Tagore Speaks online section B3

Copyright © Christine Marsh 2016

3: Personality (1917)

The key word to these three volumes, and indeed to all Tagore’s work, is freedom, or the free development of personality; their inspiration is that of all our greatest modern poets and thinkers, the brotherhood of man. All systems that create classes or castes, as in India, or nations, as the West, are non-spiritual, for they divide, not unite, men, and out of this division proceed all organised strikes and wars. Old barbaric conquerors passed over a land with all the glittering array of war, and were an evil which could be survived, but in the modern world the perfection of system has reduced even the conquerors to slavery, and trade unions, political parties, and peoples are moved by the touching of a button. (Review of My Reminiscences, Personality, Nationalism)[1]

During this year 1915 we were so completely outside the range and area of the war, in our isolation in India itself, that its horrors gradually tended to recede into the background of our minds; but the greater thoughts which had been awakened so painfully during the previous year, owing to the war itself—such as the problem of human suffering; the possibility of complete human brotherhood; the meeting of East and West in common fellowship—these were more present than ever before. Our talks together, while I was in the nursing-home in Calcutta, were continually about these problems. They remained deep in the subconscious mind of the Poet all through this year. At the same time, the whole burden of the school work at Santiniketan fell upon his shoulders and he threw himself into every detail of it with his own characteristic energy and determination. (C.F. Andrews )[2]

The second and third of Tagore’s books of English essays, Personality and Nationalism, were published a few months apart in 1917.[3] One well-known biography ignores Personality altogether because it was overshadowed by Nationalism, the more controversial work.[4] Other studies of Tagore’s life and work scarcely mention Personality. It has since been regarded as ‘a lesser known book of essays’, the phrase used by Bengali painter and journalist, Barun Roy, who attended a major exhibition of Tagore’s paintings in New York in 2011 and combined this with a visit to his daughter. He was struck by the coincidence of discovering that she owned a copy of Tagore’s Personality published by ‘Macmillan of New York in March 1917’, with a stamp marking it as a review copy and the name J. Edgar Park on the flyleaf. She had picked the book up in a used-book store in Boston, and Roy found that Reverend Park was a popular preacher in the Boston area, and a writer of books and articles on religious topics, hence his receiving a review copy, which must now be very rare. There was a 1924 newspaper clipping inside the book headed ‘People and Nation’ and Roy observes that Park ‘must have found in Tagore’s observations echoes of his own spiritual beliefs’.[5]

Roy’s ‘chance discovery’ was my own chance discovery on the internet, and this is the first of the stories and anecdotes I weave into this chapter about Personality, to try to bring back the colour of Tagore’s own personality into the cold print of the book. There are three main characters besides Tagore in these stories. Two of these are Tagore’s close friends, the painter William Rothenstein, who corresponded with Tagore for over thirty years, and the Christian missionary Charles Freer (‘Charlie’) Andrews, who became Tagore’s partner at Santiniketan for a similar period, and to whom both Personality and Nationalism were dedicated.[6] The third main character is F.B. Jevons (1858-1936), professor of philosophy at the University of Durham, who had a particular interest in how religious and philosophical conceptions developed from ancient times.[7] Jevons is of interest for the article he wrote about Personality in 1918 entitled ‘Sir Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Philosopher’.[8] As we shall see, Jevons subjects the book to a meticulous analysis, despite Tagore saying early on in the book that abstract approaches cannot reach the ‘world of reality’ he is writing about.[9] The effect of Jevons’ process is that he overlooks and discards the words for the feelings which Tagore puts into his writing. While Jevons recognises the importance of the emotions for Tagore, he seems not to have been moved towards the understanding Tagore hoped to convey to his western audiences.

In Passage to America, Sujit Mukherjee refers to a statement in the authorised Tagore biography that Tagore wrote the papers later to be collected in Personality on his way from India to Japan in May 1916, and the lectures of Nationalism during his stay in Japan.[10] Tagore went to Japan in 1916 following urgings from his friend Okakura Kakuzo, who had shared the poet’s mission, as Stephen Hay put it, ‘to revitalize their countries’ cultural traditions at a time when Western influences seemed to threaten their very existence’.[11] Both men thought that a pan-Asian collaboration was needed to restrain western ambitions.

Andrews accompanied Tagore on the voyage to Japan and stated that Tagore began writing the nationalism talks ‘in Japan at a white heat’.[12] During the voyage to Japan, their talks in 1915 about ‘the problem of human suffering; the possibility of complete human brotherhood; the meeting of East and West in common fellowship’ would surely have continued. Andrews was a devout Christian, whose tender hearted efforts to ease human suffering led him to being dubbed ‘the friend of the poor’.[13] Tagore too wanted to bring an end to human suffering, not with short term remedies but by changing society. He was more interested in the causes of suffering through history, as we can see from a passage in the second essay ‘The World of Personality’:

[T]he one cry of the personal man has been to know the Supreme Person. From the beginning of his history man has been feeling the touch of personality in all creation, and trying to give it names and forms, weaving it in legends round his life and the life of his races, offering it worship and establishing relations with it through countless forms of ceremonial. This feeling of the touch of personality has given the centrifugal impulse in man’s heart to break out in a ceaseless flow of reaction, in songs and pictures and poems, in images and temples and festivities. This has been the centripetal force which attracted men into groups and clans and communal organizations. And while man tills his soil and spins his cloths, mates and rears his children, toils for wealth and fights for power, he does not forget to proclaim in languages of solemn rhythm, in mysterious symbols, in structures of majestic stone, that in the heart of his world he has met the Immortal Person. In the sorrow of death, and suffering of despair, when trust has been betrayed and love desecrated, when existence becomes tasteless and unmeaning, man standing upon the ruins of his hopes stretches his hands to the heavens to feel the touch of the Person across his darkened world.[14]

One thing to note in this typically rich passage is how Tagore uses the words ‘person’ and ‘personality’: to refer to the deity, to man’s relationships with the deity and with the world, to aspects of man’s soul or spirit, and his emotional needs. The first mention of the word ‘personality’ in the book occurs very early on in the first essay ‘What Is Art?’, where Tagore introduces one of the key ideas encountered in many of his works, which he refers to elsewhere as ‘the surplus in man’:[15]

There is yet another man in me, not the physical, but the personal man; which has its likes and dislikes, and wants to find something to fulfil its needs of love. This personal man is found in the region where we are free from all necessity,—above the needs, both of body and mind,—above the expedient and useful. It is the highest in man, this personal man. And it has personal relations of its own with the great world, and comes to it for something to satisfy personality.[16]

I have wondered if Tagore discussed his use of the word ‘personality’ with Andrews, since several pages later, Tagore writes:

I know I shall not be allowed to pass unchallenged when I use the word ‘personality’, which has such an amplitude of meaning. These loose words can be made to fit ideas which have not only different dimensions, but shapes also. They are like raincoats, hanging in the hall, which can be taken away by absentminded individuals who have no claim upon them.[17]

The raincoat illustration is surely an affectionate dig at Andrews who was notorious for going off with other people’s belongings, sometimes giving them away to someone needy. For example, Andrews gave away a friend’s valued thermos flask to a woman with a crying child.[18]

It is possible that Tagore adopts the word ‘personality’ in order to avoid the conventional religious wording he uses in Gitanjali and Sadhana, and so sound less like a ‘mystic’ to readers in the West. Bengali scholars have interpreted Personality as a continuation of the discourses in Sadhana. In Passage to America, Sujit Mukherjee cites the authorised Tagore biography which states that ‘The World of Personality’, which is the most obviously religious essay, is the core of the book, and is expanded upon in the other essays.[19] Similarly, Mukherjee’s own opinion is that the world-view Tagore was expressing in Personality is the same as that of Sadhana: ‘the integration of man and nature and God’, but applied to more specific areas of life, such as art and education.[20] The Bengali scholars are not wrong, but a comparison between Sadhana and Personality shows considerable differences between them in terms of the ideas expressed and the style of writing. I argue that Personality was, in effect, written for Tagore’s particular western friends, standing in for the people he would address in the public lectures.

Tagore enthusiasts and scholars frequently dip into his books of essays to pick out particularly inspiring and insightful passages. This is fine in a way, given Radice’s observation mentioned earlier that Tagore had a ‘desire to achieve purnata or “fullness” on an almost cosmic scale [...] not in a single great work but in an endless stream of smaller ones’.[21] There are many cosmic fragments in Personality, such as a lovely (and much quoted) passage in the essay ‘My School’:

I believe in a spiritual world—not as anything separate from this world—but as its innermost truth. With the breath we draw we must always feel this truth, that we are living in God. Born in this great world, full of the mystery of the infinite, we cannot accept our existence as a momentary outburst of chance, drifting on the current of matter towards an eternal nowhere. We cannot look upon our lives as dreams of a dreamer who has no awakening in all time. We have a personality to which matter and force are unmeaning unless related to something infinitely personal, whose nature we have discovered, in some measure, in human love, in the greatness of the good, in the martyrdom of heroic souls, in the ineffable beauty of nature, which can never be a mere physical fact nor anything but an expression of personality.[22]

One can gain inklings of what Tagore believed and felt from passages like this, and it is possible to piece together scattered fragments to support a theory about Tagore’s thought and ideas.[23] There is a vast amount of secondary literature on Tagore which does this, one example being Kalyan Sen Gupta’s The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore.[24] In a chapter entitled ‘Self, Art, Evil and Harmony’, Sen Gupta quotes a few short passages from ‘What is Art?’ and one from ‘Second Birth’, but it is only in end-notes that he names any essay from Personality, and the book title is not listed under Tagore’s ‘works’ in the Index, although Sadhana, Nationalism and The Religion of Man (not Creative Unity) are present.[25] Sen Gupta does not even try to give his readers an overall sense of what Tagore said in Personality or in any of its essays. (Jevons does attempt this, which is why his paper on Personality is interesting, as we shall see.)

Personality is a complex and challenging work when studied as a whole – or taken essay by essay. I agree with the Bengali scholars that ‘The World of Personality’ is the most obviously religious essay, because of its many references to the Upanisads, but Tagore places it second, following ‘What is Art?’, which indicates that the latter is the most important essay, as this is Tagore’s practice in other books. I have found it helpful to interpret the first three essays as reflecting the Poet’s thoughts on philosophy, religion and science respectively. These designations are not strict. I observed earlier that Tagore’s religion is his philosophy and also his science, and everything he writes is permeated by the emotions and insights of the poet and artist, and this is especially true of the subject matter of Personality.

Mukherjee proposes that ‘the integration of man and nature and God’ is the world-view Tagore is expressing in both Sadhana and Personality. That phrase is suggestive of Hindu thought,[26] and to relieve Tagore from his damaging reputation as a mystic, and read Personality more broadly, we need a different form of words which does not have mystical and religious connotations, and is more specific than ‘personality’. Consideration of Tagore’s commitment to social change suggests that the term ‘deep anthropology’ is appropriate. I use ‘deep’ here to qualify anthropology in a similar way to Arne Naess coining the term ‘deep ecology’ to add values and principles to the study of the interactions of species and their environment.[27] ‘Deep anthropology’, then, is a study of what mankind ought to be, as well as what we are.[28]

In parts of ‘What is Art?’ and centrally in ‘The Second Birth’, the third essay in Personality, Tagore approaches the subject I am calling ‘deep anthropology’ through a preamble on the evolution of life:

So, in man, a second birth has taken place. He still retains a good many habits and instincts of his animal life; yet his true life is in the region of what ought to be. In this, though there is a continuation, yet there is also a conflict. Many things that are good for the one life are evil for the other. This necessity of a fight with himself has introduced an element into man’s personality which is character. From the life of desire it guides man to the life of purpose. This life is the life of the moral world.[29]

A recent work which has resonances with Tagore’s thought is David Rothenberg’s Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution.[30] All the topics of Rothenberg’s subtitle feature in Personality, and Tagore would have delighted in the key idea that a sense of beauty emerged very early in evolution, before there were humans to appreciate it. The idea which seems so central to Tagore’s philosophy, the ‘surplus in man’, may be better understood as the ‘surplus in life’. Rothenberg draws extensively on Darwin’s book The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex,[31] in ways which emphasise the freedom of man and animals to make choices and develop creative behaviours, rather than the competitive ‘struggle for life’. Rothenberg is a professor of philosophy and music, ‘an actual polymath’ according to a reviewer who admires the ‘mixture of curiosity, intelligence, and playfulness’ in his writing[32] – rather like Tagore, then, if one can set aside the image of him as serene and saintly.

In Survival of the Beautiful Rothenberg recounts how he participated in an art work called ‘This Situation’ devised by Tino Sehgal, which was an encounter between a trained group of assorted intellectuals, and visitors to the art work. Rothenberg describes it as ‘a work composed out of philosophy’, which explores the creative potential of conversation. By Sehgal’s rules, no record is kept of his art works, but Rothenberg reports that being in ‘This Situation’ changed him, and forced him to examine how he situates himself in the world.[33] Personality is a work composed out of the kind of philosophy which arises through conversations and situations, the participants in this case being Tagore and his English friends, and the work is mind-changing. Tagore’s biographer wrote: ‘The best gift which Tagore brought back from his visit to England was not the great honours that were showered on him—for great honours are great burdens in the end—but the friendships he made with some of the finest minds of the West’.[34]

Mukherjee remarks on there being ‘greater ease and clarity in the use of language and terminology’ in Personality than in Sadhana, with ‘a greater willingness to meet (his foreign audiences) on common ground’.[35] The Sadhana lectures were welcomed by Unitarians, and probably appealed to scholars and others interested in western orientalism and esotericism.[36] The Personality lectures might have disappointed some listeners because they would not have come across as having been written by an Eastern mystic, even when Tagore brings in passages from the Upanisads. With Sadhana, it seems that Tagore had to rely on texts originating in his mother tongue. With Personality he also had the experience of deep discussions with his English friends, especially his life-changing encounter with William Rothenstein, which led to their thirty year epistolary friendship. In 1972 Mary M. Lago published her edited collection of around two hundred letters between Rothenstein and Tagore between 1911 and 1941. An important insight we gain from Tagore’s letters which Lago deliberately transcribes unaltered, is that Tagore’s English was delightfully fluent and very largely correct.[37]

A Perfect Encounter – Tagore and Rothenstein

Mary Lago entitled her compilation of the correspondence between Tagore and Rothenstein ‘Imperfect Encounter’ because of the complexities and occasional difficulties of a thirty-year friendship between a collection of ‘forceful personalities’, those two and their ‘mutual acquaintances’ who were the ‘cultural movers and shakers’ of their day.[38] However, one ‘perfect encounter’ between Tagore and Rothenstein took place, in the summer of 1912, without which the intense and affectionate terms of the correspondence would not have been sustained over such a long period. There is presumably no record available of what the two friends said to each other at that time, or Lago would have referred to it in her book. We do know that they were together from mid-August until mid-October 1912, and Rothenstein wrote to Tagore immediately after his departure for America as follows:

My dear Rabindra Babu—what can I say to you? For months I have had something no one else could give me but yourself & now it is going to be a memory. I can’t quite believe that when I come back on Sunday you will not be there. You have walked so quietly into my life, yet somehow you have filled it with a new essence & I don’t feel it will ever be quite the old life I shall live again. To me they have been wonderful days, these days I have spent with you. I have never I think been so near to another man, or looked so deep into the well of another’s soul.[39]

In the years of correspondence that followed, we find Rothenstein frequently referring nostalgically to that summer, but seldom saying anything explicit about their talks. Five years later he wrote that Tagore’s latest letter carried ‘an almost bodily sense of [his] presence’ so that he imagined that they were ‘once more walk[ing] along the quiet Oakridge lanes, talking of life & death, of beauty & of India’. Later in this very long letter, Rothenstein says that he ‘cannot hate’ or ‘see evil only in men’s motives & actions’, and how art can ‘teach us respect for all men, a hatred of injustice & of meanness and an essential humility’.[40] This echoes the earlier letter, which had continued:

What I have seen there will help me to respect & love my fellows more than ever before. So long I hope as I live this vision will remain with me. They were happy days, days I shall never forget. Your poems & your personality will bring you the love & admiration of many men & women, but somehow I feel that no one will ever know better than myself, that in loving & admiring you they are paying their homage to life itself. To have lived so closely to any one as I have been able to do to you & to have seen nothing but things that have given me faith & courage in mankind is the most wonderful of all my experiences. I can only send you all the love I have to give—this not for you alone, but for your dear son & his no less dear wife who has won the affection of all who have met her. Your name will ever be a household word among us & when you return you will I hope find as warm a fire burning in our hearth as when you left us. Ever your affectionate friend

William Rothenstein[41]

In a letter five years later he writes of ‘resuming the intimacy which filled [his] life with a rich plenty, in the peace & quiet of this green haven’, and urges Tagore to ‘come back to us’ because there is between them ‘something more sacred & intimate than exists between many men’.[42] Sadly there never was a repeat of their magic summer of 1912. Although they did meet again, circumstances were different, and between 1920 and 1922 there was a serious rift between them which Rothenstein in retrospect referred to as ‘a passing breeze’.[43]

Three months of deep discussions with Rothenstein must have helped Tagore express his ideas in English, although this is not obviously reflected in the Sadhana lectures which he delivered a few weeks after he left for America in October 1912. Tagore sent Rothenstein the text of ‘The Relation of the Individual to the Universe’, telling him it was a translation from a talk to his boys,[44] and later told him about four more papers he had read at the Unity Club, and his difficulties with expressing himself in English.[45] Some months later, Rothenstein wrote to Tagore to say he was delighted to hear that Macmillan were to publish the lectures, which he regarded as ‘the most important contribution to religious-ethical thought we have had from East or West this century at least’.[46]

Tagore told Rothenstein just before his departure for Japan that he had been invited to America to lecture, but had not accepted the offer.[47] There is nothing in the published correspondence prior to that to suggest that Tagore discussed with Rothenstein his thoughts and ideas for the lectures, which seems to support the view that Tagore did indeed write these on the boat to Japan. In June 1917 Rothenstein wrote a highly appreciative letter about Tagore’s latest book of essays.[48] He says of ‘the one on Art’ that it ‘presents an entirely new view of its meaning, is most inspiring’, and goes on to say that ‘indeed the whole book is full of wisdom & a ripe and clear judgement’.[49] It seems entirely likely that Rothenstein’s enthusiasm is due to his recognising in the essays some of the ‘things that have given [him] faith & courage in mankind’ from the ‘happy days’ he spent with Tagore in the late summer of 1912.

