Establishing Harmony through Practice: A Review of Rabindranath Tagore’s ‘Sadhana: the realization of life’  


By Dustin Pickering

In the Author’s Preface to Sadhana: the realization of life, Tagore writes that the utterances of man must be justified by the spirit and not by the letter. He further describes “the spirit which unfolds itself with the growth of life in history.” This collection of eight intertwined lectures concerns life’s fundamental questions usually reserved for religious instruction or study. Rabindranath Tagore is primarily critiqued in his literary capacities through scholarship on his poetry, plays, short stories, novels, and essays. What makes Sadhana unique is its hidden complexity. This edition by CLASSIX contains the first introductory preamble published with the lectures. These initial words from Kiriti Sengupta reveal the context for the book’s release and provide brief commentary and insights. Aside from the beautifully crafted nature of the book sans the material, Sengupta’s essay alights the “connected form” of the lectures and provides sufficient context for reading the lessons.

Tagore’s insights into the spiritual nature of being as expressed in this prose are not erudite or excessively esoteric. They appeal to curious seekers. His English prose compositions challenged him and, as he wrote to Ajitkumar Chakravarty, “removed my apprehension and now I am getting used to it.” Some of life’s most pressing existential and spiritual questions are raised and answered to the best of the sage’s understanding of them. Tagore is tasked with explaining the Upanishads to a western audience. From questions and concerns such as what the Self is; where is evil derived; what truth is; realization of the universal; the expression of the human personality; how desires limit our pursuit of the good; and will, work, and power, these essays bear the fruit of long reflections on the scriptures.

Tagore discusses the chasm between Self and God, how God courts our love, the reason for Creation, and evil’s root in mortality. He distinguishes between man and the animal and vegetable kingdoms. Know thine own soul is the central teaching of the Upanishads, and this teaching distinguishes the human-animal from the rest of nature. Consciousness is a “pursuit of some central truth which will give him an outlook over the widest possible view” [p 57]. Although Tagore criticizes western materialism, he acknowledges the functions of western science, including Darwinism. Darwinism is a “central truth about Biology,” according to Tagore as he appeals to his western counterparts.

In “The Problem of Evil,” the seer reminds us that mortality and pain do not conquer the human spirit and that a primary focus on the problem of evil leads to shortsighted conclusions. One of the most trenchant insights presented in this section is how morality and mortality are intertwined. “When a man begins to have an extended vision of his self…he begins to get conscious of his moral nature,” Tagore writes [p. 89]. We reflect on the rudimentary truth of self-knowledge as readers throughout. He writes further, “we want to enjoy privileges which none else can share with us” [p 99], reflecting on the nature of the Self, which distinguishes the human ego. It is God’s love that has created this Self and “made it separate from God” [p 126]. It is through love that we realize our spiritual nature, defined by “true spirituality…[which] is calmly balanced in strength, in the correlation of the within and the without” [p. 173].

Self-knowledge is more complex than personal insight and self-understanding. It is a form of knowledge itself. Also, it is the balance of the spiritual self with the world. Through this principle, we learn that we are uniquely created with individual capacities and understandings. Tagore also offers aesthetic advice specifically regarding music and poetry, two intricately interwoven forms. “They who are seers, seek to express the universe in terms of music,” he writes in “The Realization of Beauty” [p 191]. “There must be a complete idea that animates a poem,” Tagore also writes [p 208]. The arts strive for harmony and balance, seeking to bridge within and without.

In the closing statements of Sadhana, Tagore suggests that “joy is knowledge in its completeness” [p 210]. The purpose of self-realization is the union with the Creator, understand His Creation, and develop a harmonic sense with the external world. “There is the eternal play of love in the relation between this being and the becoming, and in-depth of this mystery is the source of all truth and beauty that sustains the endless march of creation” [p 206]. This summarizes the critical development and progress of ideas in Sadhana.

In Sengupta’s preamble, he highlights Tagore’s intimate friendship with Bhupendranath Sanyal. By extensively quoting letters written by Tagore, Sengupta contextualizes the journey of the great sage. Tagore writes in a letter dated 21 April 1903, “I would like to conclude my worldly journey if I can secure your companionship.” Sengupta provides the reader with the additional insight that Tagore’s sagely journey involved such contemporaries as Sanyal and study of the scriptures. We are reminded that people need one another: intimate and secure contacts and exchanges. In our era of the Great Reset, this important characteristic of human nature should not be violated. Tagore’s wisdom throughout Sadhana explains precisely why humans are unique, in need of one another in their spiritual journeys and pursuit of the beautiful. This volume, though classic, is vital to the conditions we face today. The forces of selfish power-lust and evil are trampling our humanity and pursuit of love. When the Self replaces God, the lust for power assumes priority, and harmony between the internal and external world is thrown asunder. CLASSIX, an imprint of Hawakal Publishers, is wise to remind us now of these texts through republication.

Dustin Pickering is founder of Transcendent Zero Press and editor-in-chief of Harbinger Asylum. He featured for Houston’s popular reading series Public Poetry in 2013 and was a Special Guest Poet for Austin International Poetry Festival that same year. He was shortlisted at Adelaide Literary Journal’s short story competition in 2017.


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