Radhakrishnan S Philosophy Of Sarvamukti Philosophy Essay

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In chapter two, we have seen that the idea of sarvamukti is thought provoking and influencing in Sarvepalli Radhakrishnans philosophy. His key propositions, non-duality of reality; world as reality; and the divine nature of man, seems to be logical and Upanisadic. However, this chapter aims to critically examine the idea of sarvamukti in the light the idea of liberation in advaita which is discussed in the previous chapter. This leads us to critical conclusions on sarvamukti pointing to both the strengths and weaknesses. These critical conclusions eventually pave the way for the next chapter in which some significant implications are pointed out for both the theory and practice of religion in India today. Further, at the end of this chapter, a brief Christian response to sarvamukti is included and its purpose is also explained in that particular section.

4.1 A Critique on Radhakrishnan’s Methodology

4.1.1 Philosophical Influences and Reasons

Before looking at the major issues in Radhakrishnan’s philosophy of sarvamukti, it is significant to critically examine his methodology in articulating it. Radhakrishnan is first of all a Hindu and a strong believer of advaita, especially of the tradition of Sankaràcharya. During his studies at Madras Christian College, he was often disappointed with the criticisms made by western missionaries about the advaita understanding of world as illusion which implies life on earth as meaningless and thus inefficacy of ethics. [1] 

Responding to the Western criticism on advaita, he wrote The Ethics of Advaita Vedanta for his M.A thesis. [2] From then on he continued to bring some sort of reconciliation between Western and Eastern thought. This means that his philosophical departure began with the purpose of building a bridge between the East and the West. [3] In fact, he was called as “bridge builder” by many of his contemporaries. [4] Further, he realized that the crisis of the modern man was individualism and self-centeredness and every individual religion being self focused and negative towards other faiths. Therefore responding to these challenges, he believed that Indian philosophy would bring answers for humanity’s spiritual progress. [5] 

He has adopted a universalistic outlook in his effort to build a bridge between the East and the West. At the first General Conference of the UNESCO in Paris in November 1946, Radhakrishnan declared, “To improve the world we have to return to an idealist view, to philosophic thought, to spiritual values.” [6] He believed that it is unfair to criticize other’s culture and religion and at the same time believe in one’s own culture as supreme over others. In his words, “those who condemn Indian culture as useless are ignorant of it, while those who commend it as perfect are ignorant of any other.” [7] 

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda are two significant Indian religious figures who have deeply influenced Radhakrishnan and his universalistic approach to philosophy. [8] As a result, he strongly believed that various religious teachings represent different paths to the same destiny. To argue this, he has extensively used a comparative methodology in his writings, especially to draw out the unity between East and West. [9] This is why, though not often, he does not hesitate to refer to Buddhism, Jainism and Christian faith in his discussions on the Absolute. [10] 

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4.1.2 Sources for Radhakrishnan’s Philosophy

Radhakrishnan has indeed contributed a lot to human thought. However, he did not escape criticism from both outside and inside India about his method of articulating philosophical ideas. While some adored him as a true thinker, some others have disagreed to identify him as a philosopher in his own right. Some identified him as a mere historian or chronicler of Hindu thought. Many Western scholars criticized him by pointing that he frequently misinterpreted Christian faith in order to draw parallels with the Indian thought. On the other hand, he was also criticized by the Indian scholars that he has distorted the Hindu texts in order to make them relevant for the West. [11] 

Radhakrishnan has written many books in large volumes, several articles and also given numerous messages on different occasions. In such a case, there is a possibility of making some errors in interpreting the text or in his messages. However, it should not be ignored that the manuscripts of his works were thoroughly read by significant scholars. For example, the manuscripts and proofs of the first volume of his Indian Philosophy were read by J.S. Mackenzie, V. Subrahmanya Aiyar and A.B. Keith. The second volume was also read by the same people. During this work, he has received valuable suggestions from Hiriyanna and valuable advices from Kuppuswami Sastri and Anantkrishna Sastri. These great scholars did not point out any mistakes and misinterpretations in Radhakrishnan’s writings. [12] 

Pointing to the trustworthiness of Radhakrishnan’s philosophical writings, Gopal Singh says,

The basic programme of his [Radhakrishnan] writings is to present the classical Indian thought, as it is found in the Upanisads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma sÅ«tra. He is one of those committed interpreters of the Indian thought who take Indian philosophy and Indian religions as a unified thought system. [13] 

When we look at the methodology of Radhakrishnan in his philosophy of sarvamukti, it is obvious that it involves a textual exposition. The primary sources for his ideas and the arguments presented with regard to brahman, world and ātman are the Upanisads, BrahmasÅ«tra and the Bhagavadgita which are the triple texts of advaita. Another significant source is the Sankaràcharya’s commentaries which are also quite significant in the exposition of advaita philosophy. Therefore, undoubtedly he has used proper texts for his exposition on sarvamukti.

