Shad Darshanas (षड्दर्शनानि)

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The Six Astika Darshanas

The Six Darsanas or Shad Darshanas (Samskrit : षड्दर्शनानि) include the intellectual and theological discussions of concepts found in Bharatiya siddhantas (सिद्धान्तः । theory). Bharatiya darshana granthas have been intensely emphatic on practical realization of truth as against the Western Philosophy which is essentially an intellectual quest for truth.[1]

Talk on Indian Philosophical Systems: A Synthetic Appreciation

व्युत्पत्तिः || Etymology

Darshana shastras give an insight into the natural and necessary urge in human beings to know themselves and the world in which they 'live and move and have their being'. The word 'darshana' means 'vision' and also the 'instrument of vision'. It stands for the direct, intermediate and intuitive vision of Reality, the actual perception of Truth, and also includes the means which lead to this Realization.[1]

Brhdaranyaka Upanishad describes the fundamental concept of Atma (आत्मा ) during Yajnavalkya Maitreyi Samvada as follows

साक्षात् मोक्षसाधनानि इमानि आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः श्रोतव्यो मन्तव्यो निदिध्यासितव्यः । बृहदारण्यकोपनिषत् २-४-५ (Brhd. Upan. 2.4.5) 

आत्मा वा अरे द्रष्टव्यः । See the Self is the keynote of all schools of Bharatiya Darshana Shastras. And this is also the reason why most of these schools are also religious sects.[1]

Origin of Darshanas

The origin of Bharatiya Astika Darshanas, easily traced in the Vedas, has developed as an autonomous system practically unaffected by external influences.[1]

The closing period of the Samhitas witness the conception of a single creator and controller of the Universe, variously called Prajapati, Visvakarman, Purusha, Hiranyagarbha, Brahmanaspati and Brahman. But this divine controller was yet only a deity and the quest to know the nature of this deity began in the Upanishads.[2]

The Aranyakas mark the transition from the ritualistic (Karma-kanda) to the philosophic thought (Jnana-kanda). Here a mystic interpretation of the Vedic Yajnas is seen, which represent the prototype of philosophical thought processes.[1] Aranyakas presented the ideas of symbolic forms of worship (pratika) and Prana (vital breath) was regarded as the most essential function for the life of man. This recognition of the superiority of Prana brought about a focus on the meditations on Prana as Brahman. However, though meditation took the place of yajnas, it was hardly adequate for the highest attainment of Brahman. Sages long accustomed to worship deities of visible manifestation could not easily dispense with the idea of seeking after a positive and definite content of Brahman. Nature of Brahman was unclear, for they had only a dim and dreamy vision of it in the deep craving of their souls which could not be translated into permanent terms. But this spark led them on the quest to understand the Brahman, and they found that by whatever means they tried to give a positive and definite content to the Ultimate Reality, Brahman, they failed. Yajnavalkya Maharshi conceptualized the Neti Neti philosophy and said "He the Atman is not this, nor this. He is inconceivable, unchangeable, untouched." Thus, it may be understood that we cannot describe Brahman by any positive content which is always limited by conceptual thought.

The fundamental idea which runs through the early Upanishads is that beneath the exterior world of change there is an unchangeable reality which is identical with that which underlies the essence on man (Brhd. Upan. The sum and substance of the Upanishad teaching is involved in the equation Atman = Brahman. It may be noted that Atman was used in the Rig Veda to denote both the ultimate essence of the Universe and also the vital breath in man. Upanishads however, use the word Brahman to denote the ultimate essence of the Universe and Atman is reserved to denote the innermost essence in man and Upanishads emphatically declare that the two are one and the same.

Upon this foundation of the Upanishads, principal systems of philosophy developed with systematic treatises being written in short pregnant half sentences called Sutras, which did not elaborate the subject, but were intended for those who had direct elaborate oral instructions on the subject.[2]

Systematization of Darshanas

It can be seen that the spirit of philosophical enquiry, although had begun in the days of the earliest Upanishads, had continued even in circles other than those of the Upanishads. The Buddha and Jaina activities were also probably happening concurrently as no reference to them is seen in the Upanishads. Thus, it can be said that there were different forms of philosophical inquiry in spheres other than those of the Upanishads, of which we have but scanty records. In the assemblies of the sages and their pupils, the views of the heretical or heterodox thinkers were probably discussed and refuted. So it may have continued until some illustrious member of the assembly such as Gautama or Kanada collected the purport of these discussions on various topics and problems, filled up many of the missing links, classified and arranged these in the form of a system of philosophy and recorded it in Sutras (सूत्रम्).[2]

