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harmony in the contradiction of tendencies. Its value is not in its
multiplication of materials, but in its spiritual fulfilment.

There are things that cannot wait. You have to rush and run and march if
you must fight or take the best place in the market. You strain your
nerves and are on the alert when you chase opportunities that are always
on the wing. But there are ideals which do not play hide-and-seek with
our life; they slowly grow from seed to flower, from flower to fruit;
they require infinite space and heaven's light to mature, and the fruits
that they produce can survive years of insult and neglect. The East with
her ideals, in whose bosom are stored the ages of sunlight and silence
of stars, can patiently wait till the West, hurrying after the
expedient, loses breath and stops. Europe, while busily speeding to her
engagements, disdainfully casts her glance from her carriage window at
the reaper reaping his harvest in the field, and in her intoxication of
speed cannot but think him as slow and ever receding backwards. But the
speed comes to its end, the engagement loses its meaning and the hungry
heart clamours for food, till at last she comes to the lowly reaper
reaping his harvest in the sun. For if the office cannot wait, or the
buying and selling, or the craving for excitement, love waits and
beauty and the wisdom of suffering and the fruits of patient devotion
and reverent meekness of simple faith. And thus shall wait the East till
her time comes.

I must not hesitate to acknowledge where Europe is great, for great she
is without doubt. We cannot help loving her with all our heart, and
paying her the best homage of our admiration, - the Europe who, in her
literature and art, pours out an inexhaustible cascade of beauty and
truth fertilizing all countries and all time; the Europe who, with a
mind which is titanic in its untiring power, is sweeping the height and
the depth of the universe, winning her homage of knowledge from the
infinitely great and the infinitely small, applying all the resources of
her great intellect and heart in healing the sick and alleviating those
miseries of man which up till now we were contented to accept in a
spirit of hopeless resignation; the Europe who is making the earth yield
more fruit than seemed possible, coaxing and compelling the great forces
of nature into man's service. Such true greatness must have its motive
power in spiritual strength. For only the spirit of man can defy all
limitations, have faith in its ultimate success, throw its search-light
beyond the immediate and the apparent, gladly suffer martyrdom for ends
which cannot be achieved in its lifetime and accept failure without
acknowledging defeat. In the heart of Europe runs the purest stream of
human love, of love of justice, of spirit of self-sacrifice for higher
ideals. The Christian culture of centuries has sunk deep in her life's
core. In Europe we have seen noble minds who have ever stood up for the
rights of man irrespective of colour and creed; who have braved calumny
and insult from their own people in fighting for humanity's cause and
raising their voices against the mad orgies of militarism, against the
rage for brutal retaliation or rapacity that sometimes takes possession
of a whole people; who are always ready to make reparation for wrongs
done in the past by their own nations and vainly attempt to stem the
tide of cowardly injustice that flows unchecked because the resistance
is weak and innocuous on the part of the injured. There are these
knight-errants of modern Europe who have not lost their faith in the
disinterested love of freedom, in the ideals which own no geographical
boundaries or national self-seeking. These are there to prove that the
fountainhead of the water of everlasting life has not run dry in Europe,
and from thence she will have her rebirth time after time. Only there,
where Europe is too consciously busy in building up her power, defying
her deeper nature and mocking it, she is heaping up her iniquities to
the sky, crying for God's vengeance and spreading the infection of
ugliness, physical and moral, over the face of the earth with her
heartless commerce heedlessly outraging man's sense of the beautiful and
the good. Europe is supremely good in her beneficence where her face is
turned to all humanity; and Europe is supremely evil in her maleficent
aspect where her face is turned only upon her own interest, using all
her power of greatness for ends which are against the infinite and the
eternal in Man.

