While discord, crises and wars blight our societies, the teachings of Rabindranath Tagore serve as a guide toward cooperation and peaceful coexistence, following in the footsteps of the Sanskrit philosophy ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’, - the world is one family. In this article, Moksha Pillai explores Tagore’s legacy and its timeless intellectual significance. “For when we unite through differences, we come together ‘not in a uniformity that is dead, but in a unity that is living’”.
Rabindranath Tagore in 1925. (Wikimedia Commons)
"The most important fact of the present age is that all the different races of men have come close together. And again we are confronted with two alternatives. The problem is whether the different groups of peoples shall go on fighting with one another or find out some true basis of reconciliation and mutual help; whether it will be interminable competition or cooperation." (Nationalism in India, 1917).
In a compelling set of essays written between 1910 and 1940, acclaimed Indian poet, playwright, educator and Nobel Laureate Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore, envisioned a world order driven by the principles of tolerance, unity and co-operation. Identifying robust societies by their ability to accommodate rather than dwell in contradictory ideations; he firmly vouched for the adoption of consensus as the fulcrum of human progress over coercion.
With a growing nationalistic fervour, currently sweeping across countries opting to forfeit universalistic aspirations of an international liberal order and discriminate against ethno-religious minorities to protect their national interests and sovereignty; Tagore’s thoughts on peaceful cohabitation are relevant now more than ever. The emergence of multiple inter and intra-state power loci, owing to the paradigm shift in the economic and geopolitical centre of gravity; has only further fuelled the calls for re-enforcing the values of trust and co-operation amongst international players by ensuring increased capillarity, variable geometry and heightened inclusivity; rooted in normative assumptions of progress.
On international security threats and ‘Samaj’ (Community)
"Those who are gifted with the moral power of love and vision of spiritual unity, who have the least feeling of enmity against aliens, and the sympathetic insight to place themselves in the position of others will be the fittest to take their permanent place in the age that is lying before us, and those who are constantly developing their instinct of fight and intolerance of aliens will be eliminated." (Nationalism in India, 1917).
Tagore’s perspectives on the ‘Principle of Synthesis’ of the self and the community, sought to advocate for retaining individualistic fervour; while celebrating the plurality of cultures,
ideological moorings, traditions and practices that lent a dynamic character to the socio-
economic & political fabric of our civilisation. However, the ‘otherisation’ of nation-states as per Tagore, reined paramount when their ideals of individualistic expression, self-regulation and determination lacked congruency with the rest. This growing friction over perceived differences could impede the establishment of a community or ‘Samaj’; which thrives on inclusivity, representation and mutual respect.
As the world struggles with the aftershocks of the global financial and economic crisis, terrorism, transnational crimes, military coups, revanchist hard-power manoeuvres, climate change, food security, oscillating energy prices, the rise of failing and fragile states, xenophobia against ethnic minorities, the dangers of nuclear proliferation and COVID-19 being the most recent addition to the mix; Tagore’s virtues of multilateral co-operation are being re-discovered and reminisced upon.
While several international governance systems and institutions are yet to unleash their full potential and catch-up on the steepening curve; many of its members do see renewed merit in pooling their national sovereignty, financial, technological and analytical resources to accomplish common goals in co-operative institutions.
The broadening scope of modern traditional and non-traditional security challenges, which have become ‘too global’ for nation states to tame alone, now have an avenue for multi-party co-ordination. Through established institutional frameworks, shared policy solutions can be created to calibrate a global joint response. At the same time, collective resources can be pooled in to cushion the international order against its disastrous consequences.
This is in tandem with Gurudev’s definition of ‘patriotism’, where values of co-existence and brotherhood transcend boundaries to ensure sustained co-operation and peace, for “Society suffers from a profound feeling of unhappiness, not so much when it is in material poverty as when its members are deprived of a large part of their humanity” (Creative Unity, 1922).
On power asymmetries and universal brotherhood
"The people who grow accustomed to wield absolute power over others are apt to forget that by so doing they generate an unseen force which some day rends that power into pieces. The dumb fury of the downtrodden finds its awful support from the universal law of moral balance." (Creative Unity, 1922).
Tagore, in his essay titled “Creative Unity”, opined that hegemonic pursuits driven by selfish interests, rooted in passion rather than reason and shall never outlast the strength of unions founded on mutual security and collective welfare. Most wars, as per the poet were catalysed by ‘political and commercial egoism’ and while ‘the realisation of the unity of the material world gives us power’ it was only through the principle of universal brotherhood and ‘realisation of the great spiritual Unity of Man’; that peace could prevail.
Power, as construed by Tagore had to be made secure, not only against power but also against weakness; ‘for there lies the peril of its losing balance’. He considered the weaker states to be a greater impediment to the advancement of the Samaj, for when excluded by the consideration of major powers “they do not assist progress because they do not resist; they only drag down” (Creative Unity, 1922).
Thus, to avoid the fragmentation of society, Tagore propounded the need to embrace the prevailing diversities as “the spirit of rejection finds its support in the consciousness of
separateness; the spirit of acceptance finds its base in the consciousness of unity.” (Essays, lectures, addresses, 2007). The subsequent adoption of an “all-for-one approach” putting forth a united stand to combat overlapping challenges grounded in shared principles of “conduct, indivisibility and expectations of diffused reciprocity”; by global and regional governance structures today can be considered as a hat-tip to the decade-old philosophy
vocalized by Gurudev.
The sheer genius of Tagore’s non-conformist and punctilious thoughts remain unrivalled not only in terms of its vision but also through its re-iteration of the Sanskrit philosophy -
"Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam", meaning ‘the world is one family’ (Sama Veda, VI-72).
Despite the legacy of his potent wisdom, the intensity of protracted conflicts continues to incrementally amplify across the world. Decades of institutionalized discrimination suffered by the ethnic minorities -Rohingya Muslims (Myanmar), Uighyurs (China), the agony suffered by the civilians of Russia and Ukraine caught in the midst of an ‘unjust’ war and the gross exploitation of ‘global commons’ to achieve ends to means; are some of the many examples that seek to re-iterate the need for a ‘moral renaissance’ to seal the cracks of the fractal world that we live in.
While there is a pertinent need to overhaul the current international security architecture to facilitate better inter-state co-ordination to pursue shared innovative goals, Tagore’s talisman on tolerance, brotherhood and sustained co-operation; shall continue to serve as a guiding light to achieve a cohesive world. The humanitarian emergency that we have brought upon ourselves can be resolved only if we acknowledge the beauty of our ‘humaneness’ and the ‘compounded strength of humanity as a whole’; instead of weaponsing our hubris to subdue fellow men. For when we unite through differences, we come together ‘not in a uniformity that is dead, but in a unity that is living’ (The English Writings of Rabindranath Tagore: A miscellany, p.712).
This article represents the views of contributors to STEAR's online digital publication, and not those of STEAR, which takes no institutional positions.
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