Indian philosophy refers to philosophical traditions which developed in the Indian subcontinent. Modern scholars generally divide the field between "Hindu Philosophy" (also known as "Vedic Philosophy") and non-Hindu traditions such as Buddhist Philosophy and Jain Philosophy. This division is generally derived from traditional Indian classifications.
There are numerous different Indian schools of thought, all of which debated and influenced each other throughout Indian history. Most Indian philosophical discourse took place in Sanskrit, but also extends to other languages such as various Prakrits, and other Asian Languages (mainly for Buddhist discourse).
Indian philosophical texts include extensive discussions on ontology (metaphysics, Brahman-Atman, Sunyata-Anatta), reliable means of knowledge (epistemology, pramana), ethics (which is often influenced by the Indian idea of karma), value system (axiology) and other topics.
The main schools of Indian philosophy were formalized chiefly between 2000 BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era. Competition and integration between the various schools were intense during their formative years, especially between 800 BCE and 200 CE. Today, the Hindu Philosophical schools are most influential in India, while the Buddhist tradition remains influential in the Himalayan regions, East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Indian philosophies share many concepts such as dharma (an ultimate principle or truth), karma (one's own ethical action, its cause and effect), pramana (epistemic warrant), the nature and existence (or not) of the atman (eternal self), samsara (cyclical process of birth-rebirth), reincarnation (or rebirth per se), dukkha (suffering), ahimsa (nonviolence), renunciation, meditation (dhyana), with almost all of them focusing on the ultimate goal of liberation of the individual through diverse range of spiritual practices (moksha, nirvana).
They differ in their assumptions about the nature of existence as well as the specifics of the path to the ultimate liberation, resulting in numerous schools that disagreed with each other. Their ancient doctrines span the diverse range of philosophies found in other ancient cultures.
A traditional classification divides orthodox (āstika) and heterodox (nāstika) schools of philosophy, depending on one of three alternate criteria: whether it believes the Vedas as a valid source of knowledge; whether the school believes in the premises of Brahman and Atman; and whether the school believes in afterlife and devas.
From this Hindu point of view, there are six major schools of orthodox (astika) Indian Hindu philosophy—Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta, and five major heterodox (nastika) schools—Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Charvaka. However, there are other methods of classification; Vidyaranya for instance identifies sixteen schools of Indian philosophy by including those that belong to the Śaiva and Raseśvara traditions.
Buddhist traditions meanwhile have their own doxographical categories. The main division is between Buddhists (who accept the word of the Buddha as authoritative in some way) and non-Buddhists (who do not accept the Buddhist teachings) which are labeled "tīrthikas" (forders, i.e. those who are, unsuccessfully, trying to make a ford to cross the river of samsara). For example, in Tibetan Buddhist classifications, which are derived from medieval Indian Buddhism, the main doxographical division is between the "The Buddha Dharma of the insiders" (which includes all the main Buddhist schools like Theravada, Vaibhasika, Sautrantika, Yogacara and Madhyamaka) and the Dharma systems of the "outsiders".
The Vedas are the oldest texts of the Indian tradition. They contain the main ideas, rituals and hymns of the Historical Vedic Religion. These ideas were the main source for the philosophies of the various Hindu schools of thought.
The earliest portion of the Vedas are termed the karma khaṇḍa, and includes hymns (Samhitas) and descriptions of rituals (Brahmanas). Key concepts which are found in these sections which later influenced the development of Hindu thought include the idea of Rta (cosmic harmony or universal order) and Brahman (an ultimate metaphysical principle). Other ideas found in the karma khaṇḍa include the necessity of ritual sacrifices (yajna), which includes animal sacrifice, and the division of society into castes or varnas (which can be found in the Puruṣa Sūkta).
Regarding theology, the Vedas do not present a single theological position. Instead, one can find multiple views and ideas regarding the gods and scholars have pointed out verses that can support monotheism, henotheism, polytheism and pantheism.
The most philosophical texts found in the Vedas are the Upaniṣads, which are also termed uttara mīmāṃsā (“higher inquiry”), or the vedānta (the end of the Vedas). These texts focus on metaphysical, axiological and cosmological issues, such as the ideas of Atman (the eternal individual self) and Brahman (here seen as the universal consciousness). The Upaniṣads associate Brahman with the cosmos, and further associate Brahman with Atman. They also include discussions on the nature of dharma and karma, on Māyā, on how to gain jñāna (knowledge), and on how to reach moksha (liberation). The different Upaniṣads also provide a variety of philosophical perspectives, from monism to dualism.
