Sunday, January 23, 2011

Two Moods from Glimpses of Bengal by Rabindranath Tagore

Rabindranath Tagore is one of my most favorite authors. Though I have read a very little of him, and though I know no Bengali, whatever I could read in English translations, his writing has been close to my heart.

Glimpses of Bengal is one of the little-known books of Tagore. It is a collection translated letters written by him when he was still young; in his own words in “the most productive period of my literary life, when, owing to great good fortune, I was young and less known.” Tagore finds that writing these letters was a “delightful necessity” for him with accumulation of surplus thoughts and emotions in the days of his exuberant youth when he had ample leisure.

I am presenting here two extracts from this book, which I find very close to my heart. They were written when he was in his 27th and 30th year respectively, in the same phase of life thorough which I am going now. And sometimes I feel, it was me who was writing those lines…

Letter 1: July 1887
I am in my twenty-seventh year. This event keeps thrusting itself before my mind—nothing else seems to have happened of late.

But to reach twenty-seven—is that a trifling thing?—to pass the meridian of the twenties on one's progress towards thirty?—thirty—that is to say maturity—the age at which people expect fruit rather than fresh foliage. But, alas, where is the promise of fruit? As I shake my head, it still feels brimful of luscious frivolity, with not a trace of philosophy.

Folk are beginning to complain: "Where is that which we expected of you—that in hope of which we admired the soft green of the shoot? Are we to put up with immaturity for ever? It is high time for us to know what we shall gain from you. We want an estimate of the proportion of oil which the blindfold, mill-turning, unbiased critic can squeeze out of you."

It has ceased to be possible to delude these people into waiting expectantly any longer. While I was under age they trustfully gave me credit; it is sad to disappoint them now that I am on the verge of thirty. But what am I to do? Words of wisdom will not come! I am utterly incompetent to provide things that may profit the multitude. Beyond a snatch of song, some tittle-tattle, a little merry fooling, I have been unable to advance. And as the result, those who held high hopes will turn their wrath on me; but did any one ever beg them to nurse these expectations?

Such are the thoughts which assail me since one fine Bysakh morning I awoke amidst fresh breeze and light, new leaf and flower, to find that I had stepped into my twenty-seventh year.

Letter 2: Shelidah, 31st Jaistha (June)1892

I hate these polite formalities. Nowadays I keep repeating the line: "Much rather would I be an Arab Bedouin!" A fine, healthy, strong, and free barbarity.

I feel I want to quit this constant ageing of mind and body, with incessant argument and nicety concerning ancient decaying things, and to feel the joy of a free and vigorous life; to have,—be they good or bad,—broad, unhesitating, unfettered ideas and aspirations, free from everlasting friction between custom and sense, sense and desire, desire and action.

If only I could set utterly and boundlessly free this hampered life of mine, I would storm the four quarters and raise wave upon wave of tumult all round; I would career away madly, like a wild horse, for very joy of my own speed! But I am a Bengali, not a Bedouin! I go on sitting in my corner, and mope and worry and argue. I turn my mind now this way up, now the other—as a fish is fried—and the boiling oil blisters first this side, then that.

Let it pass. Since I cannot be thoroughly wild, it is but proper that I should make an endeavour to be thoroughly civil. Why foment a quarrel between the two?

And sometimes I feel, I was the Tagore, thinking to myself "Much rather would I be an Arab Bedouin!"

Disclaimer: The Arab Bedouin are not intended to be uncivilized community.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Let My Love Be Like a Raft For You

Once the Buddha explained the doctrine of cause and effect to his disciples, and they said that they saw it and understood it clearly. Then the Buddha said: “O bhikkhus, even this view, which is so pure and so clear, if you cling to it, if you fondle it, if you treasure it, if you are attached to it, then you do not understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, which is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of.”

The Buddha has elsewhere explained this famous simile in which his teaching is compared to a raft for crossing over, and not for getting hold of and carrying on one's back: “O bhikkhus, a man is on a journey. He comes to a vast stretch of water. On this side the shore is dangerous, but on the other it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other shore which is safe and without danger, nor is there any bridge for crossing over. He says to himself: “This sea of water is vast, and the shore on this side is full of danger; but on the other shore it is safe and without danger. No boat goes to the other side, nor is there a bridge for crossing over. It would be good therefore if I would gather grass, wood, branches and leaves to make a raft, and with the help of the raft cross over safely to the other side, exerting myself with my hands and feet”.

