• The English word ‘philosophy’ has its root in the Greek term – ‘philo-sophia’. The term ‘philo’ refers to ‘love’ and ‘sophia’ refers to wisdom or human reason. The Greek terms can be literally translated in English as “love of reason” or “love of human judgment and discrimination.”
  • 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.
  • 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’ 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’.

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.
  • All the schools of Indian philosophy agreed that man should strive for the fulfillment of four goals or purusharthas of life – artha, kama, dharma and moksha.

The Schools of Indian Philosophy

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:

Orthodox Systems

  • The orthodox systems uphold the authority and supremacy of the Vedas.
  • The orthodox systems are: Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva-Mimamsa, and Uttar-Mimamsa.
    • Very often, Purva-Mimamsa is referred to as “Mimamsa” only and Uttar-Mimamsa as “Vedanta”.

Heterodox Systems

  • The heterodox systems reject the authority of the Vedas.
  • The five major heterodox (sramanic) systems are: Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Charvaka.

Orthodox Schools of Indian Philosophy


  • Samkhya is one of the oldest of Indian philosophies.
  • An eminent, great sage Kapila was the founder of the Samkhya School.
  • The Samkhya philosophy combines the basic doctrines of Samkhya and Yoga. However it should be remembered that the Samkhya represents the theory and Yoga represents the application or the practical aspects.
  • Samkhya is dualistic realism. It is dualistic because it advocates two ultimate realities: Prakriti i.e. matter and Purusha, the self (spirit). Samkhya is realism as it considers that both matter and spirit are equally real.
  • According to Samkhya philosophy,
    • Prakriti is the primordial substance behind the world.
    • It is the material cause of the world.
    • Prakriti is the first and ultimate cause of all gross and subtle objects.
PurusharthaMeaningTreatise on the Goal
ArthaEconomic wealth.
In a broad sense, it covers man’s professional activities, job, business, wealth, property and all such earthly material helpful in maintaining his life.
Matters related to the economy were discussed in Arthashastras.
DharmaThat which sustains’ is dharma.
It means regulation of social orders.
Dharma lays down duties and obligations expected of man.
Matters related to the state were discussed in Dharmashastras.
KamaPhysical Pleasure or love.
Man seeks pleasure in various activities and material objects, Pursuit of happiness and pleasure is a basic, natural instinct in man.
The Kamasutra discusses the matters related to physical pleasures.
MokshaLiberation or Salvation.
Moksha is the ultimate goal of life.
The various schools of philosophy discuss the means to attain moksha.
  • Prakriti is constituted of three gunas, namely sattva, rajas and tamas.
    • Sattva is concerned with happiness,
    • Rajas is concerned with action, and
    • Tamas is associated with ignorance and inaction.
  • There are two views on the theory of causation in the Indian philosophy:
    • Satkaryavada (pre-existence of the effect in the cause): It maintains that karya (effect) is sat or real. It is present in the karana (cause) in a potential form, even before its manifestation.
    • Asatkaryavada (non-existence of the effect in the cause): It maintains that karya (effect) is asat or unreal until it comes into being. Every effect, then, is a new beginning and is not born out of cause. Charvakism and Nyaya -Vaisheshika systems favour asatkaryavada.

Samkhya and the Theory of Knowledge

  • Samkhya accepts three sources of valid knowledge:
    • Perception (Pratyaksha)
    • Inference (Anumana)
    • Testimony (Shabda)

Samkhya and God

  • Kapila, the proponent of the Samkhya School, rules out the existence of God.
  • He asserts that the existence of God can not be proved and that God does not exist.

Bondage and Salvation

  • Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Samkhya regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and suffering.
  • According to Samkhya, the self is eternal, pure consciousness.
  • Once the self becomes free of ignorance, the salvation is possible.

