East and West

Excerpts from Tagore’s Letters & Diaries.
Java diary, July, 1927

Judicious people repeatedly forget that accomplishment lies in abundance of Sadhana (=Dedication). This milieu of Asadha (the first rainy month synchronizing with mid June-July period) sent this message. I want crop to fill my tummy. This small expectation shapes up as soon as green treasure from the rain drenched soil far overflows my trivial need. But even a fistful of alms is not available if the generosity of this treasure will not overflow this fist. In the trade of animation, this surplus is the object, however excessive. The austere cries down this excess with which, again, is the festivity of the poets. An assurance of surplus emboldens one to spend and that is why we aspire for a profit which is not to meet our excess consumption, but to embolden us for Anandam (=heavenly joy). More man’s chest measures, more is his accomplishment.

In the present age only in Europe I find this profit of animation is on the rise. That is why she had the world lit up with so much grandeur. In that light she is express in all directions. With paltry oil a single lamp serves domestic needs. But the full man remains obscure. This obscurity is external miserliness – to live less. This is fatigue of the human truth. In the animal world men are like the stars; the other animals simply live, without their existence illuminating. But, man is there not only for self-defence but for self-expression also, for which is needed a glowing soul. From abundance of our existence and its treasures, this glow evolves. At present, only Europe is radiating its glow in all directions. So, there, man is not merely living, but is existing much beyond that. With enough, you can defend yourself, with affluence you can open up your heart, In Europe, life is there in plenty.

I don’t regret this as wherever and whenever man accomplishes, it is a gratification for all anywhere for all time. Europe has reached the world over to-day with her affluence of life, knocking at the doors of all in slumber. Her influence is by her affluence.

Based on which truth Europe has reached all space and time.? Her science is that truth. Her science which has captured all areas of knowledge and come out victorious in all spheres of activities, is an enormous force. Here her demands have no end, neither their satiation. Last year, when returning from Europe, I got acquainted with a German young man coming to visit India with his young wife. Their object is to live for 2 years amidst some almost unknown tribes in Central India to study their life meticulously. For that they would even stake their lives. Man should know more about man and that knowledge does not halt at the threshold of the barbarous races. To compile thus all worth knowing with dedication with an unbiased mind has made man how much great, one knows on visit to Europe. With this force Europe has built up this Earth as man’s. The vigour Europe has applied to remove all impediments for man, would overwhelm us with its enormity had we been able to visualise it before us.

Just here, where Europe’s revelation is great, which may be the pride of mankind, she has another façade which is blind. Upanishad says, those saints who have achieved salvation (te sarbagam sarbato prapya dhira yuktatmnah sarbamebabshanti) gain the all pervasive Truth from all directions to integrate with their soul to have access in everything. Because Truth is all pervasive, it gives man such access. Science is opening up passages to Nature; but in to-day’s Europe there is a deficit of this Truth which blocks the way to mutual human souls. Europe has emerged as a peril for mankind worldwide with evasion of this soul. It is her own peril too.

In this very ship I met a French writer. He told me that after the war an obsession has overtaken the youth of Europe that there was a leakage in their ideal through which disaster has made its way in. In other words, they had slip from Truth which has been brought home at last.

Man’s world is heaven with the treasure of Truth which is not locked in space and time. Ceaselessly man is building this immortal world which is rooted at his intrepid aspirations. But as soon as smallness of man starts pilfering the elements to build the great, the calamity befalls. When the boundless power of human aspiration is channeled into narrow passages , the shores disintegrate and inundation of calamity is rampant. That is, when man’s boundless aspiration aims at his small selfish interest, all turmoil starts. Where his dedication is for all, there man’s aspiration is fulfilled. Gita calls this dedication as Yagna, which is the protection for the populace. The principle of this Yagna is selfless work, which will be neither feeble nor dwarf, but must not be expectation of fruit for self.

The pure dedication that Science has ushered in is for all country, all time and all men; so it has imbibed in man the power of God, to drive out all woe, penury and ailment from human family with its weaponry. The Viswakarma (God of Engineering) for creation of heaven for man is this Science. But when this very Science laboured to shape up man’s desire for fruit to an enormity , it became the Yama (God of Death). If man on this earth will annihilate, it will be for this reason – he knew Truth but not its use. He achieved divine power, but not divinity. In modern time that divine power is manifest in Europe. But has it been so for genocide? In the last war this very question has emerged stark. Europe has become a terror outside her boundaries, as evidenced throughout Asia and Africa. Europe has not come to us with her Science, but with her greed. So the blockade for manifestation of Europe within the heart of Asia. With impertinence of her Science, hubris of her power and her greed for wealth, for long Europe has cultivated this hassling of man all over the earth. When it boomeranged at her home she is anxious. She put others’ pasture on fire which has now caught on her wood. She is now wondering where to stop. Is it by halting her machinery? I don’t say so. But they have to halt their greed. Will it be achieved by religious sermons? That won’t be enough. Science also must complement it. The dedication which controls greed inwardly is of religion, but that which removes the external causes of it is of Science. These two combined, accomplish their dedications. Wisdom of science to-day awaits union with religion’s.

But why all these debates are labouring my head on my way to Java? The reason is, India’s erudition once went abroad. But those aliens had regarded it favourably. Tibet, Mongolia, Malayas, wherever India had preached her wisdom, had been through genuine human relations. To-day my pilgrimage is to witness those historical evidences of man’s holy access everywhere. Also to note is, that India of yore did not preach some cut and dried sermons, but inaugurated the inner treasure of man through architecture, sculpture, painting, music and literature, stamps of which remain in the deserts, woods, rocks, isles, rugged terrain and difficult resolves. It was not the mendicant’s psalm that bankrupts man to nudity, cripples his youth and dwarfs his instincts variously. It was not the message of the senile, but was full of life, vigour and youth.

Originally published in the Bulletin (May 2010) of the Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture.
Translation by the author.

References and Source
The January-June 2003 issue of “Shrayan” a compilation from Tagore’s letters and diaries. by the editor of the magazine Mr. Pathik Basu. 

More By  :  Rajat Das Gupta

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