Vedanta Home

When the fully enlightened teachers do not appear and when the disciples have disappeared, the wisdom of the self-enlightened ones will arise completely without a teacher.

- Naagaarjuna's Mulamaadhyamaka Kaarikaa (2nd century CE)

Introduction

Everything has a reason - or atleast that is the basic assumption underlying philosophy itself and the quest for that reason is the fundamental objective of the science. So the first thing to consider : the reason for developing this website.

Sometime back a columnist with well known leftist leanings in an article in the Indian Express when talking about Indian Philosophy mentioned as the most prominent names on the subject from the Indian perspective - the Buddha, Kabir, Naanak and the Bhakti Saints. While we do not dispute the spiritual achievements of these saints but rather revere them as amongst the most outstanding examples of Indian spirituality, still when we talk about philosophy in its technical sense - as a systematic attempt in trying to bring Reality within the grasp of the intellect - without exception, all the above saints rejected as futile the use of the intellect as a tool which could be used to apprehend Reality. Rather they advocated ethics and meditation or devotion (bhakti) as the true means to attain Reality, which marks them as mystics and saints rather than philosophers. And excepting the Buddha who though rejected the utility of the intellect still was himself a deep thinker, formal history doesn't recognize the others as philosophers either, but rightly glorifies them as saints. Putting this technical distinction aside, what makes the columnist's mention of these particular names even more strange is that he did not mention that there exists four millennia worth of philosophical literature (philosophy in its true sense) developed on the very soil of India which in quantity and arguably in quality, has no peers anywhere in this world. We do not know whether the columnist was ignorant of this fact or chose to deliberately ignore it and we have little wish to speculate about his motivations.

What causes even more concern is that there was hardly any protest voiced against the unfounded assertion of the columnist. But again there's little reason for surprise as the vast majority of 'educated' Indians have very little knowledge of the intellectual and spiritual underpinnings of their own culture. Due to the motivated brainwashing of the colonialists and their Indian successors - the Marxists - who have strategically well entrenched themselves in the institutes of both education and media, the modern Indian grows up viewing his own culture as "primitive and backward" and looks up to and apes the culture of the West, without realizing that such practice effectively renders him devoid of substance psychologically and gradually gives rise to an inferiority complex thus sapping his creative juices.

Even more important it robs him of the benefits - cultural and spiritual - of belonging to a millennia old civilization. For if endurance can be used as a criterion to judge the vitality of a civilization, then the Indian civilization comes out with top marks as it has survived the ravages of time and often against insurmountable odds. While its age old peers - the Egyptian, the Mesopotamian, the Greek, the Roman, the Chinese civilizations - have all perished (in our view the Chinese civilization is also a thing of the past as its peoples have abandoned the teachings of Confucious and Lao Tze and embraced the ideology of Marx and Engels), the Indian Civilization still holds out against the onslaught of time, it inner flame burning pure and true.

Literature, arts, food, fashion, scientific and technological advancement do not represent the core of a culture. They are at best its external trappings. What civilization is there in a culture, which though excels in arts and technology, but still its people kill millions of other people or in their greed engage in covert and overt exploitation and manipulation of others or do not have an open mind and are intolerant and contemptuous of other cultures and peoples? It is a sign of the times that peoples who in the last three hundred years out of sheer greed and arrogance have committed genocide, wiped cultures off the face of the earth, systematically looted the wealth of other peoples and impoverished them, used cultural imperialism as an instrument of state policy with the motive of subjugating and erasing the culture of other peoples, fought and killed millions amongst themselves, perverted science to produce weapons of mass destruction and used them against other peoples - are regarded as the flag bearers of civilization today! (The authors would like to note that this criticism is not directed at Western peoples or culture per se, but at the dominant materialistic trend in Western civilization which for economic interests has historically sidelined the spiritual teachings of the great philosophers of the West and restricted such teachings to remain a mere academic discipline without allowing it to flower to its natural soteriological potential).

