12 Best Sources of Indian Philosophy – Explained!

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Some of the best sources of Indian Philosophy are as follows:

The Vedas are the original sources of Indian philosophy and are called impersonal since they were transmitted from one generation to the next by word of mouth, from one teacher to his disciple. For the same reason they are also called Sruti.

But some scholars, such as S. Radhakrishnan, believe that they are not purely philosophical texts, since they also contain considerable information regarding religion and moral behaviour. Traditionally, it is accepted that there are four Vedas—the Rig Veda, the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva Veda.

Despite this division, they are all a single compendium of knowledge and the division is made on the basis of the subject and nature of the hymns contained in each section. For example, the hymns of the Rig-Veda are merely declaimed while those of the Sama Veda are sung.

The Mantras of the Yajur Veda are read at the time of making sacrifices during the Yajna, while those of the Atharva Veda pertain to knowledge about natural objects.

The subject matter of the Vedas is more broadly divided into two parts—the Jnana Kanda, implying the theoretical aspect, and the Karma Kanda, concerned with actual conduct. The former provides information about spiritual meditation while the latter explains the modes of prayer and sacrifice.

Logically-viewed, the Karma Kanda is older than the Jnana Kanda, but both are accepted as intimately related to each other. Both are required to achieve the terrestrial and transcendental objectives of man. The Vedas provide numerous theories to explain creation, one of which is the existence of an omnipotent and omniscient power.

In addition, the Vedas also contain lengthy deliberations on the subject of moral conduct, sin and virtue, the theory of Karma, and numerous other philosophical and ethical subjects. They also present the idea that the pains of the flesh can be alleviated by worship.

Most of the elements of Upanisadic philosophy can be found in their rudimentary form in the Vedas. Historians believe that the Rig-Veda came into existence some 2000 B.C. The Rig-Veda contains references to the Varna system and the asrama system, the fundamental elements in the social organization of the Aryans.

The hymns of the Rig-Veda must have taken centuries to write, a fact which can be said to hold equally true of the other Vedas. But it is difficult to assess correctly the difference between the Vedas in their original form and as they are now extant. Consequently, it is not any easier to determine how much has been added to them.

The Upanishads:

It is difficult to fix the chronological order and exact date of the composition of the Upanishads. There is no historical evidence available to decide the issue. According to the traditional viewpoint, the Upanishads, like the samhitas, the Brahmanas and the Aranyakas form part of the Vedas.

They are therefore as ancient as the other three. Some Western writers, on the other hand, tried to fix the date of the Upanishads after the Vedas. Their arguments, however, arc far from convinc­ing. On the basis of the testimony of Buddhist scriptures, it can be said that at least some Upanishads were composed before the time of Buddha.

Buddha was born in the sixth century B.C. Therefore, some Upanishads date back to 600 B.C. The notable among them are the Chandogya, the Brhadaranyaka, the Kena, the Aitereya, the Taittiriya, the Kausitaki and the Katha.

Again, traditionally, the Gila is known as the essence of the Upanishads. Gila is a part of Mahabharata. Therefore some Upanishads must have been composed before Maha Bharata, i.e., before 3000 B.C.

Thus, the composition of the Upanisads dated back to the periods between 600 and 3000 B.C. For thousands of years the Upanishads were preserved through teacher and taught tradition, in the form of Sruti. But their writing must have started before 600 B.C.

Different Upanishads have been attached to different Vedas. Thus the Upanishads have been classified according to their connection with Rig-Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda and Atharva Veda. Though the actual number of the Upanisads has been a matter of controversy, the ten chief ancient Upanishads are the Isa, the Kena, the Katha, the Prasna, the Mundak, the Mandukya, the Taittiriya, the Aitereya, the Chandogya and the Brhdaranyaka.

The Bhagwad Gita:

Bhagwad Gita is a part of Mahabharata. The exact date of the composition of the Mahabharata is uncertain. According to C.V. Vaidya and Karandikar, among other scholars, the war of Mahabharata dates back to 3102 B.C. Prof. Athavale fixes it as 3018, while according to Tarakeshwar Bhattacharya it started in 1432 B.C. Thus, Gita must have been composed somewhere between 2000 and 3000 B.C.

About the number of couplets in the Gita also, there is a lot of controversy. Some thinkers advance the view that the original Gita did not include 700 couplets as found in the present version. According to others, many must have been composed after Mahabharata and then added to it.

Still others hold that the preaching of Gita are of the nature which could not be delivered on a battlefield. Most of the thinkers, however, do not agree with these objections. It is generally believed that Gita includes 700 couplets and forms part of the Maha Bharata, the great epic.

