Indian Philosophy: A Note on Some Characteristics

Review of Metaphysics 6 (4):665 - 678 (1953)
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Abstract

1. Philosophy, or the nature of philosophical knowledge, is defined as darsana, which means "seeing" or "vision." Seeing is, perhaps, the best instance of what we mean by "direct experience"; in this sense, Indian philosophy is "empirical." Its empiricism is, however, an "empiricism without limits." I shall not discuss here whether "seeing," "hearing," etc., are instances of immediate experience, or of mediate knowledge. If we see with the eyes, or through them, it may be argued that seeing and hearing, etc., are instances of mediate knowledge. But the motive in defining the nature of philosophical knowledge as darsana or "vision" is that Indian philosophy distrusts abstract reasoning or knowledge. Philosophy is not, according to Indian philosophy, primarily a "theory" about reality but an experience of reality: an experience verified or verifiable. The Vedänta is the "end" of knowledge in the sense that knowledge ends in experience: in direct realization. This is the meaning of the Vedäntic statement: we cannot know Brahman but we can be Brahman. The nature of ultimate reality is atarkyam, "non-logical," as the Upanisads say. This does not mean that logic should not be used as a method or that logical knowledge has no use. Logical knowledge gives knowledge of "existence" in some sense, e.g., if I say, "No statement is true," then, this statement is, at least, true: therefore it exists. Whereas philosophy as darsana is an intuition of the existent and not of existence. In a certain sense, there is no problem for Indian philosophy of the reality and proof of the external world. The Katha Upanisad says that the senses are "pierced outwards"; "therefore, they see external objects": tasmät parang pasyati. But why the expression "external world" if there is not another world in some sense? However this may be, it is an historical fact that, in its quest for the Real, Indian thought changed from the objective to the subjective method: its search for the reality of the objective universe was through its search for the inner essence of man's being. The Katha Upanisad speaks of seeing "with eyes turned within": ävratta çaksu. The conception of philosophy as darsana corresponds to Plato's definition of the Dialectic as "the eye of the soul": "not implanting eyes, for they exist already, but giving them a right direction which they have not." Philosophy as darsana is the sight of "those who have eyes to see," though not the sight of "those who see only what they want to see." Darsana as defined is "discovery": there is in it, or through it, an unveiling of Reality. Darsana is a perceptual or "intuitive" situation in which the existent is beheld "face to face"; pratyagätänamaiksat: "beheld the Atman face to face": but this relation of "face to face" cannot properly be described as an "encounter," if this means seeing another.

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