Tagore Speaks online section B6

Copyright © Christine Marsh 2016

6: The Religion of Man (1931)

His estimates of western civilization are searching and some of them written in acid — one reads much between the lines — but Tagore recognizes the true strength of the west and the faults of the east. The lectures are actually a superb and haunting criticism and evaluation of life from the viewpoint of an immemorial philosophy by a wise man. — Christian Century

This is a book for everyone: a book whose human interest and pervading charm assure it a wide appeal and lasting value. It is not a philosophical work, as its author repeatedly warns us; in fact, its one semiphilosophical chapter (the first) may well be omitted. Its value is religious and poetical: like the essays of Emerson, it is primarily a document of the spiritual life. — Journal of Religion[1]

The quotations above, from reviews of The Religion of Man in two religious journals, were reproduced on the back cover of the birth centenary paperback edition of the book. They suggest that the reputation Tagore acquired from 1912 to 1917, as the mystic poet who occasionally blurted out vitriolic criticisms of the materialistic West, was very persistent. It has been a central aim of this book to look at why Tagore was perceived in this way, and to enlarge upon what Tagore actually said in his addresses to audiences in Europe and America, by bringing in contextual information about Tagore’s experiences and encounters during the foreign tours, and, where necessary, from his activities in India. The English essays were products of the twenty years of Tagore’s life when he was most involved with bringing his ideas to the West. Sadhana and The Religion of Man make the opening and closing brackets around this period.

The 1920s had been a time of progress and optimism – with an extraordinary travel itinerary. Between the publication of Creative Unity and that of The Religion of Man, Tagore went on seven foreign tours to over thirty countries: China, Japan and Argentina in 1924, twelve European countries in 1926, nine parts of South East Asia in 1927, plus others in 1929, and China and Japan again, plus Canada and the USA, then in 1930 eight European countries including Russia, and also the USA.[2]

The Religion of Man was published ten years before Tagore’s death in 1941, and the 1930s were to be a decade of disappointment where his educational ideal was concerned:

I have no special love for the school and college department of Santiniketan, a borrowed cage that treats the student’s minds as captive birds whose sole human value is judged according to the mechanical repetition of lessons prescribed by an education dispensation foreign to the soil.[3]

In each of the earlier chapters focussed on one of Tagore’s books of English essays, I have discussed Tagore’s relevant activities during and also prior to each particular tour. The immediate background to The Religion of Man itself was Tagore’s visit to England in May and June 1930 to deliver the Hibbert lectures, which were enthusiastically received and reported. Between this event and the publication of The Religion of Man, Tagore spent two weeks in Russia, ‘a dream fulfilled’ after years when Tagore showed considerable interest in developments in Russia following 1918, especially the work being carried out in education and collective farming.[4] The Religion of Man was published in June 1931, and has since been seen by Tagore scholars and enthusiasts as a valuable summary of his philosophy.[5] The book has also excited interest in Tagore’s insights into science, particularly due to the inclusion, as an appendix, of a record of a conversation Tagore had with Albert Einstein.[6] In earlier chapters I drew attention to Tagore’s interest in evolution and anthropology, and these topics featured in the Hibbert Lectures and in the book.

The Hibbert Lectures

The first of Tagore’s three Hibbert lectures at Manchester College, Oxford, on 19 May 1930, was addressed to a very large audience of ‘almost every [C]hristian denomination’ and ‘many Indians who had come up from London’. It was reported fully and sympathetically the next day in the Oxford Mail.[7] The report is in two parts, firstly a summary of the lecture Tagore gave, in which one can see the subject matter which found its way into ‘Man’s Universe’, the first essay in the book, about the origin of the universe, the course of evolution culminating in man, and his power of adaptation and unlimited progress.[8] The second part of the report is a description of the event. The hall was packed. The ‘venerable figure’, with his ‘mass of white hair and sweeping beard, the dark, deep-sunken shining eyes, the black robe with white facings’, ‘drew the whole audience, with an irresistible magnetic force, to its feet’. There was no applause, and Tagore ‘remained absolutely impassive before the silent tribute’, the image of ‘the Eastern seer of pictorial tradition’. He spoke for about an hour, in fluent English, ‘his modulation of his voice singularly beautiful in its flawless rise and fall’.[9]

This style of reporting, which we see again in the description of the third lecture in The Manchester Guardian of 27 May,[10] is similar to the account of one of the lectures Tagore gave in Caxton Hall in London in May 1913 to ‘a deeply attentive and crowded audience’.[11] The earlier series was entitled ‘The Search for God’, later published as Sadhana. We noted in the chapter on Sadhana how, in his Biographical Study of Tagore, Ernest Rhys describes Tagore’s Sadhana addresses as follows:

Rabindranath Tagore has that unexplainable grace as a speaker which holds an audience without effort, and his voice has curiously impressive, penetrating tones in it when he exerts it at moments of eloquence.[12]

Rhys then remarks how, in the book, the ‘warm colour’ of the lectures ‘has faded in cold print’, and observes that Tagore ‘was like one drawing on a fund of ideas too fluid to be caught in a net, too subtle to be held except in a parable, or an analogy out of poetry’.[13] The same comment could well have been made of The Religion of Man, since the book received only one brief, lacklustre review.[14] The reviewer, Edward Shillito, who was a pastor and a poet, notes that the reader will be intrigued to ‘follow the track of evolution under the guidance of a Bengali poet’, but that one needs to seek out what distinctive contribution this poet makes to religion, not to science or philosophy, and the religion described ‘is too abstract to make a wide appeal’.

There are fifteen essays in the book, and there were only three Hibbert Lectures. Tagore states in the Preface that he has also included ‘the gleanings of my thoughts on the same subject from the harvest of many lectures and addresses delivered in different countries of the world over a considerable period of my life’. He observes that his writings have carried a trace of the history of this growth from his ‘immature youth’ to the present, and only now is he seeing that they are ‘deeply linked by a unity of inspiration whose proper definition has often remained un-revealed to me’.[15] Shillito’s dismissal of the work as ‘too abstract’ could suggest that the words – like the text of a play – are incomplete without the living presence of Tagore in performance.

It may seem relevant to criticisms of The Religion of Man, by the reviewer in 1931 and by Tagore scholars today, that the report of Tagore’s second Hibbert lecture in the Oxford Mail begins with a quotation from him saying: ‘I dare not to claim to be a philosopher, even with the precarious help of misinformation’.[16] Tagore frequently made such ‘disclaimers’, as we have seen in the earlier books.[17] In fact, in this instance, Tagore was not issuing an apology for not being a philosopher; the quoted words were part of an evolution ‘story’. In the essay, Tagore begins by saying that he has no idea how his needs are provided, and yet he is respected as a poet or perhaps a philosopher, but that if a blackbird were similarly irresponsible: forgot how to feed and build its nest but specialized in singing, it would not survive – and that Tagore himself not being ‘treated in a similar fashion is the evidence of an immense difference between the animal existence and the civilization of man’.[18]

The report of Tagore’s second Hibbert lecture is quite short, and apart from a mention of ‘a crowded audience’ and two unhelpful subheadings, is entirely made up of quotations from what Sir Rabindranath Tagore said. There are sufficient clues, such as mentions of the blackbird and of ‘mountain peaks’, to recognise material which went into ‘The Artist’ and ‘The Surplus in Man’, the ninth and third essays in the book.[19] Both these essays are variations of Tagore’s much-repeated story about the evolution of animals and man. If there is a ‘unity of inspiration’ in Tagore’s writings, it is surely his insights into the evolution of human nature – and how we have got onto the wrong track in the modern age. My sense is that audiences and readers have found some of Tagore’s writings, including his English essays, unimpressive, obscure or difficult because they did not expect a poet to be talking about evolution.

The subject matter of the third lecture was obviously more acceptable than that of the second, and the report in The Manchester Guardian, is effusive in its appreciation.[20] Knowing the book, we can easily recognise ‘The Vision’, in which Tagore relates his early spiritual experiences.[21] The ‘special correspondent’ who wrote the report was moved by the intimacy of Tagore’s personal account of his religious life, and how Tagore ‘endeavoured to show his audience how our own inner religion may suddenly well up and give us surprises, unexpectedly appearing from the unknown realm of our personal consciousness’.

