Dr. Jyots Bhattacharjee
Nobel laureate Rabindrath Tagore needs no introduction. The whole world is aware that he is one of the greatest poets the world has ever produced. Yet many of his admirers are oblivious of the deep philosophical views expressed through his poetry. His philosophy revolved round mankind, which is known as ‘Humanism’.
The word ‘Humanism’ comes from its Latin root ‘Humanitus’, which implies a search for perfection of the human soul and the development of the full potential of man. Humanism states that in each human soul there is a great power, which can be awakened and inspired to reach the ideal of perfection. Humanism is not a novel idea. Many thinkers, intellectuals and philosophers in Europe were influenced by the concept of Humanism as early as 24th century. Their inspiring thought, religion and activities helped in freeing man from rrow religious superstitions and rigid social bindings.
In India about five hundred years ago Lord Chaitanya stated that the way to God is through love of mankind. His followers realized that God could be reached through friendship, love and devotion. That is, the love of God was expressed by love of man and it led to the eterl truth preached by Chandidas that ‘man is the greatest truth and there is nobody above him’ (savar uuporey manush satya, tahar uporey i).
At the beginning of 19th century the French philosopher Comte in his theory of Humanism put man in place of God, and he rejected the concept of a divine being as the basis of creation and evolution. The philosophical and religious theories put forward by other philosophers were rejected by him as irrelevant. He had great faith in science, which for him was the only acceptable measure of all alysis and investigations. Yet he firmly believed that religion is intimately and inexorably related to man. For Comte, religious life is centred on humanity. ture is indifferent to man’s existence and development— or life’s woes. Man, with his infinite strength, has conquered the adverse elements and with his own power a made has made enormous development in the path of progress. Individual human beings may succumb to death, but the concept of Humanity with its high values is immortal. Humanity is God according to Comte and man has to sacrifice everything in its altar.
Rabindrath’s poems, especially those written in his later life, reflect his philosophy of Humanism by pointing out the divinity in man. The same view can be seen in some of his stories and articles. In 1930 he was invited to deliver the Hubert lectures by the University of Oxford. The main theme of his lectures was ‘Divinity in Man’. These lectures were later complied in his book, ‘The Religion of Man’. In this book the poet has clearly stated— “Religion inevitably concentrates itself on humanity, which illumites our reason, inspires our wisdom, stimulates our love and claims our intelligent service”. Religion was the very basis of his life and his religion was the poet’s religion. As he said, “My religion is essentially a poet’s religion. Its touch comes to me through the same unseen trackless channels as does the inspiration of my music. My religious life follows the same mysterious line of growth as has my poetical life. His spiritualistic philosophy was established through diverse experiences of life. Rabindrath declared that self can be realized through self-struggle. From individual body to community, from community to universe, from universe to infinity— this is the soul’s normal progress.
He was not at all excited at the prospect of the realization of some transcendent God, as he believed that it is more logical to make contact with God through man. For him the people are not negligible multiplicity— but they are incartions of God. Therefore he emphatically stated that is it meaningless to search for God in the temples— rather he can be found in the common man.
The Existentialists also believed in the supremacy of man and they asserted that man’s destiny lies in his own hands and he has to determine his own path. Humanism implies that man himself has to develop his intrinsic power to its fullest extent. Kierkegaard has remarked that philosophy should deal with the process of getting liberation from persol problems of complexity instead of attempting to solve the mysteries of the universe. Rabindrath too searched for the means to free him from life’s turmoil. But for him the anxiety and fear are not the fundamental feature of humanity— as was stated by the Existentialists. He believed that in life there is always a gleam of light, and this light reflects the process of man’s unity with the Infinite, but it does not mean that the persol being should be discarded. Therefore, without discarding the persol ‘I’ one should search for the Infinite in himself.
Lord Buddha stated that man is not an inferior entity, dependent on some God’s benevolence. Rabindrath, even in his direst needs, did not beg for God’s favour, but he attempted to awaken his power within himself to conquer sorrow and suffering. But his path is different from that of Buddha. While Buddha asked man to sacrifice all his desires to attain ‘Nirva’, Rabindrath never advocated the path of asceticism. For him life should follow the path of joy and not of austerity. We see three distinct phases in his philosophy of Humanism. In the first phase there is a struggle to know himself in the face of life’s adversities— and emerging triumphant in his mission, meditation for self- awakening, and a restless craving for self-manifestation. These three stages mark his early philosophy on Humanism.
In 1913 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature and the poet, in his turn, presented to the world a new kind of spiritual awareness— that is his religion of humanity, with which man could cross his rrow boundary of space and time. Discarding his rrow covering of individuality, he realizes the ideal man within himself through knowledge, activity and love.
The poet realized that the nectar of love removes the transitoriness of man and he comes in contact with universal humanity. After this self-realization the individual man realizes that there is no difference between man and man. Rabindrath also said that man is the eterl truth despite persol man being impermanent. He declared, “Religion inevitably concentrates on Humanity, which illumines our reason, inspires our wisdom and stimulates our love”. He believed that it is easy to worship an exterl God and perform all the rituals to propitiate Him— but very difficult to grasp the absolute man. As he said, “I don’t want to create a God to worship— but I am trying to attain the iccessible liberation from within”. His idea of human existence was so extensive that he could not imagine a world without man. The ture of the world depends on humanity and man can reach the eterl man within himself. He stated, “Let us seek the religion of this and other people— not in their gods, but in man, who dreamed of his own infinity and majestically worked for all time, defying danger and death”. In another passage he said “He (the man) is out to find himself. Man’s history is the history of the journey to the unknown in quest of his realization of his immortal self’.
Man’s life is an eterl search for the absolute man. Individual men are different from one another. But the Absolute Man situated in each individual man unites the mankind and leads them towards an ideal. The absolute man resides in each individual man and yet goes beyond it.
Sat-cit and and are the special characteristics of God and all these specialties remain in man potentially. Rabindrath calls this absolute man ‘Mav Brahma’, which is not an upanishadic God— or a flesh and blood God— but he is the highest ideal of humanity. This ideal man cannot be conceived without the individual man.
The Humanism of Rabindrath was chiefly a Truth attained in his deep spiritual realization. He accepted the scientific theory on creation and evolution, but he used philosophical vision in order to have a complete understanding of man and the world. After studying the harsh alysis of science and dry logic of philosophy, Rabindrath established a religion— at once comprehensible and heart-warming. He declared than man is the right object of love and worship. He also believed that God manifests himself amongst the poor and deprived. May be, this was the concept which Jesus Christ expressed in his message, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven”.
Common people, even without any knowledge of philosophy, have an idea of Humanism. We are familiar with the general concept of ‘rarayan’— which implies the identity of man with God. Then there is the concept of “Daridrarayan”— that is, God is found amongst the poor. These expressions imply that God can be served by serving man— specially the poor.
In western concept of Humanism, the influence of science over philosophy and religion is noticeable. For instance, Comte remarked that philosophical and religious speculations cannot throw any light on Truth, and only science can explain the phenomel world. In place of prevailing religions, he established a social religion, according to which man should replace the notion of a transcendent God and welfare or humanity is the goal of any religion. But Indian Humanism believes that whatever theory we may accept, there is no reason to disbelieve God. Rabindrath’s Humanism too is based on his deep faith on God. In his theory we find a strong and fervent desire to serve God through mankind and hence it is more appealing and inspiring. He said, “—whatever character our theology may ascribe to Him, in reality He is the infinite ideal of man towards whom men move in their collective growth”.