In his letter praising Personality, Rothenstein criticises the photographs of Tagore in the book, saying that they neither did him justice nor did they ‘throw light on the essays’. Mary Lago notes that ‘[p]hotographs of Tagore as tourist in America suggest that his is the personality under discussion’.[50]

In ‘What is Art?’ Tagore adopts the word ‘personality’ for an intense ‘power of feeling’ which ‘requires an outlet of expression’.[51] It may be because of that need in himself that Tagore often declared he was primarily a poet, and ‘not a scholar’, and also ‘not a philosopher’. When Tagore was asked for a contribution to the scholarly collection, Contemporary Indian Philosophy, he contributed an essay on ‘The Religion of an Artist’, which is not unlike ‘What is Art?’, the first essay in Personality.[52] Tagore clearly was a philosopher, but again, one who expressed his philosophy with the emotional intensity of a poet and artist, and not with scholarly detachment.

The writer and critic Buddhadeva Bose wrote a short biography: Tagore: Portrait of a Poet, with an appendix on ‘Tagore and Bengali Prose’ which begins:

The prose of Rabindranath Tagore is as much a poet’s work as his verse; at their best the two have the same quality and affect us in a similar fashion. If for a minute it were possible to imagine that the whole body of his verse had disappeared, leaving in our possession nothing but his essays, plays and novels, the palpable presence of a great poet would still shine through those proliferating pages of fiction, drama and essayistic prose.[53]

Bose’s thought applies even better to Tagore’s prose written in English, since there is no ‘whole body of his verse’ to disappear.[54] It may be true to say that Tagore’s English prose gives non-Bengali speakers a better sense of his poetic power than we glean from his English Gitanjali and other translations.

Given the resemblance between ‘What is Art?’ and ‘The Religion of an Artist’, we can say that the subject of the first essay in Personality is ‘the Poet’s philosophy’. The second essay, ‘The World of Personality’ is, as the Bengali scholars point out, ‘the Poet’s religion’.[55] The third essay, ‘The Second Birth’, is also philosophical and religious, and in addition it concentrates on one of Tagore’s favourite themes, the biological evolution of the human animal, which has a surplus capacity or ‘abundance’ whereby we can be moral, cooperative and creative, and yet are liable to relapse into savagery. For symmetry, we can call ‘The Second Birth’, ‘the Poet’s science’.[56] (In the fifth book of English essays, The Religion of Man, Tagore enlarges on his theory of evolution, and also takes issue with the scientific conception that reality exists independently of human existence.[57])

Philosophy and Religion

We might ask at this point, what is philosophy? One authoritative answer from an Indian perspective is:

Philosophy is an enquiry into the nature of life and of existence. We have two ways of dealing with reality. One starts and ends with revelation and tradition; we call it religion. The second depends on the free exercise of reason and thought and is called philosophy.[58]

The writer had earlier stated that in India philosophy and religion have pursued the same path.[59] If there is a special ‘western’ approach to philosophy we might take that of William James, who says that philosophy is the ‘one Science of all things’.[60] In Personality and elsewhere, Tagore takes issue with Science, not for its research and findings which interested him greatly all his life, but he questions Science’s assumption of pre-eminent authority over ‘all things’, which is also the domain of religion. Presumably Tagore would take issue with James on his statement that Aesthetics is ‘the study of the useless’. James couples Aesthetics with Psychiatry, ‘the science of insanity’, both of lesser interest to the science of psychology as James defines that.[61] Tagore’s mental makeup: shown in his relationships, his mood swings and restlessness, and his notorious inconsistency helps us to understand what it is that his being a poet adds to his thinking.

The distinction I make between Tagore’s philosophy and his religion is a subtle one; the Bengali scholars I referred to earlier are not wrong, especially since Tagore regarded all life as spiritual. It becomes significant because in the English essays Tagore is writing for western readers, for whom a poet is understood as a writer of a certain kind of literature, and they knew Tagore as an Indian mystic. In terms of the definition of philosophy above, in these essays Tagore combines ‘revelation and tradition’ with ‘reason and thought’ – and a touch of poetry and wit – and so his style of writing does not lend itself to either contemplation or reasoning on its own. Again Buddhadeva Bose helps us:

It has often been said or implied that poetry and discursive writing are incompatibles and Tagore’s prose is defective because it is not logical enough. This view I can quite understand and have even been tempted to corroborate. Tagore’s repetitions are far from few, his tangential passages are numerous; he uses imagery rather than reasons, and metaphors rather than facts; he starts with the professed intention of proving a thesis and ends by sharpening our perceptions; where an intellectual debate is expected he makes the illicit move of producing enchantment. Despite these defects, however, it is possible to extricate the message from metaphors when he is discussing matters like politics, education or social reform [...].[62]

To show how a scholar’s logic and reason are the wrong tools for extricating Tagore’s message, I include an examination of a study of Personality, carried out shortly after its publication by F.B. Jevons, the professor of philosophy. This sympathetic scholar approaches the book as if Tagore had defined his terms explicitly and applied logic methodically, and by doing so misses an essential message about reality, which Tagore conveys repeatedly in these essays. To take just one example: Tagore says that ‘[t]he infinite and the finite are one as song and singing are one. The singing is incomplete; by a continual process of death it gives up the song which is complete. The absolute infinite is like a music which is devoid of all definite tunes and therefore meaningless’.[63]

In 1914 Jevons published a little book called Philosophy: What Is It?, a collection of his lectures to a branch of the Workers’ Educational Association. He defines philosophy as the attempt to answer the question, ‘What does it all mean? What is the good of it all?’, in contrast to all the sciences which deal with particular sets of facts.[64] Everything, he says, comes from experience and the person who has the experience, making a binary of ‘two sides of a line’. Physical science deals with abstractions on one side of that line, psychology with such abstractions as sensations, feelings, will, on the other side of the line.[65] In his last chapter, ‘Personality and the Whole’, he concludes that only to God, the perfect Personality, can reality present itself as a whole, and we must love Him and love our neighbour as our self.[66] That conclusion would have appealed to Andrews, the devout Christian and ‘friend of the poor’.[67] Interestingly, Jevons begins that chapter with an illustration from ‘a Hindu philosopher’ on the big question of philosophy: ‘what it all means’, which dismisses the possibility of abstraction, and makes the whole the only reality and available to every one of us.[68] That was essentially Tagore’s belief.

It is clear from Jevons’ essay on Personality in 1918 that the same deliberations continued to preoccupy him, and also his colleague Theodore Merz,[69] whose book he cites.[70] The essay begins as follows:

I find that for myself the easiest way to approach Sir Rabindranath Tagore’s book on Personality is to start from Dr. Merz’s Religion and Science. Dr. Merz points out that there are two ways in which we may, and indeed do, consider the world, or two aspects which it wears: in one the world—everything of which I am, or can be, aware—falls within my consciousness; in the other I am surrounded by a world external to me. In one the experient is but a speck infinitesimally and inconceivably small in a world of reality external to him; in the other everything of which he is or may be aware must be part of his experience. [...] From the one point of view the world is within me; from the other, without. But the world, according to Dr. Merz, which wears these two aspects, is one world; philosophy he, following Plato, considers to be “synoptic”—its business is to see things in their “ togetherness,” in their ensemble, to use Comte’s word—and yet the two aspects of things cannot be seen “synoptically,” in their ensemble or “togetherness,” for our thoughts can only “wander from one to the other” without even trying to unite them. Philosophy therefore, it would seem, is impossible: its business cannot be done.[71]

Jevons goes on to state Merz’s view that when science analyses things it never succeeds in exactly putting the pieces together again. Similarly, the dissection of reality into the two aspects of inner and outer may mean that the real is killed by the operation. ‘In that case,’ Jevons suggests, ‘the best thing will be to start not from abstractions, such as aspects, but from the one living reality, if we can find it. And the purpose of Tagore’s book precisely is to help us to find it.’[72]

From my reading of Personality, Tagore successfully conveys ‘the one living reality’, and brings Jevons’ ‘inner and outer’ aspects together as a unity. He does this in three different ways, in the first three essays of the book, which are the ones Jevons has examined closely, making over seventy references to them. Jevons does not mention the titles of the three essays, nor does he summarise their themes or treat them in turn. Instead he selects from them references to what he sees as the terms with which Tagore operates, specifically ‘personality, reality, art’.[73] Jevons does not refer to the very beginning of Tagore’s first essay which sums up ‘the one living reality’ in his deep anthropological, rather than formally philosophical, terms.

The first three paragraphs of ‘What Is Art?’ sets out Tagore’s reality as follows: the first states that we have material needs which are provided for by nature; the second says that we have a mental need to make sense of a bewildering multiplicity of facts, which we meet by finding laws of nature; the third paragraph is about the ‘personal man’, in the region above the needs of body and mind, which has likes and dislikes and the need for love and relations with the great world. All three paragraphs are about how close to nature we are, so that there is no boundary between man and nature, physically, mentally or emotionally.[74]

The third essay in the book, ‘The Second Birth’, takes the idea of needs being met by nature a stage further, by showing how each life form has ‘a dualism of relationship’: its identity separates it from its surroundings, and the stimuli of pleasure and pain guide its interaction with the world.[75] In this and in other essays Tagore shows humankind as an advanced form of life, but he does not make us a special creation. He sees us as a gregarious species, settling the land and developing into complex societies, free to be creative and build on our knowledge of the world, whilst still being collectively part of nature physically, mentally and emotionally. He recognises that we are ‘free’ to wage war with nature, to be pessimistic and devalue the world. We are also free to experience unity[76]:

The will, which is free, must seek for the realization of its harmony other wills which are also free, and in this is the experience of spiritual life. The infinite centre of personality, which radiates its joy by giving itself out in freedom, must create other centres of freedom to unite with it in harmony. Beauty is the harmony realized in things which are bound by law. Love is the harmony realized in wills which are free.[77]

Tagore’s understanding of evolution or ‘deep anthropology’ (my term, not Tagore’s) is one of his most repeated themes. One of the ways Tagore ‘writes like a poet’ is to repeat, like a chorus, the ideas which matter to him most.

I suggested earlier that Tagore’s declaration that he is ‘not a scholar’ serves to make the reader aware that he writes (and speaks) like a poet, with a poet’s emotional intensity. So to interpret his non-literary writings, rather than look for Tagore’s terms and logical arguments (or employ any other rigorous method or theory), one needs to sense the rhythms, the repetitions, the particularly intense passages, like arias singing out above the recitative. The sense of some paragraphs comes out more clearly when set out like poetry and read aloud. The paragraph I have just quoted is a good example. Read this aloud and one can almost hear Tagore speaking:

The will, which is free,
must seek for the realization of its harmony
other wills which are also free,
and in this is the significance of spiritual life.

The infinite centre of personality,
which radiates its joy by giving itself out in freedom,
must create other centres of freedom
to unite with it in harmony.

Beauty is the harmony realized in things which are bound
by law.
Love is the harmony realized in wills which are free.

My reading of this ‘poem’ is that Tagore felt passionately about the idea that one is truly free only in relationship with others. He saw selfish, unconstrained individualism as a poor kind of freedom, even a delusion or maya, whereas harmonious engagement with others who are also free is the way to enjoy a ‘spiritual life’, where each one of us is the centre of an infinite ‘personality’. In the essay ‘The Second Birth’ from which this paragraph is taken, Tagore recognises that man can also be selfish and savage, bent only on meeting his own material needs. He tells how mankind was savage in early stages of evolution, and can become so again when society is broken up, as it has been by the machinery of the Nation.

Jevons begins his exploration of Personality by warning his audience at a meeting of the Aristotelian Society that Tagore ‘neither puts his trust in logic, nor defines the terms with which he operates, e.g. personality, reality, art’.[78] Tagore’s reservations about logic are actually quite similar to those which Jevons and Merz have about science’s abstractions.[79] In support of his criticism, Jevons paraphrases part of a sentence of Tagore’s: ‘Not by logic is every truth to be obtained (p. 67)’.[80] Tagore’s actual sentence on that page is: ‘Through the help of logic we never could have arrived at the truth that the soul which is the unifying principle in me finds its perfection in its unity in others’.[81]

I mentioned earlier that Jevons makes over seventy references to Personality. But his quotes are all very short, sometimes distorting the sense. Another example of this, also about Tagore’s supposed distrust of logic, is where Jevons takes only the portion I show in italics of the following sentence:

The profound truth to which the poet of Isha Upanishat has given expression is the truth of the simple mind which is in deep love with the mystery of reality and cannot believe in the finality of that logic which by its method of decomposition brings the universe to the brink of dissolution.[82]

Jevons’ point about Tagore not defining his terms is valid. As a poet, Tagore employs and enjoys the penumbra of nuances that surrounds words such as ‘personality, reality, art’.[83]

Jevons is evidently uncomfortable without a strict terminology, but observes that other terms: life, religion, God, spirit, consciousness, are similarly indefinable, and Tagore’s mission is that of the prophet: ‘neither to define the truth nor prove it but to convey it’.[84] What Jevons proceeds to do in his essay is to take each of the words: personality, reality and art, in turn, as if they were Tagore’s terms, pulling together mentions of these in a sequence unrelated to Tagore’s own structure or pagination, in order to discover what Jevons assumes is the truth of Tagore, the prophet. The result reads like mysticism, intriguing but vague, and Jevons ends not far from where he began with: ‘In the Reality of which we are part, and in part aware, we know nothing but experient and experience—and them not apart, but only in the unity of Personality, and only in the variedness of its unity’.[85] This is not unlike Jevons’ conclusion to his book, Philosophy: What Is It?, which was that only to God, the perfect Personality, can reality present itself as a whole.[86]

There is, however, an extra factor in Jevons’ conclusion to the essay, which is about the ‘variedness’ of ‘the unity of Personality’. This is his major point of disagreement with Tagore which he makes earlier as follows:

[Tagore] postulates an ‘apparent world’—which is ‘man’s world’—a world which has ‘shape, colour, and movement’ (13), but of which at first we are aware without any emotion. Only when emotion comes to supervene, or to suffuse it, does this apparent (or supposititious [sic]) world become ‘the more intimate world of sentiments,’ i.e. the world which is real and not supposititious. Inasmuch as ‘the real is not that which is merely seen’ (31), the world of which the shape, colours and movement are merely seen, without emotion, is not real.[87]

Here Jevons puts together fragments from two places in ‘What Is Art?’ It is true that Tagore seems to be saying at one point that we are able to perceive some kind of world with our senses and without our emotions, and that the world becomes more real to us when we engage our emotions. Interestingly, in the paragraph (unreferenced) from which Jevons takes the words ‘the more intimate world of sentiments’, Tagore refers to ‘rasa’, the word in Sanskrit poetics which, he says, ‘signifies outer juices having their responses in the inner juices of our emotions’.[88] Rasa has a similar sense to the old meaning of the English word ‘humours’: the fluids of the body which determine our physical and mental qualities. Interestingly, there have been researches in neuroscience in the last ten years which indicate that our minds necessarily include our feelings and emotions, and that we think with our entire bodies, not only, or even primarily, with our brains.[89]

On the later page from which Jevons takes the words: ‘the real is not that which is merely seen’, Tagore says that man builds his true world through Art, then he comes to feel his infinity, ‘where he is divine, and the divine is the creator in him’.[90] This idea is clearly expressed in ‘an old letter’ which Tagore includes in an essay called Atmaparichay (Of Myself):

