some thought provoking insights from Radhakrishnan

The quotes below are from a used paperback found in a used bookstore many years ago. The Hindu View of Life, by Radhakrishnan, The MacMillan Company, New York, second printing 1968, 92 pages.  This book is based on lectures the author gave at Oxford in 1926.  It can be quite surprising what one may find in a used bookstore.

Our featured image, previously posted, is from early January, 2013.  My wife took this from the car while I was driving.  A winter scene in the high elevation desert.


snow 2


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888 -1975) was educated in India during the time that his native India was a colony of the British Empire.  He lectured on eastern religions in England before World War II.  He wrote much on philosophy and religion.  (Indeed, one might say that he was a philosopher of religion.)  Later in life, he was for a time, the vice president of India in the early 1960s.  We have already reviewed, after a fashion, his work An Idealist View of Life in an earlier essay in early 2013 (see link at bottom).  From a Vedic perspective, he gives us a different view of some of the things we believe in the West.

(Although Radhakrishnan from his writings seemed to hold to the impersonal Absolute view of God, his surname is formed by joining Radha (the consort of Krishna) and Krishna (the supreme personality of Godhead).  This seems a little ironic to me.)

In no particular order here are several quotes from the book.  We will comment when it is necessary to add the appropriate context for readers, and to give our view, if appropriate.

Speaking of modern Indians, modern Hindus:

“. . . . Today we seem to be afraid of ourselves, and are therefore clinging to the shell of our religion for self-preservation.  The envelope by which we try to protect life checks its expansion.  The bark which protects the interior of a tree must be as living as that which it contains.  It must not stifle the tree’s growth, but must expand in response to the inner compulsion.”  (page 91)

“The history of philosophy in India as well as Europe has been one long illustration of the inability of the human mind to solve the mystery of the relation of God to the world.  The greatest thinkers are those who admit the mystery and comfort themselves by the idea that the human mind is not omniscient.”  (page 49)

“. . . . The variety of the pictures of God is easily intelligible when we realize that religious experience is psychologically mediated.

“It is sometimes urged that the descriptions of God conflict with one another.  It only shows that our notions are not true.  To say that our ideas of God are not true is not to deny the reality of God to which our ideas refer.”  (page 20, emphasis mine)

Here we would interject to say that not all understandings (or concepts) of God can be correct given that many are in contradiction with one another.  A skeptic might say that all of these could be in error and not be true.  Would the skeptic concede that one of these might be true?

(Now, please, dear readers, do not be angry with me – I only present the reality of the dilemma.)

On religious violence because of intolerance:

“. . . . They invoke divine sanction for the cruelties inflicted on the conquered.  The spirit of old Israel is inherited by Christianity and Islam, and it might not be unreasonable to suggest that it would have been better for Western civilization if Greece had moulded it on this question rather than Palestine.  Wars of religion which are the outcome of fanaticism that prompts and justifies the extermination of aliens of different creeds were practically unknown in Hindu India.  (page 40)

Here one recalls the bloody war in Germany between Protestants and Catholics that depopulated whole districts in the first half of the 1600s.  As well, Islam today (and the entire history of Islam) is pretty much described in the quote above.  In more than one previous essay, we have warned that if one fails to govern one’s religious fervor with reason, one may descend into fanaticism (which leads to violence).

“. . . . When two or three different systems claim that they contain the revelation of the very core and centre of truth and the acceptance of it is the exclusive pathway to heaven, conflicts are inevitable.  . . . .  To obliterate every other religion than one’s own is a sort of bolshevism in religion which we must try to prevent.  We can do so only if we accept something like the Hindu solution, which seeks the unity of religion not in common creed but in a common quest.”  (page 42)

The “quest” may be interpreted by some to mean salvation, and by others to mean spiritual evolution and spiritual growth (maturation).

“. . . . Love of wealth is disrupting social life and is tending to the suppression of the spiritual.  Wealth has become a means of self-indulgence, and universal greed is the cause of much of the meanness and cruelty which we find in the world.  Hinduism has no sympathy with the view that ‘to mix religion and business is to spoil two good things’.  We ought not to banish spiritual values from life.”  (page 78)

Atheists, agnostics, hedonists, and yes, many church goers (of all faiths) are guilty of banishing spiritual values from their daily lives.

“. . . . If a tradition does not grow, it only means that its followers have become spiritually dead.  . . . .”  (page 17)

“. . . . Precious as are the echoes of God’s voice in the souls of men of long ago, our regard for them must be tempered by the recognition of the truth that God has never finished the revelation of His wisdom and love.  . . . ”  (page 16)

“. . . . There can be no final breach between the two powers of the human mind, reason and intuition.  . . . .”  (page 14)

“. . . . The spiritual element in man allows him freedom within the limits of his nature.  Man is not a mere mechanism of instincts.  . . . .”  (page 54)

“The Hindu attitude to religion is interesting.  . . . . . Intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, outer expression to inner realization.  . . . . Religious experience is of a self-certifying character.  . . . . The mechanical faith which depends on authority and wishes to enjoy the consolations of religion without the labour of being religious is quite different from the religious faith which has its roots in experience.  . . . . Blind belief in dogma is not the faith which saves.  It is an unfortunate legacy of the course which Christian theology has followed in Europe that faith has come to connote a mechanical adherence to authority.  . . . . We call it faith simply because spiritual perception, like other kinds of perception, is liable to error and requires the testing processes of logical thought.  . . . ”  (pages 13 – 14)

A few words of clarification are appropriate here.  Later in the book, Radhakrishnan speaks to sin and morality and the law of karma.  Thus, it would be a mistake to think that he thinks one can live a spiritual and constructive life without also striving to live a moral life. Hedonism and licentiousness are not espoused in Hinduism.  Also, I think he is making the point that one must live his/her faith and not merely give lip service to it.  For the Christian who fails to take the Christian principles out into the world, into daily life, once he/she leaves the church house, he/she would not really have the faith, would not really be practicing it.

This final quote is interesting.  (From lectures given in 1926?!)

“. . . . But the modern woman, if I may say so, is losing her self-respect.  She does not respect her own individuality and uniqueness, but is paying an unconscious tribute to man by trying to imitate him.  She is fast becoming masculine and mechanical.  Adventurous pursuits are leading her into conflict with her own inner nature.”  (page 64)

We have already written essays on women, and on feminism pro and con.

We could not find one passage that we looked for, perhaps it was in another of the books by this author that we have.  But I recall reading that Radhakrishnan points out that we in the West make an assumption that heaven is both a static state or condition and a never-ending place of residence for those who get there.  From memory, I seem to recall he says something to the effect that we assume that God would never tire of hearing His praises sung – as though Heaven would be one very, very long church service.  I, too, find this a bit of a stretch. There would be no possibility of growth, or of learning new things?  It may be that Heaven is a temporary (not “for ever”) stop on our spiritual journey and there may be future assignments for us.

Also, of possible interest to some readers is this earlier essay.

Best wishes to all.

copyright 2014 –

2 thoughts on “some thought provoking insights from Radhakrishnan

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