Philosophy- Hindu point of view

Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India

From the Indian viewpoint,  the word ‘philosophy’ suggests “observing and surveying”  the existence. In Sanskrit, the philosophy is referred to as  ‘darshana’.  The Sanskrit word ‘darshana’ has its root in the word ‘drs’ that means ‘to see’, ‘to look’ or ‘to view’. “Seeing” or “viewing” the reality and the facts of experience forms the basis of philosophy. Senses, mind and even consciousness are involved in this ‘seeing’. “Seeing” also encompasses “contemplation”. Seeing is not simply a sensory activity. ‘Seeing’ may primarily be a perceptual observation. But it may also concern the conceptual knowledge or an intuitional flash.  Thus ‘darshana‘ suggests vision. In other words, ‘darshana’ is a whole view revealed to the inner self, what we term as the soul or the spirit or the inner being.  Philosophy or ‘darshana’ is concerned with the vision of ‘truth and reality’.

In the context of spiritual philosophy darsana means a world vision, a view or window to the true nature of the world. Traditionally darsana is defined as one that envisions the true nature of of the world (samsara), the cause of binding (mula karana) and the path to liberation of self (nishreyasa). The purpose of darsana is to show the path to liberation, and the source of binding. The knowledge of self (jiva), phenomenal world (jagat) and absolute nature of the world (brahman) and the consciousness that relates these, is the basis for knowing the nature of binding and liberation.

Most darsanas have some  common elements. Many of the darsanas have developed along with spiritual philosophy, elaborate methods and practices that help the individual’s liberation. The methods are based on the theory of consciousness They all lay emphasis on dharmic life, devotion, turning mind inwards and meditation on the ultimate reality.

Eastern Thought, has different forms ranging from Taoism to Zen-Buddhism and Transcendental Meditation; despite some practically oriented strains (Confucianism), it is mostly intuitive, directed toward the Self and introspection; its insights come from our inwardness that needs to be emptied from all external influences; the Self is meditative, with ready made precepts for the resolution of all life problems; this is why so many self-help books draw on this tradition; Eastern sage is balanced, poised, silent; his/her prototype is the Buddha. The findings of Eastern wisdom are not fully communicable which prevents it from being entirely discoursive and argumentative.

Despite many deserved attempts to integrate Eastern thought (primarily Indian and Chinese) into Western intellectual tradition the differences are so huge that it is advisable not to apply the same term “philosophy” (itself of Western origin) to both.

Some of the fundamentals expressed in the Indian philosophy and the Western philosophy may be similar. However, Indian philosophy differs from the Western philosophy on several counts. While the Western philosophy deals with metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics etc. separately, Indian philosophy takes a comprehensive view of all these topics.

All systems of Indian philosophy are ranged by the Hindus in two categories: Astika systems, which affirm, and Nastika systems.Indian philosophy, include both orthodox (astika) systems, namely, theNyayaVaisheshikaSamkhyaYoga, Purva-Mimamsa (orMimamsa), andVedanta schools of philosophy.

Nastika systems, which were chiefly those of the Charvakas, the Buddhists, and the Jains. But, strange to say, these systems were called Nastika, heterodox and nihilist, not because they questioned or denied the existence of God ,but because they questioned, denied or ignored the authority of the Vedas.

Of the “orthodox” systems or darshanas these six became so prominent that in time every Hindu thinker who acknowledged the authority of the Brahmans attached himself to one or another of these schools. All six make certain assumptions which are the bases of Hindu thought: that the Vedas are inspired; that reasoning is less reliable as a guide to reality and truth than the direct perception and feeling of an individual properly prepared for spiritual receptiveness and subtlety by ascetic practices and years of obedient tutelage; that the purpose of knowledge and philosophy is not control of the world so much as release from it; and that the goal of thought is to find freedom from the suffering of frustrated desire by achieving freedom from desire itself. These are the philosophies to which men come when they tire of ambition, struggle, wealth, “progress,” and “success.”

