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Hindu idealism is a precursor of western idealism and the philosophical opposite of materialism. Idealism and materialism are the principal monist ontologies. This philosophy is the basis of the cosmology of the Vedas and most religions of India and the far east. A related branch is Buddhist idealism.

Meaning of Life

The debate about the true nature of the world typically boils down to materialism or idealism. Idealism espouses the view that consciousness, which at its root emanates from God, is the essence or meaning of the phenomenal reality. The existence has a purpose that transcends any particular life. The evolving soul, by reincarnating in a life-form appropritate to its stage of development, connects the lifetimes. Even if each expressed living entity holds itself to be unique, it is an expression of an immortal soul on an evolutionary journey towards the God-concisousness. The driving force of evolution is the desire for love. Actually, it is the pain of separation from Gods love, for which all beings long but few have attained, that is the driving force. This longing for love and happiness is initially expressed as mostly attachment to others. Due to inability to restrain human desires, selfish acts cause the severance of bonds of affection or attachment. Such outcomes in the life are explained by the law of Karma whereby bad acts result in pain but altruistic actions lead to happiness. The recurring painful or happy experiences increase the understanding and longing for union with God. The consciousness of human beings, the most evolved form of consciousness on this planet, is a reflection of the God-consciousness. The more developed the soul, the more clearly reflected the consciousness. For this reason, the moral discrimination and wisdom of actions for any person will depend on their spiritual development, or attunement with the divine. Through spiritual practices and righteous conduct, the development of the reflected consciousness is believed to be accelerated towards unity with the infinite love of the God-consciousness.


The essence of Hindu Idealism is captured by such modern spiritual teachers as Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, Sri Aurobindo and Sri Anandamurti, also known as P.R. Sarkar. Sri Nisargadatta advocated discovery of the real self. By establishing oneself in the earnestness of spiritual pursuits, it is possible to transcend the temporal self, limited by desires, fears, memories and mental constructs, and gain blissful immersion in the pure consciousness of God. Sarkar went further by emphasising that liberation was best achieved through service to self and society.

The Logic of Materialism

By contrast, materialism treats consciousness as a by-product of material existence, which has no purpose other than what we imbue the life with, as expressed by e.g. Jean-Paul Sartre or Friedrich Nietzsche. For materialists, there is no continuum of existence or conscious experience beyond this life, and certainly no God. Morality becomes a matter of subjective reasoning, frequently with different conclusions and even the collapse of social mores, as noted by Alasdair MacIntyre in his work "After Virtue". There is an account in the Bible about The Fall of Man. The essence of that story is that mankind, having gained knowledge of good and evil, runs into problems of moral judgement. The murder of Abel shows mankind´s inherent problem with moral reasoning due to our imperfections and desires. In Hindu idealism, as in most religious thought, the attunement to the divine is seen to reconnect the moral discrimination with a higher law.

Mind Over Matter

To the spiritual teacher P.R. Sarkar idealism is superior to materialism in explaining the creation because whereas the mind is able to judge matter, matter is unable to judge the mind.


Idealism, as a basis for understanding reality, focuses on truth and belief about reality. As such it appears further removed from scientifc verification than materialist theories in the sense of scientific realism. However, the discussion concerns the justification of knowledge claims. As idealism is also a theory of material reality, it lends itself to idealist theories encompassing material phenomena. This novel approach to scientifc method being applied to explain and predict recurring phenomena has been promulgated by thinkers like Rupert Sheldrake and Fritjof Capra. These ideas have also been developed by P.R.Sarkar and his disciple Sohail Inayatullah, notably in the theory of Microvitum.

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  • Nisargadatta Maharaj (1973), I Am That (Chetana, Mumbai, India), ISBN 8185300534 (paperback).
  • Prabhat Rainjan Sarkar (1984), Human Society . Vols. I and II. (Ananda Marga Publications, Calcutta, India).
  • Sri Aurobindo (1984), The Life Divine, (Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, Wisconsin, USA) ISBN 0941524612.
  • Surendranath Dasgupta (1969), Indian Idealism (Cambridge University Press, New York, NY, USA), ISBN 521091942 (paperback).
  • Fritjof Capra (2002), The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism (Shambhala Publications of Berkeley, California, USA), ISBN 1570625190.
  • Sohail Inayatullah (2001), Understanding P. R. Sarkar: The Indian Episteme, Macrohistory and Transformative Knowledge, (Leiden, Brill) ISBN 9004121935.
  • Rupert Sheldrake (1982), A New Science of Life (Tarcher).
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