Indian philosophy

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Indian philosophy (Sanskrit: darśhana) comprises the philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Since medieval India (ca.1000–1500), schools of Indian philosophical thought have been classified by the Brahmanical tradition[1][2] as either orthodox or non-orthodox – āstika or nāstika – depending on whether they regard the Vedas as an infallible source of knowledge.[3] There are six schools of orthodox Hindu philosophyNyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta—and three heterodox schools—Jain, Buddhist and Cārvāka. However, there are other methods of classification; Vidyaranya for instance identifies sixteen schools of Indian philosophy by including those that belong to the Śaiva and Raseśvara traditions.[4][5]

The main schools of Indian philosophy were formalised chiefly between 1000 BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era. According to philosopher Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, the earliest of these, which date back to the composition of the Upanishads in the later Vedic period (1000–500 BCE), constitute "the earliest philosophical compositions of the world."[6] Competition and integration between the various schools was intense during their formative years, especially between 800 BCE and 200 CE. Some schools like Jainism, Buddhism, Śaiva and Advaita Vedanta survived, but others, like Samkhya and Ājīvika, did not; they were either assimilated or went extinct. Subsequent centuries produced commentaries and reformulations continuing up to as late as the 20th century by Sri Aurobindo and Prabhupāda among others.

For Indian philosophers (dārśanika) of antiquity, philosophy was a practical necessity that needed to be cultivated to understand how life can best be led. It was thus customary for them to explain how their ideas and treatises served human ends (puruṣārtha). Indian philosophy is distinctive in its application of analytical rigour to metaphysical problems. It goes into very precise detail about the nature of reality, the structure and function of the human psyche, and how the relationship between the two have important implications for human salvation (moksha). Sages (rishis) centred philosophy on the assumption that there is a unitary underlying order (ṛta) in the universe and everything within it. The various schools concentrated on explaining this order and the metaphysical entity at its source (Brahman). The concept of natural law (dharma) was the basis for understanding how life on earth should be lived.

Common themes

The Indian thinkers of antiquity (very much like those of the Hellenistic schools) viewed philosophy as a practical necessity that needed to be cultivated in order to understand how life can best be led. It became a custom for Indian writers to explain at the beginning of philosophical works how it serves human ends (puruṣārtha).[7] Recent scholarship has shown that there was a great deal of intercourse between Greek and Indian philosophy during the era of Hellenistic expansion.[8]

Indian philosophy is distinctive in its application of analytical rigour to metaphysical problems and goes into very precise detail about the nature of reality, the structure and function of the human psyche and how the relationship between the two have important implications for human salvation (moksha). Rishis centred philosophy on an assumption that there is a unitary underlying order (rta) in the universe[9] which is all pervasive and omniscient. The efforts by various schools were concentrated on explaining this order and the metaphysical entity at its source (Brahman). The concept of natural law (Dharma) provided a basis for understanding questions of how life on earth should be lived. The sages urged humans to discern this order and to live their lives in accordance with it.


Hindu philosophy

Main articles: Hindu philosophy and Hinduism

Many Hindu intellectual traditions were classified during the medieval period of Brahmanic-Sanskritic scholasticism into a standard list of six orthodox (astika) schools (darshanas), the "Six Philosophies" (ṣad-darśana), all of which accept the testimony of the Vedas.[2][10][11][1]

  • Samkhya, the enumeration school
  • Yoga, the school of Patanjali (which provisionally asserts the metaphysics of Samkhya)
  • Nyaya, the school of logic
  • Vaisheshika, the atomist school
  • Purva Mimamsa (or simply Mimamsa), the tradition of Vedic exegesis, with emphasis on Vedic ritual, and
  • Vedanta (also called Uttara Mimamsa), the Upanishadic tradition, with emphasis on Vedic philosophy.

These are often coupled into three groups for both historical and conceptual reasons: Nyaya-Vaishesika, Samkhya-Yoga, and Mimamsa-Vedanta. The Vedanta school is further divided into six sub-schools: Advaita (monism/nondualism), also includes the concept of Ajativada, Visishtadvaita (monism of the qualified whole), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualism-nondualism), Suddhadvaita, and Achintya Bheda Abheda schools.

