The Spirit of Indian Philosophy

The western thinkers point out that India has no proper and accurate records of philosophy There are philosophical thoughts that do not go beyond the mythological stage and do not make philosophy as a thorough going system of thought. It remains simply limited to mythology and ethics (1) they fail to find any proper historical records not even the biography of its thinkers and seers. Alburey Castell believes that the Greek thinker Pythagoras in the 6th. Century B.C. was the first ever philosopher, ‘the lover of wisdom. (2) 

The western view is based on incorrect information and untruth. It betrays colossal ignorance of ancient Indian thoughts. Its achievements are very imperfectly known to them even today. It may be that the philosophical thoughts in the western evolution may have resulted in a somewhat coherent type as of today but the Indian thought of old definitely represented a superb universal thought of that day. Most of the Indian thoughts in earlier stages existed in a much undifferentiated stage. We witness many schools of thought and criticism of various schools and find each system more differentiated and coherent. Unfortunately most of the systems of thoughts in many cases are lost. India never considered chronology as primary to philosophical interests, which was its main concern. 

The rise of philosophical thoughts in India has entirely been very different from that of the west. We do not notice system of thought preceding or succeeding each other as in the west. The Indian system developed in richer and better form side by side and supplemented each other. Almost all thinkers dealt with the same system, same thoughts similar to each other unlike the development in the west. 

Indian philosophy has a long history of continuity and developmental process, longer than any other. Unfortunately continuous foreign brutal invasions and deliberate destruction of scriptures and culture by these brutes, the chronological sequence has lost its distinct trace. Moreover our sages and seers had no such inclination to be known as a person of achievements and performances and thus be appreciative of autobiographical writing. Putting self before others was not their aim of life As a result of the greatness of Hindu culture; the ego was always kept in check Their emphasis remained on the subject of their experience, teaching and realization.

Though much of it is lost yet whatever is left, it is sufficient enough to claim that the Indian philosophy of wisdom is the oldest and richest living thought of all times.

The ancient seers preferred selective teaching. It is difficult to translate it in English for the west. Even if some do, he has to be quite at home in Sanskrit and the ways of expressions of those days. Without it, the English rendering of Sanskrit works will not be judicious and authentic. All such translations made before need revaluation, as in many cases they were done with a set purpose of distorting Indian values so as to facilitate conversion. Even today there remains a lot of philosophical works to translate. The job is not easy to achieve. The Indian mode of expression and technical and philosophical terms have no proper English equivalents. E.g., take the Sanskrit word ‘sat’. The Greek equivalent is ‘to ov ‘. The German word is ‘seiende’. 

In English, we are bound to use ‘that, which is’, what exists or what is real. English translation of Dharma as religion is totally erroneous. Swami Dayananda says that no single word in English can express its manifold meaning. Swami Chnmayananda says, ’Dharma is one of the most intractable term in Hindu philosophy. Derived from the root Dhri, meaning to uphold, or sustain, support, the term denotes, ’that which holds together‘ the different aspects and qualities of an object into a whole. This is Law of Being; that which makes a thing or being what it is. 

There is no proper substitute for the word Yajna. Swami Dayananda says that the English word used for it, is sacrifice, which sends different meanings and signals as is used in the Christian notion of sacrifice, which has no place in Hindu philosophy. It does not cover the Hindu spirit of Yajna at all. Yajna is an active voluntary association of objects on part of a man for the purpose of advancing art and assembly of men together for the purpose of teaching and learning. It originally indicates any action which requires association of men and objects for performance of some beneficial results. There are so many other terms including Murti translated wrongly for idols. The other is Monism which fails to convey the feeling of ’Not Two but one‘ (Advaita).

