Rabindranath Tagore

The philosophical teachings of Tagore became popular all over the world not only because of literary beauty but also on account of the lofty ideas they contain. Some of the key elements of his philosophy are as follows;

God – Tagore is a non-dualist but not like Sankara. The absolute is a person, a creative person which acts and creates, whom we can love and be loved. Limitation of the Unlimited is personality of God. God is everything, but not everything is equally God. To realize God as the Supreme person is our destiny, one has to know true nature of oneself, which is oneness with God by overcoming illusion and ignorance through a genuine love of God.

Love – Love is more important than knowledge. In knowledge, the distinctions are either kept separate or completely dissolved in a rare unity. But in love, the lover and the beloved are distinguished, yet united. Love retains both unity and difference. The Supreme Person creates human beings in order to realize the bliss of love, which is possible only if lover and beloved are separate beings.

Nature and Human Being – Nature is created both as human’s home and also as an instrument which, through its beauty, awakens the human heart and directs it towards the Beloved (the Supreme). Just as an artist creates a work of art both to express and evoke a certain mood (rasa), God creates the world of nature to evoke love in the human being. Like the lotus, which has its roots in mud but its flower in clear sunlight, human has a finite pole in the world of necessity and an infinite pole in aspirations towards divinity.

Knowledge – True knowledge is a knowledge of things in their relation to the universe, a knowledge that retains the distinctions and yet grasps them in their unity. Human has three sources of knowledge which are as follows;

    • Senses – Human knows the world through the senses.
    • Intellect – Human discovers science and logic-centred philosophy by intellect.
    • Feeling – Human discovers the Supreme Person by feeling.

Sadhna – It means true realization of life which leads to love of self to love of others. To love God is to love the entire creation moving from duality to unity. The ideal human being fulfills the demands of life and meets all his social obligations. The path of renunciation is not an ideal. For those entirely engrossed in the world and those who renounce the world are equally doomed.

Religion – Tagore advocated the religion of humanity. A person must live by one’s dharma. True religion is love, harmony, simplicity. “While God waits for his temple to be built of love, men bring stones.” He also wrote against idolatry, superstition, and religious fanaticism. We must go beyond all narrow bounds and look towards the day when Budha, Christ and Mohammad will become one.”

Social Philosophy – The human must engage both externally in coping with nature and internally in developing spiritually. Tagore did fight against the evils of his society such as poverty, superstition, untouchability but did not find the West to be the source of all evil. He welcomed Western science and Western beliefs in individual worth, freedom, and democracy. He believed that nationalism deteriorated from patriotism to chauvinism.

Education – In his view, the traditional schools imprison children who are born with a power to be happy and to make others happy. Hence, he started a model-school after the ancient hermitage schools of India – santiniketan (the abode of peace). A garden and a handicraft shop were attached to the school. His ecological concerns were manifested in his tree planting programmes. He also widened his educational commitment by founding a university – Visva Bharati – where he promoted an international culture of unity in diversity.

Gandhi & Tagore – Similarities

  • Both are critical of modernity which promotes a materialistic approach to life.
  • They both lay stress on the spiritual dimension of life as the distinguishing mark of humankind.
  • They both emphasize the need of living in tune with nature and thus they clamor for environmental protection.
  • They both had enormous influence from other cultures and religions. In fact, they both have been criticized that they had borrowed many concepts from other religions.
  • Their ideas are indeed expressions of the Indian ideal of philosophy and religion, restated to meet the needs of modern times.