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Understanding Indian Philosophy, its nuances and its impact on Indian society

Indian philosophy touches upon the philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. It is one of the earliest records of humankind’s venture into philosophical thought. The traditional classification of philosophy in the Hindu school of thought divides the discipline into astika and nastika schools of philosophy. These two schools of philosophy have been classified as such based on three criterias - whether Vedic literature is considered a valid source of knowledge, whether the school accepts the thesis of the Brahman and Atman, and whether the school believes in life after death as well as Devas.

The six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy based on Hindu literature (Vedic philosophy) are Nyaya, Vaisesika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Alternatively, the five main heterodox (sramanic) schools include Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajnana and Charvaka. There are also other modes of classification, for instance, Vidyaranya recognizes sixteen schools of Indian philosophy, through the inclusion of the Saiva and Rasesvara traditions. 

All the schools of Indian philosophy share many concepts including:

  • Dharma

  • Karma

  • Samsara 

  • Rebirth

  • Dukkha

  • Renouncement 

  • Meditation

The ultimate goal of all these schools of thought is the freedom of the self from dukkha and samsara with a diverse range of spiritual practices such as moksha and nirvana. They contradict each other when it comes to the nature of existence of these concepts and the details of the pathway to complete liberation.

Orthodox Schools

Based on Vedic testimonies, we have six schools of thought: 

  • Samkhya: This school of thought views the universe as an extension of two realities - the purusha (consciousness) and prakriti (the matter), it believes in the duality of the universe with these two realities dictating the path of life. 

  • Yoga: Similar to Samkhya, Yoga believes in the personalised nature of one’s spiritual relationship with God. It focuses on Yogic practice. 

  • Nyaya: This philosophical tradition is centered around logic and epistemology. It accounts for a form of direct realism and a theory of substances.

  • Vaisesika: Related to Nyaya school of thought, Vaisesika deals with the metaphysics of substance.

  • Purva Mimamsa: This school focuses on the interpretation of the Vedas and its rituals 

  • Vedanta: It deals with the analysis of the philosophy of the Upanishads, specifically, the concepts related to the Atman and the Brahman. 

Heterodox/Sramanic Schools

  • Ajnana: Ajnana is one of the nastik schools of Indian philosophy that laid the foundation for radical scepticism. It posed an opposition to common Buddhist and Jain ideologies. People belonging to this school believed that it was impossible to gain knowledge of metaphysics, and it was not beneficial to attain salvation. 

  • Jainism: This section of Indian philosophy is among the oldest forms that completely detaches the body (matter) from the soul (consciousness). Although it is not accepted by the authorities of the Vedas, it shares the same concepts as other Indian religions such as karma, ethical living, rebirth, samsara and moksha. It is inspired by the teachings of Mahavira.

  • Buddhism: Inspired by the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha), Buddhism, like Jainism, also dwells on the concepts that are prevalent in other disciplines of  Indian philosophy as well such as karma and the life cycles. Buddhists believe that human life is one of suffering and the way to attain enlightenment and liberation is through meditation, labour and spirituality. 

  • Ajivika: The Ajivika philosophy was also a direct rival to early Buddhism and Jainism. People who belonged to this discipline were devoted to a life of complete renunciation and lived a simple lifestyle. 

  • Charvaka: Charvaka is an ancient form of philosophy that deals with materialism. It is also known as Lokayata. This school holds direct perception, empiricism and conditional inference as the only source of knowledge. 


Q1. What role does Indian philosophy play in society? 

Indian Philosophy played a significant role in preserving Indian culture and history. It gave people the historical importance and interest to preserve monuments and art in India. It helped build cultural heritage.

Q2. What is the Indian perspective on life? 

The Indian philosophical view values spirituality, simplicity, the search for truth, value for labour, universal tolerance and acceptance.