Eastern Asia has been pursuing its own path, evolving its own
civilization, which was not political but social, not predatory and
mechanically efficient but spiritual and based upon all the varied and
deeper relations of humanity. The solutions of the life problems of
peoples were thought out in seclusion and carried out behind the
security of aloofness, where all the dynastic changes and foreign
invasions hardly touched them. But now we are overtaken by the outside
world, our seclusion is lost for ever. Yet this we must not regret, as a
plant should never regret when the obscurity of its seed-time is
broken. Now the time has come when we must make the world problem our
own problem; we must bring the spirit of our civilization into harmony
with the history of all nations of the earth; we must not, in foolish
pride, still keep ourselves fast within the shell of the seed and the
crust of the earth which protected and nourished our ideals; for these,
the shell and the crust, were meant to be broken, so that life may
spring up in all its vigour and beauty, bringing its offerings to the
world in open light.

In this task of breaking the barrier and facing the world Japan has come
out the first in the East. She has infused hope in the heart of all
Asia. This hope provides the hidden fire which is needed for all works
of creation. Asia now feels that she must prove her life by producing
living work, she must not lie passively dormant, or feebly imitate the
West, in the infatuation of fear or flattery. For this we offer our
thanks to this Land of the Rising Sun and solemnly ask her to remember
that she has the mission of the East to fulfil. She must infuse the sap
of a fuller humanity into the heart of modern civilization. She must
never allow it to get choked with the noxious undergrowth, but lead it
up towards light and freedom, towards the pure air and broad space,
where it can receive, in the dawn of its day and the darkness of its
night, heaven's inspiration. Let the greatness of her ideals become
visible to all men like her snow-crowned Fuji rising from the heart of
the country into the region of the infinite, supremely distinct from its
surroundings, beautiful like a maiden in its magnificent sweep of curve,
yet firm and strong and serenely majestic.


II

I have travelled in many countries and have met with men of all classes,
but never in my travels did I feel the presence of the human so
distinctly as in this land. In other great countries signs of man's
power loomed large, and I saw vast organizations which showed efficiency
in all their features. There, display and extravagance, in dress, in
furniture, in costly entertainments, are startling. They seem to push
you back into a corner, like a poor intruder at a feast; they are apt to
make you envious, or take your breath away with amazement. There, you do
not feel man as supreme; you are hurled against a stupendousness of
things that alienates. But in Japan it is not the display of power, or
wealth, that is the predominating element. You see everywhere emblems of
love and admiration, and not mostly of ambition and greed. You see a
people whose heart has come out and scattered itself in profusion in its
commonest utensils of everyday life, in its social institutions, in its
manners, which are carefully perfect, and in its dealings with things
which are not only deft but graceful in every movement.

What has impressed me most in this country is the conviction that you
have realized nature's secrets, not by methods of analytical knowledge,
but by sympathy. You have known her language of lines, and music of
colours, the symmetry in her irregularities, and the cadence in her
freedom of movements; you have seen how she leads her immense crowds of
things yet avoids all frictions; how the very conflicts in her creations
break out in dance and music; how her exuberance has the aspect of the
fulness of self-abandonment, and not a mere dissipation of display. You
have discovered that nature reserves her power in forms of beauty; and
it is this beauty which, like a mother, nourishes all the giant forces
at her breast, keeping them in active vigour, yet in repose. You have
known that energies of nature save themselves from wearing out by the
rhythm of a perfect grace, and that she with the tenderness of her
curved lines takes away fatigue from the world's muscles. I have felt
that you have been able to assimilate these secrets into your life, and
the truth which lies in the beauty of all things has passed into your
souls. A mere knowledge of things can be had in a short enough time, but
their spirit can only be acquired by centuries of training and
self-control. Dominating nature from outside is a much simpler thing
than making her your own in love's delight, which is a work of true
genius. Your race has shown that genius, not by acquirement, but by
creation; not by display of things, but by manifestation of its own
inner being. This creative power there is in all nations, and it is ever
active in getting hold of men's natures and giving them a form according
to its ideals. But here, in Japan, it seems to have achieved its
success, and deeply sunk into the minds of all men, and permeated their
muscles and nerves. Your instincts have become true, your senses keen,
and your hands have acquired natural skill. The genius of Europe has
given her people the power of organization, which has specially made
itself manifest in politics and commerce and in co-ordinating scientific
knowledge. The genius of Japan has given you the vision of beauty in
nature and the power of realizing it in your life.