Difficulty in the Work of Translation

The English is the language of technology and commerce, and not of philosophy or metaphysics. The knowledge of Sanskrit is pre-requisite. Dr. Das says, ’A man who can easily understand the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Law books and the literary works, and is also well acquainted with the philosophical thoughts of European philosophy, may find it literally impossible to understand even small portion of a work of advanced Indian logic or the didactical Vedanta. (3)’. He gives two reasons to substantiate: 

1 - The use of technical terms and condensed forms of expressions.
2 - Hidden allusions to the doctrines of other systems. 

In ancient times teaching was imparted on teacher taught basis. The teacher had himself got it from his teacher and he, from his. The Philosophical thoughts were taught to a chosen few on a personal contact. So the pupils could understand the meanings of the terms used in different contexts. In different systems the same term was used in extremely different sense. So one has to understand the meaning of the same term system-wise. Allusions from other systems were also puzzling and one has to understand it in proper perceptive. This makes the translation work difficult especially for those who do not well know Sanskrit, Indian life and culture. Moreover we do not have any authoritative guidebook dealing even with main epistemological, ontological, and psychological aspects of thoughts of seers and sages. So no translation can do absolute justice, not even sufficient justice to the real nature of Vedic sentiments as neither it can translate the mood or the rhythm of the original meter, nor can decipher the use of symbols representing a reality. So the reader is likely to go astray. 

Thus, in the absence of any judicious translation work and non-prejudice outlook, the west remained deprived of the knowledge of proper Indian thoughts and its deep- rooted philosophy. This ignorance has led them to think otherwise and miss the right conclusion that the Indian philosophy is the oldest living thought as of today. 

Most of the ancient Indian philosophy is contained in the four Vedas  – Rg. Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda.

The Philosophy of the Vedic Age

The period of Vedas is debated but can be dated to 4000 B.C. or even earlier. Vedas are the Srutis which are direct intuitional revelations of the seers.  Yajurveda and Sama Veda are liturgical and are intended for religious ceremonies. Atharva Veda has a mix with Gods worship of the aboriginals. Each Veda has four parts—Samhita, Brahmans, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The seed of philosophical knowledge is sown in Rg. Veda hymns. They are the forerunners of monastic system as is evident in the Upanishads. Samhitas are hymns or prayers. Brahmanas are mostly prose treatise, discussions on rituals and are devoted to sacrificial duties. Aranyakas provide ritual guidance to the retired seniors in seclusion. The Upanishads are deep rooted in philosophical thoughts of the realized seers. Arthur Schopenhauer says, ’it is the most rewarding and most elevating reading which there can be in the world. It has been the solace of my life and will be of my death.’ They express the restlessness of the striving human mind to grasp the true nature of Reality. Poets composed the hymns, priests the Brahmanas and the seers the Upanishads.

The Philosophy of the Epic Age

Next comes the Epic age philosophy as seen in Ramayana, Mahabharata and Geeta. We notice a philosophy linked with life and worldly affairs.  It is full of social and ethical values. It represents not any particular form of worship of Hinduism but whole of Hinduism in its entirety. It describes the actual day to day life, yet connects with the religious spirit of Hinduism.  Mahabharata describes elaborate social order and the four fold aims of life of righteousness, wealth, worldly enjoyment and salvation. It also describes the four stages of life. It is thus a history, a mythology. Politics, philosophy and law, all in one. Ramayana gives us a vivid idea of human relationship in its various spheres. It inspires us to act in life in a heroic way so as to fight against Ravana type injustice and liberate a forcefully captured Sita, a symbol of democratic ideals. Mahabharata is the greatest epic to inspire us to action in life without any desire for fruits of action. Men of action and knowledge are the most preferred one on the path of virtue and righteousness.

Pre-Buddhist Philosophy

Two more works of different ages need our attention—The Manu Smrti and The Arthashastra. Manu was the first law giver and deals with wide range thoughts of social order and the duties of ruler’s. He codified the entire social code. Kautilya (Carakya of Maurya dynasty) is the author of Arthashastra, a treatise on science of economics and politics. It deals in details on the nature of sovereignty, representation, war and peace, code of punishment, taxation, state function and police.

