Animals in Rabindranath Tagore’s Spiritul Humanism: Compassionate Love in the Idea of Organic Unity

Joanna Tuczy?ska, University of Gda?sk, Poland

Volume 8, Number 1, 2016 I Full Text PDF


The animal world of Rabindranath Tagore symbolizes the karmic force determining man’s path to the realization of his humanity. The poet combines the Upanishadic Pantheism and Buddhist ethics in his spiritual idealism to advocate the mission of devoted service to the whole Universe being the extension of God’s Body. Bhakti in the idea of organic unity and dharmakarma define the spirit of Tagore’s Man the Eternal who realizes his destiny through compassionate love for the earthly world. Ahi?s? lays the foundation of humanity and Vi?vak?j becomes the leading way to the fulfilment of human dharma. The idealism of devoted, disinterested and unconditional love in compassionate service to the most wretched, neglected, abused and forlorn, symbolically represented by animals, builds the core and the essence of Tagore’s spiritual humanism.

Key words: Animals; Ahi?s?; Organic Unity; Spiritual Humanism

Love is the only reality and it is not a mere sentiment.

It is the ultimate truth that lies at the heart of creation.

Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore arises on the boundless scene of philosophical thought as an exponent of spiritual humanism. With the force of his poetic genius, he expresses the universal truth of human destiny and dharma, the truth originating from the timeless message of compassionate love for the whole living world. The poet combines the eternal spirit of the Upanishadic ?tman-Brahman equation with Gautama Buddha’s teaching on ahi?s? as the Ultimate Good in the potent voice of his humanitarian humanism. He descends from the highest stratum of society, from the pedestal of Brahmanism to the lowest stratum of outcasts to become the spritual prophet of the rejected. With his poetic spirit, in his imaginative words he reaches the poor and humiliated, he meets beggers and oppressed, he goes where God dwells and steps among misery. Finally, he crosses the conventional social boundaries and descends below all imaginable strata to unite in suffering not only with humans but also with beasts and animals, thus recognizing the Divine Spirit in every living shape.

            This revolutionary idealistic attitude positioned Tagore as a prophetic poet and a precursor in the field of trasferring an abstract philosophical approach into a practical social program. Not only does Rabindranath Tagore break the taboo of untouchability of dalits but he also outstandingly breaks the social bias in the comprehension of the animal world. From the truth revealed in words the poet makes his own journey to the truth realized in deeds, which is most explicitly manifested in compassionate service  voiceless and defenceless animals that can neither express their pain nor fight against their oppressors.

            In Tagore’s philosophical system animals play an outstandingly symbolic role and constitute the fundament of his humanistic thought. They create the most touching images of his lyrical and prose writings which express ineffable pain, unbearable alienation and the fear of impending death. Animals are the poignantly vivid protagonists of metaphoric visions which disclose the shameful truth about human violence and ignorance. They are the victims of social, religious and cultural prejudice which degrades them to the level of souless objects. Consequently, they become the symbolic representation of unspeakable suffering and a mute cry for compassion and commiseration. Tagore appears to be deeply moved by the discovery of the saddest truth about a human being as the most merciless and bloodthirsty beast on the earth.

            Rabindranath’s animals are portrayed in the light of the Upanishadic organic unity of the Universe understood as the body of the Highest Creative Spirit who in the act of birth-giving, in the process of creation divided himself into various shapes and forms thus transforming himself into the multitude of beings permeated with his divine spark. This fantastic revelation implied in the  ?tman-Brahman equation and revived in Buddhism in its practical application, becomes the fundament of  Tagore’ s animal symbolism.

            Animals become a means of expression of the timeless parallel building the idealism of Tagore’s spiritual humanism which repositions them in the hierarchical structure. The poet symbolically depicts sacrifical animals as the paradox of the human tradition thus disclosing human ignorace, emotional blindness and denouncing religious systems as devoid of spirituality and  devoted to ritualism. Raised and educated in a progressive family, Rabindranath Tagore condemns  backward attitudes and conventions of the society which  may seem to be religious but spiritual they are not. With his poetic word, he deprecates animal sacrifice, rejecting it as a form of worship and rises against anesthetized consciousness in one of his most outstanding dramas, Sacrifice (Bisarjan).  The message of the drama focuses on a sacrificial goat and the motherly pain of Aparn? who takes care of the animal. Tagore paints the most touching and overwhelming image of a young simple girl filled with unconditional motherly love for her little goat which is to be sacrificed on the alter of K?l?…Full Text PDF

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