Besides these schools Mādhava Vidyāraṇya also includes the following of the aforementioned theistic philosophies based on the Agamas and Tantras:[4]

The systems mentioned here are not the only orthodox systems, they are the chief ones, and there are other orthodox schools. These systems, accept the authority of Vedas and are regarded as "orthodox" (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy; besides these, schools that do not accept the authority of the Vedas are categorised by Brahmins as unorthodox (nastika) systems.[2] Chief among the latter category are Buddhism, Jainism and Cārvāka.


Main article: Śramaṇa

Several Śramaṇic movements have existed before the 6th century BCE, and these influenced both the āstika and nāstika traditions of Indian philosophy.[13] The Śramaṇa movement gave rise to diverse range of heterodox beliefs, ranging from accepting or denying the concept of soul, atomism, antinomian ethics, materialism, atheism, agnosticism, fatalism to free will, idealization of extreme asceticism to that of family life, strict ahimsa (non-violence) and vegetarianism to permissibility of violence and meat-eating.[14] Notable philosophies that arose from Śramaṇic movement are Jainism, Buddhism, Cārvāka and Ājīvika[15]

Jain philosophy

Main articles: Jain philosophy and Jainism

Jainism came into formal being after Mahavira synthesised philosophies and promulgations of the ancient Sramana philosophy, during the period around 550 BC, in the region that is present day Bihar in northern India. This period marked an ideological renaissance, in which the Vedic dominance was challenged by various groups like Jainism and Buddhism.

A Jain is a follower of Jinas, spiritual 'victors' (Jina is Sanskrit for 'victor'), human beings who have rediscovered the dharma, become fully liberated and taught the spiritual path for the benefit of beings. Jains follow the teachings of 24 special Jinas who are known as Tirthankars ('ford-builders'). The 24th and most recent Tirthankar, Lord Mahavira, lived in c.6th century BC, in a period of cultural revolution all over the world. During this period, Socrates was born in Greece, Zoroaster in Iran, Lao‑Tse and Confucious in China and Mahavira and Buddha in India.[16] The 23rd Thirthankar of Jains, Lord Parsvanatha is recognised now as a historical person, lived during 872 to 772 BC...[17][18] Jaina tradition is unanimous in making Rishabha, as the First Tirthankar.[16]

Jainism is not considered as a part of the Vedic Religion (Hinduism),[19][20][21] even as there is constitutional ambiguity over its status. Jain tirthankars find exclusive mention in the Vedas and the Hindu epics. During the Vedantic age, India had two broad philosophical streams of thought: The Shramana philosophical schools, represented by Buddhism, Jainism, and the long defunct Ajivika on one hand, and the Brahmana/Vedantic/Puranic schools represented by Vedanta, Vaishnava and other movements on the other. Both streams are known to have mutually influenced each other.[22]

The Hindu scholar Lokmanya Tilak credited Jainism with influencing Hinduism in the area of the cessation of animal sacrifice in Vedic rituals. Bal Gangadhar Tilak has described Jainism as the originator of Ahimsa and wrote in a letter printed in Bombay Samachar, Mumbai:10 Dec 1904: "In ancient times, innumerable animals were butchered in sacrifices. Evidence in support of this is found in various poetic compositions such as the Meghaduta. But the credit for the disappearance of this terrible massacre from the Brahminical religion goes to Jainism." Swami Vivekananda also credited Jainism as one of the influencing forces behind Indian culture.[23]

One of the main characteristics of Jain belief is the emphasis on the immediate consequences of one's physical and mental behaviour.[24] Because Jains believe that everything is in some sense alive with many living beings possessing a soul, great care and awareness is required in going about one's business in the world. Jainism is a religious tradition in which all life is considered to be worthy of respect and Jain teaching emphasises this equality of all life advocating the non-harming of even the smallest creatures. Non-violence ( Ahimsa) is the basis of right View, the condition of right Knowledge and the kernel of right Conduct in Jainism.

Jainism encourages spiritual independence (in the sense of relying on and cultivating one's own personal wisdom) and self-control (व्रत, vratae) which is considered vital for one's spiritual development. The goal, as with other Indian religions, is moksha which in Jainism is realisation of the soul's true nature, a condition of omniscience (Kevala Jnana). Anekantavada is one of the principles of Jainism positing that reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is completely true. Jain doctrine states that only Kevalis, those who have infinite knowledge, can know the true answer, and that all others would only know a part of the answer. Anekantavada is related to the Western philosophical doctrine of Subjectivism.