If we examine what Tagore writes in ‘The Vision’, we find the contrasts he makes between science’s view of the universe and the knowledge which came to him from his own ‘poet’s religion’:

That which merely gives us information can be explained in terms of measurement, but that which gives us joy cannot be explained by the facts of a mere grouping of atoms and molecules. Somewhere in the arrangement of this world there seems to be a great concern about giving us delight, which shows that, in the universe, over and above the meaning of matter and forces, there is a message conveyed through the magic touch of personality. This touch cannot be analysed, it can only be felt. We cannot prove it any more than the man from the other planet could prove to the satisfaction of his fellows the personality which remained invisible, but which, through the machinery, spoke direct to the heart.[22]

The report of the third lecture, unlike the second, is not made up of verbatim quotes, making it less easy to map the material onto particular essays in The Religion of Man. In the next part of the lecture, subtitled ‘Songs of Bengal Villagers’ in the report, Tagore talked about the wandering singers called the Bauls, which is a recurring subject in the book. The next part is on ‘Buddhism and the Ideal Man’, themes which Tagore touches on in ‘Spiritual Union’, an essay expressing his ideas in terms familiar to us from the earlier books of English essays. Indeed, much of the book contains variations – sometimes scarcely changed – on themes which Tagore lectured on many times.

The next section, with the sub-heading ‘Buddhism and the Ideal Man’, includes a point about ‘true human progress’ being obstructed by ‘irreligion’, and we find these ideas expressed in the essay ‘Man’s Nature’.[23] The key passage in that essay about irreligion (adharma), likens the philosophy of the ‘great Chinese sage Lai-tze’ to a saying from the Upanisads: ‘Through adharma (the negation of dharma) man prospers, gains what appears desirable, conquers enemies, but he perishes at the root’.[24] This means that material and competitive success is transient, whereas ‘true human progress’ is immortal.

Tagore includes the same idea in his essay ‘Civilization and Progress’ which is recognisable from the three anecdotes he relates in it, which also appear in ‘Man’s Nature’. ‘Civilization and Progress’ was published in Talks in China, and Tagore delivered a talk with the same title and anecdotes to a public meeting organised by the Quakers at Woodbrooke, where he stayed for a few days before the Hibbert Lectures.[25] The two essays are not the same. Tagore has added a section in ‘Man’s Nature’ about the contrasting cultures he saw in Japan in 1916:

When I first visited Japan I had the opportunity of observing the two parts of the human sphere strongly contrasted; one, on which grew up the ancient continents of social ideal, standards of beauty, codes of personal behaviour; and the other part, the fluid element, the perpetual current that carried wealth to its shores from all parts of the world. In half a century’s time Japan has been able to make her own the mighty spirit of progress which suddenly burst upon her one morning in a storm of insult and menace.[26]

These are echoes of what Tagore wrote in ‘Nationalism in Japan’, and if there are any searching ‘estimates of western civilization’ which are visibly ‘written in acid’, not ‘between the lines’,[27] they are in ‘Man’s Nature’.

At Tagore’s third Hibbert lecture, Sir Michael Sadler, Master of University College, Oxford, delivered a tribute to the poet, after the several minutes of applause had subsided, expressing their joy at listening ‘to the perfect cadence of your voice and feel the spell of your presence’. The ‘Special Correspondent’ for The Manchester Guardian closes his account of the subject matter by observing that without Tagore’s style of delivery and personality his thoughts are hard to understand:

Though the subject was difficult to follow yet it was rendered luminous throughout by bright gleams of humour and remarkably lucid illustrations. Above all, the personality of the poet as he spoke with the sunshine falling on his white head and lighting up his beautiful face made comparatively easy even his most difficult thoughts. Indeed they would have been often hard to understand if they had not been thus interpreted by his living voice and glowing spirit.[28]

A key thread running through this book has been my belief that, although the journey Tagore took towards One World ended in failure for him, he left behind a legacy of inspiring and practical ideas for those who are seeking alternatives today. I have suggested that The Religion of Man is Tagore’s Testament to his ‘faith in Man’, put together at a time when he could not see any way of drawing India away from following the same path as Japan, or of setting an example of a different course which even the West might follow. But is this right? Scholars have argued that Tagore achieved a great deal. At the beginning of the chapter on Sadhana I quoted the Latvian professor, Viktors Ivbulis, as saying that:

Tagore’s heritage, taking into account what he planned and realised – and almost everything he planned was at least partly realised – appears unique for any poet in the history of the modern world, and there is hardly any composer in any major language whose songs, in such numbers, are in continuous cultural use?[29]

Tagore would surely have regarded ‘partly realised’ as failure. During the 1920s, he had been the travelling missionary promoting his ‘ideal of universalism’, hoping thereby to interest scholars and raise funds. Although he had been encouraged by having drawn Elmhirst to the work at Sriniketan, together with funding, it looked likely that Gandhi’s ‘Constructive Program’ based on Khadi and the Charkha would be the version of rural reconstruction which would be replicated widely in India. Tagore was never content with rescuing ‘even one village from the shackles of helplessness and ignorance’.[30] It is evident from his interest in what had happened in Russia that he wanted to see a widespread movement to elevate the peasant masses.

Tagore amongst Friends

The enthusiastic reception of Tagore’s Hibbert Lectures has shown that he was recognised in England in 1930 as ‘the famous Indian poet’. Although press reports suggest that his talks were not understood, we cannot know what was in the minds of members of the large audiences when they stood in stunned silence or applauded him for several minutes. Before going to Oxford to deliver the lectures, Tagore stayed for a few days at Woodbrooke, the Quaker study centre in Birmingham. Like everyone else, the Quakers were impressed with Tagore’s image, which is perhaps a little surprising, given that Friends are urged not to judge by ‘outward forms’:

[I]t was a memorable sight to see his striking and venerable figure, clothed in a long flowing brown garment, like a Franciscan habit, framed in the railway-carriage door. The poet’s great stature, his long white beard, and his clear olive-tinted complexion, make him a joy to behold.[31]

The account of Tagore’s stay at Woodbrooke shows that Tagore felt very much at home amongst Friends. The poet attended the Quaker devotional meeting, which was held almost entirely in silence, and Tagore spoke briefly towards the end, about his sense that the surest means of realising the deepest unity of man is this serenity of silence, ‘when the dust subsides from our mental atmosphere and the air becomes translucent’. Tagore later told his hosts about ‘the comfort and strength which had come to him, when in New York, from attending a Friends’ meeting in that city: and emphasised his belief in the sacramental value of silence’.[32]

For the benefit of readers of The Friend, a short introduction to Tagore is provided. It begins with Tagore’s literary achievements: his vernacular writings as ‘the finest fruit of the Bengali Literary Renaissance’ and his English works which ‘made him famous to the ends of the earth’. There is then a mention of how Tagore has revived the spiritual message of some of the greatest of India’s saints and thinkers, also that he is a ‘distinguished political philosopher’, who ‘stands unshakably for Reconciliation between East and West’, for which cause he has ‘sacrificed without compunction his popularity and position of leadership amongst his own fellow-countrymen’. There is no ‘relative neglect’ of Tagore’s practical work in this summary, which mentions his ‘most interesting and important’ school at Santiniketan, the ‘famous College of International Studies’, ‘where he and his colleagues are hammering out the guiding principles of the new synthesis between the incompatible too-often hostile cultures of East and West’. The report then says that Tagore ‘has felt the aching need of his own peasant-neighbours, in their ignorance, poverty and sickness’ and he has embarked on ‘a great work for the improvement of agriculture, for the combating of malaria and other diseases, and for the improvement of conditions in the villages generally’, and in conclusion:

[Tagore] is one who by his work for reconciliation and of the lightening of the burdens of humanity stands in the front rank of the world’s great men. His message to our Society is a gesture of friendship from India at a time when Indians find it very hard to be friendly towards Englishmen. It is a message to be received with respect and veneration, and to be pondered with attention.[33]