The basic requirement of any civilization lies in its ability to promote harmony not only amongst its own people, but also amongst others. Its essence therefore lies in its ethical and spiritual foundations. It is based on this foundation that the way of life of the civilization is scripted. It is represented in the do's and don'ts, the rights and wrongs, the good and evil, the sublime and the base - all of which have an ultimate spiritual purpose, as it is understood by its people. Based on this spiritual ideal, men of wisdom over the ages structure a way of life for the people. So ultimately all the aspects of the culture - food, clothes, ideas about life and death, economic and cultural ideals - everything reflects this ultimate spiritual ideal, for it is this spiritual ideal which is defined as the purpose and goal of life. So the level of civilization in a society is reflected by the importance this spiritual principle holds in the lives of the people as well as the number of people who strive at attaining this spiritual principle.

In another sense it is the effort of man to reconcile with his environs and nature. As long as man tries to "conquer" nature and exploit it out of pure greed, there shall always be conflict. And nature has her own ways of paying back. When the intellect is used as an instrument of the Ego (either individual or cultural), the result will only be intolerance, greed, hatred and violence, which are products of ignorance. It is only a more evolved form of barbarism. Man is a product of nature and should try to reconcile and live in harmony with nature. True knowledge dawns when man realizes with all humility his right place in the universe. Wisdom, tolerance, love and compassion are the true products of knowledge. It is these qualities that truly represent civilization.

What's philosophy?

Philosophy is the intellectual effort of man to understand himself and the world external to him. Of course since ones knowledge of the world and himself depends on the validity of knowledge itself, the effort would also include understanding the means and process of understanding/knowledge itself. It is an attempt to find the truth of things - the self, the world and knowledge itself.

There's no person who exists without a philosophy. Everybody's life is guided by some understanding of himself/herself and the world. The objects of the world mean something to us and our identity itself has its own meaning. We also have some level of understanding of the process, which constitutes such understanding. So everybody is a philosopher at one level or the other. The difference between a normal person and a real philosopher is that the latter takes the process of understanding to a much deeper level. Using his intellect he sifts through the available material, studies and analyzes the facts and comes to certain conclusions about the nature of world, himself and the process of knowledge. For example if a normal person sees a stone, he views it as a stone of a certain type, certain qualities, what use it can be put to etc. The philosopher on the other hand tries to find the truth of the stone. If he's able to break the stone into two he knows then that the whole stone, which is actually two stones now, cannot be the ultimate truth. So trying to get at the truth of the stone, he further breaks it into even smaller parts and tries to reach a level, where the stone cannot be broken further. Recognizing the physical impossibility of the task, he conceives of the substance in its smallest form, beyond which it cannot be further cleaved into two. And thus is the metaphysical conception of an atom formed.

It is due to this inclination to find the truth of things that there arises in man an increased awareness about the world and himself. Slowly his attention shifts from the world to himself - from the objective to the subjective. He first puzzles over the categories which give meaning to his existence - birth and death, good and evil, happiness and misery, success and failure. He tries to understand the base on which his identity rests. Then the awareness slowly shifts to his actual physical self - to the complex that he really is. With the facts of experience the theory of process of psychological knowledge and the theory of our actual self, also called the soul, is built. Then depending on his religious motivations he tries to reconcile his view of the world with ethics, God and religion.

This is where philosophy, which is born of intellectual curiosity stops. And as is natural there can be no true reconciliation between philosophy/science and religion here and thus philosophy is restricted to being a mere academic discipline.

Indian Philosophy

Indian Philosophy goes a step further and takes on a deeper psychological and mystical dimension. The motivation for philosophy in India springs not from mere intellectual curiosity but from an intense desire to go beyond the limitations of phenomenal life. The Indian mind right from the days of yore refused to meekly accept the concept of death. Since death ends all where's there any substance in all our achievements whether intellectual or material, in phenomenal life? In the absolute sense all our successes and failures, the happiness and misery that we experienced in our life, are all in vain. And what happens after death? Where do we go? Do we cease to be? Is eternal life possible?

