I am a science student. During my free time, I study philosophy and occasionally do courses in philosophy in my university.

I've noticed that in academia, "Philosophy" means "Western Philosophy".

I wish to explore some other philosophies as well, especially Indian philosophy. But neither are there any courses on it in my university nor is it easy to find courses on it on Coursera and other online coursewares.

Moreover, Indian philosophy seems to be mixed with religion in the recent times, so studying Indian philosophy through popular Indian religious leaders and their books is also not something I wish to do.

After talking to a few people, I've discovered that the original Indian philosophy was not entangled with religion. It was "pure" philosophy.

Can someone direct me to a starting point for studying this "pure" philosophy? Some resources, books, online courses or maybe youtube channels?

  • 7
    You can start with the Indian Philosophy (Classical) entries into SEP. Jan 19, 2015 at 12:15
  • 3
    It sounds that you're interested in Indian materialism and logic - which would be the carvaka or nyaya tradition. Jan 22, 2015 at 11:09
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA: Thanks for the Stanford link. It seems like a good resource.
    – shivams
    Jan 22, 2015 at 16:13
  • @MoziburUllah: Yes, I am indeed interested in materialism, logic and the more "meta" sides of Indian philosophy. I will look into carvaka and nyaya for that sake.
    – shivams
    Jan 22, 2015 at 16:19

7 Answers 7


IIT Madras provides video lectures on Indian philosophy.The department of Maharishi Vedic Science of Maharishi University of Management provides complete literature of Indian philosophy in sanskrit. A brief list of resources of Indian philosophy is as follows:

  • Introduction to Indian Philosophy
  • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan - Indian Philosophy - Volume 1-2
  • A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1,Volume 2,Volume 3,Volume 4,Volume 5 by Surendranath Dasgupta. { This is in HTML format you can view all five volumes of the book in PDF format here.
  • Indian Idealism by Surendranath Dasgupta
  • The Essentials of Indian Philosophy by Prof. Mysore Hiriyanna.
  • Outlines of Indian Philosophy by Prof. Mysore Hiriyanna
  • Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan - History of Philosophy - Eastern and Western - Volume 1-2
  • Internet Encyclopedia has a a category archieve for Indian philosophy.
  • University College, London has given a recommanded reading list

  • 1
    • Wow!! Thanks Arun for this comprehensive list of references :)
      – shivams
      Jun 29, 2015 at 10:11

    I only know a bit of what I've looked up on my own, but perhaps I can get you started, although my approach is sure to be skewed as compared to most others, and I may make glaring errors. I don't know if you are deshi; if so, you may be able to correct some of my misunderstandings concerning traditional practices on your own. Also, I am giving a sort of bulletpoint approach to traditions that have existed for thousands of years. I am therefore dealing with some of the most straightforward and systematic ideas, which may not be considered the core of these beliefs by their practitioners.

    Around the same time that the mainland and Eleatic Greeks were developing philosophy - let's just say ca. 450 BCE - Indians were independently and in parallel elaborating many similar ideas in nastika belief. It is hard to know how far back these traditions go, or in what form they existed, for various reasons, but the best-known teachers are thought to have lived around the same time as the best-known early Greek teachers. There are four prominent beliefs, two of which still clearly exist in the widely observable modern world. Each had its own view of "enlightenment" and the "karmic" cycle (samsara). I will make some rather contentious comparisons to Greek philosophy.


    Buddhism in its modern widespread form often involves idol worship, but Siddhartha (the Buddha) is supposed to have said to know the way was to know him (whereas Jesus is said to have said 'the way is through me', could this mean the same or the opposite?). I wonder what the Buddha would think of having this belief system named to his memory. Perhaps it wouldn't matter. Buddhists often subscribe to four noble truths, and they often expect to escape from the six realms of existence after spinning around through them, with escape being its own sort of boundless 'realm'.

    Anyway, the Greek counterpart I think of is Socrates, who did not expect an unsuffering life, and who seemed to perceive his end as an escape into another unbounded realm.


    Jainism's best-known teacher is Mahavira. Jains typically subscribe to the seven tattva (I think the number varies). A principal of non-violence is strong in Jainism. The Jainist stories are sometimes seen to involve magic substances, karmic 'leshya'. Jainism claims to be the oldest of the nastika traditions, I believe, although I don't know if this is verifiable. Pali teachings recorded by the Jains have preserved a great deal of ancient history, although this history bears the mark of some alteration. Jainist ideas of enlightenment, as I understand them, involve the idea of sort of leveling up to connect with all spacetime as a sort of circuit; in this way, it is a faith of individual empowerment and freedom, as well as human connection. Jainism strives for actions that are Punya (virtuous, free from expectation), as opposed to Papa.

