Philosophy and Darsa
By Dr Jyots Bhattacharjee
The words philosophy and Darsa are broadly regarded as identical in India — but many of the western people do not think so. They remark that here religion passes for philosophy and there is no philosophy worth the me in this country. For them Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are philosophers —while garju, Sankara and Ramanuja are not —because they were seekers of redemption from sorrows of life. Their goal was liberation from the chain of birth, death and rebirth which is at the root of all human sufferings. Western thinkers thought that Indian thinkers changed philosophy into theology and mysticism and the diverse schools of Darsa are nothing but exercise in the defence of some religious dogmas. Philosophy implies love of wisdom —but no love of wisdom can be seen in Darsa according to some thinkers. That is the reason, they say, why it has not been possible to compile a history of philosophy in India.
It is perfectly true that till now no history of philosophy has been written in India and the schools of Darsa have not given as much value to knowledge as to liberation. They were not interested in language alysis or the world as such. Darsa implies the ‘Vision of Truth’ and the Indian darsaniks believe that there can be direct realization of truth by the liberated ones (tattva darsa). The person, who has realized truth, can be free from worldly entanglement —while one, who fails to realize truth, becomes entangled in worldly affairs.
It is not really true that darsa is not interested in acquiring knowledge. Darsa asks -why should I know? What can I know? How can I know? How can one know that his knowledge is true? Behind all these questions lie the main idea of fulfilment of life and realization of truth. Ethics plays a very important part in Darsa. All the schools of Indian Philosophy, barring Carvaka, aim at a good life, though the idea of “good” may vary. The affinity of the knower with the known is the mark of Indian culture, from which the darsa schools have emerged. That is also the central point which has brought about dharma. The Oxford University dictiory gives different meanings of ‘dharma’ and ‘religion’. Dharma implies right behaviour and moral law that holds man to life. Religion is a belief—a system of faith and worship which forge a bond of love and reverence between man and God. It is more a verb than a noun. Dharma is ‘acara’ of rules of contact.
In general the origil text in Indian philosophy is in three parts. The first part deals with value (Purusartha) and that is the ultimate goal. There is an urge to know this value and knowledge is a means to attain the highest truth. And here we come in contact with such terms as ‘srava’ (listening to teachers), ‘ma’ (deliberating upon what is read or heard), nididhyasa (cultivating concentration of mind to understand what is learnt).
In the second part, Indian philosophy deals with such concepts as prama, prameya, prama, pramata, pramanya and other related problems. The darsaniks deliberate on such subjects as the objective world, ways of knowing, conditions of truth, knower or the subject of knowledge, subject-object relation etc.
Towards the end there are discourses on the relation amongst various kinds of knowledge, semblance of reason, liberation (Mukti) and devotion (bhakti). The entire middle part and the last part can be called philosophy. Hence we may use darsa and philosophy as identical, provided the basic difference between the two regarding the fundamental attitude towards knowledge in relation to life is not forgotten.
The basic point of difference between Indian darsaniks and western philosophers is that for Indian philosophers Darsa is a way of life, which is not taken in that sense by the Western philosophers. Each darsanik—whether Vedantist, or iyayika or Buddhist —belonging to diverse schools of thought followed the principles laid throughout his life. For them it was not merely a theory —but a practical application of one’s convictions. Briefly speaking darsa is the philosophy of life. The different philosophical exercises were taken in India as the different ways of shaping practical lives.
Certain common characteristics can be found in all the systems of Indian philosophy. The most notable point, as has been mentioned earlier, is the practical application of philosophy to life. The Indian philosophers believe that philosophy is necessary to lead a good life. Wisdom is not meant for satisfaction of intellectual curiosity, but for leading an enlightened life. All the systems of darsa were profoundly affected by the existence of evil. This sight of evil cast despondency in the minds of Indian philosophers- and that is why Indian philosophy often has been criticized as pessimistic. But it is not so. Every Indian system of philosophy admits the existence of sufferings —yet it also furnishes ways to get rid of sufferings. Buddha, for instance, who left his home at the sight of sufferings of mankind, declared in his ‘four noble truths’ that there is suffering —but there is cessation of suffering also —and there is a way to attain it. As Dr. Radhakrishn said, “Pessimism in the Indian system is only initial and not fil”.
