Karma, yoga—by now everyone has heard of at least a kernel Indian philosophy.
But with all the translations, interpretations, and the astounding wealth of knowledge of thousands of years…it can get pretty confusing when all you’re seeking is the path to wisdom.
So to help you along, I’ve compiled the ones that I find most useful.
Here are 7 of the best ways to cultivate your inner wisdom based on Indian philosophy.
1) Live in santosha (contentment)
With aspirational lifestyles being pushed at us everywhere we look—from ads to influencers— it’s become normalized to want more, do more, and have more.
Because of this, we tend to have a long list of goals. We tell ourselves “I’ll only be content if I achieve X and Y.”
But once we achieve them, we chase the high of the next new thing. We often end up exhausted finding no limits to our wants.
Sadly, it seems as if happiness is always one step further away.
As we look around us, we can’t help but feel bitter, utter displeasure seeping into our bones.
But all of us have felt santosha, even once, deep in our bones—when we woke up to the glow of sunrise, sipped the soup of our grandmother’s homemade broth, or when we were in the embrace of a loved one.
Don’t get confused. Santosha isn’t about ignoring the realities of the world, nor is it about being complacent and passive.
Cultivating santosha means leaning into the authenticity of one’s self and seeing not limits and boundaries, but depth and growth.
Santosha encourages us to meet who we truly are in our deepest core.
Instead of looking outside because we believe we are lacking, we look within and find everything we need.
What to do?
It can be accessed here and now: Start with a gratitude list to open up your appreciation of everything that you have.
When things become stressful, pause and take a deep breath and return to the feeling of santosha. Rather than struggling with what is, you can choose to move forward in grace.
2) Cultivate sattva (purity, brilliance, awareness)
If you’re ever met a monk, you’ve likely noticed that they radiate a calm and vibrant energy around them. It sometimes makes you want to throw away your old life and trade it for their robes, if only to attain their glow of calm and peace.
In Hindu and Samkhya philosophy, sattva is one of three virtues and means “purity/ goodness,” and “light/brilliance” in Sanskrit.
But this quality of sattva monks have attained is possible even for those of us who live outside of temples.
When we are stressed and imbalanced, our inner wisdom is dimmed and clouded.
When we cultivate sattva, our inner wisdom gains clarity, our intuition and alignment is heightened, and we gain peace and flow with the world.
What to do?
Sattva is our natural state and to be able to return, we need to purify our bodies, minds, and spirits.
Try to incorporate these into your daily routine to have inner harmony, which will make your mind fertile for inner wisdom.
3) Develop tapas (burning zeal, self-discipline, and spiritual enthusiasm)
- On the path to inner wisdom, developing self-discipline or tapas means lighting our inner fire to purify ourselves from the habits of the world that we have been conditioned with.
All of us, deep within, know what is good for us. But we are often swayed by the influence of our environment and culture…and this is where tapas can help us.
In yoga, this means choosing to practice on the mat, rather than hitting the snooze button in the morning.
In our daily life, this is choosing to engage our mind and deepen our studies rather than watching the next episode of our favorite TV shows.
Tapas isn’t about self-deprivation or self-denial. Rather, it’s giving permission and fire to unleash our most authentic selves and highest potential.
As Swami Satchidananda said, “tapas is self-discipline, not self-torture. It is the right effort, not more effort.”
Through tapas you not only ignite and awaken your true potential, you are also able to sustain the fuel to keep it burning.
What to do?
Stick to your daily routine.
What areas in your life do you need self-discipline? List them down and start working on them.
4) Develop your buddhi (intuition or higher intelligence)
As important as intellect and rationality is, according to ancient Indian philosophy, developing one’s buddhi (intuition) is the true source of inner wisdom.
From the philosophical dialogues of the book Bhagavad Gita, buddhi carries the meanings of “spiritual enlightenment” and “illumination,” though the closest translations to English would be “intuition.”
