Professor of Philosophy, S. V. University, Tirupati.


Among the contemporary interpreters and exemplars of India’s ancient cultural ideas and philosophic wisdom, harmonised with the best in modern thought, President Radhakrishnan stands second only to Gandhiji and Tagore. He is the most renowned representative philosopher of India. He has in all some thirty volumes to his credit. They are partly interpretative and partly constructive.


Dr. S. Radhakrishnan is the finest product of the contemporary Indian renaissance, which is the result of the impact of the West on Eastern ideals. He stands for all that is universal and of permanent value in Hindu thought. He has assimilated the best of the West. His fascination for the West has not stultified his freedom of thought. He combines in himself the roles of a philosopher, a prophet striving towards the unification of all faiths, an eminent educationist and a statesman. He is one of the finest speakers of our age.


As a philosopher, he has to his credit the most splendid account of Indian philosophy in two volumes. The massive erudition the brilliant style, the cogent array of quotations, the authentic documentation, the interesting and instructive comparisons with Western thought have made the book a permanent classic and it will continue for long to be the standard work on the subject.


Radhakrishnan’s genius has shown itself in his rare ability as an interpreter of philosophy and as a constructive metaphysician. As an interpreter he is second to none. He is the hero of a thousand platforms and can speak on the most intricate and difficult subjects without reference to notes. His phenomenal memory is only equaled by his eloquence and it is illumined by his profound scholarship and ample topical reference. His style of speaking without notes is not confined to ceremonial functions, but extends to academic performances also. His six Hibbert lectures on ‘An Idealist View of Life’ delivered in London in 1930, and his ‘Kamala Lectures’ in Calcutta in 1942, made a deep impression on the audience. It is on record, that when Radhakrishnan delivered the British Academy lecture on Gautama the Buddha, the president, while thanking him, said that the lecture, on the mastermind Buddha, was not only on a Mastermind but was also by a Mastermind.


Hibbert Lectures


In his Hibbert lectures, Radhakrishnan propounded his system of philosophy, which is based on Sankara’s Vedanta. Some critics express the view that Radhakrishnan has no distinct system of his own, as Russell, Whitehead or James. Professor Muirhead’s reply to the critics is a fitting answer: “It is Radhakrishnan’s modesty that disclaims any originality for the views his books expound. But if originality in philosophy, as in poetry, consists not in the novelty of the tale (matter), not even in the distribution of light and shade in the telling of it, but in the depth with which its significance is grasped and made to dominate over the details, his book never fails in this quality.”


Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of Buddhism is positive. He has reconciled the tenets of the Advaita of Sankara and the Buddhist concept of Reality. He has assessed the great stature of Buddha, by interpreting his message not as nihilism but as the finest type of “applied metaphysics” and as the most remarkable form of ethical idealism. His excellent translation and edition of the Dhammapada bears testimony to this. He has reconciled the two great religions, Buddhism and Hinduism, lifting them from their traditional antagonism and mutual intolerance. He has claimed back Buddha into the Hindu heritage, by his power of argument, against the opposition of the orthodox Vedantins.


Radhakrishnan’s services to Hinduism are great. He has translated the Bhagavadgita, the Upanishads, and the Brahma Sutras into English. He has given a positive interpretation of the philosophy of Sankara. He has defended the original, pure, non-dogmatic, scientific, humanistic, spiritual and universal Hinduism, in all his writings and speeches. He has told the world that true religion is the most efficient instrument of social regeneration. In almost all his speeches and writings, he has put forth the ideal of the Religion of the Spirit. He has inveighed against the false dogmatic religions that make for heterodoxy, blasphemy, cruelty, convention and other evils. The function of true religion is to foster humanist ideals and world-unity. It must harmonise the claims of the mind, heart and spirit. Religion is the response of the total nature of man. Technology and science have made the unity of the world a possibility, but to make it actual is the role of religion. Religion is not mere faith, it is conduct also. It is dynamic, not quiescent. It helps us to transform our life and gives us a new outlook. It banishes disquiet, anguish, sense of aimlessness from our fragile and fugitive existence. Radhakrishnan believes that at the core of all religions there is a wide field of agreement. This field of agreement he calls the Religion of the Spirit: other savants call it ‘eternal gospel’ or ‘perennial philosophy’. It is only such a pure religion that can reduce the world’s tensions. We have to build from inside, and a true faith alone can engender tolerance and fellow-feeling. Radhakrishnan holds that India has, in her religion, and her traditional national temperament, such an outlook. She should revive it. By it she can save herself from moral and spiritual crisis, and hold out a model to the rest of the world.


