Reasons for Sorry State of Indian Philosophy

When we talk about philosophy, what generally comes in the mind of most people are the Ancient Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle followed by the modern thinkers such as Descartes, Kant, Nietzsche, etc. I remember seeing a book titled Great ideas of Philosophy, which only talk about western philosophy. As if people in other cultures never had any great ideas in philosophy. It is only in the recent times that people have started to appreciate Eastern Philosophers, but then again it is mostly limited to Buddha, some Confucius and maybe a little bit of Lao Tsu, just because his book is so easy to read.

The other day I just searched for best books on philosophy and all I could see was the work of western philosophers. On Quora even Indian people only suggested reading western philosophers. I mean I understand western people only being aware of western philosophers, but what was disappointing to me was that even Indian people only recommended western authors. India has a very rich tradition in philosophy and it is so unfortunate that we Indians, especially the elites and the educated, are not even aware of it, forget about having a deeper understanding of it. In certain aspects, I actually find Indian philosophy to be far superior to any other philosophy of the world. There are generally three reasons for such apathy to Indian philosophy

Reason 1

Although we have so many great texts on philosophy, most of these texts are not that easily available to a casual reader. As an example, Plato or Aristotle’s work is far more accessible to a casual reader over similar Indian texts such as lets say the work of Adi Shankara or Nagarjuna. Even the works of Swami Vivekananda are harder to find in the bookstores.

Reason 2

For some reason I do not see many great thinkers in India alive today who can really inspire us. I mean where are the likes of Tagore, Aurobindo, Vidhyasaagar and Ram Mohan Roys who can shape our thought in the current times.

Reason 3

Generally people are of the opinion that the western philosophers focused towards rational thinking while eastern philosophers were limited to spirituality and morality. I must admit that I am guilty of this mistake and used to think Indian Philosophy to be too spiritual and grounded in religion. Since rationality is considered cool and religion is a taboo, no wonder we do not give much respect to Indian philosophy and look towards the west. Another example of the disrespect for Indian work is how Plato’s Republic is mentioned as a foundational text on western social structure, while an equally brilliant Arthashashtra of Chanakya is contrasted against the work of Machiavelli. Machiavelli’s Prince is much limited in scope and stands nowhere in comparison to Arthashastra

Spirituality in Indian Philosophy

It might appear that Indian philosophy is mostly about spirituality because that is how the west looks at Indian philosophy, and since western way of thinking is dominant among our elites and the educated Indians look at Indian philosophy through the western lens. It is when you remove your western lens and look at Indian philosophy through an open mind that you find it to be as rational as any other philosophy.

Indian philosophy has to be rational as India has a long tradition of the simultaneous existence of a number of philosophies, which have been critiquing each other peacefully. These involve six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophies that are Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimaamsaa and Vedanta and five heterodox schools of philosophies, which are the Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajnana and Chaarvaak.

Bear in mind that these philosophies all have their own epistemology and metaphysics. It you then immerse yourself in this philosophy, you notice these schools cover all the aspects of philosophy from epistemology to metaphysics to logic and then ethics. While people in the west really value their philosophers, in India we are not as appreciative of our philosophers and I find it very disturbing. Think about it, names such as Plato, Aristotle, Kant and Nietzsche are known to almost all educated Indians, but many of these same educated people might not be aware of great Indian philosophers such as Kanaad, Kapila, Yajnavalkya, Ashtavakra and Adi Shankara. Even if you would have heard the name of these giants of Indian philosophy, many Indians would just have thought of them as religious sages rather than rational philosophers.

It is time that we start taking our own philosophical heritage more seriously and understand our Indian way of thought. In this video series on Indian philosophy I aim to introduce you to our great heritage in philosophy. So that you can appreciate the brilliant work of Indian philosophers. The teachings of these philosophers is the heritage we have received from our forefathers and I consider it to be my duty to spread this knowledge to as many people as I can.

Originally published at on April 14, 2019.



Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India

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Rahul Yadav

Discover Indian Heritage: Arts, Science, Religion and Philosophy of India