Vedic thought was further developed in other later texts (sometimes termed the Smṛti Literature), the most popular and important of which are the Mahābhārata and the Rāmāyana. While these are generally epic narratives, they include philosophical themes, and in some sections, are purely focused on philosophical exposition. The Bhagavad Gītā is the most influential of these philosophical discussions. One of the key ideas in these works is the ethics of Varna (varna) and life station (āśrama) and how this ethic relates to Dharma, yoga, and mokṣa. The Bhagavad Gītā presents these ideas alongside the idea of svadharma (one's own duty or individual role), which refers to an individual's duty in life which is based on their varna and profession. The Bhagavad Gītā exhorts individuals to follow their duty without attachment, and this is seen as true renunciation (which is important in order to reach mokṣa). The text also discusses the nature of God, and the practice of the yoga of devotion (bhakti).
After the Vedic period, a series of philosophical traditions developed among the Sanskrit literate classes (mainly Brahmins). Their ideas were closely influenced by the philosophies of the Vedas and the Upanishads, but also by the ideas of the Śramaṇa schools (to a lesser extent). The philosophers working in these traditions wrote new philosophical texts, which are often called "sutras". Some of these philosophical schools (called darśanas, "worldviews") are often classified into a standard list of six "orthodox" (Astika) darśanas, all of which accept the testimony of the Vedas.
Sometimes these groups are often coupled into three groups for both historical and conceptual reasons: Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya-Yoga, and Mīmāṃsā-Vedānta.
Each tradition included different currents and sub-schools, for example, Vedānta was divided among the sub-schools of Advaita (non-dualism), Visishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism), Dvaita (dualism), Dvaitadvaita (dualistic non-dualism), Suddhadvaita, and Achintya Bheda Abheda (inconceivable oneness and difference).
While the Vedic based "Six Darśanas" were extremely influential systems of thought in India, there were other systems which were also quite influential. The philosophical schools of Shaivism are often classified separately because of their commitment to texts other than the Vedas, mainly the Shaiva Agamas and Shaiva Tantras. There are several schools of Shaiva thought such as:
There are also other minor schools which are mentioned by Indian scholars like Vidyāraṇya. These include traditions such as Raseśvara (which focused on alchemical ideas which make use of mercury) and the linguistic philosophies of Pāṇini and Bhartṛhari.
Jainism is a Śramaṇic religion which rejected the authority of the Vedas and the brahmins. Its core philosophy is based on karma, rebirth, samsara and moksha. Jainism can be traced back through the lineage of 24 Tirthankars (preachers of Dharma). The first tirthankar Lord Rishabhdeva is regarded as the traditional founder of Jainism and the father of human civilization in the current time cycle. Historically, the 24th tirthankar Lord Mahavira lived in 6th century BCE and Lord Parshvanatha in 9th century BCE. Jainism places strong emphasis on strict asceticism, ahimsa (non-violence) and ethical vegetarianism as a means of purifying the soul of dark karma. These ideas influenced other Indian traditions including Buddhism and Hinduism. The ancient Tamil moral text of the Tirukkural written by Valluvar, who is believed to have belonged to either Jainism or Hinduism, keeps ahimsa as its central precept, insisting on non-killing and moral vegetarianism as the core virtues of an individual.
Jain philosophy is mainly a dualistic system which holds that there are two uncreated substances in the universe, unconscious matter (ajīva) and conscious souls (jīva) which are infinite in number. Karma is seen as a subtle matter which pollutes the souls and keep them bound to the cycle of transmigration. Jain practices stop the flow of karma into the soul, which leads to purification and eventually to spiritual liberation. For Jains, the universe is uncreated and has always existed, and thus Jainism rejects any theory of a creator deity or salvation through a god.
Another central doctrine of Jain thought is the doctrine of Anekantavada (relativity of viewpoints, many-sidedness, literally: "not-one-sided"). This doctrine holds that ultimate reality can only be understood from a multiplicity of viewpoints and perspectives.
Jain philosophy is outlined in the Tattvārthasūtra of Umaswati (possibly between 2nd-century and 5th-century CE), which is one of the most authoritative texts in the tradition. The views found in this text are fairly standard among the different Jain traditions and are shared by both the Śvetāmbara and Digambara sects.
Buddhist philosophy is a system of thought which started with the teachings of the Buddha, or "awakened one", also known as Gautama Buddha or Shakyamuni (the sage of the Shakya clan). Buddhism is founded on elements of the Śramaṇa movement, which flowered in the first half of the 1st millennium BCE. Buddhism and the other Indian philosophical schools mutually influenced each other and shared many concepts (such as karma, samsara, rebirth, and spiritual liberation).
