Indian philosophy

philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent

Indian philosophy (Sanskrit: दर्शन or darśana) comprises the ancient philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent.

After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. ~ Werner Heisenberg


  • The logic of the Greeks prevents them having the idea at all and it is to the Indian cultures that we must look to find thinkers who are comfortable with the idea that Nothing might be something.
    • John D. Barrow, The Book of Nothing (2009) chapter nought, "Nothingology—Flying to Nowhere"
  • The Indian religious traditions... accepted the concept of non-being on an equal footing with that of being. Like many other Eastern religions, the Indian culture regarded Nothing as a state from which one might have come and to which one might return.. Where Western religious traditions sought to flee from nothingness... a state of non-being was something to be actively sought by Buddhist and Hindus in order to achieve Nirvana: oneness with the Cosmos.
    • John D. Barrow, The Book of Nothing (2009) chapter one "Zero—The Whole Story"
  • No people in the world have ever attained to such a grandeur of thought in ideal conceptions of the Deity and its offspring, MAN, as the Sanscrit metaphysicians and theologians.
    • Helena Blavatsky, Isis Unveiled
  • The two foundations of twentieth-century physics—quantum theory and relativity theory—both force us to see the world very much in the way a Hindu, Buddhist … sees it. [...] The scale of this ancient myth is indeed staggering; it has taken the human mind more than two thousand years to come up again with a similar concept.
    • Fritjof Capra. source: The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra.Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • India contains the whole history of philosophy in a nutshell.
    • Victor Cousin quoted in Londhe, S. (2008). A tribute to Hinduism: Thoughts and wisdom spanning continents and time about India and her culture. New Delhi: Pragun Publication.
  • The priority of India is clearer in philosophy than in medicine, though here too origins are veiled, and every conclusion is an hypothesis. Some Upanishads are older than any extant form of Greek philosophy, and Pythagoras, Parmenides and Plato seem to have been influenced by Indian metaphysics; but the speculations of Thales, Anaximander, Anaximenes, Heraclitus, Anaxagoras and Empedocles not only antedate the secular philosophy of the Hindus, but bear a sceptical and physical stamp suggesting any other origin than India. Victor Cousin believed that “we are constrained to see in this cradle of the human race the native land of the highest philosophy.” It is more probable that no one of the civilizations known to us was the originator of any of the elements of civilization.
  • But nowhere else has the lust for philosophy been so strong as in India. It is, with the Hindus, not an ornament or a recreation, but a major interest and practice of life itself; and sages receive in India the honor bestowed in the West upon men of wealth or action. What other nation has ever thought of celebrating festivals with gladiatorial debates between the leaders of rival philosophical schools?
  • In a Rajput painting of the eighteenth century we see a typical Indian “School of Philosophy”—the teacher sits on a mat under a tree, and his pupils squat on the grass before him. Such scenes were to be witnessed everywhere, for teachers of philosophy were as numerous in India as merchants in Babylonia. No other country has ever had so many schools of thought. In one of Buddha’s dialogues we learn that there were sixty-two distinct theories of the soul among the philosophers of his time. “This philosophical nation par excellence” says Count Keyserling, “has more Sanskrit words for philosophical and religious thought than are found in Greek, Latin and German combined.”
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • The Mohammedan invasions put an end to the great age of Hindu philosophy. The assaults of the Moslems, and later of the Christians, upon the native faith drove it, for self-defense, into a timid unity that made treason of all debate, and stifled creative heresy in a stagnant uniformity of thought. By the twelfth century the system of the Vedanta, which in Shankara had tried to be a religion for philosophers, was reinterpreted by such saints as Ramanuja (ca. 1050) into an orthodox worship of Vishnu, Rama and Krishna. Forbidden to think new thoughts, philosophy became not only scholastic but barren; it accepted its dogmas from the priesthood, and proved them laboriously by distinctions without difference, and logic without reason.