However, this does not mean that he has rightly interpreted the texts. Definitely, his writings are filled with scriptural quotes. He also refers to many historical figures like Buddha, Jesus, St Paul, Greek thinkers and Church fathers. He also refers to many modern scholars. In such case, it is difficult to doubt whether his citations and interpretations correspond to their original meaning. But, a careful examination will disclose the truth that there are misinterpretations in his writings. T.R.V. Murthi, though being a good admirer of Radhakrishnan, after critically studying some of his writings criticizes Radhakrishnan for using texts out of their context. [14] Indeed, we shall see some of such misinterpretations in his idea of sarvamukti as well in the later sections.

4.1.3 Radhakrishnan’s Use of Sankaràcharya’s Writings

Radhakrishnan did use Sankaràcharya’s writings directly. Rather, he reinterpreted them in support of his ideas. Though he has respect for great masters, “ancient and modern, Eastern and Western,” and received wisdom from them, zhe asserts that he was not a follower of any of them by accepting their teachings entirely. He also admits that he does not like to be identified with any fixed traditional pattern. He claims that his thinking proceeds from his own experience and not acquired by just studying and reading. He believes that philosophy is born of spiritual experience and not necessarily derived from reasoning and an encounter with reality is essential to produce philosophy. Therefore he says,

I have tried to communicate my insight into the meaning of life. I am not sure, however, that I have succeeded in conveying my inmost ideas. I tried to show that my general position provides a valid interpretation of the world, which seems to me to be consistent with itself, to accord with the facts as we know them, and to foster the life of spirit. [15] 

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Perhaps, Radhakrishnan has justifying reasons for his reinterpretation of Sankaràcharya’s writings. However, he cannot escape the criticism for being unfaithful to the tradition. In Indian context, especially with regard to the Hindu religion, tradition plays a significant role. Generally, those who hold on to their tradition will have great respect than those who break the traditions. Being a follower of advaita, Radhakrishnan is expected to preserve the tradition of Sankaràcharya rather than giving a new meaning for Sankaràcharya’s writings and differ from him. [16] This is why some categorize Radhakrishnan as a neo-advaitin rather than an advaitin. [17] 

This is not to argue that Sankaràcharya’s writings should not be reinterpreted. Rather, it is to say that advaita tradition began with Sankaràcharya and therefore, differing from him implies differing from tradition as well. In fact, with regard to his views on sarvamukti in “Sarvamukti: A Symposium,” he clearly admits that Sankaràcharya may be interpreted in support of his views. [18] This implies that Radhakrishnan’s interpretation of Sankaràcharya is not necessarily the interpretation. Rather, he might have reinterpreted Sankaràcharya for the sake of his arguments. On other occasion with regard to māyā, he says, “I may perhaps develop Samkara’s suggestive idea [on māyā] in my own way.” [19] Therefore, as Brightman points out, it is doubtful whether Radhakrishnan is quite fair in interpreting Sankaràcharya. [20] 

On the other hand, Radhakrishnan defenses himself that it is not possible to present the historical data without personal bias while exposing them with the purpose of bringing its relevance for today. However, he does not ignore the problems in such approach. Regarding this, his words are worth quoting here,

The writer may at times allow his personal bias to determine his presentation. … His work at best will be a personal interpretation and not an impersonal survey. … There is also the danger that we are inclined to interpret ancient systems in a manner acceptable to modern minds. … Often a sense of hero-worship exalts the classical thinkers above the level of history. … I tried not to overstate any case or indulge in personal dislike for its own sake. … Intellectual unselfishness or humility is the mother of all writing, even though the writing may relate to the history of philosophy. … In all philosophical interpretation, the right method is to interpret thinkers at their best, in the light of what they say in the moment of their clearest insight. … I am aware of the limitations of the comparative method which can either be a bane or a blessing. … If the systems of philosophy are themselves determined by historical circumstances, there is no reason why the method adopted in historical interpretation should not take into account the needs and conditions of the age. [21] 