Each of these systems differs in one way or the other in terms of its concepts, phenomena, laws and dogmas. Each system has it’s own founder as well. It is important to know that the founders of these systems of philosophy are sages of the highest order that have devoted their lives for the study and propagation of philosophy..

Each darsana explains the origin of the world, its creation and transformation.

There are three different approaches that these darsanas follow:

1- Arambha vada- holds that the universe is created.

2- Parinama vada- holds that the universe is not created or destroyed but it only transforms. Particularly, it is transformation of the manifesting form of the immutable absolute.

3- Vivarta vada- holds that the Universe as it appears is but because of the limitation of observer and it appears so, because of Maya.

It becomes difficult, sometimes, to name a single founder or a promoter of a system. However, the following are widely acknowledged as proponents of the above systems: Gautama for Nyaya, Kanada for Vaisheshika, Patanjali for Yoga, Kapila for Samkhya, Jaimini for Purva-Mimamsaand Shamkara for Uttar-Mimamsa.

Charvakism is believed to have been promoted by Charvaka. Vardhamana Mahavira is acknowledged as the founder of Jainism and GautamaBuddha as the founder of Buddhism.

The common characteristics in Indian Philosophies:

The systems of Indian philosophies, with a singular exception of Charvakism, have certain common characteristics. Charvakism remarkably differs from other systems as it promotes materialism.

The following characteristics are common to all other systems:

(1) All the schools emphasize that the philosophy must have a positive impact on life of man. The schools have a general agreement on the importance of the Purushartha.  All the schools agree that the philosophy should help man in realizing the main ends of human life: the purusharthas, i.e. arthakamadharma and moksha.

(2) All the systems reflect that the philosophy should lead a man from darkness and ignorance to light and knowledge.

(3) There is a general agreement among the systems that the truth and reality should be verifiable. They should be substantiated with reasoning and experience. An experience may be sensory, conceptual or intuitional.

(4) It is accepted by all the schools that man’s suffering results from his ignorance. Man can conquer ignorance and attain total freedom (moksha) in this bodily existence.

(5) There is a general agreement on man’s essential spirituality.

The History of Indian Philosophy

The philosophies develop over long spells of time.  It is difficult for the historians to ascertain the period for the development of a particular philosophy.

However, we can safely outline the history of Indian philosophies, as per Dr. Radhakrishnan,  as follows:

(1)    The Vedic period (1500 B.C. to 600 B.C.)

(2)    The Epic period (600 B.C. to 200 A.D.)

(3)    The Sutra period (200 A.D. to 1700 A.D.)

(4)    The Scholastic period ( From Sutra Period to 17th century )

Let us get an idea of these periods:

(1)    The Vedic Period: This period can be regarded as the dawn of civilization in the world.  The literature of the Vedic period is considered to be the most ancient in the world. It consists of the four Vedas, namely, Rig Veda, Yajur  Veda, Sama Veda and Atharva Veda. Each of the Vedas is divided into four parts: The Samhitas (the Mantras) , the Brahmanas, the Aranyakas and the Upanishads.

(2)    The Epic Period: It is the period of the development of the early Upanishads and the darshanas and is concerned with the enriching of intellect of man. The darshanas paved the way for the growth of the systems of philosophies in India. The invaluable dharma -shastras, the great treatises on ethical and social philosophy, are the gifts of this period.  The period is very significant because it witnessed the rise and early development of Shaivism and Vaishnavism as well as that of Jainism and Buddhism.

(3)    The Sutra Period: The  scholars made efforts to safeguard the rich heritage. That is how the illustrious Sutras were written. The Sutras are, mostly, epigrammatic sentences in the verse-form. The Sutras laid the foundation of the different systems of philosophies in India. The six orthodox systems based on the Sutras are Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa and Uttar-Mimamsa.

(4)    The Scholastic Period:. With the passage of time, the ancient literature became nearly incomprehensible.. Thus a number of commentaries were written. Chief among them were Shamkaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhavacharya. Incidentally, three schools of Vedanta were developed: Shamkaracharya’s Advaita Vedanta, Ramanujacharya’s Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Madhavacharya’s DvaitaVedanta.

