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1: Relation of the Individual to the Universe

(_underscores_ denote italics)

I

The civilisation of ancient Greece was nurtured within city
walls. In fact, all the modern civilisations have their cradles
of brick and mortar.

These walls leave their mark deep in the minds of men. They set
up a principle of "divide and rule" in our mental outlook, which
begets in us a habit of securing all our conquests by fortifying
them and separating them from one another. We divide nation and
nation, knowledge and knowledge, man and nature. It breeds in us
a strong suspicion of whatever is beyond the barriers we have
built, and everything has to fight hard for its entrance into our
recognition.

When the first Aryan invaders appeared in India it was a vast
land of forests, and the new-comers rapidly took advantage of
them. These forests afforded them shelter from the fierce heat
of the sun and the ravages of tropical storms, pastures for
cattle, fuel for sacrificial fire, and materials for building
cottages. And the different Aryan clans with their patriarchal
heads settled in the different forest tracts which had some
special advantage of natural protection, and food and water in
plenty.

Thus in India it was in the forests that our civilisation had its
birth, and it took a distinct character from this origin and
environment. It was surrounded by the vast life of nature, was
fed and clothed by her, and had the closest and most constant
intercourse with her varying aspects.

Such a life, it may be thought, tends to have the effect of
dulling human intelligence and dwarfing the incentives to
progress by lowering the standards of existence. But in ancient
India we find that the circumstances of forest life did not
overcome man's mind, and did not enfeeble the current of his
energies, but only gave to it a particular direction. Having
been in constant contact with the living growth of nature, his
mind was free from the desire to extend his dominion by erecting
boundary walls around his acquisitions. His aim was not to
acquire but to realise, to enlarge his consciousness by growing
with and growing into his surroundings. He felt that truth is
all-comprehensive, that there is no such thing as absolute
isolation in existence, and the only way of attaining truth is
through the interpenetration of our being into all objects. To
realise this great harmony between man's spirit and the spirit of
the world was the endeavour of the forest-dwelling sages of
ancient India.

In later days there came a time when these primeval forests gave
way to cultivated fields, and wealthy cities sprang up on all
sides. Mighty kingdoms were established, which had
communications with all the great powers of the world. But even
in the heyday of its material prosperity the heart of India ever
looked back with adoration upon the early ideal of strenuous
self-realisation, and the dignity of the simple life of the
forest hermitage, and drew its best inspiration from the wisdom
stored there.

The west seems to take a pride in thinking that it is subduing
nature; as if we are living in a hostile world where we have to
wrest everything we want from an unwilling and alien arrangement
of things. This sentiment is the product of the city-wall habit
and training of mind. For in the city life man naturally directs
the concentrated light of his mental vision upon his own life and
works, and this creates an artificial dissociation between
himself and the Universal Nature within whose bosom he lies.

But in India the point of view was different; it included the
world with the man as one great truth. India put all her
emphasis on the harmony that exists between the individual and
the universal. She felt we could have no communication whatever
with our surroundings if they were absolutely foreign to us.
Man's complaint against nature is that he has to acquire most of
his necessaries by his own efforts. Yes, but his efforts are not
in vain; he is reaping success every day, and that shows there is
a rational connection between him and nature, for we never can
make anything our own except that which is truly related to us.

We can look upon a road from two different points of view. One
regards it as dividing us from the object of our desire; in that
case we count every step of our journey over it as something
attained by force in the face of obstruction. The other sees it
as the road which leads us to our destination; and as such it is
part of our goal. It is already the beginning of our attainment,
and by journeying over it we can only gain that which in itself
it offers to us. This last point of view is that of India with
regard to nature. For her, the great fact is that we are in
harmony with nature; that man can think because his thoughts are
in harmony with things; that he can use the forces of nature for
his own purpose only because his power is in harmony with the
power which is universal, and that in the long run his purpose
never can knock against the purpose which works through nature.

In the west the prevalent feeling is that nature belongs
exclusively to inanimate things and to beasts, that there is a
sudden unaccountable break where human-nature begins. According
to it, everything that is low in the scale of beings is merely
nature, and whatever has the stamp of perfection on it,
intellectual or moral, is human-nature. It is like dividing the
bud and the blossom into two separate categories, and putting
their grace to the credit of two different and antithetical
principles. But the Indian mind never has any hesitation in
acknowledging its kinship with nature, its unbroken relation with
all.

