No, it is not yours to open buds into blossoms.
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
Your touch soils it, you tear its petals to pieces and strew them in the dust.

I am most touched to have been asked to unveil this splendid bust of Rabindarath Tagore which has been commissioned by The Tagore Centre U.K., an organization dedicated to promoting the important work of Tagore in the United Kingdom and abroad.

It was a matter of great personal regret that I was unable to attend the recent Festival at Dartington, in Devon, to mark the 150th anniversary of Tagore’s birth. I did, however, send a message in which I said that Tagore has always been regarded as exceptional in the breadth and depth of his work – as a philosopher and the writer of songs, as poet and playwrite; in his interest in education, rural renewal and farming; and as a painter, crossing the divide between East and West. Of course, today’s date July 7th marks a dark anniversary as has already been mentioned, in the history of our capital and, indeed, our country. From this darkness, perpetuated only a stone’s throw from here, the inscriptions on this bust will shine out as a beacon of tolerance, understanding and of unity in diversity.

150 years on from his birth, I find Tagore’s work very relevant to our time, particularly, if I may say so, his understanding of the importance of a principle which is dear to me. So much so, I made it the title of my most recently published book – Harmony.

Some may suppose that the word Harmony is no more than a cliché, something akin to “motherhood and apple pie.” But what Tagore knew, and what I am now sure of, is that it represents a vital principle of being – and should be present in all we learn to do. Why? Because harmony is rooted in wholeness and dependent upon integrity. As Tagore put it:

The highest education is that which does not merely give us information, but makes our life in harmony with all existence.

And then, again:

A civilization remains healthy and strong as long as it contains in its centre some creative ideal that binds in its members in a rhythm of relationship. It is a relationship [and this is most important] which is beautiful and not merely utilitarian.

It is the failure to understand this in our own time that I have referred to as a “crisis of perception”.

Not only have we failed to make our lives “in harmony with all existence,” we have also sought to bend the rest of creation to our will and to use it regardless of the cost. Many decades before it became the issue it has now become, Tagore was speaking out eloquently against such arrogance. In one of his poems he warns us:

No, it is not yours to open buds into blossoms.
Shake the bud, strike it; it is beyond your power to make it blossom.
Your touch soils it, you tear its petals to pieces and strew them in the dust.

And yet, blinded by our conceit, it would seem that we are still unable to see the consequences of our foolishness, even though it is becoming more and more obvious – in the way the climate is being disrupted, or the way resources are being dangerously depleted, or that the skies, rivers and seas are all being polluted.

I am in no doubt that we actually cannot deny great teachers like Tagore any longer. And yet we do! I sometimes wonder how long it will be before we, quite literally, come to our senses and see the damage and the hurt, and hear Earth’s cry.

In all that he did, in his songs and poetry, in his work of education and rural renewal, Tagore urged us to accept that we must bring to our work not just science and rational thought, but also the life of the spirit; that without this we are incomplete and vulnerable to a dangerous hubris. As he put it:

…our consciousness of the world, merely as the sum total of things that exist, and as governed by laws, is imperfect. But it is perfect when our consciousness realizes all things as spiritually one with it, and therefore capable of giving us joy. For us, the highest purpose of this world is not merely living in it, knowing it and making use of it, but realizing our own selves in it through expansion of sympathy; not alienating ourselves from it and dominating it, but comprehending and uniting it with ourselves in perfect union.

Perhaps, more than anything else, it is this message from Tagore that we need to hear, attend to and, with great urgency, act upon.

It now gives me the greatest possible privilege to unveil a bust to a great man.