Yoga School

  • Patanjali was the proponent of the Yoga system. Yoga is closely associated with Samkhya. Yoga is largely based on the Samkhya philosophy. They are two sides of the same coin. Samkhya is the theory, Yoga is the practice.
  • It should be noted, however, that Samkhya is basically an atheistic system, but Yoga is theistic i.e. it believes that God exists.
  • Patanjali propagated his philosophy of Yoga in his great work – Yoga-Sutra.
  • Yoga is a self-disciplining process of concentration and meditation. Such a Yogic practice leads one to higher states of consciousness. This helps one in acquiring direct knowledge and the result is Self-Realization.
  • Patanjali shows the way to emancipation by Ashtangayoga. Ashtanga-yoga comprises of eight anga (steps): yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi.
    • Yama means restraint. One must turn to ethics by refraining himself from immoral activities. This is the first step towards self-discipline.
    • Niyama means observance. It refers to the cultivation of values and virtues in life.
      • These two anga – Yama and Niyama – protects the aspirant from irresistible temptations and desires and offer a protection from the distractions.
    • Asana means posture of the body. A steady but comfortable posture is essential for Yoga.
    • Pranayama is concerned with the control of breath. The cycles of inspiration, kumbhaka and expiration have to be carefully monitored. Both these anga enhances the steadiness of the body and mind.
    • Pratyahara is concerned with the withdrawal of the senses. The senses, by their inherent nature, remain focused on the external world. Pratyahara helps to detach the sense organs from the objects facilitates the concentration of the mind on any particular object.
    • Dharana is concerned with the concentration. It is concerned with concentrating the chitta on a single object. The subject is focusing on an object. If the mind diverts to some other object, it has to be fixed again on the chosen object of concentration.
    • Dhyana is concerned with contemplation. In this stage, the aspirant can keep the mind steady on the object chosen for contemplation.
    • Samadhi is the ultimate stage of Yogic Practice. Now all self-awareness of the mind disappears. There is the unification of the subject and the object. The duo, the subject and the object, mingles into unity. There is oneness devoid of material existence; it is pure Consciousness.

Vaisheshika School

  • Kanada, a learned sage, founded this system. This system is believed to be as old as Jainism and Buddhism. Kanada presented his detailed atomic theory in Vaisheshika-Sutra. Basically, Vaisheshika is a pluralistic realism.
  • It explains the nature of the world with seven categories: Dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma(action), samanya(universal) vishesha (particular), amavaya(inherence) and abhava (nonexistence).
  • Vaisheshika contends that every effect is a fresh creation or a new beginning (asatkaryavada). Thus this system refutes the theory of pre-existence of the effect in the cause.
  • This system accepts that God (Ishvara) as the efficient cause of the world. The eternal atoms are the material cause of the world.
  • Vaisheshika recognizes nine ultimate substances: Five material and four non-material substances.
    • The five material substances are: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Akasha.
    • The four non-material substances are: Space, Time, Soul and Mind.
  • The soul develops attachment to the body owing to ignorance. The soul identifies itself with the body and mind. The soul is trapped in the bondage of karma, as a consequence of actions resulted from countless desires and passions. It can be free from the bondage only if it becomes free from actions. Liberation follows the cessation of the actions.

Nyaya School

  • Nyaya is an orthodox school of philosophy. It was founded by a great sage called Gautama, not to be confused with the Lord Buddha.
  • Its methodology is based on a system of logic that has subsequently been adopted by the majority of the Indian schools, in much the same way as Aristotelian logic has influenced Western philosophy.
  • Its followers believe that obtaining valid knowledge is the only way to gain release from suffering. It recognizes the four sources of obtaining valid knowledge:
    • Perception
    • Inference
    • Comparison
    • Testimony
  • Like the Vaisheshika, Nyaya holds that the self is an individual substance, eternal and all pervading. Consciousness is not an essential attribute of the self, but it is only an accidental one.
  • According to Nyaya, salvation is the state of absolute freedom. It is freedom from all pains and pleasures. Then there is freedom from the cycle of the birth and death also.

