(Based on an article by Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan)
by Neria Harish Hebbar, M.D
To delve into philosophical and spiritual studies one has to have an open mind. Only a receptive mind can effectively search the soul. Otherwise a disquisition on the subject will appear to be elusive and simply beyond our ken.
The six systems of Hinduism (Darshanas) and their sub-systems, Buddhism, Jainism and the materialistic system of the Charvaka are all evidence of the divergent of views of Indian philosophy. Accordingly, it is difficult to cite any specific doctrines as the dominant influence in the Indian thought process that developed over four millennia.
However, in all respects there is what is called a distinct spirit of Indian philosophy.
- First and foremost chief mark of Indian philosophy is that its concentration on the spiritual. Except in the Charvaka system, all the other systems of philosophy and religion are intimately related and the philosophy is regarded as a spiritual adventure. The philosophies of the Vedas, Puranas, Smriti or the six Darshanaliteratures emphasize on the socio-spiritual reform and promote a spiritual life.
- This socio-spiritual reform is the second characteristic of Indian philosophy. Philosophy is not merely an exercise in seeking 'knowledge for its own sake', but to learn the truth that can set a man free. Every major system of Indian philosophy strives to alleviate human suffering through philosophical knowledge. In India truth is not merely known but truth is to be lived. The goal of Indian philosophy is to teach an individual to realize the truth and become one with it, not merely know it. The word is aptly described in India as Darshana, which means 'to see'. To see is to have a direct intuitive experience of the object rather than to realize, which means 'to become one with'.
- The third characteristic of Indian philosophy is its introspective approach to reality. It regards the external physical world not as important as the inner knowledge of the self. The philosophy is thought of as Atma-Vidya or the education of knowing oneself. Though the physical sciences developed in an unprecedented accuracy and speed during the Golden Age of Indian culture, the subjective rather than the objective became the focus of Indian philosophy. Truly outstanding progress had been made in the fields of astronomy, mathematics and medicine. Indian philosophy, from time immemorial has speculated that the inner spirit of man is more significant in providing clues to man's place in the universe and will help him in realizing the truth that he seeks.
- Fourth significant feature of Indian philosophy is that it has shown a tendency toward a monistic idealism. Though on the surface the various factions appear to be conflicting, the basic, fundamental belief of almost all Indian philosophy is that reality is ultimately one and ultimately spiritual.
- Indian philosophy accepts only intuition as the method through which the ultimate can be known. Reason is important in demonstration of the truth but reason cannot discover or reach the truth. The process of knowing or sensing without the use of rationalizing process is a unique hallmark of Indian philosophy. This is the fifth characteristic of Indian philosophy.
- Sixth characteristic of Indian philosophy is its unconditional willingness to accept authority. The intuitive insight of the seers, who obtained the Shruti literature from the gods or the intuitive experiences of Buddha and Mahavira are accepted. The basic concepts of the doctrines of the past are preserved as tradition and even the later commentaries did not significantly alter them. The respect for authority may seem exaggerated to some, but the Indian philosopher is of the deep conviction that those who really know the reality are the ones who have realized it.
- Finally the Indian philosopher from the early years saw the importance of a synthetic approach to the various aspects of experience and reality. The philosophers pronounced 'God is one but man may call Him by many names', as early as the Vedic Period. Religion and philosophy, knowledge and conduct, intuition and reason, man and nature, God and man, noumenon and phenomenon, are all brought into harmony, by the synthesizing tendency of the Indian mind.
The final goal of life in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism is the same. Release from the repeated cycles of rebirth and liberation of the turmoil and suffering. The spirituality, introspection, monistic idealism, intuition, respect for authority and the strong belief that the truth is to be lived, not merely known, propel a Hindu and Jain towards the goal of attaining Moksha or Mukti and a Buddhist to attain Nirvana.