The Age of the Philosophy of Six Darshanas

The search of the self and its relationship with the Absolute had all along been the quest of seers and saints. In keeping with the emerging challenges the philosophical thoughts were made both critical and speculative based on scientific analysis of every thought in Six Darshanas.  It is known for an orderly, systematic, consistent and logical sets of brief aphorisms, fathom deep in philosophical thoughts. The philosophies of Naiyaya (Logical relation) Vaisesiki (Realistic pluralism), Samkha(Evolutionary Dualism), Yoga (Discipline of Meditation), Purva Mimamsa(Investigation of Vedas of early period), and Uttar Mimamsa (Vedas in the later stage and the Vedantic period) are six great schools of thought. These systems are prior to the Buddhist period though some of their elaborate works came to light after Buddha. All these systems grew and lived at the same time and in an age of oral tradition. With the tradition lost, many Sutras are lost. It is harmonizing that each system considered the preceding one and developed on it. So there exists much in common.

  1. All these systems accept Vedas as ultimate Reality.
  2. They employ common vocabulary and terms such as Avidya (Nescience) Maya(Illusion) Purush (Self, Jiva, and self-soul) Every system has its own meaning of these terms and uses it in its own different context.
  3.  Each Darshana has its own theoretical viewpoint and justification in Vedas.
  4.  All these systems disagree with Buddhism. All believe that every beginning has an end. The real is not the universe extended in time and space. It by nature tends to Being and Non-Being.
  5.  All systems give an idea of Rye, creation and dissolution, an unending continuity of Cosmos. Creation follows dissolution and dissolution creation. This alternate process goes on eternally. Just as night follows day and day follows night preceding each other. We see the beginning and end of the day and night, so of the creation and dissolution.
  6.  All systems aim at Moksha, salvation and Jivan mukti.
  7.  All systems believe in Karmic Laws and doctrine of Reincarnation

The Scholastic Period

There has been continuous stream of philosophers from the earliest times of 4000 B.C. or even earlier unto the17th. Cent, accompanied with an unbroken chain of teachers, thinkers and pupils. The scholastic period proceeding the six philosophical schools, is known for a number of commentaries on the sutras which explains their viewpoint on life and world. There were as many commentators as were the schools of thought. Each school presented its own viewpoint as the only accurate and logical one. Kapil is the author of Tattva Samasa and Sankhya Pravacanam Sutra. Ishvar krsna wrote Sankhya karika (3rd Cent) Vigyan Bhikshu, Sankhya Sutra; Vacaspati Misra, Samkhya Karika; Narayan Teerth, sub-commentary on Gaurapada works. All these Sutra commentators added to the greatness of the original works.  

On Patanjali Yoga sutra, we have a number of commentaries. In 400 AD, Vyas wroteBhasya on it. Vacaspati Misra’s commentary on Vyas Bhasya is Tattva Saridi; Vigyan Bhikshu wrote Yoga varttika and in 10th cent Bhoja wrote Bhoja vrtti.  Nagesh wrote Chaya Vyakhya on Purva Meemansa, Bharti Mitra, and Bhava das wrote commentaries. Sarva Bhasya is commentary on Jaimini’s aphorism. It has been differently interpreted by Prabhakar in 650 AD ;and Kumaril Bhatta in 750 AD. His exposition on Sarva Bhasya consists in three parts entitled Sloka varttika. Mandan Misra also wrote a number of commentaries.  