All particular civilization is the interpretation of particular human
experience. Europe seems to have felt emphatically the conflict of
things in the universe, which can only be brought under control by
conquest. Therefore she is ever ready for fight, and the best portion of
her attention is occupied in organizing forces. But Japan has felt, in
her world, the touch of some presence, which has evoked in her soul a
feeling of reverent adoration. She does not boast of her mastery of
nature, but to her she brings, with infinite care and joy, her offerings
of love. Her relationship with the world is the deeper relationship of
heart. This spiritual bond of love she has established with the hills of
her country, with the sea and the streams, with the forests in all their
flowery moods and varied physiognomy of branches; she has taken into her
heart all the rustling whispers and sighing of the woodlands and sobbing
of the waves; the sun and the moon she has studied in all the
modulations of their lights and shades, and she is glad to close her
shops to greet the seasons in her orchards and gardens and cornfields.
This opening of the heart to the soul of the world is not confined to a
section of your privileged classes, it is not the forced product of
exotic culture, but it belongs to all your men and women of all
conditions. This experience of your soul, in meeting a personality in
the heart of the world, has been embodied in your civilization. It is a
civilization of human relationship. Your duty towards your state has
naturally assumed the character of filial duty, your nation becoming one
family with your Emperor as its head. Your national unity has not been
evolved from the comradeship of arms for defensive and offensive
purpose, or from partnership in raiding adventures, dividing among each
member the danger and spoils of robbery. It is not an outcome of the
necessity of organization for some ulterior purpose, but it is an
extension of the family and the obligations of the heart in a wide field
of space and time. The ideal of "maitri" is at the bottom of your
culture, - "maitri" with men and "maitri" with Nature. And the true
expression of this love is in the language of beauty, which is so
abundantly universal in this land. This is the reason why a stranger,
like myself, instead of feeling envy or humiliation before these
manifestations of beauty, these creations of love, feels a readiness to
participate in the joy and glory of such revealment of the human heart.

And this has made me all the more apprehensive of the change which
threatens Japanese civilization, as something like a menace to one's own
person. For the huge heterogeneity of the modern age, whose only common
bond is usefulness, is nowhere so pitifully exposed against the dignity
and hidden power of reticent beauty as in Japan.

But the danger lies in this, that organized ugliness storms the mind and
carries the day by its mass, by its aggressive persistence, by its power
of mockery directed against the deeper sentiments of heart. Its harsh
obtrusiveness makes it forcibly visible to us, overcoming our
senses, - and we bring sacrifices to its altar, as does a savage to the
fetich which appears powerful because of its hideousness. Therefore its
rivalry with things that are modest and profound and have the subtle
delicacy of life is to be dreaded.

I am quite sure that there are men in your country who are not in
sympathy with your inherited ideals; whose object is to gain, and not
to grow. They are loud in their boast that they have modernized Japan.
While I agree with them so far as to say that the spirit of the race
should harmonize with the spirit of the time, I must warn them that
modernizing is a mere affectation of modernism, just as affectation of
poesy is poetizing. It is nothing but mimicry, only affectation is
louder than the original, and it is too literal. One must bear in mind
that those who have the true modern spirit need not modernize, just as
those who are truly brave are not braggarts. Modernism is not in the
dress of the Europeans; or in the hideous structures, where their
children are interned when they take their lessons; or in the square
houses with flat, straight wall-surfaces, pierced with parallel lines of
windows, where these people are caged in their lifetime; certainly
modernism is not in their ladies' bonnets, carrying on them loads of
incongruities. These are not modern, but merely European. True modernism
is freedom of mind, not slavery of taste. It is independence of thought
and action, not tutelage under European schoolmasters. It is science,
but not its wrong application in life, - a mere imitation of our science
teachers who reduce it into a superstition, absurdly invoking its aid
for all impossible purposes.