  • In all these systems, Brahmanical or other, the categories of the intellect are represented as helpless or deceptive before a reality immediately felt or seen; and all our eighteenth-century rationalism appears to the Indian metaphysician as a vain and superficial attempt to subject the incalculable universe to the concepts of a salonnière. “Into blind darkness pass they who worship ignorance; into still greater darkness they who are content with knowledge.” Hindu philosophy begins where European philosophy ends—with an inquiry into the nature of knowledge and the limitations of reason; it starts not with the physics of Thales and Democritus, but with the epistemology of Locke and Kant; it takes mind as that which is most immediately known, and therefore refuses to resolve it into a matter known only mediately and through mind. It accepts an external world, but does not believe that our senses can ever know it as it is.
  • Certain characteristic qualities which would not seem to be defects from the Hindu point of view have kept this philosophy from exercising a wider influence in other civilizations. Its method, its scholastic terminology, and its Vedic assumptions handicap it in finding sympathy among nations with other assumptions or more secularized cultures. Its doctrine of Maya gives little encouragement to morality or active virtue; its pessimism is a confession that it has not, despite the theory of Karma, explained evil; and part of the effect of these systems has been to exalt a stagnant quietism in the face of evils that might conceivably have been corrected, or of work that cried out to be done. None the less there is a depth in these meditations which by comparison casts an air of superficiality upon the activistic philosophies generated in more invigorating zones. Perhaps our Western systems, so confident that “knowledge is power,” are the voices of a once lusty youth exaggerating human ability and tenure. As our energies tire in the daily struggle against impartial Nature and hostile Time, we look with more tolerance upon Oriental philosophies of surrender and peace. Hence the influence of Indian thought upon other cultures has been greatest in the days of their weakening or decay. While Greece was winning victories she paid little attention to Pythagoras or Parmenides; when Greece was declining, Plato and the Orphic priests took up the doctrine of reincarnation, while Zeno the Oriental preached an almost Hindu fatalism and resignation; and when Greece was dying, the Neo-Platonists and the Gnostics drank deep at Indian wells. The impoverishment of Europe by the fall of Rome, and the Moslem conquest of the routes between Europe and India, seem to have obstructed, for a millennium, the direct interchange of Oriental and Occidental ideas. But hardly had the British established themselves in India before editions and translations of the Upanishads began to stir Western thought. Fichte conceived an idealism strangely like Shankara’s; Schopenhauer almost incorporated Buddhism, the Upanishads and the Vedanta into his philosophy; and Schelling, in his old age, thought the Upanishads the maturest wisdom of mankind. Nietzsche had dwelt too long with Bismarck and the Greeks to care for India, but in the end he valued above all other ideas his haunting notion of eternal recurrence—a variant of reincarnation.
    • Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage : India and Her Neighbors.
  • With a rigor unknown elsewhere, India has applied itself to analyzing the various conditionings of the human spirit.
    • M. Eliade, source: Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Mircea Eliade.Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • After these conversations with Tagore some of the ideas that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense. That was a great help for me.
    • Werner Heisenberg, on conversations with Rabindranath Tagore, as quoted in Uncommon Wisdom: Conversations With Remarkable People (1988) by Fritjof Capra, who states of Heisenberg, that after these "He began to see that the recognition of relativity, interconnectedness, and impermanence as fundamental aspects of physical reality, which had been so difficult for himself and his fellow physicists, was the very basis of the Indian spiritual traditions."
    • Variant: After the conversations about Indian philosophy, some of the ideas of Quantum Physics that had seemed so crazy suddenly made much more sense.
  • The six Philosophical Schools, whose principles are explained in the Dersana Sàstra, comprise all the metaphysics of the old Academy, the Stoa, the Lyceum; nor is it possible to read the Vedanta, or the many fine compositions in illustration of it, without believing, that Pythagoras and Plato derived their sublime theories from the same fountain with the sages of India.
    • William Jones, source: The Philomathic Journal, The Philomathic institution.Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • In the west, our understanding of Indian philosophical schools ... has been colored by our own history. The default model for the relationship between these schools is often unwittingly based on models derived from Western religious history: the hostilities between the three religions of the Book, the modern relationship of the various Christian denominations, or even the relation between orthodox and heterodox sects in early Christianity.
