrutable, inevitable, omnipresent, omnipotent, kind and affectionate spirit. He fills His creation with fresh life. Mankind is like a flute through which he sings his eternal songs. He is the musician of musicians. He is the mother, and he is the father, the Absolute, as Shakti and Shiva are inseparable. God helps everyone. He is the bearer of our burdens. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Leave all thy burdens on his hands who can bear all, and never look behind in regret” (Poem 9) – He keeps the company with the companionless amongst the humble folk. The poorest, the lowest and the lost are dearer to Him than anyone else. The rich and the bourgeois are far removed from god because of their artificial living. That is why Bible says, “Blessed are the pure for they shall see God”. Again, “He is above all, through all and in all”. Rabindranath Tagore said, “And there rest thy feet where live the poorest, and the lowliest and lost”. (Poem 10).
God is within man. He dwells in Nature. The worldly pomp and the growing ego becomes a great wall that makes one lose sight of one’s true being within. According to Vedanta, the root cause of everything that binds a man is ego. The pure, honest and humble heart can achieve his spiritual bliss. He grants perfect freedom to the persons. He loves and continues to love them even if they do not pray to Him or keep Him in their hearts. God is won over easily by love and not by scholarship or austere practices. ‘The King of all kings’ (the Almighty) is the nest in which man’s soul develops. He is the one, the ruler, the internal Atman of all beings - “He it is, the innermost one, awakens my being with his deep hidden touches”.
The Communion with God; Mystic and Union; The Spiritual Bliss - Mysticism is the term that can be defined as the belief in the existence of state of reality hidden from ordinary human understanding. Mysticism is gaining direct communion with God through prayer and meditation. The mystic feels that the supreme soul or God is one and the same but assumes different forms. He believes that – “All things in the visible world are but forms and manifestations of the one divine life, and that these phenomena are changing and temporary, while the soul that informs them is eternal”. A mystic is thoroughly a traditional. He distrusts reason and intellect the world of sense and perception has no meaning for him. A mystic believes that human soul is eternal. It is the body which dies, the soul lives on. Death for him is merely a transformation or the only gateway to the eternal. The soul comes to the world from the Eternal and assumes a particular form; after death it still lives on in the Eternal and may assume some different forms. This was also the faith of Plato and this has always been the faith of mystics. It is also the basis of Rabindranath’s view of life.
Mysticism of Rabindranath Tagore is slightly different. He is not a thorough – going mystic, for he does not completely distrust reason and sense perception. Moreover, Rabindranath Tagore’s mysticism has certain peculiar features. Unlike most other mystics, Rabindranath Tagore does not advocate a dissociation from everyday life. On the other hand, he is full of joy of living. He does not reject the sensual experiences, but makes a medium of spiritual experience; nor is Rabindranath Tagore the least inclined towards asceticism. Rabindranath’s mysticism is thus counter-balanced and kept in check by his intense humanism. Similarly, his realistic tendency also restrains his mystic learnings. Thus, mysticism is only one strand in viewpoint of Rabindranath Tagore. However, in certain crucial aspects, Rabindranath Tagore subscribes fully to the mystical approach.
Mystical Doctrines of Rabindranath Tagore - Rabindranath Tagore believes in spiritual bliss, divine inspiration and reunion of soul with God. He said that the ultimate aim of life is to seek a merging with the divine spirit. That is why, the theme of a spiritual quest is so recurrent in Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. The conception of mystic is that ultimate bliss is the union with God, which is also the Indian conception of ‘Nirvana’. The human soul craves for reunion, as it is a part of God, separated from the ‘infinite seeking of reunion’. Rabindranath Tagore believes that the quest for God can be completed only after the divine inspiration. He always wait for his son, man to surrender Him to the totality. The spiritual illumination makes a man to realize His presence and truth about Him. He is affectionate as a mother, caring as a father, a compassionate friend and a guide who leads man in his spiritual voyage to the sea of eternity.
“I must launch out my boat”.
“Early in the day it was whispered that
We should sail in a boat...Only thou and?”