It was this search for eternity which motivated the Indian mind to go in search for the truth.

The Vedas reveal an age when man's mind unencumbered by religious dogma or doctrinal prejudices, beheld the world in awe. Looking beyond the narrow confines of individual existence, he marveled at the vast expanse of the sky, the earth, the sea and the infinite varied creation. He wondered about the universe, himself and the relation between the two. The mystery of life and death, led him to enquire into the puzzle of human existence. Where do we come from? Where do we go after death? What's the meaning of this existence? Why are things the way they are, in the world? What's virtue and what's vice? What's pain and pleasure? What's success and failure? And what is the foundation on which such conceptions are defined? And are these ultimately meaningful, considering that death puts an end to all human aspirations and mocks at the concept of existence itself?

It was due to such an earnest search for the meaning of life which had a direct bearing on his life - an open and frank analysis of the facts of human existence - and the willingness to face the truth, that there arose an acknowledgement of the universal misery of existence. Penetrating the veil of seeming happiness and pleasure, the underlying truth about the nature of existence was revealed. Life on earth is, "red in fang and claw" - small animals are torn apart and devoured by bigger animals, who themselves fall prey to even bigger animals or man. Life is a vicious cycle of the survival of the fittest. Civilization protects man from being exposed to the harsh facts of universal existence. But not even protected life is free from misery. Social or domestic violence, injuries, disabilities, sickness, old age, death - all lead to misery and pain. Apart from sufferings of a physical nature, there's suffering in the mental aspect of life too - disappointments over unfulfilled desires, to be joined with that which we dislike all give rise to misery. Even to get what we desire results in the fear of losing the object of desire. By the law of diminishing returns, even happiness and pleasure are short lived and eventually lead to pain. Transience is the nature of the world - everything - not only physical things - but even our desires, pleasures and ambitions - exist for a while and perishes. Though every action of an individual is aimed at obtaining some pleasure or satisfaction, still lasting happiness is impossible in this world of transience. Philosophy is also in another sense, the result of the search for absolutes, implicit in the lives of every human being. We seek surety and permanence in everything - in the things that we own and experience. But transience being the nature of the world, everything that we hold dear - our near and dear ones, our desires, our ambitions, our pleasures, happiness, love, affection - everything fades away after a period of time. So the failure to find any permanence in things of the world and the quest for the absolute and eternal, leads to philosophy. Eternal happiness and immortality are the twin goals of Indian philosophy.

If suffering is implicit in life, how do we escape it? If every move that we make in our life is aimed at securing some happiness, but even this happiness is only transient and only leads to pain, how do we avoid this and obtain everlasting happiness? And even if we obtain lasting happiness, what about death which will put an end to it?

It is in analyzing one's own experience of the world, that the search slowly shifts from the objective world to the subjective individual - from metaphysics to psychology. Whatever we may know of the world still the ultimate question will always be subjective - for how does all this knowledge benefit us? What do we get out of it? Will objective knowledge solve our problems? No! To know why we're not happy and the reason we experience pain in our lives, we've to understand the basis on which our happiness - or our conception of it - rests. So psychological knowledge becomes the basis on which the solution for the sorrows of the world is sought.