Buddhist philosophy

Main articles: Buddhist philosophy and Buddhism

Buddhist philosophy is a system of thought which started with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, or "awakened one". From its inception, Buddhism has had a strong philosophical component. Buddhism is founded on elements of the shramana movement which flowered around 500 BCE, and has had a very strong influence on Hinduism. The Buddha criticised all concepts of metaphysical being and non-being as misleading views caused by reification, and this critique is inextricable from the founding of Buddhism.

Buddhism shares many philosophical views with other Indian systems, such as belief in karma, a cause-and-effect relationship between all that has been done and all that will be done. Events that occur are held to be the direct result of previous events. A major departure from Hindu and Jain philosophy is the Buddhist rejection of a permanent, self-existent soul (atman) in favour of anatta (non-Self) and anicca (impermanence).

Jain thinkers rejected this view, opining that if no continuing soul could be accepted then even the effort to attain any worldly objective would be useless, as the individual acting and the one receiving the consequences would be different. Therefore, the conviction in individuals that the doer is also the reaper of consequences establishes the existence of a continuing soul.[25]

Cārvāka philosophy

Main article: Cārvāka

Cārvāka or Lokāyata was a philosophy of scepticism and materialism, founded in the Mauryan period. They were extremely critical of other schools of philosophy of the time. Cārvāka deemed Vedas to be tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology.[26] And in contrast to Buddhists and Jains, they mocked the concept of liberation, reincarnation and accumulation of merit or demerit through the performance of certain actions.[27] They believed that, the viewpoint of relinquishing pleasure to avoid pain was the "reasoning of fools".[26] Cārvāka thought consciousness was an emanation from the body and it ended with the destruction of the body. They used quotes from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad to support this claim.[28] Cārvāka denied inference as a means of knowledge[28] and held sensory indulgence as the final objective of life.

Cārvāka held the view that Invariable Concomitance (vyapti), a theory of Indian logic which refers to the relation between middle term and major term freed from all conditions,[29] could not be ascertained. However, Buddhists refuted this view by proposing that Invariable Concomitance was easily cognizable from the relation between cause and effect or from the establishment of identity.[30]

Modern philosophy

Modern Indian philosophy was developed during British occupation (1750–1947). The philosophers in this era gave contemporary meaning to traditional philosophy. Some of them were Swami Vivekananda, Swami Dayananda Saraswati, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshub Chandra Sen, Sri Aurobindo, Mahatma Gandhi, Kireet Joshi, Mahapandit Rahul Sankrityayan, M. N. Roy, Subhas Chandra Bose, Indra Sen, Swami Sahajanand Saraswati, Ananda Coomaraswamy, and Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan. Pandurang Shastri Athavale, U. G. Krishnamurti, Acharya Rajneesh (Osho) and Krishnananda are other prominent names in contemporary Indian philosophy.

Political philosophy

The Arthashastra, attributed to the Mauryan minister Chanakya, is one of the early Indian texts devoted to political philosophy. It is dated to 4th century BCE and discusses ideas of statecraft and economic policy.

The political philosophy most closely associated with India is the one of ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha, popularised by Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian struggle for independence. It was influenced by the Indian Dharmic philosophy, particularly the Buddha, Bhagvata Gita, as well as secular writings of authors such as Leo Tolstoy, Henry David Thoreau and John Ruskin.[31] In turn it influenced the later movements for independence and civil rights, especially those led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and to a lesser extent Nelson Mandela.[32]


