Dr. RADHAKRISHNAN’S PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY
Dr. GANTI SRIRAMA MURTHY
One of the finest flowers of Indian renaissance, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had made a distinct and lasting contribution to modern Indian thought and philosophy. He had the unique opportunity of being an active and conscious participant of modem Indian history at a time when India was passing through a great crisis in the context of its attainment of Independence. It was seed-time when free India had to define its goals and directives anew in order to define its nationhood and lead its society from petrifying influences of the past to greater freedom of thought and social mobility. India, at that time, was a divided nation. It was divided in a thousand ways socially and politically. The problems of religion, caste and community, the irremovable faith in life, negating philosophy of Vedanta with its debilitating components of theories of Karma and Maya, which, according to the majority of educated classes, constitute a drag on peace and progress of the nation, were there staring squarely in the face of our national leaders. But we are fortunate in that we had Titans among our leaders who had a strong and unerring sense of history and whose shoulders were broad enough to bear the onerous responsibilities it devolved on them. Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sri Aurobindo, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, and K. M. Munshi on the one hand and stalwart academic historians like K. M. Panikkar, Sir Jadunath Sarkar, R. K. Mukherjee, Mazumdar, and D. D. Kosambi on the other, had been trying each in his own way, re-interpreting age-old concepts of man, time, space, progress, destiny of man and the world rejecting or absorbing the modem concepts projected by Marxism, Judaism, Christianity, etc. Of these Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. S. Radhakrishnan may be singled out because of their unwavering faith in the destiny of man and democracy, whose keenness of intellect could pierce through the opaque walls of scholastic tradition and social philosophy that has obviously outlived its purpose. They do not think alike, but their concern for common man and reality unites them. At a time when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was laying foundation-stones for secular democracy in India, Dr. Radhakrishnan made his voice of serene wisdom reverberate literally from China to Peru. A celebrated builder of bridges between the East and West, between tradition and modernity, between religion and science, Dr. Radhakrishnan has achieved yet another spectacular spiritual engineering feat of building a suspension bridge between Vedanta and Democracy. This new synthesis of Hindu religious spiritualism and man-centered Western philosophy of democracy is Radhakrishnan’s nearest approach to a history of philosophy.
Dr. Radhakrishnan has absorbed the Christian philosophical thought as, perhaps, few have done in his own time or never. As Prof. A. M. Mundadan remarks, “He makes his own Christian theological and Western philosophical optimism and interprets it against the background of his vision of Indian metaphysics. The meaning of history is to make all men prophets, to establish a kingdom of free spirits. The infinitely rich and spiritually impregnated future, this drama of gradual transmutation of intellect into spirit, of son of man into son of God is the goal of history. When death is overcome, when time is conquered, the kingdom of eternal spirit is established.” While accepting the optimism of scientific philosophy and some of the Christian religious tenets, it is significant that he rejected out of hand the Indo-Christian view that would establish kingdom of God on earth in fulness of time. Nor does he accept that the scope of history is outside time. It is, he thinks, within historic time.
It has been observed that Radhakrishnan had rejected the idea of cyclic time as it breeds the view of utter futility of man’s endeavour. Traditional Hindu concept of time grants reality to nothing in the universe. There is nothing that does not change and pass. As Adi Sankara put it in the Soundaryalahari, even gods do perish at the time of Mahapralaya and nothing remains. Hence nothing has value and relevance in the world. “The conception of time”, says Prof. A. M. Mundadan “as relentlessly reaching on, devouring its creations as it goes along, is like a sentence of death on values.” But the observation does not seem to be correct. Dr. Radhakrishnan does not so much reject the idea of cyclic time as modifies it. He takes each of the four Yugas as self-contained time units, though, they, in truth, are sub-divisions of Mahakala. Taking this relative finality of time into consideration, man’s achievement does not seem so utterly valueless. Nor does he seem to reject the idea of eternal return. Human history, according to Radhakrishnan, is an intersection of time and timeless, natural and supernatural. Religion is not a refuge from the phenomenal world. Contemplation of the timeless and performance of temporal action are the two complementary aspects of human nature. Hence action is not without its value. Arjuna, he says, is the ideal man in whom action and contemplation are ideally combined.
Prof. Mundadan cites modern writers on comparative religion. Religion like Mircea Eliade, to dispel the idea of negation and futility often attributed to the traditional Hindu view of time. “The Indian view of infinite time, of the endless cycles of creation and destruction, the myth of the Eternal Return, could be considered an instrument of knowledge and a means of realising man’s desire to break through individual and historic time into the Mythical Great Time. The story of Indra described in the Brahmanda Purana illustrates how Indra is cured of his pride and is made to transcend the historical situation. “The true story reveals to him the Great Time, the mythic time in which is the source of all beings and all of cosmic events.” The situation and the lesson drawn are not different, in essence, from the situation and lesson imparted to Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita, as quoted by Dr. Radhakrishnan in his Religion in a Changing World.