I cannot rightly understand the endless mystery of a creative process within us – as when one has to spell out every word, one cannot understand the meaning and unity of emotion of an entire passage of poetry. But when the unbroken strand of unity of the creative power within oneself can once be felt, I can realise my own link with the endlessly created universe; I can see how the planets and stars, the moon and the sun are being created in their constant burning and circling. Just so in me from time without beginning a process of creation has been going on. Within it my joy and sorrow, desire and pain accept their respective places.[91]

Jevons thinks he has to ‘spell out every word’, whence his procedure of threading together Tagore’s mentions of his three (undefined) ‘terms’, in this case ‘reality’, and so he misses the ‘meaning’ and the ‘unity of emotion’ (the more juicy parts) of what Tagore is saying. Jevons’ hope of finding ‘the one living reality’ is disappointed: ‘we appear to be left with two worlds on our hands, a world which is real, and a world which is not’.[92]

In 1917 Tagore was at quite an early stage of working on his highly personal and original religious ideas, and how best to express them in the English language. In 1930 he felt the process was complete and brought out his book, The Religion of Man, about ‘the true spirit of religion, about my idea of all different religions, what they mean. [...] I have tried to make it clear, which is difficult because every experience is difficult to express and to describe, yet I have tried my best to give it some expression’.[93]

In The Religion of Man, Tagore includes as an appendix a record of his discussion with Albert Einstein about truth, beauty and reality, and here he is very clear that there is only one world:

Einstein (E.):  Do you believe in the Divine as isolated from the world?
Tagore (T.):  Not isolated. The infinite personality of Man comprehends the Universe. There cannot be anything that cannot be subsumed by the human personality, and this proves that the truth of the Universe is human truth. [...] I have pursued this thought through art, literature and the religious consciousness of man.
E.:  There are two different conceptions about the nature of the universe: (1) The world as a unity dependent on humanity. (2) The world as a reality independent of the human factor.
T.:  When our universe is in harmony with Man, the eternal, we know it as truth, we feel it as beauty.
E.:  This is a purely human conception of the universe.
T.:  There can be no other conception. [...] We have to realize it through our emotions and activities. We realize the Supreme Man who has no individual limitations through our limitations. Science is [...] the impersonal human world of truths. Religion realizes these truths and links them up with our deeper needs; our individual consciousness of truth gains universal significance.[94]

Amartya Sen cites part of that conversation in his essay ‘Tagore and His India’, and observes that Tagore’s heterodox line of reasoning about ‘real truth’ has been developed by scholars in recent years.[95]

In the remainder of this chapter, we consider the first two essays separately according to their themes and titles: the Poet’s philosophy in ‘What Is Art?’, the Poet’s religion in ‘The World of Personality’. I have suggested that Tagore honed his ability to communicate his ideas in English through discussions with Andrews, who was an important sounding board, and also a supportive friend. So I also discuss what Andrews brought to their encounter, and what we can learn about Tagore’s personality from the record of their correspondence in Letters to a Friend and elsewhere.

The Poet’s Philosophy in ‘What Is Art?’

The first essay, ‘What Is Art?’, has much in common with ‘The Poet’s Religion’ in Tagore’s later book of essays Creative Unity.[96] He brought out versions of the same ideas on various occasions when he was invited to speak or contribute to publications. ‘The Meaning of Art’, for example, is the lecture he delivered at Dhaka University in 1926, and published in Visva Bharati Quarterly.[97] That essay is repeated in the second section of ‘The Religion of an Artist’, which he submitted for inclusion in Radhakrishnan’s Contemporary Indian Philosophy, first published in 1936.[98] His contribution was quite unlike any of the essays by the impressively learned scholars in the rest of the collection. Tagore evidently considered ‘The Religion of an Artist’ to be his philosophy, and because of the common ground it shares with ‘What Is Art?’, I have suggested that we can identify the latter as also expressing the Poet’s philosophy.

For Tagore, art and poetry, and a sense of beauty, come from mankind having additional needs and energies beyond meeting our basic necessities, and beyond needing to understanding the world we live in. Art, for Tagore, is beyond science and is indefinable, it is not something we engage in for its own sake, it is beyond mind and senses, and is transformed by our feelings into ‘the life-stuff of our nature’. It is through art that we express our personality, transcending body and mind, becoming conscious of ‘the infinite in the personal man’, which is immortal due to its ‘inexhaustible abundance’.[99] The closest essay to ‘What Is Art?’ in Sadhana is ‘The Realisation of Beauty’, about feeling joy from seeing and knowing beauty in the world. ‘What Is Art?’, and the later essays on the same subject, are about representing the beauty found in nature: creating beauty from beauty, one might say; in other words they add an active artistic level.

It became clear from our study of Jevons’ reading that what is different about a poet’s philosophy is the vital role of emotions. We can understand this better by knowing something of Tagore’s complex mental and emotional makeup from his two memoirs, My Reminiscences and My Boyhood Days,[100] and from biographies by people who knew him in life. As Kripalani writes: Tagore’s ‘achievements in the various fields, important in themselves, gain further significance and human interest, if properly related to the various stages and moods of his development as a man’.[101] A review of Kripalani’s biography mentions the importance of the author’s ‘association with Tagore at Santikinetan as well as those open to him as a relative by marriage’.[102] Another account from personal knowledge of the poet is the charming short biography of Tagore written for her students by Marjorie Sykes, a teacher at Santiniketan in his last years, and translator of My Boyhood Days.[103] Sykes depicts Tagore as a little boy very tenderly, and she ends with the lines of the song Tagore intended for the close of The Post Office as Amal, the child with the fearless, friendly heart, lies on his death-bed, and which, at his wish, were sung at Tagore’s funeral service. Another revealing source, particularly relevant to Personality, is Tagore’s correspondence with Andrews in Letters to a Friend.[104] That collection includes two introductory essays by Andrews as editor, but not his own letters to Tagore.[105]

The phrase ‘largeness and freedom’ in the title of Das Gupta’s book is taken from a letter from Andrews to Tagore in December 1913, written when Andrews was ‘at sea’ on the way to join Gandhi in South Africa – the first of many journeys away from one friend towards another. Andrews wrote several very long letters to Tagore between 28 July 1913 and 2 March 1914. Two themes emerge, the first being Andrews’ concern over what he called ‘white racism’,[106] prompted by the way white professed Christians treated Indians in South Africa, including Gandhi himself. In one of his letters to Tagore, Andrews writes that he had ‘found Christ, & worshipped him, amid the little group of Indian passive resisters fresh from prison,— Hindus almost all of them’.[107] The effect of this on Andrews was to feel ashamed of being a missionary, and later even to renounce his clerical orders.

The other strong influence on Andrews was his close friendships with a number of Indians of different faiths: his colleague S.K. Rudra at St. Stephen’s College who was a Christian, Mahatma Munshi Ram of the Arya Samaj, Gandhi who was an orthodox Hindu, and Tagore himself who was not tied to any organised religion. Andrews’ response to this was to assemble an argument for a common origin of the religious influences he was drawn to. In his letters to Tagore he sets out this case, with passionate fervour, and several times asks Tagore to comment on whether his ideas may be right. The following example of the kind of argument he was putting forward is taken from a letter to Tagore on 11 February 1914:

I do not mean that the actual historical connexion has yet been traced, or can be tabulated & chronicled. I do not need that or suspect it. But what I am growing sure of is that Christ & Buddha are not separate, but closely united as one factor in the religious history of the world: that the stream of Hindu-Buddhist life & early Christian life are one stream not two [...] Rivers run underground for miles and reappear in new countries and so do spiritual movements. When I read the record of Christ’s life I breathe in India, I feel the very breath of India. It is not so with any part of the Old Testament, nor with St. Paul. It is just this one section. It stands out like a jewel in a rough setting of gold; the jewel, from many of its facets, reflects the pure Hindu light & colour, not the Semitic. The Jews crucified Jesus. The men of the East, in the legend of the birth, worshipped him & laid at his feet frankincense & myrrh. That legend, I feel, has a vital truth behind it, and the Western world will find its truth confirmed.[108]

Andrews was a cleric and a theologian, hence his endeavour to rationalise the religious doubts arising from his concerns and relationships, doubts to which he also responded with intense emotion. Tagore was not a theologian, and it seems very unlikely that he ever discussed Andrews’ theory in the way Andrews wanted. Perhaps they did talk about these ideas but there is no written record of Tagore’s explicit response to them.[109] That does not mean that Tagore was not moved by Andrews’ impassioned letters, and I believe they had an effect on Tagore when he was writing the Personality lectures. They were a life changing encounter, like Tagore’s summer with Rothenstein in 1912.

Tagore and Andrews met in 1912. Andrews joined the teaching staff at Santiniketan in 1914, later becoming his deputy there. They were very often apart, so in many ways their was an epistolary friendship, like Tagore’s with Rothenstein and with other of his western friends. Andrews used to send meticulous reports of what was going on at home when Tagore was away.[110] It is useful to include at this point some background on Andrews and his relationship with Tagore.

Andrews understood and appreciated the importance of creativity for Tagore, since art, music and poetry were very dear to him too. Andrews had treasured childhood memories of family singing; he had shown promise as a painter and was once offered a scholarship to art school; and the biography by Chaturvedi and Sykes includes a selection of his poems in an appendix.[111] Art even had religious significance for both of them. Andrews had gone to India as a missionary and teacher, but soon renounced any desire to capture converts from Hinduism and Islam. He believed that Christianity had a role in India, but it had to come as a ‘helper and a fulfiller, a peacemaker and a friend’, and provide aid in troubled times.[112] In the book he was preparing before he met Tagore, he wrote: ‘The naturalisation of the Christian message amidst Indian conditions of life and thought, will take place through the medium of art, music and poetry, more than through the channels of controversy and hard reasoning’.[113]

Chaturvedi and Sykes say in their preface that they ‘knew and loved Charlie Andrews’, and they endeavoured to provide a ‘truthful portrait’ which is ‘substantially accurate’.[114] They describe in a most sympathetic way his deeply emotional and tender-hearted character, and the series of traumas and transitions he went through, as ‘the Wandering Christian’ who gave himself to everyone as a friend.[115] In his foreword to the biography, Gandhi describes Charlie Andrews as ‘simple like a child, upright as a die and shy to a degree’.[116] The biographers add to this characterisation that Andrews had such an ‘extreme and somewhat demonstrative sensitiveness’ that friends of his remarked that he was ‘half a woman’. This is thought to have come from his mother nursing him through rheumatic fever when he was six year old, and Andrews wrote that this accounted for there being a strong mother in him.[117] His tender heartedness led him to go to the rescue of anyone and everyone in need, hence the epithet ‘the friend of the poor’, feelings which were warmly reciprocated, as we can see from a collection of tributes entitled The Man India Loved: C.F. Andrews.[118]

These characteristics made Andrews in many respects an opposite to Tagore. The poet’s use of the word ‘rasa’ provides a clue to how they were different, and to Tagore’s personality. Rasa is a word in Sanscrit poetics; it relates to ways of expressing human emotions in poetry, not to the feelings themselves. Through his poetry, his music, his dramas and his preaching Tagore represented life experience; he wrote, recited, and sang about emotions, evoking emotions in others. There is reason to suppose that he displaced his own lived feelings, which were sometimes unbearable, by being an artist. Andrews was different. He lived through his feelings as an outpouring of love and pity in action. Despite physical frailty and constant bouts of illness, religious searchings, criticism and obstruction, he strove to right wrongs: those of indentured workers, of people addicted to drink and drugs, to individuals seriously ill or persecuted, to anyone in need, particularly his friends, particularly Tagore.

It was a comfort to Tagore that he had at his disposal Andrews’ motherly love and admiration. There were occasions when they actually mothered and nursed each other, many more when they expressed this nurturing in their letters. It is clear that Tagore found his friend – or any company – suffocating after a while, and had to get away. His restlessness was chronic, as one can tell from the addresses heading his correspondence and he wrote about it in his letters. Even in old age, when he seldom left Rabindra-Bhavana at Santiniketan, his quest for new surroundings had the result that he ‘would first start rearranging the furniture, shift from one room to another and then finally send for [his architect] and request him to build a new house with his specifications’.[119]

There is no mystery or secret about the source of Tagore’s emotional contradictoriness, his creativity, his ability to write poems and songs about his feelings and about nature. The source was his family, his childhood and early years, his bereavements, his idiosyncratic beliefs and philosophy, all of which he wrote about constantly, and he would share accounts of this life story with anyone who would listen sympathetically.

‘To C.F. Andrews’

Tagore dedicated Personality to Andrews, perhaps simply as a gesture of appreciation and in recognition of their friendship. It is however conceivable that the dedication meant more. The book may have been in some sense an open letter to the Christian seeker, who had set aside his mission and ministry to follow and to serve Tagore. As mentioned earlier, we know from his letters that Andrews suffered a crisis of faith during 1914, that he deliberated on a possible connection between Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. He sought Tagore’s views on these ideas but there is no written record of Tagore responding in any direct and explicit way. Uma Das Gupta has suggested that Tagore was somewhat taken aback by Andrews’ theological wrestling, and that as an indirect consequence, when Visva-Bharati was established some years later, its mission was a meeting of cultures to learn about each other, but not aiming for a blending.[120] Such an idea is already present in Tagore’s essay ‘My School’:

Religion is not a fractional thing that can be doled out in fixed weekly or daily measures as one among various subjects in the school syllabus. It is the truth of our complete being, the consciousness of our personal relationship with the infinite; it is the true centre of gravity of our life. This we can attain during our childhood by daily living in a place where the truth of the spiritual world is not obscured by a crowd of necessities assuming artificial importance ; where life is simple, surrounded by fulness of leisure, by ample space and pure air and profound peace of nature; and where men live with a perfect faith in the eternal life before them.
But the question will be asked whether I have attained my ideal in this institution. My answer is that the attainment of all our deepest ideals is difficult to measure by outward standards. Its working is not immediately perceptible by results. We have fully admitted the inequalities and varieties of human life in our ashram. We never try to gain some kind of outward uniformity by weeding out the differences of nature and training of our members. Some of us belong to the Brahma Samaj sect and some to other sects of Hinduism; and some of us are Christians. Because we do not deal with creeds and dogmas of sectarianism, therefore this heterogeneity of our religious beliefs does not present us with any difficulty whatever.[121]

We can see that the last three essays of Personality: ‘My School’, ‘Meditation’ and ‘Woman’ would have appealed to Andrews. He loved the school from the first, writing to Tagore in March 1913 that he was ‘astonished by the bright intelligence of the children. It was an experience quite different from our dull Punjabi children. But the free, unfettered life of the Ashram was of course the main factor. It was easy at a glance to see how they all loved the Ashram’.[122]

Andrews had been thrilled at Tagore giving him ‘mantras’ when they were together at Santiniketan shortly before Andrews was called to joining Gandhi in South Africa.[123] In a later letter,[124] we see that the ‘mantras’ were a passage from the Upanisads:

From the unreal (asat) lead me to the real (sat)!
From darkness lead me to light!
From death lead me to immortality![125]

Andrews perhaps took these lines too literally, as guiding him away from his old life as a Christian missionary, teacher and clergyman, to joining Tagore to become his devoted disciple.[126] Andrews would also have welcomed Tagore’s essay on ‘Meditation’, which included an exposition of ‘a text of meditation’ beginning ‘Om bhur bhuvah svah’ (The Infinite earth, sky and starry region).[127] Tagore also explains at length how the word ‘Father’, a word which in Sanskrit includes ‘Mother’, is used in Indian prayers.[128]

The essay on ‘Woman’ would also have had a strong appeal, given Andrews’ great respect for women in their role as wives and mothers. In a letter to Tagore from Australia in December 1917, Andrews writes: ‘What you have written about ‘Woman’ is perfect, & wonderful in its suggestiveness. I had underestimated it before!’[129] The latter remark confirms that Tagore had discussed the lecture texts with Andrews.

A few years after the publication of Personality, Andrews wrote an introduction to a volume of Poems from Tagore, in which he supplies a short biography of the poet, with comments on his published works in English. He singles out Sadhana for fulsome praise, saying it ‘explained with poetic feeling and lucidity of expression the spiritual teaching of the Upanishads [and] helped still further to make clear to the people of the West the attitude of the Eastern mind towards the problems of philosophy and religion.’ He says that Sadhana has been widely studied and translated and concludes: ‘It is the best prose book for a student [...] to understand [Tagore’s] religious and philosophic positions’. On Personality Andrews writes that it ‘has been appreciated as an original contribution to philosophy’, adding that it also ‘carried further the religious teaching of the Upanisads which “Sadhana” set forth’.[130] It is clear that Andrews appreciated Sadhana more than he did Personality, despite the contribution he made to the ideas in the later book forming in Tagore’s mind.