सूत्रम् || Sutras Format

Almost all shastras granthas are written in a certain writing format to enable efficient teaching and memorization. Shastra shikshana padhati includes one or a few of the following ways of textual structure

  1. Sutras (सुत्रम्)
  2. Bhashya (भाष्यम्)
  3. Vrtti (वृत्तिः)
  4. Vartika (वार्तिकम्)
  5. Vyakhyana (व्याख्यानम्) or Tika (टीका)

The object of these treatises, whether Astika or Nastika Darshanas, is three-fold

  1. To consolidate the teaching of the particular school to which they belong.
  2. To criticize others where they diverge from a particular school.
  3. To defend and uphold the school to which they belonged by putting forth references, explanations and interpretations in the form of commentaries.

Such was the high esteem and respect in which these writers of the Sutras were held by later day writers that whenever they had any new speculations to offer, these were reconciled with the doctrines of one or other of the existing systems, and put down as faithful interpretations of the system in the form of Commentaries (भाष्यम्).[2] Thus, the literature of each school of Philosophy consists of its own Sutra with commentaries and super-commentaries upon it, as also of certain independent treatises (prakarana) which expound the doctrine as a whole with a view to aid beginners, or discuss one or more aspects of it from the standpoint of the advanced student.

Such was the hold of these systems upon scholars that all the orthodox teachers belonged to one or the other of these schools since the foundation of the systems of philosophy. Their pupils were thus naturally brought up in accordance with the views of their teachers. All the independence of their thinking was limited and enchained by the faith of the school to which they were attached. Instead of seeing growth of free lance thinking and new theories, India brought forth schools of pupils who carried the traditional views of a particular school from generation to generation, who explained and defended them against the attacks of other rival schools, which they constantly attacked in order to establish the superiority of the system to which they adhere.[2]

For example, sutras of the Nyaya system of philosophy are attributed to Gautama, also called as Akshapada. The series of commentaries written by many adherents of this system, on these sutras, while conforming to the tradition yet showing novelty in thinking may be summarized as follows:[2]

  • Vatsyayana composed the earliest commentary on Gautama sutras, called as Vatsyayana Bhashya. This was sharply criticized by Buddhist Dinnaga.
  • Udyotakara wrote a commentary on this commentary called Bhashyavattika, including the answers to Dinnaga's criticisms.
  • Vachaspati Misra wrote a commentary on Bhashyavattika called Varttika-tatparyatika (Nyaya-tatparyatika), to refute all objections against the Nyaya system made by rival schools particularly by the Buddhists.
  • Udayana set forth another commentary called Nyaya-tatparyatika-parishuddhi on Vachaspati Misra's commentary.
  • Varddharmana wrote a commentary called Nyaya-nibandha-prakasha on Udayana's commentary.
  • Padmanabha Misra wrote a commentary called Varddhamanendu on Varddhamana's commentary.
  • Sankara Misra wrote another commentary on this called Nyaya-tatparyamandana.

The names Vatsyayana, Vachaspati and Udayana are indeed very great, but even they contented themselves by writing commentaries on commentaries, and did not try to formulate any original system. The contributions of the successive commentators served to make each system more complete and stronger to enable it to hold its own successfully against the opposition and attacks of the rival schools. Hence no study of the Indian philosophy is adequate without the study of commentaries which had kept it living through the ages of history.[2]

The chief sign of systematization is seen in the analysis of the nature and function of knowledge or to the problems of what and how we know. This analysis is possible through the use of primarily six Pramanas or Shad Pramanas, which describe the process of acquiring knowledge and defining the parameters such as knower, knowable etc.

प्रमाणम् || Pramanas

A common feature of all the systems is that they involve, if they do not actually start with, an investigation of Pramana (प्रमाणम्).

Pramana is defined as the proximate means to valid knowledge or prama (प्रमा). They are usually regarded as a help not only in acquiring new knowledge, but also in verifying what is already known, so that logic as conceived in Bharatavarsha, is a science both of proof and of discovery. A Pramana, like perception, may reveal the existence and nature of things not hitherto known. It may also be the means of verification, as when an object apprehended by the organ of sight is tested by means of touch or when a doubt arising in respect of something inferred is cleared by actual observation. There is much divergence of opinion among Indian thinkers, of the astika schools, concerning the

  • number of pramanas
  • kinds of pramana accepted

The number of pramanas they accept range from two to six in general categorized and explained in Shad Pramanas (षड्प्रमाणाः).

