Some of the important characteristics of Indian Philosophical Systems are as follows:
The Vedas occupy a very important place in the Indian philosophy. The roots of most of the Indian philosophical systems can be traced to the Vedas.
This Vedic tradition is delineated in two sections called the Section of Knowledge (jnana kanda) and the Section of Ritualsm (karma kanda).
The Brahmana scriptures have developed the karma kanda and the Aranyakas and the Upanishads have developed the jnana knada.
This small rivulet of knowledge which originated in the Vedas attained such width and depth in the Upanishads that it was difficult to recognize its origin in the Vedas. It was further directed into various currents forming different philosophical systems many of which did not recognize the Vedas as their source.
Thus, on the basis of respect for the Vedas or otherwise, Indian philosophical systems have been divided into two classes viz., Astik and Nastik. Literally, the word Astik means a theist or one who believes in God while the word ‘Nastik’ means an atheist or one who does not believe in God. But in Indian philosophy these words denote believer and non-believer respectively in the testimony of the Vedas. Astik, here does not mean one who believes in rebirth since even the Nastik systems of Jaina and Buddha believe in rebirth.
The Astik Class:
Thus, Astiks are those systems of Indian philosophy which believe in the testimony of the Vedas. This class includes six systems of Indian philosophy which are collectively known as Sad Darshan. These are Mimamsa, Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaiseshika. It must be noted that of these systems, Mimamsa does not believe in God.
Hence, the meaning of Astik is believer in the Vedas. The Astik class is not limited to these six systems alone. According to Madhvacharya, even grammar and medicine belong to this class. But generally speaking, Astik Darshana connotes the six systems named above.
Now, in the Astika class itself, there are two types of philosophical systems (1) those which are directly based upon the Vedic scriptures. These include Mimamsa and Vedanta. Of these, the first emphasizes the ritualistic aspect of the Vedas and the second the knowledge aspect. As they are directly based upon the Vedas, both these types are sometimes called Mimamsa. To make a distinction, Vedanta is known as Purva Mimamsa or Jnana Mimamsa and the other is known as Uttara Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa.
Both these systems have their own value in Indian philosophy. (2) Those which are not directly based on the Vedic scriptures but have an independent basis. These, however, accept the testimony of the Vedas and try to show the harmony of their own thought with that of the Vedas. These include Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaiseshika.
The Nastik Class:
The Nastik class of Indian philosophical systems includes the Charvakas, the Jaina and the Buddha systems. These types do not believe in the testimony of the Vedas. As a matter of fact, they owe their origin to the reaction against Vedic traditions. The Charvaka philosophers have openly abused the Vedas.
They say that the Vedas are full of lies and repetitions; they have been created by cunning priests who intended to play their own game by misguiding ignorant-persons. The tall talk of heavenly pleasures is a meaningless jargon and so are the Vedas which claim to give heavenly pleasures to men.
It goes without saying that this prejudicial attack on the Vedas has been vehemently condemned by able philosophers like Udayana and Vainkathnath. Again, the Jainas also do not believe in (lie Vedas. Instead, they believe in the words of Tirthankaras.
The Buddhist philosophers have also condemned blind faith in the Vedas. But neither Jainas nor Buddhists have abused the Vedas nor shown utter disrespect to them as Charvaka has done. As a matter of fact, despite their belonging to Nastik class, they are nearer to the Astik systems as compared with Charvaka.
Common Characteristics of Indian Philosophical Systems:
Philosophy is the realization of eternal truths in the background of time, clime and culture. Of course, these eternal truths transcend the barriers of time and place, yet their manifestation is conditioned to a certain degree by these factors. Therefore, one finds that though similar in their fundamentals, the philosophical systems of different countries are profoundly influenced by their own culture.
As has already been pointed out, some of the Indian philosophical schools are Astik, while other are Nastik. The Anti-Vedic Darhsanas include Charvaka, Buddha and Jaina schools of philosophy. Some of the pro-Vedic systems of philosophy are derived from Vedic thought e.g., Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaisesika, etc.