Briefly outline of Shad-Darshan is given below:

1. Nyaya - by Sage Gautam

Logical Quest of Supreme, Phases of Creation, Science of Logical Reasoning

The first of the “Brahmanical” systems in the logical order of Indian thought  is a body of logical theory extending over two millenniums. Nyaya means an argument, a way of leading the mind to a conclusion. One of the six DARSHANS (orthodox systems) of Indian philosophy, important for its analysis of logic and epistemology and for its detailed model of the reasoning method of inference. Like other darshans, Nyaya is both a philosophy and a religion; its ultimate concern is to bring an end to human suffering, which results from ignorance of reality. It recognizes four valid means of knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. It is called Nyaya because it is constituted of five “laws” – Pratijna, Hetu, Udaharana, Upanaya, Nigamana. Nyaya includes formal logic and modes of scientific debate. It explains the logical constructs like antecedent and laws of implying. It expounds various modes of scientific debate and methods for debate, like tarka, vitanda, chala, jalpa and so on.

It is a logical quest for God, the absolute Divinity. It tells that the material power “Maya”, with the help of God, becomes the universe. Nyaya Darshan is based on establishing the fact that only the Divinity (God) is desirable, knowable and attainable, and not this world.Nyaya philosophy is primarily concerned with the correct knowledge to be acquire in the human life and the means of receiving this knowledge.

2. Vaishesika – by Sage Kanad

Science of Logic, Futility of Maya, Vedic Atomic Theory

As Gautama is the Aristotle of India, so Kanada is its Democritus. The founder of Vaisheshik philosophy is known to us by the name of his theory “Kanaad” (atom eater, or atom theorist), because he was the first person in the world (460-370 BC) to propound the atomic theory of matter. According to this theory, God has created different substances from several basic atoms of matter. This philosophy is very close to the Nyaaya philosophy.

The date at which the Vaisheshika system was formulated has not been fixed with excessive accuracy: we are told that it was not before 300 B.C., and not after 800 A.D. Its name came from vishesha, meaning particularity: the world, in Kanada’s theory, is full of a number of things, but they are all, in some form, mere combinations of atoms; the forms change, but the atoms remain indestructible. Thoroughly Democritean, Kanada announces that nothing exists but “atoms and the void,” and that the atoms move not according to the will of an intelligent deity, but through an impersonal force or law Adrishta, “the invisible.”

According to this school of philosophy, there is no creation or annihilation but rather an orderly and morally systematized composition and decomposition of matter. Atoms (not we studied in our elementary science) are the smallest particle exists in the universe and are eternal in nature.

3. Sankhya -  by Sage Kapil

Eliminate Physical and Mental Pains for receiving liberations, Nontheistic Dualism

Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya (Sanskrit: सांख्य, : sāṃkhya – ‘enumeration’) is one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered as the founder of the Samkhya school, although no historical verification is possible. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India.This is the most significant system of philosophy that India has produced.”  Professor Garbe, who devoted a large part of his life to the study of the Sankhya, consoled himself with the thought that “in Kapila’s doctrine, for the first time in the history of the world, the complete independence and freedom of the human mind, its full confidence in its own powers, were exhibited.”

The dualistic philosophy of Purusa and Prakrti; according to many followers of Sankhyaphilosophy, there is no such God exists. For them Purusa is sufficient to inspire the unconscious Prakrti to manifest herself in the form of universe. However, a section of Sankhya philosophers believed about the existence of Supreme Being who guides Prakrtiindependently accordingly to His will. The extent of mayic creation and Divinity beyond that; it tells that the entire mayic creation is worth discarding and only the Divinity is to be attained because that is the only source of Bliss.

4. Yoga – by Sage Patanjali

Practice of Meditation and Samadhi for Renunciation, Self Discipline for Self Realization

The Yoga system of philosophy was founded by Patanjali. He authored the Yoga Sutras or the aphorisms of Yoga. What is Yoga? Literally, a yoke: not so much a yoking or union of the soul with the Supreme Being,  as the yoke of ascetic discipline and abstinence which the aspirant puts upon himself in order to cleanse his spirit of all material limitations, and achieve supernatural intelligence and powers.

