Prem Kendra, Rabindranath Tagore is the very heart of this country. He is the most contemporary man, and yet the most ancient too. His words are a bridge between the modern mind and the ancientmost sages of the world. In particular, GITANJALI is his greatest contribution to human evolution, to human consciousness. It is one of the rarest books that has appeared in this century. Its rarity is that it belongs to the days of the UPANISHADS -- nearabout five thousand years before GITANJALI came into existence.
It is a miracle in the sense that Rabindranath is not a religious person in the ordinary sense. He is one of the most progressive thinkers -- untraditional, unorthodox -- but his greatness consists in his childlike innocence. And because of that innocence, perhaps he was able to become the vehicle of the universal spirit, in the same way as the UPANISHADS of old are.
He is a poet of the highest category, and also a mystic. Such a combination has happened only once or twice before -- in Kahlil Gibran, in Friedrich Nietzsche, and in Rabindranath Tagore. With these three persons, the whole category is finished. In the long history of man, it is extraordinary.... There have been great poets and there have been great mystics.
There have been great poets with a little mysticism in them, and there have been great mystics who have expressed themselves in poetry -- but their poetry is not great.
Rabindranath is in a strange situation.
I have heard about a man who loved two beautiful women and was always in trouble, because even one woman is trouble enough. Both of the women wanted to know whom he loved the most. They took him for a ride on the lake in a motorboat, and just in the middle of the lake they stopped the boat and they told the man: "It has to be decided, because it is heavy on our hearts.... Once we know we will become slowly, slowly tolerant about it; we may accept it. But remaining in the dark and always thinking about it has become a wound."
The man said, "What is the matter? Ask directly."
Both the women said together: "Our question is, `Whom do you love the most?'" The man fell into deep silence -- it was such a strange situation in the middle of the lake - - but he must have been a man of great humor. He said, "I love each of you more than the other." And both women were satisfied. That's what they wanted.
It is difficult to say about Rabindranath whether he is a greater poet or a greater mystic.
He is both -- greater than each -- and to be in the twentieth century....
Rabindranath was not a man confined to this country. He was a world traveler, educated in the West, and he was continually moving around the world in different countries -- he loved to be a wanderer. He was a citizen of the universe, yet his roots were deep in this country. He may have flown far away like an eagle across the sun, but he kept on coming back to his small nest. And he never lost track of the spiritual heritage, no matter how covered with dust it may have become. He was capable of cleaning it and making it a mirror in which you can see yourself.
His poems in GITANJALI are offerings of songs to God. That is the meaning of GITANJALI: offerings of songs. He used to say, "I have nothing else to offer. I am just as poor as a bird, or as rich as a bird. I can sing a song every morning fresh and new, in gratefulness. That is my prayer."
He never went to any temple, he never prayed in the traditional ritual way. He was born a Hindu, but it would not be right to confine him to a certain section of humanity, he was so universal. He was told many times, "Your words are so fragrant with religion, so radiant with spirituality, so alive with the unknown that even those who do not believe in anything more than matter become affected, are touched. But you never go to the temple, you never read the scriptures."
His answer is immensely important for you. He said, "I never read the scriptures; in fact I avoid them, because I have my own experience of the divine, and I don't want others'
words to be mixed with my original, authentic, individual experience. I want to offer God exactly what is my heartbeat. Others may have known -- certainly, others have known -- but their knowledge cannot be my knowledge. Only my experience can satisfy me, can fulfill my search, can give me trust in existence. I don't want to be a believer."
These are the words to be remembered: "I don't want to be a believer; I want to be a knower. I don't want to be knowledgeable; I want to be innocent enough so that existence reveals its mysteries to me. I don't want to be worshiped as a saint." And the fact is, that in this whole century, there was nobody else more saintly than Rabindranath Tagore -- but he refused to be recognized as a saint.
He said, "I have only one desire -- to be remembered as a singer of songs, as a dancer, as a poet who has offered all his potential, all his flowers of being, to the unknown divineness of existence. I don't want to be worshiped; I consider it a humiliation... ugly, inhuman, and removed from the world completely. Every man contains God; every cloud, every tree, every ocean is full of godliness, so who is to worship whom?"
It reminds me of another great mystic, Nanak, on whose songs Sikhism is founded. He was not the founder of it -- it was not a deliberate act on his part. He simply went on singing his songs with his one disciple, Mardana, who was playing the sitar as he was singing.