Adi Samkar; Bhaskar; Yadava Prakash; Madhava; Nilkantha; Vijyan Bhikshu and Ramanuj are some great names of the age. Some of them were not merely commentators but also founders of new system of their own. Sankar is known forMayavad; Advait; Ramanuj for Vishistadvaita Madhava for Dvaita system.  All these come out of Badarayan’ Brahma Sutra.  Though they seem distinct and different yet they are one. Still ignorance led to the feeling of intolerance of other’s viewpoint. Jealousy among these schools developed. It was the time when Samkarachaya appeared on the scene as a rare and unique force of integration. He succeeded in removing confusion. His commentary on Vedanta Sutra overtook the highly praised philosopher and writer Badarayan. Samkar infused new life in the philosophical thought and its interpretation. His efforts brought about higher evolution in thought and a philosophical binding force. That resulted in acceptance of Upanishad; Geeta and Brahma Sutra as authority on religion.

The Philosophy of Infinite Existence

Hinduism believes that there exists only one substance underlying, though appearances seem dualistic ,pluralistic ,multiple or single This led to the theory of dualism, non-dualism and qualified non-dualism, respectively founded by Madhava; Samkar and Ramanuj. 

Madhava in objective reality says that the world is real as we see it as such. The objects we see may be subject or not subject to change.  Even if an object changes, it does not mean that it is not real. He believes that each soul is distinct from the other. Self depends upon God but is distinct from God. Self is not Absolute but limited in power.  

Samkars philosophy can be summed up as – ‘Brahma, the Absolute Existence, the Absolute Knowledge and the Absolute Bliss is real; the universe is not.’ Brahman and Soul is one. The world is and is not.’ 

Ramanuj stress on Bhakti and says that Brahman is that which truly is, without distinction. He differs with Samkar in the belief that there is nothing else which is real, all else is Maya, that appears; which is the projection of Avidya (Illusion). 

All the above stages in spiritual evolution of devotee are real and harmonizing. When a devotee identifies himself with his body, he is His servant (Dwait).  When he identifies himself as Individual soul (Jiva), he is part of Him (Qualified Dualism).  When he identifies himself with the Self or Atmana, he is Thou Art That. (Advaita).

The Heterogeneous Philosophies

Some non-Vedic philosophical doctrines grew up side by side. They are Lokayata ofCarvaka; Buddhist, Jains and Sikh doctrines along with the Tantras. Carvaka does not believe in existence of any God and advocates materialist outlook out and out. Buddhists and the Jains differ and had a large following In many respects they are very near Hindu thought. The Tantras are the off-shoots of a different nature and base itself on Yoga. It has not found a place in the main stream of Hinduism though not out of it.

Post Samkar Age

The Mogul invasion and their brutal rule totally smashed most of Indian philosophical works. The library of Nalanda in Bihar was set ablaze and burnt for months. During Muslim rule of terror and forceful conversion and Hindu-humiliation, saints stood firm in faith and preferred death to conversion. This situation is aptly described by Dr Tara Chand in ‘History of Freedom Movement’ thus. ’Unfortunately the two groups lived in almost complete isolation from one another. Religion, language, customs and general conditions prevented mutual intercourse. They formed two worlds apart The gulf between sacerdotal groups of the two communities remained wide.’  It was the Bhakti movement in the South and Ramanand and Tulsidas in the North that kept alive the Hindu life and steam. Ramanand founded Sri Sampradaya and wrote commentary on Anand Bhasya, a commentary on Brahma Sutra. He widened the religious approach and included the lower class people in the fold. Tulsidas through his epicRamcarit Manas infused fresh life and vigor among Hindus and kept the spirit alive, though he did not propound any philosophy; Rama and Krsna were made peoples hero all over India and they served to keep united the religion with strength and hope. Saint Kabir and the Sikh Gurus stood up with their views in keeping with the demand of the age and moved the people towards religion. In Assam, Shankar Deo foundedMahapurusheya Sampradaya and preached that mystical experience is necessary for understanding and recommended interiorized Yoga of ascetic type.

Philosophy during Colonial Rule

Nothing new was possible during the Islamic rule of terror and humiliating subjugation. The whole concentration was drifted towards fighting out the oppressors and safety of the religion. The Hindu might have almost prevailed in capturing Delhi throne, when the western powers entered on the political scene and the British succeeded in the game.  

