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RABINDRANATH: A VISIONARY

The word 'KAVI' doesnot merely


meana writer of poems,but a personwho is kntrwledgeable,a philosopher,
a visionary. There can be no doubt that Rabindranathwas one of the greatest
'KAVI' of all ages.
A poemis difficult to translate.A songis not translatable.
Rabindranath'slyrical geniuscan be comprehendedonly when he is read in
the original. Howeverfranscendingatl barriers of time and space,what
reachesus in Fanslationis his philosophyandvision. It was this very vision,
which stirred the heartsof the likes of Yeats.
To understandRabindranath'sphilosophy and the world-view it
givesrise to, lets first look at two world-views,which are widely accepted.
One is materialistic, mechanistic.It regardsonly matter and its
laws as real. It is the one held by most scientistseventoday. Henceits
purportedname,the Scientific world-view. The otherregardsonly spirit as
real and the materialworld as unreal.Most mysticsof all ageshave
professedit. For brevity, we will call it the spiritual world-yiew.
Obviously,in theseextremeforms, the two are completelycontradictory.
Our name 'Scientific' and 'Spiritual' for themrefer to the above-mentioned
extremestandstakenby mostpractitionersof the respectivedisciplines.

THE SCIENTIFIC WORLD-VIEW

Of all humanactivities,Sciencetoday occupiescenter-stage.


No other enterprisegivesus so much power to conffol and changenature.
The scientific methodinvolves&e processof abstraction.As far aspossible,
it seversthe connectionsof entity being observedfrom everythingelse.This
evenincludesthe consciousobservingmind.
This cutting out of the mind makesthe scientific picture of the
world necessarilydeficient.Sglsdinger,one of &e architectsof twentieth
centuryphysicssays:o_ I believeit to be tue that I actually do cut out
my mind when I construcrthe real world aroundme. And I am not awareof
this cutting out. And then, I am very astonishedthat the scientific picture of
the world is very deficient. It gives me a lot of factual information, puts all
our experiencein a magnificently consistentorder, but it is ghastly silent
about all and sundrythat is really near to our heart,that really mattersto us.
It cannot tell us a word aboutred and blue, biuer and sweet,physical pain
and delight; it knows nothing of beautiful and ugly, good or bad, god and
etendty. _' (Scrodinger:Nafire and the Cneeksp. 95 Cambridge;
emphasismine.)
This very cutting out of the mind createsalienation.It leadsto
an illusion of an objectively existingreality independentof us, the conscious
observers.We then feel that naturebeing outside us can be changedand
molded io any mannerwithout feeling the reciprocal effect. More
astonishingly,we tend to forget that mind and hence consciousnesshas been
excludedfrom the scientific picture from the very beginning.We try to
identifu it with matter and explain it in terms of physical laws. Obviously,
such attemptsfail.
The mechanisticoutlook has led to great material progress.
However, it has also createdacuteproblemsin virtually all walks of life. At
individual level, it has resultedin degradationof health, both physical and
psychological.At the level of the societyas a whole, it hasled peopleto set
wrong priorities in industy, economics,environmentalpolicies etc.

THE SPIRITUAL WORLD.VIEW

As professedby mostmystics,the spiritual world-viewnegates


everythingmaterial as unreal. It regardsonly spiritual experienceastrue. As
a result,the mysticstend to neglectscience.However,on a closelook, we
can say,their conceptof so-called'pure' Brahmanor Afinan separatefrom
matter is also an abstraction.It is certainly not what Upanishadssuggest.In
fact, itis probably emptier in its contentthan purely materialistic view of the
world. Radhakrisnan says'____people look upon the soulas a sort of
jack-in-the{ox, somehowthe chief agentof all activities. _. Another
misconceptionof the Upanishaddefinition of the soul _ is that which
regardsthe Atnan as an abstractunity excluding all the differences.If it is
so, it is certainlya nonentity. _ _ _ _' (S.Radhakrishnan:
Indian Philosophy:
Vol. l, p.384,385.)
Rabindranathwas however intellectually far more
perceptivethan both such scientistsand mystics taking the extremestands.

