Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Lord Buddha and Buddhism Seen through the Eyes of Rabindranath

Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Lord Buddha and Buddhism Seen through the Eyes of Rabindranath

Article excerpt

Lord Buddha and poet Rabindranath Tagore are the two great personalities who may be regarded as the cultural icons of India, presenting before the world the true spirit of India. The gap between these two thinkers is one of more than two thousand years; still, their messages have been the same. Lord Buddha preached before the world the doctrines of compassion, friendliness, love, and non-violence, which even today are relevant to the present day problem-stricken world. Poet Rabindranath Tagore, born in nineteenth century Bengal when India was under the rules of British Empire, forwarded through his writings the eternal messages of India, that the whole world is pervaded by one Supreme Being, we all are the children of that Immortal Being - amrtasya puträh; and so there should be no scope for violence or hatred in this world. Thus both Tagore and Lord Buddha were bearers of the same message of Indian mind.

Apparently looked from the philosophical point of view, it seems as if Tagore and Buddha belonged to two opposed poles, one believing in an eternal spirit and the other believing in the momentariness of every thing. Brought up in the most cultured family of Calcutta which was the pioneer of Brähmadharma, Tagore's poems were mainly inspired by the Upanisadic thoughts, whereas Lord Buddha's doctrines were polemic against the popular orthodox beliefs. But Tagore as a believer in the idea of humanity and a worshipper of the religion of man had strong admirations for Lord Buddha and his doctrines. He found in Lord Buddha the embodiment of the spirit of India. And so in several of his works he has expressed his reverence to this great personality.

In the present paper our attempt will be to explore the views of Rabindranath Tagore on Lord Buddha and his teachings. We will proceed in our study from three points of view - first we will present what Tagore said about the personality of Lord Buddha, his teachings, his contribution and on Buddhism as a religion; secondly we will see how Tagore looked at the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism and finally we will try to point out how Tagore's own philosophy led him to interpret the fundamental concepts of Buddhism in a different manner. Our approach in this paper will be more explanatory than critical and so we will try to justify our position by often quoting relevant passages from Tagore's own writings.

On the personality of Lord Buddha

On the occasion of the birth anniversary celebration of Lord Buddha, Tagore delivered a lecture at the Mahabodhi Society Hall, Calcutta. This lecture was later transcribed and published as an article under the title "Buddhadeva" (Lord Buddha) in a Bengali journal, Provasi. In this article we have the direct expression of the poet's own personal feeling on Lord Buddha, though his reverence to this great personality is evident from his remarks scattered in different lectures, essays, poems, stories and novel.

Tagore has used attributes in the superlative to describe Lord Buddha. He describes him as "the most excellent human being" (sarvasresthamänava), "an eminent or distinguished personage" (mahäpuruSah), "the chief of men" (narottama), "great serene" (mahäsänta), "most peaceful" (mahäkSema), "greatest \ove"(mahä-prema), "most sacred" (mahäpunya), the greatest monk mahäbhikSu), "the compassionate one" karunämaya), "the illimitable light" amitäbha), etc. In his vision, Lord Buddha is mercy, compassion personified. In his poetic language he often paints Buddha as seating on a lotus seat, with eyes showering the bliss of peace, lips smiling in love and face glowing with ethereal tenderness. In the poem entitled Siam we have the description:

Still on his lotus seat!

Lord Buddha is ever there -

Whose silence imparts infinite peace?

Whose speech is the soothing flow of forgiveness?1

In another poem, Mülyapräpti, we have a similar description:

In the hushed shade of the mango grove beyond the city wall Sudas stood before

Lord Buddha, on whose lips sat the silence of love and whose eyes beamed peace

like the morning star of the dew-washed autumn. …

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