Indian philosophy refers to the philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. Since the late medieval age (ca.1000–1500) schools of Indian philosophical thought have been identified as either orthodox or non-orthodox. There are six schools of orthodox Hindu philosophy—Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta—and three heterodox schools—Jain, Buddhist and Cārvāka. However there are other methods of classification; Vidyaranya for instance identifies sixteen schools of Indian philosophy by including those that belong to the Saiva and Rasesvara traditions.
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.
Some of the fundamentals expressed in the Indian philosophy and the Western philosophy may be similar. However, Indian philosophy differs from the Western philosophy on several counts. While the Western philosophy deals with metaphysics, epistemology, psychology, ethics etc. separately, Indian philosophy takes a comprehensive view of all these topics.
For an Indian philosopher, philosophy is something beyond an intellectual pursuit. The Indian philosopher exemplifies philosophy in his life. His intelligence, knowledge and wisdom are reflected in his life. This is why his life positively influences the life of masses.
The Indian philosophy uniquely describes four purusharthas of life.
The four basic ends (purusharthas) of human life, as recognized by the Indian tradition, are as follows:
- Artha – The Sanskrit word artha means ‘that which one seeks.’ Whatever activity and physical material a man needs to support life can be considered as artha. Artha, in a broad sense, covers man’s professional activities, job, business, wealth, property and all such earthly material helpful in maintaining his life.
- Kama – Man seeks pleasure in various activities and material objects. Pursuit of happiness and pleasure is a basic, natural instinct in man. Man derives pleasures from relationships and material objects like food, drink etc. This is kama. Man largely accumulates artha for kama. But artha and kama should be closely linked with the dharma. They should be directed towards dharma.
- Dharma – That which sustains. The word dharma stems from the Sanskrit root ‘dhr’ meaning ‘to sustain’ or ‘to support’. Dharma sustains or maintains life. Dharma supports the society. Man lives in the society with fellow-men and various life forms. Dharma lays down duties and obligations expected of man. An individual and the society, for their conduct and actions, get guidance from dharma. Man has obligation to his own self, to the fellow-men and to the society, in fact, to the whole environment of the world. All the mutual obligations of these inter-relationships are spelt out by dharma.
- Moksha – Liberation or total freedom. The Sanskrit word moksha is derived from the root ‘muk’. This root means ‘to emancipate’ or ‘to release’ or ‘to free’. Indian tradition considers moksha as the ultimate goal of life. The sufferings of man are due to avidya, his original ignorance about self. He has been oblivious of his true identity. He attaches himself to worldly objects. Tempted and pressed by everlasting lust and insurmountable desires, he remains bonded to the mundane objects. When knowledge (vidya) dawns on him, he overcomes the dualities of the world and identifies himself as the infinite, eternal Being. Having been completely free from all attachments, expectations and desires, the liberated soul attains moksha.
The following video is a good introduction to Indian philosophy, however the instructor may be difficult for native American English speakers to understand. We recommend that you use the CC feature for the video to read along with him.