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but by intellectual power. In quantity it is great, but it springs from
the surface and spreads over the surface. Knowledge and efficiency are
powerful in their outward effect, but they are the servants of man, not
the man himself. Their service is like the service in a hotel, where it
is elaborate, but the host is absent; it is more convenient than

Therefore we must not forget that the scientific organizations vastly
spreading in all directions are strengthening our power, but not our
humanity. With the growth of power the cult of the self-worship of the
Nation grows in ascendancy; and the individual willingly allows the
Nation to take donkey-rides upon his back; and there happens the anomaly
which must have such disastrous effects, that the individual worships
with all sacrifices a god which is morally much inferior to himself.
This could never have been possible if the god had been as real as the

Let me give an illustration of this in point. In some parts of India it
has been enjoined as an act of great piety for a widow to go without
food and water on a particular day every fortnight. This often leads to
cruelty, unmeaning and inhuman. And yet men are not by nature cruel to
such a degree. But this piety being a mere unreal abstraction completely
deadens the moral sense of the individual, just as the man, who would
not hurt an animal unnecessarily, would cause horrible suffering to a
large number of innocent creatures when he drugs his feelings with the
abstract idea of "sport." Because these ideas are the creations of our
intellect, because they are logical classifications, therefore they can
so easily hide in their mist the personal man.

And the idea of the Nation is one of the most powerful anæsthetics that
man has invented. Under the influence of its fumes the whole people can
carry out its systematic programme of the most virulent self-seeking
without being in the least aware of its moral perversion, - in fact
feeling dangerously resentful if it is pointed out.

But can this go on indefinitely? continually producing barrenness of
moral insensibility upon a large tract of our living nature? Can it
escape its nemesis for ever? Has this giant power of mechanical
organization no limit in this world against which it may shatter itself
all the more completely because of its terrible strength and velocity?
Do you believe that evil can be permanently kept in check by competition
with evil, and that conference of prudence can keep the devil chained in
its makeshift cage of mutual agreement?

This European war of Nations is the war of retribution. Man, the person,
must protest for his very life against the heaping up of things where
there should be the heart, and systems and policies where there should
flow living human relationship. The time has come when, for the sake of
the whole outraged world, Europe should fully know in her own person the
terrible absurdity of the thing called the Nation.

The Nation has thriven long upon mutilated humanity. Men, the fairest
creations of God, came out of the National manufactory in huge numbers
as war-making and money-making puppets, ludicrously vain of their
pitiful perfection of mechanism. Human society grew more and more into a
marionette show of politicians, soldiers, manufacturers and bureaucrats,
pulled by wire arrangements of wonderful efficiency.

But the apotheosis of selfishness can never make its interminable breed
of hatred and greed, fear and hypocrisy, suspicion and tyranny, an end
in themselves. These monsters grow into huge shapes but never into
harmony. And this Nation may grow on to an unimaginable corpulence, not
of a living body, but of steel and steam and office buildings, till its
deformity can contain no longer its ugly voluminousness, - till it begins
to crack and gape, breathe gas and fire in gasps, and its death-rattles
sound in cannon roars. In this war the death-throes of the Nation have
commenced. Suddenly, all its mechanism going mad, it has begun the dance
of the Furies, shattering its own limbs, scattering them into the dust.
It is the fifth act of the tragedy of the unreal.

Those who have any faith in Man cannot but fervently hope that the
tyranny of the Nation will not be restored to all its former teeth and
claws, to its far-reaching iron arms and its immense inner cavity, all
stomach and no heart; that man will have his new birth, in the freedom
of his individuality, from the enveloping vagueness of abstraction.

The veil has been raised, and in this frightful war the West has stood
face to face with her own creation, to which she had offered her soul.
She must know what it truly is.

She had never let herself suspect what slow decay and decomposition were
secretly going on in her moral nature, which often broke out in
doctrines of scepticism, but still oftener and in still more dangerously
subtle manner showed itself in her unconsciousness of the mutilation and
insult that she had been inflicting upon a vast part of the world. Now
she must know the truth nearer home.

