Rabindranath is one of the most seminal thinkers of the modern age. His traditional roots are in the Upanishads and this is amply testified in his works Personality, Religion of Man and Sadhana. His poetry stems out of the deep and abiding inspiration that the Upanishads had on him. Unlike the Vedantins who had endeavoured to reach the Ultimate through Jnana (textual and scriptural knowledge) which has been the dogma of the Advaitins of the Mayavada school mainly, his approach has been from the Vaishnava view as he has himself stated of Rasa or bliss. This is not the ordinary poetic view which seeks to discover tastes (rasa) either in Nature or in Man or in technique or in expression. His notable aim was to make rasa a means to realization, bliss as a pramana towards infinite accomplishment and attainment. The intuitive realization that aesthetic intuition goes beyond the intellectual institution itself has been about the most important discovery of Rabindranath.
It did not come to him all at once but it did gather up because of the growing intensity of aesthetic enjoyment in Nature and Man which was stimulated along with the profound contemplation of the wisdom of the Upanishads, One of the Upanishads indeed had revealed that the highest is Ananda-Bliss, and that it was a status of reality higher than vijnana and manas and prana and annam. In other words, the ultimate reality was of the Order of Bliss, a term that was the Ultimate of Saccidananda and synonymous with the anantam(infinity). The means to realize this ultimate nature of Reality is not something to be sought outside of itself: not through reasoning but by means of bliss itself should this be known. How to make bliss the means to Bliss is the problem of problems.
Bliss as a means to Bliss as the end is through the realization of beauty, a growing perception of the beautiful in nature and all. Philosophers of science may use perception as the sensory means to know the nature of a thing outside. This sensory perception is invaluable for science. But beauty is a perception of the beautiful in the sensory and the perceptual activity of the bliss-activity or the beauty is what penetrates underneath the superficial form and grasps the symbolic or the suggestion of the Infinite in each percept. This requires a moulding of oneself in the intuitive change towards perception or of perception so as to release the symbolic and the Ultimate out of the sensory.
Once this dynamic nature of the bliss-governed perceptual activity was seized upon for interpreting Reality the whole world became a changed or transformed world or transfigured world. The meaningless world of philosophic intellectuals (maya) became a bliss world of meaningfulness (lila). The world-negational philosophy found its refusal in the world affirmation of Rabindranath. It is not the negational aesthesis of the bhakti schools of certain kinds but the affirmative aesthesis of the New World of mystics. The world regained its own meaningfulness as the field of Godly activity, existing for the Godly activity.
Rabindranath applying the method of aesthetic intuition, amply supported by the Upanishadic, in his Hibbert Lectures, entitled ‘Religion of Man’, as also his Andhra University Lectures on Man, has projected a poetic speculation of the creative process. It is highly suggestive through it cannot be considered to be a real account of the creative process; indeed it is neither a creative evolution nor an emergent one. It is, however, a most suggestive methodology of approach towards a constructive appraisal of the evolutionary or creative process. The ordinary Vedantin hardly realizes that by his theory of deterministic or rather planned and formulated creativity all that happens is but the manifestation of the already prefigured. A true creative act would rather bring into being novelties and every instant of creativity will be a miracle of self and thus give meaning to infinity. Rabindranath rather considers the creator to be a great experimentalist, first experimenting with quantitative extensities of infinity, and thus having produced the gigantic monsters and creatures of the early epochs of evolution in Nature and then having found that quantity cannot be truly representative of Infinity, experimented with and is perhaps experimenting with quality. The qualitative infinity that has resulted in the discovery of evolution of man has led to the freer manifestation of delight that is the secret of all existence, sustaining both. Matter and mind thus have evolved when these two were organized into being one being and for One being. This is the secret evolution of the Organic Man who has not merely the characteristics of the creature but also the more significant nature of creator as well.
This genuine discovery of the twofold nature of man reveals a new dimension in ontology viz., the concept of personality, as a twofold character creator-creature, the universal-particular tensions operating towards a dynamic creative synthesis known as beauty or Ananda.
The discovery of this magnitude was hardly developed purely in the religious on inn the philosophic fields. Indeed it is strange that it rather found expression in the usual idealistic and aesthetic jargon quite prevalent about the period, that is to say, the first thirties of the 20th century. In the modes of poetic expression and sadhana preparatory to this aesthetic valuation and creativity, we find Rabindranath experimenting with all that makes this distillation and expression of Ultimate beauty possible. Undoubtedly, the chief strength and genius of Rabindranath did not take up the epic mode of expression which demands a universal vision and an altogether universal creativity like that of Sri Aurobindo. Grand though the manner of life of Rabindranath, this grand epic mode of expression was not his natural ground. His is a more spontaneous homeliness in the Iyrical moment and the fragment in which was revealed the symbol and meaning and message of the eternal. His operative vision was circumscribed to the excellence of the insignificant significant or universal-to behold eternity in an hour and infinity in a flower. The Isavasyopanisad, which Rabindranath so much loved, had suggested beholding the Divine in every thing and everything in the Divine; it had also insisted that one should behold the Divine as having become each and every single thing in the Universe. To this truth Rabindranath dedicated himself, and every little thing was verily the womb of infinity. This extraordinary perception it is that has begun to work with such subtle refinement in his consciousness, so much so, he could behold the beauty secret and occult in everything.