One gets the impression from this introduction, and from Tagore’s evident feeling of ease and comfort amongst Friends, that there was a mutual understanding between them. One can see parallels between Tagore’s ‘faith in Man’ and the Quaker sense of ‘that of God’ within each of us. Quakers emphasise both faith and practice, their faith deriving from personal and also shared religious experience, their practice being a commitment to caring for others, and all without any formal creedal basis.[34] This is a similar pattern to Tagore’s early spiritual experiences, followed by his concern for village people on the family estates, and then his work to revive the Indian tradition of social duties permeating the whole social fabric, which he describes in ‘Society and State’.[35] A further point of comparison is that Quaker faith is personal, emphasising ‘the essentially inward nature of communion’ together with a commitment to ‘the ideal of unity in diversity’.[36] Although there is a ‘Society’ of Friends, with an organisational structure and some paid staff at its headquarters, the basis lies in ‘personal witness’, and the experiences of George Fox and Robert Barclay in the seventeenth century, and those of individual Friends through to the present day, form the basis of the guidance which is given instead of ‘a rule or form to work by’.[37]

Tagore was not unique in being inspired by personal spiritual experience to commit himself to serving society and uniting the world. This is not a path with any East-West divide. It can be a journey for an individual to take alone, or it can lead to friendship and collaboration, even to the foundation of a ‘mystical church’. Another individual whose life was completely changed by his spiritual experiences is Tagore’s friend and correspondent, Romain Rolland. His biographer devotes a lengthy chapter to Rolland’s ‘Oceanic Sensibility’, but its essence is as follows:

The oceanic feeling was connected with an energy that surpassed traditional categorizing of time, space, and causality. It transcended limits, empirical boundaries, and scientific definitions. It had nothing to do with organized religion or faith in personal salvation. It promised to be a spontaneous source of action and thought that might regenerate decadent Europe and the underdeveloped nations of the world.[38]

Someone who has been inspired by that kind of spiritual experience to believe they can save the world can get carried away, as Rolland’s biographer goes on to discuss in his case. Rolland was instrumental in warning Tagore of this danger, when the poet was taken in by Mussolini on a visit to Italy in 1926.[39] Some biographers have seen Tagore’s interest in Soviet Russia as similarly naive.[40] They also point to his positive views on the German Youth Movement,[41] which Rolland seems not to have cautioned him about. There is a record of a conversation between Tagore and Rolland from their meeting in Geneva in August 1930, when Tagore tells his friend: ‘Now in 1930 I have noticed in the German youth two great qualities; hope and the spirit of service and self-denial’, and he goes on to criticise the other nations after the War, which ‘could have treated Germany with generosity and helped its rising young generation’.[42]

Seeing that Tagore had a tendency to trust his feelings about the issues of the day helps explain the talk he wrote specially ‘about a subject which I have in my heart and which is of serious importance today’, to deliver to the twelve hundred Friends at London Yearly Meeting on 24 May 1930. The Friend of 30th May includes a summary of the event and also the verbatim report of the Meeting by Friends’ Service Council. In the summary, Tagore’s talk was described as follows:

What this gentle, beautiful and saintly figure had to say entered into the heart of the meeting with a sharp edge, for it was a cry from the heart of India, a cry for release from the iron bands of a machine-like system of government that was fettering her soul and her body. The address, courteous in manner but very direct, levelled an accusing finger at the Government of India, speaking of pride and power and self-aggrandisement [...][43]

The verbatim version of Tagore’s lecture shows it to have been even more polemical and critical than any of the Nationalism lectures, with something of the sense of his Bengali lecture The Small and the Great in 1917, with its disparagement of the ‘small Englishman’ who is a ‘bureaucratic administrator’, in contrast to the distant ‘great Englishman’ who ‘can see India with a breadth of vision’.[44] In his address to the Quakers, Tagore mentions altercations between Gandhi and the Viceroy, Lord Irwin, who in Tagore’s view is ‘the best type of English gentleman’. He then says that those who ‘live across a far-away sea’ are morally responsibility for the sufferings of the people of India under the ‘machine government [which] lets loose its fury of wholesale suspicion’. Tagore closes with a short passage recognisable from ‘The Meeting’ in The Religion of Man, in which he writes:

[L]et us, the dreamers of the East and the West, keep our faith firm in the Life that creates and not in the Machine that constructs, in the power that hides its force and blossoms in beauty, and not in the power that bares its arms and chuckles at its capacity to make itself obnoxious. Let us know that the Machine is good when it helps, but not so when it exploits life; that Science is great when it destroys evil, but not when the two enter into unholy alliance.[45]

The final sentence in the address is: ‘There are bleeding hearts, but their lamps of sacrifice will burn through this storm along the great pilgrim tract of the future when the truth will be triumphant’.[46]

Many of the Friends present were disturbed and some were outraged at Tagore’s address.[47] It was an extraordinary thing for Tagore to have done, perhaps explicable as a release of the anger and frustration which he had bottled up to be the Indian mystical poet expected by those attending the Hibbert Lectures. It is my belief that Tagore’s ambitions to change the world could not be achieved at any time of political upheaval: during the Partition protests, or when war was being waged, or during the campaign for Independence. His ideas on ‘constructive Swadeshi’ were political, but this is not the kind of politics which needs to engage central government:

Our aim must be to restore to the villages the power to meet their own requirements. We should combine a number of villages to form a regional unit. Self-government will became real only if the leaders of these units can make them self-reliant and capable of coping with the needs of their component villages. They must have their own schools, workshops, and granaries, their own co-operative stores and banks which they should be assisted to found and taught to maintain. Each community unit should have its common meeting place for work and play where its appointed headmen may hear and settle local disputes and differences.[48]

This suggests that the alternative which Tagore put forward would require the ‘withering away’ of the state.[49] His political vision is connected to the interest Tagore took in the changes which had taken place in Russia since 1918.

Tagore’s ‘Proletarian Sympathies’

We noted in the previous chapter how Nehru makes a comparison between the aesthetic Tagore and the ascetic Gandhi. Nehru describes Tagore as ‘the aristocratic artist, turned democrat with proletarian sympathies, representing essentially the cultural tradition of India, the tradition of accepting life in the fullness thereof and going though it with song and dance’. Gandhi, on the other hand, is ‘more a man of the people, almost the embodiment of the Indian peasant, represented the other ancient tradition of India, that of renunciation and asceticism’.[50]

Nehru’s reference to Tagore having ‘proletarian sympathies’ seems inappropriate if we understand that to mean that Tagore actually had communist leanings. Nehru is more likely to have been alluding to Tagore’s curiosity about the revolution in Russia, which is evident from the essay ‘At the Crossroads’, published in 1918,[51] and continues through in the contacts and connections Tagore made with Russian scholars and artists,[52] to his long-desired and frequently postponed visit to Russia which took place in 1930.[53] In 1918, Tagore observed that information about the new regime was scanty, and so it was not the time to make judgements. This was evidently a reference to the British colonial powers suppressing or distorting news of the October Revolution.[54] Tagore expressed concern that the revolution would flounder due to adhering to its ideals and missing the ‘sure foothold of the stern logic of Real Politik’, and he predicts that ‘[i]t is not unlikely that, as a nation, she (Modern Russia) will fail; but if she fails with the flag of true ideals in her hands, then her failure will fade, like the morning star, only to usher in the sunrise of the New Age’.[55] Of his visit in 1930, Tagore wrote that ‘[i]n Soviet Russia I have seen endeavours to replace the very base of civilization. It seemed to me, we could yet be saved, if they could change this cannibalistic tendency of the state power. Else, freedom will not be won by the weak’.[56] Tagore was impressed with the mass education programmes and collective farming in Russia, and evidently saw parallels with the national programmes for Bengal he had championed during the Swadeshi period.[57]