The fundamental unity of creation was not simply a philosophical
speculation for India; it was her life-object to realise this
great harmony in feeling and in action. With mediation and
service, with a regulation of life, she cultivated her
consciousness in such a way that everything had a spiritual
meaning to her. The earth, water and light, fruits and flowers,
to her were not merely physical phenomena to be turned to use and
then left aside. They were necessary to her in the attainment of
her ideal of perfection, as every note is necessary to the
completeness of the symphony. India intuitively felt that the
essential fact of this world has a vital meaning for us; we have
to be fully alive to it and establish a conscious relation with
it, not merely impelled by scientific curiosity or greed of
material advantage, but realising it in the spirit of sympathy,
with a large feeling of joy and peace.

The man of science knows, in one aspect, 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 realise under those aspects. This is not mere
knowledge, as science is, but it is a preception 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, but it
purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth does not
merely hold his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact
is more than a physical contact--it is a living presence. When a
man does not realise his kinship with the world, he lives in a
prison-house whose walls are alien to him. When he meets the
eternal spirit in all objects, then is he 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. In India men are enjoined to be
fully awake to the fact that they are in the closest relation to
things around them, body and soul, and that they are to hail the
morning sun, the flowing water, the fruitful earth, as the
manifestation of the same living truth which holds them in its
embrace. Thus the text of our everyday meditation is the
_Gayathri_, a verse which is considered to be the epitome of all
the Vedas. By its help we try to realise the essential unity of
the world with the conscious soul of man; we learn to perceive
the unity held together by the one Eternal Spirit, whose power
creates the earth, the sky, and the stars, and at the same time
irradiates our minds with the light of a consciousness that moves
and exists in unbroken continuity with the outer world.

It is not true that India has tried to ignore differences of
value in different things, for she knows that would make life
impossible. The sense of the superiority of man in the scale of
creation has not been absent from her mind. But she has had her
own idea as to that in which his superiority really consists. It
is not in the power of possession but in the power of union.
Therefore India chose her places of pilgrimage wherever there was
in nature some special grandeur or beauty, so that her mind could
come out of its world of narrow necessities and realise its place
in the infinite. This was the reason why in India a whole
people who once were meat-eaters gave up taking animal food to
cultivate the sentiment of universal sympathy for life, an event
unique in the history of mankind.

India knew that when by physical and mental barriers we violently
detach ourselves from the inexhaustible life of nature; when we
become merely man, but not man-in-the-universe, we create
bewildering problems, and having shut off the source of their
solution, we try all kinds of artificial methods each of which
brings its own crop of interminable difficulties. When man
leaves his resting-place in universal nature, when he walks on
the single rope of humanity, it means either a dance or a fall
for him, he has ceaselessly to strain every nerve and muscle to
keep his balance at each step, and then, in the intervals of his
weariness, he fulminates against Providence and feels a secret
pride and satisfaction in thinking that he has been unfairly
dealt with by the whole scheme of things.

But this cannot go on for ever. Man must realise 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 vitalising 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. Deprived of the background of the whole,
his poverty loses its one great quality, which is simplicity, and
becomes squalid and shamefaced. His wealth is no longer
magnanimous; it grows merely extravagant. His appetites do not
minister to his life, keeping to the limits of their purpose;
they become an end in themselves and set fire to his life and
play the fiddle in the lurid light of the conflagration. Then it
is that in our self-expression we try to startle and not to
attract; in art we strive for originality and lose sight of truth
which is old and yet ever new; in literature we miss the complete
view of man which is simple and yet great, but he appears as a
psychological problem or the embodiment of a passion that is
intense because abnormal and because exhibited in the glare of a
fiercely emphatic light which is artificial. When man's
consciousness is restricted only to the immediate vicinity of his
human self, the deeper roots of his nature do not find their
permanent soil, his spirit is ever on the brink of starvation,
and in the place of healthful strength he substitutes rounds of
stimulation. Then it is that man misses his inner perspective
and measures his greatness by its bulk and not by its vital link
with the infinite, judges his activity by its movement and not by
the repose of perfection--the repose which is in the starry
heavens, in the ever-flowing rhythmic dance of creation.