Rather than an abandonment of the faculties of the senses, buddhi is the senses heightened after it has been cleared of distractions of the ego.
As Hindi teacher Sivananda Saraswati says, “Intuition does not contradict reason. It fulfills it. They are not exclusive to each other. Intuition gives the cognition of the whole.”
What to do?
When you feel that your reason is conflicting with your intuition, take a deep breath and calm your mind.
You have to be open and non-judgmental in your thoughts. Clear your heart of negative emotions to allow your intuition to surface.
Practice listening to your intuition by keeping a journal of all the times you followed it and how it felt.
As you grow trust and faith in yourself and in this higher intelligence, it will speak more to you and pretty soon, making decisions will become much easier.
5) Free yourself from maya (illusion)
As we strive to develop our inner wisdom, we will inevitably confront what the Vedic texts call maya translated as “illusions” or “delusions.”
Maya may come up as self-limiting beliefs—as fear and negative emotions of anger— or it may show up in being too anxious with the past or future to be fully in the now.
To develop our inner wisdom, we must free ourselves from maya and the 6 Illusions of Life that severely impair the truth of who we truly are.
Maya falls away when we center ourselves in non-attachment and consistently practice meditation to help clear away the delusions that make us feel far less than who we truly are.
By standing strong with our beliefs and our inner truth, we break free from maya.
Everyday, when you stand witness to your True Self and distinguish it from your Not True Self, you are claiming your freedom from maya.
What to do?
Try listing the beliefs that hold you back like “I’m too old”, “I’m not not smart enough” or “They must be rich” …and release them.
As you do, you shatter maya, claim your freedom and gain your inner wisdom.
6) Cultivate space for samadhi (oneness or bliss)
In Hindu, Jain, and Buddhist traditions, the concept of ‘samadhi’ refers to the state of pure consciousness.
In yoga, it is also the 8th and final step to enlightenment, to attain the state of oneness or bliss.
So, do we really need samadhi then, if our only goal is developing inner wisdom especially when it can be so difficult to attain?
If, like me, you’ve experienced many sleepless nights of endless despairing thoughts, then the yoga sutra of “Chitta vritti nirodha,” or ” stopping the turning wheel of thoughts” seems a worthy enough goal.
A state of stillness, undisturbed by turbulent emotions, and a sense of oneness can all make wisdom more attainable.
What to do?
Cultivate the space for samadhi to arrive through diligent meditation and focused concentration.
7) Embrace śūnyatā (emptiness)
We’re aiming to develop inner wisdom in order to GAIN wisdom, right? So why would we, or anyone else, ever want to embrace śūnyatā when it means emptiness?
For Buddhists, emptiness doesn’t equate to nothingness, rather because everything is interconnected, changing and in flux, everything is empty of fixed identities or traits.
This is why the second century Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna exclaimed, “Thanks to emptiness, everything is possible.”
Mahayana Buddhism places at its very core the concept of śūnyatā to the point that it is the culmination and perfection of wisdom.
The heart of wisdom sutra says “Form is emptiness (śūnyatā), emptiness is form.”
Emptiness reaches into the interconnectedness of everything and everyone so to develop inner wisdom, one must embrace that we are all empty of absoluteness.
As we cultivate our inner wisdom, seeing that we are a part of everything allows us to let go of the clinging and attachment that we are so prone to as humans.
With sunyata, we can relax and be a part of the whole and empty of the illusion of separation of self.
What to do?
Instead of overthinking and overanalyzing everything, simply try to be aware. Don’t interpret, don’t judge.
Try to forget the opinions of others, and try to not think too much.
By getting rid of all the loud noises in your head, you just might hear the soft whispers of wisdom.
The path to inner wisdom is not a destination, rather it’s a journey to be taken with conscious intention— one step at a time.
Indian philosophy has gifted us with ancient ways to cultivate wisdom in all its purest and highest form.
And while it can seem intimidating to follow the path, with these 7 ways, you can begin the voyage towards meeting your highest self.