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The Phenomenon of Emotions in Indian Philosophical System: Some Reflections


This paper shall make an attempt to critically reflect on the conceptualization of emotions in the Indian Philosophical systems. To bring out the insight, the paper is divided into three main sections. The first section of the paper entitled ‘The Body-Emotions-Mind Complex and the Question of Self: Understanding the Dualistic Tradition’ will make an analysis of emotions and the mind-body complex vis-à-vis the question of self or consciousness in Indian Philosophy with special reference to the study of Advaita Vedānta and the philosophical position of Upaniṣadic teachings. It will also incorporate the Nyāya account of emotions in the Indian philosophical system. The second section of the paper is entitled as ‘Triguṇa and the Emotional Experience: A Perspective in Sāṃkhya Philosophy’. It will reflect on the systematic presentation of Sāṃkhya philosophical system on account of its relation between the two ontological realities — puruṣa (pure consciousness) and prakṛti (matter). It is this prakṛti which is constituted of the three guṇassattva, rajas and tamas; and therefore is the embodied self having its association with emotions. The third section of the paper entitled ‘Understanding Religious Emotions: Towards a Positive Representation of Emotions in Indian Philosophy’ will make an attempt to critically reflect on the necessary shift required in conceptualizing emotions in the Indian Philosophical systems. That is to say, from a negative connotation of emotions to a more significant positive account of emotions in human-spiritual life. This necessary shift will be directed towards the understanding of Religious Emotions — faith (śraddhā) and devotion (bhakti) which can serve as a guiding principle to justify the soteriological approach of Indian Philosophy, i.e. towards pure consciousness. Thereby the paper shall explore the consideration of the relevance of emotions in the Indian Philosophical System.

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  1. There are nine schools in the classical Indian Philosophical system duly classified as āstika (orthodox) and nāstika (heterodox). Whereas āstika (Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta) are the ones who believe in the authority of Vedas, nāstika (Cārvāka, Jaina and Buddhism) don’t believe in the authority of Vedas. The point which I shall advocate here is that every school of Indian Philosophy has a different way to reflect on the phenomenon of emotions and its relevance or irrelevance in the attainment of the final goal, i.e. liberation. But as understood, Indian Philosophical systems, broadly speaking, carries with itself a prejudice of limiting the role of emotions on account of its association with the body as an empirical necessity. Although some schools question and limit the role of emotions as against reasonable thinking, however some schools do argue in favour of acknowledging emotions in the human-spiritual life. In this paper, I shall try to bring about some reflections on the question of emotions-body-mind complex and that of self in the Indian Philosophical systems. And by any which way it does not mean that the negative connotation of emotions is applicable to each and every school of Indian Philosophy as a whole.

  2. In Brahma Sūtra Bhāṣya of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya, the wrong superimposition or illusory cognition (adhyāsa) has been defined as smṛti rupaḥ paratra pūrvadṣta avabhāsaḥ, that is ‘the apparent presentation, in the form of remembrance, to consciousness of something previously observed, in some other thing (place)’ (Sharma, 1967, p. 5).

  3. This point has been well explained in the text Paῆchīkaraṇam of Śrī Śaṅkarācārya. Paῆchīkaraṇam is a ‘upāsanā’ text, a method by which one could attain the knowledge of pure consciousness, the ultimate reality. With an aim to move from ontic-physical to metaphysical reality, the method of Paῆchīkaraṇam (Quintuplication) is ‘adduced in explanation of the origination of the world from the one Reality that exists, Brahman’ (Śaṅkaracārya, 1962/2009, p. vi–vii).

  4. James Madaio in his paper ‘Transparent Smoke in the Pure Sky of Consciousness: Emotions and Liberation-While-Living in the Jivanmuktiviveka’ (2021) presented an interesting illustration to discuss this with reference to clouds in the sky. With reference to Vidyāraṇya’s Laghuyogavāsiṣṭha, he notes that ‘. . . when one’s own nature, which is true [and] pure, is forgotten, even for a moment, the world-appearance emerges like a cloud in the rainy season’ (Madaio, 2021, p. 165).

