Rabindranath Tagore: A Greater Awareness of Truth

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The letter published below, in abridged form, appeared in Correspondance, a journal published (in French) by the International Institute of Intellectual Co-operation. It was sent in 1934 by Rabindranath Tagore to the British classical scholar Gilbert Murray. In response to Murray's "friendly appeal" for a "closer comprehension of the problems faced by our common humanity", the great Bengali writer, who had won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913, set out to "deal with some details of our present problems of India and put them in relation to the larger aspect of international relationship as I view it". For Tagore, then aged seventy-three, it was an opportunity to express yet again his unshakable confidence in humanity.

"Uttarayan", Santiniketan, Bengal. September 16th, 1934.

My Dear Professor Murray,

. . . . I must confess at once that I do not see any solution of the intricate evils of disharmonious relationship between nations, nor can I point out any path which may lead us immediately to the levels of sanity. Like yourself, I find much that is deeply distressing in modern conditions, and I am in complete agreement with you again in believing that at no other period of history has mankind as a whole been more alive to the need of human co-operation, more conscious of the inevitable and inescapable moral links which hold together the fabric of human civilization. I cannot afford to lose my faith in this inner spirit of man, nor in the sureness of human progress which following the upward path of struggle and travail is constantly achieving, through cyclic darkness and doubt, its ever-widening ranges of fulfillment. . . .

Now that mutual intercourse has become easy, and the different peoples and nations of the world have come to know one another in various relations, one might have thought that the time had arrived to merge their differences in a common unity. But the significant thing is, that the more the doors are opening and the walls are breaking down outwardly, the greater is the force which the consciousness of individual distinction is gaining within. . . .

Individuality is precious, because only through it can we realize the universal. Unfortunately there are people who take enormous pride in magnifying their speciality and proclaiming to the world that they are fixed for ever on their pedestal of uniqueness. They forget that only discords are unique and therefore can claim their own separate place outside the universal world of music.

It should be the function of religion to provide us with this universal ideal of truth and maintain it in its purity. But men have often made perverse use of their religion, building with it permanent walls to ensure their own separateness. Christianity, when it minimizes its spiritual truth, which is universal, and emphasizes its dogmatic side, which is a mere accretion of time, has the same effect of creating a mental obstruction which leads to the misunderstanding of people who are outside its pale. . . .

We have seen Europe cruelly unscrupulous in its politics and commerce, widely spreading slavery over the face of the Earth in various names and forms. And yet, in this very same Europe, protest is always alive against its own iniquities. Martyrs are never absent whose lives of sacrifice are the penance for the wrongs done by their own kindred. The individuality which is Western is not to be designated by any sect-name of a particular religion, but is distinguished by its eager attitude towards truth, in two of its aspects, scientific and humanistic. This openness of mind to truth has also its moral value and so in the West it has often been noticed that, while those who are professedly pious have sided with tyrannical power, encouraging repression of freedom, the men of intellect, the sceptics, have bravely stood for justice and the rights of man. . . .

In India we have ourselves become material-minded. We are wanting in faith and courage. …