As mentioned earlier, Bengali scholars regard ‘The World of Personality’ as the religious heart of the book, with its quotations from the Isa Upanisad. That chapter may not have appealed to Andrews because Tagore was writing as much about science as about religious ideas. Tagore suggests in various ways in the first three essays that religion should not be seen as a separate discipline or practice, but as a way of life. Andrews was highly emotional by nature, unlike the rational and analytical Jevons, but because of that he was no better equipped to understand Personality than was the professor of philosophy. But Andrews does provide a window into Tagore’s temperament and life experience, which can take our understanding of Personality to another level.

In ‘The Religion of an Artist’, his contribution to Contemporary Indian Philosophy, Tagore provides in the first section a richly fascinating and lively version of his family background and cultural influences, how and why he began his artistic career ‘ridiculously young’, and about how his ‘poet’s religion’ followed the same ‘unseen and trackless channels’. In contrast, there is a tenderly moving version of the same events in an account by Andrews in his introductory essay in Letters to a Friend, which begins:

The temperament and character of Rabindranath Tagore may best be understood if I attempt to describe one memorable day in London, when he told me in outline the story of his own life in relation to his literary career.[131]

Andrews tells us that on that day Tagore was weak and ill, his face pale and worn, and then Andrews relates Tagore’s story with all the poignancy possible. Part of the story is, of course, very sad. Andrews’ gives a tender account of the deaths of Tagore’s wife, daughter and young son,[132] and then goes on:

As he spoke of these things that morning, the darkness of the London mists rolled away and the light shone through the clouds with a majestic radiance. This outward scene was but a faint symbol of the story that was being told to me quietly in that upper room.
The poet spoke of the days and hours wherein Death itself became a loved companion—no longer the king of terrors, but altogether transformed into a cherished friend.
You know (he said to me) this death was a great blessing to me. I had through it all, day after day, a sense of fulfilment, of completion, as if nothing were lost. I felt that if even an atom in the universe seemed lost, it could never actually perish. It was not mere resignation that came to me, but the sense of a fuller life. I knew then, at last, what Death was. It was perfection.[133]

Tagore’s device for dealing with death was established many years earlier when his adored sister-in-law died, an experience of loss that affected him more deeply than the death of his mother before that. In Jivan-smriti,[134] Tagore wrote:

When death came and what had been there as part of life became suddenly a gaping void, I felt utterly lost. Everything else had remained the same, the trees, the soil, the sun, the moon and the stars; only she who was as real as they, indeed far more real than they, for I had felt her touch on every aspect of my being[135]—only she was not there, she had vanished like a dream. This terrible paradox baffled me. How was I to reconcile what remained with what had been?[136]

The account in My Reminiscences ends with: ‘Death had given me the correct perspective from which to perceive the world in the fulness [sic] of its beauty, and as I saw the picture of the Universe against the background of Death I found it entrancing’.[137] Kripalani’s version has: ‘Her death had given me the necessary distance and detachment to see life and world in their wholeness, in their true perspective, and as I looked at the picture of life painted on the vast canvas of death, it seemed to be truly beautiful’.[138]

Kripalani’s rendering of the passage from Jivan-smriti puts the emphasis on ‘the picture of life’ being ‘truly beautiful’. Just before that Tagore wrote: ‘The human mind cannot understand absolute emptiness and imagines that what is not must be unreal and what is unreal is not. [...] But when one discovers that the way out of darkness is itself shrouded in darkness, what agony can equal this!’[139] The other translation could seem to make Death itself ‘entrancing’, an idea which Tagore did come to adopt:

I have had so many experiences of loved ones who have died, that I think I have come to know something about death, something perhaps of its deeper meaning. Every moment that I have spent at the death bed of some dear friend, I have known this, yet it is very difficult to describe how for me that great ocean of truth, of existence, of life, from which life itself springs and to which all life returns, can never suffer diminution by death.[140]

For many people, bereavement means a prolonged emotional journey. For Tagore, perhaps his first loss was actually unbearable, and so he transformed this and his subsequent losses into life-changing revelation.[141] Once he had turned it around in that way, it could be public property, safe to share with anyone to gain sympathy, and available to be built into his writing.

In Letters to a Friend there are indications of another need for Tagore to sublimate his feelings. From Andrews’ introductions to chapters of that book, and in some of Tagore’s letters, we learn that the poet went through extreme mood changes. He suffered from deep bouts of depression, which were sometimes long lasting and resulted in gaps in the correspondence. Then he would write that he was ‘emerging once again into the air and light’, out of the ‘experience of the dark’, and declare himself ‘supremely happy’.[142] Tagore’s poetry can be understood as a product of his intense feelings, but not simply to repeat the trite notion of the ‘emotional outpourings’ of any creative person. ‘What Is Art?’ was Tagore’s rhetorical question about what art and creativity are, how and why human beings are creative, which he answered in terms of his own process, art being the expression of his particular personality, a special case which always fascinated him, fully expecting it to be universally true.

There is no autobiographical section in the essay ‘What Is Art?’ Its content is more like the second part of ‘The Religion of An Artist’, an inspiring account of the potential for creativity in man arising from the overflowing surplus, ‘needed only for self-expression and not for self-preservation’, with some scolding from the author about what is lost in a ‘man-made world [which] is less an expression of man’s creative soul than a mechanical device for some purpose of power’.[143] The scolding in ‘What Is Art?’ is directed firstly at the architecture of the British capital in Delhi, reflecting abstract officialdom, and then at ‘the mist of abstractions’ in man’s social world, with names such as ‘state, nation, commerce, politics and war’, with the vague idea of ‘war’ covering up ‘a multitude of miseries’, and ‘nation’ responsible for appalling crimes.[144] That this is Tagore’s main and repeated message to the western world is evident from the notes to the essays on the same theme included in the major collection of Tagore’s English Writings.[145]

Tagore personalised his creative process, calling it ‘Jeevandebata’ (variously spelled and translated).[146] Kripalani condemns ‘well-meaning critics’ who tried to explain this conception, pointing out that ‘even ordinary men’ have at times been aware of having two selves: one which acts and another which watches and judges.[147] Prasanta Mahalanobis, Edward Thompson’s adviser on Tagore, explained ‘Jibandebata’ as ‘the Inner Self of the poet’. Thompson recalls Tagore’s insistence that this is not to be identified with God, and then provides his own version of what the jiban-debata is: ‘He is the Lord of the poet’s life, is realizing himself through the poet’s work; the poet gives expression to him, and in this sense is inspired’. Thompson continues:

Rabindranath believed this to be true of all poets; and, presumably of all men, whatever their work. He had always taken his genius with intense seriousness; and this jibandebata doctrine brought a very solemn sense of responsibility, as though God had put a Demiurge in watchful control of his effort. The mood escapes from morbidity, on the whole, because of the humility which saves the poet from mad self-exaltation.[148]

Tagore dismissed Thompson’s book as ‘one of the most absurd’ he had ever read, and declared that as a Christian missionary Thompson was incapable of understanding the ‘Jeevan-devata’.[149] Nevertheless, there is an insight in Thompson’s interpretation of the creative process ‘of all men, whatever their work’. He comes close to articulating an uncomfortable truth known to each one of us, which is that our words, which emerge in the ‘stream of consciousness’,[150] and in our speech and writing, are narratives, representations to ourselves or others of prior processes which have taken place unconsciously, deep within the ‘feeling brain’.[151] Understood in that way, it is not so revolutionary that consciousness can be ‘explained’.[152]

It is increasingly being recognised today that creativity is very dependent on processes taking place in the unconscious mind.[153] Tagore frequently intimates that the creative process is universal and beyond words. David L. Gosling sees ‘Tagore’s universal humanism’ as relevant to his support for his great friend, J.C. Bose, who carried out research into the possibility of pain in plants, and other Indian scientists, ‘for their ability to bridge the gap between the living and the non-living’.[154] In his study of Alternative Sciences, Ashis Nandy quotes from a letter Bose wrote in 1901 as follows:

There is no break in the life-processes which characterize both the animate and the inanimate world. It is difficult to draw a line between these two aspects of life. It is of course possible to delineate a number of imaginary differences, as it is possible to find out similarities in terms of certain other general criteria. The latter approach is justified by the natural tendency of science towards seeking unity in diversity.[155]

Such ideas – received with enthusiasm in the West at the time – extend well beyond today’s ‘normal science’ in Kuhn’s terms.[156] However, the work by Rothenberg on how humans share with animals the capacity to appreciate beauty directly,[157] could suggest that some ideas resembling those of Bose may be gaining legitimacy. Rothenberg does not refer to anything resembling the vitalist science of Bose. He does mention that Henri Bergson ‘won the Nobel Prize for Literature for his evocative, purple-prose philosophy on the march of consciousness toward a dimly visible finale of union with all creation’, but says that these kind of ideas have a only a “New Age” following.[158]

Tagore’s abilities as a poet began with his feelings of direct connection with nature in his childhood, and this provides part of the answer to Tagore’s question, ‘What Is Art?’, but the answer is ultimately religious. The concluding paragraph of the essay begins with Tagore’s answer phrased as another question: ‘What is it in man that asserts its immortality in spite of the obvious fact of death?’ He answers that it is a deeper unity than body and mind, which radiates into the wider world and ‘overflows its banks of the past and the future’; it is personality, man’s consciousness of the infinite. ‘In Art the person in us is sending its answers to the Supreme Person, who reveals Himself to us in a world of endless beauty across the lightless world of facts’.[159]

There were unfortunate circumstances behind Tagore’s dismissive remark in 1926 about Thompson being incapable of understanding divinity in other than a Christian sense.[160] Ten years earlier, when he composed Personality, Tagore clearly believed he would be able to explain his religious ideas in sensible, non-mystical terms to a western audience, having practised on Andrews while they were closeted together discussing ‘the meeting of East and West in common fellowship’.

Andrews had the greatest respect and admiration for Tagore, and he was aware that religion was a cause of divisions and misunderstandings in India and in the world, so he must have been an ideal sounding board when Tagore was contemplating the lectures in America. Looking ahead to the lecture tour itself, only three of the six essays in Personality have titles corresponding to lectures Tagore gave in America.[161] In November and December 1916, Tagore spoke on ‘The World of Personality’ four times, ‘What is Art?’ and ‘The Second Birth’ once each, and another title ‘Personality in Art’ (not a title in the book) once.[162]

Tagore wrote in ‘What Is Art?’: ‘The West may believe in the soul of Man, but she does not believe that the universe has a soul. Yet this is the belief of the East, and the whole mental contribution of the East to mankind is filled with this idea.’[163] Tagore’s ‘poet’s religion’, which is discussed now, goes back to the basics and provides an alternative to the ‘Theosophistries’ and other distortions of South Asian religion which are the subject of Aravamudan’s Guru English.[164]

The Poet’s Religion in ‘The World of Personality’

Tagore’s religion is individual and complex, and he struggled to put into words the ‘unity of inspiration whose proper definition has often remained unrevealed’ even to himself.[165] In his letter to Rothenstein about Thompson being incapable of understanding his ideas, such as the jiban-debata, Tagore explains that concept:

Jeevan-devata [is] the limited aspect of divinity which has its unique place in the individual life, in contrast to that which belongs to the universe. The God of Christianity has his special recognition as the God of humanity—in Hinduism in our everyday meditation we try to realise his cosmic manifestation and thus free our soul from its bondage of the limitedness of the immediate; but for us he is also individual for the individual, working out, through our evolution in time, our ultimate destiny.[166]

This seems to be the same idea for which in this book Tagore adopts the word ‘personality’, with the ‘Supreme Person’ as its ‘cosmic manifestation’.[167] Radice introduces jiban-debata as Tagore’s ‘creative personality’, which ‘governed and penetrated and harmonized Tagore’s own varied creative activities’.[168] Kripalani writes: ‘The same Spirit that suffused and ruled this vast universe dwelt within him and guided his life and genius. He called it Jivan-devata or Lord of my life’.[169] In ‘The Religion of an Artist’, Tagore writes: ‘The fact that we exist has its truth in the fact that everything else does exist, and the “I am” in me crosses its finitude whenever it deeply realises itself in the “Thou art.”’[170]

Jevons observes that Tagore does not define ‘personality’ in ‘What Is Art?’, and he does seem to avoid this with his ‘raincoat in the hall’ quip, but then he takes from the ‘amplitude of meaning’ of the word ‘personality’ the following:

Man, as a knower, is not fully himself,—his mere information does not reveal him. But, as a person, he is the organic man, who has the inherent power to select things from his surroundings in order to make them his own. He has his forces of attraction and repulsion by which he not merely piles up things outside him, but creates himself. The principal creative forces, which transmute things into our living structure, are emotional forces.[171]

‘Personality’, then, is what we know as the ‘self’, perhaps the ‘I’ which Damasio, the neuroscientist, identifies as the ‘self-as-subject-and-knower’ stacked on top of the ‘self-as-object’.[172] Damasio favours the writings of William James as an anchor for his thinking,[173] and Tagore’s process seems similar to that of James, who writes:

After discrimination, association! It is obvious that all advance in knowledge must consist of both operations; for in the course of our education, objects at first appearing as wholes are analyzed into parts, and objects appearing separately are brought together and appear as new compound wholes to the mind.[174]

Tagore, with Damasio, makes ‘emotional forces’ the magic ingredient which turns the ‘piles of things’ into life, but Tagore means more by the phrase than purely biological processes.[175] This is reminiscent of Merz, cited by Jevons, saying that something is lost such that ‘reality disappears’, in the analytic and synthetic processes of science. Merz writes that this loss of reality is eminently the case with ‘that great region of feelings, desires, and volitions, of impelling motives, and reflections on past events and actions, which constitute our moral and religious life’.[176] As the sciences have expanded to take in everything which can possibly be studied, including consciousness, religion seems to be left with a ‘God Delusion’,[177] but in ‘The World of Personality’ Tagore takes issue with Science, and reclaims religion with the aid of the ancient texts of the Upanisads.

Tagore begins with a teasing reference to ‘Science’ insisting on an opposite view of the world from his own. When Tagore, the poet, sees night as ‘a dark child just born of her mother day’ with millions of stars ‘crowding round its cradle’, Science laughs at him, certain that the stars are really moving. After toying with this dispute at some length, Tagore quotes ‘the Indian sage of Ishopanishat’, who says ‘It moves. It moves not. It is distant. It is near.’[178] Tagore gives the meaning of that verse as: ‘when we follow truth in its parts which are near, we see truth moving. When we know truth as a whole, which is looking at it from a distance, it remains still’, hence ‘[t]here is a point where in the mystery of existence contradictions meet’.[179] Tagore goes on to present a similar anomaly with respect to time.

