Informative Summary of “A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1 (1922)”

Overview: Dasgupta’s “A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1” is a seminal work that explores the rich tapestry of Indian philosophical thought. He begins by tracing the roots of philosophical inquiry in the Vedas and Brahmanas, highlighting the shift from ritualism to speculation. The Upanishads are presented as a culmination of this shift, emphasizing the Atman doctrine and the quest for Brahman.

Dasgupta then delves into the complexities of Buddhism and Jainism, two heterodox schools that challenged Brahmanic authority. He meticulously examines their doctrines of impermanence, karma, and liberation, highlighting their unique contributions to Indian philosophy. The remainder of the volume is dedicated to the six orthodox Hindu systems: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. He focuses on their key tenets, internal logic, and mutual interactions, demonstrating the interconnectedness of these diverse yet complementary schools.

Key Findings:

  • Emergence of philosophical inquiry within the ritualistic framework of the Vedas and Brahmanas. Dasgupta showcases how speculation on the nature of reality and the self emerged within the context of elaborate sacrificial rituals.
  • The Upanishads as a turning point, emphasizing the Atman doctrine and the equation of Atman with Brahman. Dasgupta highlights the significance of the Upanishads in shifting the focus from external rituals to the inner self as the ultimate reality.
  • Buddhism’s emphasis on impermanence, suffering, and the path to liberation (Nirvana). Dasgupta dissects the complex chain of causation in Buddhist thought, highlighting the role of ignorance, desire, and karma in perpetuating the cycle of rebirth.
  • Jainism’s focus on relative pluralism, the doctrine of Nayas, and the sevenfold predication (Syadvada). Dasgupta unpacks the unique Jaina perspective on reality, emphasizing the limitations of absolute judgments and the importance of multiple perspectives.
  • The six orthodox Hindu systems: a diverse yet complementary set of schools addressing key metaphysical and epistemological questions. Dasgupta meticulously examines each system, highlighting their common ground in accepting karma and rebirth while addressing their divergent views on the nature of the self, the world, and liberation.


  • The origins and evolution of Indian philosophy from its nascent stages in the Vedas to its sophisticated systems of thought. Readers gain a comprehensive understanding of the historical development of Indian philosophical inquiry.
  • Key concepts such as Atman, Brahman, karma, rebirth, moksha, and maya. The book provides insightful explanations of fundamental Indian philosophical concepts, aiding readers in grasping their nuances and significance.
  • The distinct philosophical contributions of Buddhism, Jainism, and the six orthodox Hindu systems. Readers develop an appreciation for the unique perspectives and arguments presented by each school of thought.
  • The interconnectedness and cross-pollination of ideas among various Indian schools. Dasgupta emphasizes the dynamic exchange of ideas and criticisms that shaped the evolution of Indian philosophical thought.
  • The significance of philosophical inquiry for leading a meaningful life and attaining liberation. Dasgupta’s analysis underscores the practical implications of philosophical understanding in pursuing a life free from suffering and achieving spiritual fulfillment.

Historical Context:

  • This text was written during a time of renewed interest in Indian philosophy, both in India and the West.
  • The influence of early translations of Upanishads on Western thinkers like Schopenhauer is discussed.
  • The revival of Upanishadic studies in India by figures like Ram Mohan Roy and the founding of the Brahma Samaj are highlighted.


