Short notes on the Meaning and Scope of Indian Philosophy

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Indian philosophy denotes the philosophical speculations of all Indian thinkers, ancient or modern, Hindus or non-Hindus, theists or atheists. ‘Indian philosophy’ is supposed by some to be synonymous with ‘Hindu philosophy’.

This would be true only if the word ‘Hindu’ were taken in the geographical sense of ‘Indian’. But if ‘Hindu’ means the followers of a particular religious faith known as Hinduism, the supposition would be wrong and misleading.

Even in the ancient writings of the orthodox Hindu philosophers, like the Sarva-darsana-sangraha of Madhavacarya which tries to present in one place the views of all (sarva) schools of philosophy.

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We find in the list of philosophies (darsanas) the views of atheists and materialists like the Carvakas, and unorthodox thinkers like the Bauddhas and the Jainas, along with those of the orthodox Hindu thinkers.

Indian philosophy is marked, in this respect, by a striking breadth of outlook which only testifies to its unflinching devotion to the search for truth.

Though there were many different schools and their views differed sometimes vary widely, yet each school took care to learn the views of all the others and did not come to any conclusion before considering thoroughly what others had to say and how their points of view could be met.

This spirit led to the formation of a method of philosophical discussion. A philosopher had first to state the views of his opponent’s case which came to be known as the prior view (purvapaksa).

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Then followed the refutation (Chandan) of this view last of all came the statement and proof of the philosopher’s own position, which, therefore, was known as the subsequent view (uttarapaksa) or the conclusion (siddhanta).

This catholic spirit of treating rival positions with consideration was more than rewarded by the thoroughnes and perfection that most of the Indian schools attained.

If we open a comprehensive work on the Vedanta, we will find in it the statement of the views of all other schools Carvaka, Bauddha, Jaina, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimarhsa, Nyaya and Vaisesika discussed and weighed with all care; similarly any good work on the Bauddha or Jaina philosophy discusses the other views.

The systems thus became encyclopaedic in their grasp of ideas. Naturally we find that many of the problems of contemporary Western philosophy are discussed in Indian systems of philosophy.

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Besides, we find that indigenous scholars with a thorough training, exclusively in Indian philosophy, are able to deal even with abstruse problems of Western philosophy with surprising skill.

If the openness of mind the willingness to listen to what others have to say-has been one of the chief causes of the wealth and greatness of Indian philosophy in the past, it has a definite moral for the future.

If Indian philosophy is once more to revive and continue its great career, it can do so only by taking into consideration the new ideas of life and reality which have been flowing into India from the West and the East, from the Aryan, the Semitic, the Mongolian and other sources.

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