India Philosophy

By | November 7, 2021

In order to better understand the development of Indian philosophy, some premises are necessary: according to Pharmacylib, ​​in India there is no serious historiography even in the philosophical field and the information on individual authors, even the most important, is mixed with many legendary elements; consequently it is almost never possible to place them in precise references of time and place and one must renounce to reconstruct their personality and fall back on the exposure of currents of thought and systems. These had a rather rapid creative phase and exerted a profound influence on each other by finding a definitive arrangement in the first centuries of the Common Era. The main problem of Indian philosophical research was the theme on the essence of the ego and its relationship with reality, not as knowledge in itself, saṃsāra), origin of pain, to identity with the Absolute (liberation from pain, nirvāṇa). Indian philosophy is often a propaedeutic to religion; however some of its parts, such as logic and epistemology, have a frank philosophical rigor and denote great research originality. The first Indian philosophical speculation is scattered in the various texts of prayers (Saṁhita), of ritual prescriptions (Brāhmana, Upaniṣad) and among the religious, juridical and moral rules of the Brahman society (sutra): they offer us a first cosmogony, in which the world is the emanation of a supreme god and things are structured in a psychophysical dualism, in which man participates being formed of nāma, inner essence, and rūpa, external and sensible form. At the center, however, of this first speculation is the existence of an essential principle, both for man and for the universe, conceived by the Upaniṣadsas the soul (ā tman), subject of every action and thought of man, but unique in the whole universe, free from any space-time category. The antinomy between universal ā tman and the subject of the individual’s action is explained by the Upaniṣads with the presence of the karman, which does not allow the antinomy to be dissolved.

A second explanation is given by the sāṃkhya doctrine, which found a systematic formulation probably in the century. IV d. C. but which has very ancient origins: there are two equally eternal realities, individual souls (puruṣa), equipped with intelligence but denied action, and matter (prakrti), unique but differentiated in three ways of being: one light and bright, a source of pleasure; the other mobile, the cause of pain; the third inert, as an obstacle; from their perpetual movement the things of the empirical world originate; pain derives from the non-distinction between psyche (moment of the evolution of matter) and soul and from the attribution to this of qualities proper to matter instead. This confusion would originate from their proximity, for which the soul is reflected in the psyche to the point of feeling pain as its own, while by nature it is free from it. Liberation occurs when the psyche becomes aware of its derivation from matter and the soul of its native purity. In search of the means of knowledge the sāṃkhya doctrine elaborated a very interesting epistemological theory: man has eleven senses, five of perception (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch), five of action (tongue, feet, hands, organs of excretion, organs of reproduction), plus the intellect, which reacts to sensory stimuli. Next to the sāṃkhya school is yoga: matter is eternal and uncreated, but guided to its end by a god (Iśvara); to know his true being under the illusory and empirical forms of his personality, man must free, with a severe discipline, the psyche from every memory and arrive at the absolute stillness of mental functions, in which he becomes transparent in the human intellect the difference between soul and psyche and man frees himself from phenomenal becoming.


Between the century IX and XI the revelation of the Vedas was replaced by that of the Āgama and the new schools, named after the god Śiva, who was at the center of this cultural revolution, were called ś ivaite. Among them, the one formed around Abhinavagupta (11th century) was important: reality is a unique, absolute and ineffable entity; even the essence of man is not describable and moreover wrapped in an innate non-knowledge permeated with karman; but Śiva intervenes to make the Absolute knowable to man. The world has its cause in God, who however is coeval with the world and what happens in this is a manifestation of the evolution of the divine conscience and an expression of his will. In the problem of knowledge, the śivaites argued that there can be no separation of sensible from discursive consciousness; the individual himself, by the fact of being perceived, is already a discursive image, indeed it is the same universe which, coming into contact with space and time, loses its eternity and ubiquity. However, even before the object is perceived as universal or particular, it is within us as a tension towards knowing and the principle of volition. The individual ego is free and multiplicity is the fruit of the freedom through which the ego expresses itself. L’ karman, frees himself in the act of recognizing his divine nature, his bliss and freedom under the false guise of pain.

Linked to the mysticism and Gnosticism of Brahmanism, the Vedanta “Vedanta” system developed since ancient times, based on the thought of Bādarāyṇa (3rd century AD) and found in Šaṇkara (788-820) its definitive arrangement: on the one hand it is the brahman or ā tman, absolute, indefinable; on the other, the empirical world suspended between being and non-being. For the karman that surrounds him, man suffers and to free himself from his pain he must have a clear awareness that the world cannot identify itself with either being or non-being. Other Vedanta schoolit is the one founded by Rāmānuja (ca. 1017-ca. 1137): starting from the premises of Šaṇkara, he concluded that the multiplicity of the empirical world is an eternal and real quality of the brahman, absolute metaphysical, which he identifies with god; he draws from his infinity the essence with which he creates the world. Bhaskara (IX-X century) and Madhva (1199-1274 or 1276) reacted to Vedanta monism, breaking it into a dualistic conception. The liveliness of the Vedanta schoolsis demonstrated by the fact that they resisted the Muslim conquest (11th-14th centuries) and continued to enliven Indian thought: precisely in the period of English domination (18th-19th centuries) they gave rise to a strong current of revival of Hindu religion and philosophy and they still represent today the most alive vein of Indian philosophy. In the sec. XIX there were various attempts at reform: Rammohan Roy (1774-1833), who in 1828 gathered around him a religious community (Brāhma Samāj) for the fight against polytheism and idolatry and that he abolished castes among his followers; the Theosophical Society, which exported the highest principles of Hindu religion and philosophy to the world. The great personalities of the new India (Gandhi, Aurobindo Ghosh, Tagore, Rādhākrishnan) still asked inspiration for this thought several times millennial and the research of the philosophical thought of India and its history is still lively in Indian universities.

India Philosophy