And then there will come from her own children those who will break
themselves free from the slavery of this illusion, this perversion of
brotherhood founded upon self-seeking, those who will own themselves as
God's children and as no bond-slaves of machinery, which turns souls
into commodities and life into compartments, which, with its iron
claws, scratches out the heart of the world and knows not what it has

And we of no nations of the world, whose heads have been bowed to the
dust, will know that this dust is more sacred than the bricks which
build the pride of power. For this dust is fertile of life, and of
beauty and worship. We shall thank God that we were made to wait in
silence through the night of despair, had to bear the insult of the
proud and the strong man's burden, yet all through it, though our hearts
quaked with doubt and fear, never could we blindly believe in the
salvation which machinery offered to man, but we held fast to our trust
in God and the truth of the human soul. And we can still cherish the
hope that, when power becomes ashamed to occupy its throne and is ready
to make way for love, when the morning comes for cleansing the
blood-stained steps of the Nation along the highroad of humanity, we
shall be called upon to bring our own vessel of sacred water - the water
of worship - to sweeten the history of man into purity, and with its
sprinkling make the trampled dust of the centuries blessed with



The worst form of bondage is the bondage of dejection, which keeps men
hopelessly chained in loss of faith in themselves. We have been
repeatedly told, with some justification, that Asia lives in the
past, - it is like a rich mausoleum which displays all its magnificence
in trying to immortalize the dead. It was said of Asia that it could
never move in the path of progress, its face was so inevitably turned
backwards. We accepted this accusation, and came to believe it. In
India, I know, a large section of our educated community, grown tired of
feeling the humiliation of this charge against us, is trying all its
resources of self-deception to turn it into a matter of boasting. But
boasting is only a masked shame, it does not truly believe in itself.

When things stood still like this, and we in Asia hypnotized ourselves
into the belief that it could never by any possibility be otherwise,
Japan rose from her dreams, and in giant strides left centuries of
inaction behind, overtaking the present time in its foremost
achievement. This has broken the spell under which we lay in torpor for
ages, taking it to be the normal condition of certain races living in
certain geographical limits. We forgot that in Asia great kingdoms were
founded, philosophy, science, arts and literatures flourished, and all
the great religions of the world had their cradles. Therefore it cannot
be said that there is anything inherent in the soil and climate of Asia
to produce mental inactivity and to atrophy the faculties which impel
men to go forward. For centuries we did hold torches of civilization in
the East when the West slumbered in darkness, and that could never be
the sign of sluggish mind or narrowness of vision.

Then fell the darkness of night upon all the lands of the East. The
current of time seemed to stop at once, and Asia ceased to take any new
food, feeding upon its own past, which is really feeding upon itself.
The stillness seemed like death, and the great voice was silenced which
sent forth messages of eternal truth that have saved man's life from
pollution for generations, like the ocean of air that keeps the earth
sweet, ever cleansing its impurities.

But life has its sleep, its periods of inactivity, when it loses its
movements, takes no new food, living upon its past storage. Then it
grows helpless, its muscles relaxed, and it easily lends itself to be
jeered at for its stupor. In the rhythm of life, pauses there must be
for the renewal of life. Life in its activity is ever spending itself,
burning all its fuel. This extravagance cannot go on indefinitely, but
is always followed by a passive stage, when all expenditure is stopped
and all adventures abandoned in favour of rest and slow recuperation.

The tendency of mind is economical, it loves to form habits and move in
grooves which save it the trouble of thinking anew at each of its steps.
Ideals once formed make the mind lazy. It becomes afraid to risk its
acquisitions in fresh endeavours. It tries to enjoy complete security by
shutting up its belongings behind fortifications of habits. But this is
really shutting oneself up from the fullest enjoyment of one's own
possessions. It is miserliness. The living ideals must not lose their
touch with the growing and changing life. Their real freedom is not
within the boundaries of security, but in the highroad of adventures,
full of the risk of new experiences.