Nehru did have communist leanings, as we see in The Discovery of India, written over five months in 1944, towards the end of his imprisonment in Ahmadnagar Fort.[58] He describes the writing as a ‘thousand hand-written pages with this jumble of ideas’, when he ‘travelled in the past and peeped into the future’. There is a romantic and heroic feel to the journey, which ends with a quote from Lenin: ‘All my life and my strength were given to the first cause of the world—the liberation of mankind’.[59] In a chapter on ‘Nationalism versus Imperialism’, Nehru considers the direction India might take after independence. He looks to the United States of America and other countries which were ‘forging ahead’, but he was most impressed by the ‘tremendous progress’ made by the Soviet Union in its ‘prodigious effort to create a new world out of the dregs of the old’.[60] Then Nehru writes:

Even Rabindranath Tagore, highly individualistic as he was and not attracted towards some aspects of the communistic system, became an admirer of this new civilization and contrasted it with present conditions in his own country. In his last death-bed message he referred to the ‘unsparing energy with which Russia has tried to fight disease and illiteracy, and has succeeded in steadily liquidating ignorance and poverty, wiping off the humiliation from the face of a vast continent. Her civilization is free from all invidious distinction between one class and another, between one sect and another. The rapid and astounding progress achieved by her made me happy and jealous at the same time’.[61]

This passage, worded a little differently, is present in the translation of Tagore’s last address, ‘Crisis in Civilization’, in Towards Universal Man.[62] In that essay, Tagore goes on to contrast ‘the two great Powers, the British and the Russians’, saying that while the British have ‘trampled on the manhood of the subject races under their rule’, Soviet Russia has tried to harmonise the interests of all its peoples, including the many Muslim tribes in its territory’.[63]

When Nehru remarks that Tagore was individualistic and not drawn to communism, he may have been referring to the incongruity of the aristocratic Tagore engaging in the class struggle. One thinks of Tagore’s sympathies as being for peasant labourers, rather than for the proletariat, but he spoke up for the strikers of 1905-8, including the ‘long-suffering impoverished clerks who have suddenly decided not to tolerate insults any longer’.[64] Tagore shows a similar sympathy and understanding of the class struggle when, in Nationalism, he asks: ‘And what is the meaning of these strikes in the economic world, which like the prickly shrubs in a barren soil shoot up with renewed vigour each time they are cut down?’, and then he answers his own question as follows:

What, but that the wealth-producing mechanism is incessantly growing into vast stature, out of proportion to all other needs of society,—and the full reality of man is more and more crushed under its weight? This state of things inevitably gives rise to eternal feuds among the elements freed from the wholeness and wholesomeness of human ideals, and interminable economic war is waged between capital and labour. For greed of wealth and power can never have a limit, and compromise of self-interest can never attain the final spirit of reconciliation. They must go on breeding jealousy and suspicion to the end — the end which only comes through some sudden catastrophe or a spiritual re-birth.[65]

We can see here something of the same confidence in the endurance and eventual triumph of those who labour as we saw in Tagore’s late poem ‘They Work’. We also see that Tagore does not put the blame for the evils of the modern world onto members of the capitalist class, but on the ‘wealth-producing mechanism’ which crushes ‘the full reality of man’. It is the system itself that he criticises, not the people who govern and benefit from the system, let alone those who are made into ‘neatly compressed bales of humanity’ by the ‘national machinery of commerce and politics’.[66]

In The Religion of Man Tagore writes next to nothing about his own politics, and nothing on his practical experiments in Santiniketan or Sriniketan, apart from two brief mentions of the school he founded in the essay ‘The Teacher’.[67] The political position Tagore sets out in the Nationalism essays is present, right at the end of The Religion of Man, in the last of the four appendices he added to the Hibbert lectures material. This is the text of an address Tagore gave in the Chapel of Manchester College, Oxford, in which Tagore writes about the Karma of Nations, which are ‘never tired of uttering the blasphemy that warfare is eternal, that physical might has its inevitable right of moral cannibalism where the flesh is weak. The wrong that has been done in the past seeks to justify itself by its very perpetuation, like a disease by its chronic malignity, and it sneers  and growls at the least proposal of its termination’.[68] The people of India, he says, are different:

We in India are unfortunate in not having the chance to give expression to the best in us in creating intimate relations with the powerful nations, whose preparations are all leading to an enormous waste of resources in a competition of brow-beating and bluff. Some great voice is waiting to be heard which will usher in the sacred light of truth in the dark hours of the nightmare of politics, the voice which will proclaim that ‘God is over all’, and exhort us never to covet, to be great in renunciation that gives us the wealth of spirit, strength of truth, leads us from the illusion of power to the fullness of perfection, to the Santam, who is peace eternal, to the Advaitam who is the infinite One in the heart of the manifold. But we in India have not yet had the chance. Yet we have our own human voice which truth demands. The messengers of truth have ever joined hands across centuries, across the seas, across historical barriers, and they help to raise up the great continent of human brotherhood from avidya, from the slimy bottom of spiritual apathy. We individuals, however small may be our power and whatever corner of the world we may belong to, have a claim upon us to add to the light of the consciousness that comprehends all humanity. And for this cause I ask your co-operation, not only because co-operation gives us strength in our work, but because co-operation itself is the best aspect of the truth we represent; it is an end and not merely the means.[69]

As we have seen, the essays taken directly from his Hibbert lectures contain Tagore’s thoughts about evolution and his philosophical (or ‘deep’) anthropology. Their value for future political change lies in the way he understands humankind, our origins and strengths and weaknesses, and this has been recognised by scholars interested in Tagore’s contemporary relevance.

Tagore’s Science and Creative Evolution

In 1986, a weeklong seminar took place on the theme of ‘Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today’.[70] Mulk Raj Anand, renowned Indo-English novelist, then aged eighty one, was a major contributor and a lively presence at the event.[71] One of his contributions was a paper entitled: ‘Tagore’s Religion of Man: An Essay on Rabindranath Tagore’s Humanism’, in which he traces Tagore’s journey from being misunderstood as an other-worldly mystic and philosopher-sage,[72] towards being ‘a Brahmin who joined the fraternity of the humble and the lowly, of the outcastes’. He identifies two key stages of this process: firstly, the down-to-earth evolution of his school at Santiniketan; secondly, the time when the ‘poet-laureate of India suddenly began one day to paint pictures, like a child’.[73]

About half way through the essay, Anand quotes almost verbatim the first two pages of ‘Man’s Universe’, the first chapter of The Religion of Man:[74]

Light, as the radiant energy of creation, started the ring-dance of atoms in a diminutive sky, and also the dance of the stars in the vast, lonely theatre of time and space. The planets came out of their bath of fire and basked in the sun for ages. They were the thrones of the gigantic Inert, dumb and desolate, which knew not the meaning of its own blind destiny and majestically frowned upon a future when its monarchy would be menaced.

Then came a time when life was brought into the arena in the tiniest little monocycle of a cell. With its gift of growth and power of adaptation it faced the ponderous enormity of things, and contradicted the unmeaningness of their bulk. [...]

But the miracle of creation did not stop here in this isolated speck of life launched on a lonely voyage to the Unknown. A multitude of cells were bound together into a larger unit, not through aggregation, but through a marvellous quality of complex inter-relationship maintaining a perfect co-ordination of functions. This is the creative principle of unity [...]

Before the chapter ended Man appeared and turned the course of this evolution from an indefinite march of physical aggrandisement to a freedom of a more subtle perfection. This has made possible his progress to become unlimited, and has enabled him to realize the boundless in his power.

The fire is lighted, the hammers are working, and for laborious days and nights amidst dirt and discordance the musical instrument is being made. We may accept this as a detached fact and follow its evolution. But when the music is revealed, we know that the whole thing is a part of the manifestation of music [...][75]

Anand prefaces the reading by saying that Tagore ‘interprets the world with pristine insight and wonder’. Ending the reading at a point with a music metaphor, Anand says: ‘Thus Rabindranath Tagore seems to regard the development of rhythm in the body as important as the body in which it is created’. Anand then sums up the next several pages of Tagore’s essay (not very coherently), bringing in man’s ‘luminous imagination’, and his need to engage in ‘disinterested works, in science and philosophy, in literature and arts, in service and worship’, and concludes that the whole ethos of Tagore’s life is ‘based on the idea of creative evolution’.[76]

For the purposes of Anand’s argument, the fact that Tagore ‘interprets the world with pristine insight and wonder’, is a symptom of him moving on from being (seen as) a mystic to taking an interest in man’s relationship with the real world. That does not seem sufficient reason to read out such a long passage from ‘Man’s Universe’, in which Tagore relates the drama and mystery of a wide spectrum of the sciences: cosmology, atomic physics, the origin of the solar system, the emergence of single living cells and then multi-cellular life forms with specialised organs, the evolution of species via the ‘physical aggrandisement’ of the dinosaurs, through to man’s ‘freedom of a more subtle perfection’. My sense is that Anand read out the passage because it is a superb piece of writing, best read aloud, with its combination of poetry and science. The audience probably enjoyed hearing something other than Tagore’s poetry being recited as part of the reading of a paper.