TAGORE AND SCIENCE

Rabindranathwas keenly awareofthe limitations ofthe


scientific method.For the analytical featureof this method,he had this to
say: ' By pluckingher petals,you do not gatherthe beautyof a flower.'(R.
T.: StrayBirds).
We can statehis position thus:
The existenceof the Universe is bound with us, the conscious
and perceirriogbeings.Like all other enterprises,scie,lrceis necessarilya
human enterprise.The reality it talks about is NOT a pre-existingone, but
the one CONSTUCTEDby the humansand the,trvoare inseparable.
He expressedhis conviction in his conversationswith Einstein
in 1930:'this world is a humanworld; the scientificview of it is alsothat of
scientificman.'
The idea of a passivelyflowing time, which was very much
current in Physicsin Tagore'sdayswas anathemato him. He believed in
active role of ahuman being in determining his own future. In his own
words: 'Time is a wealth of change.But clock in its parodymakesit mere
changeand no wealth.(R. T.: StrayBirds.)
His insight showshim to be far aheadof his times.The
scientific developme,ntespeciallyafter his deathtestifieshis convictions.
The Nobel laureatescientistIlya Prigoginewith his researchon Chaoshas
shown limitations of deterministic,mechanistic world-view. In his book
'Order out of Chaos'he hasthis to say about Tagore'sconversationswith
Einstein:'Curiously enough,the presentevolutionof scienceis running in
the direction statedby the greatIndian poet.'
Regardingthe modernconceptionof time in science,he says:
'In a Universe in which tomorrow is not continued in today, time is to be
constructed.(In 'Only an lllusion': Lecture given at J.N.U.,Delhi 1982.)
In his profoundbook 'Doing Physics',Martin Krieger
expressesfollowing opinionaboutnature of sciencein generaland Physics
in particular.
'I am claiming aswell that Physicsis subjectto a cultural
analysis.Its technicalfeaturesno matter how mathematicalor mechanistic
are subjectto the kinds of interpretation perfonned by critics of literature
and art and by archeologistsand anthropologists Scienceis subject
to the s€lmekind of discoursethat other hrman activities are subjectto,
whateverclaimsto truth eachmaymake.' (Emphasismine.)
While concludinghis book, he says:'Ratherthan a traditional
epistemologybasedon sightand on passiveobjects,here(in physics)the
epistemologyis basedon touch and grasp- in effect working with your
hands.'
The parallel with Rabindranath'sthinking is obvious.
Tagore never disregardedscience.(He wrote one of the first
scienceprimers in Bengali: 'Vishva Parichay'. He was the first in India to
promote modern agricultural methodsat his Sriniketan.)However he
opposedthe notion of the scientiststhat the experimentallydsmonstrable
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truth was the only truth and the resultant monopoly over truth that they
claimed.

TAGORE AND SPIRITUALITY

'I feel the embraceof freedomin the thousandbondssf dslight


I will nevershutthe doorsof my ssnses.'
Rabindranathnever supportedany religious dosma under the
grnseof spirituality. In fact, he always rebelled againstrigid structuresin all
walks of life. (SeeWilliam Radicein his introductionto R. T.: Selected
poems;p.19, 20, Penguin)The materialworld for him was real. The ideal of
Individual Moksha as statedby most mystics never attractedhim. He firmty
believed that nothing worthwbile could be achievedin isolation. This is
clearly brought out inmany of his poerns.Considerthis one:
'Deliverance?Where is this deliveranceto be found? Our
masterhimself hasjoyfully taken upon him the bondsof creation; he is
bound with us all forever.
Come out of thy meditations and leaveasidethy flowers and
incense!What harm is thereif thy cloths becometatteredand stained?Meet
him and standby him in toil and in sweatof thy brow.' (Gtanjali: Poem I 1)

TAGORE'S VISION

Rabindranathwas keenly awareof the dualities that are the


essenceof all life, whetherthey about body and mind, world and spirit,
etemal and temporal, infinite and finite or transcendentand immanent.He
himself defined them to be tke main subject of all his writings. This is
beautifully expressedin oneof his poems:
Incenseyearnsto disappearin scent,
Scent19glingto incense.
Melody seeksto fetter herself in rhythm,
While the rhythm flows back to melody.
Idea seeksits body in form,
Form its freedomin the idea.
The infinite seeksthe touch of the finite,
The finite its releasein the infinite.
What dralnais this between creationand destruction-
This ceaselessto and fro betweenidea and form?
Bondageis striving after freedom,
And freedomseekingrestinbondage.
Thesedualities are notto be looked upon as contradictory.All
the creationin the Universe has beenpossiblethrough harmonizing of such
contraryforces.
'Creation is the harmonyof contrary forces- the forces of
attraction and repulsion. When theyjoin hands,all the fire and fight are
changedinto the smile of flowers andthe songsof birds. When thereis only
one of them triumphant and the other defeated,then either there is the death
of cold rigtdity or that of suicidalexplosion.'(R.T.: CreativeUnity, p. 68;
Rupa: 2402)
In his own works, Rabindranathalwaystried to achievethis
harrnony.
'_ _ _ _ all my writings have dwelt (with the subject of) the delight of
attainingthe infinite within the finite _' (R.T.: My Reminiscences.)
He was not an ivory tower thinker and alwaystried to put his
ideasin practice.One hasjust to considerthe reforms he initiatedon his
Zamndai, his work at Shantiniketanand Sriniketan and the efforts he took
for Visva-Bharati till the very end of his life.

TAGORE'S RELEVANCE TODAY

Rabindranath'swritings were free creationsof a genius.Surely


they were not written to give any specificmessage.However,today's
situation makesthem infinitely more relevant than the time when they were
written.
Human societyhas facedproblemsin all ages.However,what
is new and dangerousis the alienationcreatedby the now obsolete
mechanisticworld-view. It hasmademanyproblemsmore acuteinsteadof
solving them. Also, it has glven rise to many new onesthrough wrong
models of development.On the other hand, sterile spirituality has
inadvertently impaired humaninitiative in solving them. What is neededfor
their s,olutionis scientific as well as rynnpatheticunderstanding,
harmonizing scienceand spirituality.
Rabindranath'swritings assureus that humanbeingsdo possess
the free creativemind necessaryfor suchharmonizing. He regardedhuman
creativity to be counterpart of the creativity of the Universe as a whole. This
along with the central role he assignedto human beings in shapingtheir own
Universeconstitutedwhat he calledasthe 'Religion of Man' or 'Poet's
Religion.' It gives us the freedomto make or break our own future. We will
not break it if while using it we hannonizeit with the limitations we have at
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the material level, that is, if we alwayskeep in mind our position in and our
connectednesswith the whole Universe.

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