God and man - each has a relation of love and devotion rather than the fear. The human soul is a part of the divine spirit but it is finite. Its fulfilment therefore has in its fusion with the infinite being. According to Rabindranath Tagore, the world of nature is not an illusion but a medium for achieving oneness with the infinite being. Rabindranath’s philosophy reconciles the opposites of body and spirit as well as all the related ideas. He advocates a similar co-existence and harmony between illusion and reality, death and life which alter to form a rhythmic process. Evil and good, imperfection and perfection are also similarly related. Truth and beauty are the only facets of infinite being. The following lines from ‘Gitanjali’ contain an expression of Rabindranath Tagore’s mystical belief in the infinite, which is present in the finite and is yet apart from it -
“Where dost thou stand behind them all, my lover, hiding thyself in the shadows? They push these and pass thee by on the duty roads, taking thee for naught. I wait here weary hours spreading my offerings for thee, while passers-by come and take my flowers one by one and my basket is nearly empty. Oh how indeed could I tell them that for thee I wait, and that thou has promised to come. How could I utter for shame that I keep for my dowry this poverty. And, I hug this pride in the secret of my heart”.
Expressing mysticism by Rabindrath Tagore - Rabindranath Tagore’s mysticism finds expression through image and symbols. This is only befitting, for mysticism is too intangible for a view to be expressed directly. Many of Rabindranath’s symbols are drawn from the world of nature. One of his favourite symbols is the flower because flower expresses beauty, vitality, sacrifice, devotion, life, joy, the mystery of birth and death. The love of devotee is expressed as the offering of flowers to the lover God. The symbol of light symbolizes the warmth of the love of God, spiritual illumination, divine glory, His omnipresence, imminence, all pervasiveness and joy of creation. The boat is a mystical symbol of spiritual voyage through the sea of eternity. The sword is another mystical symbol of detachment, the way to gain the heavenly abode, the renunciation of the luxuries of the world.
“The sword is with me to cut asunder my bonds and there shall be no fear left for me in the world”. Cloud is used with romantic associations. Cloud also stands for grace of God. “The sky is overcast with clouds and the rain is ceaseless. I know not what this is that steers within me – I know not its meaning”. The sea symbolizes the sea of eternity, the way to heavenly abode. The other mystical expression of sea is the ‘life sea’ (the vast deep sea of life).
Deathlessness in death - Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore on death is beyond human-understanding or comprehension. He seems to feel that death is inherent in nature and therefore lodged within him. Death is the last fulfilment of life. The soul opens to death like ‘a bud in the forest of midnight’. “Because I love this life, I know I shall love death as well”. Dying into death, here is dying into deathless. It is an amorous adventure undertaken in a stormy night – it is a wedding for Rabindranath Tagore. The soul plays with the Lord as the beloved plays with her lover. In poem 91, the great poet said, “That flowers have been woven and the garland is ready for the bridegroom. After the wedding, the bride shall leave her home and meet her lord alone in the solitude of the night”. Rabindranath Tagore wanted to go to meet his Lord in wedding robes because he said that red brown robes mark renunciation. Rabindranath believed that dying is not simple literal annihilation of spirit and matter. Dying is concomitant with the release of spirit. Death according to Rabindranath, is the intimation of immortality. Rabindranath sees, ‘by the light of death thy world with careless treasures’. He spoke as a mystic in all his creations. For him, love and death are inseparable companions. Death is inevitable and man has to surrender himself before it in all his totality. When death strikes, all that man has ignored or spurned earlier will appear more valuable – so the poet advised to love well while being alive.
The perfection is everywhere (Optimism) - Another philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore is that there is no imperfection, no fault in the world. Losses, pessimism and faults finding are not in his dictionary. In ‘Gitanjali’, one of his poems expresses his view. Rabindranath Tagore, in poem 78, criticised the attitude of those who immaturely finds fault with the world in some way or other. Rabindranath’s mantra is “Vain is this seeking! Unbroken perfection is overall”. Rabindranath’s view in life is tremendously optimistic. He did not like any room for ugliness. Truth and beauty are omnipresent. So, there cannot be any ugliness or untruth in life – it is man’s incapacity to see life as a whole that gives rise to untruth and ugliness. Untruth and ugliness, in his view are found only in our comprehension as the negative elements of truth and beauty. If man can get over his selfishness and view things in a detached manner, if, in other words, he can rise them to the region of the surplus – he can have the true vision of beauty that is everywhere.
