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IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF XUANZANG: TAN YUN-SHAN AND INDIA

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WRITINGS OF TAGORE, NEHRU AND TAN YUN-SHAN

32

My Devotion to Rabindranath Tagore 

 

 Tan Yun-Shan

The editor of the Bengali Women's Magazine has been so kind as to ask me to write something about Rabindranath Tagore for its special number to celebrate Rabindranath's 81st Birthday. What shall I write? I feel rather diffident. I cannot merely praise him nor can I criticise him. For firstly, he is my Guru, and my eulogy and worship can best be kept in my heart and mind rather than be expressed by words; secondly, a man like him needs no verbal and superficial praise. He himself very often expressed that he is imperfect, but to me he is perfection personified. Then what shall I write and what can I write about him? But as I could not refuse the eager and earnest request of the editor, I shall simply pen a few words about my own devotion to him.

When he visited China in 1924, I was just coming out from my country. I could only meet him for the first time at Singapore in 1927. When I saw him, I immediately loved him and offered my humble self to him if he could make any use of me. But my admiration for him did not start there and then. Before that, I had watched all the news about him when he was in China and read all the speeches and lectures he delivered there. I had also read all the translations of his works in Chinese and some of them in English. All these had inspired me very deeply. Moreover, being a student of Buddhism, I had a great love for India which was the cradle of Buddhism and had been regarded by the Chinese Buddhists for centuries as a heavenly kingdom. When I saw Rabindranath, I at once found in him the very representative and symbol of the Buddha's country.

Since my first stay at Santiniket in 1928, I have continually read more about him and saw more of the things done by him. The more I read and saw, the greater became my admiration for him. Then I gradually devoted myself more and more to him as well as to the cause that he had undertaken. My own humble idea was that these two great sister nations, India and China, should be brought together once again in order to work for universal peace and human fraternity through their cultural contribution and co-operation. We should, on the one side, revive our old historical relationship which had unfortunately lapsed into isolation for centuries; and on the other side, form new cultural contacts and friendship in the hope of bettering the present world which is full of brutal hostilities and deadly conflicts: if need be, only by showing an example of the amity and harmony existing between our two countries. Rabindranath Tagore has been the emblem of this hope and the focus of these ideas. I therefore devoted myself to him and made Santiniketan my second home. I do not think that my humble devotion can add anything to his greatness but I congratulate myself for having had the fortune, opportunity and privilege of living near to him. Now, I am sitting at his feet and working under his spiritual guidance and leadership. He is not only the Gurudeva of Santiniketan and India but also the Gurudeva of humanity and the world.

Recently, quite recently, some unnecessary questions were put to me by some thoughtless people. I have been asked more than once by some Indian friends: "What do you think will become of Santiniketan when Rabindranath Tagore is no more?" This was really a very sad, if not a very unfortunate question and I felt very very sorry for it. I did not know how to answer but said to my questioners:

"Dear friends, why should you ask me such a question and how can you ask me such a question? Rabindranath Tagore may live hundred years and more. But he has to leave this world some day as all other human beings do and as all the other sages did in different times past. But his soul, his ideal, his works and his achievements will ever remain.

The Lord Gautama Buddha passed away more than two thousand years ago, but his teachings still remain and will for ever remain in this world: and those places where he was born, where he lived, preached and died, although only ruins today, are still great sacred spots for pilgrims from countries far and near. Today the Maha Bodhi Society is even going to establish an International Buddhist University at Sarnath, the spot where Lord Buddha turned the Chakra of Dharma for the first time."

Now, Rabindranath Tagore has himself founded the Santinikentan University of world-fame and reputation, and he has breathed his life into it as Gandhiji once said. How can there be any doubt about its future, even when Rabindranath Tagore is physically no more? Indeed, we should not think of such questions and such questions especially should not come out of the lips of our friends. We can only and should only pray for his long life and good health, and try our best to support the work that has been undertaken by him. As Mahatma Gandhi very recently appealed in the newspapers: "Indeed, the Gurudeva himself should command all the monetary help he needs. He has brought lustre to India. Many men have derived signal assistance from him and his institution. Their children are receiving instruction in Santiniketan. His art decorates many an Indian home. His poetry, his novels, plays and his art enrich the minds of thousands of boys and girls, men and women:' I should say that Gurudeva has brought lustre not to India alone but to the world at large. He has indeed given a new splendour to human history. His Asrama, the Santiniketan University has not only been an educational institution for Indian children but also a great centre of world culture and civilization, Therefore, we, especially Indian friends, should not think anything else about it, but try our best to help it, to support it and to develop it.

Lastly I may also tell my Indian friends, men and women, that in my daily morning and evening prayers, I do pray for Gurudev's long life and sound health. I most sincerely hope all Indian friends, men and women, will do the same. On the auspicious occasion of the 81st birthday of Gurudeva I would like to join with the Bengali women as well as all the Indian people twice to pray in this manner. May Gurudeva live with us for many years to come! May Santiniketan become more and more prosperous and more and more successful!