The philosophical schools derived from Vedic thought are further divided into Mimamsa based on Karma Kanda and Vedanta based on Jnana Kanda. Despite this diversity, Indian philosophy is characterized by a fundamental unity. Following are the common characteristics of Indian philosophical systems:
1. Spiritual Orientation:
Indian philosophy is spiritual. Indian philosophy believes in the reality of the soul and seeks to realize it in its true form. The realization of the soul has been the common goal of all Indian philosophical schools. All of them, from Upanishads to Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika and Vedanta, have been inspired alike by the same inquisitiveness.
2. Closeness to life:
Indian philosophy is close to life. Therefore, Indian philosophy does not merely seek to quench intellectual thirst. It has a higher and profounder aim in view. It wants to tackle the ultimate problems of life. It is born and bred in life. The classics of Indian philosophy e.g., the Gita and the Upanishads, are not divorced from human life. In them are faithfully mirrored ideals and feelings of the Indian masses.
3. Spiritual dissatisfaction:
Indian philosophers were not content with merely mundane pursuits. As a matter of fact, Indian philosophy owes its origin; to the discontent of the spirit with merely temporal life. It aims at a divine transformation of life. The spiritual discontent of Indian philosophers, however, is not pessimism.
Bhuddha laid great emphasis on the seamy side of the world, yet it was he who suggested the Eightfold Path as the panacea for all worldly travails and tribulations. Thus, Indian philosophy, though having its origin in pessimism, moves forward to optimism and happiness.
4. Liberation, the ultimate end:
Knowledge, in Indian philosophy, means divine transformation of life and emancipation from worldly miseries. Barring Charvaka, Astika and Nastika Indian philosophies, though differing in details as to their conception of liberation, unanimously hold that liberation enables a man to free himself from the shackles of ignorance and from the bondage of worldly misery. It renders him immune from the thousand ills that flesh is heir to. This is a spiritual stage, which transcends ethics and religion.
5. Ignorance, the root cause of bondage:
That misery and bondage are the offspring of human ignorance is the common cornerstone of all philosophical schools of India. Not only is ignorance intellectual, but it is also spiritual and psychological. The four great Truths and the Vedanta are the nostrums, suggested by Buddha and Samkara respectively, for banishing this bane from the world. Hence, the unavoidable necessity of getting rid of ignorance, if one wants to be impervious to the manifold affections of earthly existence.
6. Practice of Yoga for Moksa:
All Indian philosophers regard some sort of practice of yoga as a prerequisite for getting freedom from psychological and spiritual ignorance. The eight-fold yoga of Patanjali has been incorporated in some degree in almost all Indian philosophies. The practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Samadhi and Niddihyasana, etc., is regarded as essential for removing ignorance. The transmutation of life through knowledge is the aim of spiritual practice (Sadhana). Indian philosophical systems lay equal emphasis on both knowledge (Jnana) and spiritual practice. This practice is not only negative; it has a positive side, too. In fact, Indian philosophers emphasized spiritual practices of the intellect, mind and body.
7. Psychological basis:
As the basis of Indian philosophy is in psychological facts, Indian philosophers have minutely and vividly explained human psychology. From Buddha down to Patanjali, Samkara and Ramanuja, all teachers emphasized the psychological aspect of philosophy. Even now, Yogic exercises are held to be most efficacious for curing physical and mental maladies and attaining concentration of mind. The Vedanta gives a minute analysis of the different stages of human consciousness—Jagrta, Svapna, Susupti and Turiya. Based on the experiences of life, Indian philosophy seeks to X-ray these experiences.
8. Synthesis of religion and philosophy:
The most striking common feature of all Indian philosophical systems lies in the fact that problems of religion and those of philosophy have not been divided into water-tight compartments. The concept of ‘Dharma’ in India has been used in a wide and comprehensive sense. In fact, the transformation of life and emancipation from worldly misery constitute the common goal of both philosophy and religion. One finds no yawing gap between man, matter and God in Indian philosophical systems. Philosophical principles are tested on the touchstone of life. Intellectual and spiritual experiences are the criteria for ascertaining the soundness and worth of religious principles.