Classification of Bharatiya Shastras

Traditionally Bharatiya shastras involving the theological concepts, creation, beliefs about the core concepts of Sanatana Dharma such as Moksha, JIva, Brahman, etc was divided into two classes based primarily on belief of the existence of a Supreme Being followed by the acceptance of the authority of Vedas:[2]

  • Astika (अास्तिकः)
  • Nastika (नास्तिकः)

The term Astika comes from the Samskrit word Asti (अस्ति । there is) is defined as one that accepts the authority of the Vedas (sacred scriptures of ancient India). The Nastika (न अस्ति । it is not) views are those which neither regard the Vedas as infallible nor try to establish their own validity on their authority.

आस्तिकदर्शनानि ॥ Astika Darshanas

The term Astika (Samskrit : अास्तिकः) according to Vachaspatyam means अस्ति परलोक इति मतिर्यस्य । one who believes in the existence of paraloka (other worlds). Some schools of philosophy are based on the Vedas all of which proclaim the existence of other lokas (worlds), punarjanma (rebirth), existence of a supreme power etc.[2][3] Six systems of the Indian philosophy called popularly as the Shad Darsanas are the Astika darshanas. They include:

  1.  न्यायः || Nyaya (Rishi Gautama)
  2.  वैशेषिकः || Vaiseshika (Rishi Kanada)
  3.  साङ्ख्यः || Samkhya (Kapila Muni)
  4.  योगः || Yoga (Maharishi Patanjali)
  5.  पूर्वमीमांसा || Poorva Mimamsa (Jaimini)
  6. उत्तरमीमांसा || Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta (Badarayana or Vyasa) 

These are often grouped by twos, taken in order, since the are allied to each other. They last pair, (Poorva and Uttara Mimamsa, however, are not so closely akin in their theoretical aspects, according to a few scholars. They are the two schools which are directly based on the Veda. The remaining four schools, in their present form, declare allegiance to the Veda, but it is doubtful whether they were Vedic from the beginning of their history. Astika Darshanas regard the realm of being as by no means exhausted by common experience and acknowledges a unique pramana for knowing what lies beyond. It may be further divided into two classes [4]

- one which believes that individual insight is ultimately adequate for a knowledge of the transcendental realm

- one which seeks the aid of revelation for it.

Together these may be described as intuitionalistic.

We find that Padma purana introduces these shastras in the following slokas

कणादेन तु संप्रोक्तं शास्त्रं वैशेषिकं महत् । गौतमेन तथा न्यायं सांख्यं तु कपिलेन वै ॥ (Padm. Pura.6.236.4-5) [5]

kaṇādena tu saṃproktaṃ śāstraṃ vaiśeṣikaṃ mahat । gautamena tathā nyāyaṃ sāṃkhyaṃ tu kapilena vai ॥

Meaning : The Vaisheshika shastra has been elucidated by Kanada, while the Nyaya shastra was given by Gautama Rishi, and Samkhya shastra was by Kapila Rishi.

नास्तिकदर्शनानि ॥ Nastika Darshanas

The three fundamental heterodox systems of philosophy are [2][4][6]:

  1. The Materialistic School of Charvaka
  2. The System of the Jainas
  3. The Buddhistic System which can be classified further as follows:[3]
    • The School of Presentationists or Vaibhashikas
    • The School of Representationists or Sautrantikas
    • The School of Idealism or Yogacharas
    • The School of Nihilism or the Madhyamikas.

The Nastika group assumes that reality is confined to what is given in common experience and is described as positivistic or empirical in nature. When the term Shad Darsanas is employed, it generally refers to the six Astika Darsanas. The scope of the present article is confined to the six Astika systems of Indian Darshanas which will be introduced in the following sections. All darshanas even though have different view points and ideologies, are completely in agreement regarding to some basic tenets as discussed further on.

दर्शनानं सांम्यम् ॥ Fundamental Points of Agreement

The systems of philosophy in India were not stirred up merely by the speculative demands of the human mind which has a natural inclination for indulging in abstract thought, but by deep craving after the realization of the higher purpose of life. It is to be noted that the postulates, aims and conditions for such a realization were found to be identical in all the conflicting systems that have evolved. It is remarkable that with the exception of the Charvaka materialists all the other systems agree on some fundamental points of importance, namely.