Nanak is the only mystic of this country who went all over the country, and beyond the boundaries of the country, too. He reached Kaaba, the holy place of the Mohammedans.
It was evening and he was tired and his disciple, Mardana, made a bed for him. But the priests of Kaaba were very angry. They had heard about Nanak because he had been singing in the nearby villages, and thousands of people were influenced by his songs.
They were waiting for him to come one day. But they had never thought that he would do something so sacrilegious: he was sleeping, keeping his feet towards the holy stone of Kaaba. The priests came....
The story goes this way: They said to Nanak, "We have heard that you are a spiritual man, but what kind of spiritual man are you? You can't even recognize a small thing: that your feet should not be towards the holy Kaaba." Nanak laughed. The story is beautiful; whether it is true, whether it is historical or not, it does not matter -- it is significant, immensely meaningful. Nanak said, "You turn my feet towards any place which is not holy. I am in a difficulty, I have to put my feet somewhere. Kaaba is holy, but the remaining universe is not unholy. You turn my feet."
The priest turned his feet, and wherever they turned his feet, they found the Kaaba also moved in that direction. That may be fiction, but a fiction worth loving, significant; it may not be a fact, but it is a truth. The stone of Kaaba may not have moved, but the priests must have recognized that they were being stupid. The whole existence is holy...
what is the point? They moved in a circle and finally they gave an apology and kept Nanak's feet towards Kaaba.
Rabindranath never went to any temple, never worshiped any God, was never, in a traditional way, a saint, but to me he is one of the greatest saints the world has known.
His saintliness is expressed in each of his words.
Prem Kendra, the lines that you have quoted are very pregnant: OBSTINATE ARE THE TRAMMELS, BUT MY HEART ACHES WHEN I TRY TO BREAK THEM.
FREEDOM IS ALL I WANT, BUT TO HOPE FOR IT I FEEL ASHAMED.
He is saying something not only about himself, but about all human consciousness. Such people don't speak about themselves; they speak about the very heart of all mankind.
OBSTINATE ARE THE TRAMMELS.... The hindrances are great, the chains that prevent my freedom -- I have become too attached to them. They are no more chains to me; they have become my ornaments. They are made of gold, they are very precious. But my heart aches, because on the one hand I want freedom, and on the other hand I cannot break the chains that prevent me from being free. Those chains, those attachments, those relationships have become my life. I cannot conceive of myself without my beloved, without my friends. I cannot conceive of myself absolutely alone, in deep silence. My songs have also become my fetters, so MY HEART ACHES WHEN I TRY TO BREAK THEM. FREEDOM IS ALL I WANT.
This is the situation of every human being. It is difficult to find a man whose heart does not want to fly like a bird in the sky, who would not like to reach to the faraway stars, but who also knows his deep attachment with the earth. His roots are deep in the earth. His split is that he is attached to his imprisonment, and his deepest longing is for freedom. He is divided against himself.
This is the greatest anguish, anxiety. You cannot leave the world that chains you; you cannot leave those who have become your hindrances in life, because they are also your attachments, your joys. They are also in some way a nourishment for your pride. You can neither leave them, nor can you forget that you don't belong to this world, that your home must be somewhere else, because in your dreams you are always flying, flying to faraway places.
FREEDOM IS ALL I WANT, BUT TO HOPE FOR IT, I FEEL ASHAMED. Why should one feel ashamed to hope for freedom? -- because nobody is preventing you. You can be free this very moment. But those attachments... they have gone very deep in you; they have become almost your very existence. They may be bringing misery to you, but they also bring moments of happiness. They may be creating chains for your feet, but they also give you moments of dance.
It is a very strange situation every intelligent man has to face: he is rooted in the earth and he wants wings to fly in the sky. He cannot be uprooted because the earth is his nourishment, his food. And he cannot stop dreaming of wings, because that is his spirit, that is his very soul, that is what makes him a human being.
No animal feels the anguish; all animals are utterly satisfied as they are. Man is the only animal who is intrinsically discontented; hence, the feeling of shame -- because he knows, "I can be free."
I have always loved an ancient story: A man, a great man, a fighter for freedom was traveling into the mountains. He stayed in a caravanserai for the night. He was amazed that in the caravanserai there was a beautiful parrot in a golden cage, continually repeating, "Freedom! Freedom!" And the serai was in such a place that when the parrot repeats the word "Freedom!" it goes on echoing in the valley, in the mountains.