Mimamsa School

  • Jaimini is credited as the chief proponent of the Mimamsa system. His glorious work is Mimamsa-Sutra written around the end of the 2nd century CE
  • Each of the Vedas is considered to be composed of four parts:
    • Samhitas
    • Brahmanas
    • Aranyakas
    • Upanishads
  • The first two parts are generally focused on the rituals and they form the Karma-kanda portion of the Vedas. The latter two parts form the Jnana-kanda (concerned with knowledge) portion of the Vedas.
  • Mimamsa philosophy is basically the analysis of interpretation, application and the use of the text of the Samhita and Brahmana portions of the Vedas.
  • The main objective of the Mimamsa school is to interpret and establish the authority of the Vedas. It requires unquestionable faith in the Vedas and the regular performance of the Vedic fire-sacrifices to sustain all the activity of the universe.
  • According to Mimamsa philosophy Vedas are eternal and possess all knowledge, and religion means the fulfillment of duties prescribed by the Vedas.
  • Mimansa means investigation or enquiry. The primary enquiry is into the nature of dharma based on close theology of the Vedas.
  • The Mimansa school explains the Dharma as a “virtue”, “morality” or “duty”. The duty is to follow the prescriptions of the Samhitas and their Brahmana commentaries relating the correct performance of
    Vedic rituals. This implies that Dharma is the essentially ritualism.
  • Mimamsa school insists that salvation can only be attained by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of the Vedas.
  • Purva-Mimamsa is based on the earlier (Purva = earlier) parts of the Vedas.
  • Uttar-Mimamsa is based on the later (Uttar = later) parts of the Vedas.
  • Purva-Mimamsa is also known as Karma Mimamsa since it deals with the Karmic actions of rituals and sacrifices.
  • Uttar-Mimamsa is also known as Brahman Mimamsa since it is concerned with the knowledge of Reality.
  • In popular terms, Purva-Mimamsa is known simply as Mimamsa and Uttar-Mimamsa as Vedanta.

Vedanta School

  • The word ‘Vedanta’ usually refers to the Upanishads. The word is a compound of ‘Veda’ and ‘Anta’. It means the ending portion of the Vedas. However, the word ‘Vedanta’, in a broad sense, covers not only the Upanishads but all the commentaries and interpretations associated with the Upanishads.
  • The Vedanta philosophy is focused on the Jagat (the universe), the Jiva (individual soul) and the Brahman (the Supreme Being).
  • We have three major schools of Vedanta based on the philosophy of the distinguished trio:
    • Advaita (non-dualism) of Shamkaracharya.
    • Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism) of Ramanuja.
    • Dvaita(dualism) of Madhavacharya.
  • All three schools are founded on the Vedanta philosophy. However, there have been differences among them. Even the followers of a particular system, within their own fold, differ to some degree on certain issues.
  • Shankaracharya’s discourse or his philosophical views came to be known as Advaita Vedanta.
    • Advaita literally means non-dualism or belief in one reality.
    • Shankaracharya expounded that ultimate reality is one, it being the Brahman. Brahman, Jagat and Jiva are not different, separate entities.
  • Ramanuja was another well known Advaita scholar who put forward the Vishishtadvaita philosophy.
    • Vishishtadvaita literally means “qualified non-dualism”. Ramanuja stresses that God alone exists. He says that Brahman is God. He is not formless. The Cosmos and the Jivas form his body.
  • Madhavacharya propounded the Dvaita school.
    • The Dvaita school is based on the concept of dualism.
    • Madhavacharya emphasizes the distinction between God and individual soul (Jiva).
    • The school maintains that the God, Jiva and the Jagat are three separate and everlasting entities.
  • According to Vedanta philosophy, ‘Brahman is true, the world is false and self and Brahman are not different.’
    • Shankaracharya believes that the Brahman is existent, unchanging , the highest truth and the ultimate knowledge. He also believes that there is no distinction between Brahman and the self. The knowledge of Brahman is the essence of all things and the ultimate existence.
  • Vedanta is a philosophy and a religion. As a philosophy it inculcates the highest truths that have been discovered by the greatest philosophers and the most advanced thinkers of all ages and all countries.