  1. The Vedas are the oldest known literary works of the Indo-European race, containing hymns, rituals, and philosophical speculations. The Vedas are revered as sacred scriptures by Hindus, reflecting their ancient civilization and religious beliefs.
  2. The Upanishads, concluding portions of Vedic literature, emphasize the doctrine of Atman, the inner self, as the ultimate reality. The Upanishads mark a shift from ritualism to philosophical inquiry, seeking the true nature of the self and its relation to the universe.
  3. Buddha, born as Siddhartha Gautama, achieved enlightenment and founded Buddhism, a philosophy centered on impermanence and the cessation of suffering. Buddhism challenged Brahmanic authority and offered a path to liberation through ethical conduct, meditation, and wisdom.
  4. Jainism, possibly predating Buddhism, advocates relative pluralism and the doctrine of Nayas, emphasizing the limitations of absolute judgments. Jainism focuses on the multifaceted nature of reality and the importance of considering multiple perspectives.
  5. The Samkhya system posits two fundamental principles: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (the material principle). Samkhya offers a dualistic framework for understanding reality, explaining the interaction between consciousness and the material world.
  6. The Yoga system, closely aligned with Samkhya, emphasizes practical techniques for achieving liberation through mental discipline and meditation. Yoga integrates Samkhya metaphysics with a practical path to achieve liberation through mental control and meditative practices.
  7. The Nyaya system focuses on logic and epistemology, providing a framework for valid knowledge and methods of reasoning. Nyaya aims to establish valid means of knowledge and correct methods of reasoning, contributing to a systematic approach to philosophical inquiry.
  8. The Vaisheshika system, closely associated with Nyaya, analyzes reality into six categories: substance, quality, action, generality, particularity, and inherence. Vaisheshika offers a framework for understanding the constituent elements of reality and their interrelationships.
  9. The Mimamsa system focuses on interpreting Vedic texts and establishing the authority of Vedic injunctions. Mimamsa primarily deals with interpreting Vedic texts and establishing the authority of Vedic injunctions, particularly related to ritualistic practices.
  10. The Vedanta system, based on the Upanishads, emphasizes the non-dualistic reality of Brahman and the illusory nature of the world (maya). Vedanta interprets the Upanishads as teaching the non-dualistic reality of Brahman, viewing the world as an illusory appearance superimposed on the absolute self.
  11. The concept of karma, the principle of action and its consequences, plays a central role in most Indian philosophical systems. The karma theory explains the cycle of rebirth and the moral implications of actions, shaping ethical conduct and the pursuit of liberation.
  12. Moksha, liberation from the cycle of rebirth, is the ultimate goal of life in most Indian philosophical systems. Moksha represents the liberation from suffering and the realization of the true nature of the self, whether it be through knowledge, meditation, or the cessation of desire.
  13. Indian philosophical systems acknowledge the existence of a permanent entity, the self (atman, purusha, or jiva), except for Buddhism. The concept of the self varies across different systems, but its permanence and fundamental nature are central to their metaphysical frameworks.
  14. Indian philosophy views the world as being full of sorrow (duhkha), emphasizing the need for liberation from this cycle of suffering. The recognition of suffering as an inherent aspect of worldly existence motivates the pursuit of liberation and the realization of a state beyond sorrow.
  15. Ethical conduct, including non-violence, truthfulness, and self-control, plays a crucial role in preparing the mind for philosophical inquiry and liberation. Ethical conduct serves as a foundation for refining the mind, cultivating inner peace, and facilitating the realization of higher truths.
  16. The Upanishads challenge the absolute authority of the Brahmanas and the exclusive focus on ritualistic practices. The Upanishads mark a shift in emphasis from external rituals to inner contemplation and the pursuit of self-knowledge.
  17. Early Buddhism rejects the existence of a permanent self, focusing instead on the impermanence of all phenomena and the aggregates (khandhas). Buddhism analyzes the self as a collection of impermanent aggregates, rejecting the notion of a permanent, unchanging soul.
  18. The Jaina concept of being (sat) involves a permanent unit undergoing continuous change through the gain and loss of qualities. Jainism offers a perspective on reality that reconciles permanence and change, emphasizing the dynamic nature of existence.
  19. The Sâmkhya system views causation as the actualization of pre-existing potentialities (satkaryavada). Samkhya understands the effect as already existing in a potential form within the cause, rejecting the notion of absolute creation from nothing.
  20. The Nyâya-Vaisheshika system views causation as the production of new effects from the interaction of causes (asatkaryavada). Nyaya-Vaisheshika posits that the effect is non-existent before the operation of the cause, emphasizing the role of causal interaction in generating new realities.


This text doesn’t contain many statistics. However, it does reference:

  • Buddha spending 6 years in extreme self-discipline before attaining enlightenment.
  • Buddha spending 45 years teaching after achieving enlightenment.
  • Buddha dying at over 80 years old.
  • The Council of Vesali taking place in 400 BCE.
  • Asvagosha living around 100 CE.
  • Nagarjuna living around 100 CE.
  • The Jain prophet Parsva dying 250 years before Mahavira.
  • Mahavira attaining Moksha in 480 BCE.


