Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Rabindranath's Internationalism

Dr. A. Aronson, Ph. D.

Rabindranath’s Internationalism


(Viswa-Bharati, Santiniketan)

The artist throughout the 19th century was a social outcast; handicapped by the economic uncertainty of his profession and his pathetic lack of social adjustment, he led a truly a-social existence, a glorified escape from the conflicts of social and political evolution into an unreal but delightfully satisfying dreamland of his own creation. The artist today has to take sides if he does not want to get lost in the general turmoil of conflicting ideologies, if he wants to keep his sensibility and conscience intact; for the issues involved in the social and political struggles ofthe last forty years affect the writer in an intensely personal way, one from which there is no escape. That is why some of the most gifted English and French writers went to fight in Spain for a republican democracy; that is why Rabindranath responded both in theory and practice, and in the most consistent way possible, to the social and political life of man. And he responded to it with the whole force of his personality, not as something that lies outside the fanciful occupations of a poet, but as something that concerned him and his art most vitally and directly. He was, however, no politician: to judge him by the standards of a professional politician, his views were appallingly ‘out-of-date’; but in terms of political awareness he saw perhaps deeper into the chaos of political disintegration than any other artist of this century. His political vision was indeed prophetic: for while others fought over irrelevant issues, he put before the world one of the most consistent and certainly one of the most forceful of political programmes.

Tagore’s integration of the universe always started with the ‘soul’, the inner spirit of man; no wonder, therefore, that his social consciousness was based upon the belief that there is a spiritual unity among men transcending the narrow frontiers of self-centered individualism and nationalism. Political issues, of whatever kind they may be, can be solved only with reference to, and in terms of, the ultimate unity ofthe spirit that pervades al1 men. Confronted by the destructive ideologies and political aspirations of our age, we have to go to the first and primal ‘truth’ of our existence, the human soul "To me the mere political necessity is unimportant; it is for the sake of our humanity, for the full growth of our soul, what we must turn our minds towards the ideal of the spiritual unity of man." 1 It would, however, be wrong to assume that Rabindranath, in emphasising the inner spirit of man, lost sight of the creative significance of social and political conflicts. Conflicts there must be, as there must be darkness before the creation of light; the ‘path of struggle and travail’ leads upward towards final fulfillment, although human beings have first to pass 'through cyclic darkness and doubt'. For life, and least of all social life, is not a harmonious whole, a pre-established unity, and abstract and conflictless entity. In both harmony and disharmony, war and peace, there is ‘truth’: "....they seem to hurt each other, like the fingers and the strings; but this very contradiction produces music. When only one predominates, there is sterility of silence. Our problem is not only whether we should have war or peace, but how to harmonise them perfectly."2

The conflict between the individual in his spiritual isolation and the community, in which he lives, produces social consciousness and awareness of the most intense type. The individual is all the time oppressed and besieged by invisible forces from outside, forces that emanate from political bodies and institutions, preventing him from a free expression of his own individual self. The individual, that is, the ‘complete man’, is being continually sacrificed to some conventional morality and to that hideous man-made demon which, Tagore calls the ‘nation’.

The implications of such an attitude can be realised only if we understand what Rabindranath meant by ‘nation’. He was no, anarchist; and yet, a nation, as he conceived it, was to him essentially an administrative body for the purpose of satisfying the human lust for power and wealth. But within the nation there are ‘the people’, composed of feeling and thinking human beings, struggling for certainty and truth in the mediocrity of their lives. They are deeply rooted in the soil that produced them; they are culturally and spiritually, and even physically, part of that good earth on which they happen to live. They have a ‘personality’ of their own which is subject to the inner rhythm of birth, growth and decay. They live and create: "The nature of the people depends for its manifestation upon its creative personality. It has religion, arts, literature, traditions of social responsibility and co-operation. Its wealth to maintain itself and power of defence are secondary; they are not the ultimate ends for the people. But the Nation manifests itself in its property. The people present life, the nation materials."3

Rabindranath, inthis quotation, substitutes a living reality (the people) for an abstraction (the state). If we study carefully the intellectual tendencies of recent years in Europe, we shall come across a similar dissatisfaction with abstract concepts, both in the social sciences and in literature. Modern sociology has rejected the unreal political formulas of the past in favour of a new synthetic approach to social phenomena. What indeed is the state, asks the sociologist, if it is not composed of human beings; what is a political unit if not a living and ever-changing organism consisting of the hopes and aspirations, the failures and dreams of individuals? In literature we had the recent revival of the national ‘saga’, the ‘epic’ novel in which the attempt is being made to depict the growth and development of particular social units or nations in terms of individual experiences; we have Galsworthy’s Forsyte Saga in England, Jules Romains’ Men of Good Will in France, and John Dos Passos’ Trilogy U.S.A. in America. Rabindranath was, perhaps, the first to express in inspired language what both sociologists and writers in the West realised much later, and what, incidentally, Aldous Huxley formulated inone of his recent books: "The monstrous evils which arise when remote abstractions, like ‘nation’ and ‘state’ are regarded as realities more concrete and of greater significance than human beings may be remedied, in some measure, by the insistence on the relative concreteness of individual men and women." 4 It is surprising to find that some of the most ‘intellectual’ writers in Europe have come to exactly the same conclusions as Rabindranath, although they founded their theories on Science rather than on Intuition. Their analysis of scientific progress during the last century led them straight to the point where Rabindranath started: a state has to be either morally good or morally bad; the only standards therefore which we can apply in our judgment of a state are moral standards; and these standards have been supplied to us by the greatest religious teachers in this world: "And if we want to make a reasonable assessment of the value of any given state, we must judge it in terms of the highest morality we know-in other words, we must judge it in the light of the ideal postulates formulated by the prophets and the founders of religion."5 Therefore, if we come to the conclusion that economic reforms are necessary, we have first to create the proper context; this context, however, can only be created if we change our ‘metaphysical and ethical beliefs’. Although most of the available beliefs of the past have been shattered in the West, Huxley’s arguments are fundamentally based on religious experiences (supplemented as they are, of course, by scientific investigation and analysis). The following quotation from the same book shows the remarkable manner in which Rabindranath formulated what Western writers took up a decade later: the urgent necessity to go to the primal and elemental experience of human life, religion:

