The Sanskrit word for philosophy is ”Darshana” which literally means ’’sight”. It means the search after the ultimate truth of life in the world. Its main field is the nature of man himself and its promptings are the secrets of the world. When man began to think he began to philosophise. The history of man is the history of the development of philosophical thought searching after ultimate reality.
We think it unnecessary to comment at length on the absurd view of Karl Marx that the history of the world is a history of class struggle. This idea is not only mischievous but entirely remote from fact. History began and developed in different parts of the world, and it is no wonder that philosophy has been expressed in different forms and aspects. Philosophy in India commenced when man emerged into the state of civilization. At that time there was no India as we know it today; the land was called Arya Varsha. At first, man began to think of nature in terms of aesthetics and produced poetry and the rudiments of art; then slowly, as his thoughts went deeper and deeper; philosophy arose and occupied his serious attention. It was the beginning of the age of reflection. The beautiful songs of the Rig Veda containing descriptions of nature gave way to the metaphysical reflections of the Upanishads, and the Upanishads ultimately gave rise to the philosophy which is called Vedanta. Shri Shankara is the real architect of Vedanta. The “brilliance of his intellect has dazzled the world. Some who do not understand the real depth of his philosophy, which proclaims the unreality of the phenomenal world and the reality of its substratum, the Spirit, imagine that it implies negation of morality, benevolence, and active participation in the good of the world, and that it dampens the enthusiasm of the pure philanthropist. This is a very erroneous conception. The life of Shri Shankara, though short, was productive of the highest results in the field of social good, moral benevolence and creation of beauty, and it is a standing testimony to the great practical value of Advaita. Hume, Berkeley and Kant would have cause to regret the practical application of their philosophies, but the same cannot be said of Shri Shankara.
It is sometimes objected that the doctrine of Naish- karma (non-action), so ably demonstrated by Shri Sureshvara – the great disciple of Shri Shankara, is a path of flight from the world. Prejudiced writers like McKenzie and Dr. Urquhardt, a missionary who lived for many years in Calcutta, criticise the philosophy of Advaita on this ground. Max Muller inclines to this negative view of Vedanta although he is a great admirer of Shri Shankara and his philosophy. Deussen has also failed to understand the real practical value of Advaita Vedanta.
Vedanta is not a philosophy of negation and prohibition only; it is not a flight from reality. Shri Shankara accepts the theory of the practical reality of the world, and emphasizes that life in the world is the only life which can yield the realization of the spirit within.
Dharma is one of the chief pivots of the ethics of Vedanta. It is evident that truthful living, benevolent action, deep compassion, a balanced mind and search after the divine principle are included in the conception of right action. How can it be said that Vedanta negates morality and interest in the world? A good life is impossible without spiritual living and a moral and spiritual purpose. Without truth and a higher idealism, man cannot distinguish between right and wrong. The Advaita of Shri Shankara is not opposed to good living on the basis of Truth, compassion and universal benevolence. It is discrimination between right and wrong living which leads men to the life above the Gunas (Jivan-Mukti).
Another fallacy, which every deep student of Vedanta will recognise as such, but which has gained currency as a result of the writings of those who have misunderstood Shri Shankara’s position, is that the Advaita doctrine is pantheism. The Advaita of Shri Shankara makes it clear that the world is not Brahman hut a modification of Maya superimposed on Brahman like a mirage superimposed on the desert. Vedanta is not an ‘-ism’. It is the climax of truth and right experience. It is the highest limit of the search after spiritual truth. It is the last word of the Upanishads and not the name of a philosophical creed. If it is to be given any name at all, it can be called the Adhyatma philosophy (the philosophy relating to the Self). The terms ‘pantheism’ and ‘monism’ do not apply to it.