Is Rabindranath Tagore a philosopher?

The caption which I intend to mention here is supposed to be confusing primarily since the name of Rabindranath Tagore has been established as a great philosopher of east and the most towering genius the world had given birth so far. Nevertheless, I don’t have doubts about the confusion around his name whether he is to be called a philosopher, in strict sense, because Tagore himself creates such confusion over his own identification. He writes, “Nature, the soul, love, and God, one recognizes through the heart, and not through the reason … Reason is a tool, a machine which is driven by the spiritual fire”.

 In many of his writings, he didn’t accept logical intervention of human proclivity. Instead, he believes that reason or logic in most part doesn’t genuinely trace out human truth because truth lies in human mind not in argument or in a form of debate. Philosophy is a true sense of cognitive exercise and logic is perhaps the only tool that makes it possible.  As a result, a clear demarcation between philosophy and poetry has been essentially prominent because philosophers never allow poetic-truth or any form of truth that drags into poetic image.  Then, what should be the actual findings after his name? Can’t Tagore be called a philosopher then?  

Coleridge’s interesting observation, “No man was ever yet a great poet, without being at the same time, a profound philosopher”, has made a bridge between poetry and philosophy. And it also highlights the view as to how poetry and philosophy are intimately projected. Yes, at the same time, I have no doubt that his philosophical analysis and fundamental question over life and universe is unhesitatingly worth understating; so his position could never be doubted that he is a philosopher and perhaps a first-rate philosopher in history whose remarkable foot step had been over powered by the later researchers. The question is really important thus: what actually Rabindranath wants to understand from nature and life; can he really create a distinct branch of human understating that makes him a philosopher? If so, what is its name? 

In his philosophical lecture at Manchester College at Oxford, he says religion of man is to understand the inner voice of divinity. This entire universe, he believes, is an explication of divine voice and it is always preaching to the nature that the individual being is a part of universal soul. This should be the business of human souls to grasp the unity of the universal being. He writes: “on the surface of our being we have the ever changing phases of the individual self, but in the depth there dwells the Eternal Spirit of human unity beyond our direct knowledge.” This teaching is the core of Upanishad.  Sadhana or Realization of Life is his first English book is perhaps a wonderful philosophical discourse that discloses unvarnished truth or divine beauty.          

Although Upanishad becomes the centre of Tagore’s philosophy but he makes the synthesis between Upanishad’s spiritualism and social humanism and definitely these have been reflected in all his wonderful creation. His life has also been synthesized by the great work of Vedic spiritualism, Muslim culture and European humanism. His faith on spiritualistic monism has never been slackened off because the message of Isha Upanishad particularly declares one and only spiritual unity and, this unity is the root of all causes. Again, Muslim culture though it is alien to Indian life; but it has a great influence on Hindu society because of its long contiguity.

At least two conversations between Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein help us to understand his socio-scientific position and also the idea that invariably makes him an idealist. Tagore meets Russell four times between 1912 and 1913. Russell was an agnostic and philosophically vibrant with non-idealistic form; so obviously there had been psychological dissymmetry bet­ween these two giants. For obvious reason, their meeting at London was not pleasant and most of their discussion was dry and insipid. Very interestingly, Russell at Cambridge was a disciple of F H Bradley who was an enlightened idealist. Certainly, idealism sees everything in the world as a necessarily connected phenomenon. Russell as an epistemological realist could never accept Tagore’s philosophy of divinity.  

Now, as a philosopher what we actually make a judgment over his whole creation? Tagore’s philosophy of love and faith is sometimes criticized by western rational minds but truly the essence of humanity lies in human love and of course it becomes more vibrant with the interaction of individuals. This proclamation of humanistic philosophy binds all men together. He thinks about the crisis of humanity and civilization, moot over solution of international crisis and war, and also hopes that this world will be free from all evils. Satyajit Roy, a great film maker in the world, writes in 1961for UNESCO Courier, “On August 7, 1941, in the city of Calcutta, a man died. His mortal remains perished, but he left behind a heritage which no fire consumes. It was the heritage of words and music and poetry, of ideas and ideals, and it has the power to move us today and in the days to come.” 

Dr. Siddhartha Shankar Joarder is Professor and Chairperson,

 Department of Philosophy, Jagannath University