Indian philosophy

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The Indian philosophy is one of the oldest philosophical traditions of the world. It goes back to the Vedas ("knowledge"), a collection of historical, scientific and religious texts. On this basis other currents developed in addition to Hinduism : the most important are Buddhism and Jainism , in the context of which special attention is directed to respect for life, Ahimsa .


Although Indian philosophy is very rich and diverse, few big names are known in Europe when compared to names from ancient Greece. One of the few exceptions is the scholar Shankara , who stands for the direction of Vedanta and who significantly developed this direction.

On the question of the unity of Indian philosophy

Despite all the differences, there are a number of similarities that can be found in most philosophical and religious schools: the concept of the cycle of rebirth ( samsara ) forms the basis of Brahmanism , Buddhism, Jainism and the more recent Hinduism. The law of action or cause and effect ( karma ) can also be found in certain modifications in all traditions. The idea of ​​an ethically binding, cosmological authority ( Dharma ) was taken up by all philosophies. Also the concept of liberation from the cycle of rebirths and the associated standstill of karmic effectiveness, which is documented with different terms in the various traditions ( Moksha and Kaivalya in Hinduism and Jainism, nirvana in Buddhism), as well as the concept of "ignorance" about the true nature of things ( Avidya ), which is abolished by that liberation, have their permanent place in the teaching buildings of almost all currents in the philosophical context of the subcontinent.

Despite these strong substantive foundations, concepts were also developed in India that lay apart from this predominant direction and developed very independent ideas, such as B. the materialists (Lokayatas), the fatalists ( Ajivikas ) or the nihilists (as "nihilists" in the philosophical context of India as a rule all those who, in the eyes of their critics, advocated a doctrine of annihilation, ie the cycle of rebirths and thus also negated the doctrine of karma or its principle of causality).

The directions differ greatly in the details. There are monistic systems (which see the origin of the world in a single pervasive principle) like Vedanta , and there are dualistic systems (which reduce the world to two independent principles) like Samkhya or Jainism .

Usually, a distinction is made between the so-called orthodox directions, i.e. H. the six classical systems (darshanas), which are related to Brahmanism or Hinduism, and the so-called heterodox systems, such as B. distinguished between Buddhism and Jainism.

Type of tradition

The Indian teachings were passed down orally from the teacher to the student, especially in the early days, and this over centuries. The student's task was to first memorize . It is no accident that the earliest Indian philosophical traditions are called "upanishad", which literally means "to sit around (the teacher)". Those who did not have a teacher could not enjoy philosophical learning. Philosophical traditions were passed on within one's own caste or family. There are hardly any very old finds of philosophical or religious texts in India. One reason for this is that writing began relatively late (because little value was attached to it) and, in addition, poorly durable materials such as palm leaves were used for writing. It was not until the classical period ( 400 BC - 700 AD ) and above all in Buddhism that writing became more common.

The Astika and the Nastika

In classical Indian philosophy, a distinction is made between two main groups:

The orthodox systems, which recognize the authority of the Vedas in their function as teaching and knowledge tools (Sanskrit: astika ), and the heterodox systems, which speak out against such an authority (Sanskrit: nastika ).

The six orthodox systems ( six darshanas ) of classical Indian philosophy are:

  1. Nyaya , school of logic and epistemology
  2. Vaisheshika , teaching natural philosophy
  3. Samkhya , dualistic philosophy of salvation
  4. Yoga , practical way of salvation
  5. Purva Mimansa , ritualism and philosophy of knowledge
  6. Vedanta (Uttara Mimamsa), monistic philosophy of salvation

The heterodox systems of Indian philosophy that do not accept the authority of the Veda include:

  1. Charvaka or Lokayata (school of materialists)
  2. Jainism , the school of strict ascetics
  3. Theravada or Vibhajjavada, the "school of discernment" ( Theravada Buddhism )
  4. Sarvastivada or Vaibhashika, the "school of everything is" or "school of detailed explanation" ( Hinayana Buddhism )
  5. Sautrantika or "Sutra School" ( Hinayana Buddhism )
  6. Yogacara or Vijñānavāda , the "consciousness-only school" ( Mahayana Buddhism )
  7. Madhyamaka , the "School of the Middle Way" ( Mahayana Buddhism )
  8. Pramanavada , the "knowledge and logic school" ( Mahayana Buddhism )

The six darshanas


Main article: Nyaya

The Nyaya is the school of logic and epistemology. Akshapada of the Gautama family is considered to be the author of the Nyaya Sutras. Nothing is known about his person. The Nyaya focuses on questions of epistemology (knowledge theory) and logic . Accordingly, the knowledge has four sources: the everyday (like yogic) perception, the final process, the analogy and the testimony. In contrast to other schools, this school tries to prove the existence of God ( Ishvara ), who is the effective cause of all things.


