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
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
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
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.
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
(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
(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,
The unorthodox systems are: Charvakism, Jainism and Buddhism.
Very often, Purva-Mimamsa is referred to as “Mimamsa” only and Uttar-Mimamsa
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
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
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
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
(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
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
(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.