But all our knowledge about our own selves is only in relation to something else - as a father or mother or brother or sister or son or husband or wife or lover or friend or as a member of a group/society/culture/religion etc. We do not know who we are in ourselves. Without even knowing ourselves how can we understand truly understand the basis of our existence and the reason we experience pain and suffering in this world? So ultimately the quest for knowledge narrows down to our own self. Not only is personal salvation at stake but also logic demands that absolute knowledge if possible, is possible only of one's own self. If we seek to know the essence - the truth - of things, the best place to start is with oneself - for being the thing itself and having full access to the innermost depths of our being - we can know the essence of ourselves and maybe through that know the essence of the world too. So, aatmaanam viddhi - "know thy Self", became the motto of the Indian philosopher. The "science of the Self" marks the true difference between Indian and European philosophy. European philosophy is limited mainly to metaphysics, epistemology and logic - all objective sciences. Even European psychology, a la Freud and Jung, employs only the objective way. It tries to analyze the workings of the mind using an objective analytical approach. Based on their understanding of their own thought processes and observations on the behavior of patients and interviews with them regarding their experiences and motivations, conclusions are drawn about the workings of the mind and one's own self. As knowledge is only second hand in this approach (even knowing one's own thoughts is only second hand because we do not know thoughts as they happen, but only after they've passed), it is only natural that there's a lot of speculation involved. Indian psychology on the other hand tries to understand the subject in the way he should be understood - in the subjective way. Using techniques of meditation, control of the mind, body and the senses, the yogi beholds his own mind/thoughts directly in all its bareness. So ultimately it is the soteriological background of Indian philosophy which gives it its edge over Western philosophy. (The authors are ofcourse aware that "Gnothi seauton - know thy self" is a view epoused by the Delphic Oracle too - only we would like to note that Indian philosophy due to its intimate connexions with its practical counterpart - religion - has taken the understanding of the science of the Self to greater depths than its Western counterpart. As philosophy had a practical bearing on life Indian philosophers practically lived their philosophy - in the pursuit of the spirit they turned away from a life of the psycho/physical faculties and practiced austerity, discipline and meditation. For most part they were either wandering ascetics or monks or brahmins living a semi-ascetic life, abandoning worldly life for the sake of the spirit. A mind strengthened by discipline and purified by asceticism is a more reliable instrument of understanding than an undisciplined mind caught up in the lures of the world. Living their philosophy Indian philosophers were open to a different kind of experience that are not open to normal people - amongst its best products Indian philosophy offers Buddha and Shankara who combine the spiritual insight of Jesus with the intellect of Plato - it is this dynamite combination which makes their philosophical observations extremely valuable. This is not to say that no Western philosopher has ever tried to push Western philosophy beyond the realm of the intellect - Socrates, Marcus Aurelius and Satre, to name a few did make the attempt. Just that they represent only a minority in the great mass of Western philosophers who were indifferent to the practical implications of philosophy and restricted its scope to being a mere academic science. In contrast the whole history of Indian Philosophy over the millenea is nothing but a sustained attempt to frame a perfectly structured path to effect enlightenment, which is not mere intellectual understanding but an integral spiritual experience).

The sages in pursuit of knowledge of their own selves realized that the phenomenal world with its attractions to the senses posed the greatest obstacle in their search for the truth. As long as the body and the senses have the material to incline towards their natural ends it is impossible for the mind to turn inwards. So the sages abandoned the world, shunned society, lived in the forests, survived on fruits and water and meditated on the peaks of lonely mountains. Practicing rigorous austerities they tamed their body and mind and persevered with their inward search. Then the truth about their own self was known.

The truth was the reality in which all the contradictions of phenomenal life were reconciled. It lifted one above the limitations of space and time - beyond birth and death. Knowing the truth about their own self - everything : the truth about oneself, the truth about the world, was known. It was truly the end of suffering.

But it is to be noted that this "knowing" - this knowledge of the Truth - is not considered to be a product of theoretical or intellectual understanding. Without exception all the enlightened sages and the exponents of the various philosophical schools hold that the Truth is beyond the reach of the intellect. The spiritual knowledge obtained is intuitive. It is to be experienced by probing the inner recesses of one's own being or by meditation or by seeking divine assistance.