With his American audience in mind, Tagore refers to Walt Whitman as ‘your poet-seer’ and quotes Whitman’s poem ‘When I heard the learned astronomer’, to illustrate how the world ‘crumbles into abstractions’ due to science’s laws.[180] Despite his life-long interest in astronomy, Tagore evidently understood his fellow poet being sickened at the ‘charts and diagrams, to add, divide and measure’ and would have glided out with him and ‘Looked up in perfect silence at the stars’.[181] He also quotes Whitman’s ‘I hear it was charged against me that I sought to destroy institutions’, to show how that poet’s mental dexterity plays havoc with convention.[182] Tagore deplored officialdom, so he would have relished Whitman’s mischievous notion of establishing everywhere, ‘Without edifices, rules or trustees or any argument, / The institution of the dear love of comrades’, and one thinks of the importance to Tagore of his English friends.[183]

I referred earlier in this chapter to Bengali scholars considering ‘The World of Personality’ to be the core of Personality, and I noted that the essay includes Tagore’s commentary on the Isa Upanisad. Tagore is attempting to put in a modern context the reconciliation of opposites achieved by the rhetoricians of old India. This was Tagore as poet-seer, an intermediary in this case between ancient wisdom and modern science. Tagore goes through the Isa Upanisad, quoting and providing original commentary on most of its eighteen verses. Tagore was very familiar with the Vedas and the Upanisads because he and his brothers were made by their father to recite verses from these as a daily ritual.[184] In Sadhana, Tagore provides a number of such texts in English and in the original Sanskrit, but no specific references.[185] In ‘The World of Personality’ he refers only to the Isa Upanisad, making it easy to locate the verses in published translations of the classical Upanisads, and take advantage of relevant commentaries and editorial apparatus.[186]

The Upanisads are a written record of spiritual lessons taught in the ancient forest hermitages.[187] Radhakrishnan’s introductory paragraph to the Isa Upanisad gives its particular purpose as:

to teach the essential unity of God and the world, being and becoming. It is interested not so much in the Absolute in itself, Parabrahman, as in the Absolute in relation to the world, Paramesvara. It teaches that life in the world and life in the Divine Spirit are not incompatible.[188]

The Isa Upanisad was a favourite text with Tagore, as it had been for his father. When carrying out research for the monotheistic Brahmo Dharma, Devendranath had examined 147 Upanisads, and rejected most of them and some of the teachings, and he was particularly ‘disappointed’ in those focussed on the monistic Sanskrit phrase tat tvam asi or ‘Thou art That’.[189] Theologians have seen Tagore’s position as a personalistic monism,[190] but having gone through a long process of religious searching and change,[191] he disdained debate about monism and dualism,[192] and one can see both theological positions when he writes in ‘What Is Art?’:

The world and the personal man are face to face, like friends who question one another and exchange their inner secrets. The world asks the inner man,—“Friend, have you seen me? Do you love me?—not as one who provides you with foods and fruits, not as one whose laws you have found out, but as one who is personal, individual?”[193]

Hume provides an introductory essay to his translation of the Upanisads. He points out that the doctrine of ‘the loss of finite individuality in the real Self that is unlimited’ is not known consciously, and is contrary to ‘common-sense realism which views all things as really existing just as they are seen to exist’.[194] Andrews found this idea troubling, as he indicates in the preface he wrote to the collected writings of Swami Rama Tirtha:

With the philosophy of the Advaita Vedanta I confess I have only a faint and distant sympathy … The West insists on the eternal quality of human personality and rebels against the thought of the loss of personal identity, as in the noble sorrow and faith of Tennyson’s In Memoriam. I recognise the danger of this emphasis of self-assertion and selfish individualism; I recognize that it may need some balance and correction from the East; but the West will never accept as finally satisfying a philosophy which does not allow it to believe that love between human souls may be an eternal reality.[195]

Chaturvedi and Sykes note that Andrews’ mention of Tennyson’s tribute to his friend Arthur Hallam is significant, because of friendship being such a central part of Andrews’ life. The mainstay of Andrews’ own faith was his relationship with Christ, his ‘Friend of friends’,[196] which survived the tormenting doubts which eventually caused him to renounce the exercise of his clerical orders.[197] There are certainly passages in the Upanisads which would not appeal to someone hoping to meet loved ones again after death, such as the Brihad-Aranyaka, which declares that ‘[a]fter death there is no consciousness’ because in life, where there is a duality (dvaita), one can see, smell and hear someone else, but when ‘everything has become just one’s own self’ (advaita), then there is no other to see and be seen, and one could not even ‘understand the understander’.[198]

Sabujkoli Sen notes that Tagore never clung to any one doctrine but was open to all, and that in 1910 he instituted ‘Christotsava’, celebration of Jesus’ Birthday, in Santiniketan’s prayer hall, and Sufism, Buddhism and the Baul tradition were studied at the school.[199] In the article included as an appendix to Radhakrishnan’s Upanisads Tagore expressed his satisfaction that Radhakrishnan was explaining their spirit to English readers.[200] Radhakrishnan includes many commentaries with Christian elements, and in his introduction he refers to an article on ‘Christian Vedantism’, whose author, writing in 1913, considers that missionaries in India need Vedanta, which he suggests might be incorporated into an ‘Ethnic Old Testament’ to provide more ‘terms and modes of expression wherewith to express the more immanental aspects of Christianity’.[201] Before he met Tagore, Andrews was writing in similar enigmatic terms: ‘The final victory of the Christian faith in India depends upon [...] the union of the Hindu and the Musalman, as Christians’. However, both Tagore and Gandhi evidently saw Hinduism as the religion which could absorb all others. Tagore acknowledges the difficulty of the philosophy of the Upanisads for English readers, because of distortions due to translation and severance from the people of the period for which they had meaning.[202] He goes on to say:

[T]he Upanisads are based not upon theological reasoning, but on experience of spiritual life. And life is not dogmatic; in it opposing forces are reconciled—ideas of non-dualism and dualism, the infinite and the finite, do not exclude each other. Moreover the Upanisads do not represent the spiritual experience of any one great individual, but of a great age of enlightenment which has a complex and collective imagination, like that of the starry world. Different creeds may find their sustenance from them, but can never set sectarian boundaries round them.[203]

These sentiments are similar to those voiced by Gandhi, in his contribution to Contemporary Indian Philosophy (to which Tagore sent ‘The Religion of an Artist’). Gandhi offered just one page in answer to the questions the contributors were given. To the first question ‘What is your religion?’, Gandhi replied: ‘My religion is Hinduism which, for me, is Religion of humanity and includes the best of all the religions known to me’.[204]

Andrews took the grave step of resigning his ministry because he was deeply troubled by Christian creeds, particular the phrase in the Athanasian Creed: ‘which Faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly’, whereby even Tagore would be ‘shut out from the mercy of God’,[205] and clearly, the worst kinds of dogma should be avoided. Even so, disputes about which religion is most true or most universal in its message are divisive, and Andrews followed Gandhi, who said: ‘To be true to [one’s] religion one has to lose oneself in continuing and continuous service of all life’.[206] Tagore’s essay in Sadhana ‘Realisation in Action’ shows that active work was central to his religion too, and that essay in particular impressed reviewers.[207] In ‘The World of Personality’ he repeats the verse from the Upanisads used there: ‘Doing work in this world thou shouldst wish to live a hundred years. Thus it is with thee and not otherwise. Let not the work of man cling to him.’[208]

The commentary given in Radhakrishnan’s translation on this verse refers to the New Testament: ‘Wisdom is beautiful but barren without works. St James: “Faith, apart from works, is dead.” II. 26,’ and goes on to explain that the meaning of the verse is that one need not choose between the active or the contemplative life, as did Martha and Mary.[209] Tagore’s commentary immediately after he quotes that verse focuses on the part which says ‘Let not the work of man cling to him.’ He suggests that the aim is to outgrow life by living it to the full, because ‘death is the gate of immortality’, hence: ‘Do your work, but let not your work cling to you’.[210]

There is the sense all through the essay of enjoyment and then renunciation, of the universal poet joyfully pouring himself out in his poems, urging all of us to ‘express our infinity’ in works and relationships with others, but warning that when work clings it becomes a disease which would kill a man’s soul. This is a reminder of Tagore’s mood swings and periods of nervous exhaustion which we know of from his correspondence with Andrews. E.P. Thompson mentions this too in his introduction to the 1991 edition of Nationalism. Thompson quotes a letter which his father received from Prasanta Mahalanobis about Tagore’s ‘dual personality’, by which he alternated between ‘a mad incessant whirlpool of activity’ and suddenly giving up everything to retire into solitude.[211]

The sense of Tagore careering about permeates Thompson’s account, not only when the subject is Tagore’s moods, but also where Thompson is writing of Tagore’s views and aspirations for India and the world. It would, however, be a mistake to regard Tagore’s polemics and impatience as just a reflection of his psychology. It can also be interpreted as his idealism and refusal to compromise. Looking again at how Tagore was different from Andrews, the latter was a Christian socialist determined to engage in the ongoing fight for better treatment for the poor, whereas Tagore believed in ‘the harmony of completeness in humanity’ and he wanted ‘our civilisation [to] take its firm stand upon its basis of social co-operation’.[212] Thompson quotes another ‘remarkable’ letter from Mahalanobis, which explains that Tagore did not believe in seeking favour from Government, or dependence on Government ‘for education, sanitation, nor even for peace and order or justice’, but instead he said: ‘We must awaken our own deep-seated springs of action for good’.[213] To interpret the next two books, Nationalism and Creative Unity, one needs to relate the ideas Tagore expresses in the essays to his practical contributions to achieving these goals, through his work on education and rural reconstruction.

Conclusion: Tagore’s ‘Song of Myself’

I began this chapter with two quotations, one from a review of My Reminiscences, Personality and Nationalism combined, the other from Letters to a Friend where Andrews is describing how he and Tagore were isolated from the war discussing ‘the problem of human suffering; the possibility of complete human brotherhood; the meeting of East and West in common fellowship’. The history of Personality is entangled with that of Nationalism, both published in 1917, with the latter getting most attention. My aims for this chapter were to show how Tagore was able to express his ideas in English in Personality because of his ‘dear love of comrades’, his intimacy with two English friends, and also to prepare for reading Nationalism with some knowledge of Tagore’s feelings and ideas, expressed in Personality, which is Tagore’s ‘Song of Myself’.

I have also looked at how Tagore being a poet affects the way he expresses his ideas, and how he was misunderstood by an interested professor of philosophy. There is a parallel between Jevons on Tagore and William James on Whitman. The professors look for a formula for ‘life in its completeness’ in some ‘Goldilocks zone’ between rationalism and mysticism, but were unprepared to allow the poets to demonstrate how crucial a role our emotions play in our engagement with ‘man and nature and God’.

James made Whitman the epitome of ‘healthy-mindedness’,[214] citing the latter’s celebratory ‘Song of Myself’[215] and disregarding ‘Drum Taps’,[216] his vehement denunciation of war, the propaganda, patriotism and ‘sickening slaughter’.[217] Jevons makes a similar error when he insists that Tagore’s phrase ‘unreasoning faith’ is the poet-prophet’s alternative to logic. In fact it is Tagore’s equivalent to Marx’s much misquoted remark about genuine suffering: ‘Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the feeling of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless circumstances. It is the opium of the people.’[218] It is because we are free, Tagore says, that we can ruin this wonderful world, so that ‘the crime against man and God [will] carry its own punishment’. He likens the suffering caused to ‘the infancy of helpless falls and bruises’ of the ‘spiritual world, which is being built of man’s life and that of God’. Then in the paragraph from which Jevons takes his quote, he says ‘our greatest hope is in this, that suffering is there’. Like the ‘baby’s cry which would be dumb, if it had no faith in the mother’, man’s suffering reveals his faith in the divine, ‘his deepest instinct, his unreasoning faith in the reality of the ideal,—the faith shown in the readiness for death, in the renunciation of all that belongs to the self.’[219]

We can understand Jevons’ predicament. This is not ordinary logic, it is Tagore’s idiosyncratic poet’s logic. In a similar way, Nationalism, which we focus on in the next chapter, is a poet’s polemic, coupled with Tagore’s unreasoning faith that:

there is such a thing as the harmony of completeness in humanity, where poverty does not take away his riches, where defeat may lead him to victory, death to immortality, and where in the compensation of Eternal Justice those who are the last may yet have their insult transmuted into a golden triumph.[220]

The review I quoted in my epigraph is unusual for the sympathetic way it considers Personality and Nationalism together, and also Tagore’s autobiography of his boyhood and youth. The reviewer observes how the poet’s story in My Reminiscences of his escape from the harsh system under which he was raised, ended in him running his own school in a way that encouraged moral self-development. Personality is described as a longer discourse on the same matters, with a method focussed on Tagore’s ‘attack on the one-sidedness of science’. The writer is struck particularly by the essays on Art as the escape from the utilitarian, and on Woman as the passive soil of humanity. Having identified a theme of spiritual growth from the first two books, the reviewer is able to perceive the same theme in Nationalism, where Tagore warns that the nation of ‘power-lust’ and jealousy denies the ‘noble ideas and ideals’ which men would die for. The reviewer concludes from this that the nation is a political entity, with no spiritual goal or sympathy for man, consigning him to an uncertain future.[221]

This reviewer was unique at that time with his insight that Tagore’s lonely upbringing and resistance to conventional education led to his establishing a spiritual forest school for boys, which has a connection to him attacking nationalism in the West, in Japan and in India, which one can understand through the subject matter of Personality. The role of Personality in that trajectory is, in effect, to reinterpret Tagore’s religion, which has a strong basis in Hinduism,[222] as a deep anthropology, a study of how man might live in society.

E.P. Thompson says that ‘Nationalism is a prescient, even prophetic, work whose foresight has been confirmed by sufficient evidence – two world wars, the nuclear arms race, environmental disasters, technologies too clever to be controlled’, and he says that its ‘assertive denunciations of the Nation’ can seem repetitious and over familiar.[223] My belief is that, read with an understanding of Personality, read with an understanding of Tagore’s emotional intensity, Nationalism is a newly relevant work.

Before moving on to Nationalism, I am providing the opportunity to read an essay from Personality in its entirety, and I have chosen the complex and challenging essay ‘The Second Birth’, referred to several times above.


The Second Birth

For us inanimate nature is the outside view of existence. We only know how it appears to us, but we do not know what it is. For that we can only know by sympathy.

But the curtain rises, life appears on the stage, and the drama begins whose meaning we come to understand through gestures and language resembling our own. We know what life is, not by outward features, not by analysis of its parts, but by a more immediate perception through sympathy. And this is real knowledge.

We see a tree. It is separate from its surroundings by the fact of its individual life. All its struggle is to keep this separateness of its creative individuality distinct from everything else in the universe. Its life is based upon a dualism,—on one side this individuality of the tree, and on the other the universe. [77]

But if it were a dualism of hostility and mutual exclusion, then the tree would have no chance to maintain its existence. The whole league of giant forces would pull it to pieces. It is a dualism of relationship. The more perfect the harmony with its world of the sun and the soil and the seasons, the more perfect the tree becomes in its individuality. It is an evil for it when this inter-relation is checked. Therefore life, on its negative side, has to maintain separateness from all else, while, on its positive side, it maintains unity with the universe. In this unity is its fulfilment.

In the life of an animal on its negative side this element of separateness is still more pronounced, and on that account on its positive side its relationship with the world is still wider. Its food is more fully separated from it than that of the tree. It has to seek it and know it under the stimuli of pleasure and pain. Therefore it has a fuller relationship with its world of knowledge and feeling. The same is also true in its case with regard to the separation of sex. These separations, and the consequent efforts after unity, have the effect of heightening the consciousness of self in animals, making their personality richer by their contact with unfore[78]seen obstacles and unexpected possibilities. In the trees the separation from their progeny ends in complete detachment, whereas in animals it leads to a further relationship. Thus the vital interest of animals is still more enlarged in its scope and intensity, and their consciousness is spread over a larger area. This wider kingdom of their individuality they have constantly to maintain through a complex relationship with their world. All obstacles to this are evils.

In man, this dualism of physical life is still more varied. His needs are not only greater in number and therefore requiring larger field for search, but also more complex, requiring deeper knowledge of things. This gives him a greater consciousness of himself. It is his mind which more fully takes the place of the automatic movements and instinctive activities of trees and animals. This mind also has its negative and positive aspects of separateness and unity. For, on the one hand, it separates the objects of knowledge from their knower, and then again unites them in a relationship of knowledge. To the vital relationship of this world of food and sex is added the secondary relation which is mental. Thus we make this world doubly our own by living in it and by knowing it. [79]

But there is another division in man, which is not explained by the character of his physical life. It is the dualism in his consciousness of what is and what ought to be. In the animal this is lacking, its conflict is between what is and what is desired; whereas, in man, the conflict is between what is desired and what should be desired. What is desired dwells in the heart of the natural life, which we share with animals; but what should be desired belongs to a life which is far beyond it.

So, in man, a second birth has taken place. He still retains a good many habits and instincts of his animal life; yet his true life is in the region of what ought to be. In this, though there is a continuation, yet there is also a conflict. Many things that are good for the one life are evil for the other. This necessity of a fight with himself has introduced an element into man’s personality which is character. From the life of desire it guides man to the life of purpose. This life is the life of the moral world.

In this moral world we come from the world of nature into the world of humanity. We live and move and have our being in the universal man. A human infant is born into the material [80] universe and into the universe of man at the same time. This latter is a world of ideas and institutions, of stored knowledge and trained habits. It has been built by strenuous endeavours of ages, by martyrdoms of heroic men. Its strata are deposits of the renunciations of countless individuals in all ages and countries. It has its good and evil elements,—the inequalities of its surface and its temperature making the flow of life full of surprises.

This is the world of man’s second birth, the extra-natural world, where the dualism of the animal life and the moral makes us conscious of our personality as man. Whatever hinders this life of man from establishing perfect relationship with its moral world is an evil. It is death,—a far greater death than the death of the natural life.

In the natural world, with the help of science, man is turning the forces of matter from tyranny into obedience.

But in his moral world he has a harder task to accomplish. He has to turn his own passions and desires from tyranny into obedience. And continual efforts have been directed towards this end in all times and climates. Nearly all our institutions are the outcome of these endeavours. [81] They are giving directions to our will and digging channels for it in order to allow its course to run easily without useless waste of power.

We have seen that the physical life had its gradual expansion into the mental. The mind of animals is fully engrossed in the search for and knowledge of the immediate necessaries of life. In man’s case these objects were more varied and therefore a greater mind-power was requisite. Thus we became aware that our world of present needs is one with a world that infinitely transcends our present needs. We came to know that this world not only provides us with food, but with thoughts in a greater measure; that there is a subtle relationship of all things with our mind.

