Sectarianism and the Living Spirit

Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941) is regarded as the very highly-esteemed author, poet, musician, philosopher and artist of modern India. During his life, his creative genius flowed through voluminous writings,  music and paintings. He was honored with a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913. His gift for blending Indian tradition with Western tradition is unsurpassed.

The following is an excerpt from his work, Thought Relics, originally published in 1921. 

Sectarianism and the Living Spirit

“When we come to believe that we are in possession of our God because we belong to some particular sect it gives us such a complete sense of comfort, that God is needed no longer except for quarreling with others whose idea of God differs from ours in theoretical details.

Having been able to make provision for our God in some shadow land of creed we feel free to reserve all the space for ourselves in the world of reality, ridding it of the wonder of the Infinite, making it as trivial as our own household furniture. Such unlimited vulgarity only becomes possible when we have no doubt in our minds that we believe in God while our life ignores him.

The pious sectarian is proud because he is confident of his right of possession of God. The [person] of devotion is meek because he is conscious of God’s right of love over his life and soul. The object of our possession becomes smaller than ourselves, and without acknowledging it in so many words the bigoted sectarian has an implicit belief that God can be kept secured for certain individuals in a cage which is of their own make.

…Sectarianism is a perverse form of worldliness in the disguise of religion; it breeds a narrowness of heart in a greater measure than the cult of the world based upon material interest can ever do. For undisguised pursuit of self has its safety in its openness, like filth exposed to the sun and air. But the self-magnification with its consequent lessening of God that goes on unchecked under the cover of sectarianism loses its chance of salvation because it defiles the very source of purity.

Religion, like poetry, is not a mere idea, it is expression. The self-expression of God is in the endless variety of creation; and our attitude toward the Infinite Being must also in its expression have a variety of individuality ceaseless and unending. Those sects, which jealously build their boundaries with too rigid creeds excluding all spontaneous movement of the living spirit, may hoard their theology but they kill religion.”

— Rabindranath Tagore, Thought Relics, first published in 1921.