Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Introduction to Hinduism - 01.1 - Overview of Hindu Philosophy

Hindu Philosophical thoughts have their origin in antiquity - for example, as early as the 10th book of Rk Veda,  in the Nasadiya Sukta (RV 10.129), we find the Seer contemplating on the Origin of Universe. However, by the Upanishadic age, dvelopment of various philosophical schools were in full swing.

Differences in Philosophy Development Style in East and West
Development of philosophical ideas in India, were quite distinct from the way it happened in the Western World.
In Greece for example, a philosopher propounded his views. He himself or someone else, documented the ideas and others debated on it. The next philosopher entered the scene and did the same thing and so on. Thus a clear chronology of philosophical ideas is available to the student of history and philosophy.

In India, things were different.
First of all, there were different schools of philosophy as opposed to a single person, and the inter-school rivalry was intense.
Secondly, the entire philosophic tradition was oral and what was written in the philosophy books (the Sutras) were brief one liners or headlines. It was expected that the student knew all the details and referred to the Sutras only to refresh his memory on the topic headline, and not necessarily on the subject itself.

Commentaries on the philosophical works and further commentaries on the commentaries themselves  are therefore a very important aspect of philosophic study in India.

When one talks about Indian philosophy, for example say Samkhya, one has to read:
1. Samkhya Shastra by Kapila
2. Numerous commentaries on the original texts as well as other commentaries on the commentaries themselves

Then only would one be able to understand the full development of the said philosophical school.

The Philosophy Development Process in Hinduism
a. When initially an idea, say "Idea", was floated, it would have had quite a few loopholes, which would be pointed out by rival schools, "Rivals".
b. A "pro-Idea" scholar would then write a commentary on "Idea", say "Idea Commentary" and  try to plug those loopholes, by exploring the "Idea" in depth.
c. Again, loopholes in "Idea Commentary" would be pointed out by "Rivals"
d. Another commentary would then be written on "Idea Commentary", perhaps called, "Commentary on Idea Commentary" and again errors would be pointed out
e. And the process would thus continue, till the idea got more and more refined, and was able to answer all questions conceivable

The entire process was an iterative mechanism where every round of iteration ensured the removal of discrepanicies and loopholes.


At a high level, we have Astika, Agama and Nastika Schools.

Astika Schools - Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, Vedanta
Agama/ Nigama/ Tantra Schools - Trika (Kashmir Saiva Monism)
Nastika Schools - Buddhism, Jainism, Charvaka

Thus as we can see, philosophical thoughts in India developed in stages and to appreciate a particular darsana, one has to read not only the original text but also the numerous commentaries to understand the darsana in entirety.

No comments:

Post a Comment