The Sages knew the truth about phenomenal existence and had also found a way out of it. But the infinite truth being beyond the finite categories of the intellect, how could they teach it to others? The sages taught the truth through analogies guiding the aspirant on the path - but the effort towards liberation is not merely intellectual - control of the body, mind and the senses, compassion and charity too were essential. It is with the perfection of one's physical and mental faculties that even one's perceptual powers too grow - it is with a purified mind that the truth can be apprehended. So as can be seen the search was something much more than mere intellectual curiosity and so the sages weren't interested in philosophy for itself. The truth was beyond the intellect and thus philosophy had no end in itself. But still it could be used as a tool in the pursuit of liberation, for the deeper the knowledge of the truth the easier it is to access it. So philosophy was used as an aid to elevate oneself to something higher - to become the truth itself and transcend the finite categories of phenomenal existence.

Later scholasticism and theoretical philosophy in India, with the exception of the Lokaayata school, is primarily an effort to reconcile the spiritual experiences of the sages with reason. Without exception each philosopher is aligned to a school which traces its lineage to the sages who experienced the truth or sometimes even to God himself as the first teacher of the truth. All schools and philosophers only claim to teach the true teaching of their enlightened master.

Indian philosophy doesn't believe that life begins on birth and ends at death. Life is an endless cycle of rebirths with every birth providing a chance for the living thing to aspire and advance towards the spiritual ideal. The conditions of each birth is controlled by our past actions - karma - and based on these actions good or evil, man can be reborn into an environment which can take him nearer or farther to the spiritual ideal. Based on ones acts one can be reborn as a plant or an insect or an animal or a barbarian or into a highly spiritual environment - which places him further or nearer to the spiritual goal. Karma and ethics therefore form a vital part of Indian philosophy and it is a must for every school of philosophy to reconcile its metaphysics with them.

Some objections against this effort considered

1. Relevance of these ancient views in the modern world of science and technology.

Here we would like to be very clear that we're not opposed to science. Rather we welcome all scientific advancement. Considering the economic condition of the country and the millions who go without even the basic necessities of life, we encourage all Indians to whole heartedly embrace scientific and technological advancement and use it to help alleviate the miserable living conditions of the poor.

But still we protest against making an end of science itself and using it to negate spirituality. Scientific knowledge is fundamentally objective and experimental in nature. It validity is in the realm of senses and the intellect. It stands by only that which can be perceived and proved. But this is only one side of the coin. True knowledge should cover both aspects - objective as well as the subjective. And there are numerous aspects even in phenomenal experience which are neither perceived nor proved. Philosophy looks beyond the perceived and proved, and with the use of the intellect plumbs the depths of that which can be inferred from the perceived and proved. Indian philosophy pushes the argument even deeper with penetrating analysis of the subject - the Self or the soul - and tries to culminate this knowledge in a spiritual experience. True spirituality is not opposed to science but rather complements it. In India, religion and philosophy have never been considered as opposed to science. Every religion has a philosophy and every philosophy has a religion. Every exponent of a religious/philosophical system takes pride in the assertion that his exposition is based on experience and reason. Scientific knowledge has always been encouraged and there's always been efforts to reconcile the results of such knowledge with philosophy/religion. It is due to such an open minded effort towards religion that even modern scientific concepts like the "Big Bang" theory or the theory of relativity are not out of place with some of the Indian philosophical systems and can be comfortably reconciled with their thought.

For those who question the relevance of these ancient views of life in this modern world, we would also like to point out that modern science and technology has solved neither the problem of human misery nor death. Yes, science can be useful to feed the mouths of millions or improve living conditions or cure physical diseases. But science has little to offer in terms of problems of the heart and mind. Mere material success is not the solution for human misery, leave alone death. And it is common knowledge that the most successful people are generally those who are the most common victims of mental and nervous breakdowns. Even in the bastion of modern science and technology - America and Europe - all that scientific temper has done is to create a void in the people, which has pushed them into seeking refuge in Eastern spirituality. Yoga centers in Europe and America, are enjoying a popularity never heard of before. Buddhism is the fastest growing religion in both Europe and America. And there's an ever increasing number of Western exponents of Yoga and Vedanta.