Tagore was always modest about his knowledge of science, as we see from his introduction to the science primer he wrote in 1937, Visva Parichay, translated as ‘Our Universe’, where he goes through an impressive list of scientific topics and works that he has ventured into, but then admits that much of what he has read is still beyond his understanding.[77] ‘Man’s Universe’ shows that Tagore actually had a considerable depth of understanding of the sciences. The more one reads the essay, the more there is to discover. One needs to attune oneself to the intensity and economy of Tagore’s poetic style of writing to see how much he has packed in. Tagore’s famous conversation with Einstein about truth and reality have always fascinated scholars,[78] but Tagore makes the same argument about all truth inevitably being collective human truth more interestingly in ‘Man’s Universe’.[79] He writes of man continuing to evolve beyond the body, extending his limited senses with instruments to explore within the atom and out to the stars, and also joining with others in collaborative ventures. Read in that way, the essay resonates strongly with a recent book by astrobiologist, Caleb Scharf, Gravity’s Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes.[80]

The first section of Tagore’s essay resembles a passage in Gravity’s Engines in which the author traces the twelve billion year journey of X-ray photons from a black hole in the young universe to a spot on his computer screen, in which he points to what is taking place over the aeons during the course of the particle’s passage across time and space: ‘When they set out there is no star called the Sun, no planet called Earth’. Once the photons have traversed most of their journey, Scharf maps their time travel onto the emergence of microbes, then multicellular life, the dinosaurs, ice ages, Eastern astronomers witnessing a supernova, the Norman conquest.[81]

Tagore would have enjoyed Scharf’s book, particularly for the way it illustrates the sharing of human knowledge, with a multiplicity of crucial but relatively tiny contributions being made over a considerable period of time by individual researchers from all around the world. He would have noted how many of the key discoveries were made in his own lifetime, some by scientists whom he met and corresponded with. That is not to say that the journey to discover the cosmos undertaken by all these scientists was wholly one of collaboration, cooperation and mutual appreciation. There was an amount of all these things, but there was also fierce competition: for recognition, career advancement, to get to publish first, to win Nobel prizes. There was also a major crossover between cosmological research and the military-industrial complex, with the latter a source of funding biased towards technology with potential for military and defence applications. One can see in the sciences today, especially in the ‘new biology’, further causes for Tagore’s ‘agony of disenchantment’ at the casting aside of ‘civilized values’,[82] in this case the ideal of disinterested science.[83] But none of this changes Tagore’s point that all these scientists are or were human beings. Even when technology extends their senses beyond the visible spectrum and what can be seen and experienced on Earth – and the instruments Scharf describes are extraordinary – nevertheless, behind every pixilated image on a computer screen, behind every word and mathematical expression in a published paper, is a human being. That is utterly and completely inescapable. However objective and analytical a scientist may be, this is an attitude only, a perspective on human reality, as Tagore wrote in Personality when he compared his own view of a solid table with the scientist seeing atoms full of empty space, and his seeing the stars as still and distant, the scientists looking out there and observing the stars in furious motion.[84]

Tagore would have delighted in the poetry of Scharf’s writing.[85] Many Tagore scholars have written about Tagore’s lifelong personal and practical interest in science and technology, and some point intriguingly to poems of his which seem to express some of the most challenging ideas to come out of new science. Rajat Chanda, professor of theoretical physics, contributed an article entitled ‘A Synthesis of Arts and Science – Rabindranath’s Poetic Vision’ to the commemorative volume published by the Tagore Centre in London.[86] A precursor to this is the article by Monish R. Chatterjee, professor of electrical engineering, entitled ‘Poetic Intuition and Cosmic Reality: Tagore as Preceptor of Scientific Rationalism’, which Chanda cites, and Chatterjee cites an earlier paper by Chanda.[87] Both articles provide examples of how Tagore’s understanding of science is revealed in his poetry, and that these insights resonate with some of the latest understanding in theoretical physics.[88]

Chatterjee begins his article with an observation that, whereas there is a ‘deeply mystical quality’ to Tagore’s poetry and music, ‘it would be a mistake to assume that the label mystical philosopher defines with any degree of completeness his personality or his role as a major figure in education and national reconstruction’.[89] He goes on to trace the history of Tagore’s interest in science, his friendship with J.C. Bose, his sending his son to America to learn scientific agriculture, his bringing science teaching into his school. He then mentions Tagore’s conversations with Einstein, which reflect that ‘Tagore believed in the symbiosis between human consciousness and universal consciousness. Thus, the natural world to him was not dissociated from the human, and from this perspective, the existence of the one justified the existence of the other’.[90] Later Chatterjee observes: ‘It is evident that the well-known Tagore-Einstein conversations are lately finding curious reevaluation by leading figures in science, including Ilya Prigogine, Roger Penrose, and Brian Josephson’.[91]

Chanda begins his article with a reference to the well-known remark by C.P. Snow in the 1960s about ‘the dangerously wide gap between scientists and literary intellectuals’.[92] In the chapter on Personality, I refer to David Rothenberg’s book Survival of the Beautiful, in which the author counters Snow’s argument about the ‘two cultures’ very firmly, saying: ‘We no longer think that way, and I am trying to show that we never really did. Art has been at the heart of science, and science at the heart of art, for centuries’.[93] Chanda ends his article with a translation by Chatterjee of Tagore’s celebrated poem ‘I’.[94] The poem begins:

Coloured by my own consciousness
The emerald turned green,
And the ruby doused itself in scarlet.
I turned my gaze up to the sky
And there was light
To the East and to the West.
To the rose I declared, ‘Beautiful’,
And beautiful it was.
‘This is theology,’ you will say,
‘It befits not the words of a poet.’
And I will assert, ‘This is the Truth
Hence it is poetry.’

Before closing with the poem, Chanda writes about a well-known thought experiment by Einstein and two junior colleagues, known as the ‘Einstein, Podolsky, Rosen (EPR) Paradox’, by which Einstein showed that if quantum mechanics were right, ‘an unacceptable “spooky action-at-a-distance” will show up’, which is impossible, hence quantum mechanics is incomplete. It was soon after the publication of the EPR paper that Tagore composed ‘I’, as if to declare that, in his view quantum mechanics is right. And indeed, as Chanda points out, fifty years later, it was shown experimentally that ‘quantum mechanics is complete and Einstein was wrong!’; the spooky action is now called ‘quantum entanglement’.[95]

Tagore declares in his poem that the entanglement between his consciousness and everything he sees and knows in the world is ‘Truth/ Hence it is poetry’; it is not theology; it may be a mystery but it is not mysticism. In his massive book The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe, Roger Penrose refuses to pander to the reader’s distaste for mathematics.[96] In a chapter on ‘The entangled quantum world’, Penrose takes us through the particle physics and mathematics of the EPR effect, and tells us that entanglement is such an ‘ubiquitous phenomenon’ that perhaps all particles in the universe are entangled with each other.[97] ‘Quite!’ we can hear Tagore say.

