Vedic philosophy: basics, period of appearance and features

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Vedic philosophy: basics, period of appearance and features
Vedic philosophy: basics, period of appearance and features

Philosophy as a science appeared at about the same time in different states of the ancient world - in Greece, China and India. It happened in the period of 7-6 centuries. BC e.

The word "philosophy" has Greek roots. Literally from this language it is translated as phileo - "I love", and sophia - "wisdom". If we consider the interpretation of the last of these words, then it means the ability to apply theoretical knowledge in practice. That is, having studied something, the student tries to use it in life. This is how a person gains experience.

One of the oldest philosophies in the world is Vedic. At the same time, she is also considered the most perfect. This philosophy was able to explain the nature of all living beings, pointing out that the most intelligent of them is man. She also illuminated for all people the path through which one can achieve the perfection of life.

man and rainbow circles
man and rainbow circles

The value of Vedic philosophy lies in the fact that it logicallyreasonably and clearly gave answers to such questions: “What is perfection? Where are we from? Who are we? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here?”

History of occurrence

Philosophy in the countries of the East appeared thanks to mythology. After all, those thoughts that were contained in legends and fairy tales were the initial form of social knowledge. Nevertheless, in mythology one can clearly trace the inability of a person to somehow distinguish himself from the surrounding world and explain the phenomena occurring in it, which become the lot of the actions of heroes and gods. Nevertheless, in the legends of the ancient period, people were already beginning to ask themselves some questions. They were interested in the following: “How did the world arise and how is it developing? What is life, death and more?”

Becoming one of the forms of public consciousness, the philosophy of the East arose during the emergence of statehood. On the territory of ancient India, this happened around the 10th century. BC e.

In the philosophy of the East there is clearly an appeal to universal human values. This scientific direction considers the problems of good and evil, justice and injustice, beautiful and ugly, love, friendship, happiness, hatred, pleasure, etc.

Development of thought

Philosophy of the Vedic period was a significant step in man's knowledge of the surrounding being. Her postulates helped to find out the place of people in this world.

In order to more clearly understand the main features of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy, it is worth pointing out the problems that the teaching allowed to solve.

If we considerphilosophy as a whole and compare it with theology, it becomes clear that the first direction considers the relationship of man with the world, and the second with God. But such a division is not capable of giving true knowledge about who a person is and what his place in the world is. It is also impossible to understand who God is, and how relationships should be built with him.

a girl and an image of energy near her head
a girl and an image of energy near her head

Some schools of thought have come pretty close to solving this problem. An example of this is Plato, who recognized the personal concept of the deity. Nevertheless, blank spots continued to remain in all the teachings of the thinkers. Eliminate them and allowed Vedic ancient Indian philosophy. When a person studies its basic canons, he approaches the comprehension of God.

In other words, two directions have found their connection in Vedic philosophy. It is a general philosophy and theology. At the same time, people received simple and clear definitions and answers to all their questions. This made the Vedic philosophy of ancient India perfect and capable of showing man the true path. After walking on it, he will come to his happiness.

From lectures on Vedic philosophy one can learn how the described direction explains the differences from God and the unity of living beings with Him. This understanding can be gained by considering the personal and impersonal aspects of the Higher Power. Vedic philosophy regards the Lord as the Supreme Person and the chief enjoyer. All living beings in relation to him occupy a subordinate position. At the same time theyare particles of God and his marginal energy. Supreme enjoyment of sentient beings can only be achieved through loving service to God.

History of the development of the science of human existence

Indian philosophy includes the theories of various thinkers of antiquity and modernity - Hindus and non-Hindus, atheists and theists. Since its inception, its development has been continuous and has not undergone any sharp turns like those that took place in the teachings of the great minds of Western Europe.

Ancient Indian philosophy has gone through several stages in its development. Among them:

  1. Vedic period. In the philosophy of ancient India, he covered the time period from 1500 to 600 BC. e. It was the era of the settlement of the Aryans with the gradual spread of their civilization and culture. In those days, “forest universities” also arose, where the origins of Indian idealism were developed.
  2. Ethical period. It lasted from 600 BC. e. to 200 AD e. This was the time of writing the epic poems Mahabharata and Ramayana, which became a means of expressing the divine and heroic in human relations. During this period there was a democratization of the ideas of Vedic philosophy. The philosophy of Buddhism and the Bhagavad Gita accepted them and continued their development.
  3. Sutra period. It began in 200 AD. e. At that time, a need arose to create a generalized scheme of philosophy. This led to the appearance of the sutras, which cannot be understood without appropriate comments.
  4. Scholastic period. Its beginning is also the 2nd c. n. e. between him and the previousperiod, a clear boundary cannot be drawn. Indeed, during the scholastic period, when the philosophy of India reached its peak and at the same time the limit of development, commentators, the most famous of whom were Ramanuja and Shankara, gave a new exposition of the old teachings that had already taken place. And they were all valuable to society.

It is worth noting that the last two periods in the history of Indian philosophy continue today.

