Spiritual discourse
Reviewed by B. S. Thaur

An Idealist View of Life
by S. Radhakrishnan.
Pages 361. Rs 399.

S. Radhakrishnan was universally well regarded for his knowledge of religion, philosophy, European and Asian traditions of thought, his eloquent oratory and above all, his erudition. An Idealist View of Life is largely based upon his lectures delivered in 1929 and 1930 at the University of Manchester and the University College, London.

The book is spread over in eight chapters, all brimming with exponential commentary by the learned author on religion, culture, tradition and faith bringing in the views of different philosophers like Freud, Kant, Aristotal Socrates and even the Chinese philosopher Kang Yu and Confucius.

On religion, the author comments that among the new forces that have made our world so different from what it was, the most important is natural science, which demands induction from facts and not deduction from dogmas. So, we must face the facts and derive conclusions. On the other hand, reasoning in religion is only a re-arrangement of our prejudices. We are Hindus or Christians because we are born as such and our forefathers bore these labels. In science it is different. The religion assumes that God, the creator of the Universe, is the benevolent father of all mankind, which obviously is an open invitation to explain away the difficulties and discomforts of life. The popular use of expressions like "it is an act of God" and "God only knows" shows how ignorance is the source of Knowledge of God. God is the name we tremblingly give to the unseen and inexplicable. He is the sanctuary of ignorance, an indication of incomplete knowledge and so on. This is how the author describes the modern challenge to religion in the first chapter. On the substitutes of religion, the emancipated intellectuals and modernists view that the Universe is product of unconscious, the mechanistic energy towards which we cannot have any feeling of reverence or worship. Man is essentially a part of Nature.

Today, modernists are engaged in reconciling religious traditions with the new needs which have emerged in the process of material development. It is our duty to distinguish from what is permanent and what is transitory in religious belief and reconcile the permanent by reinterpretation with the new knowledge and aspiration. About intellect and intuition, the author states that Western mind lays great stress on science, logic and humanism. Hindu thinkers as a class hold with great conviction that we possess a power more interior than intellect by which we become aware of the real. For Hindus, the system of philosophy is an insight ‘darsana’. It is the vision of truth, not a matter of logical argument. According to Buddha, the sophistries of intellect are hindrance to higher life. Knowledge reality is to be won by spiritual effort. Involving in the views of noted philosophers like Kant, Russel and Peano, the author throws considerable light on the subject.

In the last chapter, Ultimate Reality, the subjects like "naturalism, holistic evolution of smuts", "God and the absolute" are discussed extensively, supported by the views of noted luminaries like Plato, Smuts, Alexander et al. The book is a philosophical treatise of higher order regarding religion, matter, life and mind, human personality and its destiny. While an intellectual and religious man enriches his knowledge, an inquisitive reader gets many clarifications about purpose of life, Nature and God which are still an enigma despite discourses by holy men and philosophers since ages.