The religion of Humanism - Rabindranath Tagore is a great poet of humanity. The spiritual quest, without human element, has no appeal for Rabindranath. To him, God is incarnated in form of human being and it is in human activity and labour that one must look for the God and not in lonely meditation and penance. Tagore disapproved of asceticism because it is anti-humanistic. He simply said, “Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight”. Rabindranath Tagore believed to live in this world and love his people. He was busy in the hectic world and said, “No I will never shut the door of my senses”. Attitude of Rabindranath Tagore to man and nature is quite comparable to that of European poet Keats, who believed that even for the apprehension of great spiritual truths, one must employ one’s sense of perceptions. Tagore’s pursuit and celebration of beauty are also guided by humanistic spirit. Tagore’s poetry sings not only of ideal beauty but also of beauty as incarnated in human form, especially in the form of female. Because of the influence of ancient Indian tradition, even human beauty sometimes becomes a symbol of ideal beauty of the Divine being. The most remarkable poem of Rabindranath Tagore which celebrates the beauty of the female form is Urvashi. This is derived from the ancient Indian myth of the birth of Urvashi (the symbol of eternal beauty), who like the Greek goddess of love, arose from the sea. This poem has received glowing tributes from critics.
Concept of ‘Jivan Devata’ - Besides the conception of God, we find that Rabindranath Tagore had mentioned about ‘Jivan Devata’ in many of his poems. According to Pramatha Nath Bishi, Rabindranath’s ‘Jivan Devata’ is not God. Man has two lives – personal and impersonal. At one place, man is one with the whole creation and at another has individual existence - both of these are real at the same time. ‘Jivan Devata’ is God of this private personal life. Rabindranath Tagore has imagined a deity of his own life who is the main source of inspiration for him. This deity is dwelling in his heart and is guiding his life, every activity and every achievements of him. Thus, Rabindranath Tagore’s God is all, but He is particular also. Jivan Devata of Rabindranath, as being expressed, is not identical with God of popular religious systems. But at the same time, he is not completely different from the ‘Absolute’. The one reality on the one hand expresses himself through the world – his creation, on the other hand he is deity of the poet’s life, his lover, friend and guide. We cannot have proper idea of his real nature if we look at him as separated from the world. In reality, ‘Jivan Devata’ is another form of God of the world. The difference between ‘Jivan Devata’ and the ‘Absolute’ is thus secondary. Tagore’s God is a moving reality. The Creator God makes Himself finite and forms intimate relationship with man. He is dearest to soul, resides inside human mind. Thus, this idea of ‘Jivan Devata’ of the poet is humanistic, but in reality, He is not finite. He willingly makes Himself finite and expresses Himself in many forms though he is without any form. The poet’s ‘Jivan Devata’ in his other aspects, creates the world, expresses Himself through nature; therefore, the poet feels the unity of his soul with the world. ‘Jivan Devata’ is the inspiring force for his world of consciousness, and when this unity of one’s soul with the whole world becomes possible; all imperfections of one’s life vanishes and his life proceeds towards fullness and perfection. Thus, ‘Jivan Devata’ is the connecting bridge between one’s personal and universal life.
‘The Reunion’ (Communion with God) - In ‘Gitanjali’, many poems of Rabindranath Tagore expresses the cry of soul for the reunion with God. Rabindranath Tagore believes that man is a part of God and as he comes from Him, the ultimate end is he will come to God again. Rabindranath Tagore believed in communion with God, he wishes for God’s presence near him, to enjoy His bliss rather than merging into Him. Tagore’s concept of reunion and oneness expresses his wish for His spiritual company, His presence beside him in his boat of spiritual voyage. For him, it is more desirable to finite man to get the company of infinite than to absolutely one with the ‘Supreme’ person. The quest of Rabindranath Tagore begins with this wish of merging into Him, craving for Him and when he realized the truth, the realization of God and his creation, he aspires for divine presence and divine company. Rabindranath Tagore expressed in his later poems in ‘Gitanjali’ that this is after spiritual illumination that man identifies the real heaven. For him, a heaven beyond this world is unintelligible. The heaven may be infinite but it is not absolute. So, this is our good fortune that we have come down to this world due to our virtues. World is a place more desirable than heaven and so a virtuous soul only can come to world. The beauties of the world, the pleasure, pain, happiness and sorrow of the world attract the mind of the poet so much that he did not want to go to a heaven which is a place of eternal happiness, leaving this world. In a poem, the poet said that let there be heaven full of joy, but the world should remain as it is mixed with pleasure and pain. He believed that to believe in separate heaven other than this world is to disbelieve the complete truth of God. God has not created any other world, because to do that, is to create contradiction in truth, which is unique.