Despite respect for tradition, Indian philosophical systems seek truth in their own independent way. They approach the problems with an open mind and an unprejudiced eye. In them one can trace the germs of almost all the ‘isms’ of the philosophical world. Not only had the Indian philosopher to put forth strong and sound arguments for propounding his thesis, he had also to repudiate other schools. Thanks to the age-old custom of philosophical discussion (Shastrartha), logic got a free play in Indian philosophy and found in it a congenial atmosphere for its free and full development.
10. Synthetic Approach:
Though intellectuals, the Indian philosophers had a synthetic approach. They never laid exclusive emphasis on any single aspect of human life. Though recommending individual spiritual practice, they kept universal welfare in view. Not only were Samkara, Mahavir and Buddha eminent philosophers, they were also equally eminent social reformers. The Indian philosophical systems had, as their aim, not only individual salvation, but also the spiritual transformation of society. Such transformation, according to them, had implicit in it physical and mental transformation also.
11. Dynamism. Indian philosophical systems are dynamic:
When one particular system of philosophy became very popular, it was countered by some other system. Through the diversity of Materialism, Spiritualism, Dualism, Non- dualism and Qualified Monism, etc., one can see the unbroken chain of action and reaction and the dynamic evolution of Indian philosophy as a spiritual whole.
12. Faith in the Past:
Notwithstanding their logical approach to problems, all Indian philosophical systems have a common faith in the Vedas, the Gita and the Upanishads. All Astika philosophical systems regard the Scriptures as testimony, though scriptural testimony is based not on word, but on intuitive truth. As a matter of fact, the Vedas are the repositories of the intuitive knowledge of the Indian seers. This faith in ancient wisdom accounts for a particular order, which one finds in all the Indian philosophical systems. But it cannot be equated with blind faith in Scriptures. Even philosophers like Samkara, who regard themselves as no more than commentators, favour the use of logic when faced with contradictions in Scriptures.
13. Faith in Rta:
The Indian philosophy sees a moral system in microcosm and macrocosm alike. This universal moral system is termed ‘Rta’ in the Vedas, ‘Apurva’ in Mimamsa and Adrsta in Nyaya-Vaisesika. According to it, gods, living beings, and plants all move in accordance with one universal moral pattern.
14. Faith in Karma:
This moral system is manifested through the theory of Karma in the life of an individual. Almost all the Indian philosophers* believe in the theory of Karma. According to it, the results of actions (Karmaphala) are always with us in the form of impressions (samskarsa) and they direct the course to our life. Thus the world is a stage, where everybody is preordained to perform his part according to his Karma. Liberation is nothing but emancipation from the bondage of Karma. Different philosophical systems have suggested different recipes for the attainment of liberation.
15. Faith in Rebirth:
The theory of Karma and that of rebirth go hand-in-hand. Due to the bondage of Karma, human soul has to be reborn in different bodies. Liberation frees a person from rebirth also. Charvaka School does not believe in these theories. So the common characteristics of Indian philosophy, mentioned here, do not apply to it. All the other schools of Indian philosophy, however, share these features in varying degrees.
Charges against Indian Philosophy:
The following charges have been levelled against Indian philosophy:
Some Western scholars are unaware of the real nature and profound undertones of Indian philosophy and so they have an erroneous conception of it. They find it pessimistic. In his book, Administrative problems, Chailey declares that Indian philosophy springs ‘from lassitude and a desire for eternal rest’. Pessimism denotes a peculiar mental outlook. For a pessimist, the world is nothing but a place full of misery.
Indian philosophy is, of course, pessimistic in the sense that it originates in dissatisfaction with the present conditions of materialistic world. The world is, no doubt, fraught with innumerable hardships. Hopelessly embroiled in the vicious circle of enjoyment (bhoge) and impressions (samskarsa), man never gets tranquillity of soul and equanimity of mind.
Indian philosophers analyze this wretched plight of the world. But without this discontent with the present, there would be no philosophy worth the name. As a matter of fact, this sort of pessimism is indispensable for progress in life. It serves as a spur, it goads us on towards our destination. As Prof. Bosanquet puts it, “I believe in optimism, but I add that no optimism is worth its salt that does not go all the way with pessimism and arrive at a point beyond it This I am convinced is the true spirit of life, and if anyone thinks it dangerous and an excuse for unjustifiable acquiescence in evil, I reply that all truth which has any touch of thoroughness has its danger for practice.”