Two things must be noted from the above quote. On one hand, Radhakrishnan believes that the proper method of interpreting the thinkers is in the light of their clearest insight. This means that personal thoughts should not be imposed upon the thoughts of the thinkers. On the other hand, Radhakrishnan believes that while personal bias is unavoidable, it is reasonable to have because the philosophical systems are themselves formed in historical circumstances. But, the problem with this sort of approach is that there would be a mixing of another aim with the proper aim of historical writing. This means, for example in the case of Radhakrishnan’s use of Sankaràcharya’s writings, he has argued for things that Sankaràcharya might have not intended.

For the above reasons, Radhakrishnan was heavily criticized by the Mind (April 1926), a British journal on philosophy which is currently published by Oxford University press on behalf of Mind Association. Nevertheless, in response to those critics he says,

The historian of philosophy must approach his task, not as a mere philiologist or even as a secular but as a philosopher who uses his scholarship as an instrument to wrest from words the thoughts that underlie them. A mere linguist regards the views of ancient Indian thinkers as so many fossils … and from his point of view any interpretation which makes them alive and significant is dismissed as far-fetched and untrue. A philosopher, on the other hand, realizes the value of the ancient Indian theories… and treats them not as fossils but as species which are remarkably persistent. … It is the task of creative logic … to piece together the scattered data, interpret for us the life they harbour and thus free the soul from the body. … The historian … must pay great attention to the logic of ideas, draw inferences, suggest explanations and formulate theories which would introduce some order into the shapeless mass of unrelated facts. [22] 

This seems to be an able self-defense again. However, as Richard Smet points out, it gives a free scope to ‘creative logic’ that troubles to confuse the primary task of the historian, which is “to discover the authentic significance and aliveness of the ancient writings within their own historical context, rather than to creatively enforce upon them interpretations which show their relevance to us today.” [23] Further, Smet rightly points out that Radhakrishnan “presents us with most of what Sankaràcharya said but usually ends with what he wants him to have said.” [24] Radhakrishnan’s The Philosophy of Rabindranath Tagore has also received the same criticism that the non-expert cannot tell when Sankaràcharya’s thought ends and Radhakrishnan’s begins. Finally, Radhakrishnan’s anxiety for reinterpretation seems to have hindered his search for Sankaràcharya’s own intelligibility. [25] 

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4.1.4 Intuition as the Basis of Knowledge

Another significant point with regard to Radhakrishnan’s methodology is his belief on intuitive knowledge over and above scientific knowledge. During his time, especially in 1920’s and 1930’s, intellect verses intuition was a significant subject in the philosophy of religion. While some believed that knowledge comes through reasoning and scientific rationalism, some others believed that it comes through intuition. [26] However, for Radhakrishnan knowledge is through intuition. This differs from conceptual knowledge. Intuitive knowledge is immediate knowledge that results from an intimate fusion of mind with reality. [27] “I know it, for I feel it” is the basic notion of such intuitive knowledge. [28] 

The positive side of this intuitive knowledge is it’s subjective learning. As Patyaiying puts it, “the object known here is seen not as an object outside the self, but as a part of the self.” [29] Prominent Western philosophers like Bergson, Croce and Bradley were in favor of such intuitive knowledge over and above intellect. For example, Bradley claims

that all intellectual analysis falsifies reality, since it breaks up its unity into a system of separate terms and relations. Ordinary thought distinguishes that from what, where the former refers to the reality and the latter to its abstract character. The unified structure of reality cannot therefore be revealed in such thought. It can be captured more in feeling, … the higher faculty, in which ‘thought, feeling and volition are blended into a whole. [30] 

The negative side of intuitive knowledge is about the validity of such knowledge that comes from feeling. Intuitive knowledge seems to be more experiential based rather than reason based. “I know it, because I feel it.” But, how can we test that feeling and know whether it is right or wrong. Further, intuitive knowledge is experience based and is a mystical spirituality. Anything that is mystical cannot be proved logically. [31] 

For this, Radhakrishnan argues that it is improper to logically prove someone’s intuitive knowledge. Especially in the advaitic understanding, he asks, “how can one contest the fact of another’s possessing knowledge of Brahman, vouched as it is by his heart’s convictions?” [32] However, this is again another able defense of his approach and an attack on knowledge based on reasoning. [33] Indeed, it is reasonable that we justify our knowledge on something with solid reasons. [34] 

Therefore, the above observations on philosophical influences of Radhakrishnan, his methodology, his use of Sankaràcharya’s writings and his emphasis on the intuitive knowledge, obviously point out significant limitations in Radhakrishnan’s approach to the idea of sarvamukti. Now, let us see how these limitations make ample effect on his philosophy of sarvamukti in the following discussion.

