‘The state of religion in the contemporary world’ formed the subject of an illuminating talk by Dr S Radhakrishnan, given by him at the Ramakrishna Mission, New Delhi (Early 1952).
In a brief but lucid survey, he unveiled, before a crowded gathering, the true spirit and purpose of religion and observed that unless men transformed their outlook on life and took firm hold of the fundamentals of religion, religion could not be expected to solve the problems facing the world today. Dr. Radhakrishnan said:
‘Just as national rivalries had divided the world into sixty-one nations, religious rivalries were sterilizing our efforts to unify man. If we properly understood the fundamentals of religion as adumbrated in our own philosophy, we would see that true religion, was a stabilizing factor, giving us tranquility in our hearts, enabling us to meet the challenges of the world, lifting us from doubt and despair to certitude and hope — producing the spiritualized man who found himself at home in the world of nature, with others, and himself. To him, the world ceases to be a prison’.
What men all the world over want today is a unifying faith and religion that can and does offer the basis for such a faith, provided religion is understood and practised in the only way it ought to be done. In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, we want a faith in the fundamentals, ‘a religion which does not divide man from man but is interested in promoting human welfare, which teaches man to attain perfection through the pursuit of goodness and the discipline of one’s will’.
Adverting to the present declining faith in the spirit of religion, he analysed the reasons for the contemporary unsettlement in religious beliefs and answered the oft-repeated criticism that religion is not scientific.
‘It was largely due to the forces of science and humanism — the belief that if religion was wedded to a dogmatic doctrine, it became opposed to the spirit of science, and the fact that religion had been misconstrued and misinterpreted in a way which did violence to the spirit of humanism.
‘Our religion, which followed the same empiric way, was utterly scientific. Nature everywhere craved for adjustment. If its spirit was properly understood, it could face not only the challenges of modern science but modem humanists’.
How can religion regain its pristine place in the life of individuals and nations? Through a positive approach and sincere practice. ‘We must be loyal not to ideas about God but to God;’ Dr Radhakrishnan emphasized, ‘we must raise religion from the intellectual level to the spiritual level’. But it must be borne in mind that ‘untoward allegiance and inward disloyalty’ would prove disastrous before long. ‘If we are dishonest in our faith in religion, the only answer would be atheism’. For, ‘it is the tragedy and glory of man that he has the power to rise or fall’. And he warned saying, ‘If religion continues in its present form it will fail. It should either transform itself or will fail’.
‘The object of religion‘, Dr Radhakrishnan said, ‘should be to bring people together, make them love each other, and raise standards of life‘. His eloquent. and convincing statements made it abundantly clear to everyone, including those who still doubted if religion was ‘life and world negating’, that man could no more discard religion than he could discard his burning faith in his own destiny and divinity:
‘What distinguished man from the rest of creation was the endowment of intellect, the power of reason, which enabled him to think, will, and adjust himself — to aim at harmony and the fulfillment of one’s own self. There was an element in man which exceeded the objective — the capacity for self-transcendency. “Man is made in the image of God”; man in essence was a vehicle of the Divine. It was, therefore, imperative that man should not lose faith in the eternal even when he was facing the challenges of the world. When we act in this world, we must act as if we are citizens of two worlds, — the temporal world and the world eternal where man could find fulfillment. It was that spirit and understanding which made the truly integrated man — the man who bad realized his destiny and overcome the world’.
Dr S Radhakrishnan was an Indian philosopher and statesman who was the first Vice President of India (1952–1962) and the second President of India from 1962 to 1967.
As an academic, philosopher, and statesman, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975) was one of the most recognized and influential Indian thinkers in academic circles in the 20th century. Throughout his life and extensive writing career, Radhakrishnan sought to define, defend, and promulgate his religion, a religion he variously identified as Hinduism, Vedanta, and the religion of the Spirit. He sought to demonstrate that his Hinduism was both philosophically coherent and ethically viable.
Radhakrishnan’s concern for experience and his extensive knowledge of the Western philosophical and literary traditions has earned him the reputation of being a bridge-builder between India and the West. He often appears to feel at home in the Indian as well as the Western philosophical contexts, and draws from both Western and Indian sources throughout his writing. Because of this, Radhakrishnan has been held up in academic circles as a representative of Hinduism to the West. His lengthy writing career and his many published works have been influential in shaping the West’s understanding of Hinduism, India, and the East.
Dr. Radhakrishnan was awarded several high awards during his life, including the Bharat Ratna, the highest civilian award in India, in 1954, and honorary membership of the British Royal Order of Merit in 1963. Radhakrishnan believed that “teachers should be the best minds in the country”. Since 1962, his birthday is celebrated in India as Teachers’ Day on 5 September.