Indian philosophy is broadly branded as pessimistic in nature.There are a total of 9
schools of indian Philosophy and all showcase the feature of initial pessimism.
Pessimism is the tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst
will happen. The question arises how can a philosophy emerge out of such a
tendency. I feel this is because we are so caught up in finding pleasure and escaping
pain that we need a pessimistic view to realise that there are greater sorrows. Only
then we seek spiritual enrichment and ways to attain a state of unalloyed bliss or
devoid of suffering. Indian philosophy is pessimistic in the sense that it brings
awareness to the discomfort in the order and nature of things. It brings our attention
to the inevitable pain and suffering we are subjected to in our experience of existence
and showcases the dissatisfaction with the conditions of the materialistic world
which is full of numberless hardships. This kind of pessimism is important and
essential for any progress in life which goes to constitute a philosophy. This
pessimism paired with practical motivation(of seeking freedom) distinct from
theoretical motivation of philosophy lures one to dive into any indian philosophy.
The pessimistic view forces upon us the oblivious fact that Life ends and many of our
desires will be left unsatisfied. It is called Initial pessimism because the indian
schools of philosophy progress to show methods to come out of these miseries of life.
In the end indian philosophies are optimistic as the end goal is Moksha or liberation.
This can be identified in all the schools of indian philosophy by first taking a look at
the four noble truths in buddhism. Which are:
● There is suffering
● There is a cause for suffering
● There is cessation for suffering
● There is a path which leads to the end of suffering.
All the systems follow a similar format as stated above. These systems in their own
way assert that when life is thoughtlessly led it prolongs misery.
This similar concept of cessation can be seen in the philosophy yoga, where yoga is
defined as the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. In the Yog sutras the
obstacles one faces in life both physical and mental are given. But the philosophy
does not stop there but goes on to describe a path to not only overcome these
obstacles but also how to prevent them from happening.
One can also assert that Jainism is pessimistic. The idea presumably arises because
Jainism insists that suffering is an essential constituent of the being of the whole of
humanity and to a greater degree of all other living creatures.
Just like Buddhism, the Sankhya philosophy has a great emphasis on suffering as
the foundation. Sankhya starts with the pessimistic idea that the worldly existence is
subject to threefold misery.
● Adhibhautika – These are miseries which are caused to us by other beings of
● Adhidaivika – These are the forms of miseries the cause of which we cannot
figure out by applying simple logic.
● Adhyatmika – The pain one experiences due to the wrong working of one’s
own mind and the body.
This philosophy goes on to say that the highest end in life is to attain liberation,
which means the complete cessation of all kinds of suffering.
The Vaishesika also regards bondage as due to ignorance and liberation
as due to knowledge. The philosophy says that as the soul performs actions one is
therefore subject to pleasure and pain. Like the other systems the Vaishesika
philosophy does not stop here but goes on to state a path for liberation.
This pessimistic view on life is only initial and not final. Although indian
philosophies bring about the dark aspects of life while explaining various issues, it
tries to find the root cause for them and provides some form of remedy. Let me
conclude with this, Dr Radhakrishnan said “ Indian thinkers are pessimistic so far as
they look upon the world order as evil and a lie, they are optimistic since they feel
that there is a way out of it into the realm of truth, which is also goodness”.
BY JAI, L1 INSTRUCTOR, TEAM SHRIYOG