Then that man, O bhikkhus, gathers grass, wood, branches and leaves and makes a raft, and with the help of that raft crosses over safely to the other side, exerting himself with his hands and feet.

Having crossed over and got to the other side, he thinks: “This raft was of great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I carry this raft on my head or on my back wherever I go”. “What do you think, O bhikkhus, if he acted in this way would that man be acting properly with regard to the raft?”

"No, Sir".

“In which way then would he be acting properly with regard to the raft?”

“Having crossed and gone over to the other side, suppose that man should think: This raft was a great help to me. With its aid I have crossed safely over to this side, exerting myself with my hands and feet. It would be good if I beached this raft on the shore, or moored it and left it afloat, and then went on my way wherever it may be. Acting in this way would that man act properly with regard to that raft.

“In the same manner, O bhikkhus, I have taught a doctrine similar to a raft - it is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of. You, O bhikkhus, who understand that the teaching is similar to a raft, should give up even good things; how much more then should you give up evil things.”

And I thought, let my love be like a raft for you.

Reference:  What the Buddha Taught Us by Walpola Rahula.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

My Notes: The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm was the book I was looking for for the last few days. Finally, I found a PDF copy of it on Scribd. For the most part,the book deals with theory of love. Following are my notes as I was reading the chapter The Theory of Love from it.
  • Love is an art. As it is an art, it needs knowledge and effort for its nourishment.
  • The problem of Love is not primarily the problem of being loved, but the problem of loving, of one's capacity to love.  Love is an effort to overcome human separateness.
  • Love is an act of giving -- Giving of ourselves, not from ourselves.
 *Basic elements of love: Care, Responsibility, Respect, and Knowledge.

 Care: Active concern for the life and growth of that which we love.

Responsibilty: Not something imposed upon one from outside, but one's response to the needs, expressed and unexpressed, of another human being. To be "responsible" means to be able to and ready to "respond."

Responsibility in case of mother and her infant refers mainly to the care for physical needs. In the love
betwen adults, it refers mainly to the psychic needs of the other person.

Respect: Fromm notes the root of this word is respicere i.e. to look at. Respect is not fear and awe, but the ability to look at the person as he is. He should grow and unfold as he is, not as I need him to be. He should
grow for his own sake, not for the purpose of serving me.

Knowledge: Respect to a person is not possile without knowing him. Knowledge not of periphery, but of core. Fromm elaborates this by example of a person who seems angry to us if we see him superficially, but if we try to know him deeply, we may see he is anxious, and worried; that he feels lonely, that he feels guilty. Then we know that his anger is only the manifestation of something deeper, and we see him as anxious and embarrased, that is as the suffering person, rather than as angry one.

Though, knowledge is not trying to know secrets of man.

Fromm notes, "In the act of loving, of giving myself, I find myself, I discover myself, I discover us both, I discover man."

Finally, though the book deals primarily with the theory of love and oftentimes gets too theoritical, it's a treat to read if we can understand, feel, and apply it to our lives.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Message from Buddha

Ananda, the favorite disciple of Buddha, having been sent by the Lord on a mission, passed by a well near a village, and seeing Pakati, a girl of Matanga caste, he asked her for water to drink.

Pakati said: “O Brahman, I am too humble and mean to give thee water to drink, do not ask any services of me lest thy holiness be contaminated, for I am of low caste.”

And Ananda replied: “I ask not thee for caste but for water;” and the Matanga girl’s heart leaped joyfully and she gave Ananda to drink.

Ananda thanked her and went away; but she followed him at a distance.

Having heard that Ananda was a disciple of Gotama Sakyamuni, the girl repaired to the Blessed one and cried: “O Lord help me, and let me live in the place where Ananda thy disciple dwells, so that I may see him and minister unto him, for I love Ananda.”

And the Blessed One understood the emotions of her heart and he said: “Pakati, thy heart is full of love, but thou understandest not thine own sentiments. It is not Ananda that thou lovest, but his kindness. Accept, then, the kindness thou hast seen him practise unto thee, and in the humility of thy station practise it unto others.”

I do not know where I stand in this story, but I can see the Buddha telling me “Friend, thy heart is full of love, but thou understandest not thine own sentiments. It is not she that thou lovest, but her kindness.”

1. This parable from the life of Buddha is taken from The Gospel of Buddha by Paul Carus.
2. The names here are spelled to match with original Pali names, thus Pakati stands from Prakriti and Gotama for Gautama.
3. Though Pakati calls Ananda as a Brahman, it should be noted that he was a Buddhist monk (Bhikkhu) and not a Brahman.