  5. According to Śaṅkarācārya in his text Vivekacūḍāmaṇi, there are five sheaths (koṣa) which covers the self: the bodily sheath (annamaya koṣa), the vital sheath (prāṇamaya koṣa), the mental sheath (manomaya koṣa), the intellectual sheath (vijῆānamaya koṣa) and the blissful sheath (ānandamaya koṣa) (Mādhavānanda, 1921/2019, p. 73–90).

  6. sattvaṃ laghu prakāśakam

    iṣṭam upaṣṭaṃbhakaṃ calaṃ ca rajaḥ /

    Sattva (alone) is considered to be buoyant and illuminating, Rajas (alone) to be stimulating and mobile. Tamas alone is heavy and enveloping; their functioning for the goal (of the Spirit) is like (the action of) a lamp’ (Panda, 2009, p. 124–125).

  7. It should be noted here that an extensive study of the phenomenon of emotions and its engagement with the worldly experience in Indian Philosophical tradition has also been much deliberated upon by aesthetic theoreticians — aesthetics as being an important stream of thought to deal with the relevance of emotions in the Indian tradition. As an immediate successor to the Brāhmaṇical legacy, these aesthetic theoreticians — Bharata, the author of Nāṭyaśāstra; Ānandavardhana, the author of Dhvanyāloka; and most importantly Abhinavagupta (tenth to eleventh century CE), the systematic and chief exponent of rasa theory; presented the entire framework of emotional engagement in its most creative and fictional capacity (in a poetic set up) while emphasizing on the importance of emotional experience in an aesthetic domain. One cannot ignore the contribution of Abhinavagupta (Tantric philosopher in Kashmir, India) in the inquiry concerning emotions in the study of Indian aesthetics. His significant contribution is that of the concept of ‘śānta rasa’ which is ‘the state of tranquillity or calmness’ that was introduced as the ninth rasa to the traditional list of eight rasas as discussed by Bharata (Bilimoria and Wenta, 2015, pp. 41–43). This is one of the most fascinating accounts to reflect on the role of emotions in the Indian Philosophical systems for it incorporates, according to Abhinavagupta, the aesthetic experience of the pure consciousness, that is sthāyibhāva of śānta rasa (Ibid., p. 44). However, I believe that it deserves another scholarly representation to discuss this rich and intensive study of emotional aesthetic experience and certainly seems to be beyond the scope of this paper. The point which I would like to emphasise here is that the positive representation about the role of emotions as understood in the Indian Philosophical systems is rich and varied in its context — from different schools of Indian Philosophy to aesthetics domain as well as that of the study of Tantrism. And in this paper, I have made an attempt to reflect on the conceptualization of emotions while focusing on the study of Upaniṣads, Bhagavadgītā, Śaṅkara’s Advaita Vedānta, theory of triguṇa and the account of Religious emotions to bring about the relevance of emotions in the soteriological approach of Indian Philosophy.

  8. The Bhagavadgītā is a part of Bhīṣmaparva of the great epic Mahābhārata. It is considered as the most important Hindu religious text. Upaniṣads, Brahma Sūtra and the Bhagavadgītā are known as ‘prasthānatraya’ constituting the very foundation of the study of Indian Philosophy. With 18 chapters and in the form of dialogue between Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, the Bhagavadgītā elucidate the method of action, devotion and knowledge in the process of the realization of the highest reality.

  9. It is important to note that there is a difference between the notion of bhakti and understanding bhakti as a system and tradition of Indian Philosophy. It would be apt to reflect on the notion of bhakti as a religious emotion that would connect with the highest reality in this paper, instead of deliberating on bhakti as a tradition or movement in itself.

  10. Angelika Malinar (2007) discussed the dimensions of bhakti in view to elaborate on the ‘cultural-historical contexts’ (p. 226) of the Bhāgavadgītā. In this regard, she emphasised that the ‘religious dimension of bhakti is not separated from the political’ (Ibid.) dimension that concerns itself with the tradition of kinship. In this paper and in view of the context, the understanding of bhakti is on account of the religious dimension only.


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Bhatia, D. The Phenomenon of Emotions in Indian Philosophical System: Some Reflections. DHARM 5, 17–31 (2022).

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  • Emotions
  • Triguṇa
  • Self
  • Consciousness
  • Emotionlessness
  • Religious emotions
  • Faith/śraddhā
  • Devotion/ bhakti
  • Mind-body complex