A news story during the recently concluded T-20 Cricket semi-finals saying that National Anthems of the three of the four teams have Rabindranath Tagore’s stamp clearly indicates that his works and life have immensely influenced the lives of millions in the subcontinent and the legacy continues. Pursuing career as a writer, playwright, songwriter, poet, philosopher and educatorhe exemplified the ideals of Goodness, Meaningful Work and World Culture. Two of more than two thousand songs composed by him became the national anthems of India and Bangladesh. Over the period many scholars have examined and assessed his work through the tool of intellect. But the two great souls that were one with the ruler of time and space have also spoken about their encounters and perception of Rabindranath Tagore. They are Swami Rama and Paramhansa Yogananda.
Swami Rama on Tagore
One of the greatest masters from the Himalayas, Swami Rama is the founder of Himalayan Institute. Born in India he studied in both India & Europe and received his spiritual training in Himalayan cave monasteries and in Tibet. His best known work “Living with Himalayan Masters” reveals the many facets of the singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living traditions of the East. According to Swami Rama who met Tagore as a teenager, the key point of Tagore’s life was not sacrifice but conquest. This key point emerged from his faith that only mental and spiritual striving of man has lasting value and that he can conquer all obstacles by inner strength.
Swami Rama, in his book ‘Living with Himalayan Masters’ writes that as a teenager he happened to meet Tagore with his brother and disciple Dandi Swami Shivananda of Gangotri, at a small town called Rajpur while on way to Mussoorie at the foot of the Himalayas. During those days Tagore was staying in a cottage there. Swami Shivananda was from Bengal and knew Tagore and his family well; so they were invited to live in the same cottage with him for two months.
Swami Rama visited Shantiniketan in 1940. He writes “Rathindranath Tagore, the son of Rabindranath Tagore, received me and arranged for me to stay in one of the cottages next to Sri Malikji, who was a devout and committed admirer of Tagore and his institute. Tagore was known as “Gurudeva” by the students of Shantiniketan and as “Thakur” by the general public. He was a very gifted poet from Bengal, and one of the greatest poets of all times. In the realms of religion, philosophy, literature, music, painting, and education his many-sided, handsome, and towering personality was well-known to the world.”
Commenting on Tagore as per his observations during period of stay with him, Swami Rama says, “ I was able to observe his devotion to his work. He was always engaged in his daily practice or was busy writing or painting. He spent very few hours in sleep, and would not recline in the daytime. The infirmities of age did not change his habits. I looked upon him as an earnest sadhaka [spiritual seeker]. It is true that one object of all sadhakas of the world is to be somewhat godlike. It was not necessary for a godlike man like Tagore to imitate other god-men of India in order to express himself. His life was not like that of an Ascetic’s, which is as barron as a desert. Asceticism is the most ancient path of enlightenment and genuine asceticism is indeed worthy of reverence. Equally worthy is the treading of the more difficult path of remaining in the world while doing one’s duties. Tagore believed in living in the world without being of it.” A line from one of his poems, “Liberation by detachment from the world is not mine,” is highly expressive of his philosophy.
Humanity has seen three kinds of great men: first, those who were gifted and great by birth; second, and those who have attained greatness by sincere and selfless effort; those who have unfortunate ones on whom greatness is thrust by the press and publicity. Tagore was in the first category- a gifted and highly talented poet and genius. He lived and practiced according to the sayings of the Upanishads: “All – whatsoever that moves in the universe – is indwelt by the Lord. Enjoy thou what hath been allotted by him. Covet not the wealth of anyone.”
Swami Rama writes, “I admired Tagore. He was the most universal, encompassing, and complete human being I have known. He was a living embodiment of the whole of humanity, who knew both man the knower and man the maker. He believed in allowing a person to grow by satisfying both the demands of society and the need for solitude. Sometimes I used to call him the Plato of the East.”
Tagore’s views about the East and West were highly admired by the people of both these cultures. Swami Rama says, “Tagore did not want Westerners to become Easterners in their minds and outward behavior. He wanted the West to join hands with the East in the noble contest for the promotion of the highest ideas which are common to the whole world. According to him, the evolution of man is the evolution of the creative personality. Man alone has the courage of standing against the biological laws. Behind all great nations and noble works done in the world there have been noble ideas. An idea is that something which is the very basis of creativity. It is true that life is full of misfortunes, but fortunate is he who knows how to utilize the ideas which can make him creative. Time is the greatest of all filters, and ideas are the best of all wealth. Fortune is that rare opportunity which helps one to express his ideas and abilities at the proper time.”
