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Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan


Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (5 September 1888 – 17 April 1975) was an Indian philosopher and statesman who served as the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India (1962–1967). Radhakrishnan was awarded several high awards during his life, including a knighthood in 1931, the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 1954, and honorary membership of the British Royal Order of Merit in 1963.

Radha Krishnan Early Career

One of India's most distinguished twentieth-century scholars of comparative religion and philosophy, after completing his education at Madras Christian College in 1911, he became Assistant Professor and later Professor of Philosophy at Madras Presidency College then subsequently Professor of Philosophy at the University of Mysore (1918-1921); the King George V Chair of Mental and Moral Science at the University of Calcutta (1921–1932) and Spalding Professor of Eastern Religion and Ethics at University of Oxford (1936–1952) by which he became the first Indian to hold a professorial chair at the University of Oxford.

Radhakrishnan view on philosophy

Radhakrishnan located his metaphysics within the Advaita (non-dual) Vedanta tradition (sampradaya). Radhakrishnan wrote commentaries on the Prasthanatraya (that is, main primary texts of Vedanta ): the Upanisads (1953),Brahma Sutra (1959), and the Bhagavadgita (1948). As an Advaitin, Radhakrishnan embraced a metaphysical idealism. But Radhakrishnan's idealism was such that it recognized the reality and diversity of the world of experience (prakṛti) while at the same time preserving the notion of a wholly transcendent Absolute (Brahman), an Absolute that is identical to the self (Atman). While the world of experience and of everyday things is certainly not ultimate reality as it is subject to change and is characterized by finitude and multiplicity, it nonetheless has its origin and support in the Absolute (Brahman) which is free from all limits, diversity, and distinctions (nirguṇa). Brahman is the source of the world and its manifestations, but these modes do not affect the integrity of Brahman.

In this vein, Radhakrishnan did not merely reiterate the metaphysics of Sankara (8th century C.E.), arguably Advaita Vedanta's most prominent and enduring figure, but sought to reinterpret Advaita for present needs. In particular, Radhakrishnan reinterpreted what he saw as Sankara's understanding of maya strictly as illusion. For Radhakrishnan, maya ought not to be understood to imply a strict objective idealism, one in which the world is taken to be inherently disconnected from Brahman, but rather mayaindicates, among other things, a subjective misperception of the world as ultimately real. Moral values are a necessity for the development of personality. He saw non-violence, renunciation and suffering as the cardinal principles of human life.


Evil is a negative conception, the lack of good, and all conflict is between good and better bad and worse. Evil is caused by the abuse of one free-will, and God permits it because he does not interfere with the human choice. Suffering is not punishment, but is the reward of fellowship, an essential accompaniment of all creative endeavors. It often helps on to grow. The goal of the world process is a harmonious unity, and therefore moral life is the enrichment of life that is the outcome of the recognition of others and adaptation to them. To Radhakrishnan any form of life, where we have significance and social value, is moral. Morality is the current brand of social custom and one who deviates from it is immoral, through his immorality is an ethical value in the next generation and becomes a part of the tradition in another. Life is great adventure and not a set scheme and so no progress is possible if moral rules are regarded as ‘sacrosanct’.

Radha Krishnan's Religious and Cultural view

His philosophy was grounded in Advaita Vedanta, reinterpreting this tradition for a contemporary understanding. He defended Hinduism against "uninformed Western criticism", contributing to the formation of contemporary Hindu identity. He has been influential in shaping the understanding of Hinduism, in both India and the west, and earned a reputation as a bridge-builder between India and the West. He sought to demonstrate that his Hinduism was both philosophically coherent and ethically viable. Radhakrishnan's hierarchy of religions is well-known. "Hinduism," Radhakrishnan affirms, "accepts all religious notions as facts and arranges them in the order of their more or less intrinsic significance" :
  • "The worshippers of the Absolute are the highest in rank;
  • Second to them are the worshippers of the personal God;
  • Then come the worshippers of the incarnations like Rama, Kṛṣṇa, Buddha;
  • Below them are those who worship ancestors, deities and sages,
  • The lowest of all are the worshippers of the petty forces and spirits"
For Radhakrishnan, Hinduism at its Vedantic best is religion. Other religions, including what Radhakrishnan understands as lower forms of Hinduism, are interpretations of Advaita Vedanta.

