Ancient Indian Philosophy

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In ancient Indian philosophy (before 100 BC), philosophy and religion cannot be meaningfully separated, primarily because of the cultural integration of religious practices and mystical pursuits. For example, ceremonies celebrating birth, marriage, and death, performed with recitations of Vedic verses (mantras), were important for bonding within ancient Indian societies. Later in classical Indian philosophy, different social practices developed. Thus, the orthodox classical schools of thought are distinguished from nonorthodox classical schools by their allegiance to established forms of social practice rather than to the doctrines of the Veda. Buddhism, for example, constitutes much more of a break with Vedic practices than with the ideas developed in Vedic traditions of thought. In fact, the Upanishads, mystical treatises continuous with the Vedas, foretell many Buddhist teachings. In ancient India, religion did not entail dogma, but rather a way of life that permitted a wide range of philosophic positions and inquiry.

Mysticism, the claim that ultimate truth is only obtainable through spiritual experience, dominates much ancient Indian philosophy. Such experiences are thought to reveal a supreme and transmundane (beyond ordinary experience) reality and to provide the meaning of life. Mysticism shapes much classical and modern Indian thought as well. Through meditation and the meditative techniques of yoga, it is believed that one discovers one's true self (atman), or God (Brahman), or enlightenment (nirvana). The presumed indications of mystical experiences, such as atman or God, were especially debated in the ancient period and influenced much subsequent Indian philosophy, including the reflections of professional philosophers of late classical times. In some schools of classical Indian philosophy, such as Nyaya (Logic), neither religion nor mysticism is central. Rather, the questions of how human beings know what they know—and how they can mean what they...
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