4.2 A Critique on Radhakrishnan’s Philosophy of Sarvamukti

The issue of liberation can be viewed from two perspectives: from the perspective of God’s nature and His relationship to humanity and from the perspective of man’s own essential nature. According to Suryanarayana Sastri, it is the former one that is being dominant in Radhakrishnan’s idea of sarvamukti. For Radhakrishnan, there are three significant propositions. First, reality is Brahman. Second, the world is Brahman. Third, ātman is Brahman. These three propositions are firmly based on the idea of Brahman as the sole reality, which is undoubtedly the basis of advaita. [35] 

However, a critical examination of Radhakrishnan’s idea of sarvamukti in the light of advaita tells that it is a mere logical construction based on philosophical assumptions and implications. Further, it has no direct textual basis from the triple texts. Rather, the term and the particular idea is a mere implication from the belief that all is Brahman and ātman is Brahman. For this, the following discussion on several issues on sarvamukti gives sufficient support.

4.2.1 Brahman, World and ‘Ä€tman’

For Radhakrishnan, reality is One. But that reality is dual in nature. That is nirguna Brahman and saguna Brahman. He believes that the nirguna Brahman becomes God in different functions of creation, preservation and perfection. [36] From the traditional advaitic point of view, Brahman is nirguna and any understanding of Brahman as saguna is ignorance. Radhakrishnan deviates his view from advaita because he intends to balance the idea of God as Absolute with the idea of God as personal. This is very much obvious in some occasions where he makes distinction between the ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’ on one hand and on the other hand affirming that reality is only One. [37] 

Pointing to the above observation, Mookarjee says that Radhakrishnan in Eastern Religions and Western Thought emphasized the oneness of the reality on one hand (in page 94) and also the difference between appearance and reality on the other hand (in page 298). [38] Therefore, the question here is whether the appearance is not the same as reality? If one has to accept the distinction then there is no point of arguing for Oneness. [39] 

Further, Radhakrishnan occasionally confesses that he was guided by an invisible divine hand. It is unclear whether that hand he mentions is his experience of a personal god like Siva or Krishna or even Brahman or the hand of his family members who have realized Brahman. But, that signifies a god with some attributes and therefore can be categorized into lower Brahman in advaita understanding. [40] However, Radhakrishnan contends for Oneness of the reality because of his advaitic hermeneutic. In contrary, he also contends for duality because of his view towards the appearance of the world as real.

Generally, advaita teaches that world is unreal. Sankaràcharya is often characterized as considering the world and life in it illusory. [41] Affirming this Paul Deussen writes, “Sankaràcharya’s teaching entails the identity of the soul with Brahman, and denies all plurality, and therefore the validity of the ideas of the creation and existence of the world…” [42] Likewise M. Hiriyanna describes that for Sankaràcharya “Brahman is the sole reality, and it appears both as the objective universe and as the individual subject. The former is an illusory manifestation of Brahman, while the latter is Brahman itself appearing under the limitations which form part of that illusory universe.” [43] 

According to Surendranath Dasgupta, “The Upanisads held that reality or truth was one, and there was “no many” anywhere, and Sankara explained it by adding that the “many” was merely an illusion, and hence did not exist in reality and was bound to disappear when the truth was known. the world-appearance is maya. This is what Sankara emphasizes in expounding his constructive system of the Upanisad doctrine.” [44] Similarly T.M.P. Mahadevan remarks “Sankara puts the entire philosophy of Advaita in half a verse where he says: Brahman is real: the world is an illusory appearance; the individual soul (jiva) is Brahman alone, not other. The non-duality of Brahman, the non-reality of the world, and the non-difference of the soul from Brahman – these constitute the teaching of advaita.” [45] 

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While most of the scholars view that for advaita and especially for Sankaràcharya the world is a mere illusion, Radhakrishnan contends that such view of Sankaràcharya is “most undesirable and a mockery of the Oneness and Absoluteness of Brahman.” [46] Radhakrishnan being one among the few interpreters of Sankaràcharya admits the difficulty in interpreting his view of māyā. [47] However, he tried to formulate Sankaràcharya’s concept of māyā in such a way that he could save the world and give it a real meaning. [48] This is because he strongly believed that life on earth is meaningful and therefore wanted to preserve the reality of the world along with that of Brahman.

