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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

Pali is a much easier language than Sanskrit


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The achievements of the ancient Indians in the field of philosophy are but very imperfectly known to the world at large, and it is unfortunate that the condition is no better even in India. There is a small body of Hindu scholars and ascetics living a retired life in solitude, who are well acquainted with the subject, but they do not know English and are not used to modern ways of thinking, and the idea that they ought to write books in vernaculars in order to popularize the subject does not appeal to them. Through the activity of various learned bodies and private individuals both in Europe and in India large numbers of philosophical works in Sanskrit and Pali have been published, as well as translations of a few of them, but there has been as yet little systematic attempt on the part of scholars to study them and judge their value. There are hundreds of Sanskrit works on most of the systems of Indian thought and scarcely a hundredth part of them has been translated. Indian modes of expression, entailing difficult technical philosophical terms are so different from those of European thought, that they can hardly ever be accurately translated. It is therefore very difficult for a person unacquainted with Sanskrit to understand Indian philosophical thought in its true bearing from translations.

Pali is a much easier language than Sanskrit, but a knowledge of Pali is helpful in understanding only the earliest school of Buddhism, when it was in its semi-philosophical stage. Sanskrit is generally regarded as a difficult language. But no one from an acquaintance with Vedic or ordinary literary Sanskrit can have any idea of the difficulty of the logical and abstruse parts of Sanskrit philosophical literature. A man who can easily understand the Vedas. the Upani@sads, the Puranas, the Law Books and the literary works, and is also well acquainted with European philosophical thought, may find it literally impossible to understand even small portions of a work of advanced Indian logic, or the dialectical Vedanta. This is due to two reasons, the use of technical terms and of great condensation in expression, and the hidden allusions to doctrines of other systems. The


tendency to conceiving philosophical problems in a clear and unambiguous manner is an important feature of Sanskrit thought, but from the ninth century onwards, the habit of using clear, definite, and precise expressions, began to develop in a very striking manner, and as a result of that a large number of technical terms began to be invented. These terms are seldom properly explained, and it is presupposed that the reader who wants to read the works should have a knowledge of them. Any one in olden times who took to the study of any system of philosophy, had to do so with a teacher, who explained those terms to him. The teacher himself had got it from his teacher, and he from his. There was no tendency to popularize philosophy, for the idea then prevalent was that only the chosen few who had otherwise shown their fitness, deserved to become fit students (_adhikari_) of philosophy, under the direction of a teacher. Only those who had the grit and high moral strength to devote their whole life to the true understanding of philosophy and the rebuilding of life in accordance with the high truths of philosophy were allowed to study it.

Another difficulty which a beginner will meet is this, that sometimes the same technical terms are used in extremely different senses in different systems. The student must know the meaning of each technical term with reference to the system in which it occurs, and no dictionary will enlighten him much about the matter [Footnote ref 1]. He will have to pick them up as he advances and finds them used. Allusions to the doctrines of other systems and their refutations during the discussions of similar doctrines in any particular system of thought are often very puzzling even to a well-equipped reader; for he cannot be expected to know all the doctrines of other systems without going through them, and so it often becomes difficult to follow the series of answers and refutations which are poured forth in the course of these discussions. There are two important compendiums in Sanskrit giving a summary of some of the principal systems of Indian thought, viz. the _Sarvadars'anasa@mgraha_, and the _@Sa@ddars'anasamuccaya_ of Haribhadra with the commentary of Gu@naratna; but the former is very sketchy and can throw very little light on the understanding of the ontological or epistemological doctrines of any of the systems. It has been translated by Cowell and Gough, but I

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