If not anything the simple fact that till the last hundred years or so, that their ancestors followed a distinct way of life for several millennia with ideals quite different from the modern ones, should atleast arouse curiosity in the minds of modern Indians to question the reason their ancestors lived so. Indians are by nature a thinking people. Though one of the poorest countries in the world, but in terms of science and technology, modern India is right at the top with other scientifically advanced nations - it produces super computers, launches missiles and satellites, detonates nuclear bombs etc - and all this is done with much lesser resources than the developed countries. So the view that the traditional Indian way of life is intellectually inferior to Western civilization might be fundamentally flawed. It is just that ancient Indians considered other things to be of more importance in life than scientific and technological development. Modern Indians owe it to their ancestors who preserved this kind of life for thousands of years, to atleast understand the reason why. To ignore it is only our own loss.

2. Hasn't the inward looking philosophy historically stunted our progress in material and applied sciences?

Such a view is fundamentally due to the motivated misinterpretation of India's history by colonialist and Marxist historians. Comparable to what's happening in the USA today, India has historically been the melting pot of the world with various peoples migrating from different parts of the world into the sub-continent, lured by its fame of wealth and splendor. This is not merely an enthusiastic observation of a patriotic Indian. This fact can be verified from literature right from the days of Rome to the medieval age of Christianity and Islam to the days of the European enlightenment. Megesthenes, Portuguese and Chinese travelers, Arab historians, Hegel, Nietcehze, Mark Twain - all of them bear witness to the magnificent wealth and splendor of the India of yore. And it was the single reason why the land attracted waves upon waves of invaders greedy for its wealth. According to Samuel Huntingdon's recent work on the clash of civilizations, before the rise of Europe, India accounted for more than 20% of international trade! All this would not have been possible if India wasn't an industrially developed nation. Historical sources reveal that not only was steel, copper, brass, crystallized sugar, perfumes, cotton, silk were all produced in India, even industrial and civil engineering were quite advanced for its times.

Modern India's backwardness in technical industry is primarily due to European colonization which decimated the local industry and turned India in a raw material supplier. The idea behind this is that all colonized states would supply only the raw material and the colonizing power would use the raw material to produce the finished goods in its home state and sell the finished product back to the colonized. Such practice not only meant enormous profits for the colonizer at the cost of the colonized, it also resulted in the dismantling of the established industrial setup in the colonized states while advancing industrial technology in the home state. According to one economic analysis, due to the systematic plunder of the resources of the country, the GDP of India during the two centuries of British rule remained static and never increased. A sample of the effect of this systematic plunder can be seen in the fact that while the country experienced multiple famines during colonial rule resulting in millions of deaths, after independence there has not been a single famine. That colonialist historians would try to hide such facts is to be expected, but what could explain such misrepresentation of facts by Indian historians themselves? Not only do historians hide such facts but shift the blame on Indian culture for the prevailing poverty of the country - the logic being : it is due to the "inward" looking Hindu culture that the Hindus are poor! And the poor economic growth rate of India due to the embrace of socialism by the Marxist influenced political class has been conveniently labeled "Hindu growth rate"!

In terms of applied sciences it is to be noted that it was the Indian mind which invented not only the common numeric system (mistakenly called the Arabic numerals - because it was the Arabs who introduced the numerals into Europe; But the Arabs did not invent them and they themselves called it "Hind Sat" or knowledge of the Hindu), it is also the Indian mind which invented the concept of zero, the decimal system and basic algebra. The concept of grammar in language was unknown to the world till the 17th century, while Panini's Sanskrit grammar renowned for its perfection is dated as far back as the 5th century BC! Historically before the advent of Europeans in India, Indian medicine and astronomy too were as developed as any of their counterparts anywhere.

So as stated before a spiritual environment is not opposed to science and technology and ancient India itself is the proof.

3. Hasn't concepts of ahimsa and maya, psychologically weakened the people leading to ineffective response to invasions and thereby leading to colonialization?