One morning the whole world looked up in surprise when Japan broke
through her walls of old habits in a night and came out triumphant. It
was done in such an incredibly short time that it seemed like a change
of dress and not like the building up of a new structure. She showed the
confident strength of maturity, and the freshness and infinite
potentiality of new life at the same moment. The fear was entertained
that it was a mere freak of history, a child's game of Time, the blowing
up of a soap-bubble, perfect in its rondure and colouring, hollow in its
heart and without substance. But Japan has proved conclusively that this
sudden revealment of her power is not a short-lived wonder, a chance
product of time and tide, thrown up from the depth of obscurity to be
swept away the next moment into the sea of oblivion.

The truth is that Japan is old and new at the same time. She has her
legacy of ancient culture from the East, - the culture that enjoins man
to look for his true wealth and power in his inner soul, the culture
that gives self-possession in the face of loss and danger,
self-sacrifice without counting the cost or hoping for gain, defiance
of death, acceptance of countless social obligations that we owe to men
as social beings. In a word, modern Japan has come out of the immemorial
East like a lotus blossoming in easy grace, all the while keeping its
firm hold upon the profound depth from which it has sprung.

And Japan, the child of the Ancient East, has also fearlessly claimed
all the gifts of the modern age for herself. She has shown her bold
spirit in breaking through the confinements of habits, useless
accumulations of the lazy mind, which seeks safety in its thrift and its
locks and keys. Thus she has come in contact with the living time and
has accepted with eagerness and aptitude the responsibilities of modern

This it is which has given heart to the rest of Asia. We have seen that
the life and the strength are there in us, only the dead crust has to be
removed. We have seen that taking shelter in the dead is death itself,
and only taking all the risk of life to the fullest extent is living.

I, for myself, cannot believe that Japan has become what she is by
imitating the West. We cannot imitate life, we cannot simulate strength
for long, nay, what is more, a mere imitation is a source of weakness.
For it hampers our true nature, it is always in our way. It is like
dressing our skeleton with another man's skin, giving rise to eternal
feuds between the skin and the bones at every movement.

The real truth is that science is not man's nature, it is mere knowledge
and training. By knowing the laws of the material universe you do not
change your deeper humanity. You can borrow knowledge from others, but
you cannot borrow temperament.

But at the imitative stage of our schooling we cannot distinguish
between the essential and the non-essential, between what is
transferable and what is not. It is something like the faith of the
primitive mind in the magical properties of the accidents of outward
forms which accompany some real truth. We are afraid of leaving out
something valuable and efficacious by not swallowing the husk with the
kernel. But while our greed delights in wholesale appropriation, it is
the function of our vital nature to assimilate, which is the only true
appropriation for a living organism. Where there is life it is sure to
assert itself by its choice of acceptance and refusal according to its
constitutional necessity. The living organism does not allow itself to
grow into its food, it changes its food into its own body. And only thus
can it grow strong and not by mere accumulation, or by giving up its
personal identity.

Japan has imported her food from the West, but not her vital nature.
Japan cannot altogether lose and merge herself in the scientific
paraphernalia she has acquired from the West and be turned into a mere
borrowed machine. She has her own soul, which must assert itself over
all her requirements. That she is capable of doing so, and that the
process of assimilation is going on, have been amply proved by the signs
of vigorous health that she exhibits. And I earnestly hope that Japan
may never lose her faith in her own soul, in the mere pride of her
foreign acquisition. For that pride itself is a humiliation, ultimately
leading to poverty and weakness. It is the pride of the fop who sets
more store on his new headdress than on his head itself.

