Philosophy is the realization of eternal truths in the back ground of time, clime and culture. Of course these eternal truths transcended 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 impressed by their own culture. As has been pointed out that some of the Indian Philosophical schools are Astik, while others are Nastik. The anti-Vedic Darshans include, Charvaka, Buddha and Jain schools of philosophy. Some of the pro-Vedic Darshans are derived from Vedic thought e.g. Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaishesika etc. The philosophical schools derived from Vedic thoughts are further divided into Mimansa based on Karmakanda and the Vedanta based in Jnana Kanda. Despite this diversity, the Indian philosophy is characterized by a fundamental unity. Following are the common of distinctive characteristics of Indian philosophical systems.
Indian philosophy is spiritual. Indian philosophy believes in soul and seeks to realize it in its true from. The realization of the soul was the common goal of all Indian philosophical schools. All of them from Upanishads to Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaishesika and Vedanta were inspired alike by the same inquisitiveness. It is their essentially spiritually aim which elevates Indian Darshans above the field of religion and ethics.
Philosophy is close 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 classical books of Indian Philosophy. e.g., the Gita and the Upanishads are not divorced from human life. If them are faithfully mirrored the ideals and feeling of common masses.
Indian Philosophers were not content with merely mundane pursuits. As a matter of facts, Indian philosophy owes its origin to the discontent of the spirit from mere temporal life. It aimed at a divine transformation of life. The spiritual discontent of Indian philosophers, however, is not pessimism. Buddha laid great emphasis on the seamy side of the world, Yet it was he who suggested the eight fold path (Astanga Marga) as the panacea for all worldly travails and tribulations. Thus Indian philosophy and happiness.
Liberation is the ultimate end: Knowledge in Indian philosophy means divine transformation of the life and emancipation from worldly miseries. Barring Charvaka all Astik and Nastik Indian philosophies, though differing in details about their conception of liberation, however, 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 spiritual stage which transcends ethics (Niti) and religion (Dharma).
The root cause of bondage is ignorance:
That misery and bondage are the off spring of human ignorance is the common corner-stone of all philosophical schools of India. This ignorance is not only intellectual but also spiritual and psychological. The four great truths (Arya Satyas) and the Advaita Vedanta are the no strums, suggested by Buddha and Shankar respectively for banishing, the bane from the world. Hence the unavoidable necessity of getting rid of ignorance if one wants to be impervious to manifold afflictions of the world.
Practice of yoga for Moksa:
All Indian Philosophers regard some sort of practice or yoga as a pre-requisite for getting freedom form psychological and spiritual ignorance. The Astanga Path, of Patanjali Yoga has been incorporated in some degree in almost all Indian philosophers. The practice of Yama, Niyama, Asana, Samadhi and Nididhyasana etc. is regarded essential for removing ignorance. The transmutation of life according to knowledge is the aim of Sadhana. Indian philosophical systems lay equal emphasis on both the knowledge aspect and Sadhana. This practice was not only negative, it had a positive side too. Infact, Indian philosophers emphasize Sadhana of all the human faculties intellect, mind and body.
Indian Philosophy is based upon Psychological facts:
Therefore, Indian philosophers have minutely and vividly explained human psychology. From Buddha down to Patanjali, Shankara and Ramanuja all of them have considerably emphasized the psychological aspect of philosophy. Even now yogic exercises are held as 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.
Synthesis of Religion and Philosophy:
The most striking common feature of all Indian Philosophies lies in the fact that problems of Religion and those of philosophy have not been divided into water tight compartments. Dharma in India has been used in a wide and comprehensive sense. In face, the transformation of life and emancipation from worldly misery constitute the common goal of both Darshan and Dharma. We find no yawing gap between man, matter and God in Indian philosophical systems. Philosophical principles were tested on the touch stone of experience. Intellectual and spiritual experiences were the criteria for ascertaining the soundness and worth of religious principles.
Despite being religious, Indian philosophical systems seek truth in their own independent way. They approach the problems with an open mind and unprejudiced eyes. In them we can trace the germs of almost all the 'isms' of the world. The Indian philosopher had not only to put forth strong and sound arguments for propounding his contention he had to repudiate other schools also. Thanks to the age old custom of Shastrartha and logic, Pramana Shastra got a free play in Indian philosophy. These branches found in it a congenial atmosphere for their free and full development.
Though intellectuals, the Indian philosophers were synthesists. They have never laid exclusive emphasis on any, single aspect of human life. Though recommending individual Sadhana, they have yet kept universal welfare in view Shankara, Mahavir and Buddha were not only eminent philosophers, but also equally eminent social reformers. The Indian philosophical systems had as their aim not only individual salvation, but also the systems had as their aim not only individual salvation, but also the spiritual transformation of society. This transformation, according to them, is not only spiritual but also physical and mental.
Indian philosophical systems are dynamic. When one particular system of philosophy became very popular, it was countered by some other system. Through the farrago 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 spiral whole.
Faith in the past:
Not with standing their logical approach to problems, all Indian philosophical systems have common faith in the Veda, Gita and Upanishads. All Astik Darshans regard Shrutias Pramana though Shruti Pramana is based not on ward but on intuitive truth. As a matter of fact, the Vedas are the repositories of the intuitive knowledge of the seer Rishis. This faith, in ancient wisdom, accounts for a particular order, which we find in all the Indian philosophical systems. But it cannot be equated with blind faith. Even philosophers like Shankar, who regard themselves as no more than commentators, favour the use of logic when faced with contradictions in Shruti.
Faith in Rta:
Indian philosophy sees a moral systems in microcosm and macrocosm alike. This universal moral system is termed 'Rta' in Vedas, 'Apoorva' in Mimansa and 'Adrsta' in Nyaya-Vaishesika. According to it, Gods, living beings and plants all move in accordance with one universal moral pattern.
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 'Sanskaras' and they direct the course of 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.
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 assume different bodies. Liberation frees a person from rebirth also. Charvaka school does not believe in these theories. So the common characteristics of Indian philosophy share these features in varying degrees.