  1. Vedas: The oldest scriptures of Hinduism, consisting of hymns, prayers, rituals, and philosophical speculations.
  2. Upanishads: Philosophical treatises considered to be the concluding portions of the Vedas, focusing on the Atman doctrine and the search for Brahman.
  3. Brahman: The ultimate reality in Vedanta philosophy, characterized as pure being, consciousness, and bliss.
  4. Atman: The inner self or soul in Indian philosophy, often equated with Brahman in Vedanta.
  5. Karma: The principle of action and its consequences, leading to the cycle of rebirth in most Indian philosophical systems.
  6. Moksha: Liberation from the cycle of rebirth and suffering, the ultimate goal of life in most Indian systems.
  7. Maya: Illusion or the power of illusion, often used in Vedanta to explain the phenomenal world as a temporary and unreal appearance.
  8. Pratityasamutpada: Dependent origination, the Buddhist doctrine of the chain of causation that explains the arising of suffering and the path to its cessation.
  9. Nirvana: The ultimate state of liberation in Buddhism, characterized by the extinction of suffering and the cessation of the cycle of rebirth.
  10. Syadvada: The Jaina doctrine of sevenfold predication, asserting that all judgments are relative and subject to multiple perspectives.


  1. The story of Balaki Gargya and Ajatasatru in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad illustrates the quest for Brahman and the inadequacy of limited definitions. Balaki Gargya, a Brahmin, attempts to teach Ajatasatru, a king, about Brahman but fails, showcasing the limitations of conceptual knowledge in grasping the ultimate reality.
  2. The story of Indra and Virocana in the Chandogya Upanishad highlights the progressive stages of understanding the Atman. Indra and Virocana, representing gods and demons, seek instruction about the self from Prajapati. Through a series of progressively refined teachings, they learn to distinguish the true self from the body, dream self, and the self in deep sleep.
  3. The parable of the chariot in the Milinda Panha, a Buddhist text, explores the concept of impermanence and the illusory nature of a permanent self. The chariot, like the self, is analyzed as a collection of parts that are constantly changing, challenging the notion of a fixed and enduring entity.
  4. The analogy of the rope mistaken for a snake is used across various systems to illustrate the nature of illusion (maya). The rope, like Brahman, remains unchanged, while the snake, like the world-appearance, is a temporary and false perception superimposed on it.
  5. The example of the potter and the clay is used in Vedanta and other systems to explain the relationship between cause and effect. The clay, like Brahman, represents the underlying reality, while the pots, like the world-appearance, are temporary forms arising from it.
  6. The analogy of the burning coal in Gaudpada’s Karikas illustrates the illusory nature of movement and the ultimate stillness of consciousness. The coal, like consciousness, appears to move but remains essentially unchanged, highlighting the illusory nature of phenomenal change.
  7. The example of the rising tide and the moon in Nyaya refutes the Buddhist assertion that all inference is based on causation or identity of essence. This example demonstrates the validity of inference based on the natural connection between phenomena without requiring a causal or essential relationship.
  8. The story of the man from the city learning to identify a gavaya (wild ox) illustrates the Nyaya concept of upamana (analogy). The man learns to associate the name ‘gavaya’ with the animal through its resemblance to a known animal, a cow.
  9. The example of the command “bring the cow” is used in Mimamsa to explain the doctrine of anvitabhidhana (contextual denotation). This theory posits that words derive their meaning from their connection with other words in a sentence, particularly in relation to Vedic injunctions.
  10. The example of a person’s absence from home while known to be alive is used in Mimamsa to explain the concept of arthapatti (implication). This method of reasoning allows us to infer the person’s existence outside the house to reconcile seemingly contradictory pieces of information.


“A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1” is a comprehensive and profound exploration of the origins, evolution, and core tenets of Indian philosophical thought. Dasgupta masterfully guides readers through the intricate landscape of Vedic and Upanishadic ideas, the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, and the complexities of the six orthodox Hindu systems. Key takeaways include:

  • The interconnectedness and cross-fertilization of ideas among various Indian philosophical schools. Despite their differences, these schools engage in a dynamic dialogue, shaping and refining each other’s views over centuries.
  • The centrality of the self (Atman) and its relationship to the ultimate reality (Brahman) in much of Indian thought. The quest for self-knowledge and liberation is a unifying thread that runs through various systems, motivating philosophical inquiry and ethical conduct.
  • The importance of understanding the nature of knowledge (pramā) and its validity (prāmānya) for attaining liberation. Different schools offer diverse but compelling analyses of knowledge and its role in understanding reality and achieving spiritual fulfillment.
  • The pervasive influence of the doctrine of karma and rebirth on Indian thought and culture. This concept provides a framework for understanding the moral implications of actions and the cycle of existence, prompting ethical living and the pursuit of liberation.

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