The Wisdom of Tagore
Tagore - The Big Vision
The Wisdom of Tagore
by Satish Kumar
Cover: Image courtesy: British Museum © Artist's Estate/Bridgeman Art Library
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Resurgence has always been inspired by the life and work of Rabindranath Tagore.
In this special issue we pay tribute to Rabindranath Tagore on the 150th anniversary of his birth and take the opportunity to acknowledge the inspiration we still get from him – an inspiration that has always been the guiding presence behind the scenes at Resurgence, but never before articulated. And we do more than that. We recognise the relevance of Tagore’s wisdom for our time; we celebrate and share his ideals and aspirations of harmony, wholeness and integrity to which he dedicated his whole life, and we introduce his poetry, his plays and his paintings.
Tagore’s many songs and stories inspired courage and commitment to act and transform human consciousness and can do the same today. He practised art not for art’s sake, not even as a way of self-expression, least of all just for entertainment. His art was an offering to elucidate the deep meaning of life and to heal the soul. As a master of his craft, Tagore combined the purity of poetry with a purpose for living. He not only healed the sorrow and suffering which he had experienced due to death, depression and disappointment in his own life but he worked too to heal the wounds of injustice and inequality within Indian society.
For Tagore there was no point in writing if it did not lift the human spirit and restore human dignity. Like an alchemist, he turned his base emotions of anger, irritation and rage into the gold of poetry, and through his inspiring songs he transformed social inertia into hope and action. He urged us to rise above our petty identity of race, colour, religion and nation and to identify with our common humanity. He travelled tirelessly from America to Russia, from China to Argentina, proclaiming the oneness of humanity and the paramount importance of freedom, justice and peace. He inspired millions of his countrymen and women to renounce their narrow self-interest and throw away their caste prejudices in order to embrace equality, solidarity and morality. He shunned self-indulgence and worked tirelessly as a healer of social divisions. In particular he tried to heal the split between science and spirituality.
Tagore articulated perennial wisdom and timeless values in word and in action, while seeking truth through science and reason. One of his greatest insights was to affirm that there really is no rift or conflict between reason and religion. He questioned the wisdom of restricting ourselves to one discipline or another – either to reason or religion – when we can enjoy the benefits of both. That is why he was in dialogue with the physicists Heisenberg and Einstein, whilst continuing to study the Upanishads. For Tagore science and spirituality were two sides of the same coin.
He worked for the outer development of human communities through improved agriculture, good schools, comfortable economic conditions, and a better standard of life, but at the same time he emphasised inner development through the renewal of the spirit, caring for the soul, nourishing the heart and nurturing the imagination.
In Tagore’s vision, growth in science, technology and material wellbeing should go hand in hand with spiritual growth. One without the other is like walking on one leg. This balanced and holistic worldview is needed now more than ever, as it is a prerequisite for a sustainable and resilient future for us and for coming generations. Pure reason and pure materialism are as doomed as the pursuit of purely personal salvation. The worldview of Tagore is seeing the unity of reason and religion, spirit and matter and letting them dance together. This is the big vision where science complements spirituality, art complements ecology and freedom complements equality.
Shelley wrote, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Tagore was that. His vision has inspired Resurgence for the past 45 years. Rather than being a single-issue magazine, Resurgence has always integrated the multi faceted nature of human existence. This is why we publish poetry alongside politics, imagination alongside economics and criticism alongside creativity. While we report the actions and thoughts of the activists engaged in the care of the outer landscape, we also highlight the practice and philosophy of people engaged in the enhancement of the inner landscape.
We have been and will always be inspired by the life and work of Tagore, and we are proud to celebrate that life and its continued relevance in the pages of this special issue of the magazine.