Indian philosophy, on the other hand, is wholly optimistic about the ultimate goal of human life. All Indian philosophical systems aim at liberation, which is not an escape from or an end of life. It is transformation of life. It enables man to save himself from the dire agonies and delusions of the world and to lead a life of everlasting bliss after realizing his true self. Felicity not sorrow is the aim of spirituality. In the words of Dr. Radhakrishnan, “Indian thinkers are pessimistic in so far as they look upon the world order as an evil and a lie, they are optimistic since they feel that there is a sway out of it into the realm of truth which is also goodness.”
A sense of reverence for the time-honoured tradition is always to be discerned in Indian philosophy. Scripture is generally regarded as an authoritative source of knowledge. The Vedas, the Upanishads and the Gita have been quoted so often by Indian philosophers. This has led many western scholars to lay the charge of dogmatism at their doors.
But, with all due respect to those scholars, their attitude betrays their ignorance of Indian philosophy. Granted that Indian philosophy has had a long, chequered history and has undergone many a vicissitude, it has had its dark periods too, when the soul of philosophy was well nigh crushed under the-dead weight of hair-splitting petti foggery and scholastic controversies. But these were invariably followed by a strong reaction and the spiritual thought was soon freed from dogma.
Faith in the Vedas must not be misconstrued as dogmatism. In them are enshrined the intuitive experiences of the seers, which can be shared by each and every person, if he scales those spiritual altitudes. Faced with contradiction in these experiences, Indian philosophers have sought the help of intellect, and celebrated logicians like Samkara, Ramanuja, Madhva, Nimbarka, etc., though appearing in the modest role of commentators, have propounded profound philosophical theories in the light of their own personal experiences. One must admit that, thanks to this common faith in tradition, one finds an order in Indian Philosophy, a characteristic which any philosophy can legitimately be proud of,
3. Negation of Ethics:
According to Farquhar, “There is practically no ethical philosophy within the frontiers of Hindu thinking.” Ethics has not been allotted the paramount, pedestal in Indian philosophy. Spirituality is c6nsidered superior to ethics and religion. The liberated person transcends the ethical barriers. Liberation is beyond the frontiers of the good and the bad. So it is evident that the aim of Indian philosophy was higher than that of ethics.
But at the same time it has not overlooked ethics. The Indian theory of distinctions according to spiritual status (adhikari bheda) explains the whole position. A person who has attained perfection in the spirtual field rises above the moral conflict because he cultivates a temperament which absolutely precludes the possibility of sin and error.
But before the attainment of this stage of spiritual consummation, ethical considerations are necessary for human beings, according to all Indian philosophical systems. All philosophical systems including Jaina, Buddha, Vedanta and Samkhya have taken pains to explain different though not paramount, place to ethics.
It is said that Indian philosophy is bogged down in old ruts. But the mere fact that all Indian philosophers have based their thoughts upon the Upanishads and the Gita does not expose it to this charge of unprogressiveness. A change, not in the matter but in the form of philosophical problems, has been concomitant to changes in the realm of science.
The truths with which philosophy deals are eternal and they are comprehended by intuition. They do not change in the wake of scientific progress. Hence the Gita and the Upanishads are as inspiring today as they were ever before. But Indian philosophers are progressive in as much as they put these philosophical truths in new forms according to the change of time and place. The Upanishads and the Bhagwad Gita have been interpreted in their own way by different philosophers including Samkara, Ramanuja and Sri Aurobindo.
Of course, there were periods in the history of Indian philosophy when its pace was very slow or even arrested for a while. But taking a panoramic view of the stream of Indian philosophy, one finds it on the whole dynamic and moving. The philosophers belonging to different philosophical schools, like Buddha, Jaina, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga and Vedanta, have not only put forth their own theories but also refuted the theories of their opponents.
The history of these different schools is in itself an eloquent testimony to the essential progressive nature of Indian philosophy. Most of the allegations against Indian philosophy are thus one-sided and fallacious. It is heartening to note that now most of them have been refuted.