In appreciation of complexity of the Indian philosophy, T S Eliot wrote that the great philosophers of India "make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys".[33][34] Arthur Schopenhauer used Indian philosophy to improve upon Kantian thought. In the preface to his book The World As Will And Representation, Schopenhauer writes that one who "has also received and assimilated the sacred primitive Indian wisdom, then he is the best of all prepared to hear what I have to say to him".[35] The 19th century American philosophical movement Transcendentalism was also influenced by Indian thought.[36][37]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Nicholson 2010.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Chatterjee and Datta, p. 5.
  3. Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, p. 259
  4. 4.0 4.1 Cowell and Gough, p. xii.
  5. Nicholson, pp. 158-162.
  6. p 22, The Principal Upanisads, Harper Collins, 1994
  7. Chatterjee and Datta, p. 12.
  8. See McEvilley (2002)
  9. Flood, (1996) pp. 45, 47.
  10. Flood, op. cit., p. 231–232.
  11. Michaels, p. 264.
  12. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy'249. ISBN 0-691-01958-4.
  13. Reginald Ray (1999), Buddhist Saints in India, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195134834, pages 237-240, 247-249
  14. Padmanabh S Jaini (2001), Collected papers on Buddhist Studies, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120817760, pages 57-77
  15. AL Basham (1951), History and Doctrines of the Ajivikas - a Vanished Indian Religion, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120812048, pages 94-103
  16. 16.0 16.1 Singh, Ramjee Dr. Jaina Perspective in Philosophy and Religion, Faridabad, Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha, 1993.
  17. Jarl Charpentier: The History of the Jains, in: The Cambridge History of India, vol. 1, Cambridge 1922, p. 153; A.M. Ghatage: Jainism, in: The Age of Imperial Unity, ed. R. C. Majumdar/A.D. Pusalkar, Bombay 1951, pp. 411–412; Shantaram Bhalchandra Deo: History of Jaina Monachism, Poona 1956, pp. 59–60.
  18. Mehta, T.U (1993). "Path of Arhat – A Religious Democracy". 63. Pujya Sohanalala Smaraka Parsvanatha Sodhapitha. Retrieved 2008-03-11. 
  19. J. L. Jaini, (1916) Jaina Law, Bhadrabahu Samhita, (Text with translation ) Arrah, Central jaina publishing House " As to Jainas being Hindu dissenters, and, therefore governable by Hindu law, we are not told this date of secession [...] Jainism certainly has a longer history than is consistent with its being a creed of dissenters from Hinduism." pp. 12–13
  20. P.S. Jaini, (1979), The Jaina Path to Purification, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, p. 169 "Jainas themselves have no memory of a time when they fell within the Vedic fold. Any theory that attempts to link the two traditions, moreover fails to appreciate rather distinctive and very non-vedic character of Jaina cosmology, soul theory, karmic doctrine and atheism"
  21. Y. Masih (2000) In : A Comparative Study of Religions, Motilal Banarsidass Publ : Delhi, ISBN 81-208-0815-0 “There is no evidence to show that Jainism and Buddhism ever subscribed to vedic sacrifices, vedic deities or caste. They are parallel or native religions of India and have contributed much to the growth of even classical Hinduism of the present times.” Page 18
  22. Harry Oldmeadow (2007) Light from the East: Eastern Wisdom for the Modern West, World Wisdom, Inc ISBN 1-933316-22-5 "What is historically known is that there was a tradition along with vedic Hinduism known as sramana dharma. Essentially, the sramana tradition included it its fold, the Jain and Buddhist traditions, which disagreed with the eternality of the Vedas, the needs for ritual sacrifices and the supremacy of the Brahmins". Page 141
  23. Dulichand Jain (1998) Thus Spake Lord Mahavir, Sri Ramakrishna Math Chennai, ISBN 81-7120-825-8 Page 15
  24. Tobias, Michael (1991). Life Force. The World of Jainism. Berkeley, California: Asian manush Press. pp. 6–7, 15. ISBN 0-89581-899-X. 
  25. Cowell and Gough, p. 36
  26. 26.0 26.1 Cowell and Gough, p. 4
  27. Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. Materialism in India: A Synoptic View. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
  28. 28.0 28.1 Cowell and Gough, p. 3
  29. Satis Chandra Vidyābhūṣaṇa. A History of Indian Logic: Ancient, Mediaeval, and Modern Schools. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 140. ISBN 81-208-0565-8.
  30. Cowell and Gough, pp. 12–13
  31. Gandhi (1961) p. iii
  32. Weber, Thomas (2004). Gandhi as Disciple and Mentor. Cambridge University Press. p. 136. ISBN 978-1-139-45657-9. 
  33. Jeffry M. Perl and Andrew P. Tuck (1985). "The Hidden Advantage of Tradition: On the Significance of T. S. Eliot's Indic Studies". Philosophy East & West. University of Hawaii Press. 35. Retrieved 2012-08-13. 
  34. Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1933). After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy. (London: Faber). p. 40. 
  35. Barua, Arati (2008). Schopenhauer and Indian Philosophy: A Dialogue Between India and Germany. Northern Book Centre. p. 3. ISBN 978-81-7211-243-1. 
  36. "Transcendentalism".The Oxford Companion to American Literature. James D. Hart ed.Oxford University Press, 1995. Oxford Reference Online. Web. 24 Oct.2011
  37. Werner, Karel (1998). Yoga And Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 170. ISBN 978-81-208-1609-1. 


Further reading

External links