What the intellect is in the world of Nature our will is in the moral world. The more it is freed and widened, the more our moral relationship becomes true, varied and large. Its outer freedom is the freedom from the guidance of pleasure and pain, its inner freedom is from the narrowness of self-desire. We know that when intellect is freed from the bondage of interest it discovers the world of universal reason, with which we must be in harmony fully to satisfy our needs; in the same manner when will is [82] freed from its limitations, when it becomes good, that is to say, when its scope is extended to all men and all time, it discerns a world transcending the moral world of humanity. It finds a world where all our disciplines of moral life find their ultimate truth, and our mind is roused to the idea that there is an infinite medium of truth through which goodness finds its meaning. That I become more in my union with others is not a simple fact of arithmetic. We have known that when different personalities combine in love, which is the complete union, then it is not like adding to the horse power of efficiency, but it is what was imperfect finding its perfection in truth, and therefore in joy; what was meaningless, when unrelated, finding its full meaning in relationship. This perfection is not a thing of measurement or analysis, it is a whole which transcends all its parts. It leads us into a mystery, which is in the heart of things, yet beyond it,—like the beauty of a flower which is infinitely more than its botanical facts; like the sense of humanity itself which cannot be contained in mere gregariousness.

This feeling of perfection in love, which is the feeling of the perfect oneness, opens for us the gate of the world of the Infinite One, who [83] is revealed in the unity of all personalities; who gives truth to sacrifice of self, to death which leads to a larger life, and to loss which leads to a greater gain; who turns the emptiness of renunciation into fulfilment by his own fulness. Here we come to the realm of the greatest division in us,—the division of the finite and the infinite. In this we become conscious of the relationship between what is in us and what is beyond us; between what is in the moment and what is ever to come.

The consciousness of relationship dawned in us with our physical existence, where there was separation and meeting between our individual life and the universal world of things; it took a deeper hue in our mental life, where there was a separation and continual reunion between our individual mind and the universal world of reason; it widened where there was a separation and combination between the individual will and the universal world of human personalities; it came to its ultimate meaning where there was the separation and harmony between the individual One in us and the universal One in infinity. And at this point of the everlasting parting and meeting of the One with the One breaks out the wonderful song of man— [84]

That is the Supreme Path of This,

That is the Supreme Treasure of This,

That is the Supreme World of This,

That is the Supreme Joy of This.

(Eshasya parama gatih,/ Eshasya parama sampat,/ Esho’sya paramo lokah,/ Esho’sya parama anandah.)

Life is the relationship of the That and the This. In the world of things and men, this rhythm of That and This flows on in countless channels of metres; but the meaning of it is absent, till the realization is made perfect in the Supreme That and This.

The relation of the unborn child to its surroundings in the mother’s womb is intimate, but it is without its final meaning. There its wants are ministered to in all their details, but its greatest want remains unfulfilled. It must be born into the world of light and space and freedom of action. That world is so entirely different in every respect from that of the mother’s womb, that, if the unborn child had the power to think, it could never imagine what that wider world was. Yet it has limbs, which have their only meaning in the freedom of the air and light.

In the same manner in the natural world [85] man has all the preparations for the nourishment of his self. There his self is his principal concern,—the self which is detached in its interests from other selves. As is his self, so are the things of his world; they have no other connection in themselves than that of his use. But some faculties grow in him, like the limbs in the unborn child, which give him the power to realize the unity of the world,—the unity which is the property of soul, and not of things. He has the faculty of taking joy in others, in beauty and love, even more than the joy in himself. The faculty which makes him spurn pleasure and accept pain and death, makes him refuse to acknowledge any limit to his progress, and leads him towards knowledge and action that are of no apparent use to him. This causes conflict with the laws of the natural world, and the principle of the survival of the fittest changes its meaning.

Here comes the greatest suffering of the dualism in man, the dualism of the world of nature and the world of soul. The evil which hurts the natural man is pain, but that which hurts his soul has been given a special name, it is sin. For it may not be at all realized in pain, yet it is evil, just as blindness or lameness is of no consequence [86] to the embryo, yet becomes a great evil if it continues after birth, for it hinders life’s ultimate purpose. Crime is against man, sin is against the divine in us.

What is this divine? It is that which has its right and true meaning in the infinite, which does not believe in the embryonic life of self as the ultimate truth. The travail of birth is upon all humanity—its history is the history of suffering such as no animal can ever realize. All its energies are urging it forward; it has no rest. When it goes to sleep upon its prosperity, binds its life in codes of convention, begins to scoff at its ideals, and wants to withdraw all its forces towards the augmentation of self, then it shows signs of death; its very power becomes the power of destruction,—the power which makes huge preparations for death, not believing in the im- mortal life.

For all other creatures nature is final. To live, to propagate their race and to die is their end. And they are content. They never cry for salvation, for emancipation from the limits of life; they never feel stifled for breath and knock with all their forces against the boundary walls of their world; they never know what it is to renounce their life of plenty and through privations [87] to seek entrance into the realm of blessedness. They are not ashamed of their desires, they are pure in their appetites; for these belong to their complete life. They are not cruel in their cruelties, not greedy in their greeds; for these end in their objects, which are final in themselves. But man has a further life, and therefore those passions are despised by him which do not acknowledge his infinity.

In man, the life of the animal has taken a further bend. He has come to the beginning of a world, which has to be created by his own will and power. The receptive stage is past, in which the self tries to draw all surrounding things towards its own centre and gives nothing. Man is now upon his career of creative life; he is to give from his abundance. By his incessant movement of renunciation he is to grow. Whatever checks that freedom of endless growth is sin, which is the evil that works against man’s eternity. This creative energy in man has shown itself from the beginning of his chapter of life. Even his physical needs are not supplied to him ready-made in nature’s nursery. From his primitive days he has been busy creating a world of his own resources from the raw materials that lie around him. Even the dishes of his food are his [88] own creation and, unlike animals, he is born naked and has to create his own clothes. This proves that man has been born from the world of nature’s purpose to the world of freedom.

For creation is freedom. It is a prison, to have to live in what is; for it is living in what is not ourselves. There we helplessly allow nature to choose us and choose for us, and thus we come under the law of natural selection. But in our creation we live in what is ours, and there more and more the world becomes a world of our own selection; it moves with our movement and gives way to us according to the turn we take. Thus we find that man is not content with the world that is given to him; he is bent upon making it his own world. And he is taking to pieces the mechanism of the universe to study it and to refit it according to his own requirements. He is restless under the restrictions of nature’s arrangements of things. These impede the freedom of his course at every step, and he has to tolerate the tyranny of matter, which his nature refuses to believe final and inevitable.

Even in his savage days he would change things by magical powers. He dreamed, as no animal ever does, of Aladdin’s lamp and of the obedient forces of genii to turn the world upside [89] down as it suited him, because his free spirit, in its movements, stumbled against things arranged without consideration for him. He was obliged to behave as if he must follow the arrangement of nature, which had not his consent, or die. But this, in spite of hard facts against him, he never could believe in his heart of hearts. Therefore he dreamed of the paradise where he could be free, of the fairy land, of the epic age when man had constant cooperation with gods, of the philosopher’s stone, of the elixir of life. Though he saw no gate opening out anywhere, he groped for it, he fretted, he desired and prayed with all his might for an entrance to freedom. For instinctively he felt that this world was not his final world, and unless he had another world his soul was to him a meaningless torment.

Science guides man’s rebellion of freedom against Nature’s rule. She is working to give into man’s hand Nature’s magic wand of power; she is to free our spirit from the slavery of things. Science has a materialistic appearance, because she is engaged in breaking the prison of matter and working in the rubbish heap of the ruins. At the invasion of a new country plunder becomes the rule of the day. But when that country is conquered, things become different, and those [90] who robbed act as policemen to restore peace and security. Science is at the beginning of the invasion of the material world and there goes on a furious scramble for plunder. Often things look hideously materialistic, and shamelessly belie man’s own nature. But the day will come when some of the great powers of nature will be at the beck and call of every individual, and at least the prime necessaries of life will be supplied to all with very little care and cost. To live will be as easy to man as to breathe, and his spirit will be free to create his own world.

In early days, when science had not found the keys to nature’s storehouses of power, man still had the courage of stoicism to defy matter. He said he could go without food, and clothes were not absolutely necessary for him to save him from extremes of temperature. He loved to take pride in mortifying the flesh. It was his pleasure openly to proclaim that he paid very few of the taxes which nature claimed from him. He proved that he utterly disdained the fear of pain and death, with the help of which nature exacted servitude from him.

Why was this pride ? Why has man always chafed against the humiliation of bending his neck to physical necessities ? Why could he [91] never reconcile himself to accept the limitations of nature as absolute ? Why could he, in his physical and moral world, attempt impossibilities that stagger imagination, and, in spite of repeated disappointments, never accept defeat?

Looked at from the point of view of nature man is foolish. He does not fully trust the world he lives in. He has been waging war with it from the commencement of his history. He seems so fond of hurting himself from all directions. It is difficult to imagine how the careful mistress of natural selection should leave loopholes through which such unnecessary and dangerous elements could find entrance into her economy and encourage man to try to break the very world that sustains him. But the chick also behaves in the same unaccountably foolish manner in pecking through the wall of its little world. Somehow it has felt, with the accomplishment of an irresistible impulse, that there is something beyond its dear prison of shell, waiting to give it the fulfilment of its existence in a manner it can never imagine.

In the same manner also man, in his instinct, is almost blindly sure that, however dense be his envelopment, he is to be born from Nature’s womb to the world of spirit,—the world where [92] he has his freedom of creation; where he is in cooperation with the infinite, where his creation and God’s creation are to become one in harmony.

In almost all religious systems there is a large area of pessimism, where life has been held to be an evil, and the world a snare and a delusion; where man has felt himself to be furiously at war with his natural surroundings. He has felt the oppression of all things so intensely that it has seemed to him there was an evil personality in the world, which tempted him, and with all its cunning wiles waylaid him into destruction. In his desperation man has thought that he would shut up all possible communication with nature and utterly prove that he was sufficient in himself.

But this is the intensely painful antagonism of the child-life with the mother’s life at the time of birth. It is cruel and destructive; it looks at the moment like ingratitude. And all religious pessimism is an ingratitude of deepest dye. It is a violent incitement to strike at that which has so long borne us and fed us with its own life.

Yet that there could be such an impossible paradox makes us pause and think. There are times when we detach ourselves from our history and believe that such pessimistic paroxysms were [93] deliberate creations of certain monks and priests, who lived under unnatural conditions in a time of lawlessness. In such a belief we forget that conspiracies are creations of history, but history is no creation of conspiracies. There has been a violent demand upon human nature from its own depth to declare war against its own self. And though its violence has subsided, the battle- cry has not altogether ceased.

We must know that periods of transition have their language which cannot be taken literally. The first assertion of soul comes to man with too violent an emphasis upon the separateness from nature, against which it seems ready to carry out war of extermination. But this is the negative side. When the revolution for freedom breaks out, it takes the aspect of anarchy. Yet its true meaning is not the destruction of government, but the freedom of government.

In like manner, the soul’s birth in the spiritual world is not the severance of relationship with what we call nature, but freedom of relationship, perfectness of realization.

In nature we are blind and lame like a child before its birth. But in the spiritual life we are born in freedom. And then because we are freed from the blind bondage of nature she is [94] illuminated to us, and where we saw before mere envelopment we now see the mother.

But what is the ultimate end of the freedom which has come into man’s life? It must have its meaning in something beyond which the question need go no farther. The answer is the same that we receive from the life of the animal if we ask what is its final meaning. The animals, by feeding and gratifying their desires, realize their own selves. And that is the ultimate end, to know that I am. The animal knows it, but its knowledge is like the smoke, not like the fire—it comes with a blind feeling but no illumination, and though it arouses the truth it darkens it. It is the consciousness passing from the undistinguished non-self to the distinct self. It has just enough circumference to feel itself as the centre.

The ultimate end of freedom is also to know that “I am.” But it is the aberration of man’s consciousness from the separateness of the self into its unity with all. This freedom is not perfect in its mere extension, but its true perfection is in its intensity, which is love. The freedom of the child’s birth from its mother’s womb is not fulfilled in its fuller consciousness of its mother, but in its intense consciousness of its [95] mother in love. In the womb it was fed and was warm, but it was narrowly self-contained in its loneliness. After its birth, through the medium of its freedom, the inter-communication of the love of the mother and the child brings to the child the joy of the fullest consciousness of its personality. This mother’s love gives to it the meaning of all its world. If the child were merely a feeding organism, then by fixing its roots into its world it could thrive. But the child is a person, and its personality needs its full realization, which can never be in the bondage of the womb. It has to be free, and the freedom of personality has its fulfilment, not in itself, but in other personality, and this is love.

It is not true that animals do not feel love. But it is too feeble to illuminate consciousness to such a degree as to reveal the whole truth of love to them. Their love has a glow which brightens their selves but has not the flame which goes beyond the mystery of personality. Its range is too immediately near to indicate its direction towards the paradox, that personality, which is the sense of unity in one’s own self, yet finds its real truth in its relationship of unity with others. [96]

This paradox has led man to realize further that Nature, into which we are born, is merely an imperfect truth, like the truth of the womb. But the full truth is, that we are born in the lap of the infinite personality. Our true world is not the world of the laws of matter and force, but the world of personality. When we fully realize it, our freedom is fulfilled. Then we understand what the Upanishat says:

“Know all that moves in the moving world as enveloped by God, and enjoy by what he renounces.”

We have seen that consciousness of personality begins with the feeling of the separateness from all and has its culmination in the feeling of the unity with all. It is needless to say that with the consciousness of separation there must be consciousness of unity, for it cannot exist solely by itself. But the life in which the consciousness of separation takes the first place and of unity the second place, and therefore where the personality is narrow and dim in the light of truth,—this is the life of self. But the life in which the consciousness of unity is the primary and separateness the secondary factor, and therefore the personality is large and bright in truth,—this is the life of soul. The whole object of [97] man is to free his personality of self into the personality of soul, to turn his inward forces into the forward movement towards the infinite, from the contraction of self in desire into the expansion of soul in love.

This personality, which is the conscious principle of oneness, the centre of relationships, is the reality,—therefore the ultimate object of attainment. I must emphasize this fact, that this world is a real world only in its relation to a central personality. When that centre is taken away, then it falls to pieces, becomes a heap of abstractions, matter and force, logical symbols, and even those, the thinnest semblances of reality, would vanish into absolute nothingness, if the logical person in the centre, to whom they are related in some harmony of reason, were nowhere.

But these centres are innumerable. Each creature has its own little world related to its own personality. Therefore, the question naturally comes to our mind, is the reality many, irreconcilably different each from the other ?

If we have to give an answer in the affirmative, our whole nature rebels. For we know that in us the principle of oneness is the basis of [98] all reality. Therefore, through all his questionings and imaginings from the dim dawn of his doubtings and debates, man has come to the truth, that there is one infinite centre to which all the personalities, and therefore all the world of reality, are related. He is “Mahantam purusham,” the one Supreme Person; he is “Satyam,” the one Supreme Reality; he is “Jnanam,” he has the knowledge in him of all knowers, therefore he knows himself in all knowings; he is “Sarvanubhuh,” he feels in him the feelings of all creatures, therefore he feels himself in all feelings.

But this Supreme Person, the centre of all reality, is not merely a passive, a negatively receptive being,—Ananda-rupam amrtam yad vibhati. He is the joy which reveals itself in forms. It is his will which creates.

Will has its supreme response, not in the world of law, but in the world of freedom, not in the world of nature, but in the spiritual world.

This we know in ourselves. Our slaves do our bidding, furnish us with our necessaries, but in them our relation is not perfect. We have our own freedom of will which can only find its true harmony in the freedom of other wills. Where we are slaves ourselves, in our selfish [99] desires, we feel satisfaction in slaves. For slaves reflect our own slavery, which comes back to us, making us dependent. Therefore when America freed her slaves she truly freed herself, not only from the spiritual, but also from the material slavery. Our highest joy is in love. For there we realize the freedom of will in others. In friends, the will meets our will in fulness of freedom, not in coercion of want or fear; therefore, in this love, our personality finds its highest realization.

Because the truth of our will is in its free- dom, therefore all our pure joy is in freedom. We have pleasure in the fulfilment of our necessity,—but this pleasure is of a negative nature. For necessity is a bondage, the fulfilment of which frees us from it. But there comes its end. It is different with our delight in beauty. It is of a positive nature. In the rhythm of harmony, whatever may be its reason, we find perfection. There we see not the substance, or the law, but some relationship of forms which has its harmony with our personality. From the bondage of mere lines and matter comes out that which is above all limitations—it is the complete unity of relationship. We at once feel free from the [100] tyranny of unmeaningness of isolated things,—they now give us something which is personal to our own self. The revelation of unity in its passive perfection, which we find in nature, is beauty; the revelation of unity in its active perfection, which we find in the spiritual world, is love. This is not in the rhythm of proportions, but in the rhythm of wills. The will, which is free, must seek for the realization of its harmony other wills which are also free, and in this is the significance of spiritual life. The infinite centre of personality, which radiates its joy by giving itself out in freedom, must create other centres of freedom to unite with it in harmony. Beauty is the harmony realized in things which are bound by law. Love is the harmony realized in wills which are free.