The man thought: I have seen many parrots, and I have thought they must be desiring to be free from those cages... but I have never seen such a parrot whose whole day, from the morning to the evening when he goes to sleep, is spent in asking for freedom. He had an idea. In the middle of the night he got up and opened the door of the cage. The owner was fast asleep and he said to the parrot, he whispered, "Now get out."
But he was very surprised that the parrot was clinging to the bars of the cage. He told him again and again: "Have you forgotten about freedom? Just get out! The door is open and the owner is fast asleep; nobody will ever know. You just fly into the sky; the whole sky is yours."
But the parrot was clinging so deeply, so hard, that the man said, "What is the matter?
Are you mad?" He tried to take the parrot out with his own hands, but the parrot started hitting him, and at the same time started shouting, "Freedom! Freedom!" The valleys in the night echoed and re-echoed... but the man was also stubborn, he was a freedom fighter. He pulled the parrot out, and threw him into the sky; and he was very satisfied, although his hand was hurt. The parrot had attacked him as forcefully as he could, but the man was immensely satisfied that he had made a soul free. He went to sleep.
In the morning, as the man was becoming awake, he heard the parrot shouting, "Freedom! Freedom!" He thought perhaps the parrot must be sitting on a tree, or on a rock. But when he came out, the parrot was sitting in the cage. The door was open.
I have loved the story, because it is very true. You may like to be free, but the cage has certain securities, safeties. In the cage the parrot has no need to worry about food, has no need to worry about enemies, has no need to worry about a thing in the world. It is cozy, it is golden. No other parrot has such a valuable cage.
Your power, your riches, your prestige -- all are your cages. Your soul wants to be free, but freedom is dangerous.
Freedom has no insurance.
Freedom has no security, no safety.
Freedom means walking on the edge of a razor -- every moment in danger, fighting your way. Every moment is a challenge from the unknown. Sometimes it is too hot, and sometimes it is too cold -- and nobody is there to take care of you.
In the cage, the owner was responsible. He used to cover the cage, when it was cold, with a blanket; he used to put an electric fan close by when it was too hot.
Freedom means tremendous responsibility; you are on your own and alone. Rabindranath is right: FREEDOM IS ALL I WANT, BUT TO HOPE FOR IT, I FEEL ASHAMED, -- because it is not a question of hope; it is a question of taking a risk.
I AM CERTAIN THAT PRICELESS WEALTH IS IN THEE, AND THAT THOU ART MY BEST FRIEND. BUT I HAVE NOT THE HEART TO SWEEP AWAY THE TINSEL THAT FILLS MY ROOM.
I AM CERTAIN THAT PRICELESS WEALTH IS IN THEE.... In the world of freedom, in the experience of freedom, I am certain there is priceless wealth." But this certainty is also a projection of your desire, of your longing. How can you be certain? You would like to be certain. You know that longing for freedom is there. It cannot be for a futile freedom; it must be for something rich, something priceless. You are creating a certainty to gather courage so that you can take the jump into the unknown.
... AND THAT THOU ART MY BEST FRIEND. But these are all beautiful dreams, these are hopes; the certainty is your own cage, its security. BUT I HAVE NOT THE HEART TO SWEEP AWAY THE TINSEL THAT FILLS MY ROOM. THE SHROUD THAT COVERS ME IS A SHROUD OF DUST AND DEATH. These are beautiful ideas in the mind.
I HATE IT, YET HUG IT IN LOVE. You know your body is going to die. In fact, your body is made of dead material; it is already dead. It seems alive because something alive is inside it. It radiates warmth and aliveness, because of a guest inside you. The moment that guest has flown away, the reality of the body will be revealed to you.
Rabindranath says, THE SHROUD THAT COVERS ME IS A SHROUD OF DUST AND DEATH. Our bodies are made of dust and death. I HATE IT, AND YET HUG IT IN LOVE. But when you fall in love with a woman, then two skeletons hug each other; both know that the skin is only a covering of a skeleton. If you could see each other in real nudity -- not only without clothes, but without the skin, too, because that is the real clothing -- then you would be shocked, and you would escape as fast as possible from the beloved with whom you were promising to live forever and forever. You would not even look back; you would not even like to be reminded of the phenomenon.