The Charvaka Philosophy:

The sage Brhaspati is considered to be the founder of the charvaka philosophy, and it is therefore also known as the philosophy of Brhaspati. The ancient sutras of Charvaka philosophy are known as Brhaspati Sutra. As a gross approach to the philosophy of life, Charvaka view is believed to be the earliest in the evolution of knowledge. One finds references to it even is Rig Veda.

In the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, the sage Yajnavalkya has told the Charvaka view to his wife Maitreyi. He said that knowledge is the product of the combination of five elements and that it leaves no trace after death. Of the various theories about the origin of creation as given in Svetasvatara Upanisad, some come very near to the Charvaka view in this connection.

The Charvaka view of causation had been referred in Samkhya Karika of Ishwar Krishna, Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana, Gaudapada's Karika and Udyotkar's Nyaya Vartika. Charvaka determinism has been mentioned in Buddhist and Jaina scriptures and in Nyaya Sutra.

In Mahabharata one finds comments on the Charvaka view that the.gro.ss body is the self. The name Charvaka also has been mentioned in Mahabharata. Ramayana of Valmki has mentioned the Lokayat philosophy. It was also mentioned by Manu Samhita and other ancient scriptures.

All this goes to prove that Charvaka philosophy is one of the most ancient in Indian thought. Its main treatise, Brhaspati Sutra. However, it is not found in one piece but sutras are scattered in various works of philosophy.

The Jaina Philosophy:

Among the heterodox schools of Indian philosophy, the Jaina system has notable place. Like the Charvakas the Jainas did not believe in the Vedas, but unlike them they admitted the existence of soul distinct from other elements. They agreed with orthodox tradition in aspiring for a cessation of suffering, in developing a whole technique of mental control and in seeking right knowledge, right perception and right conduct.

The Jaina philosophy was first propounded by Rishabha Deva. Along with him, Ajit Nath and Aristanemi are also mentioned. According to the Jainas, these names are found in the Vedas and the Jaina philosophy, therefore, is said to be very old. While the first Tirthankar was also known as Adi Nath, the last Jain Tirthankar was named Vardhaman Mahavir.

In between the two, one finds the names of twenty two other Tirthankars, viz., Ajit Nath, Sambhava Nath, Abhinandan, Sumati Nath, Padma Prabhu, Suprashva Nath, Chandra Prabha, Suridhi Nath, Shital Nath, Shreyans Nath, Vasu Pujya, Vimala Nath, Anantha Nath, Dharma Nath, Shanti Nath, Kunthu Nath, Ara Nath, Malli Nath, Muni Subrata, Nemi Nath and Parshva Nath.

Mahavir, the last Tirthankar, was born in 599 B.C. He became a recluse at the age of thirty and performed hard penances to gain true knowledge. After he attained Truth, he was called Mahavir. He was the leader of a group of monks known as Nirgrantha.

Mahavir strongly emphasized the virtue of celibacy and detachment from the world. He ordered the monks to relinquish all clothes in order to become absolutely detached from right and wrong. Those who followed this order were named 'Digambara', while those who wore white clothes were known as 'Svetambara'. Both of these sects, however, followed the same philosophy. Both were guided by the teachings of Mahavir.

Among Mahavir's disciples were monks as well as household persons including both males and females. These disciples formed a sangha and lived in an Ashram called Apasara. The disciples were divided into eleven groups called Gana. Each group was led by a Ganadhara. The names of thirteen such Ganadharas have been mentioned. Mahavir died at the age of 72 at Pawa, near Rajgriha, in 527 B.C.

After the death of Mahavir, his chief followers managed the Sangha for many years. Bhadra Bahu was the leader in 317 B.C. In 310 B.C., Sthula Bhadra took over from him and organised a congregation for the compilation of Jaina scriptures.

It was at this juncture that Jainas were divided into two sects of Digambara and Svetambara. Since then, important works on Jaina thought were published by eminent Jaina scholars upto the 17th century. After that no great work worth mentioning has been written by any Jain thinker.

The Philosophy of Buddha:

Gautama Buddha, the founder of the Buddhist philosophy, was born in 56 B.C., at Lumbini, a village near Kapilvastu in Uttar Pradesh. His mother Mayadevi died seven days after giving birth to him and he was subsequently brought up by his aunt, Gautami. From his childhood Siddhartha showed a meditative turn of mind, a fact which persuaded his father to marry him off to Yashodhara—a kshatriya princess—at the early age of sixteen.

She bore him a son who was given the name Rahul. But at the age of twenty- nine, Gautama renounced his domestic life in order to find a solution to the world's perpetual sorrows of death, sickness, etc. He went to the forest of Uruvela where he meditated for six years, but contentment evaded him. He then went to Bodha Gaya and meditated under a Pipal tree.