Universal Religion


Radhakrishnan has laid the foundation for a Universal Religion that satisfies the demands of reason and the needs of humanity. He has searched the hearts of all religions and the writings of all the mystics of the East and the West. These ideals of a Universal Religion are expressed in his book, ‘Eastern Religions And Western Thought,’ published when he was a Professor at Oxford in 1939. The book was hailed in the Times Literary Supplement as a book which indicated a turning-point in religion. With added emphasis, these ideas are again reiterated in his book, ‘Recovery of Faith in the World Perspective’ series (1954). In his book ‘East and West’ (1955) he records his reflections on the relations of the East and the West. He pleads for a global outlook and an integrated approach to the problems of the world. He says it is not enough for us to listen to the voices of Plato, Aristotle, Kant, Hegel Shakespeare, and Mill, but we must also listen to Sankara, Buddha, Krishna, Gandhi, etc. His work in the field of comparative religion, and his earnest endeavour to restore the true conception of religion are truly the permanent testimony to his greatness. It is this theme that glows in his speeches and holds his audience spell bound.


In the service of this cause he has never forgotten the words of Gandhiji as a striking illustration of the Religion of the Spirit. He presented Gandhiji with a commemoration volume on his 70th birthday under the caption, “Essays and Reflections on the Life of Gandhiji”.


Radhakrishnan has held with distinction different offices, as Vice-Chancellor of two universities, a member of the Intellectual Cooperation Board, Chairman of the University Education Commission, Chairman of the UNESCO, ambassador in U. S. S. R., and now is India’s President.


Next to religion, education has been the field of his activity. To him students are divine. He has always been able to touch their hearts and hold their loyalties. There is no university in India where he has not delivered a convocation address. He feels most at home among students.


In brief, the outlines of his philosophy may be described as ‘Spiritual Humanism’. He believes in the existence of an ABSOLUTE which is posited on the authority of the scriptures, and affirmed by spiritual experience. The absolute is dynamic; it is manifested progressively in Matter, Soul, World and God. God is the Absolute in the personal form, in the world-context. Every soul is divine in nature. The individual’s soul reaches its consummation in ‘God-union’, through his works, meditation and Bhakti. He does not believe that the world is unreal. To him spiritual realisation does not mean loss of individuality or ceasing to do any work. He believes in the power of intuition, and to him intuition is not anti or contra-intellectual. It is a higher form of consciousness, to discern Reality. “We discover by intuition and prove by logic.” He supports his metaphysics at every step with arguments and evidence.


The central philosophical category in his idealism is the primacy of the Spirit, and its manifestation in matter, life, mind and self. The Spirit is not a homogeneous, non-composite entity like the Brahman of Sankara. It is not the Substance of Hegel. It is dynamic energy, not immobility. It is something real in itself, and by itself, “we know it, we cannot explain it. It is felt everywhere, though seen nowhere. It is not physical body or the vital organism, or the mind or the will, but something which underlies them all and sustains them. It is the basis and background of our being, the universality that cannot be reduced to this or to that formula.”