Civilization always faces danger from the hands of the barbarian. Even inside a civilized society itself, for all those who would honestly work and benefit, there are always others who eye with jealousy these benefits and desire to have them without really deserving it. If not for the law, they would use force to seize what's not theirs by right. If we take the same concept higher at a civilizational level, for all those societies where people have used their brains, worked hard and prospered, there are always others who eye their prosperity with jealousy. Civilization, ethics, religion and good living softens the baser instincts in man. Barbarism and poverty only sharpens such instincts. Greed and the willingness to inflict violence and seize with force what is not deserved, are a deadly combination and are necessarily found in the barbarian who knocks at the gates of a civilization. But it is not the fault of the civilization that it aspired towards a greater ideal, which deprived it of its killer instincts. Such a progress is inevitable in any civilization. The choice is between being civilized or being barbaric just for the sake of protecting oneself against other barbarians. The preference for the former is natural in any civilization.

But still it is a misconception that the Indian peoples meekly folded up against the onslaught of invasions. While Alaxander's armies ran over half the world their progress was stopped by a tribal chief in the frontier provinces of India. It is more than a mere coincidence that after this, Alexander's armies lost their enthusiasm for war and returned home.

India was not the only land which fell under the the Islamic Juggernaut. The hordes of the Prophet also ran over most of Asia and Europe, whose peoples with neither the inward looking philosophy nor with ahimsa, still folded up under onslaught of the "holy" warriors. Even in the heyday of Islamic power the dharma still inspired people to rise up in defense of it. The rise of the Vijayanagar and the Maratha empires bear witness to this and both of these empires were inspired by traditional spiritual leaders. But again, while civilizations like Egypt, Persia and Mesapotamia unable to stand the pressures of Moslem occupation embraced Islam, Indian culture and religion has withstood the pressures and survived almost intact. The flame of the dharma still burns pure and true in India.

Even in our recent independence movement against the colonial power, the majority of the leaders of the freedom struggle including the apostle of peace who was one of the most vociferous exponents of ahimsaa - the Mahaatma - were deeply inspired by the dharma. And it was ultimately ahimsaa which won the day for India.

So strength is not the virtue of a barbarian alone. Peace too in its own way produces strength and if history be the judge - this strength is of a more enduring variety.

But still we do not wish to take an absolute stand in this regard and agree with the Dharma Shaastras of yore that the way of life should be flexible and cater to the current needs of the people. Yes, there's always room for improvement and our culture/worldview definitely has ample scope for improvement. But before we rush ahead with modernization and reform, we only urge that Indians first understand the basis of their own civilizational ideals, so that the baby doesn't get thrown out with the bath water.

4. Ofcourse we also anticipate the ultimate questions : why should anybody learn philosophy at all and how do we there's any truth in any of this?

When posed the question by the Yaksha in the Mahabharatha as to what the most astonishing thing in the world is, Yudhishtra is said to have replied : that humans do not recognize the impermanence of things, especially their own lives and still hanker after things thinking their utility to be permanent.

If we do not reflect on the nature of our being and the truth of life then life will merely be as the Buddha aptly puts it : " that craving which leads to rebirth, combined with pleasure and lust, finding pleasure here and there " - and thus will pass life without any substance and end in death, where the dying man terrified at the unknown, helpless and pitiful, tries to cling to the known.

Liberation in the Indian way is not after death or in some remote future existence depending on the supernatural arrival of some prophet - according to the Indian way, not only is liberation to be had in this very life but according to some schools : "it is to be had here and now". And if one is not so inclined there's no need for belief or faith either : knowledge will and can liberate. You'll know that you're liberated in this life itself.

The ideal is of spiritual enlightenment as the Buddha puts it perfectly : "When in these noble truths my threefold knowledge and insight duly with its twelve divisions was well purified, then O monks, in the world I had attained the highest complete enlightenment. Thus I knew. Knowledge arose in me; insight arose that the release of my mind is unshakable; this is my last existence; now there is no rebirth".