April 3, 1941

Santiniketan

II

Rabindranath Tagore needs no words of eulogy and praise from me. In fact I can hardly find out sufficient and suitable words which can be used either to describe him or to praise him adequately from my poor vocabulary. Human language is yet very often an insufficient instrument to express our ideas. Aabindranath Tagore has long been well-known to the world as the greatest poet of modern times. But, I think he was much more and much greater than a mere poet. His songs are perhaps of greater emotional appeal to his own people than his poetry. His poetry undoubtedly rank with the rhymes of the other greater-than-mere poets. His songs are perhaps of greater emotional appeal to his own people than his proetry. His poetry undoubtedly rank with the rhymes of the other great poets of the world, not merely of today but also of the past. But there is hardly a match to his songs from the very begining of civilisation up to now. Besides these he was also a great educationist, a great philosopher, a great novelist, a great dramatist, a great painter, a great singer, a great orator and what not. He could really be called " all in one", " all in all", and "all and all". To my humble self, he was more of a perfect saint and a supreme Gurudeva than anything else. He was and still is and will ever be, a supreme Gurudeva not only of Santiniketan and India but also of China and the whole world.

In China Rabindranath Tagore together with Mahatma Gandhi had long been regarded as the Buddhas of modern India. Rabindranath's visit to China in the year 1924 had been a great event in Chinese cultural history. He had awakened the dormant conscience of the Chinese nation which had been intoxicated and doped by the modern splendours and glories of materialistic west for over a hundred year. It was this visit of Rabindranath Tagore that had given a momentous impetus to the new national movements of the awakening of China. China had conferred on him a Chinese name called "Chu Chen-Tan". "Chu" was the old Chinese name for India, also called "Tien-Chu", meaning heavenly kingdom. "Chen-Tan" was the old Indian name for China, according to a Buddhist book. "Chen", means thunder, "Tan" means sun-rise; "Chen-Tan" when put together, as in the old Indian name for China, it means the country that is situated where the sun rises, i.e., the Eastern Country. But here, as in the Chinese name for Rabindranath, it may be translated into English as "Thunder-Voiced Rising Sun". Therefore, "Chu Chen-Tan", with three characters joined together, has a double significance : first, the "Thunder voiced Rising Sun of India"; second, the "Symbol of Unity and Combination of India and China". Historians and Biographers may consider such a thing as merely a tiny trifle in Rabindranath's life. But it indicates China's love, respect, reverence and veneration for him. Immediately after his visit, there was formed the "Crescent Moon Society" by the late young Chinese poet, Mr. Hsu Chih-mo and Dr. Hu Shih and other friends, just to commemorate this historical event. Later on the Sino-Indian Cultural Society initiated by my humble self was founded entirely under his noble inspiration and it will surely ever remain as a concrete and living memory of his noble ideas.

I, my humble self, met the late Gurudeva for the first time in 1927 at Singapore. When he was visiting China in 1924, I was just coming out from my country. When I saw him, even for the first time, I immediately loved him. But my admiration of him did not just start from that time. Before that, I had watched all the news about him when he was in China and had read all the speeches and lectures he delivered there. I had also read all the few Chinese translations of his works and some of his English books too. All these inspired me very much. Moreover, being a student of Buddhism, I had naturally a great love for India which is the cradle of Buddhism and had been regarded, as above mentioned, by the Chinese people as a heavenly kingdom throughout past centuries, When I saw Rabindranath Tagore I found immediately in him the very representative and symbol of India. I came to Santiniketan for the first time, a year later in 1928. Since then I read more about him and saw more things done by him; and gradually devoted myself more and more to him as well as to the cause which he had undertaken. My own humble idea was that these two great sister nations, India and China, should be brought together once again in order to work for universal peace and human fraternity through our cultural co-operation and contribution. We should, on the one hand, revive our old historical contact which had unfortunately been lost for centuries; and on the other hand, create a new cultural relation in the hope of bettering the present world which is full of brutal hostilities and deadly and atrocious conflicts, by showing an example of the amity and harmony of friendship between our two countries. Rabindranath Tagore, the Gurudeva, was exactly the emblem of this hope and the focus of these ideas. I, therefore, offered my humble self to him and worked under his auspices and guidance since then till the very end of his life. And I shall continue my devotion to him and work under his spiritual light till the very end of my life.

We all know and understand well that death is the natural consequence of life, and that death and life are necessities in Nature's course. One has come to live in this world, and one has to die in this world. There is nothing to be grieved at or mourned over. But this is merely philosophy. Human beings cannot five without feelings and sentiments. This has been specially evident in the death of the world-beloved Gurudeva, Rabindranath Tagore. Especially those of us who had personal contact with him, we cannot but' feel deeply grieved and bereaved by his demise as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru said in his condolence message to Sri, Rathindranath Tagore, Gurudeva's only surviving son : "Gurudeva's passing away has left us all, who have grown up in the shadows of his towering genius and mighty personality and enveloped by his great tradition, forlorn and in the dark:' Therefore, the whole of India mourned for him: nay, the whole world mourned for him too. But mere mourning will not be sufficient. Neither the holding of memorial services nor the publishing of special numbers of newspapem and magazines.

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