Main article: Vaisheshika

The Vaisheshika is not a doctrine of salvation, but a doctrine of natural philosophy, the concern of which was the explanation of the world in the scientific sense. The founder of the tradition is Canada, who is said to have written the Vaisheshika Sutras. The time span of the Vaisheshika spans the first centuries BC to around 700 AD. With the theory of categories, the Vaisheshika made a significant contribution to Indian thought. Essential components of Vaisheshika are the theory of elements and the theory of atoms.


Main article: Samkhya

The Samkhya is considered to be the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in India. The beginnings go back to the time of the Upanishads (approx. 6th century BC). The Samkhya is a dualistic philosophy: The universe is reduced to two eternal realities, namely Purusha (soul, spirit - literally "man") and Prakriti (primordial matter). The contrast between spirit and matter is that the former is inactive and conscious, the second active but unconscious. The Purushas are many individual souls who are considered conscious and have no qualities. They are the silent observers of Prakriti (material or nature), which is made up of three gunas (qualities). These gunas are sattva , rajas, and tamas . Sattva means calm, wisdom, light Rajas is activity, movement and Tamas indolence, stability. When the harmony of the Gunas is disturbed, the world changes. The disturbance is caused by the proximity of Purusha and Prakriti . Liberation ( kaivalya ) consists of realizing the difference between the two. The mixing of the basic principles or the ignorance of their differentiation is the reason for the arrest of existence in the cycle of rebirths. The most important summary of the teaching is the Samkhyakarika of Ishvarakrishna (between 350 and 550 AD).


Main article: Yoga

Yoga is not a system, but a way to find salvation and as such it could be connected to the most varied of philosophical teachings. Yoga and Samkhya philosophy were in particularly close contact. Patanjali , who wrote the yoga sutra , was instrumental in the development of yoga . The focus is on the practical way of salvation.

Purva Mimansa

Main article: Purva Mimansa

Originally, the Mimansa had nothing to do with philosophy: it was a school that dealt with the Vedic sacrificial ritual and tried, through strictly systematic interpretation, to harmonize the abundance of prescriptions of the ancient Vedic texts. The oldest surviving works are the Mimansa Sutras of Jaimini (2nd / 3rd century AD). For the representatives of the Mimansa, the Veda was an eternal, infallible revelation. Therefore an attempt was made to ensure the authority of the Veda by developing a methodical interpretation. The Vedas are considered the only way to know the Dharma (cosmic law). In the course of philosophical development, epistemology came more and more to the fore. The most important representatives of the Mimansa are Kumarila and Prabhakara (around 700 AD).


Main article: Vedanta

The Vedanta has been one of the most widespread philosophical systems in India , especially since the Hindu Counter-Reformation, which began around the 8th century and almost completely suppressed the far-reaching influence of Buddhism on the subcontinent in the following centuries . It has its beginnings in the philosophy of the Upanishads and was later systematized, interpreted and further developed by scholars such as Badarayana, Gaudapada, Shankara , Ramanuja , Vallabha, Nimbarka and Madhva. The Vedanta, which sees itself in its content as the "perfection of all Vedic knowledge" and, according to its hermeneutic claim, is directly linked to the interpretations of the Purva Mimamsa, is generally a monistic system, since the world is reduced to a single, all-pervading principle becomes. This principle is understood as Brahman , the eternal, immortal, transcendent self, the ultimate reality, the pure, undivided consciousness beyond space, time and causality, which in the Upanishadic doctrine contrasts with the atman , the innermost, inherent core or self of man becomes. The goal of human endeavor is to gain knowledge of Brahman (Sanskrit: brahma jnana) and to internalize it ( Moksha ). All six schools of Vedanta, which developed over the centuries, unreservedly recognize the writings "Brahmasutras", " Bhagavad Gita " and "Upanishads", collectively known as "Prasthana Traya" ("triple canon"), as authoritative teaching and knowledge tools . but in its interpretation, and especially with regard to the Brahman Atman teaching, there are some differences of opinion in the currents of this tradition on questions of detail.