Our exposition of Indian Philosophy

It is not very easy to build a web site on Indian philosophy. A few pages of cyber text can hardly do justice to the enormous amount of philosophical literature developed on the soil of India. Our accounts of each school, which runs from 1000 words to 10000 words, can hardly be expected to cover the thousands of years worth of literature developed by each school. At best this effort is merely a drop of the huge ocean, which makes up Indian philosophy. Though we were aware of the impossibility of presenting the full scope of Indian philosophy with all the twists and turns that it had taken over the millennia, still to make sure that something substantial comes out of this effort, we've tried to present the various schools of Indian philosophy from a spiritual and practical angle, concentrating on their main tenets concerning their views on the self, reality and liberation, without going too much into detail, about their metaphysical speculations. Salvation is the goal of almost every Indian philosophical system and we've tried to keep this in mind while reconciling their thought with their spiritual ideals. The exposition of most of the systems n this site is based on popular accounts of these systems by authors like Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, Chandradhar Sharma, Surendranath Das Gutpa, TRV Murti et al. We've collected information from the works of these authors, condensed them and tried to explain them in a simple and logical way. Since we desire to present the systems as accurately as possible we've also sought the help of those who either belong to the tradition or have deeply studied a particular system, to review and enhance the documents. In this regard we'd like to thank the following people : Kadiri Krishna and the members of the Dvaita list for writing up the whole exposition on Dvaita, Professor Subash Kak for reviewing the article on Kashmir Shaivism, Sadagopan for reviewing the article on Visishtadvaita, Kuntimaddi Sadananda and Jaladhar Vyas for reviewing the article on Advaita, Vidya Jayaraman for reviewing and enhancing the articles on Nyaaya, Purva Miimaamsaa and Saiva Siddhaanta.

With regards systems like the Mahaayaana Buddhism and Advaita Vedaanta, I've my own distinct views, developed from studying the fundamental texts of these schools, discussing the related issues with a variety of scholars and also my own experiments with spirituality. In my exposition of these schools I have freely expressed my views along with the information that I've borrowed from other authors. I also have absolutely no hesitation in admitting that I've been heavily influenced by the teachings of the great Mahaayaana Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna and consider his most important work - the Mulamaadhyamika Kaarikaa - as the Maya Shaastram par excellence. This influence will definitely have a telling effect on my exposition of Advaita itself given the central position the doctrine of maya holds in Advaita - which I feel will not find approval in certain sections of the Advaita following. But I would like to point out that such a reading of Advaita is not anything new and there're philosophers in the historical Advaita tradition itself - like Gaudapaada, Sri Harsha and Citsukha - who too have inclined towards such an interpretation. In my view it just gives an added intellectual dimension to Advaita which if understood correctly can benefit practicing Advaitins to a great extent.

Finally I would also like to thank two people :

  1. Vishal Aggarwal who's the co-author of this site and has been part of this effort from day number one. Much of the biographical information regarding schools, authors and their works provided in this site is due to his encyclopedic knowledge of the subject. Vishal has also proofread every article and helped structure the content in a logical way to facilitate ease of understanding. Without his energy, hardwork and encouragement it is quite doubtful that this effort would have borne fruit.

  2. Pushpa Srinivasan who has designed and created this website for us - for putting up with all our questions and suggestions and patiently guiding us through the process to produce this superlative website for us. The authors of this site are totally indebted to her for her effort.

Though we're tempted to say that the purpose of this effort is spiritual, still in the Indian sense, philosophy has never been apart from spirituality. In India, every philosophy has a religion and every religion has a philosophy. Every religion proudly proclaims that its views are firmly based on experience and reason. So it is in the spirit of the ancient teachers - the philosopher saints who tried to reconcile reality with reason, with the purpose of structuring an easier path to liberation - that we present this site.

Nandakumar Chandran