The first invasion of India has its exact parallel in the
invasion of America by the European settlers. They also were
confronted with primeval forests and a fierce struggle with
aboriginal races. But this struggle between man and man, and man
and nature lasted till the very end; they never came to any
terms. In India the forests which were the habitation of the
barbarians became the sanctuary of sages, but in America these
great living cathedrals of nature had no deeper significance to
man. The brought wealth and power to him, and perhaps at times
they ministered to his enjoyment of beauty, and inspired a
solitary poet. They never acquired a sacred association in the
hearts of men as the site of some great spiritual reconcilement
where man's soul has its meeting-place with the soul of the
world.

I do not for a moment wish to suggest that these things should
have been otherwise. It would be an utter waste of opportunities
if history were to repeat itself exactly in the same manner in
every place. It is best for the commerce of the spirit that
people differently situated should bring their different products
into the market of humanity, each of which is complementary and
necessary to the others. All that I wish to say is that India at
the outset of her career met with a special combination of
circumstances which was not lost upon her. She had, according to
her opportunities, thought and pondered, striven and suffered,
dived into the depths of existence, and achieved something which
surely cannot be without its value to people whose evolution in
history took a different way altogether. Man for his perfect
growth requires all the living elements that constitute his
complex life; that is why his food has to be cultivated in
different fields and brought from different sources.

Civilisation is a kind of mould that each nation is busy making
for itself to shape its men and women according to its best
ideal. All its institutions, its legislature, its standard of
approbation and condemnation, its conscious and unconscious
teachings tend toward that object. The modern civilisation of
the west, by all its organised efforts, is trying to turn out men
perfect in physical, intellectual, and moral efficiency. There
the vast energies of the nations are employed in extending man's
power over his surroundings, and people are combining and
straining every faculty to possess and to turn to account all
that they can lay their hands upon, to overcome every obstacle on
their path of conquest. They are ever disciplining themselves to
fight nature and other races; their armaments are getting more
and more stupendous every day; their machines, their appliances,
their organisations go on multiplying at an amazing rate. This
is a splendid achievement, no doubt, and a wonderful
manifestation of man's masterfulness which knows no obstacle, and
which has for its object the supremacy of himself over everything
else.

The ancient civilisation of India had its own ideal of perfection
towards which its efforts were directed. Its aim was not
attaining power, and it neglected to cultivate to the utmost its
capacities, and to organise men for defensive and offensive
purposes, for co-operation in the acquisition of wealth and for
military and political ascendancy. The ideal that India tried to
realise led her best men to the isolation of a contemplative
life, and the treasures that she gained for mankind by
penetrating into the mysteries of reality cost her dear in the
sphere of worldly success. Yet, this also was a sublime
achievement,--it was a supreme manifestation of that human
aspiration which knows no limit, and which has for its object
nothing less than the realisation of the Infinite.

There were the virtuous, the wise, the courageous; there were the
statesmen, kings and emperors of India; but whom amongst all
these classes did she look up to and choose to be the
representative of men?

They were the rishis. What were the rishis? _They who having
attained the supreme soul in knowledge were filled with wisdom,
and having found him in union with the soul were in perfect
harmony with the inner self; they having realised him in the
heart were free from all selfish desires, and having experienced
him in all the activities of the world, had attained calmness.
The rishis were they who having reached the supreme God from all
sides had found abiding peace, had become united with all, had
entered into the life of the Universe._ [Footnote:


Samprapyainam rishayo jnanatripatah
Kritatmano vitaragah pracantah
te sarvagam sarvatah prapya dhirah
Yuktatmanah sarvamevavicanti.

Thus the state of realising our relationship with all, of
entering into everything through union with God, was considered
in India to be the ultimate end and fulfilment of humanity.

Man can destroy and plunder, earn and accumulate, invent and
discover, but he is great because his soul comprehends all. It
is dire destruction for him when he envelopes his soul in a dead
shell of callous habits, and when a blind fury of works whirls
round him like an eddying dust storm, shutting out the horizon.
That indeed kills the very spirit of his being, which is the
spirit of comprehension. Essentially man is not a slave either
of himself or of the world; but he is a lover. His freedom and
fulfilment is in love, which is another name for perfect
comprehension. By this power of comprehension, this permeation
of his being, he is united with the all-pervading Spirit, who is
also the breath of his soul. Where a man tries to raise himself
to eminence by pushing and jostling all others, to achieve a
distinction by which he prides himself to be more than everybody
else, there he is alienated from that Spirit. This is why the
Upanishads describe those who have attained the goal of human
life as "_peaceful_" [Footnote: Pracantah] and as "_at-one-with-
God_," [Footnote: Yuktatmanah] meaning that they are in perfect
harmony with man and nature, and therefore in undisturbed union
with God.