The whole world waits to see what this great Eastern nation is going to
do with the opportunities and responsibilities she has accepted from the
hands of the modern time. If it be a mere reproduction of the West, then
the great expectation she has raised will remain unfulfilled. For there
are grave questions that the Western civilization has presented before
the world but not completely answered. The conflict between the
individual and the state, labour and capital, the man and the woman; the
conflict between the greed of material gain and the spiritual life of
man, the organized selfishness of nations and the higher ideals of
humanity; the conflict between all the ugly complexities inseparable
from giant organizations of commerce and state and the natural instincts
of man crying for simplicity and beauty and fulness of leisure, - all
these have to be brought to a harmony in a manner not yet dreamt of.

We have seen this great stream of civilization choking itself from
débris carried by its innumerable channels. We have seen that with all
its vaunted love of humanity it has proved itself the greatest menace to
Man, far worse than the sudden outbursts of nomadic barbarism from which
men suffered in the early ages of history. We have seen that, in spite
of its boasted love of freedom, it has produced worse forms of slavery
than ever were current in earlier societies, - slavery whose chains are
unbreakable, either because they are unseen, or because they assume the
names and appearance of freedom. We have seen, under the spell of its
gigantic sordidness, man losing faith in all the heroic ideals of life
which have made him great.

Therefore you cannot with a light heart accept the modern civilization
with all its tendencies, methods and structures, and dream that they are
inevitable. You must apply your Eastern mind, your spiritual strength,
your love of simplicity, your recognition of social obligation, in order
to cut out a new path for this great unwieldy car of progress, shrieking
out its loud discords as it runs. You must minimize the immense
sacrifice of man's life and freedom that it claims in its every
movement. For generations you have felt and thought and worked, have
enjoyed and worshipped in your own special manner; and this cannot be
cast off like old clothes. It is in your blood, in the marrow of your
bones, in the texture of your flesh, in the tissue of your brains; and
it must modify everything you lay your hands upon, without your knowing,
even against your wishes. Once you did solve the problems of man to your
own satisfaction, you had your philosophy of life and evolved your own
art of living. All this you must apply to the present situation, and out
of it will arise a new creation and not a mere repetition, a creation
which the soul of your people will own for itself and proudly offer to
the world as its tribute to the welfare of man. Of all countries in
Asia, here in Japan you have the freedom to use the materials you have
gathered from the West according to your genius and your need. Therefore
your responsibility is all the greater, for in your voice Asia shall
answer the questions that Europe has submitted to the conference of Man.
In your land the experiments will be carried on by which the East will
change the aspects of modern civilization, infusing life in it where it
is a machine, substituting the human heart for cold expediency, not
caring so much for power and success as for harmonious and living
growth, for truth and beauty.

I cannot but bring to your mind those days when the whole of Eastern
Asia from Burma to Japan was united with India in the closest tie of
friendship, the only natural tie which can exist between nations. There
was a living communication of hearts, a nervous system evolved through
which messages ran between us about the deepest needs of humanity. We
did not stand in fear of each other, we had not to arm ourselves to keep
each other in check; our relation was not that of self-interest, of
exploration and spoliation of each other's pockets; ideas and ideals
were exchanged, gifts of the highest love were offered and taken; no
difference of languages and customs hindered us in approaching each
other heart to heart; no pride of race or insolent consciousness of
superiority, physical or mental, marred our relation; our arts and
literatures put forth new leaves and flowers under the influence of this
sunlight of united hearts; and races belonging to different lands and
languages and histories acknowledged the highest unity of man and the
deepest bond of love. May we not also remember that in those days of
peace and goodwill, of men uniting for those supreme ends of life, your
nature laid by for itself the balm of immortality which has helped your
people to be born again in a new age, to be able to survive its old
outworn structures and take on a new young body, to come out unscathed
from the shock of the most wonderful revolution that the world has ever