It was here that he attained salvation and came to be called Buddha. He then went on a long journey to spread the message of the great truths and the path to salvation. The number of his followers started to increase, and so he collected a group of five hundred to make a sect which was enjoined to adhere rigorously to the rules he laid down for its conduct. In 483 B.C., at a place called Kushinara, Gautama Buddha attained the condition of mahaparinirvana at the age of 80.

Gautama's three main followers, Upali, Anand and Mahakashyap remembered his teaching, and undertook to communicate them to his other followers. Later on, it was the meeting of the Third Buddha assembly under the guidance of Ashoka, which took place in 247 B.C., at Pataliputra, that the teaching of Buddha were collected together.

His desciples divided these teachings into-three parts called the Vinaya Pitaka, the Sutta Pitaka and the Abhidhamma Pitaka, which form the basic texts of the Buddhist literature. But the sects established by Buddha chose to interpret his teachings according to their own whims and to live accordingly.

This inevitably led to the division of the Buddhist sect into two groups—the mahasanghika and the sthaviravadin. Both sects underwent further subdivision, but in the main, they later on came to be called the Mahayana and the Hinayana.

The more famous sophistications of the Mahayana came to light as the Vijnanvada or Yogachara and Madhyamika or the Shunyavada schools of thought. On the other hand, the Hinayana schools of thought were known as Vaibhasika and the Sautrantika.

Samkhya Philosophy:

In its most literal sense, Samkhya philosophy implies the logical or rational consideration of self and not-self, purusa and prakriti. Without such a rational thinking, knowledge is impossible for this reason, the study of Samkhya is believed to be important for everyone. Some references to it are to be found in most of the religious texts, from the Upanishads down to the texts on astrology.

The founder of Samkhya philosophy was Kapila, who wrote the Samkhya Sutra, which is the basis of this school, although later on many couplets were added to it. Kapila is believed to be the fifth incarnation of Visnu in the Bhagvata. Of the many scholars who devoted themselves to the study of this school of thought, the most famous is Vijnana Bhiksu. He was followed by Ishwar Krisna in the second century B.C., who wrote the text Samkhya Karika. It is this text which forms the basis of all modern interpretations of this philosophical system.

The Philosophy of Yoga:

The practice of yogic techniques to control the body, the mind and the sense organs had existed in India from very ancient times, very great importance is attached to Yoga in the Samkhya Philosophy, so much so that in the Gita the two are believed to be identical.

The importance of yoga as a technique of purifying the mind is accepted even in Vedanta. In its airless extant form, Yogic thought is found in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, believed to have been written in the second century B.C. This text is divided into four sections—samadhipada, sadhanapada vibutipada, and kaivalyapada.

A critique of this text was prepared by Vyas, and later on was followed by a number of learned interpretations of it, all of which help to explain the yogic philosophy.

The Nyaya System:

The Nyaya philosophy represents the finest development of logic in the Indian philosophical tradition, so much so that Nyaya and logic arc considered synonymous. Nyaya Sutra, the basic test of this philosophy, was composed by Gautama.

A study of this text reveals that it was written primarily to dispose of the arguments of the supporters of the Buddhist sect, although ostensibly, it, too, aimed at finding a way out the grip of pain and suffering. Because of its obvious criticism of the Buddhist thought, many efforts were made by the Buddhists to destroy it.

On the other hand, the theistic schools of thought made strenuous efforts to prevent its destruction. Its most refined expression is to be found in the Nyaya Suchi Nibandha written by Vachaspati which is the only extant text of Nyaya philosophy. Of the many elaborate treatises written on this text, the most famous is the treatise of Vatsyayan which was written in the second century A.D. Many other treatises came to be written on the subject.

In the twelveth century, a school of thought known as Neo-Nyaya philosophy came into existence due to the efforts of Gangesh Upadhyaya of Mithila, and as a result all previous texts came to be considered ancient. But the latest treatise differed from the earlier philosophy as it concentrated merely on the intricacies of logic while its predecessor had been concerned with salvation. Hence, the means itself became an end. But it must be remembered that Nyaya philosophy retains its importance in Indian Philosophy as a technique of logical thinking.

Vaisesika Philosophy:

Of the various Indian schools of thought, Nyaya and Vaisesika resemble each other. While the Nyaya is concerned primarily with pramana, the Vaisesika philosophy is centred around pramcyas. Hence, an analysis or description of Nyaya philosophy logically precedes that of the Vaisesika. The basic text of the Vaisesika philosophy is the text Vaisesika Sutra written by Kanada.

Many treatises were written on this text, the best known among which is the one written by Prashastapada in the sixth century. It was so well received that the treatise itself became the subject of further analysis and comment. Many other books were written on the Nyaya and Vaisesika philosophies.

The reason for calling this philosophy the Vaisesika is that it accepts the existence of a substance known as Visesa, a substance the existence of which is not recognized by any other philosophy. It is also called Philosophy of Kanada after its originator. According to some, its founder was also known as Ulooka, for which reason it is also called the Aulookya philosophy.