Life based upon mere science is attractive to some men, because it has
all the characteristics of sport; it feigns seriousness, but is not
profound. When you go a-hunting, the less pity you have the better; for
your one object is to chase the game and kill it, to feel that you are
the greater animal, that your method of destruction is thorough and
scientific. And the life of science is that superficial life. It pursues
success with skill and thoroughness, and takes no account of the higher
nature of man. But those whose minds are crude enough to plan their
lives upon the supposition that man is merely a hunter and his paradise
the paradise of sportsmen will be rudely awakened in the midst of their
trophies of skeletons and skulls.

I do not for a moment suggest that Japan should be unmindful of
acquiring modern weapons of self-protection. But this should never be
allowed to go beyond her instinct of self-preservation. She must know
that the real power is not in the weapons themselves, but in the man who
wields those weapons; and when he, in his eagerness for power,
multiplies his weapons at the cost of his own soul, then it is he who
is in even greater danger than his enemies.

Things that are living are so easily hurt; therefore they require
protection. In nature, life protects itself within its coverings, which
are built with life's own material. Therefore they are in harmony with
life's growth, or else when the time comes they easily give way and are
forgotten. The living man has his true protection in his spiritual
ideals, which have their vital connection with his life and grow with
his growth. But, unfortunately, all his armour is not living, - some of
it is made of steel, inert and mechanical. Therefore, while making use
of it, man has to be careful to protect himself from its tyranny. If he
is weak enough to grow smaller to fit himself to his covering, then it
becomes a process of gradual suicide by shrinkage of the soul. And Japan
must have a firm faith in the moral law of existence to be able to
assert to herself that the Western nations are following that path of
suicide, where they are smothering their humanity under the immense
weight of organizations in order to keep themselves in power and hold
others in subjection.

What is dangerous for Japan is, not the imitation of the outer features
of the West, but the acceptance of the motive force of the Western
nationalism as her own. Her social ideals are already showing signs of
defeat at the hands of politics. I can see her motto, taken from
science, "Survival of the Fittest," writ large at the entrance of her
present-day history - the motto whose meaning is, "Help yourself, and
never heed what it costs to others"; the motto of the blind man who only
believes in what he can touch, because he cannot see. But those who can
see know that men are so closely knit that when you strike others the
blow comes back to yourself. The moral law, which is the greatest
discovery of man, is the discovery of this wonderful truth, that man
becomes all the truer the more he realizes himself in others. This truth
has not only a subjective value, but is manifested in every department
of our life. And nations who sedulously cultivate moral blindness as the
cult of patriotism will end their existence in a sudden and violent
death. In past ages we had foreign invasions, but they never touched the
soul of the people deeply. They were merely the outcome of individual
ambitions. The people themselves, being free from the responsibilities
of the baser and more heinous side of those adventures, had all the
advantage of the heroic and the human disciplines derived from them.
This developed their unflinching loyalty, their single-minded devotion
to the obligations of honour, their power of complete self-surrender and
fearless acceptance of death and danger. Therefore the ideals, whose
seats were in the hearts of the people, would not undergo any serious
change owing to the policies adopted by the kings or generals. But now,
where the spirit of the Western nationalism prevails, the whole people
is being taught from boyhood to foster hatreds and ambitions by all
kinds of means - by the manufacture of half-truths and untruths in
history, by persistent misrepresentation of other races and the culture
of unfavourable sentiments towards them, by setting up memorials of
events, very often false, which for the sake of humanity should be
speedily forgotten, thus continually brewing evil menace towards
neighbours and nations other than their own. This is poisoning the very
fountainhead of humanity. It is discrediting the ideals, which were born
of the lives of men who were our greatest and best. It is holding up
gigantic selfishness as the one universal religion for all nations of
the world. We can take anything else from the hands of science, but not
this elixir of moral death. Never think for a moment that the hurts you
inflict upon other races will not infect you, or that the enmities you
sow around your homes will be a wall of protection to you for all time
to come. To imbue the minds of a whole people with an abnormal vanity of
its own superiority, to teach it to take pride in its moral callousness
and ill-begotten wealth, to perpetuate humiliation of defeated nations
by exhibiting trophies won from war, and using these in schools in order
to breed in children's minds contempt for others, is imitating the West
where she has a festering sore, whose swelling is a swelling of disease
eating into its vitality.