In the historically first and worldwide most assertive school of Vedanta, the Advaita concretized by Shankara , which in the 20th century was able to gain a foothold beyond the Indian borders through modern representatives such as Ramana Maharshi or Nisargadatta Maharaj also in the western cultural area, an unrestricted essential identity of Brahman and Atman emphasized, but articulated as "non-duality" (Sanskrit: advaita). This strictly nondualistic interpretation of the Upanishadic quintessence first took a systematic form in the "Mandukya Karika" written by Gaudapada between the 7th and 8th centuries, a commentary on the "Mandukya Upanisad", which Shankara used as a template for his discussions on. Above all, the term Maya in its demythed and shifted to an epistemological level as the basis of ignorance (Sanskrit: avidya) is a prominent feature of the accentuation of Vedanta formulated by Gaudapada, which focuses entirely on the unqualified absolute (Sanskrit: nirguna brahman) and which denies any duality (of subject and object, of "knower and known") reality. The saying coined by Gaudapada - "There is neither creation nor dissolution, neither bondage nor liberation, neither those striving for liberation nor the liberated, that is the highest truth" (Mandukya Karika, Chapter II, verse 32) - became the symbol of this conception and is one of the most frequently quoted sentences within the tradition of Advaita. According to this view, Maya means to confuse the absolute with the relative, to hold the unreal for the real and to consider the transitory phenomena, which only belong to "relative reality" (Sanskrit: vyavahara satya), an "absolute reality" (Sanskrit: paramartha satya ), which in truth belongs to Brahman alone - this is the interpretation of the Advaita. Numerous analogies and metaphors serve to illustrate the point, of which the parable of the rope and the snake (Sanskrit: rajjusarpa-nyaya) is most frequently used in the school of Advaita: a hiker sees a snake on his way in the semi-darkness and is frightened back. He is trembling and paralyzed with fear. But when light is thrown onto the spot with a bright lamp, the hiker suddenly realizes that the supposed snake has been a coiled rope lying on the edge of the path all along. His fear gives way to relief when he realizes that the snake was a mere idea which disappears completely in the knowledge of the rope. Similarly, ignorance disappears in the dawning of self-knowledge, and Brahman as one without a second pierces the Mayan veil forever (see Mandukya Karika II, 17-19).

Shankara , Gaudapada's grandchildren , followed up on his statements recorded in the Mandukya Karika and was the first to work them out specifically into an independent system, which made him the outstanding figure of identification of Vedanta in Indian philosophy and even led to his name being often synonymous with which Vedanta is used as such. He expanded the teaching with his theory of superimposition (Sanskrit: adhyasa), according to which corporeality and the world of diverse appearances are projected onto Brahman by virtue of the Mayan inherent abilities.

Other representatives of Vedanta, who shaped the later course of the philosophical-religious history of India as part of the increasing bhakti orientation, contradicted this interpretation, such as Ramanuja (1055–1137), to whom the teaching of the Visistadvaita goes back. He gave the Vedanta a more theistic form by including Narayana ( Vishnu ) as a personal deity in the teaching structure of Vedanta and also not accepting that the Jiva (the individual self) is completely absorbed in Brahman in self-knowledge, just as Shankara did described, but also retains its individuality after liberation. He attributed a reality to the multiplicity of phenomena appearing separately from one another, since in his view it constitutes the body of Brahman and, as its modes of manifestation (Sanskrit: prakara), cannot be illusory - for this he raised the aspect of "Saguna Brahman" (Brahman with properties ). Stricter than Ramanuja's approach raises Madhva doctrine of Dvaita represents the well. Vishnuitisch oriented reformer Madhva (1238-1317) emphasized his school of dualism five times the difference (Sanskrit: pancha-bheda) between the first Brahman and Jiva, 2. Brahman and matter, 3. the jivas and matter, 4. the jivas with one another and 5. the material objects with one another. According to Madhva, the task of man is servitude and devotion to Vishnu. Where Ramanuja still points to a "unity in diversity" (qualified monism), Madhva sets absolute differences. Illustrated with the help of the old Indian parable of the relationship of the waves to the sea (Sanskrit: samudra taranga nyaya), Ramanuja takes up the formal difference (the waves are not the sea) and the essential identity (both are water) at the same time, while Madhva takes this up as contradicting one another rejects and expresses the all-unity as a dependence of the world and jivas on Brahman, which are separated from each other in space and time. Such disputes led to further ramifications within Vedanta, such as the teaching of " Achintya Bhedabheda " (the "unimaginable difference in non-difference"), which goes back to Chaitanya (1486–1534 ) or that of Nimbarka (approx. 13th century). ) the alienated doctrine of the "Suddhadvaita" ("pure non-duality teaching") makes clear.


Source texts
Overview diagrams and manuals
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  • Surendranath N. Dasgupta: A History of Indian Philosophy (5 vols.). Cambridge 1922.
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  • Journal of Indian Philosophy

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