Rise of the Vedas

Let's consider the first stage of science about the world and man's place in it, which developed on the territory of Ancient India. The roots of Vedic philosophy can be found in the first sacred books created in this state. They were called Vedas. Along with religious ideas, these books also set out philosophical ideas regarding issues of a single world order.

ancient books in human hands
ancient books in human hands

The creators of the Vedas are the Aryan tribes who came to India from Iran, Central Asia and the Volga region in the 16th century. BC e. The texts of these books, which are written in the language of scholars and art connoisseurs, Sanskrit, include:

  • "sacred scriptures" - religious hymns, or samhitas;
  • brahmins describing the rituals that were used during religious ceremonies;
  • aranyaki - books belonging to forest hermits;
  • Upanishads, which are philosophical commentaries on the Vedas.

The time of writing these books is considered to be the second millennium BC. e.

Characteristic features of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy arethe following:

  • The presence of Brahmanism as the main religion.
  • The absence of differences between the philosophical worldview and the mythological one.
  • Description of ideas about the world and the foundations of Brahmanism in the Vedas.

Characteristic features of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy are tribal customs and beliefs of the ancient people. They are the basis of Brahmanism.

The texts of the Vedas cannot be classified as truly philosophical. This is due to the fact that they are more folklore works. In this regard, a characteristic feature of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy is also the lack of rationality. Nevertheless, the literature of that period is of great historical value. It allows you to get an idea of the views of the people of the ancient world on the reality around them. We get an understanding of this from the verses contained in the Vedas about the gods (rain, heavenly planets, fire, and others), from texts describing rituals of sacrifice, rituals, and also spells and songs intended for the most part to cure diseases. In addition, the Vedas are not in vain called "The first of all existing monuments of thought of the ancient people of India." They played a significant role in the development of the spiritual culture of the population of this state, including the formation of a philosophical direction.

Meaning of the Vedas

Practically all philosophical literature written in subsequent periods is closely related to the commentaries and interpretation of the first religious texts. All the Vedas, according to the already established tradition, are divided into four groups. They include samhitasand Brahmins, Aranyakas and Upanishads. This division into groups is not something accidental. In Vedic philosophy, the most ancient texts are represented by samhitas. These are four collections of hymns, prayers, magic spells and chants. Among them are the Rigveda and Samaveda, the Yajurveda and the Atharvaveda. They are all included in the first group of Vedas.

vedic philosophy book
vedic philosophy book

Somewhat later, each collection of samhitas began to acquire various additions and comments of a philosophical, magical and ritual orientation. They became:

  1. Brahmins. These are sacred Hindu scriptures related to Shruti literature. The Brahmanas are commentaries on the Vedas that explain the rituals.
  2. Aranyaki.
  3. Upanishads. The literal translation of these scriptures is "to sit around." That is, to be at the feet of the teacher when receiving instructions from him. Sometimes this commentary is interpreted as "the innermost secret teaching."

Books included in the last three groups are only additions to the collections of the first. In this regard, the Samhitas are sometimes called the Vedas. But in a broader sense, this includes all the four groups listed above, which are a complex of the philosophical literature of Ancient India.


The literature of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy was generally religious. However, it was closely connected with folk traditions and everyday life. That is why it was often considered secular poetry. And this can be attributed to the characteristic features of the Vedic period of Indian philosophy.

women dancing in front of a deity
women dancing in front of a deity

Besides this, the literature of this trend reflected the specifics of the religion of Brahmanism, as well as the anthropomorphism of various ideas about the world. The gods in the Vedas were represented by human-like beings. That is why, in addresses and hymns to them, the authors tried to convey their feelings and experiences, talking about the joys that came to them and the sorrows that befell them.

Vedangas are included in such literature. These writings reflected a new stage in the development of scientific knowledge. There are six Vedangas in total. Among them:

  • siksha, which is the doctrine of words;
  • vyakarana giving grammar concepts;
  • nirukta - the doctrine of etymology;
  • kalpa describing rites;
  • chhandas introducing metrics;
  • dutisha, giving an idea of astronomy.

These scriptures referred to shruti, that is, to what was heard. In later literature, they were replaced by smriti, which meant "remembered".


Those who wish to get acquainted with Vedic philosophy briefly should study this particular group of texts. The Upanishads are the end of the Vedas. And it was in them that the main philosophical thought of that period was reflected. Based on the literal translation, only those students who sat at the feet of their teacher could receive such knowledge. Somewhat later, the name "Upanishad" began to be interpreted somewhat differently - "secret knowledge." It was believed that not everyone could get it.

In the Vedic period of Indian philosophy, such texts were createdabout a hundred. In the most famous of them, one can find a mythological and religious interpretation of the surrounding world, which develops into a kind of differentiated understanding of emerging phenomena. Thus, the ideas arose that there are different types of knowledge, including logic (rhetoric), grammar, astronomy, as well as military science and studying numbers.

image of the world
image of the world

In the Upanishads one can see the origin of the idea of philosophy itself. It was presented as a kind of field of knowledge.