All the systems of Indian philosophy, barring Carvaka, are closely connected with Ethics and there is a general faith on an eterl moral order. Whether the system is vedic or non-vedic, theistic or atheistic, they all believe in this moral order. Rig Veda calls it ‘Rta’ —this idea gradually formed itself into the conception of ‘apurva’ in Mimamsa, the law that assures future enjoyment of rituals performed at present. Then we have the law of ‘adrista’ in Nyaya — Vaisesika, which brings about objects and events in conformity with moral principles. The same law transforms itself into the law of karma which is accepted by all Indian systems, except Carvaka. In general, the law of karma means that all actions, good or bad, produce their proper consequence in the life of the individual. Briefly stating —you reap as you sow. This law helps in explaining certain differences in individual beings. All actions—past, present and future will produce certain good or bad effects in this or another life of the individual —who is the doer of his deeds. Law of karma is the general moral law which governs not only the life and destiny of all human beings —but even the order and the arrangement of the physical world. Some systems (Nyaya — Vaisesika) say that the law of karma is under the guidance and control of God, while others (Bauddha, Samkhya, Mimamsa) say that the law of karma is autonomous and works independently of the will of God. These systems believe that the origin and order of the world may be explained by the law of karma without the supposition of God.
The law of karma does not affect those people who work without any selfish motive. Niskama karma or disinterested action does not bring about bondage and the people performing selfless action can attain liberation even in this world. The faith in the eterl moral order inspires optimism and man himself becomes his own destiny-maker. All Indian thinkers believe that ignorance is the root cause of our bondage and suffering — therefore, knowledge of reality is essential. Mere acquaintance with truth cannot remove imperfection—for that it is essential to meditate on the accepted truths and to do that practical life of self-control is indispensable. All Indian systems, except Carvaka, accept the idea of liberation as the highest end of life —though the concept of liberation has slightly different meanings in different systems.
Thus Indian philosophy or darsa is inexorably connected with religion, morality and liberation. In case of western philosophers, knowledge is required to satisfy the urge of mankind to untangle the mystery surrounding the universe. They wanted to know for the sake of knowledge itself; while Indian darsaniks treated knowledge as a means for liberation. So we can say that darsa and philosophy can be treated as identical —only we must remember that their attitude to life is different.
The glorious reign of Indian philosophy came to an end sometime at the beginning of 18th century. India became bereft of its high cultural tradition due to social decadence. During that period of intellectual and moral deterioration western philosophy stepped in to influence the Indian thinkers. Gradually in the last century we saw the re-emergence of philosophical deliberation by some great thinkers like Swami Vivekanda, Tilak, Dayanda, Mahatma Gandhi, Sri Aurobinda, Rabindrath, Radhakrishn and some others. Almost all of them reconstructed ancient Indian philosophies, combined with some western ideas.
The basic point of Gandhi’s thoughts can be summed up in one word ‘satyagrah’ (Satya— truth, agraha— attachment). It is the philosophy of truth and action. It is wrongly identified with passive or non-violent resistance. Satyagraha neither means passivity nor non-violence or resistance. They are derivatives from the origil ideal. It is unfortute that some derivative ideas pass for essence of Gandhi’s philosophy. In the process, the main idea of dharma’, which is the foundation of Gandhi’s life, is ignored. For Gandhi, “God is Truth and Truth is the law of life’. Moreover, Gandhi believed that one should always abide by love, since Truth is God and God is Love. The identification of Truth with love is the central point in Gandhi’s philosophy. Rabindrath, the poet-philosopher, appreciated the devotiol forms of Vaishvism, like that of Sri Chaitanya of Bengal. He felt that it is love that unites God and the finite spirit. Kabir deeply impressed Rabindrath. Starting with the Upanisadic concept of one as the ‘Purno’ he came to the idea of ‘purnota’ as oneness in love.
Vivekanda had his own idea of love between man and God. He had faith in Advaita, but it is wrong to interpret his philosophy entirely in terms of ‘dvaita Vendanta. He combined compassion with love and interpreted advaita as oneness in love. He declared that it is only in bhakti as love that man can become one (advaita) with God and world of beings.
All these philosophers lived their philosophies as those darsaniks did in earlier times. They combined tradition with modernity. Dr. Radhakrishn was a pioneer in blending western ideas with Indian concepts. He is aptly described as a bridge-builder between the east and the west. In fact, western ideas have influenced all the modern Indian philosophers a great deal. We notice the blend of old darsa and modernism, which again incorporates western influence. Liberation or mukti has played a predomint role in Indian philosophy and so have bhakti (devotion) and prem (love). We have already stated that Indian philosophers take darsa as a way of life, whereas for western philosophers, philosophy is an intellectual exercise to unravel the mysteries of the universe in order to know the reality. Darsa too deals with knowledge in order to gain the vision of truth and reality. Liberation from worldly sufferings is the supreme goal of the Indian darsaniks. Hence we may say that philosophy and darsa may be treated as synonymous, if we keep in mind the basic difference in the attitude of both these philosophies.
(The writer is a former Head, Department of Philosophy, Cotton College, Guwahati)