The British rule was no different. It planned the translation of Hindu scriptures in such a way that may lead the elite away from them and draw them near to Christianity. As a result, Brahma Samaj in Bengal and Prarthana Samaj in South sprang out, crying for reforms. They did save a small number of people from embracing Christianity and freed people to some extent from shackles of false truths. There came out a class of young men who imitated Christianity in many things, even in culture, and marriage regulations. They lacked feeling of Indianness (Hindutva) and tried to run down their forefathers to hearts content. They would not mention the word Brahamana and the name of seers and sages and say that since creation there have never been men so learned as the Europeans. Fortunately there existed a line of thinkers, sages and associations like Arya Samaj, Ram Krishna Mission and the like. They revived and rejuvenated Indian philosophy and cultural thoughts. Swami Dayananda in his workSatyarth Prakash accepted the cultural challenge of the Christianity and Islam and replied them in their own coins with such convincing arguments that made them silent and gave confidence to Hindus about their superiority.  Loka Manya Tilak revived confidence in introducing the Ganesh Puja ceremony in the South and gave a call for solidarity in diversity.  It was essentially an age of reforms in the religion which gave it strength and fresh vigor.

The Modern Age Outlook

Islam and Christian missionaries failed in making India the hotbed of their culture despite all types of efforts. The Hindu spirit of spirituality remained ever alive. Ram Krsna Paramhansa, Vivekananda, Maharsi Ramana, Caitanya Mahanprabhu and others stood for the spirituality of Vedanta and moved people into their fold. Yogi Aurobindo said, “The hollow worm-eaten outsides of Hinduism, all crumbing so sluggishly, so fatally, to some sudden and astonishing dissolution, do not frighten me. With them, I find the soul of civilization alive, though sleeping.’  Dr. Radhakrishnan reacted against the false charges of the missionaries and wrote books on religion to vindicate their abuses. He pleaded for a universal religious ideal of Sanatana Dharma. During this period no new philosophical idea sprang up yet the traditional Hindu spirit was saved and revival ensured.  

The revival of Indian consciousness, of the greatness of its own philosophy of its glorious past as of today can now be witnessed after fifty years of Indian freedom Among the modern thinkers Dr. Radhakrishnan and Yogi Aurobindo, Maharsi Ramana and Maa Amritananad Mayai occupy unique place besides others active in the east and the west.

The Mission

Hinduism has a message for the world today. Mankind with all its material glory and scientific advancement today is feeling a void inwardly. Mutual distress, doubts, disbelief, and sense of loneliness, has resulted in loss of mental peace and equipoise, leading to an increasing number of suicides, rapes, divorces, drug-habits, over-indulgence in sex, and even militant violence and terror. It is the Hindu ideal of spirituality that withstands its challenge for the world. The Sanatana Dharma had always shown the light out of darkness and the Hindu philosophy takes into account the religions based on ignorance and wrong notions about the Supreme with determination to end hatred with love. Hate can not conquer itself. Terror and militancy can not be an end by itself. The all absorbing philosophy of Vedanta Brahmana is there to guide the world with the ideal of Ekam Sat, Viprah vividha vadanti. One has one day to believe that God is one and He is compassionate and benevolent for all without any favor or prejudice. The Hindus have to bear the responsibility with a missionary spirit and create a class of Aryans (Noble and Just people) in the world and this requires no proselytizing but love and mutual understanding. This thought is the new emerging philosophy of the age of modern people.