“The spirit with its characteristics–creativity, order, change and progress–is present at all the levels of existence in an ascending series, each representing a higher level than what precedes it. It is the presence of the Spirit that is responsible for the development of matter into life, of life into consciousness, and of consciousness to self-consciousness. The development in evolution is not merely continuous, but also marks the emergence of new levels. Man is not naturally selected but is spiritually elected. Reality is a general unity or continuity, running through the different levels. The Spirit is not only immanent but also transcendent.


“The Spirit is the Absolute. It has infinite possibilities present to it. The one actual manifestation of it is the world. The Absolute is not exhausted in the world. Other aspects of the Absolute are God and souls. Creation is a free act. The Absolute is in no way dependent on the world. It cannot add to, or take anything from, the premises, as Spinoza would have us believe. The Absolute is the ground of the world, and it is so only in the sense that the possibility of the Absolute is the logical premise of the world. The world could not be but for this possibility in the Absolute.” Here we see the strong influence of Sankara’s vivartavada, in Radhakrishnan’s idealism.


God is the Absolute viewed in the cosmic context. He is the Absolute in the empiric dress. God does not amuse himself watching the universe and the drama of life. He is organic with the world and He endures as long as the world lasts. Time, God and the world are coeval. The world is relatively real. There is no dualism of God and the world in Radhakrishnan’s system. God is not the mere appearance of the Absolute but is the very Absolute in the world context. When all the souls attain the conscious realisation of unity with the Spirit, God and the world lapse into the Absolute.


The human self is conceived by Radhakrishnan as an organic whole and not as a fallen creature born in sin. Man and Spirit are akin to each other. Man and Spirit are consubstantial. Through ceremonial purity, and ethical perfection, man acquires the necessary merit for spiritual realisation. Spiritual experience is realised full in religious intuition.


The Concept of intuition is central to Radhakrishnan’s idealism. Intuition is wisdom transcendent, it is different from intellectual knowledge, yet not discontinuous with it. It is not contra-intellectual but trans-intellectual. It is not an instinct. “It is not a shoddy sentiment or pathological fancy fit for cranks and dancing dervishes.” It is the bonafide discovery of Reality. It is the response of the whole man to reality. Intellect, emotion and will are fragmentary aspects, and intuition is their totality. Great scientific inventions, literary productions, artistic achievements, and moral reforms, are all touched by the spirit and rooted in intuition. “We discover by intuition and explain by logic.” Spiritual intuition is another name for mystical experience.


Radhakrishnan’s idealism gives us a balanced and true picture of the relation between the individual and the society. Two very different conceptions of human life are now struggling for the mastery of the world. Extreme individualism, on the one hand, regards society as a means for the individual’s well being; Collectivisms of East and West do not care for the individual but aim at producing an efficient society and not the true individual with power and freedom to pursue his aims. Radhakrishnan points out that the individual and the society, each considered apart from the other, is an empty abstraction. The real individual needs the society to grow to his best stature. The Society and the individuals are not antithetical to each other. They are inseperable.


In 1952, a sumptuous volume of 883 pages was published in the ‘Library of the Living Philosophers Series’ by Schilips. Radhakrishnan shares this honour with Moore, Russell, Einstein and Santayana. The world of philosophy honoured him by presenting him with a volume of studies on his 60th birthday. As far back as 1930, he was known to the Western world as a presentative idealist, and he had the honour of having his name compared with that of Bosanquet.


Radhakrishnan the man is not any the less great than his works. He is essentially shy and a man of few words, especially in the company of persons not familiar to him. But he is the least donnish of all dons. Once a friend tried, in familiar tones, in the course of an informal conversation, to pull his leg. He said, “How is it, Radhakrishnan, that you are regarded as a great person in the West? You strike me as an ordinary man.” The philosopher replied, “yes, so did I think myself, when I was in the West. I met great philosophers, Russell, Moore and several others; they all just looked like me.” This is the type of subdued humour the philosopher indulges in on occasions.


Radhakrishnan’s affability and kindly love for all have endeared to all, irrespective of the political parties they belong to. All go to him alike, and he meets each according to his measure and needs.