    The Western philosopher I associate with Jainism is Anaxagoras, who had a sort of magical and all-encompassing understanding of the universe.


    The Ajivika belief is probably the least known, but it comes next, because it has the closest ties to Jainism, and historically it was pronounced. The Jains recorded some of their ideas, mostly to show them wrong. A prominent Ajivika teacher Gosala was said to have walked and argued with Mahavira, until he finally killed himself after losing an argument, although it seems I've heard accounts where he is said to have drowned himself, and others where he starved. (He was so much of a wimp that, as he starved to death, a follower offered him a mango pit, and he sucked on it! (sarcasm)) The Ajivika faith was said to have been wiped out in a single purge, in which I think something like 18,000 believed followers were killed, and every writing that could be found was destroyed, so the story goes. I believe there are still practicing Ajivika in both Northern and Southern India. They seem to have been considered somewhat annoying in history, even though they were considered somewhat passivist. The story goes that starving people would show up in villages unclothed, and then when offered food, would give much of it away to animals and other people. They didn't seem to look down on dealings with prostitutes. In addition, they were said to practice removing their finger joints for some kind of life-force ritual, as well as other strange rites. For them, the understanding of the cycle of time can be compared to unwinding string (karma, or at least the idea of karma) from a yo-yo. Eventually the string just falls away after a certain time. The Ajivika were determinists; it didn't matter too much what one did. They were also amazingly specific in terms of quantification, and were atomists. For instance, of the jiva (life) atom that was said to leave the body at death: it could not be split, was of eight parts, the color of palai fruit, and extended 2500 miles. This sounds like a completely self-contradictory statement - how could it be true?! But we now accept that there are atomic subshells that are indestructibly one piece but 8 sections and extend indefinitely theoretically. Another sort of strange embodiment for an atheistic faith, according to the existing writings: when a person is finally reaching the end of the cycle to become nothing, they will reach a doorway; Manibhadra and Purnibhadra will swoop down and try to hold on, but the person who releases will not get wound up again in the karmic cycle.

    The Greek analogue I think of is Leucippus. Although we don't know much about him, we don't know much about the Ajivika either. He was obviously an atomist, and he seemed a bit of a humble wandering spirit, a strange mix of realism and fantasy.


    'Worldly ones', also known as Charvaka ('sweet-talkers') or Brihispatiya. According to Vedic tradition, Brihispati originally taught this philosophy. It is not a good thing to be called, though, because he apparently did this to trick the asuras, power-seeking deities, so they could be more easily conquered. There's another story that Brihispati broke the head of Gayatri; each fragment became a new head, and the brain matter that fell to earth became differently colored cows, so that perhaps she represents the elements. Anyway, the Lokayata believed in the traditional elements, which were more or less the four Greek elements. Some Lokayata may have argued that death just meant a splitting of elements. Basically they were skeptical naturalists, and they are recorded as having been a pretty contentious philosophical force. They believed that the elements could combine in innumerable ways. I believe the Natya scales and elements of Indian theatre bear their mark. Their best-known teacher in ancient times was Ajita, I believe.

    The Greek I would compare is Empedocles, who developed Greek elementalism, and who wrote in verse, a sort of endless speciation of ideas.

    • i had not even heard of all these religions! but, i the buddha had followers etc. in his life time so i don't think he'd find 'buddhism' a misnomer. it's just that he has a lot of different teachings for different people
      – user6917
      Jan 21, 2015 at 10:27
    • Yeah, I think Louis XIV said 'to know Versailles is to know me', and yet we don't speak of King Versailles (just making a silly bad joke with no intended meaning).
      – dwn
      Jan 21, 2015 at 16:01
    • oh ok lol word limit more words
      – user6917
      Jan 21, 2015 at 17:35
    • You don't give texts. And that's not a coherent way to lay out the development of Indian philosophical thought.
      – CriglCragl
      May 18, 2021 at 23:00

    I would recommend also The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies by Thomas McEvilley. While being a product of an admirable research on the influence of the Ancient Greek and Indian thoughts on each other, it also provides a smooth initiation into the Indian tradition of philosophy for one who is quite unfamiliar with the Eastern thought, keeping one off being lost by relating to the familiar basic Western notions.


    Sorry for my ignorance, but is Bhagavad Gita in your list? (I have read a probably-not-so-good, truncated translation only.)

    Let me first define the word "religion". I use it only for monotheisms, since they are so different from other mythologies. Only monotheisms are in a desperate urge to define themselves as NOT mythologies. In the polytheistic Amazon I saw people describing their way of thinking as mythologic, in the sense of gathering information and analyzing it at each generation. (If the lack of writing made them better at this, I don't know, but it's a question adressed by John Gray in Straw Dogs.)