Radhakrishnan view on Education

Radhakrishnan believed that "teachers should be the best minds in the country". Since 1962, his birthday has been celebrated in India as Teachers' Day on 5 September every year. Dr. Radhakrishnan defines education as the instrument for social, economic and cultural change. For social and national integration, for increasing productively, education should be properly utilized. “The importance of education is not only in knowledge and skill, but it is to help us to live with others.”

Radhakrishnan also believed that a training is necessary to direct our mental vision to the right objects. He carefully mentions that intuition should not be confused with anti-intellectualism. Intuition which ignores the intellect is useless. The two are deeply interlinked. Radhakrishnan wants that for realizing the aim of education is to bring nearer to God. Through education Radhakrishnan wants to establish a classless society in order to bring equality between man and man. He wants that education should develop universal brotherhood. The most important aim of education is to help us to see the other world, the invisible and intangible world beyond space and time. Education has to give us a second birth, to help us to realize what we have already in us. “The meaning of education is to emancipate the individual and we need the education of the whole man – physical, vital, mental, intellectual and spiritual”. Education should enable one to imbibe attitude of simple living and high thinking.

Radhakrishnan has attached great importance to spiritual education. He thinks that education which does not inculcate spiritual feelings in students is not true. Without a spiritual bent of mind, the physical and intellectual development of a person remains stunted. This situation is detrimental to the progress of mankind. A satisfactory system of education aims at a balanced growth of the individual and insists on knowledge and wisdom. It should train the intellect, and furthermore, wisdom can be gained by the study of literature, philosophy and religion that interpret the higher laws of the universe. Education should develop in the minds of the students a love of sustained thinking, adherence to truth and the power of resistance to popular sentiments and mob passion.

Methods of Teaching

Radhakrishnan attaches great importance to observation, experiments and the relationship of nature and society in the method of teaching. He is of the view that teaching of moral values should be through real and living examples. He wants that the student should come close to society and nature in order to understand the same. In learning industrial subjects he recommends the use of imitation method. He thinks that man through regular practice in the Yoga and Meditation may be helped in reaching his goal. He also accepts the importance of internal knowledge for experience in different subjects.

Radhakrishnan values Relevance in modern times

  • In the context of Radhakrishnan and his commitment to the profession. Radhakrishnan as a teacher was capable of showing equanimity of mind and boldness of spirit in the most difficult of circumstances, which is lacking in today's teacher.
  • Radhakrishnan castigated an education system that did not nurture free-thinking minds and had advocated for allocating grants that did not have to go through the legislative machinery. Currently our education system mar with rote learning and lack of application or free thinking. Teacher absenteeism is norm in the govt schools.
  • His was a view of the world that was not only shaped by learning but one in which knowledge seeks to find meaning in life and solutions in the midst of crisis, be it political or spiritual. His books found admirers in India as well as in the world.
  • Despite being an ardent believer of Hinduism, he was outspoken in his criticism of caste and superstitions that blinded Hinduism. So Radhakrishnan values indispensible to make egalitarian society when India still divided on religion, caste, color, race etc even after 70 years of Independence.
  • In 1938, he had made concerted efforts to establish a department of Islamic studies at a university that was being chiefly funded by Hindu patrons. A serious scholar despite being a practising Hindu could do what is easily written off as a gesture of secularism in contemporary India.
  • Radhakrishnan was devoted to governance and diplomacy and he showed remarkable discernment in the handling of political matters, and on numerous occasions, he took control of the situation like a seasoned teacher.