"Fearlessness is the first requirement of spirituality. Cowards can never be moral." -- Mahatma Gandhi

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Rabindranath Tagore: On Science and Spirituality

"All the great utterances of man have to be judged not by the letter but by the spirit - the spirit that unfolds itself with the growth of life in history."

-- Rabindranath Tagore --
Rabindranath Tagore
(1861-1941)
In the opening chapters of "Sadhana," the Nobel prize-winning Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, seeks to reconcile the differences of the externally and scientifically driven West, and the internally and intuitively driven East. The schism between the two, he notes, cannot go on forever.

"Man," Tagore points out, "must realize the wholeness of his existence, his place in the infinite; he must know that hard as he may strive, he can never create his honey within the cells of his hive, for the perennial supply of his life food is outside their walls, He must know that when man shuts himself out from the vitalizing and purifying touch of the infinite and falls back upon himself for his sustenance and his healing, then he goads himself into madness, tears himself into shreds, and eats his own substance."

The difference between the self-referential man and the man focused on his inner being is that between a cannibal and a lotus-eater; one seeks power, domination and survival, while the other seeks meaning in life. The one is bound to be perpetually frustrated as his goals are by their nature impermanent, while the other is bound to be fulfilled as his goals are eternal.

"The man of science knows, in one aspect," Tagore notes, "that the world is not merely what it appears to be to our senses; he knows that earth and water are really the play of forces that manifest themselves to us as earth and water - how, we can but partially apprehend. Likewise the man who has his spiritual eyes open knows that the ultimate truth about earth and water lies in our apprehension of the eternal will which works in time and takes shape in the forces we realize under those aspects. This is not mere knowledge, as science is, but is a perception of the soul by the soul. This does not lead us to power as knowledge does, but it gives us joy, which is the product of the union of kindred things."

"The man whose acquaintance with the world does not lead him deeper than science leads him will never understand what it is that the man with the spiritual vision finds in these natural phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse his limbs; it purifies his heart, for it touches his soul. The earth does not merely hold his body; it gladdens his mind, for its contact is more than a physical contact - it is a living presence. When a man does not realize his kinship with the world, he lives in a prisonhouse whose walls are alien to him. When he meets the eternal spirit in all objects, then he is emancipated, for then he discovers the fullest significance of the world into which he is born, then he finds himself in perfect truth, and his harmony with the all is established."
[Rabindranath Tagore, "Sadhana," pp. 5-7.]

 As the great physicist, Albert Einstein, famously put it: "Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." (Einstein, "Science, Philosophy and Religion: a Symposium," 1941.)
In the Tao Te Ching we read:
"There is a thing confusedly formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
Silent and void
It stands alone and does not change,
Goes round and does not weary.
It is capable of being the mother of the world.
I know not its name
So I style it 'the way'.
I give it the makeshift name of 'the great'.
Being great, it is further described as receding.
Receding, it is described as far away.
Being far away, it is described as turning back.
Hence the way is great; heaven is great; earth is
great; and the king is also great. Within the realm
there are four things that are great, and the king
counts as one.
Man models himself on earth,
Earth on heaven,
Heaven on the way,
And the way on that which is naturally so.

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