Context

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 104

The Religion of Man was based on the Hibbert Lectures that Rabindranath Tagore delivered at Manchester College, Oxford, in May, 1930. The ideas he presented were the culmination of many years of Tagore’s thought. Many of them can be found, for example, in earlier books such as Personality (1917) and Creative Unity (1922), as well as the later The Religion of an Artist (1933). The Religion of Man represents the final stage of Tagore’s mature thought, the position he reached following his earlier attempt to forge a synthesis between the best elements of Hinduism and the new religion of Brahmanism (founded by Raja Rammohan Roy in 1828).

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Realizing the Spirit of God

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 689

The main theme of The Religion of Man is the divinity of humanity and the humanity of God. Tagore pursues this theme through endless variations. Religion develops human consciousness and enables it to realize the eternal spirit, through science, philosophy, literature, and the arts. Tagore was a poet and artist rather than a systematic philosopher, and the ideal he proposes is to be attained not through philosophical reasoning but through direct experience of the union of the individual self and the eternal spirit.

In his chapter “The Vision,” Tagore relates his own experience of this process, which crystallized when he was eighteen years old. He was watching the sun rise when he suddenly felt as if a mist had been lifted from his eyes, and a world of infinite joy, both within and without, was revealed to him. All trace of the commonplace had vanished, and he had a strong sense of the significance of all things, including humanity. All the apparently divergent waves of life were revealed as part of a boundless sea. This revelation of the “superpersonal” human world lasted for four days, after which in his perception the world relapsed into its former disguise as a collection of mere facts. However, he was left with the feeling that some being larger than himself was seeking expression through him, and this became the foundation of his life’s work.

In the first two chapters, Tagore approaches the “religion of man” from the standpoint of science, arguing that the process of evolution finds its full meaning only in humanity. He accepts the truth of the Darwinian theory of natural selection but uses it to promote a theistic rather than atheistic view of life. According to Tagore, there is a shaping spirit of life that introduces more and more complex and interrelated forms of life in the evolutionary process, culminating in the creation of mind. Mind is the revelation of some truth or inner value that is not limited by space and time, and the vehicle of this revelation is humanity, through which the eternal comes to realize itself in history. This is accomplished by people’s continual efforts to develop truth and active love. The latter is achieved when people realize themselves in others, making up a great societal and cosmic wholeness that frees all humans from their consciousness of separateness.

In chapter 3, Tagore explains his theory of “surplus,” which lies at the heart of his religion of humanity. Throughout humanity’s long history, people have always been aware that their lives somehow transcend their apparent smallness or limitations. Their inner compulsion is to break out of the restrictions that nature imposes on them, to develop a life that is not limited to the body. This is why people develop a vision, expressed in the religions of the world, of a being who exceeds them and yet is closely related to them; they know intuitively that they belong to a universal reality that they must manifest to the fullest extent that they are able. This universal reality, according to Tagore, is simply...

(The entire section contains 2275 words.)

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