"Religion, is among many other things, a system of education, by means of which human beings may train themselves, first, to make desirable changes in their own personalities, and, at one remove, in society, and, in the second place, to heighten consciousness and so establish more adequate relations between themselves and the universe of which they are parts."6

This is not a coincidence. Both in sociology and literature we find the new awareness that human relationships can be established in only between individuals, or ‘the people’, as Rabindranath says, not between Nation and Nation. Rabindranath always took for granted that there is among human beings a genuine desire for such human relationships, not so much from a sense of fear and for the sake of self-protection, as rather from an inner and primal urge that must be fulfilled. The only obstacle to such an internationalism (based as it is on the spiritual unity of man) is the nation. For an internationalism that should be truly creative knows no frontiers either spiritual or geographical. Rabindranath translates this ‘creative internationalism’, with the Sanskrit word ‘dharma’, the principle "which holds us firm together and leads us to our best welfare". A civilisation which represents not only a Nation or even several Nations, but ‘the people’ expresses this ‘dharma’ in the social and political lifeof man. A civilisation (and Rabindranath never conceived of a civilisation but as international) is no mere organisation like the League of Nations. It is like a livingpersonality, continually creating everything anew: "A civilisation remains healthy and strong as longas it contains in its centre some creative ideal that binds itsmembers in a rhythm of relationship. It is a relationship which is beautiful and not merely utilitarian." 7

The ‘power’ of a Nation should lie in the creative strength of the people. Onlyifall the individuals that constitute the people grow and mature "in the atmosphere of a profound knowledge of their own country", can they assimilate foreign cultures and become part of a civilisation which transgresses their national boundaries. Should‘dharma’ become the expression of both individual and collective perfection, then indeed "itis a moral duty for every race to cultivate strength, so as to be able to help the world’s balance of power to remain even".8 Intellectual co-operation willbecome meaningful only after allthe races of the world have established an inner equilibrium between themselves, a creative interchange of both ideas and materials. Rabindranath, more than anyone else, realised the opportunities that lie instore for India as a national meeting-place between the East and the West. And despite frequent disappointments as regards his own countrymen and the British community inIndia, he never gave up hope that, out of the cultural and political chaos of the present, a new enlightenment may come which wouldlead human beings towards a sane and creative civilisation in which both the East and the West wouldhave their due share. A healthy assimilation of a foreign culture, that isof foreign attitudes of mind and beliefs, can and shouldinfuse new bloodand new strength intothe people: "Though our assimilation of it (European culture) is imperfect and the consequent aberrations numerous, still it isrousing our intellectuallife from itsinertia of former habits into growing consciousness by the very contradiction it offers to our mental traditions."9

There are many instances in human history of great philosophers and sages who felt withinthemselvesthe inner urge to communicate their thoughts through the medium of education. The realisation of Rabindranath’s political and social ideals had to start withthe individual, the child. He had to take the growing human being out of his narrow context of contemporary society and isolate him from all political contagion. He furthermore had to instill into him an awareness of social and political conflicts by letting him live his own life in utter individual isolation and yet within the framework of a community in which, the ‘dharma’, the unity of spiritual life, was continually emphasised. His social consciousness had to be sharpened by coming in contact with the strength of foreign cultures, and yet his personal self should never be chained down to narrow party politics and discipline. Santiniketan, in this sense, was never meant to be an escape from politics; it rather represents Rabindranath’s own political courage of conviction, and his unshakable belief that, above and beyond the nation, there are human relationships that will create a new social outlook, a new creative urge of the people, a new ‘dharma’.

1 Tagore East and West, 1935, p.51.

2 Letters to a Friend, 1928, p. 66.

3 "International Relations," A lecture delivered in Japan (Viswa-Bharati Quarterly, Vol. II/4, Jan.1925).

4 Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means, 1937, p. 255.

5 Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means, 1937, p. 58.

6 Ibid., p. 225.

7 "Civilisation and Progress," in Talks in China, 1924, p. 135.

8 Letters to a Friend, p. 62.

9 Ibid., p. 100.

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