However, Buddhist thought rejects foundational Vedic concepts such Brahman, Atman, the divine source of the castes, the authority of the Vedas and the usefulness of Vedic ritual. Instead, Buddhism affirms the impermanence of all conditioned phenomena, (including one's consciousness, and all other processes which make up a person) and thus rejects an eternal self, soul or consciousness in favor of the theory of not-self (anatman) and dependent origination (pratītyasamutpāda).
After the death of the Buddha, several competing philosophical systems termed Abhidharma began to emerge as ways to systematize Buddhist philosophy. The Mahayana movement also arose (c. 1st century BCE onwards) and included new ideas and scriptures.
The main traditions of Buddhist philosophy in India (from 300 BCE to 1000 CE) were::xxiv
Many of these philosophies were brought to other regions, like Central Asia and China. After the disappearance of Buddhism from India, some of these philosophical traditions continued to develop in the Tibetan Buddhist, East Asian Buddhist and Theravada Buddhist traditions.
Several Śramaṇic movements existed before the 6th century BCE, and these influenced most traditions of Indian philosophy. The Śramaṇa ("striver," "ascetic") schools gave rise to a diverse set of beliefs. These include the acceptance or denial of the concept of atman, atomism, antinomian ethics, materialism, atheism, agnosticism, fatalism, free will, extreme asceticism, affirmation of family life, strict ahimsa (non-violence), vegetarianism and the permissibility of violence and meat-eating. Notable philosophies that arose from Śramaṇic movement were Jainism, early Buddhism, Charvaka, Ajñana and Ājīvika.
Ajñana was one of the Śramaṇa schools of Indian philosophy, which was based on a radical skepticism. It was an ascetic renouncer movement and a major rival of early Buddhism and Jainism. They have been recorded in Buddhist and Jain texts. They held that it was impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it was useless and disadvantageous for final salvation. They were skeptics who specialised in refutation of other doctrines, without propagating any positive doctrine of their own.
The philosophy of Ājīvika was founded by Makkhali Gosala, it was another Śramaṇa rival of early Buddhism and Jainism. Ājīvikas were organised renunciates who formed discrete monastic communities prone to an ascetic and simple lifestyle.
Original scriptures of the Ājīvika school of philosophy may once have existed, but these are currently unavailable and probably lost. Their theories are extracted from mentions of Ajivikas in the secondary sources of ancient Indian literature, particularly those of Jainism and Buddhism which polemically criticized the Ajivikas. The Ājīvika school is known for its Niyati doctrine of absolute determinism (fate), the premise that there is no free will, that everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely preordained and a function of cosmic principles. Ājīvika considered the karma doctrine as a fallacy. Ājīvikas were atheists and rejected the authority of the Vedas, but they believed that in every living being is an ātman – a central premise of Hinduism and Jainism.
Charvaka or Lokāyata was a philosophy of scepticism, hedonism and materialism, founded in the Mauryan period. They were extremely critical of other Indian religions and schools of philosophy. Charvaka deemed Vedas to be tainted by the three faults of untruth, self-contradiction, and tautology. Likewise they faulted Buddhists and Jains, mocking the concept of liberation, reincarnation and accumulation of merit or demerit through karma. They believed that, the viewpoint of relinquishing pleasure to avoid pain was the "reasoning of fools".
The Arthashastra, attributed to the Mauryan minister Chanakya, is one of the early Indian texts devoted to political philosophy. It is dated to 4th century BCE and discusses ideas of statecraft and economic policy. Other Indian texts which discuss social and political issues are the Dharmaśāstras. Dharmaśāstras like the Manusmriti are comprehensive works which discuss custom, jurisprudence, politics, royal duties, social class and caste, morality, and war.
The political philosophy most closely associated with modern India is the one of ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha, popularised by Mahatma Gandhi during the Indian struggle for independence. In turn it influenced the later independence and civil rights movements, especially those led by Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela. Prabhat Ranjan Sarkar's Progressive Utilization Theory is also a major socio-economic and political philosophy.
The Indian traditions subscribed to diverse philosophies, significantly disagreeing with each other as well as orthodox Hinduism and its six schools of Hindu philosophy. The differences ranged from a belief that every individual has a soul (self, atman) to asserting that there is no soul, from axiological merit in a frugal ascetic life to that of a hedonistic life, from a belief in rebirth to asserting that there is no rebirth.
In appreciation of complexity of the Indian philosophy, T S Eliot wrote that the great philosophers of India "make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys". Arthur Schopenhauer used Indian philosophy to improve upon Kantian thought. In the preface to his book The World As Will And Representation, Schopenhauer writes that one who "has also received and assimilated the sacred primitive Indian wisdom, then he is the best of all prepared to hear what I have to say to him" The 19th century American philosophical movement Transcendentalism was also influenced by Indian thought