Karol Bagh | GS Foundation Course | 29 April, 11:30 AM Call Us
This just in:

State PCS

Drishti IAS Blog

Ancient Philosophies: Vedanta, Yoga and Beyond

  • 29 Feb 2024

Self-realisation is one’s becoming aware of one’s true self and abiding by it. It is realising that one is not the psycho-physical entity consisting of the body, mind, intellect and ego, but rather, one is self-all pervading, birthless and deathless. (A.J. Motilal, ‘Self-Realisation through Vedanta & Yoga’).

Ancient Indian philosophies form a diverse and intricate tapestry of thought that has evolved over thousands of years. These philosophical traditions, deeply rooted in the cultural and religious fabric of India, have played a crucial role in shaping the intellectual landscape of the subcontinent. Here is a brief overview of some key ancient Indian philosophies including Vedanta, Yoga, Samkhya, Nyaya & Mimamsa.

These philosophies collectively contribute to the understanding of existence, consciousness, morality, and together, they create a comprehensive framework for spiritual growth and understanding. Vedanta and Yoga are integral components of Hindu philosophy, guiding individuals on a transformative journey towards self-realisation and a deeper understanding of the cosmos.


Vedanta is a profound and influential school of thought within the vast tapestry of Hindu philosophy. It represents the culmination and philosophical interpretation of the concluding portions of the Vedas.

The term "Vedanta" itself is a combination of two Sanskrit words: "Veda" (knowledge) and "anta" (end), signifying the knowledge derived from the end of the Vedas.

Key Concepts and Principles

Atman (Self):

  • The nature of the self, known as "Atman." It asserts that the ultimate reality, or Brahman, is identical to the individual self. It is considered eternal, beyond the physical body and the mind, and represents the essence of an individual's true nature.

Brahman (Ultimate Reality):

  • The central concept in Vedanta, representing the ultimate, formless, and infinite reality. It transcends all distinctions and is the source of the entire cosmos. Vedanta posits that realising the identity between Atman and Brahman is the key to spiritual liberation (moksha).

Relationship between Atman and Brahman:

  • Vedanta asserts that the individual Atman is not separate from the universal Brahman. The goal of life, according to Vedanta, is to recognize this inherent oneness and overcome the illusion of individuality, known as Maya. The realisation of the unity between Atman and Brahman leads to spiritual enlightenment.

Major Texts - Upanishads & Bhagavad Gita:

The Upanishads, foundational texts of Vedanta philosophy dating from 800-200 BCE, feature dialogues between sages and seekers exploring metaphysical and spiritual truths about reality, the self, and ultimate truth.

In Vedanta, the Bhagavad Gita, part of the Mahabharata, holds significance. It addresses life's ethical and philosophical dilemmas. Bhagavad Gita, synthesising spiritual paths, offers practical guidance for righteous living, making it an integral part of Vedanta philosophy alongside the Upanishads, both contributing to a comprehensive understanding of profound metaphysical and spiritual concepts dating back to ancient times.

Influence on Other Philosophies and Religious Traditions:

Vedanta has played a pivotal role in shaping not only Hindu philosophy but has also left an indelible mark on various religious and philosophical traditions in India. Its influence extends to Buddhism, Jainism, and the broader Indian spiritual landscape. Additionally, Vedanta has inspired thinkers beyond India, contributing to the development of Transcendentalism in the West and influencing the study of comparative religion.


Yoga, derived from the Sanskrit word "yuj" meaning union, is an ancient spiritual and philosophical practice that originated in India. Its roots can be traced back over 5,000 years to the Indus Valley Civilization. Initially, yoga was primarily a meditative practice, evolving to encompass a broader range of physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines.

Paths of Yoga:

Yoga provides diverse paths, each catering to different temperaments and preferences. These paths are collectively known as the "Yogas". The four main paths are Karma Yoga, Bhakti Yoga, Jnana Yoga, and Raja Yoga:

Karma Yoga (Path of Selfless Action)

  • Emphasises selfless service and action without attachment to the fruits of those actions. Practitioners engage in their duties and responsibilities without seeking personal gain, cultivating a sense of detachment.

Bhakti Yoga (Path of Devotion)

  • Centred around devotion to a higher power or divine being. Devotees express their love and surrender through prayer, rituals, and worship, fostering a deep connection with the divine.

Jnana Yoga (Path of Knowledge)

  • The path of wisdom and knowledge, focusing on intellectual inquiry and self-realisation. Practitioners seek to understand the nature of reality and the self through contemplation, study, and introspection.

Raja Yoga (Path of Meditation)

  • Raja Yoga, the "Royal Path," involves meditation and control of the mind. Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a foundational text, outlines the principles of Raja Yoga, providing a systematic guide to achieve mental and spiritual mastery.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras:

Attributed to the sage Patanjali, the Yoga Sutras are a collection of aphorisms that serve as a foundational text for Raja Yoga. The sutras outline the eight limbs of yoga, offering guidance on ethical and moral conduct, physical postures, breath control, and meditation techniques.

