The work of S. Radhakrishnan has been the most important single factor in the genesis and development of India and Western comparative studies. Since shortly after the turn of the century, Radhakrishnan has been working creatively for a greater synthesis of Indian and Western values, and in so doing has helped to establish the data, problems, and a method for the comparative study of Indian and Western philosophical, religious, and cultural ideas. This volume contains a representative selection of Radhakrishnan’s most significant writings in these areas.
The Editor’s Introduction, in five sections, corresponding to each section of the book, explains the aims, key concepts, and major presuppositions of Radhakrishnan’s thought. The initial selection, characterizes Radhakrishnan’s autobiographical essay, and the corresponding first section of the Introduction explain how Radhakrishnan set out to synthesize the Indian and Western Ideas that have absorbed his attention during the past six decades. This first section characterizes Radhakrishnan’s “search for truth” and introduces the tasks dealt with in the remaining sections of the book. The other four sections of the book dealing respectively with Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of Indian philosophy, his systematic version of Vedanta, his reinterpretation of Hindu dharma and yoga, and his consistent plea for a universal synthesis “on the plane of spirit” represent areas in which Radhakrishnan’s writings have proven to be extremely significant. As is noted in the concluding section of the Introduction, recent works in comparative philosophy, religion, and culture (the most important of which are listed in the Bibliography) have seriously challenged some of Radhakrischnan’s most characteristic claims. Despite the criticisms which can be brought against Radhkrishnan’s systems, however, his writing are still the best introduction to Indian and comparative philosophy.
The selections have been drawn from volumes that are not readily available to the nonspecialist in Indian studies. Each essay and chapter is reprinted in its entirety; there is no internal editing of Radhakrishnan’s text, excepts for the omission of many footnotes, especially in Chapter 3 and 4. The selections are arranged so as to insure maximum continuity and coherence. The glossary of important Names and Terms should provide additional assistance to those unfamiliar with the Indian tradition. It is hoped that the entire volume will be intelligible to the beginning as well as to the accomplished student of Indian and comparative philosophy.
Radhakrihnan’s life work as philosopher interpreter of Hinduism, and exponent of universal community is traceable to the challenge of Christian critics which led him to make a study of Hinduism and find out what is living and what is dead in it (p.40) Radhakrishnan began this study in the first decade of the twentieth century when philosophy in Indian was exclusively British primarily neo-Hegelian; but during the two decades between the publication of his master’s thesis on the Ethics of the Vedanta (1908) and the completion of his two volume history of Indian philosophy (1923-27) he established the respectability word.
Radhakrishnan’s determination to defend Indian philosophy and the Vedantic system in particular provided his work with a coherence and forcefulness that the subject desperately needed at the time, but it also bore an apologetic tone from which his writings are never entirely free. Just as his master’s thesis was intended to be a reply to the charge that the Vedanta system had no room for ethics (p.40) virtually all of his subsequent writing are an attempts to establish idealism and Hinduism as a solution to the conflict of philosophical and religious ideals.
Despite its awkwardly self-conscious tone, my search for truth suggests the basic attitude and broad outline of Radhkrishnan’s proposed solution to the conflict of certain philosophical and religious values. Some of the more significant factors in the formation of his system are cited in turn: the pervasive Indian sense of the eternal and the tenuous status of the empirical words the more humanistic direction of Indian religious thought typified by Rabindranath Tagore, the influence of Bergson’s argument for intuition, the ideal of integral experience based on the model of the Indian mystic and finally the belief in universal salvation. The concluding section of the essay contains some of Radhakrishnan’s typical reflections on and hopes for the human condition.
In presenting and extending the idealist and Vedantist position Radhakrishnan effectively draws on the works of Rabindranath Tagore and Henri Bergson. Radhakrishnan’s first two books the philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore (1918) and The Reign of Religion in Contemporary philosophy (1920) are not especially insightful on either Tagore or Bergson, but they do signal the author’s dual commitment to the humanism and spiritualism of Tagore’s poetic vision and to Bergson’s philosophical defense of intuition. Radhakrishnan’s major work such as An Idealist View of Life eastern religions and western Thought and commentaries on the Upanishads and Brahma-sutra consistently based on intuition.
Significantly, in Radhkrishnan’s system intuition is equally the source of philosophical and of religious insight; further, the source and goal of both philosophy and religion are integral experience of the integrated life. Combining the insight; of a long line of Indian mystic personalities with Bergson claims for the role of the religious or integrated personalities in the evolution of consciousness, Radhakrshnan’s entire system is based on the ideals of integration within the self and the integration of the Universal Self or Atman. The philosophical and philosophical ad religious selection in this book are intended to explicate the expression of this ideal.
In writing on the difficulties of the historical interpretation of Philosophy some thirty years after the publication of the Indian Philosophy (1923; 1927), Radhakrishnan acknowledged that the writer may at times allow his personal bias to determine his presentation. His sense of proportion and relevance may not be shared by others. His work at best will be a personal interpretation and not an impersonal survey. This caution is warranted in the case of his monumental and highly interpretive two volume history of Indian philosophy. When Radhakrishnan introduces Indian thought by stating that Philosophy in Indian is essentially spiritual (6.69) he suggests the extent to which he is following he Vedantist point of view. The same preference for the Vedantic position especially the Advaita (nondual) Vedanta of Sankara is operative in his Characterization of Indian philosophy:
If we put the subjective interest of the Indian mind along with its tendency to arrive at a synthetic vision, we shall see how monistic idealism becomes the truth of things. To it the whole growth of Vedic thought points; on it are based the Buddhistic and Brahmanical religions; it is the highest truth revealed to India. Even systems which announce themselves as dualistic or pluralistic seem to be permeated by a strong monistic character (pp. 77-76).
This rendering of the Indian tradition can give the impression that the considerable variety within Indian Philosophy consists in variations of the Vedanta system. Radhakrishnan frequently claims to ne offering an entirely faithful account of non-vedantic systems, but he nevertheless seems to find remarkable corroboration for his won idealistic monism in systems that seem to be emphasizing something quite different.
Specifically the entire theistic tradition including the theistic passages in the Upanishads, the predominantly theistic meaning of the Bhagavadgita and the explicitly theistic philosophy of Ramanuja tend to be absorbed into an all-encompassing idealist or Vedantic synthesis. Similarly Radhakrishnan does not give sufficient weight to the pluralist and dualist strains in the Indian tradition, and his interpretation of Buddhist philosophy is notoriously and his interpretation of Buddhist philosophy is notoriously inadequate.
By contrast Radhkrishnan’s commentaries on the Upanishads and the Brahma-sutra, and his exposition of Sanskara’s Advaita, Vedanta (whi9ch occupies more than 200 pages in the second volume of his Indian Philosophy), are as accurate and as incisive as any interpretation to date. Furthermore his highly positive reading of the Vedanta position and the rest of the Indian tradtion in light of Vedanta have served as the most effective case for the fact that Indian philosophy is not Western not is it nonsense, throughout his writing Radhakrishnan has tried to show that the wisest course for Indian thinkers is to synthesize the best of the Indian and Western tradition. With Gandhi Tagore, Aurobindo, and Bhagavan Das, Radhakrishnan’s seeks to draw from the West and from the fountains of humanist idealism in India’s past’ (p.107).
Overall, Radhkrishnan’s wrtings are still the most intelligible introduction to Indian philosophy, especially to the Upanishads, the Brahma-Sutra, and Sankara, the three key elements in Vedanta, the dominant school in Indian philosophy. The selections in the third part of this volume present Radhakrishnan’s Indian idealism and the components of the Vedantic system at their best.
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