The authors of the Upanishads failed to completely get rid of the religious and mythological representation of the world in the Vedic period of the philosophy of Ancient India. Nevertheless, in some texts, for example, in such as Katha, Kena, Isha and some others, an attempt has already been made to clarify the essence of man, his fundamental principle, role and place in the surrounding reality, cognitive abilities, norms of behavior and the role of the human psyche in them.. Of course, the explanation and interpretation of such problems are not only contradictory, but sometimes mutually exclusive. Nevertheless, in the Upanishads, the first attempt was made to solve many issues from the point of view of philosophy.


How did Vedic philosophy explain the fundamental principles and root causes of world phenomena? The leading role in their occurrence was assigned to the brahman, or the spiritual principle (it is also atman). But sometimes, instead of interpreting the root causes of environmental phenomena, food was used - anna, or bay, which served as a kind of material element, most often represented by water or itscombined with fire, earth and air.

Some quotes about Vedic philosophy allow you to realize its main idea. The shortest of them is a six-word phrase: "Atman is brahman, and brahman is atman." Having explained this saying, one can understand the meaning of philosophical texts. Atman is the individual soul, the inner "I", the spiritual subjective beginning of every thing. Brahman, on the other hand, is that which serves as the beginning of the whole world with its elements.

It is interesting that the name Brahma is absent in the Vedas. It was replaced by the concept of "brahman", which the people of India called the priests, as well as the prayer that was addressed to the creator of the world. Reflections on the fate and origin of God the Creator and an understanding of his role in the universe became the basis of Brahmanism, a religious philosophy reflected in the Upanishads. The brahmana can achieve its universality only through self-knowledge. In other words, brahman is an objective object. Atman is something personal.

Brahman is the ultimate reality, the absolute and impersonal spiritual principle. Out of it comes the world and all that is in it. In addition, that which is destroyed in the environment is bound to dissolve in Brahman. This spiritual principle is outside of time and space, free from actions and qualities, from causal relationships, and cannot be expressed within the boundaries of human logic.


This term refers to the soul. This name comes from the root "az", meaning "breathe".

The description of atman can be found in the Rig Veda. Hereit is not only breathing as a physiological function, but also the spirit of life, as well as its principle.

In the Upanishads, atman is the designation of the soul, that is, the mental subjective principle. This concept can be interpreted both in personal and universal terms. In the latter case, the atman is the basis of everything. It literally permeates the surrounding reality. Its magnitude is simultaneously “smaller than the kernel of a millet grain and greater than all the worlds.”

schematic representation of the world
schematic representation of the world

In the Upanishads, the concept of atman grows significantly and becomes the cause of everything in Brahman. And he, in turn, is a force materialized in all things, creating, maintaining, preserving and returning to itself back all nature and “all worlds”. That is why the quote “Everything is Brahman, and Brahman is Atman” is so important for understanding the essence of the philosophy of the Vedas.


The moral and ethical teaching of Brahminism adheres to the basic principles. They became such concepts as samsara, karma, dharma and moksha. The first of them in its literal translation means "continuous passage." The concept of samsara is based on the idea that all living things have souls. At the same time, the soul is immortal, and after the body dies, it is able to move into another person, into an animal, into a plant, and sometimes even into God. Samsara is thus an endless path of reincarnation.


This principle has become one of the main provisions of many Indian religions. At the same time, karma also had a certainsocial sound. This concept made it possible to indicate the cause of human hardships and suffering. For the first time, not the gods, but the man himself began to be considered the judge of his own deeds.

Some of the provisions of karma were used somewhat later in Buddhism, as well as in Jainism. She was considered a causal law of fate and the force that generates action and which is capable of exerting a certain influence on a person. So, his good deed will allow something joyful to happen in the next life, and a bad deed will cause misfortune.

Interesting about this is the following quote from the Vedas:

If you want to start your life tomorrow, then you are already dead today, and you will remain dead tomorrow.


Compliance or ignorance of this principle leads to the rebirth of the human soul. Thus, dharma has a direct effect on raising or lowering the social status of people in later life, and also includes the possibility of turning into animals. A person who constantly and zealously fulfills the dharma is able to achieve the liberation that the flow of samsara will give him, and merge with the brahman. Such a state is described as absolute bliss.

This is confirmed by the following quotes from the Vedas:

The soul receives a material body according to its activities in the past, so everyone must follow the precepts of religion.

No one can ever be the source of our suffering, except ourselves.

To the one who gives everything, everything comes.


This principlemeans the liberation of a person from reincarnation. A person who has learned the doctrine of moksha is able to overcome dependence on the world, get rid of all variability, from suffering, rebirth and perverse existence. A similar state is achieved when realizing the identity of the “I” of atman with the reality of being, that is, brahman.

How can a person reach this stage of final salvation and moral perfection of the soul? To do this, he will need to take a basic course in Vedic philosophy, which today is offered by many of its followers.