Mimamsa Philosophy:

Although Mimamsa philosophy does consider and analyze many philosophi­cal elements, it is fundamentally the analysis of the Vedic religion, for it concerns itself more directly with a religion which aims at man's welfare in this world and the next. As in the case of Nyaya philosophy, Mimamsa also had its beginnings in the city of Mithila. It is called Purva Mimamsa, because it analyses the karma kand which comes before jnana kand.

The aim of Mimamsa is the attainment of heaven. Its basic text is the Sutra of Gemini, and it is believed to have come into existence during the third century B.C. The treatise written by Shavar Swami is considered to be the best elaboration of the text.

The author of this is believed to have lived some-time between the second and the fourth centuries A.D. Three scholars—Kumarila Bhatta, Prabhakar Misra and Murari Misra—wrote treatises on the text written by Shavar Swami. The Purva Mimamsa philosophy, known in its present form, is the work of these three thinkers. Kumarila Bhatta wrote his work known as Shloka Vartik in the sixth and seventh centuries.

It aimed at giving a theistic leaning to Mimamsa philosophy. Mandan Misra, a relative of Kumarila Bhatta, was a Vedan- tin, and had engaged in a logical discussion with Samkaracharya. Prabhakar Misra was one of Kumarila Bhatta's students, but he rose to eminence on his own and presented his ideas independently. Murari Misra's text on the subject was produced during the eleventh century and came to be regarded as one of the authoritative texts of this school of thought.

The Advaita Vedanta:

It has already been pointed out that while Jaimini's philosophy is known as Purva Mimamsa, Vedanta philosophy is known as Uttar Mimamsa. Vedanta implies the philosophy of the Upanishads since they are the basic writings of Vedanta philosophy. But the fundamental these made in the Upanisads are later elaborated in the Brahma Sutra of Badarayana, and it is his critique which serves as the first test of the Advaita philosophy.

Samkaracharya's treatise is in fact an elaboration of this latter work. He was born in 788 A.D., and lived till 820 A.D. He was the disciple of Govindpada, himself the disciple of Gaudapada. Samkaracharya's primary aim, in writing the treatise of the Brahmasutra, was to rejuvenate Vedic religion and to denounce and decry the Buddhist and other atheist’s sects.

And, in its finished form, his treatise took on such a logical form that it is the mast reputed part of Indian philosophy which has won recognition outside India. Although there is some difference of opinion about the time in which Sam- karacharya lived, most scholars incline to the view that it was around the end of the eighth century.

It is said that Samkaracharya began by being a worshipper of the Goddess Sakti but later on became a Vaishnava, and still later renounced the world to become a sanyasin. It is because of this evolution that his writings include prayers to Sakti and Vishnu. In fact, although Samkaracharya believed in a single reality.

Brahman at the transcendental level, he accepted the value of religion at the practical level. Many different texts are attributed to Samkaracharya, but it is difficult to determine the genuine ones. Of the more famous works are his treatises written on the Brahmasutra, Gita, ten Upanishads and Mandukya Karika, and even among them the one on Brahmasutra is no more than a commentary.

Four of his disciples achieved considerable fame—Sureshwar, Padampada, Trotake and Hastamalaka. After Samkar's own work on the Brahma sutra, the next important commentary on it is the work of Vachaspati Misra, and his work is entitled Bhamati. Many other scholars attempted the same task, and the following achieved distinction by their individual interpretation of the Brahma sutra—Bhaskar Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva Vallabha and Vijnana Bhiksu.

As a result of certain superficial, similarities between Sainkara's concept and those of Buddgust monism, some people consider Samkara to be a crypto Buddhist, but this Buddhist influence in his works can be traced to the philosophy of Gaudapada whose work was influenced by Buddhistic monism. This theory can be refuted by the simple fact that Samkara was primarily concerned with criticizing and refuting Buddhist philosophy in order to reestablish the dying faith in the theistic religion of the past.

Visishtadvaita Philosophy:

The vedantic philosophy of Ramanuja is known as the Visishtadvaita philosophy. It is so called because it teaches that the conscious and unconscious, two prime elements in the universe, are no more than attributes of God. This system of thought is also called the Sri Sampradaya since the followers of Ramanuja use the prefix Sri before every name.

Even the treatise on Brahma sutra, written by Ramanuja, is called the Sri Bhasya. This philosophy has spread mainly in the Tamil-speaking areas. Ramanuja himself was the disciple of Yamunacharya. He was born in 1017 A.D. in Srirangam. He wrote the treatise on the Badarayana sutra, and this work came to be the basis of his philosophy. Lokacarya, Vedeanta Deshika and Sri Nivasacarya, are among the more illustrious scholars who were his followers.


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