Heterodox School (Unorthodox Schools) of Indian Philosophy

Heterodox School Unorthodox Schools of Indian Philosophy

Buddhist Philosophy

  • Gautama Buddha, who founded the Buddhist philosophy, was born in 563 BCE at Lumbini, a village near Kapilavastu in the foothills of Nepal. His childhood name was Siddhartha.
  • His mother, Mayadevi, died when he was hardly a few days old. He was married to Yashodhara at the age of sixteen.
  • At the age of twenty-nine, Gautama Buddha renounced family life to find a solution to the world’s continuous sorrow of death, sickness, poverty, etc. He went to the forests and meditated there for six years. Thereafter, he went to Bodh Gaya (in Bihar) and meditated under a pipal tree. It was at this place that he attained enlightenment and came to be known as the Buddha.
  • He then travelled a lot to spread his message and helped people find the path of liberation or freedom.
  • Gautama’s three main disciples – Upali, Ananda and Mahakashyap remembered his teachings and passed them on to his followers.
  • It is believed that soon after the Buddha’s death a council was called at Rajagriha where Upali recited the Vinaya Pitaka (rules of the order) and Ananda recited the Sutta Pitaka (Buddha’s sermons or doctrines and ethics). Sometime later the Abhidhamma Pitaka consisting of the Buddhist philosophy came into existence.
  • Buddhism is divided into two sects: Mahayana and Hinayana. Mahayana literature is written in Sanskrit and Hinayana literature is written in Pali.

Main Characteristics

  • Buddha presented simple principles of life and practical ethics that people could follow easily. He considered the world as full of misery. Man’s duty is to seek liberation from this painful world. He strongly criticized blind faith in the traditional scriptures like the Vedas.
  • Buddha’s teachings are very practical and suggest how to attain peace of mind and ultimate liberation from this material world.

Realization of Four Noble Truths

  • The knowledge realized by Buddha is reflected in the following four noble truths:
    • There is Suffering in Human Life: When Buddha saw human beings suffering from sickness, pain and death, he concluded that there was definitely suffering in human life. There is pain with birth. Separation from the pleasant is also painful. All the passions that remain unfulfilled are painful. Pain also comes when objects of sensuous pleasure are lost . Thus, life is all pain.
    • There is Cause of Suffering: It is the desire (trsna) that motivates the cycle of birth and death. Therefore, desire is the fundamental cause of suffering.
    • There is Cessation of Suffering: The third Noble Truth tells that when passion, desire and love of life are totally destroyed, pain stops. It involves destruction of ego (aham or ahamkara), attachment, jealousy, doubt and sorrow. That state of mind is the state of freedom from desire, pain and any kind of attachment. It is the state of complete peace, leading to nirvana.
    • Path of Liberation: The fourth Noble Truth leads to a way that takes to liberation. Thus, initially starting with pessimism, the Buddhist philosophy leads to optimism. Buddha suggests that the way or the path leading to liberation is eight-fold, through which one can attain nirvana.
Eight-fold Path to Liberation (Nirvana)
  1. Right Vision: One can attain right vision by removing ignorance. Ignorance creates a wrong idea of the relationship between the world and the self. It is on account of wrong understanding of man that he takes the non-permanent world as permanent. Thus, the right view of the world and its objects is the right vision.
  2. Right Resolve: It is the strong will-power to destroy thoughts and desires that harm others. It includes sacrifice, sympathy and kindness towards others.
  3. Right Speech: Man should control his speech by right resolve. It means to avoid false or unpleasant words by criticizing others.
  4. Right Conduct: It is to avoid activities which harm life. It means to be away from theft, excessive eating, the use of artificial means of beauty, jewellery, comfortable beds, gold etc.
  5. Right Means of Livelihood: Right livelihood means to earn one’s bread and butter by right means. It is never right to earn money by unfair means like fraud, bribery, theft, etc.
  6. Right Effort: It is also necessary to avoid bad feelings and bad impressions. It includes self-control, stopping or negation of sensuality and bad thoughts, and awakening of good thoughts.
  7. Right Mindfulness: It means to keep one’s body, heart and mind in their real form. Bad thoughts occupy the mind when their form is forgotten. When actions take place according to the bad thoughts, one has to experience pain.
  8. Right Concentration: If a person pursues the above seven Rights, he will be able to concentrate properly and rightly. One can attain nirvana by right concentration (meditation).
Eight fold Path to Liberation