Our food crops, which are necessary for our sustenance, are products of
centuries of selection and care. But the vegetation, which we have not
to transform into our lives, does not require the patient thoughts of
generations. It is not easy to get rid of weeds; but it is easy, by
process of neglect, to ruin your food crops and let them revert to their
primitive state of wildness. Likewise the culture, which has so kindly
adapted itself to your soil - so intimate with life, so human - not only
needed tilling and weeding in past ages, but still needs anxious work
and watching. What is merely modern - as science and methods of
organization - can be transplanted; but what is vitally human has fibres
so delicate, and roots so numerous and far-reaching, that it dies when
moved from its soil. Therefore I am afraid of the rude pressure of the
political ideals of the West upon your own. In political civilization,
the state is an abstraction and relationship of men utilitarian. Because
it has no root in sentiments, it is so dangerously easy to handle. Half
a century has been enough for you to master this machine; and there are
men among you whose fondness for it exceeds their love for the living
ideals, which were born with the birth of your nation and nursed in your
centuries. It is like a child who, in the excitement of his play,
imagines he likes his playthings better than his mother.

Where man is at his greatest, he is unconscious. Your civilization,
whose mainspring is the bond of human relationship, has been nourished
in the depth of a healthy life beyond reach of prying self-analysis. But
a mere political relationship is all-conscious; it is an eruptive
inflammation of aggressiveness. It has forcibly burst upon your notice.
And the time has come when you have to be roused into full
consciousness of the truth by which you live, so that you may not be
taken unawares. The past has been God's gift to you; about the present,
you must make your own choice.

So the questions you have to put to yourselves are these - "Have we read
the world wrong, and based our relation to it upon an ignorance of human
nature? Is the instinct of the West right, where she builds her national
welfare behind the barricade of a universal distrust of humanity?"

You must have detected a strong accent of fear whenever the West has
discussed the possibility of the rise of an Eastern race. The reason of
it is this, that the power by whose help she thrives is an evil power;
so long as it is held on her own side she can be safe, while the rest of
the world trembles. The vital ambition of the present civilization of
Europe is to have the exclusive possession of the devil. All her
armaments and diplomacy are directed upon this one object. But these
costly rituals for invocation of the evil spirit lead through a path of
prosperity to the brink of cataclysm. The furies of terror, which the
West has let loose upon God's world, come back to threaten herself and
goad her into preparations of more and more frightfulness; this gives
her no rest, and makes her forget all else but the perils that she
causes to others and incurs herself. To the worship of this devil of
politics she sacrifices other countries as victims. She feeds upon their
dead flesh and grows fat upon it, so long as the carcasses remain
fresh, - but they are sure to rot at last, and the dead will take their
revenge, by spreading pollution far and wide and poisoning the vitality
of the feeder. Japan had all her wealth of humanity, her harmony of
heroism and beauty, her depth of self-control and richness of
self-expression; yet the Western nations felt no respect for her till
she proved that the bloodhounds of Satan are not only bred in the
kennels of Europe but can also be domesticated in Japan and fed with
man's miseries. They admit Japan's equality with themselves, only when
they know that Japan also possesses the key to open the floodgate of
hell-fire upon the fair earth whenever she chooses, and can dance, in
their own measure, the devil dance of pillage, murder and ravishment of
innocent women, while the world goes to ruin. We know that, in the early


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Online LibraryRabindranath TagoreNationalism → online text (page 4 of 7)