We have a glimpse of the same truth in the teachings of Jesus
when he says, "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye
of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven"--
which implies that whatever we treasure for ourselves separates
us from others; our possessions are our limitations. He who is
bent upon accumulating riches is unable, with his ego continually
bulging, to pass through the gates of comprehension of the
spiritual world, which is the world of perfect harmony; he is
shut up within the narrow walls of his limited acquisitions.

Hence the spirit of the teachings of Upanishad is: In order to
find him you must embrace all. In the pursuit of wealth you
really give up everything to gain a few things, and that is not
the way to attain him who is completeness.

Some modern philosophers of Europe, who are directly or
indirectly indebted to the Upanishads, far from realising their
debt, maintain that the Brahma of India is a mere abstraction, a
negation of all that is in the world. In a word, that the
Infinite Being is to be found nowhere except in metaphysics. It
may be, that such a doctrine has been and still is prevalent with
a section of our countrymen. But this is certainly not in accord
with the pervading spirit of the Indian mind. Instead, it is the
practice of realising and affirming the presence of the infinite
in all things which has been its constant inspiration.

We are enjoined to see _whatever there is in the world as being
enveloped by God._
[Footnote: Icavasyamidam sarvam yat kincha jagatyan jagat.]

I bow to God over and over again who is in fire and in water, who
permeates the whole world, who is in the annual crops as well as
in the perennial trees.
[Footnote: Yo devo'gnau y'opsu y'o
vicvambhuvanamaviveca ya oshadhishu yo vanaspatishu tasmai devaya
namonamah.]

Can this be God abstracted from the world? Instead, it signifies
not merely seeing him in all things, but saluting him in all the
objects of the world. The attitude of the God-conscious man of
the Upanishad towards the universe is one of a deep feeling of
adoration. His object of worship is present everywhere. It is
the one living truth that makes all realities true. This truth
is not only of knowledge but of devotion. '_Namonamah_,'--we bow
to him everywhere, and over and over again. It is recognised in
the outburst of the Rishi, who addresses the whole world in a
sudden ecstasy of joy: _Listen to me, ye sons of the immortal
spirit, ye who live in the heavenly abode, I have known the
Supreme Person whose light shines forth from beyond the darkness._
[Footnote: Crinvantu vicve amritasya putra a ye divya dhamani
tasthuh vedahametam purusham mahantam aditya varnam tamasah
parastat.] Do we not find the overwhelming delight of a direct
and positive experience where there is not the least trace of
vagueness or passivity?

Buddha who developed the practical side of the teaching of
Upanishads, preached the same message when he said, _With
everything, whether it is above or below, remote or near, visible
or invisible, thou shalt preserve a relation of unlimited love
without any animosity or without a desire to kill. To live in
such a consciousness while standing or walking, sitting or lying
down till you are asleep, is Brahma vihara, or, in other words,
is living and moving and having your joy in the spirit of
Brahma._

What is that spirit? The Upanishad says, _The being who is in
his essence the light and life of all, who is world-conscious, is
Brahma._ [Footnote: Yacchayamasminnakace tejomayo'mritamayah
purushah sarvanubhuh.] To feel all, to be conscious of
everything, is his spirit. We are immersed in his consciousness
body and soul. It is through his consciousness that the sun
attracts the earth; it is through his consciousness that the
light-waves are being transmitted from planet to planet.

Not only in space, but _this light and life, this all-feeling
being is in our souls._ [Footnote: Yacchayamasminnatmani
tejomayo'mritamayah purushah sarvanubhuh.] He is all-conscious
in space, or the world of extension; and he is all-conscious in
soul, or the world of intension.

