Dharma and religion in Tagore’s views


  • Iwona Milewska


Rabindranath Tagore, religion, dharma, The religion of Man, knowledge, freedom, comparative methodology, religious studies, philosophy of religion


Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), one of the greatest contemporary Indian thinkers, discussed the problem of religion and faith on the ground of global pluralism and religious diversity. He presented his views in numerous poetical works (including Gitanjali, a collection of Song offerings translated into English, for which he was awarded with the Noble Prize in literature in 1913), but he also delivered many speeches, mostly addressed to the Western audience (e.g. The religion of Man). In his writing, Tagore often uses the terms “religion” and dharma interchangeably. This article focuses on both key terms and on the question whether they may be seen as equivalent according to him. Does he really equalize both terms? or, How was his understanding of “religion” and dharma influenced by his cultural background? The article opens with the analyse of the dictionary definitions of both key terms. Next, at the basis of dictionary explanation the main question is raised: whether “religion” and dharma could be treated as equivalents in their whole range of meanings or should their understanding be limited to a chosen definition or definitions? In the following section, Tagore’s concept of the so called “Man the Eternal” and “Divinity in Man” is briefly described. Final comments include some remarks on both terms explained in the light of Tagore’s view on comparative methodology. He claims that “religion” and dharma are close in meaning, since they both stand for the rational description of the individual experience of divinity. Therefore, they may ultimately lead to the common end, regardless their different cultural roots and various circumstances in which both concepts developed. Tagore argues for freedom as the preliminary condition for understanding of the phenomenon of transcendence of human nature towards the experience of divinity. He understands freedom as perfect harmony realized in this world but not merely through our response to it in knowing but in being. Only when such an approach is accepted the experience of “Man the Eternal” can be achieved. In this respect all human beings may meet, regardless they come from Western or Eastern culture. Such an exposition of the core of religious experience allows us to use the terms of “religion” and dharma interchangeably, and thus contribute to the comparative methodology in religious studies.