    • Andrew Nicholson, quoted in: Rajiv Malhotra: Indra's Net, p 169, 1st ed.
  • The link between this new physics and dharma has been noted since the discovery of quantum mechnics by Heisenberg and Schrodinger (both Nobel Laureates in physics). Each of these pioneers cited the Upanishads as the only source of philosophy known to them that was consistent with the paradoxical nature of reality according to quantum mechanics.
    • Rajiv Malhotra, Indra's Net, p. 252, 1st ed.
  • Two years spent in the study of Sanskrit under Charles Lanman, and a year in the mazes of Patanjali's metaphysics under the guidance of James Woods, left me in a state of enlightened mystification. A good half of the effort of understanding what the Indian philosophers were after--and their subtleties make most of the great European philosophers look like schoolboys--lay in trying to erase from my mind all the categories and kinds of distinction common to European philosophy from the time of the Greeks. My previous and concomitant study of European philosophy was hardly better than an obstacle. And I came to the conclusion--seeing also that the "influence" of Brahmin and Buddhist thought upon Europe, as in Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and Deussen, had largely been through romantic misunderstanding--that my only hope of really penetrating to the heart of that mystery would lie in forgetting how to think and feel as an American or a European: which, for practical as well as sentimental reasons, I did not wish to do.
    • T.S. Eliot. (ASG 40-41) After Strange Gods, T.S. Eliot. Quoted in Murata, Tatsuo. "The Indic Eliot in 'The Hollow Men'." South Atlantic Review, vol. 81, no. 2, summer 2016, pp. 191+.
  • The writers of the Indian philosophies will survive, when the British dominion in India shall long have ceased to exist, and when the sources which it yielded of wealth and power are lost to remembrances.
    • Lord Warren Hastings (1732–1818) source: Universal Message of the Bhagavad Gita, Swami Ranganathananda. Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • I can venture to affirm, without meaning to pluck a leaf from the never-fading laurels of our immortal Newton, that the whole of his theology, and part of his philosophy, may be found in the Vedas, and even in the works of the Sufis. The most subtle spirit, which he suspected to pervade natural bodies, and, lying concealed in them, to cause attraction and repulsion; the emission, reflection, and refraction of light; electricity, calefaction, sensation, and muscular motion, is described by the Hindus as a fifth element, endued with those very powers; and the Vedas abound with allusions to a force universally attractive, which they chiefly ascribe to the Sun, thence called Aditya, or the Attractor
    • Sir William Jones, in his Discourse before the Asiatic Society, delivered at Calcutta, February 20th; 1794
  • What distinguishes the Vedanta philosophy from all other philosophies is that it is at the same time a religion and a philosophy.
    • Max Müller . source: Three Lectures on the Vedanta Philosophy, Max Müller Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • Even Plato seems to me to be in all main points only a Brahmin’s good pupil.
    • Friedrich Nietzsche, Letter to Peter Gast, May 31, 1888. KSA 14.420. Quoted from Elst, Koenraad. Manu as a weapon against egalitarianism: Nietzsche and Hindu political philosophy in : Siemens & Vasti Roodt, eds.: Nietzsche, Power and Politics (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin 2008).
  • The study of Japanese thought is the study of Indian thought.
    • D.T. Suzuki, quoted in "Western Admirers of Ramakrishna and His Disciples" by Gopal Stavig, p. 834
  • I like to think that someone will trace how the deepest thinking of India made its way to Greece and from there to the philosophy of our times.
    • John Wheeler. source: Indian Conquests of the Mind, Saibal Gupta. Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • It was my first meeting with [Indian] philosophy that confirmed my vague speculations and seemed at once logical and boundless.
    • William Butler Yeats, source: India and World Civilization, D.P. Singhal Quoted from Gewali, Salil (2013). Great Minds on India. New Delhi: Penguin Random House.
  • When I was a student, the term "Indian philosophy: was usually regarded as self-contradictory, a contradictio in adjecto, comparable to such an absurdity as "wooden steel." "Indian philosophy" was something that simply did not exist.
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