The Practical Bias of Indian Philosophy:
Philosophy in India has been more a practical attempt to realize the truth than a mere theoretical discussion of ultimate principles. Indian philosophy began in wonder. The sages who created the Vedas wondered “why the hard black cow gives the soft white milk.” “All the rivers flow to the sea but the sea is never full.” Thus Indian sages looked to Nature with awe and wonder and tried to discover the Reality behind it. But the aim of this endeavour was not simply to satisfy an intellectual curiosity. It aimed at finding out a way for better life, a truer, higher and more happy life.
The extroversion of the Vedas was replaced by introversion in the Upanishads. Their aim was not knowing but being. They wanted to realize the truth in their life. The seers of the Upanishads prayed, “Lead me from falsehood to truth, from darkness to light, from death to immortality.” And it is the Upanishads which are the source of almost all Indian philosophical systems.
Hence every school emphasized as much the realisation of truth as the knowledge of it Gautama Buddha laid more emphasis on the eightfold path than on the discussion about soul and rebirth. Not metaphysics but ethics is the acme of Buddhism. Nirvana was the ultimate end which Buddha preached.
Jainas also aimed at the renunciation from all kinds of Karma. “Tri Ratna” or three jewels, right realization (Samyak darsan), right knowledge (Samyak jnana) and right character (Samyak Charitra), were prescribed for the attainment of liberation. Right character includes five great vows viz., non-violence (Ahimsa), truth (Satya), non-stealing (Asteya), celibacy (Bracluncliaraya) and non-convetousness (Aparigraha). It also includes ten Dharmas and many other ascetic principles. The Jainas observed non-violence in its extreme sense.
Bauddha and Jaina are Nastiks, but even they have laid emphasis on practice. It is more so the case with the Astik schools. The summum bonum of life, according to all the six traditional systems of Indian philosophy, is liberation. Yoga is the practical aspect of Samkhya philosophy. The eight-fold path of spiritual practice of yoga is the unique contribution of India to philosophy.
It leads to a unique concentration of human energy by which yogis can achieve apparently impossible tasks. Its aim is the cessation of the various impulses of the mind and to make it calm. India is a country of Yogis.
From Patanjali to Sri Aurobindo, Indian yogis constantly tried to improve this method of yoga in order to harness the energies in man to transform and divinise him. In India, yoga was considered as essential for philosophy since philosophy was not a mere love of wisdom but a realization of the Ultimate Reality.
Even the great logician Samkara has presribed a four-fold way (Sadhana Chatustaya) as a prelude for the study of Vedanta.
These four-fold means are as follows:
(1) Distinction between eternal (Nitya) and perishable (Anitya)
(2) Leaving the craving for all mundane and supramundane pleasure (Ihamutrarthabhoga viragah).
(3) Attainment of the six means of Sama, Dama, Sraddha, Samadhana, Uparati and Titiksa (Sama-Damadi Sadhara Sampad).
(4) A living desire for liberation (Mumuksatvam)
Even after the acquisition of these four-fold essentials, hearing of scriptures (Srvana), meditation (Manana) and concentration (Nididhyasana) is necessary for the aspirant in Vedanta. Thus, like other schools of Indian philosophy, Advaita Vedanta also laid great emphasis on practical means.
Ramanuja, on the other hand, was one of the greatest devotees of God. Devotion is the life blood of his philosophy.
Devotion leads to surrender (Prapatti) which has the following six aspects:
(1) Thought, will and action in tune with God.
(2) Leaving thought, will and action against God.
(3) Faith in divine protection.
(4) Prayer for divine protection.
(5) Complete surrender to God.
(6) Feeling of absolute dependence on God.
This elaborate description of the practical aspect of spiritual quest amply demonstrates the value of ethies in Indian philosophy. Even the materialist Car- vakas sought to find a better and more certain path to achieve pleasure, and did not indulge in mere talk. This can be seen in Kama Sutra of Vatsyayan, a classical work on the art of pleasure. Thus Indian philosophy synthesizes theory with practice, thought with will and action. It seeks to make human life better, happier and more integrated, a sure sign of all true knowledge.