Distinct Features of Indian Philosophy

Some distinct attributes and characteristics common to all these philosophical thoughts are as below:

  1. The Indian philosophy ‘is regarded as the goal of all the highest practical and theoretical activities and it indicates the point of unity amidst all the apparent diversities which the complex growth of culture over a vast area inhabited by different peoples produced. (4) Life and philosophy both remain guided by spiritual concentration, with the exception of Carvak. Material welfare has never been the goal of life. Man and Universe is looked upon not as physical in essence It deals with a world of here and now as well as with a world of hereafter. The real study of Indian philosophy is the study of its adherence to idea of all pervading unity of the spirit.   
  2. The Indian thought is practical. What is described in philosophical thought is practiced in actual life. It inter-relates theory and practice. Doctrine and life. So it is more a way of life.   
  3. Indian thought is universal. Renunciation of petty desires and subjugation of desires from the fruit of action are such universal values, devoid of any personal or ethical motives. Peace of mind and faith and striving for liberation is some of the values of life, desired by all of us in the world.     
  4.  The word ‘Philosophy’ is derived from two Greek words; Philein, which means ‘to love’, and Sophia which means ‘wisdom’. Thus philosophy stands for the love of wisdom (5) India has the word Darshana that means ‘that which is seen‘. It stands for knowledge of the Self (Atman Vidya). Gaudapada and Samkar define philosophy thus: Philosophy is an interpretation of the totality of human experience or of the whole life from the standpoint of truth. Philosophy, therefore, is the whole of which religion mysticism, (yoga), theology, scholasticism; speculation, art, and science are but parts. Such philosophy or Vedanta as ignores any part or parts is no Vedanta.  The object sought by the philosophy is the happiness (sukham) and welfare (hitam) of all beings (sarva sattva) in this world (ihaiva) (6) Western philosophy fails to recognize the transcendental consciousness and does not coordinate the three other states of consciousness. It is evident that both differ in outlook and attitudes toward life and world. The outer world with its physical appearance never attracted Indian thought. Though physical science was extremely developed here, much earlier than elsewhere in the world, it never remained India’ main concern. Politics never ruled over the minds of Indian people It was considered as a mere event, a seasonal one that was surely to pass away, the philosophy in Geeta relates to problems of life and politics, even recommends action and war. The Hindus were never close-minded to problems of people freedom and welfare The belief in reincarnation inspired them with confidence and freed them from any fear of death for a cause. The spirit ever remained alive though the body was subjugated.    
  5. The Indian thought is based on reason and introspection. Idealism is in its very nature. It tends towards monism and finds the Reality as ultimately one and spirit and spiritual. 
  6. It is based on unquestionable reasoning and the acceptance of intuition as the only way to know the ultimate reality. “Intellect is subordinated to intuition, dogma to experience, and outer experience to inward realization. Religion is not the acceptance of academic abstractions or the celebrations of ceremonies, but a kind of life or experience.’(7) We do not know but realize and see it. This is the source of India’s religious toleration and adaptability and as a result the declaration,’ Truth is one and the wise name it differently.’
  7.  The most important side of Indian philosophy is its acceptance of the doctrine of Karma and Rebirth.  
  8.  Indian philosophy lays down the four goals of life - Dharma (duty) Artha(Economic welfare) Kama (enjoyment of life) Moksha (salvation). It does not ignore physical welfare, prosperity and merry making. rather deals with all these in details, giving insight into the general welfare and common good.

All people follow the above-mentioned attributes of Indian thoughts, though views on specific pattern of life may more or less differ.


More by :  Dr. R. K. Lahri

Top | Hinduism

Views: 3383      Comments: 3

Comment Its awesome...
I just want to know that can i put this over my blog??

11-Jun-2016 11:25 AM

Comment sir i am working on
brahma sutra
can i get the copy of vigyanamrut bhashya i.e. vigyanbhikshu bhashya on brahma sutra
sandip nagare

sandip nagare
06-Sep-2015 00:49 AM

Comment Respected Sir,
I am working on the Upanishads and their impact on modern English poetry of England. Sir I will be highly grateful if you kindly enlighten me with your knowledge about the impact of the Upanishads on Modern English poetry.
I am eagerly waiting for your kind response.
With Regards,

Rajyasri Goswami
14-Oct-2014 11:41 AM

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