The political civilization which has sprung up from the soil of Europe
and is overrunning the whole world, like some prolific weed, is based
upon exclusiveness. It is always watchful to keep the aliens at bay or
to exterminate them. It is carnivorous and cannibalistic in its
tendencies, it feeds upon the resources of other peoples and tries to
swallow their whole future. It is always afraid of other races achieving
eminence, naming it as a peril, and tries to thwart all symptoms of
greatness outside its own boundaries, forcing down races of men who are
weaker, to be eternally fixed in their weakness. Before this political
civilization came to its power and opened its hungry jaws wide enough to
gulp down great continents of the earth, we had wars, pillages, changes
of monarchy and consequent miseries, but never such a sight of fearful
and hopeless voracity, such wholesale feeding of nation upon nation,
such huge machines for turning great portions of the earth into
mince-meat, never such terrible jealousies with all their ugly teeth and
claws ready for tearing open each other's vitals. This political
civilization is scientific, not human. It is powerful because it
concentrates all its forces upon one purpose, like a millionaire
acquiring money at the cost of his soul. It betrays its trust, it weaves
its meshes of lies without shame, it enshrines gigantic idols of greed
in its temples, taking great pride in the costly ceremonials of its
worship, calling this patriotism. And it can be safely prophesied that
this cannot go on, for there is a moral law in this world which has its
application both to individuals and to organized bodies of men. You
cannot go on violating these laws in the name of your nation, yet enjoy
their advantage as individuals. This public sapping of ethical ideals
slowly reacts upon each member of society, gradually breeding weakness,
where it is not seen, and causing that cynical distrust of all things
sacred in human nature, which is the true symptom of senility. You must
keep in mind that this political civilization, this creed of national
patriotism, has not been given a long trial. The lamp of ancient Greece
is extinct in the land where it was first lighted, the power of Rome
lies dead and buried under the ruins of its vast empire. But the
civilization, whose basis is society and the spiritual ideal of man, is
still a living thing in China and in India. Though it may look feeble
and small, judged by the standard of the mechanical power of modern
days, yet like small seeds it still contains life and will sprout and
grow, and spread its beneficent branches, producing flowers and fruits
when its time comes and showers of grace descend upon it from heaven.
But ruins of sky-scrapers of power and broken machinery of greed, even
God's rain is powerless to raise up again; for they were not of life,
but went against life as a whole, - they are relics of the rebellion that
shattered itself to pieces against the eternal.

But the charge is brought against us that the ideals we cherish in the
East are static, that they have not the impetus in them to move, to open
out new vistas of knowledge and power, that the systems of philosophy
which are the mainstays of the time-worn civilizations of the East
despise all outward proofs, remaining stolidly satisfied in their
subjective certainty. This proves that when our knowledge is vague we
are apt to accuse of vagueness our object of knowledge itself. To a
Western observer our civilization appears as all metaphysics, as to a
deaf man piano-playing appears to be mere movements of fingers and no
music. He cannot think that we have found some deep basis of reality
upon which we have built our institutions.

Unfortunately all proofs of reality are in realization. The reality of
the scene before you depends only upon the fact that you can see, and it
is difficult for us to prove to an unbeliever that our civilization is
not a nebulous system of abstract speculations, that it has achieved
something which is a positive truth, - a truth that can give man's heart
its shelter and sustenance. It has evolved an inner sense, - a sense of
vision, the vision of the infinite reality in all finite things.

But he says, "You do not make any progress, there is no movement in
you." I ask him, "How do you know it? You have to judge progress
according to its aim. A railway train makes its progress towards the
terminus station, - it is movement. But a full-grown tree has no definite
movement of that kind, its progress is the inward progress of life. It
lives, with its aspiration towards light tingling in its leaves and
creeping in its silent sap."

We also have lived for centuries, we still live, and we have our
aspiration for a reality that has no end to its realization, - a reality
that goes beyond death, giving it a meaning, that rises above all evils
of life, bringing its peace and purity, its cheerful renunciation of
self. The product of this inner life is a living product. It will be
needed when the youth returns home weary and dust-laden, when the
soldier is wounded, when the wealth is squandered away and pride is
humbled, when man's heart cries for truth in the immensity of facts and

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Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 3 of 7)