I stumbled on this quote while on the French women's website, Plein Vie, and instantly felt heartened by its message that if we are too afraid to take action because we are afraid to make a mistake, it is as if we are closing the door to truth itself. Often we are afraid to take action because we are afraid of what will happen on the other side of that action, and presuppose a negative outcome. In shielding ourselves and protecting ourselves from this predicted negative outcome, we stay trapped inside our home of stale habits and stagnant beliefs. I like the idea of imagining the truth as a small child, like the little girl in this photo, who comes to knock on our door. The trigger (the knock on the door) is our invitation to take action, to do something new, to answer the call and make a change. Our choice lies in whether we open that door or not. I know that sometimes I myself do not open that door out of fear. The fear stems from the thought/belief/story that what is on the other side is something negative, painful or "bad." And yet, I like this story better since it regards the truth or life as a small and innocent child who comes knocking, seeking the door to be opened to her, perhaps hoping to play. The child has no predispositions, no stories, no beliefs or agendas - just a joyful curiosity and a desire to engage.
I was so struck by the quote that I googled the person who is credited for it, Rabindranath Tagore. Apparently, he was a Bengali polymath who deeply influenced Bengali literature and music. He began writing poetry at 8-years old and published his first book of poetry at 16 and continued to publish novels and books of poetry for the remainder of his life. He won the Nobel Peace Prize for Literature in 1913 and fraternized with the likes of Einstein, Robert Frost, George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells... you know, no big deal. When I read more of his work, I was wildly impressed by his gift of explaining metaphysical and atmospheric spiritual concepts with such linguistic fluency and accurate detail. I enjoy how his writing instructs the reader towards a moral interpretation of the world, via the channel of sharpened intellect and with an understanding of the contradictions of life. I also find that his work, while written almost exactly one hundred years ago, eloquently speaks to many issues today that we as a country and as humanity are facing, specifically with regard to the wizened global village we now live in with countries trending towards democracy, issues of human rights and international relations, climate changes, and our relationship to the natural world and its resources:
In “The Religion of the Forest,” Tagore wrote about the influence that the forest dwellers of ancient India had on classical Indian literature. The forests are sources of water and the storehouses of a biodiversity that can teach us the lessons of democracy—of leaving space for others while drawing sustenance from the common web of life. Tagore saw unity with nature as the highest stage of human evolution.
Here are some other fascinating quotes attributed to him:
- Bigotry tries to keep truth safe in its hand
With a grip that kills it.Wishing to hearten a timid lamp
great night lights all her stars.
- God seeks comrades and claims love,
the Devil seeks slaves and claims obedience.
- The child ever dwells in the mystery of ageless time,
unobscured by the dust of history.
But of course, my favorite is his poetry :
- Of course man is useful to man, because his body is a marvelous machine and his mind an organ of wonderful efficiency. But he is a spirit as well, and this spirit is truly known only by love. When we define a man by the market value of the service we can expect of him, we know him imperfectly. With this limited knowledge of him it becomes easy for us to be unjust to him and to entertain feelings of triumphant self-congratulation when, on account of some cruel advantage on our side, we can get out of him much more than we have paid for. But when we know him as a spirit we know him as our own. We at once feel that cruelty to him is cruelty to ourselves, to make him small is stealing from our own humanity...
- Man is not entirely an animal. He aspires to a spiritual vision, which is the vision of the whole truth. This gives him the highest delight, because it reveals to him the deepest harmony that exists between him and his surroundings. It is our desires that limit the scope of our self-realisation, hinder our extension of consciousness, and give rise to sin, which is the innermost barrier that keeps us apart from our God, setting up disunion and the arrogance of exclusiveness. For sin is not one mere action, but it is an attitude of life which takes for granted that our goal is finite, that our self is the ultimate truth, and that we are not all essentially one but exist each for his own separate individual existence.
- We never can have a true view of man unless we have a love for him. Civilization must be judged and prized, not by the amount of power it has developed, but by how much it has evolved and given expression to, by its laws and institutions, the love of humanity. The first question and the last which it has to answer is, Whether and how far it recognizes man more as a spirit than a machine? Whenever some ancient civilization fell into decay and died, it was owing to causes which produced callousness of heart and led to the cheapening of man's worth; when either the state or some powerful group of men began to look upon the people as a mere instrument of their power; when, by compelling weaker races to slavery and trying to keep them down by every means, man struck at the foundation of his greatness, his own love of freedom and fair-play. Civilization can never sustain itself upon cannibalism of any form. For that by which alone man is true can only be nourished by love and justice.
- In love all the contradictions of existence merge themselves and are lost. Only in love are unity and duality not at variance. Love must be one and two at the same time.
- Only love is motion and rest in one. Our heart ever changes its place till it finds love, and then it has its rest. But this rest itself is an intense form of activity where utter quiescence and unceasing energy meet at the same point in love.
- In love, loss and gain are harmonized In its balance-sheet, credit and debit accounts are in the same column, and gifts are added to gains. In this wonderful festival of creation, this great ceremony of self-sacrifice of God, the lover constantly gives himself up to gain himself in love. Indeed, love is what brings together and inseparably connects both the act of abandoning and that of receiving.
- In love, at one of its poles you find the personal, and at the other the impersonal. At one you have the positive assertion — Here I am; at the other the equally strong denial — I am not. Without this ego what is love? And again, with only this ego how can love be possible?
- Bondage and liberation are not antagonistic in love. For love is most free and at the same time most bound. If God were absolutely free there would be no creation. The infinite being has assumed unto himself the mystery of finitude. And in him who is love the finite and the infinite are made one.
- Compulsion is not indeed the final appeal to man, but joy is. And joy is everywhere; it is in the earth's green covering of grass; in the blue serenity of the sky; in the reckless exuberance of spring; in the severe abstinence of grey winter; in the living flesh that animates our bodily frame; in the perfect poise of the human figure, noble and upright; in living; in the exercise of all our powers; in the acquisition of knowledge; in fighting evils; in dying for gains we never can share. Joy is there everywhere; it is superfluous, unnecessary; nay, it very often contradicts the most peremptory behests of necessity. It exists to show that the bonds of law can only be explained by love; they are like body and soul. Joy is the realization of the truth of oneness, the oneness of our soul with the world and of the world-soul with the supreme lover.
Who are you, reader, reading my poems a hundred years hence?
I cannot send you one single flower from this wealth of the spring, one single streak of gold from yonder clouds.
Open your doors and look abroad.
From your blossoming garden gather fragrant memories of the vanished flowers of a hundred years before.
In the joy of your heart may you feel the living joy that sang one spring morning, sending its glad voice across a hundred years.