The Yoga system of philosophy accepts three fundamental realities, namely, Ishwara, Purusha and Prakriti or the primordial matter. Patanjali says that scriptures are the sources of the existence of Ishwara. Ishwara is omniscient and is free from the qualities inherent in Prakriti. Patanjali defines Yoga as ‘Chittavriitinirodha’. Yoga is the restraint of the mental operations. Patanjali names some obstacles to the path of Yoga. They are called ‘Antarayas’ and they include Vyadhi (illness), styana (apathy), Samsaya (doubt), Pramada (inadvertence), Alasya (laziness), Avirati (incontinence), Bhrantidarshana (wrong understanding), Alabdha Bhumikatva (non-attainment of mental plane) and Anavasthitatva (instability). In addition to the obstacles mentioned above, Patanjali accepts five more obstacles called Dukha (pain), Daurmanasya (frustration, Angamejayatva (fickle limbs), Svasa (spasmodic breathing in) and Prasvasa (spasmodic breathing out). Patanjali speaks about Jatyantara Parinama or the phenomenon of the evolution of one species or genus into another species or genus.

Explain the practical process of heart purification which may qualify the individual to experience the absolute Divine. The word Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit root yug, which meant “TO UNITE“. The yoga system provides a methodology for linking up individual consiousness with the Supreme Being. Various schools of yoga systems are: Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, Karma yoga, Ashtanga Yoga (practical application of Sankhya Philosophy), etc.

5. Karma Mimamsa -  by Sage Jaimini

Poorv Mimamsa explaining the Vedas are eternal and Divine; Elevation Through the Performance of Duty

Sanskrit mīmāṁ, literally, reflection, investigation, from manyate he thinks. It is  an orthodox Hindu philosophy concerned with the interpretation of Vedic texts and literature and comprising one part dealing with the earlier writings concerned with right practice and another part dealing with the later writings concerned with right thought —called also Purva Mimamsa,

To step from Yoga to the Purva-Mimansa is to pass from the most renowned to the least known and least important of the six systems of Brahmanical philosophy. Meemaansaa philosophy is attributed to sage Jaimini (c 350 BC). It proclaims that the Soul does not die with the body, but passes from the body of the dead to the body of the one to be born. The purpose of the migration of the Soul is to reap the rewards and punishments of the deeds of the previous lives to which it was attached. An Individual Soul can attain liberation from rebirth by means of knowledge and performance of duties. Knowledge alone will not help attain liberation. It is necessary not only to perform worldly duties, but also to perform religious rituals prescribed by Ved. Meemaansaa is also basically atheistic.

Vedanta – by Sage VedVyas

Uttar Mimansa (Brahma Sutra) explaning the divine nature of Soul, Maya and Creation; Conclusion of edic Revelation

Sanskrit Vedānta, literally, end of the Veda, from Veda +anta end; akin to Old English ende endFirst Known Use: 1788. One of the six orthodox systems (darshans) of Indian philosophy and the one that forms the basis of most modern schools of Hinduism. Its three fundamental texts are theUpanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and the Brahma Sutras, which are very brief interpretations of the doctrine of the Upanishads. Several schools of Vedanta have developed, differentiated by their conception of the relationship between the self (atman) and the absolute (Brahman). They share beliefs in samsara and the authority of the Vedas as well as the conviction that Brahman is both the material and instrumental cause of the world and that the atman is the agent of its own acts and therefore the recipient of the consequences of action

Vedant philosophy was first expounded by Baadaraayan in c 650 BC. In his book Vedaant Sootra, also called “Brahm Sootra”. Baadaraayan claims that he has not put anything new – all was only the summary of Upanishadik teachings – but the claim does not seem to be totally justified. Complicating the matters further, there have been three Aachaarya, famously known for three systems of metaphysics, are known consecutively as A-Dwait, Vishisht A-Dwait and Dwait, explaining the relationship between man and God.

