Discuss the notion of knowledge in India Philosophy.

Ancient Indians exhibited a very different mindset for knowledge. Medicine and surgery developed to meet practical needs, astronomy and mathematics developed for unique reason, neither purely spiritual nor purely mundane, in order to perform yagas to meet practical ends and yajnas to achieve spiritual gain.

The Indian philosophy of knowledge comes very close to the Baconan philosophy of knowledge. Truly, Indians regarded knowledge as power because for them knowledge (and thereby, philosophy) was a way of life and this is the reason why for them knowledge was never intrinsic. But, then, it is absolutely necessary to reverse the connotation of the word ‘power’. While the Baconan ‘power’ was meant to experience control over nature, the Indian ‘power’ was supposed to be the instrument to subjugate one’s own self to nature. This is the prime principle which forms the cornerstone of early vedic thought. This radical change in the meaning of the word ‘power’ also explains the difference in world view which can be easily discerned when the belief-systems and attitudes of Indians and Europeans (for our purpose ‘west’ means Europe only) are compared and contrasted.

Ancient Indian believed in identifying himself with nature. Indians, however, did not regard worldly pleasure as ultimate. For them there was something more important and enduring and therefore the conquest of nature never mattered. Indian tradition, surely, includes the ‘present’ life, but it is not restricted to it; goes beyond it.

Indian tradition maintains a certain hierarchy of values. Knowledge, as a way of life, encompasses not only all sorts of values but also it changes one’s own perspective. Accordingly, the so-called spiritual goal in life can be attained only by one who has acquired knowledge. It points to the fact that ignorance or avidya is a hindrance to attain spiritual goal in particular and any other goal in general. One who has acquired true knowledge or knows truly, acts and thinks, very differently, different from ignorant, a characteristic Socratic thought in Indian attire. A philosopher, in the west, can be (not that there are) worse than a hardened criminal but in Indian context it is inconceivable.

This sort of emphasis upon values led to a hermeneutic blunder. Without batting his eye lid the critic, just like protagonist, argued that in Indian philosophy was never distinct from religion. Hence in India there was no philosophy at all worth the name according to critics. That there was no religion in India (with the exclusion of tribal religion) is a different story. The so-called Hindu dharma cannot be mistaken and ought not to be mistaken for religion. This confusion arose because many scholars mistakenly identified religion with spirituality. An analogy may clear the mist surrounding Indian philosophy. Western philosophy is not divided into Christian philosophy and Jewish philosophy, though all western philosophers (excluding Greek philosophers) in loose sense are either Christians or Jews. Likewise, it is highly inappropriate to talk about ‘Hindu philosophy’, though majority of Indian philosophers were ‘committed’ Hindus. It is true that a few philosophers in India became the heads of religious groups or sects (eg. Ramanuj or Madhva). But then we have St. Augustine, St. Aquinas, etc. in the west also. But nobody characterizes their philosophy as Christian philosophy.

Indian philosophy recognizes knowledge at two levels; Para Vidya (higher knowledge) and Apara vidya (lower knowledge). Since knowledge is spiritual, only the former is true knowledge, whereas the latter is not knowledge at all in the strict sense of the term. Though the Upanisads subscribe to this view, subsequent systems, (with the exception of Purva Mimamsa) which are supposed to be commentaries on the Upanishads, regarded perception, for example, as a way of knowledge. Upamana is another pramana. Not only lower knowledge, but also erroneous knowledge was seriously considered as species of knowledge (e.g., akhyati) by systems of philosophy.

Therefore even Apara Vidya retained its place. Does Indian philosophy integrate spiritual life with worldly affairs? If the claim, that upholding of the former is not tantamount to the rejection of the latter, then it does not. The truth is that the former does not entail the latter. Therefore these two had to be fused and it was achieved in a remarkable manner; purusartha scheme clarifies that only through Dharma, i.e., righteous means, man should acquire artha (wealth) and satisfy kama (any sensuous desire), the very same means to attain moksha (liberation). The law of parsimony is very well adhered to as regards the questions of social philosophy and moral philosophy.

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