Jaina Philosophy

  • The Jains too do not believe in the Vedas, but they admit the existence of a soul. They also agree with the orthodox tradition that suffering (pain) can be stopped by controlling the mind and by seeking right knowledge and perception and by observing the right conduct.
  • The Jaina philosophy was first propounded by the tirthankar Rishabha Deva. There were twenty-four tirthankaras who actually established the Jaina darshan. The first tirthankar realised that the source of Jaina philosophy was Adinath. The twentyfourth and the last tirthankar was named Vardhaman Mahavira who gave great impetus to Jainism.
  • Mahavira was born in 599 BCE. He left worldly life at the age of thirty and led a very hard life to gain true knowledge. After he attained Truth, he was called Mahavira. He strongly believed in the importance of celibacy or brahamcharya.
  • The two main sects of Jainism are:
    • Digambara
    • Shwetambara
  • The Digambaras believe that a monk must give up all property including clothes and then only they get moksha. They also deny the right of women to moksha.
  • Jainism is both a philosophy and a religion. It is a heterodox philosophy in the sense that it does not uphold the authority of the Vedas.
  • Jainism believes that the universe is eternal and boundless (infinite).
  • The Jains classify all the things into two groups: ‘jiva’ and ‘ajiva’.
    • Jiva is what is known as the soul or the ‘atman’ or the ‘purusha’ in other systems. The jivas or the souls are innumerable and are divided into many grades or categories depending on the sense-organs they possess.

Charvaka School or Lokayata Philosophy

  • Brihaspati is supposed to be the founder of the Charvaka School of philosophy.
  • Charvaka philosophy deals with the materialistic philosophy. It is also known as the Lokayata Philosophy – the philosophy of the masses.
  • According to Charvaka there is no other world. Hence, pleasure should be the ultimate object in life as death is the end of humans. Hence, they propounded the theory of ‘eat, drink and merry’.
  • Charvaka recognizes no existence other than this material world. Since God, soul, and heaven, cannot be perceived, they are not recognised by Charvakas.
  • Out of the five elements earth, water, fire, air and ether, the Charvakas do not recognise ether as it is not known through perception. The whole universe according to them is thus consisted of four elements.
  • Like other schools of philosophy, Charvakism explores the sources and validity of man’s knowledge of reality The Charvakas validate ‘Pratyaksa’ (perception) as the sole source and criterion of knowledge. For the materialist, the sense perception (pratyaksa) is the only acceptable source and hence they rule out ‘inference’ and ‘testimony’ as the source and criterion of knowledge.

Q. Which one of the following four Vedas contains an account of magical charms and spells? [2004]

(a) Rigveda
(b) Yajurveda
(c) Atharvaveda
(d) Samaveda

Q. With reference to the history of philosophical thought in India, consider the following statements regarding Sankhya school: [2013]

1. Sankhya does not accept the theory of rebirth or transrmigration of soul.
2. Sankhya holds that it is the self-knowledge that leads to liberation and not any exterior influence or agent.

Which of the statements given above is /are correct?
(a) 1 only
(b) 2 only
(c) Both 1 and 2
(d) Neither 1 nor 2

Q. Which one of the following pairs does not form part of the six systems of Indian Philosophy? [2014]

(a) Mimamsa and Vedanta
(b) Nyaya and Vaisheshika
(c) Lokayata and Kapalika
(d) Sankhya and Yoga

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