Life Advice from Dr Radhakrishnan

The 5th of September is celebrated as Teacher’s Day in India in honour of Dr Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, who was born on September 5, 1888 near Chennai. Dr Radhakrishnan was India’s first Vice President and second President.

He was a celebrated academic, scholar and philosopher and taught at Chennai’s Presidency College and Calcutta University, served as Vice-Chancellor of Andhra University and was the Spalding Professor of Eastern Religions and Ethics at Oxford for 16 years. 

Teacher’s Day has been celebrated in India since 1962 , the year Dr Radhakrishnan became President.


Those to whom life has been kind should not accept this good fortune as a matter of course. If one is allowed to lead a secure life while so many around who deserve better are confined to miserable surroundings and subjected to tragic blows, it is one’s duty to think continually of those who were denied the privileges one had. My position as a teacher brought me into close relations with young men and women in the plastic years of their lives.

The subject of philosophy, which is not primarily utilitarian in its am, is a great instrument of liberal education. Its aim is one of elevating men above worldliness, of making him superior to circumstances, of liberating his spirit from the thraldom material things. Philosophy claims to implant in the minds of those who are of a nature to profit by its teachings and influence a taste for those things which the world cannot give and cannot take away. If properly pursued, it arms us against failure, against sorrow and calamity, against boredom and discouragement. It may not prepare us for success if we mean by it accumulation  of material wealth. But it helps to love those aims and ideals, the things beyond all price on which the generality of men who aim at success do not set their hearts. To form men is the object of philosophy.

In the hours I was privileged to spend with my pupils, it was my ambition to educate them to a belief in a spiritual and ethical universe. If the central truths of mysticism and charity, inwardness and love are brought home to our hearts and thoughts, the temptations to irreligion which assail us in later life will have little power to overcome us. It is essential to awaken in one’s pupils a feeling of need for a silent hour, a time of pure refreshment for heart and spirit, for self-communion, which will help them to collect their thoughts, reassemble their personalities and find themselves. In that silence we hear the still voices of the soul with its plaintive cry of the prisoner for freedom, of the wanderer for home, the cry of the finite for the infinite.

Religion is what we do with ourselves when we are alone. In every one of us is a secret shrine where no one could intrude, to which we must retire as often as possible and discover what our true self is as distinct from the appearance we present to the world outside. Most of us are self-deceivers and constant examination alone can save us.

Silent communion is an essential part of all worship. The Book of Revelation has a striking phrase that, as the seer watched the angels worshipping before the throne of God, suddenly ‘there was silence in Heaven for the space of half an hour’. The strains of music ceased; the voices of the heavenly choir were stilled. That silence was not a dead one but pulsing with life, when the angels ceased to speak but waited in silence to hear the voice of spirit. In that stillness we come close to reality, become aware of how best we could make our life an offering to the Divine.

Worship does not consist in fasts and prayers, but in the offering of a pure and contrite heart. The musk is in the deer but it think that the fragrance comes from outside and so hunts for it restlessly. God is in us and we have only to turn within to realise the truth. There is a Sanskrit verse which says that the thoughtless man dives into deep lakes, penetrates into jungles, ascends steep hills in search of flowers for the worship of God while the one lotus which he can offer is his own mind.

Man must make himself a living sacrifice. We cannot offer anything unclean or impure, maimed or mutilated to God. ‘The temple of god is holy which temple ye are’. Out of the confusion around us we have to divise a destiny and make it manifest through all the twists and turns of accident. Otherwise life becomes a meaningless succession of irrelevant episodes unconnected with any specific purpose, springing from nothing and returning to nothing. What gives value and meaning to life is a purpose steadily pursued through the obstacles that hinder its living growth. Interest, meaning, purpose, value, are qualities given to events by the individual mind, while chance provides the occasions for the application of these values. In these silent hours of self-communion we strive to free ourselves from the suffocating routine, from the masks and mummeries of existence, cleanse our thoughts, and create within ourselves a clean heart and a single mind. Yoga, which has for its aim the achievement of the closest correspondence between the inner mind and the outer life, uses as its means silence, meditation, self-recollection.

I have been privileged to learn that my work has not been all together in vain. A few men and women were enabled to regard the fundamental truth as something to be absorbed into one’s thought, incorporated into one’s being. Only humanity which expresses itself in peace of mind and patience with all makes human life worth living, and is of more value than health or wealth. The truly great are not those who have more brains or money or higher social position. God does not think less of people because they are poor or unintelligent. What matters is whether we have been kind to others and honest and sincere with ourselves and in our intimate relations with others.

~ Excerpt from ‘My Search For Truth’ by Dr S Radhakrishnan.

Read also: Indian Monk Says to Rise Above Thought and Reason (Swami Vivekananda)


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