In man, these centres of freedom have been created. It is not for him to be merely the recipient of favours from nature; he must fully radiate himself out in his creation of power and perfection of love. His movement must be towards the Supreme Person, whose movement is towards him. The creation of the natural world is God’s own creation, we can only receive it and by receiving it make it our own. But in the creation of the spiritual world we are God’s [101] partners. In this work God has to wait for our will to harmonize with his own. It is not power which builds this spiritual world; there is no passivity in its remotest corner, no coercion. Consciousness has to be made clear of all mists of delusion, will has to be made free from all contrary forces of passions and desires, and then we meet with God where he creates. There can be no passive union,—because he is not a passive being. With him our relationship as mere receivers of gifts is not fully true, for that is a one-sided and therefore imperfect relation- ship. He gives us from his own fulness and we also give him from our abundance. And in this there is true joy not only for us, but for God also.

In our country the Vaishnavas have realized this truth and boldly asserted it by saying that God has to rely on human souls for the fulfilment of his love. In love there must be freedom, therefore God has not only to wait till our souls, out of their own will, bring themselves into harmony with his own, but also to suffer when there are obstacles and rebellions.

Therefore in the creation of the spiritual world, in which man has to work in union with God, there have been sufferings of which animals [102] can have no idea. In the tuning of the instruments discords have shrieked loud, and strings have often snapped. When seen from this aspect, such work of collaboration between man and God has seemed as though meaninglessly malevolent. Because of the ideal that there is in the heart of this creation, every mistake and misfit has come as a stab and the world of soul has bled and groaned. Freedom has often taken the negative course to prove that it is freedom,—and man has suffered and God with him, so that this world of spirit might come out of its bath of fire, naked and pure, radiating light in all its limbs like a divine child. There have been hypocrisies and lies, cruel arrogance angered at the wounds it inflicts, spiritual pride that uses God’s name to insult man, and pride of power that insults God by calling him its ally; there has been the smothered cry of centuries in pain robbed of its voice, and children of men mutilated of their right arms of strength to keep them helpless for all time; luxuries have been cultivated upon fields manured by the bloody sweat of slavery, and wealth built upon the foundations of penury and famine. But, I ask, has this giant spirit of negation won ? Has it not its greatest defeat in the suffering it has caused [103] in the heart of the infinite? and is not its callous pride shamed by the very grass of the wayside and flowers of the field every moment of its bloated existence? Does not the crime against man and God carry its own punishment upon its head in its crown of hideousness? Yes, the divine in man is not afraid of success, or of organization; it does not believe in the pre- cautions of prudence and dimensions of power. Its strength is not in the muscle or the machine, neither in cleverness of policy nor in callousness of conscience; it is in its spirit of perfection. The to-day scoffs at it, but it has the eternity of to-morrow on its side. In appearance it is helpless like a babe, but its tears of suffering in the night set in motion all the unseen powers of heaven, the Mother in all creation is awakened. Prison walls break down, piles of wealth come tumbling to the dust under the weight of its huge disproportion. The history of the earth is the history of earthquakes and floods and volcanic fires, and yet, through it all, it is the history of the green fields and bubbling streams, of beauty and of prolific life. The spiritual world, which is being built of man’s life and that of God, will pass its infancy of helpless falls and bruises, and one day will stand firm in [104] its vigour of youth, glad in its own beauty and freedom of movement.

Our greatest hope is in this, that suffering is there. It is the language of imperfection. Its very utterance carries in it the trust in the perfect, like the baby’s cry which would be dumb, if it had no faith in the mother. This suffering has driven man with his prayer to knock at the gate of the infinite in him, the divine, thus revealing his deepest instinct, his unreasoning faith in the reality of the ideal, the faith shown in the readiness for death, in the renunciation of all that belongs to the self. God’s life flowing in its outpour of self-giving has touched man’s life which is also abroad in its career of freedom. When the discord rings out man cries,—“Asato ma sad gamaya”—“Help me to pass through the unreal to the real.” It is the surrender of his self to be tuned for the music of the soul. This surrender is waited for, because the spiritual harmony cannot be effected except through freedom. Therefore man’s willing surrender to the infinite is the commencement of the union. Only then can God’s love fully act upon man’s soul through the medium of freedom. This surrender is our soul’s free choice of its life of cooperation with God,—cooperation in the work of the perfect [105] moulding of the world of law into the world of love.

In the history of man moments have come when we have heard the music of God’s life touching man’s life in perfect harmony. We have known the fulfilment of man’s personality in gaining God’s nature for itself, in utter self-giving out of abundance of love. Men have been born in this world of nature, with our human limitations and appetites, and yet proved that they breathed in the world of spirit, that the highest reality was the freedom of personality in the perfect union of love. They freed them- selves pure from all selfish desires, from all narrowness of race and nationality, from the fear of man and the bondage of creeds and conventions. They became one with their God in the free active life of the infinite, in their unlimited abundance of renunciation. They suffered and loved. They received in their breasts the hurts of the evil of the world and proved that the life of the spirit was immortal. Great kingdoms change their shapes and vanish like clouds, institutions fade in the air like dreams, nations play their parts and disappear in obscurity, but these individuals carry in themselves the death- less life of all humanity. Their ceaseless life [106] flows like a river of a mighty volume of flood, through the green fields and deserts, through the long dark caverns of oblivion into the dancing joy of the sunlight, bringing water of life to the door of multitudes of men through endless years, healing and allaying thirst and cleansing the impurities of the daily dust, and singing, with living voice, through the noise of the markets the song of the everlasting life, the song which runs thus:

That is the Supreme Path of This,

That is the Supreme Treasure of this,

That is the Supreme World of This,

That is the Supreme Joy of This.


[1] Review, The Glasgow Herald, 20 September 1917, Imagining Tagore, pp. 292-4 (pp. 292-3). [It has not been possible to identify the author from newspaper archives.]

[2] Andrews, ‘Chapter III’, in Letters to a Friend, pp. 56-9 (pp. 56-7).

[3] Personality: Lectures Delivered in America in May 1917 and Nationalism in August 1917 (Imagining Tagore, p. 628.)

[4] In Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, Dutta and Robinson write: ‘One might have expected his thoughts to turn to literature and the arts [for his forthcoming lectures]; instead – maverick that he was – he homed in on the war then raging in Europe, the cult of nationalism and its partner industrialization’. (Dutta and Robinson, ‘Japan and the USA (1916-1917)’, in Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 200-8 (p. 201).) Personality is listed in the Bibliography (p. 468) but there is no entry for Personality in the index of the biography, or in that of Selected Letters, the main source of material for the biography, which was published a year later.

[5] Barun Roy, ‘Tagore trail’, <http://www.business-standard.com/india/news/barun-roytagore-trail-inus/454311/> [accessed 22/2/2012] (later at http://www.samachar.com/barun-roy-a-tagore-trail-in-the-us-lldaLWbgegh.html [accessed 9/6/2014])

[6] The dedication and the short Preface in the original version of Nationalism were dropped in subsequent editions.

[7] Obituary Prof. F.B. Jevons, Nature, 137 (1936), 648.

[8] F.B. Jevons, ‘Sir Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Philosopher’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 19 (1918-1919), 30-45.

[9] ‘The world of science is not a world of reality, it is an abstract world of force. [...] But there is another world which is real to us. We see it, feel it; we deal with it with all our emotions. Its mystery is endless because we cannot analyse it or measure it. We can but say, “Here you are.”’ (Tagore, ‘What is Art?’, in Personality, pp. 3-38 (p. 4).)

[10] Sujit Mukherjee, Passage to America: The Reception of Rabindranath Tagore in the United States, 1912-1941 (Bookland, 1994), p. 195. The authorised Tagore biography is: Prabhatkumar Mukhopadhyay, Rabindrajibani o Rabindrashityaprabesak (The life of Rabindra, and an introduction to Rabindra literature). 4 vols.; Calcutta: Bisvabharati, B.E. 1366 (1959). (Reference as in Stephen N. Hay, Bibliography, in Asian Ideas of East and West: Tagore and his Critics in Japan, China, and India, pp. 413-46 (p. 430).)

[11] Stephen N. Hay, Asian Ideas of East and West: Tagore and his Critics in Japan, China, and India, p. 35.

[12] Letters to a Friend, pp. 68-9. I noted earlier that Dutta and Robinson assumed the Nationalism lectures were written for the American lecture tour, which is not only unlikely but almost certainly wrong.

[13] Benarsidas Chaturvedi and Marjorie Sykes, ‘The Friend of the Poor’, in Charles Freer Andrews: A Narrative (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1949), pp. 147-226.

[14] ‘The World of Personality’, in Personality, pp. 39-74 (pp. 69-70). (Tagore’s first explicit reference to human suffering occurs almost half way through the book. There is one earlier occurrence of the word ‘suffering’, where Tagore says: ‘Everywhere in man’s world, the Supreme Person is suffering from the killing of the human reality by the imposition of the abstract’ (specifically ‘abstractions, with such names as society, state, nation, commerce, politics and war’). (Personality, pp. 36-7.))

[15] Tagore, ‘The Surplus in Man’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 51-64.

[16] Tagore, ‘What Is Art?’, p. 4.

[17] ‘What Is Art?’, pp. 12-13.

[18] Chaturvedi and Sykes, Charles Freer Andrews: A Narrative, p. 186.

[19] ‘See Rabindra-jibani, II, 482-483; III, 88’ (Mukherjee, p. 198 note.)

[20] Mukherjee, p. 198.

[21] Radice, Introduction, in Rabindranath Tagore: Particles, Jottings, Sparks: The Collected Brief Poems, p. 2.

[22] ‘My School’, in Personality, pp. 111-148 (pp. 126-7).

[23] Isaiah Berlin makes reliance on ‘scattered erudition’ the mark of ‘imaginative genius’. (Isaiah Berlin, ‘Introduction: Vico and Herder’, in Three Critics of the Enlightenment: Vico, Hamann, Herder, ed. by Henry Hardy (London: Pimlico, 2000), pp. 5-20 (p. 17).

[24] Kalyan Sen Gupta, The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2005)

[25] In the end-notes to the chapter, 6 notes out of 46 cite Personality, 3 cite ‘The Problem of Evil’ from Sadhana. (Sen Gupta, Notes to ‘Self, Art, Evil and Harmony’, in The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 78-95 (pp. 94-5).)

[26] The phrase on its own is not especially Hindu. Berlin uses it of Hamann, for whom the ‘deep interrelationship of God, man and nature stems from the divine Logos which “was in the beginning” and by which the world came to be’. (Berlin, Hamann: Foreword, in Three Critics, pp. 249-52 (p. 251).)

[27] Warwick Fox, ‘Arne Naess and the Meanings of Deep Ecology’, in Toward a Transpersonal Ecology: Developing New Foundations for Environmentalism (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 1990), pp. 81-118 (p. 102).

[28] In Sadhana and elsewhere Tagore uses the Sanskrit word dharma for a virtuous way of life. I would not choose to use dharma here because the word does not occur in Personality, and because dharma is commonly used as an equivalent for religion. The wider implications of dharma are suggestive of what I am calling ‘deep anthropology’ and also ‘deep ecology’. (‘Some Basic Terms and Concepts, and Their Renderings’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Selected Writings on Literature and Language, ed. by Sukanta Chaudhuri and Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: OUP, 2001), pp. xi-xiii (p. xii).)

[29] Tagore, ‘The Second Birth’, in Personality, pp. 77-107 (p. 80).

[30] David Rothenberg, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution (London: Bloomsbury, 2012)

[31] Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex (London: John Murray, 1871)

[32] Rothenburg, back cover blurb.

[33] Rothenberg, pp. 206-10.

[34] Kripalani, ‘A World Citizen’, in Biography, pp. 235-66 (p. 235).

[35] Mukherjee, p. 198.

[36] Translations of ancient Indian writings by William Jones (1746-1794) led to an Oriental renaissance in the West, and distorted fragments of Indian religious tradition were later popularised, resulting in a form of colonisation criticised by Edward Said in Orientalism (London: Penguin, 2003 [1978]) and Srinivas Aravamudan in Guru English.

[37] Lago, Preface, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. vii-xiii (p. viii).

[38] Lago, Introduction, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 1-24 (p. 1).

[39] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 18 October 1912, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 53-4 (p. 53).

[40] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 25 August 1917, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 240-2.

[41] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 18 October 1912, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 53-4.

[42] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 25 August 1917, pp. 240-2.

[43] Lago, editor’s introduction to ‘1920-1922 “A Passing Breeze”’, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 267-272 (p. 267).

[44] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 23 November 1912, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 65-6.

[45] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 2 December 1912, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 69-70.

[46] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 31 May 1913, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 111-2.

[47] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 28 April 1916, in Imperfect Encounter, p. 227.

[48] Personality was published in May 1917.

[49] Rothenstein, letter to Tagore, 20 June 1917, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 236-7.

[50] Lago, note, p. 237.

[51] Tagore, ‘What is Art?’, p. 12.

[52] Tagore, ‘The Religion of an Artist’, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, pp. 25-45.

[53] Buddhadeva Bose, ‘Tagore and Bengali prose’, in Tagore: Portrait of a Poet (Calcutta: Papyrus, 1993 [1962]), pp. 95-111 (p.95).

[54] Bose’s thought as extended to Tagore’s English prose would apply only to the essays. Tagore translated some of his plays into English, unsuccessfully according to experts, and his short stories and novels were translated by others.

[55] The essay contains Tagore’s commentary on the ‘Isha Upanisat’ (sic). (‘Isa Upanishad’, in The Thirteen Principal Upanishads: Translated from the Sanskrit, pp. 362-3; ‘Isa Upanisad’, in The Principal Upanisads, ed. by S. Radhakrishnan (London: George, Allen & Unwin, 1953), pp. 565-78.)

[56] Tagore, ‘The Second Birth’, in Personality, pp. 77-107.

[57] Tagore, ‘Man’s Universe’, in The Religion of Man: Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930, pp. 13-24; ‘Appendix II: Note on the Nature of Reality’, pp. 222-5.

[58] Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, (the first Education Minister of free India) ‘Introduction: The Meaning of Philosophy’, in History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, Volume One, pp. 13-28 (p. 21).

[59] Azad, p. 19.

[60] William James, Psychology: Briefer Course / Text Book of Psychology (London: Macmillan, 1920 [1892]), p. 1.

[61] James, pp. 4-5.

[62] Bose, p. 95.

[63] ‘The World of Personality’, p. 57.

[64] F.B. Jevons, Philosophy: What Is It? (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1914), p. 12. Jevons’ definition is very similar to that of William James, noted earlier. (James, p. 1.)

[65] Jevons, Philosophy: What Is It?, pp. 53-4. James treats psychology as a natural science. (James, p.1.)

[66] Jevons, Philosophy: What Is It?, pp. 130-1.

[67] Chaturvedi and Sykes, ‘The Friend of the Poor’, pp, 149-226.

[68] Jevons, Philosophy: What Is It?, pp. 102-3.

[69] F.B. Jevons, ‘Theodore Merz: His Philosophy’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 3 (1923), 1-14.

[70] John Theodore Merz, Religion and Science: A Philosophical Essay (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1915)

[71] Jevons, ‘Tagore: Poet and Philosopher’, pp. 30-1.

[72] Jevons, p. 31.

[73] Jevons, pp. 31-2.

[74] ‘What Is Art?’, pp. 3-4.

[75] Tagore, ‘The Second Birth’, pp. 77-107 (pp. 77-9).

[76] One is reminded of the entry on Tagore in History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, Volume Two, p. 532. ‘Tagore is a monist, though he does not deny the reality of the world.’

[77] ‘The Second Birth’, p. 101.

[78] Jevons, ‘Tagore: Poet and Philosopher’, pp. 31-2.

[79] ‘When in its (reality’s) place we substitute law, then the whole world crumbles into abstractions; then it is elements and forces, ions and electrons; it loses its appearance, its touch and taste [...].’ (‘World of Personality’, in Personality, pp. 41-74 (p. 58).

[80] Jevons, p. 32.

[81] ‘The World of Personality’, p. 67.

[82] Jevons, p. 32. ‘The World of Personality’, p. 73.

[83] We noted earlier how Tagore adopts ‘personality’ because it is a word which can be made to fit different ideas. (‘They are like raincoats, hanging in the hall [...]’ (‘What Is Art?’, pp. 12-3).)

[84] Jevons, pp. 33.

[85] Jevons, p. 45.

[86] Philosophy: What Is It?, pp. 130-1. Jevons’ conclusion is similar to Berlin’s summary of the third of Vico’s seven theses: ‘Only God, because he has made nature, can understand it fully, through and through’. (Berlin, Three Critics, p. 9.)

[87] Jevons, ‘Tagore: Poet and Philosopher’, pp. 34-5.

[88] ‘What Is Art?’, pp. 14-5. Tagore exploits the full range of meanings of rasa in his essay, ‘The Philosophy of Literature’, in Selected Writings on Literature and Language, pp. 293-309.