Tagore’s philosophies surmounted all the obstacles which at first obscure that truth. According to him death has for ages been a source of fear and misery because people have not pondered over the truth. “O! Who suffer and fear the approach of death should hear and learn the music of Tagore, which teaches how to lose yourself in the infinite and the eternal. Just tune the chords of your being and make them move in harmony with the music of the cosmos. Every woman and man should strive to secure the light of truth, and live simply and wisely for the common good.” The rhythm of music supported Tagore’s philosophy of life. Music completed his personality, but this is not all. His words and melodies are still going on in the minds of poets and musicians today.
Tagore believed that all existences constitute the one organism of the entire cosmos, emitting love as the highest manifestation of its vital energy and having as its soul the center of the spiritual galaxy. The world so far talks only about the religion of God, but Tagore always talked of the religion of man. It is a religion of feeling through ecstatic experience, which represents opinion in its most intense and living stage offering a far better solution to the ills of life than philosophy and metaphysics.
After staying at Shantiniketan Swami Rama left for the Himalayas to assimilate the ideas he had acquired there, and then formulate certain guidelines for his future.
ParamhansaYogananda on Tagore
Another yogi, Sri Paramhansa Yogananda, the author of “Autobiography of a Yogi”, writes, “I met Rabindranath soon after he had received the Nobel Prize for literature. I was drawn to visit him because I admired his undiplomatic courage in disposing of his literary critics. I was introduced to Rabindranath in Calcutta by his secretary, Mr. C.F. Andrews, who was simply attired in Bengali dhoti. He referred lovingly to Tagore as ‘Gurudeva.’”
“Rabindranath received me graciously. He emanated an aura of charm, culture, and courtliness. Replying to my question about his literature background, he told me that he had been chiefly influenced by our religious epics and by the works of Vidyapati, a popular fourteenth-century poet.”
About two years after founding the Ranchi school he received an invitation from Rabindranath to visit him at Santiniketan to discuss their educational ideas. Sri Paramhansa Yogananda writes, “I went gladly. The poet was seated in his study when I entered; I thought then, as at our first meeting, that he was as striking a model of superb manhood as any painter could desire. His beautifully chiseled face, nobly patrician, was framed in long hair and flowing beard. Large, melting eyes; an angelic smile; and a voice of flutelike quality that was literally enchanting. Stalwart, tall, and grave, he combined an almost womanly tenderness with the delightful spontaneity of a child. No idealized conception of a poet could find more suitable embodiment than in this gentle singer.”
“Tagore and I were soon deep in a comparative study of our schools, both founded along unorthodox lines. We discovered many identical features – outdoor instruction, simplicity, ample scope for the child’s creative spirit, Rabindranath, however, laid considerable stress on the study of literature and poetry. The Santiniketan children observed periods of silence but were given no special yoga training.”
The Poet listened with flattering attention to the Yogi’s description of the energizing Yogoda exercise and of the yoga concentration techniques taught to all students at Ranchi. Narrating his early educational struggles Tagore told him, “I fled from school after the fifth grade,” he said, laughingly.“That is why I opened Santiniketan under the shady trees and the glories of the sky.” He motioned eloquently to a little group studying in the beautiful garden. “A child is in his natural setting amidst the flowers and the songbirds. There he may more easily express the hidden wealth of his individual endowment. True education is not pumped and crammed in from outward sources, but aids in bringing to the surface the infinite hoard of wisdom within.”
Sri Paramhansa Yogananda writes, “Rabindranath invited me to stay overnight in the guest house. In the evening I was charmed by a tableau of the poet and a group in the patio. Time unfolded backward: the scene before me was like one in an ancient hermitage—the joyous singer encircled by his devotees, all aureoled in divine love. Tagore knitted each tie of friendship with cords of harmony. Never assertive, he drew and captured the heart with an irresistible magnetism. Rare blossom of poesy blooming in the garden of the Lord, attracting others by a natural fragrance!”
The Yogi also recalls that in his melodious voice, Rabindranath read to them a few of his exquisite poems, newly created. He says, “The beauty of his lines, to me, lies in his art of referring to God in nearly every stanza, yet seldom mentioning the sacred Name. Drunk with the bliss of singing, he wrote, I forget myself and call Thee friend who art my Lord.
Sri Paramhansa Yogananda says, “I rejoice that the little school has now grown to an international university, Visva-Bharati, where scholars from many lands find an ideal environment.” (PIB Features)