    So, do you think the Bhagavad Gita qualifies more as philosophy/mythology or more as religion, in a western, dogmatic style? How it is seen today, after a long english colonization, and how it was seen before?

    And may I ask what have you read from chinese ancient philosophy too?

    • The Bhagavad Gita although framed as a mythological narrative has had significant influence on Indian philosophy en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhagavad_Gita#Themes Not least as pretty much the most popular and well-known excerpt from the Vedas among ordinary Indians.
      – CriglCragl
      May 18, 2021 at 23:15

    I'd say the most sophisticated philosophical tradition from India is Buddhist thought. Janism, Sikhism & Buddhism, actively are considered reform movements within Sanatam Dharma by Indians, and there is validity to that though it involves taking a highly pluralistic stance about the tradition (also justifiable!).

    The Buddhist emperor Ashoka was the first to unify India, and it is his wheel symbol on the Indian flag. So, the interesting question becomes, why did Buddhist thought spread much further than other Indian traditions, and why while it has thrived in many other countries did Buddhism decline in India? Answering that, is a whole enquiry in it's own right..

    Indian thought has had a profound capacity to flex, like the Advaita Vedanta school's synthesis of some Buddhist philosophical ideas, with Vedic traditions. The Sikh provision of food, and Hare Krishna practices with food can be linked. There is also a tradition of synchretism with mystic Sufism, though that's a bit of a hot potato in modern India. I'd argue this weaving-in or synchretism with (reaction to, rather than fusion) many traditions, is the other face of generating probably more religions than any other single region. Though there has always been religious strife, India has generally maintained remarkable religious pluralism. The guru culture linked to the Kumbh Mela and other Melas, has fostered an exceptional degree of 'religious entrepreneurship', which I would argue is essential in any religious community for it not to fossilise, but that gets obfusticated by a continual desire to pitch the new as recovery of the ancient. This can result in some flaky gurus, like the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but I'd say in the long run it results in great vibrancy and continuity.

    For early Buddhist philosophy, Access To Insight is great, with the full Therevada Tripitaka, as well as sets of introductory articles to Buddhist thought, and study guides.

    Therevada survived in it's full form in Sri Lanka, as well as in the Thai Forest School Tradition. Whereas the Mahayana and Vajryana schools have prospered further away - but they absolutely started in India. Nagarjuna was from South India, and is considered the second most important Buddhist thinker after the Buddha, founding the Madhyamaka school and being a primary influence on the split of Mahayana Buddhism from what is now called Therevada. Yogachara philosophy is a school or approach held across very nearly all of Mahayana Buddhism, which really stands up in modern discourse about minds and perceptions. Alaya vijnana is a particular elaboration to account for mechanisms of rebirth and karma, which I'd say bears serious comparison to the modern idea of a meme-sphere or noosphere.

    There has been a kind of pendulum swing in Buddhist communities of many places including India, between a highly ascetic monastic practice separate from ordinary people, and a much more 'folk Buddhism' style. It's found in the Zen vs Pureland dynamic in China, and Rinzai vs Soto split in Japan (there were philosophical differences, but the real persistence of the split was only the latter would do funeral rights for non-Buddhists), in addition to monastic Buddhism in continental India vs Advaita Vedanta being willing to serve ordinary people and the state.

    There is a lesson I think in this. And I'd look to foundational sociologist Durkheim on how religious practice cannot be fully treated separately from it's role in building social cohesion. The Kumbh Mela is not 'philosophy', but I think Indian thought cannot be understood without reflecting on it. In Western thinking we like to abstract philosophy from ordinary life, and especially in the analytical tradition, to retreat into the equivalent of scholastic debates. Perhaps the deepest lesson of Indian tradition, is not to ask 'What do you think?', but, 'What do you practice?'. This makes space for meditation, yoga, pilgrimage, paint fights at Holi, celebrating fire and the Nataraja at Diwali, and the largest gathering of humans for a single purpose at the Kumbh Mela. All philosophers should take note, it is not enough to know what you think, you must above all know, what you practice.

    Namaste :)


    During later Vedic period, the concepts related to nature of soul and cosmic principle, or the Atman and Brahman developed in form of six different schools of philosophies. You can read an outline of all these here https://exampariksha.com/six-schools-indian-philosophy-history-study-material-notes/


    Since, UPSC CSE has Philosophy as an optional. You can check out the following resources:

    1. Mitra's IAS(coaching institute) Indian philosophy pdf notes. They are lucid and to that point.
    2. Check out the e-Pathshala portal of Ministry of Education, Govt. of India.
    3. Book recommended:A critical survey of Indian Philosophy by Chandradhar Sharma.

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