Indian Conception of Values: Conclusion


If we leave out what was described above as 'survival values', there is the important distinction between empirical or secular and spiritual values. The latter, to express them in modern terminology, are threefold—truth, goodness and perfection; and of these, the last, which is the highest, may be designated as absolute value. A detailed consideration of these several values and of their interrelation is what will occupy us in the sequel. Meanwhile, we shall say a few words about the Indian conception of beauty, which is another of the higher values now commonly accepted.

[contextly_sidebar id="Wl2OBrhoPE1ONhfx5puUe5Ir2cCwDV0c"]In speaking of this value, it is usual to distinguish between beauty in nature and beauty in art. There is plenty of reference to the former in Indian philosophical literature, especially in early works like the Upanishads and the later theistic systems like the Dvaita and the Vishishtadvaita forms of Vedanta. To take the Upanishads as an example: In the Maitreyi Brahmana, the self which there stands for Brahman or the Absolute, is spoken of as the one object of all love; and, if what is loved needs to be lovely, beauty should be a prominent characteristic of Brahman. And it should be perfect beauty, since Brahman is there represented as finally the only object of love. When we take this, along with what is stated elsewhere[1] in the same Upanishad, viz. that 'all other joy is but a particle of it', we clearly have a theory of beauty in nature. It is that natural beauty has its sources in the Absolute, and that the beauty we see in nature is a revelation of the one beauty that underlies all.

As regards the latter, viz. beauty in art, however, we come across a rather strange fact, for it is not at all directly dealt with by Indian philosophers. The only reference to it we can trace in their works is when they are illustrating their views in other departments of philosophy. In the Sankhya-karika, for example, प्रकृति is compared to a dancer who retires from the stage when she has played her part of freeing पुरुष from life's bondage[2]. In the Panchadashi, in a similar way, painting as well as the drama is made use of in the exposition of अद्वैत[3]. Otherwise, Indian philosophers are almost entirely silent about this value.[4] But from their utilisation of art notions in illustrating their philosophic views, we may take for granted that they were not blind to its importance. Only they did not pursue the subject specifically, as it has been done in modern times by philosophers in the West.

There were, however, other groups of thinkers, neither less ancient nor less influential, who explored its nature and pointed out its exalted character. Bharata, one of the pioneers in this investigation, speaks of his work, the Natya-shastra, which may be characterised as an encyclopaedia of nearly all the fine arts, as the 'fifth Veda'[5]. Kalidasa again makes the dancing master say, in one of his dramas, that the high esteem in which he holds his art is on account of its intrinsic merit, not because he professes it; and among the reasons given for such preference is the universality of its appeal[6]. We may also mention in this connection the numerous writers on Poetics for, though they only speak of poetry and the drama, they imply a general theory of art. Bhamaha, who is one of the earliest of them, maintains that the art of poetry being the source of pure delight, is fully worthy of our pursuit[7]. Vamana, another of them, states that it is wholly deserving of our regard (ग्राह्य), owing to the beauty of its form as well as of its content[8]. These writers seem to have in their mind here critics who denounced art as but a variety of काम or sensual pleasure[9]; and their reply means that, even if art be a form of काम, it is काम idealised and sublimated so that its selfish and sensual side is entirely eliminated.

This literature on Poetics is so vast and the diversity of view propounded in it is so great that no adequate treatment of it is possible within the limits of this volume. A general characteristic of them is that they develop their conception of aesthetic experience, to be derived from the contemplation of beauty in art in independence of the highest value of मोक्ष[10]. This view of art for art's sake, as we may term it, is not, however, the final verdict of the Indian mind on it. There is another, known as the theory of रस, which brings art experience into very close relation with the ineffable peace of मोक्ष or self-perfection. It came to be well formulated about the 9th century A.D. and has virtually superseded all the other theories. The idea of रसानुभव, as the aesthetic aim, is, no doubt, very much older; but, to judge from the way in which it is mentioned in the Natya-shastra,[11], where the earliest reference to it occurs, it seems to have been regarded at that time as its own justification. But in the later view, its value comes to be assessed by a standard accepted by philosophers as the highest. Like the true and the good, as we have seen, and shall see more clearly later, the beautiful also thus ultimately came to be correlated in India to the highest ideal of man[12]. We shall dwell, at some length, on this aspect of Indian aesthetics as also on the views of Indian philosophers on beauty in nature; but we can do so only after we have explained their conceptions of the final goal of life (मोक्ष) and of ultimate reality.


1 4.3.32
2 St. 59.
3 Chapters 6 and 10. See also Shankara on Vedanta Sutra 2.1.18.
4 "Except where the philosopher himself is a great artist or art-critic. See e.g. Bhavabhuti: Uttara-ramacharitam, 3.47.
5 1.12.
6Malavikagnimitra, 1.4. See f.n. 28 on p. 13 ante.
7 Cf. Kavyalankara, 1.2
8Kavyalankara-sutra, 1.1.1-3
9 Cf. काव्यालापंश्च वर्जयेत्: 'All prattle about poetry should cease.' In this they took much the same view as Plato is commonly stated to have done in ancient Greece. One reason for this over-puritanic view is probably to be found in the Indian philosopher's preoccupation with the search for ज्ञान or knowledge of ultimate reality, while the appreciation of beauty in art is not obviously inconsistent with अविद्या or ignorance of that reality. Cf. Kavyamimamsa: असत्यार्थाभिधेयत्वात् नोपदेष्टव्यं काव्यम् (Gaekwad Oriental Series, p. 24).
10 No doubt, these early writers connect poetry with the idea of the four पुरुषार्थ-s, including मोक्ष (see e.g. Bhamaha's Kavyalankara, 1. 2), but only as its theme. What is denied above is the recognition by them of any relation between aesthetic and the highest spiritual experience of मोक्ष.
11 6.32-33. The statement रसो वै सः, occurring in the Taittiriya Upanishad (2. 7), is sometimes cited in support of the antiquity of this view. But there is nothing in the context to show its connection with रस as aesthetic experience. See e.g. Shankara’s commentary on the passage.
12 This implies a relation between Beauty and Reality: i.e., Aesthetics and Metaphysics.



Prof. Mysore Hiriyanna (1871-1950) was a renowned philosopher, author, and teacher. The corpus of his writings form some of the finest works about Indian philosophy in English. 'The Quest After Perfection,' 'Art Experience,' 'Indian Conception of Values,' 'The Mission of Philosophy' and 'Popular Essays in Indian Philosophy' are some of his prominent works.

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