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Tagore had touched the face of God
Hello my friend,
I want to get into it without wasting time. Although I believe in God, if someone were to ask me to speak about Him I couldn’t. I will argue against my own positions - either He exists or He doesn’t. For me to believe it or not is a trivial and insincere matter. For the purpose of this letter to you, I shall act as if His existence true. With that, my friend, I shall also assure you that I do not intend to make a case for God — that He exists or not. No. I hope that me contending with myself will be of some interest to your views - I hope that they can inform you of the frequently invisible and powerful spirit within some people - a spirit so powerful they sometimes make great heroes out of men & women, whose ordinariness and tragedy should have confined them to a life of meagre or even no influence on peoples. I have found, having spent some portion of my life being one of the ordinary, that a large part of our lives is spent on building walls against that spirit, for that spirit is not immediately and apparently a pleasant experience on the human. Coming back to my intention for writing this letter to you, it is my intention to direct to you an exceedingly rare occurrence — a man who has seen his God - without idols, without dogma, residing so resolutely in the poet, that it sparks some disbelief in the reader due to sheer love of the poet for Him. Indeed, reading through Gitanjali the first time, I was struck by the impression that either this man has blind faith or an unshakeable faith, but not both. There can be only room for one, I think.
Yes, the best way I can show you how Rabindranath Tagore knows his God is to show you Gitanjali. Gitanjali (translated as “song-offerings”) is a collection of poems, originally written in Bengali, and translated to English by the poet himself as what I see as prayers. More generally, what is translated to English could be called as prose. Let us not dwell on its type. I do not have the expertise nor is it my interest to give a treatise vis-à-vis its technics.
Then of a sudden thou didst hold out thy right hand and say
“What has thou to give me?”
Gitanjali, these poems are not contrary to each other — they are paradoxes. In the context when discussing a book like Gitanjali and its message, I must give you a memetic tool to help you see what I see as a fundamental difference between a contradiction and a paradox. A contradiction is a fight for space — where one exists the other cannot. A paradox — what are in question are opposite in nature but also exist in a harmonious dance with each other — what is true is also not true. An example — for the author, God is omnipresent, but God has to be searched for. He is a King and is nowhere to be found in riches. He is a King who will ask for offerings from a beggar — “What has thou to give me?”
Why is that distinction important? Why are paradoxes frequently attributed as God’s imprints? It immediately brings to mind the oft-uttered and immeasurably irritating phrase “God works in mysterious ways”
I do not know of a right answer to this. My friend, I have pondered over this for so long. Immediately it seems like a tool with which one might justify the existence of God — a paradox can be used to cover all bases — that God is mysterious and also merciful helps explain the occurrence of a tumour and a near death escape from a car accident. Thus, a supernatural God exists? No, this seems like a lazy and uninspired answer to the question of the paradox. The way I could describe it would akin to me describing the shape of an unknown flower in a dark room. The answer as much as I can feel it out is this — it is only a paradox when the paradox makes sense to me.Let me explain. A lot of times, we have paradoxes that we take for granted — it is a general wisdom that the more disciplined a life lead, the more freedom it affords — either in time or action or both. A marvellous quote comes to mind from the series Mad Men, which I believe I’ll write to you about at some point, it goes —
We’re flawed because we want so much more … we’re ruined because we get these things and wish for what we had
In the same vein, at the other end, when someone is desperate for something, it is often the case that he will not get it. The Matthew principle also comes to mind.
For to every one who has will more be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who has not, even what he has will be taken away
Matthew 25:29 (RSV)
I am sure we can think up a number of these if we were to ponder. And so, in this coded world, we are but prisoners and freemen depending on the paradox. It seems that to know when oneself is in a paradox would be a great gift — the situation is set on the record and the person can wield the paradox instead of falling prey to it. Hence we see the origin of an immediately powerful set of laws and forces — a set that cannot be encoded into laws for it changes too quickly or it impinges on many natural freedoms. This imprint of power and omnipresence might be an aspect of the God. Diving deep into a paradox should lead you right to Him. But of course, this is but a slight aspect of the book and the poet’s God. His God is not a solution or an end. The God knows you and the reverse is not true. Frequently, it is referred that the poet is only an instrument — a mere singer in His kingdom. It is fundamentally a perspective of being humble and small in the face of God.
Study of a Prayer by Aniruddh Ravipati
I cannot talk much more for I have reached the limits of my analyses and I feel my affects crying out for their voice. My friend, this is a confession of faith. When I had encountered Gitanjali, I immediately became obsessed with it since I was so irritated by it. I wanted to believe that this man was writing out of blind faith, but another side of me had woken up for a war with that belief. I read and re-read this book out of confusion at first, and ended at wonder. Thus Gitanjali had set off, for me, a journey towards my own sense of being an instrument. Through Gitanjali, I dove into the instinct that I resisted for too long — that I can call onto myself as an Artist and become one. The tag always seemed to be a bit too large in a previous life — somehow I envisioned that if there were to be grandiosity, I would not be deserving of it. Now it is abundantly clear to me — that I am only a tool for the Great Artist and it is not me that moves the brushstroke or the pencil — it is the Great Artist and it is to Him that I dedicate all of my offerings. My very own Gitanjali.
I hope, my friend, that you will consider reading Gitanjali. It is a book of very few pages. It contains many beautiful pieces that could appeal to you — believer or not.