Earlier, it was said that in India philosophy was regarded as a value and human life is inextricably blended with it.
What is the aim of life?
Against this backdrop, it is easy to discover a solution to this quest in Indian philosophy. It is not so easy to reach the same in the western tradition (it is true that existentialism attempted the same, but it remained a sort of island and was obliterated by analytic tradition). The aim of life according to Indian tradition is to make a pilgrimage from “misery to happiness”.
This is a single thread that runs through the whole gamut of Indian philosophy. At one point in time, a vertical split occurred in traditional doctrine leading to the birth of orthodox and heterodox schools of thought. However, they concur on one issue, i.e., the aim of life. (It is a commonplace practice to regard them as Vedic and non-Vedic schools though it is not very satisfactory to regard so). The dispute between these two poles did not prevent them from embracing a common goal.
In what sense is this goal a philosophical issue?
This is one question that arises in this context; how can two opposing schools of thought have a common denominator?
This is another answer to the first question that can be construed as follows. Knowledge as value is unique by itself. If the instrument which gives thrust to the quality of lifestyle has any economic value, then from a different perspective, if any, the knowledge that reforms lifestyle also must possess value. Therefore knowledge became „the‟ value in Indian thought.
A Jnani in the Socratic sense perceives not only routine life but also the world in which he lives differently because knowledge changes his worldview. This type of change carries with it moral value. It means that the aim of life becomes an ethical issue. In this sense, it becomes a philosophical issue. The answer to the second question is still simpler.
All schools of philosophy unanimously admit that the pursuit of happiness is the sole aim and unanimity stops there. But these two poles differ when they specify what happiness is. An example may make the point clear. All political parties, in their election manifesto, proclaim that their sole aim is uplifting the downtrodden.
But the mechanism of doing so differs from one party to the other. Now the position is clear. Orthodox and heterodox schools differ on what happiness is and on what constitutes happiness. Even within the heterodox system, the idea of happiness differs. The Charvaka school maintains that happiness consists of pleasure whereas Buddhism asserts that happiness consists in nirvana if happiness is to be construed as elimination of misery.
Earlier, it was mentioned that spirituality is the essence of Indian philosophy. Against this background, let us analyze what happiness is. Neither this physical world nor earthly pleasure is permanent. Nor are they ultimate. Hopefully, no one entertains the illusion that this world is eternal. However, not many care to think whether or not everlasting peace or happiness is possible within the bounds of a finite world. Indian philosophy is characterized by this thought.
The desire to attain eternity is common to the Greek and Indian traditions. However, in the latter case, this desire takes a different form. Hence eternity is tantamount to permanent liberation from misery. A permanent liberation from misery is tantamount to the attainment of permanent happiness and this is eternity. It is variously designated as moksha, nirvana, etc.
In its ordinary sense, vairagya means renouncing happiness. But in a real sense what has to be renounced is not happiness, but pleasure. Vairagya in conjunction with knowledge leads to eternal happiness. Hence in the Indian context vairagya is….”renounce worldly pleasure and attain eternal happiness”.
It is possible that the very idea of renunciation invites strong objections. But in one definite sense, such a renunciation is desirable. Vairagya should be construed as the elimination of greed and inclusion of contentment in life. This is the hidden meaning of vairagya. What happened, in course of time, was that both dimensions were wrongly interpreted leading to the conclusion that vairagya is not only negative but also is a sign of pessimism. It did not stop at this stage but extended to the whole of Indian philosophy.