It happened in the court of one Mohammedan emperor of India, Shahjehan. He was in love with a woman, but the woman was not willing to marry him.
He was a gentleman; otherwise he could have forced her. He tried to persuade her, but she was in love with a bodyguard of Shahjehan. And when he found out about it, he was really enraged. They were both immediately caught and brought to the court.
Shahjehan was going to cut off the heads of both, then and there. But his prime minister, who was a very old man -- he had been his father's prime minister and Sahjehan respected him just like his father -- said, "Don't do that. Be a little wiser; that is not enough punishment. I will give them the right punishment." He ordered that both should be tied together naked, in a hug, and then chained to a pillar in the court. The other members of the court could not believe it -- what kind of punishment is this? This seems to be a reward; that's what they always wanted, to hug each other. But they were wrong.
That old man really had a great psychological insight. Those two lovers also felt, what kind of punishment is this? -- this is a reward. They hugged each other with great love.
They were tied by a rope, so they could not escape from each other; then they were tied to a pillar. How long can you hug somebody? Five minutes, seven minutes, half an hour...? After twenty-four hours they hated each other... because they pissed on each other -- they had to, there was no other way. They were perspiring, their body smells filled the place, and there was no way to escape. After twenty-four hours the old man said, "Now give then their clothes and make them free."
And as they got their clothes, they rushed in opposite directions, never to meet each other again; they had met enough! Twenty-four hours... it is good for half a minute to hug somebody, or maybe one minute, but more than that and you will start feeling restless.
My grandfather used to love me very much. But in the evening I started to avoid him, because he would pull me to his bed, cover me with the blanket, hug me inside the blanket... and he was very old, so sleeping was not the question. I would wait until he started snoring so that I could slip out, but his sleep was very shallow -- in old age it becomes very shallow -- and he would say, "What? Are you going out?"
I would say, "I have to live my whole life; you have lived enough. In the day your love is good, but this night affair does not suit me at all."
He was a chain smoker, so his breath was so smelly of tobacco and he would cough the whole night, and he would go on pulling me closer to him.
I said, "This is not love -- you will kill me!"
But he made me learn one lesson: never allow anybody in your bed. I don't allow anybody even in my room. My room is locked from outside; even if I want to get out, I cannot get out. I remember him and just cover myself and go to sleep.
THE SHROUD THAT COVERS ME, IS A SHROUD OF DUST AND DEATH. I HATE IT, YET HUG IT IN LOVE.
Such is the schizophrenia of man, the split personality of man. His house is divided against itself; hence, he cannot find peace.
MY DEBTS ARE LARGE, MY FAILURES GREAT, MY SHAME SECRET AND HEAVY. YET WHEN I COME TO ASK FOR MY GOOD, I QUAKE IN FEAR LEST MY PRAYER BE GRANTED. These lines can be understood only if I remind you of another poem of Rabindranath in the same book, GITANJALI.
In that other poem, he says, "I have been seeking and searching God for as long as I can remember, for many many lives, from the very beginning of existence. Once in a while I have seen him by the side of a faraway star, and I have rejoiced and danced that the distance, although great, is not impossible to reach. And I have traveled and reached to the star; but by the time I reached the star, God has moved to another star. And it has been going on for centuries.
"The challenge is so great, that I go on hoping against hope... I have to find him, I am so absorbed in the search. The very search is so intriguing, so mysterious, so enchanting that God has become almost an excuse -- the search has become itself the goal.
"And to my surprise, one day I reached a house in a faraway star with a small board in front of it, saying `This is the house of God.' My joy knew no bounds -- so finally I have arrived! I rushed up the steps, many steps, that led to the door of the house. But as I was coming closer and closer to the door, a fear suddenly appeared in my heart. As I was going to knock, I became paralyzed with a fear that I had never known, never thought of, never dreamt of. The fear was: if this house is certainly the house of God, then what will I do after I have found him?
"Now searching for God has become my very life; to have found him will be equivalent to committing suicide. And what am I going to do with him? I had never thought of all these things before. I should have thought before I started the search: what am I going to do with God?
"I took my shoes in my hands, and silently and very slowly stepped back, afraid that God may hear the noise and may open the door and say, `Where are you going? I am here, come in!' And as I reached the steps, I ran away as I have never run before; and since then I have been again searching for God, looking for him in every direction -- and avoiding that house where he really lives.