Yoga has evolved over the centuries and has gained immense popularity globally. In the modern context, it is often associated with physical postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama). Beyond its traditional spiritual roots, yoga is widely embraced for its physical and mental health benefits. In contemporary society, yoga is applied not only as a form of exercise but also as a holistic practice for stress reduction, mental well-being, and spiritual growth.

Beyond Vedanta and Yoga

Beyond Yoga and Vedanta, other classical Indian philosophies such as Samkhya, Nyaya, and Mimamsa have played crucial roles in shaping the intellectual landscape of ancient India.

1. Samkhya: One of the oldest classical Indian philosophies attributed to the sage Kapila. It explores the dualism of Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter), aiming for liberation through discernment and knowledge.

2. Nyaya: Nyaya, attributed to sage Gautama, is a system of logic and epistemology. It focuses on valid inference (anumana) as a means of gaining knowledge and emphasises the importance of logical reasoning. It has contributed significantly to Indian logic.

3. Mimamsa: Mimamsa, associated with Jaimini, is concerned with ritual interpretation and understanding of the Vedas. It emphasises the importance of rituals (karma kanda) prescribed in the Vedas and the concept of dharma.

Commonalities and Differences among these Philosophies: While each philosophy has its unique focus and methodology, they share commonalities in addressing fundamental questions about existence, consciousness, and ethics.

Differences arise in their perspectives on the ultimate reality, the means of attaining knowledge, and the significance of ritualistic practices.

Impact on Indian Culture and Society: Beyond Yoga and Vedanta, the classical philosophies of Samkhya, Nyaya, and Mimamsa have left an indelible mark on the intellectual heritage of ancient India, contributing to the diverse tapestry of philosophical thought and influencing cultural and societal norms for centuries. Ritualistic practices, ethical considerations, and the pursuit of knowledge have been shaped by the teachings of these philosophies, contributing to the diversity and richness of Indian culture.

Interactions with Other Global Philosophies

Influence on Western Philosophies:

  • Vedanta and Yoga have influenced Western thinkers, in the fields of transcendentalism and the study of consciousness. Notable figures like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Aldous Huxley drew inspiration from Vedantic and Yogic principles.

Comparisons with Eastern Philosophies:

  • Comparative studies reveal parallels between Vedanta and certain aspects of Buddhist philosophy, highlighting shared concerns about the nature of reality and the self. Taoism and Zen Buddhism with certain Yogic practices, fostering a cross-cultural exchange of ideas.

In the era of globalisation, Vedanta and Yoga have become integral to the global spiritual landscape. Practices like meditation and mindfulness, rooted in Yogic principles, have gained widespread popularity, transcending cultural boundaries. The contrasting analysis, synthesis of various philosophies, and interactions with global philosophical traditions showcase the richness and adaptability of Vedanta and Yoga.

Contemporary Relevance: Application in Psychology and Health


The principles of Vedanta and Yoga have found applications in modern psychology, particularly in the fields of positive psychology and mindfulness-based therapies. Concepts such as self-awareness, mindfulness, and the mind-body connection are integral to both traditions and have been incorporated into therapeutic approaches to enhance mental health & has shown positive effects in reducing stress, and anxiety and improving overall psychological well-being.


The physical aspects of yoga, encompassing postures (asanas) and breath control (pranayama), have gained widespread recognition for their health benefits. Yoga's promotion of flexibility, strength, and balance aligns with contemporary fitness goals & the emphasis on holistic well-being in Vedanta philosophy encourages a balanced lifestyle.

The pursuit of inner peace, contentment, and a harmonious life is central to these philosophies. The practices of meditation, self-reflection, and ethical living, derived from Vedanta, are integrated into wellness programs fostering a sense of purpose and fulfilment in individuals.


The sincere seeker, when guided by self-realisation through Vedanta and yoga, will be motivated to follow the spiritual path with enhanced comprehension, unwavering dedication, profound devotion, and a resolute commitment until attaining a state of pure consciousness.

On one hand, these philosophical traditions provide a roadmap to self-realisation & serve as bridges between the ancient and the contemporary, fostering a deeper understanding of the human experience and the interconnectedness of all existence. But on the other hand, critics argue that adherence to certain philosophical doctrines within Vedanta may lead to dogmatism and rigidity, hindering open dialogue and adaptation to modern contexts.

Striking a balance between preserving the essence of these ancient philosophies and allowing for dynamic reinterpretation remains a challenge. The legacy of these philosophies endures as a source of inspiration and guidance for those seeking meaning, purpose, and enlightenment in the ever-evolving journey of life.


SMS Alerts
Share Page