'Becoming literate without compassion, we become demoniac'
(Excerpts from the address delivered by Sarvapelli Radhakrishnan at the convocation ceremony of the Karnatak University on 26th October, 1953)
I will be unfair to myself and to you if I should promise you glittering prizes or comfortable positions. The times ahead of us are of a very difficult character. The movements which took place in other countries during a span of centuries have all occurred here more or less simultaneously. What answer to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Industrial Revolution or the political Revolution all these things have been telescoped so to say in these few years in our country. We have won political independence. But it is not to be regarded as giving us complete freedom. There are ever so many other things which require to be fulfilled if this first step is to be regarded as a preparation for the liberation of this great land. If we wish to follow up political revolution by a social and economic one, our universities must send out batches of scientists, technicians, engineers, agriculturists, etc.
These are essential for changing the face of our country, the economic character of our society. But we should not believe that science and technology alone are enough. There are other countries, much advanced countries in the world, which have achieved marvellous progress in scientific and technological side, but yet they are torn by strife and they are unable to bring about peace, safety and security of their own people. It only shows that other qualities are also necessary besides those developed by science and technology.
Just now a student was introduced for his Degree and he was called Doctor of Philosophy in Science. In other words science is also regarded as a branch of philosophy. The function of the universities is not merely to send out technically skilled and professionally competent men, but it is their duty to produce in them the quality of compassion, the quality which enables the individuals to treat one another in a truly democratic spirit. Our religions have proclaimed from the very beginning that each human individual is to be regarded as a spark of the Divine. Tat tvam asi, that art thou, is the teaching of the Upanisads. The Buddhists declare that each individual has in him a spark of the Divine and could become a Bodhisattva. These proclamations by themselves are not enough. So long as these principles are merely clauses in the Constitution, and not functioning realities, in the daily life of the people, we are far from the ideals which we have set before ourselves. Minds and hearts of the people require to be altered. We must strive to become democratic not merely in the political sense of the term but also in the social and economic sense. It is essential to bring about this democratic change, this democratic temper, this kind of outlook by a proper study of the humanities including philosophy and religion. There is a great verse which says that in this poison tree of samsara are two fruits of incomparable value. They are the enjoyment of great books and the company of good souls. If you want to absorb the fruits of great literature, well, you must read them, read them not as we do cricket stories but read them with concentration. Our generation in its rapid travel has not achieved the habit of reading the great books and has lost the habit of being influenced by the great classics of our country. If these principles of democracy in our Constitution are to become habits of mind and patterns of behaviour, principles which change the very character of the individual and the nature of the society, it can be done only by the study of great literature, of philosophy and religion. That is why even though our country needs great scientists, great technologists, great engineers, we should not neglect to make them humanists. While we retain science and technology we must remember that science and technology are not all. We must note the famous statement that merely by becoming literate without the development of compassion we become demoniac. So no university can regard itself as a true university unless it sends out young men and women who are not only learned but whose hearts are full of compassion for suffering humanity. Unless that is there, the university education must be regarded as incomplete.
I have been a teacher for nearly all my adult life, for over forty years. I have lived with students and it hurts me very deeply when I find that the precious years during which a student has to live in the University are wasted by some of them. I do not say by all of them. Teachers and students form a family and in a family you cannot have the spirit of the trade union. Such a thing should be inconceivable in a university. University life is a cooperative enterprise between teachers and students and I do hope that the students will not do a disservice to themselves by resorting to activities which are anti-social in character.
Character is destiny. Character is that on which the destiny of a nation is built. One cannot have a great nation with men of small character. If we want to build a great nation, we must try to train a large number of young men and women who have character. We must have young men and women who look upon others as the living images of themselves as our Sastras have so often declared. But whether in public life or in student life, we cannot reach great heights if we are lacking in character. We cannot climb the mountain when the very ground at our feet is crumbling. When the very basis of our structure is shaky, how can we reach the heights which we have set before ourselves? We must all have humility. Here is a country which we are interested in building up. For whatever service we take up, we should not care for what we receive. We should know how much we can put into that service. That should be the principle which should animate our young men and women. Ours is a great country. We have had for centuries a great history. The whole of the East reflects our culture. We have to represent what India taught right from the time of Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Whether in domestic affairs or in international affairs we must adhere to certain standards. My advice to the young men and women who are graduating today through this University is: Mother India expects of you that your lives should be clean, noble and dedicated to selfless work.