Tagore and aesthetic Cosmism
A comparative study of Tagore and modern Cosmism finds artistic unity in the two philosophical perspectives.
An inspiring compilation of texts and songs from the works of Indian polymath and spiritual master Rabindranath Tagore, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, in support of Cosmist beliefs.
Thou hast made me endless, such is thy pleasure. This frail vessel thou emptiest again and again, and fillest it ever with fresh life.
This little flute of a reed thou hast carried over hills and dales and hast breathed through it melodies eternally new.
At the immortal touch of thy hands my little heart loses its limits in joy and gives birth to utterance ineffable.
Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine. Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.
This magnificent extract is the opening of “Gitanjali,” a Nobel winning compilation of poems written by Rabindranath Tagore.
“the present evolution of science is running in the direction stated by the great Indian poet.”
Many instances of immortal self, consciousness, life, mind and identity in the awareness of the Divine are evident in Tagore’s masterpiece, which is one of my favorites, and coincidentally the monumental work could be used as a source of reference and inspiration for our understanding of immortality as envisioned (in a scientific milieu) by the Cosmists working on a profound idea and a grand cosmic vision.
Cosmism is developed by Russian philosophers like Nikolai Fedorov in the late nineteenth century. The Cosmists believed that “outer space was the territory of both immortal life and infinite resources” and that humanity’s duty is to move on to the next stage of evolution and resurrect all the dead through science.
For Tagore, however, ‘immortality is not in duration of times but in the eternity of the perfect” as quoted by Robert M. Geraci in “Futures of Artificial Intelligence, Perspectives from India and the US” (2022). This seems quite opposite to the Apocalyptic AI perspective (derived from the Russian Cosmist idea of immortality later known as Transhumanism), but according to Geraci a synthesis of the two perspectives could bring out the best of both.
To me on the other hand the intentions could be similar and one will lead to the other and finally to perfection. “Aaguner porosh moni choyao prane e jibon punnyo koro” (May the Divine fire kindle the heart and awaken the soul).
The Indian way of life is a way of understanding ourselves and our universe, to fathom the mystery within ourselves and consequently the mystery behind the universe by realizing our Self. See my review of “Futures of Artificial Intelligence” published in The Vedanta Kesari, March 2023.
Here I would briefly elucidate my next work on consciousness being inspired by the Hindu perspective, by referring to a great lecture on “Science and Religion” delivered by Swami Lokeswarananda at the Bose Institutes in Calcutta, 1983. The self in the individual and the self in the cosmos, says Swamiji, is one and same, “the real coordinating and controlling authority in the whole complex i.e. man.”
Tagore visited Russia on 11th September 1930. “Academic Sergei Oldenburg wrote, ‘When we meet the great Indian poet here, we will be meeting a person who, in Bengali words, has said what we all understand and feel’,” writes Mastura Kalandarova quoting Tagore’s own vibrant words “My sole purpose in life is enlightenment.”
In India, we relate to Tagore’s meditative verse that derives upon the Upanishadic tradition. The Upanishads and Vedas are the ancient Indian scriptures consisting of the major chunk of the Hindu Philosophy. These Sanskrit scriptures are so ancient that only a handful of them have actually come down to us. Modern Indian writers draw inspiration from them and broadly base their writing on the philosophical principles in them.
Whether it is about the soul – the imperishable atma; adhvaitam – the divine beings, Prana the senses and the Brahman – the all-pervading self… the scriptures have it all. Tagore, doyen of Indian Bengali literature, social reformer, and a philosopher par excellence who interestingly took interest in science, was inspired by the spiritual idealism of universal unity and oneness of Vedanta and Upanishads.
Tagore “seeks to infuse the human universe with an attitude of joy, growth, choice, and open-mindedness” as in the definition of Cosmism given in “Transcendence” [Goffman 2015], according to which “by actively engaging with the world and studying and engineering things, and by reflecting on ourselves carefully and intelligently, we will likely be able to discover the next stage in the evolution of collective thinking.”
The “Cosmist Manifesto” (Gortzel 2014) gives Cosmism a new twist for the 21st century and defines a practical philosophy for our times. “Cosmism, as Goertzel presents it, is a practical philosophy for the posthuman era. Rooted in Western and Eastern philosophy as well as modern technology and science, it is a way of understanding ourselves and our universe that makes sense now, and will keep on making sense as advanced technology exerts its transformative impact as the future unfolds.”