For this, Radhakrishnan did not even hesitate to criticize Sankaràcharya for viewing the world as māyā. He says, “the anxiety to be loyal as far as possible to both Buddhism and Vedantism appears to be the explanation of much of the inconsistency of Samkara’s philosophy.” [49] He also says that Sankaràcharya has

incorporated certain Buddhistic elements such as the doctrine of maya and monasticism into the Vedanta philosophy. It is held that, in an endeavour to preserve the continuity of thought, he attempted to combine logically incompatible ideas. However creditable this may be to the elasticity of Åšaṃkara’s mind or his spirit of genuine toleration, it cannot but affect the logical rigour of his thought; and the theory of māyā serves as a cloak to cover the inner rifts of his system. [50] 

Advaita firmly teaches that Brahman is the sole reality and everything else is unreal. However, Radhakrishnan believed it as illogical because when the reality of Brahman is understood as the whole it includes the reality of the universe as well. That means, Brahman includes the world’s reality. Therefore, Radhakrishnan’s advaita is in line with Upanisadic conception of Brahman. [51] However, such view is incompatible because it implies a monistic conception of deity and thus falling again into the concepts like personal God, lower Brahman and unrealized state.

Now, does that mean Radhakrishnan’s understanding of maya has primary errors in its interpretation? To answer this question requires another complete research project. [52] Nevertheless, one thing is clear that Radhakrishnan has intended to stir Hindu hearts for positive ethical action in the secular world. He also intends to respond to the Western criticism that Indian religions are world-negating and life-denying. In this he has definitely succeeded. [53] 

In addition to that, he believed that human being is a unique in this world. Man, for him, is the inheritor of the spark of the divine. [54] He believed that great text, tat tvam asi (that thou art) teaches that man has the supreme soul within him. Therefore, world-negation for Radhakrishnan implied meaninglessness of human life and denying the significance of man having the divine nature. Because of ignorance human being fails to realize the supreme within. This is again compatible with the teaching of advaita that deliverance from ignorance will lead an individual to realize the Supreme within. But, Radhakrishnan takes a step forward and argues that ultimate liberation requires the liberation of all. However, I will argue in the later sections that in advaita liberation is immediate and Radhakrishnan with other intentions had argued for sarvamukti.

4.2.2 Liberation: An Immediate Identification with Brahman

The major drawback in Radhakrishnan’s sarvamukti ideology is his understanding that the released soul does not attain immediate identity with Brahman, rather attains some kind of Isvarahood which implies possession of Isvara’s powers and attributes. When all the souls attain Isvarahood then the final release takes place, the merging of all souls in Brahman. For this, he relied on Sankaràcharya’s BrahmasÅ«tra 3.3.32 which gives the example of the Apantarātamas, Bhá¹›gu and Narada working for the saving of the world; and Appayya DÄ«ká¹£ita’s view that when an individual soul is liberated it only attains communion with Isvara and not union with Brahman.

However, in advaita, liberation is understood as immediate knowledge with Brahman. Such knowledge is indeed not compatible with Isvarahood. In fact, any identity with Isvarahood is not a true liberation in advaita. Isvara is God with attributes and this is not the idea of Brahman in advaita. Moreover, Sankaràcharya’s point with regard to Apantarātamas, Bhá¹›gu and Narada does not imply sarvamukti at all. Further, Appayya DÄ«ká¹£ita’s philosophy is limited to ekeshwaravada and has no proper basis for advaita. Let us see these two cases in detail.

4.2.2.1 Sankaràcharya’s Commentary on BrahmasÅ«tra 3.3.32

Brahmasūtra 3.3.32 reads:

This means, “Those who have a mission to fulfill continue in the corporeal state as long as the mission demands it.” [

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