It reveals this secret that God is absolute Divinity and absolute Bliss, and He is Gracious. So desire, fully remember Him and with His Grace experience His absolute Blissfulness forever. Vedanta examines the Vedas teachings in the light of transcendental knowledge.

The six Darshan Shastras are divided in the groups of two each based on their closely related texts, such as Nyaya and Vaisheshika are closely allied to each other. The next twoSankhaya and Yoga are closed to each other, and finally the Poorva Mimamsa and Uttar Mimamsa are allied to each other.


Another pre-Buddhistic system of philosophy, the Charvaka, or the Lokayata, is one of the earliest materialistic schools of philosophy.The name Charvakais traced back to one Charvaka, supposed to have been one of the great teachers of the school. The other name, Lokayata, means “the view held by the common people,” “the system which has its base in the common, profane world,” “the art of sophistry,” and also “the philosophy that denies that there is any world other than this one.” Brihaspati probably was the founder of this school.

The Charvakas apparently sought to establish their materialism on an epistemological basis. In their epistemology, they viewed sense perception alone as a means of valid knowledge. The validity of inferential knowledge was challenged on the ground that all inference requires a universal major premise (“All that possesses smoke possesses fire”) whereas there is no means of arriving at a certainty about such a proposition. No amount of finite observations could possibly yield the required universal premise. The supposed “invariable connection” may be vitiated by some unknown “condition,” and there is no means of knowing that such a vitiating factor does not exist. Since inference is not a means of valid knowledge, all such supersensible objects as “afterlife,” “destiny,” or “soul” do not exist. To say that such entities exist though there is no means of knowing them is regarded as absurd, for no unverifiable assertion of existence is meaningful.


Jainism, founded about the 6th century bce by Vardhamana Mahavira, the 24th in a succession of religious leaders known either as Tirthankaras(Saviours) or as Jinas (Conquerors), rejects the idea of God as the creator of the world but teaches the perfectibility of humanity, to be accomplished through the strictly moral and ascetic life.

Jains believe in the philosophy of karma, reincarnation of worldly soul, hell and heaven as a punishment or reward for one’s deeds, and liberation (Nirvän or Moksha) of the self from life’s misery of birth and death in a way similar to the Hindu and Buddhist beliefs .The Jain philosophy believes that the universe and all its entities such as soul and matter are eternal (there is no beginning or end), no one has created them and no one can destroy them.

Jains do not believe that there is a supernatural power who does favor to us if we please him. Jains rely a great deal on self-efforts and self-initiative, for both – their worldly requirements and their salvation.

Jains believe that from eternity, the soul is bounded by karma and is ignorant of its true nature.  It is due to karma soul migrates from one life cycle to another and continues to attract new karma, and the ignorant soul continues to bind with new karma.

To overcome the sufferings, Jainism addresses the path of liberation in a rational way.   It states that the proper Knowledge of reality, when combined with right Faith and right Conduct leads the worldly soul to liberation (Moksha or Nirvän).


Buddhism is a religion based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, He came to be called “the Buddha,” which means “awakened one,” after he experienced a profound realization of the nature of life, death and existence. He taught that awakening comes through one’s own direct experience, not through beliefs and dogmas.

Instead of teaching doctrines to be memorized and believed, the Buddha taught how we can realize truth for ourselves. The focus of Buddhism is on practice rather than belief. The major outline of Buddhist practice is the Eightfold Path.

The Buddha discouraged his followers from indulging in intellectual disputation for its own sake, which is fruitless, and distracting from true awakening. Nevertheless, the delivered sayings of the Buddha contain a philosophical component, in its teachings on the working of the mind, and its criticisms of the philosophies of his contemporaries.

According to the scriptures, during his lifetime the Buddha remained silent when asked several metaphysical questions. These regarded issues such as whether the universe is eternal or non-eternal (or whether it is finite or infinite), the unity or separation of the body and the self, the complete inexistence of a person after Nirvana and death, and others.



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