Selections from Santiniketan : Three Storeys
[tintalaa - Santiniketan Vol I]

Rabindranath Tagore

Translated from the original Bengali by

Jyoti Prakash Datta


We perceive three states for ourselves, existing in three layers - the physical, ethical and the spiritual.

In the first layer the physical is everything to us. Our realisation remains in that of the outside world only. The physical occupies the entirety of our cosmos. All our instincts, thoughts and efforts are directed outwards. So much so, even the ideas that form within our minds are given form in the physical objects outside of us. To us that alone is real which we can touch with our hands. For this reason, we enclose our god within a physical object or give god a material form. Consequently, we seek to propitiate such a god who remains external to us, by rituals of sacrificing animals, serving food to, and providing clothing for the deity. The injunctions of such a god are also external to us. Practice of religion then consists in following commandments as to bathing in a particular river considered to be holy, abstaining from eating foods declared as being sinful to eat, the direction in which to lay the head while going to sleep, a particular incantation to be chanted in a certain way at a specific moment on a special date in the calendar which is considered auspicious.

The limits of our pre-occupation with these outward things are reached after we exhaust our interplay with them through our senses of sight, smell and touch; through exercise of our mental abilities manifested in our thinking, imagination, fears and devotions relating to them; and also through blows given to and hurts received from them. When this limit is reached, those things outside of us seem no more relevant to religion. We are no longer able to consider the physical state as our only way, our only refuge and our only treasure. It is because they had initially attracted our hopes for religion, that we are able to see their limits which lead to our disrespect for them. Then we curse the natural objects as being illusory in their appeal, and our minds revolt against the trappings of daily existence. We call out: Fie on ourselves for having lived under this delusion for so long.

Next we retreat from the external to the inner life alone. Having defeated the outer world of objects which had held sway over us in our religion up to now, we proclaim the inner life as the sole arbiter in our spirituality. We ruthlessly remove those of our propensities which served as bailiffs in our hankering after the externals alone. We put fetters on our natural desires and clamp a strict code of ethics for regulating the happiness and sorrows within us arising from the events in our lives. The previous kingdom of externals alone stands totally routed in the battle for our souls.

But having thus vanquished the sway of the externals and established our religion on the supremacy of ethics alone in inner life, what did we find reigning in the heart of our hearts? Not the vainglory of victory in an orderly code of ethics regulating the expression of our inner selves, one set of internal regulation in place of the other external set. But, in the clear firmament of our consciousness we perceive a radiance emanating from the peace and joy reigning in our innermost selves. It suffuses the entire Universe in a glow of well-being both within and without.

This realisation finds the conflict between the external and the internal resolved for ever. Then not victory, but joy; no longer strife, but playfulness; not disunity but union; not self alone but all; neither externals alone, nor internals only; reveal to us as steps towards Universal Unity - Brahman - the Light of lights. Thereafter, the union of our individual souls with the Great Soul of the Universe; the reign within of compassion without self-interest, forgiveness without arrogance, love without vanity; leads to a final fulfillment in a fusion of knowledge, devotion and action in our lives.

Selections :Introduction, In the Morning, Night


Published in Parabaas April 15, 2004.

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