"Now I know that that house has to be avoided. And I continue the search, enjoy the very journey, the pilgrimage."
The insight in the story is so tremendous. There are seekers of truth who have never thought, what will I do with truth? You cannot eat it, you cannot sell it; you cannot become a president because you have the truth. At the most, if you have the truth, people will crucify you.
He is right when he says, My debts are large, my failures great, my shame secret and heavy. Yet when I come to ask for my good, I quake in fear lest my prayer be granted -- because these things are good to talk about: God, truth, good, beauty. It is good to write treatises on them, have universities confer Ph.D.'s, let the Nobel awarding committee give you a Nobel prize. These things are good for talking, for writing, but if you really get to experience them, you will be in trouble. That's what he is saying: I am afraid that my prayer may be granted.
It is good that God is deaf. He does not hear prayers; otherwise you all will be in trouble.
Your prayer will create your trouble, because in prayers you will be so romantic, asking great things which you cannot live by, which will become very heavy, and will interfere in your so-called life -- which is going on smoothly, although in misery.
Truth becomes a cross; life becomes heavy. Truth becomes poison to a Socrates. Truth becomes death to Al-Hillaj Mansoor. Truth becomes crucifixion to Jesus Christ. And you pray, "God, give me truth. Give me qualities which are divine, godly." But God is deaf on purpose -- so that your prayers cannot be heard and you can enjoy both, your miserable life and your beautiful prayers. The prayers will not be heard -- you can remain jealous, angry, full of hate, full of egoism, and go on praying to God, "Make me humble; and because `blessed are the meek,' make me meek." -- but on purpose.
It is not written in any scripture, but I tell you on my personal authority that after creating the world in six days, the last thing God did was destroy his ears. Since then, we has never heard anything; and since then, neither have we heard anything about him.
So it is perfectly good: in the morning you go to the temple or the church or the mosque, have a beautiful prayer, ask great things -- knowing perfectly well that he is deaf -- and go on being your ugly, miserable self. Then tomorrow morning again have a good prayer.... This is such a good settlement, a good arrangement.
Rabindranath in his poem is indicating a tremendous truth: Do you really want God? Do you really want truth? Do you really want silence? If you ask, and you are honest, you will feel ashamed. You will have to accept that you don't really want.... You are only pretending to meditate -- because you know you have been meditating for many years, and nothing happens. There is no fear; you can meditate, nothing happens.
Once something starts happening, then there is trouble. once something starts growing in your life that is not growing in the hearts of the crowd that surrounds you, you will be a stranger, you will be an outsider. And the crowd never forgives strangers, the crowd never forgives outsiders; it destroys them. It has to destroy them just for its own peace of mind.
A man like Jesus Christ is a continual nuisance, because he reminds you that you can also be of the same beauty, of the same grace, of the same truth, and it hurts. He makes you feel inferior, and nobody wants to feel inferior.
And there are only two ways not to feel inferior: one is to become superior; that is a hard way, and a long way -- dangerous, because you will have to walk alone. The simple way is, destroy that superior man. Then the whole crowd is of equal people. Nobody is superior, nobody is inferior. All are cunning, all are cheats, all are criminals in their own way. All are jealous, all are ambitious. They are all in the same boat, and they understand each other's language. And nobody creates any fuss about truth, about God, about meditation.
People are happy without a Gautam Buddha, without a Socrates, without a Zarathustra, because these people are like high peaks of mountains and you look so tiny, so pygmy -- it hurts. They say that camels never go near the mountains. They have chosen to live in the desert, because in the desert they are the walking mountains, but near the mountains, they will look like ants -- and that hurts.
The easiest way is to forget all about mountains, to say, "These mountains are all mythological, fictitious; the reality is the desert." So you enjoy the desert, you enjoy your ego -- and you also enjoy the prayer, "God, please free me of the ego, make me humble," knowing perfectly well that he does not hear, that no prayer is answered. You can pray for anything without fear because you will remain the same and you will also have the satisfaction of praying for great things.
That's why people, without becoming religious, become Christians, become Hindus, become Mohammedans. They are not religious people at all; these are strategies to avoid being religious. A religious person is simply religious; he is neither Hindu, nor Mohammedan, nor Christian, nor Buddhist -- there is no need. He is truthful, he is sincere, he is compassionate, he is loving, he is human -- so human that he almost represents the divine in the world.
The Golden Future