Radhakrishnan’s concept of history is deeply coloured by his unshakable faith in man. Though we may characterise his interpretation as spiritual or religious, it is in essence, humanistic. He allows him maximum freedom, and responsibility compatible with the cosmic events and divine will. According to him, man is not a bundle of flesh and blood, nerves and muscles. He is a bearer of divine spirit. The divine manifests through him. An avatar is only a manifestation of the divine in him. It is his upward ascent and ascension of the will to restore balance in nature. God is there, but he does not interfere in human affairs. He does not descend to set matters right and save mankind from destruction. Man himself will rise to the occasion. He is the creator of history. God is only the creator. Man is free to will and choose. No force outside him controls or directs his actions. Out of his own free will and choice, history is made as well as his own individual destiny. Karma is there no doubt but it does not predetermine the course of events or human conduct. Man’s freedom is not absolute but it gives enough scope for man to develop freely as he chooses. “Karma is used, to account for the conditions of life, but man directs his destiny,” Radhakrishnan avers.
It is wrong to think that man is in the grip of determinism either of Karma or biology or environment. He is endowed with the power of choice. He can rebel and protest against unjust social order. “The ethical basis of democracy is faith in the significance of man”, says Dr. Radhakrishnan and adds, “The human person is not a mere wave on the ocean of history which fancies that it pushes the flood while it is carried on by it ... Man can cause new currents to surge up in history.”
Radhakrishnan observes that men are now disoriented, obsessed and absurd. One of the dismal aspects of making scientific civilization is the death of human person. The hope for redemption lies in religion. But no religion today is in a position to penetrate the consciousness of man. Religion fails to uplift man. He wants a faith to live by. And the solution lies in spreading a religion based on compassion and responsibility. But will man learn lessons from history and live with responsibility towards future? It is from history that we learn nothing, says Radhakrishnan in his Kalki. But the possibility cannot be ruled out altogether. The so-called progress is only outward progress. Science made life more and more comfortable. The saga of scientific progress is spectacular and breath-taking. But morally the world has not registered an inch of progress since the birth of man. Man’s greed and selfishness increased in proportion to his material advancement. Consequently there is no guarantee that he will make a right choice and make the world safe for future. This should not be deemed as pessimism and that the world is steadily heading towards a certain doom. One bright thing about man, which ought to be borne ever in mind, is that he is different from nature and hence utterly unpredictable. No external force or necessity can ever drive him to the wall. He is essentially free, living in a dark cosy cell. He is the king of infinite time and space. His potentialities are unlimited. He can transcend his own limitations if only he wills.
Dr. Radhakrishnan does not hold that progress is inevitable or continuous. While he accepts that evolutionary force is at work in the universe, he does not accept that it has a spiritual good to reach. He does not accept the view of Darwin that the force is blind and has no purpose at all. Nor does he contribute to the view of Nietzehe that we purpose of evolution is to produce an Uberman (Overman) living beyond good and evil. He holds that evolution is towards an end, but the end is not spiritual or a moral. The end-product of evolution, according to Radhakrishnan, is a morally evolved society shaped evenly by freedom and responsibility. He calls it Brahmaloka. It is his equivalent of Gandhi’s Ramarajya. His ideal man is a holy man; a saint, not a genius or a man of power. His ideal man reshapes human institutions with freedom coupled with responsibility with compassion which embraces all. He does not work merely for his own salvation; he accepts to uplift the entire society around him. Thus he works for Sarvamukti – liberation of the community as a whole. He transcends his own limitations. Hence, he is unique and uninvolved. “History”, says Radhakrishnan, “is a matter of unique individuals involved in unique events.” As he affirms again, “it is those, who stand outside history, that make history.” The saint, a Jivanmuka, is a great individual. He is great because he represents the general will of the people. The general will finds expression through him. “He is not an irrelevant phenomenon”, avers Radhakrishnan. (To Hegel, history is a gradual unfoldment of reason). To Radhakrishnan, however, it is a gradual unfoldment of values, moral and spiritual. It is interesting to note that while Gandhi and Karl Marx conceived an anarchaic society as the end-product of evolution, Dr. S. Radhakrishnan thought of an ordered society in which equality, liberty and fraternity are a really realized reality, a society, a haven of freedom, dreamed of by Rabindranath Tagore in his famous lyric beginning “Where the mind is without fear”, in his Gitanjali.