Tagore’s ‘Unclarities’

In my Introduction, in relation to The Religion of Man in particular, I claimed 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’.[98] If this is the case, it must make difficulties for academic specialists, and may shed light on criticisms of The Religion of Man voiced by two eminent Tagore scholars. Sabyasachi Bhattacharya complains about Tagore’s extensive elaboration of the three Hibbert lectures into a book of twenty-five chapters and several appendices with ‘after-thoughts and incidental reflections’.[99] William Radice says that Bhattacharya ‘is candid about the unclarities in Tagore’s attempts to define his philosophy, rightly saying of The Religion of Man, “This book is not one of his best”’.[100]

Tagore makes no apology for including in The Religion of Man thoughts he has spoken about many times before.[101] Tagore was a genius and a polymath, he was ‘myriad-minded’ and a ‘universal man’, but he is not thought to have been a philosopher in an intellectual sense, a system-builder.[102] He was not a systematic theologian either, or indeed a professional scientist. Tagore was not attempting to ‘define his philosophy’ in The Religion of Man, and the ‘unclarities’, the digressions and musings, contribute to making the book fascinating and revealing.

I discussed in the Chapter on Sadhana how Tagore drew on his collections of fragments of writing to put together the lectures published in that book. The same applies to The Religion of Man, where several chapters have the sermon-like quality we saw in Sadhana. There is little in either of these books of direct relevance to my own particular interest in Tagore’s ‘life’s work’ in rural reconstruction. However, The Religion of Man is dedicated to Dorothy Elmhirst, perhaps in gratitude for her financial support for Sriniketan from 1921 onwards. Leonard Elmhirst saw Dartington as ‘a mingling of the activities of Santiniketan and Sriniketan’, with ‘the rural reconstruction element [...] the core of the enterprise, not peripheral and a later addition as with Sriniketan’.[103] I like to think that Tagore’s dedication of his book to Dorothy is also acknowledging her passionate commitment to promoting the arts – especially the performing arts – at Dartington, to balance Leonard’s groundbreaking work on the application of science and technology to rural enterprise.

We now come to the final extract from Tagore’s books of English essays: the full text of ‘The Meeting’ from The Religion of Man.


The Meeting

Our great prophets in all ages did truly realize in themselves the freedom of the soul in their consciousness of the spiritual kinship of man which is universal. And yet human races, owing to their external geographical condition, developed in their individual isolation a mentality that is obnoxiously selfish. In their instinctive search for truth in religion either they dwarfed and deformed it in the mould of the primitive distortions of their own race-mind, or else they shut their God within temple walls and scriptural texts safely away, especially from those departments of life where his absence gives easy access to devil-worship in various names and forms. They treated their God in the same way as in some forms of government the King is treated, who has traditional honour but no effective authority. The true meaning of God has remained vague in our minds only because our consciousness of the spiritual unity has been thwarted.

One of the potent reasons for this—our geographical separation—has now been nearly removed. Therefore the time has come when we must, for the sake of truth and for the sake of that peace which is the harvest of truth, refuse to allow [156] the idea of our God to remain indistinct behind unrealities of formal rites and theological mistiness.

The creature that lives its life screened and sheltered in a dark cave, finds its safety in the very narrowness of its own environment. The economical providence of Nature curtails and tones down its sensibilities to such a limited necessity. But if these cave-walls were to become suddenly removed by some catastrophe, then either it must accept the doom of extinction, or carry on satisfactory negotiations with its wider surroundings.

The races of mankind will never again be able to go back to their citadels of high-walled exclusiveness. They are to-day exposed to one another, physically and intellectually. The shells, which have so long given them full security within their individual enclosures have been broken, and by no artificial process can they be mended again. So we have to accept this fact, even though we have not yet fully adapted our minds to this changed environment of publicity, even though through it we may have to run all the risks entailed by the wider expansion of life’s freedom.

A large part of our tradition is our code of adjustment which deals with the circumstances special to ourselves. These traditions, no doubt, variegate the several racial personalities with their distinctive colours—colours which have their poetry and also certain protective qualities suitable [157] to each different environment We may come to acquire a strong love for our own colourful race speciality; but if that gives us fitness only for a very narrow world, then, at the slightest variation in our outward circumstances, we may have to pay for this love with our life itself.

In the animal world there are numerous instances of complete race-suicide overtaking those who fondly clung to some advantage which later on became a hindrance in an altered dispensation. In fact the superiority of man is proved by his adaptability to extreme surprises of chance—neither the torrid nor the frigid zone of his destiny offering him insuperable obstacles.

The vastness of the race problem with which we are faced to-day will either compel us to train ourselves to moral fitness in the place of merely external efficiency, or the complications arising out of it will fetter all our movements and drag us to our death.

When our necessity becomes urgently insistent, when the resources that have sustained us so long are exhausted, then our spirit puts forth all its force to discover some other source of sustenance deeper and more permanent. This leads us from the exterior to the interior of our store-house. When muscle does not fully serve us, we come to awaken intellect to ask for its help and are then surprised to find in it a greater source of strength [158] for us than physical power. When, in their turn, our intellectual gifts grow perverse, and only help to render our suicide gorgeous and exhaustive, our soul must seek an alliance with some power which is still deeper, yet further removed from the rude stupidity of muscle.

Hitherto the cultivation of intense race egotism is the one thing that has found its fullest scope at this meeting of men. In no period of human history has there been such an epidemic of moral perversity, such a universal churning up of jealousy, greed, hatred and mutual suspicion. Every people, weak or strong, is constantly indulging in a violent dream of rendering itself thoroughly hurtful to others. In this galloping competition of hurtfulness, on the slope of a bottomless pit, no nation dares to stop or slow down. A scarlet fever with a raging temperature has attacked the entire body of mankind, and political passion has taken the place of creative personality in all departments of life.

It is well known that when greed has for its object material gain then it can have no end. It is like the chasing of the horizon by a lunatic. To go on in a competition multiplying millions becomes a steeplechase of insensate futility that has obstacles but no goal. It has for its parallel the fight with material weapons—weapons which must perpetually be multiplied, opening up new [159] vistas of destruction and evoking new forms of insanity in the forging of frightfulness. Thus seems now to have commenced the last fatal adventure of drunken Passion riding on an intellect of prodigious power.

To-day, more than ever before in our history, the aid of spiritual power is needed. Therefore, I believe its resources will surely be discovered in the hidden depths of our being. Pioneers will come to take up this adventure and suffer, and through suffering open out a path to that higher elevation of life in which lies our safety.

Let me, in reference to this, give an instance from the history of Ancient India, There was a noble period in the early days of India when, to a band of dreamers, agriculture appeared as a great idea and not merely useful fact The heroic personality of Ramachandra, who espoused its cause, was sung in popular ballads, which in a later age forgot their original message and were crystallized into an epic merely extolling some domestic virtues of its hero. It is quite evident, however, from the legendary relics lying entombed in the story, that a new age ushered in by the spread of agriculture came as a divine voice to those who could hear. It lifted up the primeval screen of the wilderness, brought the distant near, and broke down all barricades. Men who had formed separate and antagonistic groups in their sheltered [160] seclusions were called upon to form a united people.

In the Vedic verses, we find constant mention of conflicts between the original inhabitants of Ancient India and the colonists. There we find the expression of a spirit that was one of mutual distrust and a struggle in which was sought either wholesale slavery or extermination for the opponents carried on in the manner of animals who live in the narrow segregation imposed upon them by their limited imagination and imperfect sympathy. This spirit would have continued in all its ferocious vigour of savagery had men failed to find the opportunity for the discovery that man’s highest truth was in the union of co-operation and love.

The progress of agriculture was the first external step which led to such a discovery. It not only made a settled life possible for a large number of men living in close proximity, but it claimed for its very purpose a life of peaceful co-operation. The mere fact of such a sudden change from a nomadic to an agricultural condition would not have benefited Man if he had not developed therewith his spiritual sensitiveness to an inner principle of truth. We can realize, from our reading of the Ramayana, the birth of idealism among a section of the Indian colonists of those days, before whose mind’s eye was opened a vision of emancipation [161] rich with the responsibility of a higher life. The epic represents in its ideal the change of the people’s aspiration from the path of conquest to that of reconciliation.

At the present time, as I have said, the human world has been overtaken by another vast change similar to that which had occurred in the epic age of India. So long men had been cultivating, almost with a religious fervour, that mentality which is the product of racial isolation; poets proclaimed, in a loud pitch of bragging, the exploits of their popular fighters; money-makers felt neither pity nor shame in the unscrupulous dexterity of their pocket-picking; diplomats scattered lies in order to reap concessions from the devastated future of their own victims. Suddenly the walls that separated the different races are seen to have given way, and we find ourselves standing face to face.