Soul and Salvation - Rabindranath Tagore believes in two terms – soul and self (‘atman’ and ‘aham’); which are present in an individual. One true nature of soul is enveloped by narrow finite self in us, which is egoistic, impulsive in nature. Soul is deathless and this self or ‘aham’ is destructible in nature. But the lower self always follows the immortal soul of us. Due to our ignorance or ‘avidya’, we think that to satisfy it and to live the life of self is our ultimate goal of life. But it is our wrong view. To make self the ultimate aim of our life, we are doomed to disappointment like the man who tries to reach his destination by firmly clutching the dust of road. Rabindranath Tagore said that the truth is the atman, the soul, beyond material possessions. Soul is above it, this is the highest truth. When this soul is bounded by selfish desires of narrow self, it loses its significance. Rabindranath Tagore believed that ‘aham’ is created so that man can dedicate it. The poet believed in the importance of self also. He suggested that the real aim of our soul is to unite itself with the world - the soul can find its truth when it unifies with others. So, when it does perceive the unity and harmony which is present between the soul of man and the world, when the true nature of soul is revealed, it gives up itself for the love of mankind.
Rabindranath Tagore’s concept of salvation is totally different from the Advaita conception of salvation; where the individual merges into Brahman and losses its existence. The state of salvation is for them the state of complete absorption, complete merging of the one in the other. Rabindranath did not believe in the conception of ‘mukti’. His works bear the expressions where the separateness between ‘Jiva’ and ‘Brahman’ is ended. He wanted to live communion with God, but never wanted to be identical with Him. Rabindranath looked at the Almighty as his friend and guide sitting beside Him in the boat of spiritual voyage in ‘Gitanjali’. God has created human beings who are His own part and spiritually enlightened man craves for the company with his creator rather than merging into the creator and become one. Rabindranath believed that if one becomes completely merged in the absolute, then how could he enjoy the company of his Divine Lover. Thus, salvation for them is not a state of absolute oneness of soul and God. In Indian philosophical system, it is generally believed that when the soul realizes its real nature and becomes perfect, it rises beyond the chain of birth and death and does not reborn again. But, Rabindranath Tagore wanted to take birth in this world again and again which is the theme of one of his poems in ‘Gitanjali’, where the poet prays for rebirth after death. “Renew his life like a flower under the cover of thy kindly night”. According to Rabindranath Tagore, man takes rebirth so that through the successive births he can become more perfect, but this process goes on forever, as man can never attain complete perfection. Worldly existence is not a bondage for him. If that is bondage, then he wants to accept this bondage willingly and happily as the Creator also joyfully has taken bondage upon himself.
“Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight” – God has manifested himself through the beauties of nature. So, to run away from the universe is to go away from God. Man and world are bound by one thread which cannot tear off; people say that to do that is our ‘mukti’, but Tagore’s philosophy was not under this belief. To practise austerity or meditate sitting in a corner is not the way to get salvation for Rabindranath Tagore. He said, “Salvation in a hermit’s cave? No, not for me, I shall retain a thousand ties and in their midst savour the bliss of liberation”.
The world is the visible expression of God and so to enjoy the beauties of nature through our senses is to feel His presence. Rabindranath never asked for controlling senses but he urged to make one’s sense very strong – “No, I shall never shut the door of my sense. The delight of sight and hearing and touch will bear the delight, yea all my illusions will burn into illumination of joy, and all my desires ripen into fruits of love”. Hence, one can realize God, living in this world and being a member of the society and family. We can live in the active communion of God living in our society through the bonds of love and affection. In one of the poems the great poet expressed this view when at midnight would be ascetic, coming out of home for leaving family and home.
“God sighed and complained, why does my servant wonder to seek me, forsaking me!”. Human life and world are not mirage or obstruction in the way to God’s realization. Man’s salvation lies in freeing his personality from the narrow limitation of selfhood. Man’s ‘aham’ makes him self-centered and all his activities directed to the satisfaction of his own self. His finite nature only is revealed then, but when he rises above his ego, his narrow self is not perished; thus when man’s personality is freed from narrow limitations of self-hood, it attains infinity as he gives up the finiteness in his nature. For Rabindranth Tagore, salvation is not the renunciation of the world, but in perfecting human personality. When we realise divinity in us, we get salvation within this earthly frame. When it realises communion with God, then worldly existence is no bondage for him, for salvation is ‘the eternal bond of union between the infinite souls from which there can be no mukti, because love is ultimate’.