[89] Antonio Damasio has done much work in this area, his most evocative title being: Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain. In his more recent book: Self Comes to Mind: Constructing the Conscious Brain (London: William Heinemann, 2010), he argues that ‘feelings are grounded in a near fusion of body and brain networks’ (pp. 20-8). An evolutionary perspective is provided by Merlin Donald, in A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness (New York: Norton, 2002). Also of relevance is David Gelernter, The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought. The author’s field is artificial intelligence. He makes a distinction between ‘affective cognition’, where concrete thoughts are associated according to remembered feelings, whence metaphor, and rational cognition, where memories are merged into concepts.

[90] ‘What Is Art?’, p. 31.

[91] Tagore, Of Myself (Atmaparichay), p. 24.

[92] Jevons, p. 35.

[93] Uma Das Gupta, ‘On Religion’, in Rabindranath Tagore: My Life in My Words, pp. 319-27 (p. 319).

[94] Tagore, ‘Appendix II: Note on the Meaning of Reality’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 222-5.

[95] Amartya Sen, p. 104.

[96] Tagore, ‘The Poet’s Religion’ in Creative Unity, pp. 1-27.

[97] ‘The Meaning of Art’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany , ed. by Sisir Kumar Das (New Delhi: Sahitya Akademi, 1996), pp. 580-8, Notes, p. 976.))

[98] Tagore, ‘The Religion of an Artist’, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, pp. 25-45.

[99] ‘What is Art?’, p. 38.

[100] Tagore, My Boyhood Days, trans. by Marjorie Sykes (London: Longmans, 1943)

[101] Kripalani, p. 144.

[102] Sasadhar Sinha, Review, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biography by Krishna Kripalani, Association of Asian Studies, 22 (1963), 235-6.

[103] Marjorie Sykes, Rabindranath Tagore (London: Longmans, 1943), p. 122.

[104] Tagore was very open about his mood changes and restlessness in his letters to Andrews, which were published with Tagore’s approval in 1928.

[105] This deficit will be made good by the forthcoming book by Uma Das Gupta. My references here are to sender, recipient and date in Appendix, first draft, Uma Das Gupta, [working title] Lonely Friendships of Largeness and Freedom: Glimpses from the Letters of Andrews, Tagore and Gandhi.

[106] Das Gupta, ‘Andrews and White Racism’ in Lonely Friendships draft, pp. 9-10 in my copy).

[107] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 11 February 1914, in Das Gupta, Appendix, in Lonely Friendships draft.

[108] Appendix, in Lonely Friendships draft.

[109] Das Gupta, personal communication.

[110] E.g. Andrews, letter to Tagore, Nov 12 1924, Dartington Archive, Elmhirst Papers, LKE/IN/2/E Charles Freer Andrews 1.

[111] Chaturvedi and Sykes, pp. 2, 10, 324-7.

[112] Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 63.

[113] Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 65, their italics.

[114] Historian Hugh Tinker carried out extensive and detailed archival researches to produce a possibly more objective biography of Andrews: The Ordeal of Love: C.F. Andrews and India (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1979).

[115] Chaturvedi and Sykes, pp. xii-xii.

[116] M.K. Gandhi, Foreword, in Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. vi.

[117] Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 2.

[118] John S. Hoyland, The Man India Loved: C.F. Andrews (London: Lutterworth, 1944)

[119] Supriya Roy, Attarayana Rabindra-Bhavana: An Introduction (Santiniketan: Visva-Bharati University, 1989), p. 3.

[120] Uma Das Gupta, personal communication, 30 June 2014.

[121] Tagore, ‘My School’, pp. 135-6.

[122] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 8 March 1913 (from Uma Das Gupta’s collection of Andrews’ letters to Tagore (‘UDG collection’)).

[123] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 7 December 1913 (UDG collection).

[124] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 1 January 1914 (UDG collection).

[125] ‘Brihad-Aranyaka Upanisad’, in The Thirteen Principal Upanishads, ed. by Hume, pp. 73-176 (p. 80).

[126] Although Andrews generally began his letters to Tagore with ‘My dear friend’, he frequently referred to him, or addressed him, within the letters as ‘Gurudev’ (revered teacher).

[127] Tagore, ‘Meditation’, in Personality, pp. 151-66 (p. 152).

[128] ‘Meditation’, pp. 156-66.

[129] Andrews, letter to Tagore, 5 December 1917 (UDG collection).

[130] Andrews, Introduction, in Poems from Tagore (Calcutta: Macmillan, [1922/3]), pp. v-xxxi (pp. xii-xiii, xvii).

[131] Andrews, ‘An Essay on the Personality of Tagore’, in Letters to a Friend, pp. 21-32 (p. 21).

[132] The deaths in Tagore’s family were: his wife Mrinalini in 1902, his daughter Rani in 1903, his father in 1905 and his younger son Samindra in 1907. (Tagore did not make these part of the ‘lively version’ just mentioned.)

[133] Andrews, pp. 29-30.

[134] Kripalani singles out this episode to retranslate from Jivan-smriti, evidently considering Surendranath Tagore’s rendering in My Reminiscences inadequate, as is reflected in the preface. (Kripalani, pp. 114-6; Translator’s Preface in My Reminiscences, pp. v-vii.)

[135] My Reminiscences has ‘through a thousand points of contact with life, mind and heart’ (Tagore, My Reminiscences, p. 258.

[136] Kripalani, p. 115.

[137] My Reminiscences, p. 260.

[138] Kripalani, pp. 115-6.

[139] Kripalani, p. 115.

[140] Tagore, ‘On Death’, transcribed and typed by Elmhirst. The essay derives from a conversation between Tagore and the Duke of Milan, Gallarati Scotti, during Tagore’s visit to Italy in 1925. Scotti begins with the remark: ‘I liked, very much, the translation I read of your play The Post Office. From it I received the impression that you felt about death as though it were a kind of revelation of the Divine’. ‘On Death’ is Tagore’s reply. (The Dartington Hall Trust Archive, Papers of Leonard Knight Elmhirst, LKE India.)

[141] There are many accounts of how Tagore’s sister-in-law, Kadambari Devi, was a crucial influence on Tagore becoming a poet. She committed suicide shortly after Tagore’s marriage. There has been much speculation about the nature of their relationship. (See e.g. Dutta and Robinson, Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 88-91.)

[142] Letters to a Friend, pp. 35-47, 53-5, 68-70, etc. Elsewhere these episodes are referred to as ‘nervous exhaustion’, and it should not be assumed that Tagore suffered from some mental illness.

[143] Tagore, Part II, in ‘The Religion of an Artist, in Contemporary Indian Philosophy, pp. 34-45 (pp. 34-5, 44).

[144] What Is Art?, pp. 18, 36.

[145] See especially Notes to ‘The Meaning of Art’ and ‘The Religion of an Artist’ in English Writings, Volume THREE, pp. 976, 979.

[146] The spelling of this word in English is complicated by ‘b’ and ‘v’ being the same character in Bengali, and the convention for writing vowels in Bengali having been adopted from that used for Sanskrit, and not reflecting phonetics, correctives being sometimes attempted, as in ‘ee’ for ‘i’, hence Tagore’s ‘Jeevan-devata’. There is no upper case in Bengali, and Tagore employed that to personalise (e.g. ‘Science’) or to indicate greatness (‘God’ etc.).

[147] Kripalani, pp. 166-7.  which one?

[148] Thompson, Poet and Dramatist, p. 104.

[149] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 20 April 1927, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 320-2.

[150] James, ‘The Stream of Consciousness’, in Psychology, pp. 151-75.

[151] As in Damasio, Joy, Sorrow and the Feeling Brain.

[152] See claims by philosopher Daniel C. Dennett in his book, Consciousness Explained (London: Penguin, 1993). A quotation on its cover from a review in The Guardian declares the book to be ‘Revolutionary’. Dennett’s approach has been much criticised, by scholars, e.g. ‘parts of the book [...] seem to me misguided’ (Michael Tye, ‘Reflections on Dennett and Consciousness’, Review of Consciousness Explained by Daniel C. Dennett, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 53 (1993), 893-898. ‘Nobody believes in such a Cartesian Theater’. (Anthony A. Derksen, ‘Dennett’s Rhetorical Strategies in “Consciousness Explained”, Journal for General Philosophy of Science, 36 (2005), 29-48.) See also, Merlin Donald, ‘Dennett’s Dangerous Idea’, in A Mind So Rare: The Evolution of Human Consciousness (New York: Norton, 2002), pp. 39-44.

[153] See for example, Jonah Lehrer, Imagine: How Creativity Works (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2012)

[154] David L. Gosling, Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein met Tagore (London: Routledge, 2007), pp. 9, 31.

[155] Ashis Nandy, Alternative Sciences (reproduced in the collection Return from Exile: Alternative Sciences; The Illegitimacy of Nationalism; The Savage Freud (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2004)), p. 49.

[156] Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 3rd edn (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1996), pp. 5-6.

[157] Rothenberg, ‘Come Up and See My Bower’, in Survival of the Beautiful, pp. 1-26, including Darwin’s writing about animals’ appreciation of beauty, pp. 12-14.

[158] Rothenberg, p. 50.

[159] ‘What Is Art?’, p. 38.

[160] Tagore denounced Thompson’s book vehemently, and ‘wrote a savage pseudonymous critique’ of it, encouraged by Andrews who said that Thompson showed ‘a patronage and a superiority complex’. (E.P. Thompson, Alien Homage: Edward Thompson and Rabindranath Tagore (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1998), pp. 91, 98)

[161] Mukherjee notes (p. 210) that his itinerary of Tagore’s visits to America may have minor gaps due to lack of information.

[162] Mukherjee, pp. 212-3. (As noted earlier, Tagore gave 23 lectures on nationalism.)

[163] ‘What Is Art?’, p. 24.

[164] Srinivas Aravamudan, ‘Theosophistries’, in Guru English, pp. 105-141.

[165] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp.7-8 (p. 7).

[166] Tagore, letter to Rothenstein, 20 April 1927, in Imperfect Encounter, pp. 320-2 (p. 321).

[167] ‘What Is Art?’, pp. 12, 38.

[168] Radice, Selected Poems, p. 24.

[169] Kripalani, p. 166.

[170] ‘The Religion of an Artist’, p. 36.

[171] ‘What Is Art?’, p. 13.

[172] Damasio, Self Comes to Mind, p. 9.

[173] Damasio, p. 6.

[174] James, ‘Association’, in Psychology, pp. 252-79 (p. 253).

[175] For a possible candidate for the non-reductionist, non-mystical extra ingredient of the self, see Danah Zohar ‘The Person that I am: Quantum Identity’, in The Quantum Self (London: Bloomsbury, 1990), pp. 89-106.

[176] Merz, p. 162.

[177] Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (London: Black Swan, 2007) and The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (London: Black Swan, 2010), interview with Wendy Wright (pp. 198-202), one of the ‘History-deniers’ (Appendix, pp. 427-37) in which, in my view, the denier wins, with her final comment: ‘And I would say open your eyes and see the communities that have been built on those who believe in a loving God who created each one of us …’.

[178] Interestingly, Radice uses this verse (the fifth) from the Isa Upanisad as a framework for his introduction to Selected Poems, to deal with ‘the complexity and contradictions of Tagore’s life and work’, and he retained that introduction for the edition he brought out in 2005, twenty years after the book’s first publication, because ‘readers found it helpful’. (Selected Poems, pp. 17-39 (p. 17). However, he removed the hostile letter from Tagore to Rothenstein I have referred to, which he had included as an appendix in an earlier edition, laying responsibility on Edward Thompson for ‘Tagore’s long misrecognition at his door’, as a foil for his own work. (‘The Bubble Reputation’, in Alien Homage, pp. 29-38 (pp. 29-30).)

[179] ‘The World of Personality’, p. 44.

[180] ‘The World of Personality’, p. 59.

[181] Walt Whitman: Complete Poetry & Selected Prose and Letters, ed. by Emory Holloway (London: Nonsuch, 1938), p. 250. (Today’s poets struggle to see past smog and street lights at the far from still-and-silent thousands of satellites hurtling around the earth.)

[182] ‘The World of Personality’, pp. 48-9.

[183] Whitman, p. 119. (Tagore respectfully quotes two complete short poems of Whitman’s rather than extracts.)

[184] Sabujkoli Sen, ‘Tagore’s Religion’, India Perspectives, 24 (2010), 60-65 (p. 60). Sen teaches philosophy and religion at Visva-Bharati, Santiniketan.

[185] This reflects the fact that the Sadhana texts derived from Tagore’s addresses to his students.

[186] ‘Isa Upanisad’, in Upanisads, ed. by Radhakrishnan, pp. 265-78. ‘Isa Upanishad’, in Upanishads, trans. by Hume, pp. 362-5.

[187] Radhakrishnan, p. 19.

[188] Radhakrishnan, p. 265.

[189] Tagore’s father had led a reformed Hindu church, the Brahmo Dharma, influenced by Christianity and hence monotheistic. He found the Upanisads as a religious foundation ‘shaky and built upon sand’. (The Autobiography of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, pp. 160-1.)

[190] ‘Tagore is a monist, though he does not deny the reality of the world [...] and denounces the negative attitude towards the world. [...] Tagore’s absolutism is [...] personalistic’. (Dr. P. T. Raju, ‘Metaphysical Currents’, in History of Philosophy Eastern and Western, Volume One, pp. 532-6 (p. 532)).

[191] Sabujkoli Sen, pp. 61-2.

[192] Tagore, Of Myself, p. 22.

[193] ‘What Is Art?’, p. 22.

[194] Hume, ‘An Outline of the Philosophy of the Upanishads’, in Upanishads, pp. 1-72 (pp. 50-1).

[195] Charles Freer Andrews, Preface to Swami Rama Tirtha collected writings, quoted in Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 65.

[196] C.F. Andrews, What I Owe to Christ (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1932), p. 19.

[197] Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 323.

[198] Brihad-Aranyaka Upanisad, in Upanishads, trans. by Hume, pp. 73-176 (pp. 101-2).

[199] Sabujkoli Sen, pp. 63-4.

[200] Tagore, Appendix A, in Upanisads, ed. by Radhakrishnan pp. 939-944 (p. 939).

[201] Radhakrishnan, Introduction, in Upanisads, pp. 17-145 (p. 19).

[202] Tagore, Appendix A, pp. 939-40.

[203] Tagore, Appendix A, p. 940.

[204] Contemporary Indian Philosophy, p. 21.

[205] Chaturvedi and Sykes, p. 84.

[206] Gandhi, his contribution to Contemporary Indian Philosophy, p. 21. (We know how passionately Gandhi believed in Hindu-Muslim unity, and that he died at the hands of a reactionary Hindu zealot. (Stanley Wolpert, Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), pp. 100, 132, 256.))

[207] ‘The most beautiful and most significant of all the chapters in “Sadhana” is that which describes this “Realization in Action” [.. about] joyous, eager work, a glad self-dedicated striving, a partnership with God’. (Review in Nation, 13 December 1913, Imagining Tagore, pp. 115-8 (p. 117).) ‘Tagore asserts most emphatically the worth of “this grand self-expression of humanity in action,” [... and that at] the heart of work is the joy of creation.’ (Herbert G. Wood, ‘The Gospel of Joy’, review in The Friend, 13 February 1914, p. 109, Imagining Tagore, pp. 153-5 (p. 154).)

[208] ‘The World of Personality’, p. 64.

[209] Isa Upanisad, verse 2, commentary by Samkarananda, Upanisads, trans. by Radhakrishnan, p. 569.

[210] ‘The World of Personality’, pp. 64-5.

[211] E.P. Thompson, Introduction, in Nationalism (London: Papermac, 1991), pp. 1-16.

[212] Tagore, ‘Nationalism in India’, in Nationalism (1917), pp. 95-130 (pp. 129-30).

[213] Thompson, pp. 12-3.

[214] William James, ‘The Religion of Healthy-Mindedness’, in The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (New York: Penguin, 1985 [1902]), pp. 78-126 (pp. 84-5)

[215] Whitman, pp. 26-85.

[216] Whitman, pp. 256-99.

[217] John Tessitore, ‘The “Sky-Blue” Variety: William James, Walt Whitman, and the Limits of Healthy-Mindedness’, Nineteenth-Century Literature, 62 (2008), 493-526 (p. 505). (I would add ‘Song of the Redwood-Tree’ and, as an example of Whitman’s prose, the essay ‘Wicked Architecture’. (Poetry & Prose, pp. 191-95, 607-12.))

[218] Karl Marx, ‘Towards a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction’, in Karl Marx: Selected Writings, ed. by David McLellan (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977), pp. 63-74 (p. 64).

[219] ‘The Second Birth’, pp. 104-5.

[220] Nationalism, p. 130.

[221] Imagining Tagore, pp. 292-4.

[222] The work has many direct references to the Upanisads, especially in ‘The World of Personality’ as noted above.

[223] E.P. Thompson, p. 8.