This is a great fact of epic significance. Man, suckled at the wolf’s breast, sheltered in the brute’s den, brought up in the prowling habit of depredation, suddenly discovers that he is Man, and that his true power lies in yielding up his brute power for the freedom of spirit.

The God of humanity has arrived at the gates of the ruined temple of the tribe. Though he has not yet found his altar, I ask the men of simple faith, wherever they may be in the world, to bring [162] their offering of sacrifice to him, and to believe that it is far better to be wise and worshipful than to be clever and supercilious. I ask them to claim the right of manhood to be friends of men, and not the right of a particular proud race or nation which may boast of the fatal quality of being the rulers of men. We should know for certain that such rulers will no longer be tolerated in the new world, as it basks in the open sunlight of mind and breathes life’s free air.

In the geological ages of the infant earth the demons of physical force had their full sway. The angry fire, the devouring flood, the fury of the storm, continually kicked the earth into frightful distortions. These titans have at last given way to the reign of life. Had there been spectators in those days who were clever and practical they would have wagered their last penny on these titans and would have waxed hilariously witty at the expense of the helpless living speck taking its stand in the arena of the wrestling giants. Only a dreamer could have then declared with unwavering conviction that those titans were doomed because of their very exaggeration, as are, to-day, those formidable qualities which, in the parlance of schoolboy science, are termed Nordic.

I ask once again, let us, the dreamers of the East and the West, keep our faith firm in the Life that creates and not in the Machine that constructs—[163]in the power that hides its force and blossoms in beauty, and not in the power that bares its arms and chuckles at its capacity to make itself obnoxious. Let us know that the Machine is good when it helps, but not so when it exploits life; that Science is great when it destroys evil, but not when the two enter into unholy alliance.


[1] Quotations from reviews, back cover, The Religion of Man: Being the Hibbert Lectures for 1930 (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961 [1931]).

[2] ‘A Chronicle of Eighty Years’, pp. 479-92.

[3] Tagore, ‘Shantiniketan School’, quoted by Das Gupta, in Santiniketan and Sriniketan, pp. 53-4. Das Gupta writes: ‘[T]he decline of the Santiniketan ideal was in evidence even during Rabindranath’s life. He himself was disappointed, disillusioned and by the thirties he was pinning his hopes on Sriniketan becoming “a centre of ideal education” leaving behind the results of Santiniketan’. (p. 53.)

[4] A. P.Gnatyuk-Danil’chuk, Tagore, India and Soviet Union: A Dream Fulfilled (Calcutta: Firma KLM, 1986) A less positive account of Tagore’s interest in Russia is given by Sergei Serebriany’s chapter on Tagore’s reception in Russia (‘Russia’, in Rabindranath Tagore: One Hundred Years of Global Reception, ed. by Martin Kämpchen and Imre Bangha (Hyderabad: Orient Blackswan, 2014), pp. 203-35.

[5] There is a short entry on Tagore ‘Indian philosopher and poet’ whose ‘best-known book in the West is The Religion of Man, delivered as the Hibbert lectures in Oxford and published in 1931’. (Simon Blackburn, Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, 2nd edn (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), p. 358.)

[6] Tagore, ‘Appendix II: Note on the Meaning of Reality’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 222-5. Discussed in Chapter 3, #. 54.

[7] ‘The Evolution of Religion: Rabindranath Tagore’s Oxford Lecture’, Oxford Mail, 20 May 1930, Imagining Tagore, pp. 465-7.

[8] ‘The Evolution of Religion’, Imagining Tagore, pp. 465-6. ‘Man’s Universe’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 13-24.

[9] ‘The Evolution of Religion’, Imagining Tagore, p. 466.

[10] ‘Tagore’s Hibbert Lectures; His Personal Religious Experience; The Buddhist Faith; Sir Michael Sadler’s Tribute to the Indian Poet’, The Manchester Guardian, 27 May 1930, Imagining Tagore, pp. 471-2.

[11] ‘Mr. Tagore on “Soul Consciousness”’, in The Inquirer, 31 May 1913, Imagining Tagore, pp. 35-7 (p. 35).

[12] Ernest Rhys, Rabindranath Tagore: A Biographical Study, p. 122.

[13] Rhys, p. 123.

[14] Review of The Religion of Man, Edward Shillito (poet and Free Church minister), in The Listener, 10 June, 1931, Imagining Tagore, p. 505.

[15] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp. 7-8.

[16] Tagore, ‘Man – The Eternal Rebel’: Sir Rabindranath Tagore in Oxford’, Oxford Mail, 22 May 1930, Imagining Tagore, p. 467.

[17] The first of Tagore’s ‘disclaimers’ is in Sadhana: ‘Perhaps it is well for me to explain that the subject-matter of the papers published in this book has not been philosophically treated, nor has it been approached from the scholar’s point of view.’ (Author’s Preface, in Sadhana, pp. vii-ix (p. vii).)

[18] Tagore, ‘The Artist’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 129-142 (pp, 129-30).

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

[20] ‘Tagore’s Hibbert Lectures [the third]’, Imagining Tagore, pp. 471-2.

[21] Tagore, ‘The Vision’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 90-108.

[22] Tagore, ‘The Vision’, p. 104.

[23] Tagore, ‘Man’s Nature’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 143-155.

[24] Tagore, ‘Man’s Nature’, p. 145.

[25] ‘Rabindranath Tagore at Woodbrooke’, in The Friend, 23 May 1930, Imagining Tagore, pp. 467-70 (p. 469).

[26] Tagore, ‘Man’s Nature’, pp. 152-3.

[27] See epigraph to this chapter, quotation from review in Christian Century, back cover, The Religion of Man (1961).

[28] ‘Tagore’s Hibbert Lectures’, Imagining Tagore, p. 472.

[29] Viktors Ivbulis, ‘Tagore’s Western Burdens’p. 161.

[30] Tagore, ‘City and Village’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 302-322 (p. 322).

[31] ‘Rabindranath Tagore at Woodbrooke’, Imagining Tagore, pp. 467-8.

[32] ‘Rabindranath Tagore at Woodbrooke’, Imagining Tagore, pp. 468.

[33] ‘Rabindranath Tagore at Woodbrooke’, pp. 468-9.

[34] Introduction, in [Quakers], Christian Faith and Practice in the Experience of the Society of Friends (London: London Yearly Meeting, 1960) [no page numbers]

[35] ‘Society and State’, pp. 50-1.

[36] Christian Faith and Practice, § 196-7.

[37] Christian Faith and Practice, § 199-204, 392

[38] David James Fisher, ‘An Oceanic Sensibility’, in Romain Rolland and the Politics of Intellectual Engagement, pp. 8-37 (p. 10).

[39] Fisher, ‘Intellectual Antifascism’, in Romain Rolland, pp. 147-76 (p. 150).

[40] ‘Tagore made some painfully misguided statements praising aspects of Russian Communism’, Dutta and Robinson, ‘Farewell to the West (1930-1931)’, in Rabindranath Tagore: The Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 287-301 (p. 297).

[41] Dutta and Robinson, ‘Farewell to the West’, p. 293; ‘War, Tagore and the West (1939-1940)’, in Myriad-Minded Man, pp. 343-53 (p. 343).

[42] Alex Aronson and Krishna Kripalani, ‘Conversations’, in Rolland and Tagore (Calcutta: Visva-Bharati, 1945), pp. 77-104 (p. 102).

[43] The Friend, 30 May 1930, Imagining Tagore, pp. 474-80 (p. 474).

[44] Tagore, The Small and the Great, trans. by Surendranath Tagore, Modern Review, December 1917, 593-604.

[45] Tagore, ‘The Meeting’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 156-164 (pp. 163-4).

[46] Imagining Tagore, p. 479.

[47] As a result of Friends’ concerns, Horace Alexander was sent as a representative for the Quakers to attempt a reconciliation between the Viceroy and Gandhi. (Anon, ‘Horace Gundry Alexander’, http://examinindia,blogspot.co,uk/2008/12/182.html [accessed 31 December 2012])

[48] Tagore, ‘Presidential Address’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 101-28 (pp. 118-9).