That this supreme Infinity is a personality is the doctrine of the Mystical Vaishnavas all over. The All-pervading divinity in so far as he could be discovered and enjoyed in each and everything reveals a personality-nature that is of course different from the concept of person in western thought. The aesthetic approach of creative personality is unlike the theological and the dogmatic. It is learnt that Rabindranath did not so much relish the cast-iron rigidity of the dogmatic and speculative intellectual monists and dualists and so on. The dynamic reactivity of the personality (of the Divine as the human) demands an organic conception which will reveal the dynamic unity of the supreme Divine (Universal) working through the individual or particular infinity of Beauty granting the undiminishing experience of Ananda. This is the auspicious, Shivam, and harmonious, sundaram. Rabindranath more and more inclined to the Visistadvaita conception of the relation between the Divine Personality or God and the individual according to one of the philosophers of Visvabharati.
Indeed the philosophical system of Visistadvaita garnered upon the bhakti-mysticism of the Alvars was truer to the bliss-conception of Reality than the intellectual mysticism of Advaita that exalted the impersonal. Personality is focal to reality in Aesthetic mysticism whereas the impersonal is the reality for the monistic. The concept of the Purusha, later modified into Purushottama when the individuals were being realized as purushas, and the triple type of purusha was formulated by the Gita as Kshara, Akshara and Purushottama, happened to be the all-absorbing concern of the theism of Brahmoism to which Rabindranath belonged.
The Supreme Purusha is the ever-present presence in everything which sustains everything by bliss Ananda, and this is the highest truth which can liberate all that is best in each and everything, subjective or objective. Know that everything is sustained by the Bliss, Ananda that is higher than intelligence and higher than truth: - Anandam, Brahmeti Vyajanat says the Upanishad. Anando vai rasah: it reiterates. By this double emphasis is realized the unity of the Ultimate as the one that has to be attained-the parama purushartha. Rabindranath’s liberation is not through renunciation of the anandanubhava but by acceptance that all these verily are Brahman. Freedom or moksa is not restricted to the liberation from the cycle of births and deaths which is more of the order of escape; it is the creative activity that releases the Divine in the Nature and in man and manifests the unique union of the eternal and the immortal in the mortal and the fragment. It is not to see the whole steadily and as whole: it is rather the freeing of the ignorance that blinds us to the actual manifestation of the infinity in each and every thing in the manifested world. This freedom for creative being in each individual is verily moksa for it grants bliss, refined pleasure and happiness.
It is more easily through art that one releases one’s identity with the Divine: for it is at the basis, creativity, that is common to the Divine and the human artist. To utilize this granted freedom, ultimately in every other area of life, is one of the profoundest techniques discovered by man. Freedom cannot suffer abridgment in the process of true creativity. To suffer any abridgment in this regard is to annihilate the very nucleus of being of the individual. Thus artists are in a true sense liberators. Rabindranath was thus a strenuous worker for liberation of man from the thraldom of life to all unliberating influences; to expand the area of freedom for true creative advance had been on of his great aspirations. But, as in every thing, it demands the education towards creativity. Men must have faith in their inward creative freedom in all sectors of human activity.
Moksha which has been the aim of all religious thought was surely to be attained by practicing this liberty of expression in art, not in the sense that one could create as one likes but one who could create the infinite in each one of his works. This may not strictly take on to that freedom from the samsara and cycle of rebirths and ignorance. However it gave a new meaning to moksa: what it should do and could do.
Rabindranath’s philosophy thus centres round the basic discovery of man not only as the bearer of value but as the creative-creature of the Universe in and through whom the Ultimate Creator or Man realises the continuous revelation of free freedom through Art. Illusionism is not the meaning of the universe nor bare freedom: the universe is the lila, play of bliss, which is the one essence or Rasa of Existence. Realisation of the artistic life is the fulfillment of the philosophic life as well. In this creativity of Art there is detachment from the purely physical perspective and apprehension and awareness of an integral organic enjoyment of the Divine and the human. Though it is not humanism yet in Rabindranath there is the incorporation of the human in the Divine Man, which makes man attain the sense of perfection as well as freedom and bliss.
In India, philosophy and religion have commingled even as theory and practice; one sustains the other. The philosophical thought of Rabindranath proceeding as it did from the aesthetic Ultimate and aesthetic intuition, developed a religion of beauty, of creative worship of the One Divine at the back of all creation. “Let me assert my faith by saying that this world, consisting of what we call animate and inanimate things, has found its culmination in man, its best expression, Man, as a creation, representing the Creator, and this is why of all creatures in has been possible for him to comprehend this world in his knowledge and in his feeling and imagination, to realize in his individual spirit a union with a spirit that is every where. (Religion of Man, p. 103) ‘My religion is a poet’s religion. All that I feel about it is from vision and not from knowledge” (ibid, 107) “The man whose inner vision is bathed in illumination of his consciousness at once realizes the spiritual unity reigning supreme over all differences. His mind no longer awkwardly stumbles over individual facts of separateness in the human world, accepting them as final. He realizes that peace is in the inner harmony that dwells in truth and not in any outer adjustments. He knows that beauty carries an eternal assurance of our spiritual relationship of reality, which waits for its perfection in the response of our love” (ibid. 108)
Thus the religion of the poet-artist achieves a union with reality that profoundly makes reality near to man-a man’s reality so to speak. It is to the nearness of Man that the religion of Rabindranath leads and to harmony that is dear to the heart of man. What a religion of the intellect achieves as a deistic Creator, the religion of the poet brings into the heart of man for adoration and love, service and worship. Thus it becomes possible for the poet to claim that the answer to the Vedic poet’s query ‘Which God shall I adore? to Whom offer our oblations that one offers to the God in man, in every thing and fragment. Thus a deep wonder and love well up towards all that is God’s. To serve God in man through the realization that in all is God Himself possessing and enveloping all-Isavasyam idam sarvam yat kinca jagatyam jagat.
Thus the Religion we need is the Religion of Man (God in man) according to Rabindranath Tagore, the great creative artist of India during the beginnings of this Twentieth Century, whose Centenary of Birth we are celebrating this Year.