Thus to attain our world-consciousness, we have to unite our
feeling with this all-pervasive infinite feeling. In fact, the
only true human progress is coincident with this widening of the
range of feeling. All our poetry, philosophy, science, art and
religion are serving to extend the scope of our consciousness
towards higher and larger spheres. Man does not acquire rights
through occupation of larger space, nor through external conduct,
but his rights extend only so far as he is real, and his reality
is measured by the scope of his consciousness.

We have, however, to pay a price for this attainment of the
freedom of consciousness. What is the price? It is to give
one's self away. Our soul can realise itself truly only by
denying itself. The Upanishad says, _Thou shalt gain by giving
away_ [Footnote: Tyaktena bhunjithah], _Thou shalt not covet._
[Footnote: Ma gridhah]

In Gita we are advised to work disinterestedly, abandoning all
lust for the result. Many outsiders conclude from this teaching
that the conception of the world as something unreal lies at the
root of the so-called disinterestedness preached in India. But
the reverse is true.

The man who aims at his own aggrandisement underrates everything
else. Compared to his ego the rest of the world is unreal. Thus
in order to be fully conscious of the reality of all, one has to
be free himself from the bonds of personal desires. This
discipline we have to go through to prepare ourselves for our
social duties--for sharing the burdens of our fellow-beings.
Every endeavour to attain a larger life requires of man "to gain
by giving away, and not to be greedy." And thus to expand
gradually the consciousness of one's unity with all is the
striving of humanity.

The Infinite in India was not a thin nonentity, void of all
content. The Rishis of India asserted emphatically, "To know him
in this life is to be true; not to know him in this life is the
desolation of death." [Footnote: Iha chet avedit atha
satyamasti, nachet iha avedit mahati vinashtih.] How to know him
then? "By realising him in each and all." [Footnote: Bhuteshu
bhuteshu vichintva.] Not only in nature but in the family, in
society, and in the state, the more we realise the World-
conscious in all, the better for us. Failing to realise it, we
turn our faces to destruction.

It fills me with great joy and a high hope for the future of
humanity when I realise that there was a time in the remote past
when our poet-prophets stood under the lavish sunshine of an
Indian sky and greeted the world with the glad recognition of
kindred. It was not an anthropomorphic hallucination. It was
not seeing man reflected everywhere in grotesquely exaggerated
images, and witnessing the human drama acted on a gigantic scale
in nature's arena of flitting lights and shadows. On the
contrary, it meant crossing the limiting barriers of the
individual, to become more than man, to become one with the All.
It was not a mere play of the imagination, but it was the
liberation of consciousness from all the mystifications and
exaggerations of the self. These ancient seers felt in the
serene depth of their mind that the same energy which vibrates
and passes into the endless forms of the world manifests itself
in our inner being as consciousness; and there is no break in
unity. For these seers there was no gap in their luminous vision
of perfection. They never acknowledged even death itself as
creating a chasm in the field of reality. They said, _His
reflection is death as well as immortality._ [Footnote: Yasya
chhayamritam yasya mrityuh.] They did not recognise any
essential opposition between life and death, and they said with
absolute assurance, "It is life that is death." [Footnote: Prano
mrityuh.] They saluted with the same serenity of gladness "life
in its aspect of appearing and in its aspect of departure"--
_That which is past is hidden in life, and that which is to come._
[Footnote: Namo astu ayate namo astu parayate. Prane ha bhutam
bhavyancha.] They knew that mere appearance and disappearance are
on the surface like waves on the sea, but life which is permanent
knows no decay or diminution.

_Everything has sprung from immortal life and is vibrating with
life_, [Footnote: Yadidan kincha prana ejati nihsritam.] _for life
is immense._ [Footnote: Prano virat.]

This is the noble heritage from our forefathers waiting to be
claimed by us as our own, this ideal of the supreme freedom of
consciousness. It is not merely intellectual or emotional, it
has an ethical basis, and it must be translated into action. In
the Upanishad it is said, _The supreme being is all-pervading,
therefore he is the innate good in all._ [Footnote: Sarvavyapi
sa bhagavan tasmat sarvagatah civah.] To be truly united in
knowledge, love, and service with all beings, and thus to
realise one's self in the all-pervading God is the essence of
goodness, and this is the keynote of the teachings of the
Upanishads: _Life is immense!_ [Footnote: Prano virat.]

Rabindranath Tagore

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