[49] Richard Adamiak, ‘The “Withering Away” of the State: A Reconsideration’, The Journal of Politics, 32 (1970), 3-18.

[50] Chapter 5:# 112-3. Nehru, The Discovery of India, pp. 318-9.

[51] Tagore, ‘At the Crossroads’, in The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore, Volume THREE: A Miscellany, pp. 380-4. (Note on date of publication, p. 974.)

[52] A. P. Gnatyuk-Danil’chuk provides a detailed account of the journey of mutual discovery which took place between Tagore and the old and new Russias in his book: Tagore, India and Soviet Union: A Dream Fulfilled.

[53] ‘9 September 1930. Berlin. A special train is ready to steam off from the railway station. The train deputed by the Soviet government [...] is for the great Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore and his entourage’. (Gnatyuk-Danil’chuk, ‘Tagore Discovers Russia’, pp. 187-387 (p. 187).)

[54] Gnatyuk-Danil’chuk, pp. 196-7.

[55] Tagore, ‘At the Crossroads’, pp. 383-4.

[56] Gnatyuk-Danil’chuk, p. 348.

[57] Sumit Sarkar, ‘National Education’, in The Swadeshi Movement in Bengal 1903-1908,pp. 149-81. Sarkar, ‘Swadeshi Organisation – Associations and Samities’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp. 336-404 (pp. 345-52).

[58] Nehru, ‘Postscript’, in The Discovery of India, pp. 541-2.

[59] Nehru, ‘Epilogue’, in The Discovery of India, pp. 536-40.

[60] Nehru, ‘Chapter VIII: The Last Phase—(2) Nationalism versus Imperialism’, in The Discovery of India, pp. 334-392 (p. 350).

[61] Nehru, p.350.

[62] Tagore, ‘Crisis in Civilization’, in Towards Universal Man, pp. 353-9 (p. 355).

[63] Tagore, ‘Crisis in Civilization’, p. 356.

[64] Sarkar, ‘Labour Unrest and Trades Unions’, in The Swadeshi Movement, pp. 182-251 (p. 189).

[65] Tagore, ‘Nationalism in the West’, in Nationalism (London: Macmillan, 1921 [1917]), pp. 1-46 (pp. 11-12).

[66] ‘Nationalism in the West’, p. 6.

[67] ‘The Teacher’ in The Religion of Man, pp. 165-180 (pp. 172, 179-80).

[68] Tagore, ‘An address in the Chapel of Manchester College, Oxford, on Sunday, May 25, 1930’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 231-7 (p. 235).

[69] ‘An address in the Chapel of Manchester College, Oxford’, pp. 235-6.

[70] The seminar was hosted by the Indian Institute if Advanced Study in Shimla to mark the 150th birth anniversary of Tagore’s birth.

[71] The book of the 1986 seminar proceedings: Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today, includes all the papers received, organised into six themes, and also a condensed account of the discussions (Editors’ Preface, pp. v-vi.). Mulk Raj Anand gave the ‘Inaugural Address’ (pp. 4-11), read a paper on Tagore’s Humanism (pp. 83-92.), was co-contributor to a paper on Tagore’s paintings (pp. 140-3), and he made many contributions to the discussions (‘Report of Discussions’ (pp. 309-34.).

[72] Anand attributes the other-worldly mystic reputation to Tagore’s Gitanjali/Sadhana reception and Radhakrishnan’s Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (London: Macmillan, 1919).

[73] Anand, ‘Tagore’s Religion of Man: An Essay on Rabindranath Tagore’s Humanism’, in Rabindranath Tagore and the Challenges of Today, pp. 83-92.

[74] Anand, pp. 87-8. He quotes the passage more fully than my extract above, and his reading of over four hundred words would have taken him about three minutes.

[75] Rabindranath Tagore, ‘Our Universe’, in The Religion of Man, pp. 13-24 (pp. 13-5).

[76] Anand, p. 88.

[77] Tagore, Our Universe, trans. by Indu Dutt (Mumbai: Jaico, 1999)

[78] Tagore included a version of their recorded conversation as an appendix to The Religion of Man (‘Note on the Nature of Reality’, pp. 222-5).

[79] Some scholars interpret the Tagore/Einstein conversation in terms of Tagore’s mystical religion. (‘Tagore bridges the gap between atomic physics and God in an original way [...].’ (David L.Gosling, ‘The God of Humanity’, in Science and the Indian Tradition: When Einstein met Tagore, pp. 132-5 (p. 132).), but there are dangers there of linking Tagore to the Western fascination with Indian gurus and New Age science. (Srinivas Aravamudan, ‘New Age Enchantments’, Guru English: South Asian Religion in a Cosmopolitan Language, pp. 220-64.)

[80] Caleb Scharf, Gravity’s Engines: The Other Side of Black Holes (London: Allen Lane, 2012)

[81] Scharf, ‘Dark Star’, in Gravity’s Engines, pp. 3-37 (pp. 3-10).

[82] Tagore, ‘Crisis in Civilization’, p. 355.

[83] Hilary Rose and Stephen Rose, ‘The Changing Production System of Scientific Knowledge’, in Genes, Cells and Brains: The Promethean Promises of the New Biology (London: Verso, 2012), pp. 11-17.

[84] ‘The World of Personality’, pp. 41-74.

[85] A reviewer from Nature is quoted on the dust cover mentioning Scharf’s ‘rich language and a brilliant command of metaphor [as he] takes on some of the most intricate topics in theoretical and observational astronomical research’.

[86] Rajat Chanda, ‘A Synthesis of the Arts and the Sciences’, in Rabindranath Tagore: A Timeless Mind, pp. 37-47.

[87] Monish R. Chatterjee, ‘Poetic Intuition and Cosmic Reality: Tagore as Preceptor of Scientific Rationalism’, in Rabindranath Tagore: Universality and Tradition, pp. 83-94.

[88] Chatterjee, pp. 92-3. Chanda, pp. 44-6.

[89] Chatterjee, p. 83.

[90] Chatterjee, p. 91.

[91] Chatterjee, p. 92.

[92] Chanda, p. 37. C P Snow, ‘The Two Cultures’, <http://www.newstatesman.com/cultural-capital/2013/01/c-p-snow-two-cultures> [accessed 14 January 2013]

[93] Rothenberg, Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science and Evolution, p. 190. Chapter 3# 44-5.

[94] Chanda, pp. 45-6. This poem has also been translated, a little differently, for the English translation of Viswa Parichay, ‘Our Universe’, in which it was very appropriately included before the first chapter. (Tagore, Our Universe, pp. 7-9). Another translation, entitled ‘This I’, is included in One Hundred and One: Poems by Rabindranath Tagore, pp. 147-8.

[95] Chanda, p. 45. (his italics)

[96] Roger Penrose, Preface, in The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (London: Vintage, 2005), pp. xv-xxi (p. xv).

[97] Penrose, ’23: The entangled quantum world’, in The Road to Reality, pp. 578-608 (p. 591).

[98] Chapter 1, # 14.

[99] Bhattacharya, ‘The “Religion of Man”’, in Chapter Six: Towards the Religion of Man: 1930-1941’, in Rabindranath Tagore: An Interpretation, pp. 184-8 (p. 185)). (There are in fact only fifteen chapters, but Bhattacharya’s point is still well made.)

[100] William Radice, ‘Revisiting Tagore’, Frontline, 29 (2012) http://www.frontline.in/fl2910/stories/20120601291007400.htm [accessed 9 September 2012].

[101] Tagore, Preface, in The Religion of Man, pp. 7-7/

[102] Ramananda Chatterjee, Foreword, in The Golden Book of Tagore: A Homage to Rabindranath Tagore from India and the World in Celebration of his Seventieth Birthday (Calcutta: The Golden Book Committee, 1931), pp. iii-xii (p. iv).

[103] Cox, Appendix 2: ‘Dartington, the Arts and India’, in The Arts at Dartington, pp. 377-96 (p. 378).