This is a comparative study of Tagore and modern Cosmism using some lines and verses that reflect their respective cosmic visions and at the same time a kind of artistic unity in their core philosophical concerns that add value to life and existence.
“… I think we need new religious social movements, focused on cosmology and enlightened spirituality.”
A firmament of sun and stars
In this world of light and life;
At the feel in my pulse of the rhythm of creation
Cadenced by the swing of the endless time.
I feel the tenderness of the grass in my forest walk
The wayside flowers startle me:
That the gifts of the infinite are strewn in the dust
Wakens my song in wonder.
I have seen, have heard, have lived;
In the depth of the known have felt
The truth that exceeds all knowledge
Which fills my heart with wonder and I sing
Translated by Rabindranath Tagore From Gitabitan (A Garden Of Songs) [Tagore R. (1941)
This is a magnificent poem of interconnectedness of all things. The poet seems to have found a place in this huge galaxy of stars, sun and the earth below. He is awed by the fact that he has at least found his eternal presence in the cosmic grandeur.
“I think the developers that this project is likely to attract initially are free thinkers and individualists who have a problem with authority…”
আমরা সবাই রাজা
We all rule supreme
We are all kings in the Kingdom of the King.
How else we will be able to meet the King
We do whatever we please and our pleasures blend with His
No one has bound us to any servitude
The King respects all and receives the respect back
We all rule supreme in our kingdom of the King.
How else we will be able to meet the King
We are all kings on our own right and we are free to do whatever we want to although our movements are guided by the Supreme King. The poet feels that we all have to be kings to be able to unite with that Supreme King.
Keep imagination in our science and fiction
“Imagination is not a crime, and hope is not a sin. I encourage you to cultivate your open mind and open heart” (Giulio Prisco)
কোথাও আমার হারিয়ে যাওয়ার নেই মানা মনেমনে
In My Imagination
Nothing stops me wandering in my mind
I spread my wings of tunes of my song in my imagination
I get lost in distant lands, surfing on seven seas floating to the silent fairyland..
All in my imagination.
The poet says that no one can stop him from getting lost in imagination. He creates his own fairy world of forest and flowers across the seven seas in the hue of the setting sun all in his silent imagination.
“I have no wish to die and I am extremely unhappy if I lose a loved one, but I see death in a cosmic context of universal resurrection, and I think some versions of me will be around to love some versions of my loved ones, someday. That gives inner peace.”
পুরানো সেই দিনে রকথা
The good old days
How can we forget the Good Old Days
What we saw / What we said/ What we shared / Can we forget ?
Come once my friend in the midst of the heart ,
We’ll talk of happy and sad days of yore to our heart’s delight
We pluck flowers in the dawn swinging in the breeze
We played the flute and sang under a Bakul tree in the garden
Sigh!! In between we parted…where we know not /
If ever we see each other again Come to the midst of the heart
The poet is nostalgic and yearns to meet his lost friend once more. Separated from his friend his longing never ceases as he remembers everything they cherished together in the past and hopes to meet his friend again… one day.
Tagore based this composition on a Scottish tune (‘Should old acquaintance be forgot and never bought to mind?”). Interesting here to note that the poet says “chokher dekha praner kotha seiki bholajaye” (can we ever forget those moments of joyful talk and what we saw?). This somehow proves that information is never lost, memories thoughts, feelings, etc., and “…abardekha Jodi holo Sokha praner majhe aye,” meaning, if we ever meet come into my heart. The phrase “if we ever meet” is important to ponder upon because, though Tagore never talks about death and resurrection directly, he does mean parting and reunion in a subtle manner.
For Tagore immortality in cosmic context reflects the “Sanatan” idealism of perfecting the soul to reach eternity. In that eternal abode of joy and bliss there is no sorrow, no death, no separation.
Tomaro asim e pran mono loye joto dure ami dhai kothau mrityu kothau dukho kothau bicched nai (In Your infinity there is no death, no sorrow no separation, the more I meditate upon You, the more I find joy and all) (audio).
The aesthetic Cosmists believe this transformation could be achieved through advanced technology like Artificial Intelligence. We can go beyond the limitations of life and realize the mystical universe externally through science and the mystery within ourselves through meditation internally by harmoniously blending the external and internal.
Swami Lokeswarananda, Science and Religion, Transaction of the Bose Research Institutes, Volume 48 No1,1985
Ben Goertzel, A Cosmist Manifesto
Giulio Prisco, Tales of the Turing Church