(Sample Material) UPSC Mains Philosophy (Optional) Study Kit "Indian Philosophy (What is Philosophy?)"

Sample Material of UPSC Mains Philosophy (Optional) Study Kit

Topic: Indian Philosophy (What is Philosophy?)

What is Philosophy?

The philosophy is concerned with the understanding of the life and the universe. It is aimed at comprehending the nature of existence. Philosophy is a human endeavor that leads to the Ultimate Truth.

The English word ‘philosophy’ has its root in the Greek term – ‘philosophia’.

The term ‘philo’ refers to ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ refers to human reason. The Greek terms can be literally translated in English as “love of reason” or “love of human judgment and discrimination.”

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 Sanskrit, the ‘philosophy’ is also referred to as ‘tatva’. The Sanskrit word ‘tatva’ is concerned with ‘the nature of reality.’

In India, the philosophy is not restricted to the intellectual pursuit. According to Indian view, the word ‘philosophy’ is concerned with ‘the revelation of the nature of reality’ or ‘the vision of Ultimate Truth and Reality’.

Indian Philosophy

The Indian philosophy has its roots in the Vedic period.

The great Rishis, settled in the peaceful, invigorating environment of the forests, meditated over the fundamental questions of existence: What is the world? If it’s a creation, what are its constituents? Who is the creator? What is life? What is ‘truth’? What is ‘the nature of reality’?

What was revealed to them was expressed in hymns. With the passage of time, the systematized collection of these hymns constituted the Vedas and the Upanishads.

Indian philosophy distinctly exhibits a spiritual bent. The essence of religion is not dogmatic in India. Here, religion develops as philosophy progressively scales higher planes.

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.

For an Indian philosopher, philosophy is something beyond an intellectual pursuit. The Indian philosopher exemplifies philosophy in his life. His intelligence, knowledge and wisdom are reflected in his life. This is why his life positively influences the life of masses.

The Indian philosophy uniquely describes four purusharthas of life.

Click Here for UPSC Mains Philosophy Study Material


The four basic ends (purusharthas) of human life, as recognized by the Indian tradition, are as follows:

artha, kama, dharma and moksha.

(1) Artha: The Sanskrit word artha means ‘that which one seeks.’ Whatever activity and physical material a man needs to support life can be considered as artha. Artha, in a broad sense, covers man’s professional activities, job, business, wealth, property and all such earthly material helpful in maintaining his life.

(2) Kama: Man seeks pleasure in various activities and material objects. Pursuit of happiness and pleasure is a basic, natural instinct in man. Man derives pleasures from relationships and material objects like food, drink etc. This is kama. Man largely accumulates artha for kama. Butartha and kama should be closely linked with the dharma. They should be directed towards dharma.

(3) Dharma: ‘That which sustains’ is dharma. The word dharma stems from the Sanskrit root ‘dhr’ meaning ‘to sustain’ or ‘to support’. Dharma sustains or maintains life. Dharma supports the society. Man lives in the society with fellow-men and various life forms. Dharma lays down duties and obligations expected of man. An individual and the society, for their conduct and actions, get guidance from dharma. Man has obligation to his own self, to the fellow-men and to the society, in fact, to the whole environment of the world. All the mutual obligations of these inter-relationships are spelt out by dharma.

(4) Moksha: Moksha means liberation or total freedom. The Sanskrit word moksha is derived from the root ‘muk’. This root means ‘to emancipate’ or ‘to release’ or ‘to free’. Indian tradition considers moksha as the ultimate goal of life. The sufferings of man are due to avidya, his original ignorance about self. He has been oblivious of his true identity. He attaches himself to worldly objects. Tempted and pressed by everlasting lust and insurmountable desires, he remains bonded to the mundane objects. When knowledge (vidya) dawns on him, he overcomes the dualities of the world and identifies himself as the infinite, eternal Being. Having been completely free from all attachments, expectations and desires, the liberated soul attains moksha.

The Systems of Indian Philosophy

The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the world. The Indian philosophical systems are classified according as they accept the authority of the Vedas or not. The systems of Indian philosophy are classified into two groups:

(1) The Orthodox Systems
(2) The Unorthodox Systems

The orthodox systems are: Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa, and Uttar-Mimamsa.

The unorthodox systems are: Charvakism, Jainism and Buddhism.

Very often, Purva-Mimamsa is referred to as “Mimamsa” only and Uttar-Mimamsa as “Vedanta”.

The orthodox systems uphold the supremacy of the Vedas. The unorthodox systems reject the authority of the Vedas. Truly speaking Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya and Yoga are neither orthodox nor unorthodox. These four systems, while originating, neither accepted nor rejected the Vedas.

The orthodox systems form pairs as follows:

Nyaya-Vaisheshika, Yoga-Samkhya, Mimamsa-Vedanta. In each of the pairs, the first system is concerned with the practice and the second system focuses on the theoretical aspects.

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-Mimamsa and Shamkara for Uttar-Mimamsa.

Charvakism is believed to have been promoted by Charvaka. Vardhamana Mahavira is acknowledged as the founder of Jainism and Gautama Buddha 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. artha, kama, dharma 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 historians go on debating about the origin of the Aryans and the time-period when the Vedic civilization developed in India.

It is believed by the Western scholars that the Aryans descended from the regions of the North-Central Asia sometime around 1500 B.C., though this has been challenged by some other learned scholars. Some of the eminent Indian scholars also differ from their Western counterparts, saying that the Aryans were natives of India for long and that the Vedic civilization developed about 4000 to 8000 years ago. The renowned Indian scholar Lokamanya Tilak contends that the first Vedic hymns could have been composed nearly 6000 years ago and the later works like the Upanishads themselves could be nearly 3000 years old.

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. It witnessed the real transformation of man from a prakrit man to a Sanskrit man. The Vedic period covers the rise and the development of the Aryan culture and civilization. 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 thedarshanas 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. Apart from the extra-ordinary philosophical doctrines, the “non-systemic and the non-technical” literature appeared in this age. The great epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are the gifts of this period. The period is very significant because it witnessed the rise and early development of Shaivism and Vaishnavismas well as that of Jainism and Buddhism. The Jainism and the Buddhism are considered as heterodox religious philosophies as they do not endorse the authority of the Vedas.

(3) The Sutra Period: Over a period of time, the Vedic literature and the subsequent works grew to a massive scale. The great 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. They helped to preserve and transmit the treasure of philosophies expressed in the voluminous ancient works. Badarayana (Veda Vyasa), one of the greatest scholars, wrote Brahma-Sutra, also known as Vedanta-Sutra. 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: This period coinciding with the Sutra period, witnessed the distinguished scholars like Shamkaracharya, Kumarila, Madhavacharya, Ramanujacharya, Sridhara and others. With the passage of time, the ancient literature became nearly incomprehensible. The Vedas, expressed in the Chhandas, the old form of Sanskrit, became difficult to follow. Even the interpretation of the Sutras posed challenges to the learned scholars. Hence the scholars wrote commentaries on the ancient literature in general and on the Sutras in particular. Then a number of commentaries were written. Very often a commentary was written on the original commentary or on an earlier one. Various scholars wrote commentaries on Brahma-Sutra according to their own interpretation. Chief among them were Shamkaracharya, Ramanujacharya and Madhavacharya. Incidentally, three schools of Vedanta were developed: Shamkaracharya’s AdvaitaVedanta, Ramanujacharya’s Vishishtadvaita Vedanta and Madhavacharya’s Dvaita Vedanta.

Click Here for UPSC Mains Philosophy Study Material

<< Go Back to Main Page