  1. Karma (कर्म । Action) and Punarjana (पुनर्जन्म । Rebirth) siddhanta
  2. Moksha (मोक्षः । Liberation) siddhanta
  3. Atma (आत्मा । Soul) siddhanta

Whatever may be their differences of opinion in other matters, so far as the general postulates for the realization of the transcendent state were concerned, all systems were practically in thorough agreement.[2]

कर्मसिद्धान्तः ॥ Karma Siddhanta

All the Bharatiya shastras agree that whatever action is done by an individual leaves behind it some sort of potency which has the power to ordain for him joy or sorrow in the future accordingly as it is good or bad. Karma siddhanta traces the causes which determine an action to the very individual that performs those acts. When the fruits of the actions are such that they cannot be enjoyed in the present life or in human life, the individual has to take another birth as a man or any other being in order to suffer them, thereby creating Samsara (संसारः) or the continued existence of the Self (Jiva) in a succession of lives. Thus Punarjanma siddhanta or the theory of Transmigration, is a necessary corollary to Karma siddhanta. Proper observance of all ritualistic details during performance of yajnas was probably the earliest form of the Karma doctrine.[4]

Astika systems believed that the unseen (अदृष्टम् । adrusta) potency of the action generally required some time before it could be fit for giving the doer the merited punishment or enjoyment. These would often accumulate and prepare the items of suffering and enjoyment for the doer in his next life. Only the fruits of those actions which are extremely wicked or particularly good could be reaped in this life. The Law of Karma accordingly is not a blind mechanical law, but is essentially ethical. Belief in Karma establishes the conviction that there is in reality no unfairness in life, no bitterness, as one who believes in Karma neither blames God nor their neighbours but only themselves for the pain or sorrow in their lives.[4]

Man has had an infinite number of past lives of the most varied nature and the instincts of each kind of life exist dormant in the life of every individual and thus whenever he takes rebirth the special instincts of that life (called vasana) come forth. In accordance with these vasanas the person passes through the painful or pleasurable experiences as determined for him by his action. Such actions and experiences cannot be avoided but those actions which have not matured are uprooted once for all if the person attains true knowledge as advocated by philosophy. But even such an emancipated (mukta) person has to pass through the good or bad experiences ordained for him by the actions just ripened for giving their fruits. If in the meantime he attains true knowledge, all his past accumulated actions become destroyed, and as his acts are neither virtuous nor wicked, no fresh karma for ripening is accumulated and thus he becomes divested of all karma after enjoying the fruits of the ripened karmas alone. Thus, in the last stage of contemplation, all karma being annihilated, and all activities having ceased, the soul leaves the body and goes up to the top of the universe, where the liberated souls stay for ever.[2]

मोक्षसिद्धान्तः ॥ Moksha Siddhanta

The earthly life is full of three kinds of pain.

  1. Adhyatmika (आध्यात्मिक) : It includes all mental and bodily sufferings.
  2. Adibhautika (आदिभौतिक) : It includes sufferings caused by natural causes such as men, beasts, birds, thorns etc.
  3. Adidaivika (आदिदैविक) : It includes suffering caused by supernatural causes like the planets, natural elements, ghosts and demons.

The end of man is to get rid of these three kinds of pain and suffering. Liberation means complete cessation of all sufferings which is the highest end of life (Apavarga or Purushardha).[1]

Karma leads us to the endless cycle of Samsara and if we could divest ourselves of all emotions, ideas or desires as lead us to action we should find within us the actionless self which neither suffers nor enjoys, neither works nor undergoes rebirth. Various schools agree in the recognition of liberation or release (moksha) from this cycle of rebirths as the highest of human ends or values. Chaturvarga - Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha are the highly revered Purusharthas, or the values. While Artha and Kama which mean wealth and pleasure are purely worldly values, the other two - Dharma and Moksha are described as adhyatmik. Of them, moksha has come to be acknowledged as the highest of human values by all schools of thought.[4]

When the Indians, wearied by the endless bustle and turmoil of worldly events, sought for and believed that somewhere a peaceful goal could be found, they generally hit upon the Self of man.

The belief that the soul could be realized in some stage as being permanently divested of all action, feelings or ideas, led logically to the conclusion that the connection of the soul with these worldly elements was extraneous, artificial or even illusory. In its true nature the soul is untouched by the impurities of our ordinary life, and it is through ignorance and passion as inherited from the cycle of karma from beginning-less time that we connect it with these. The realization of this transcendent state is the goal and final achievement of this endless cycle of births and rebirths through karma.[2]

आत्मसिद्धन्तः ॥ Atma Siddhanta

All the Indian shastras except Buddhism admit the existence of a permanent entity variously called Atman, Purusha, Jiva (which is being called as Soul, but is not an exact translation of Atma). As to the exact nature of this Atma there are indeed divergences of view.

  • Nyaya calls it absolutely quantityless and characterless, indeterminate unconscious entity.
  • Samkhya describes it as being of the nature of pure consciousness.
  • Vedanta says that it is that fundamental point of unity implied in pure consciousness (चित् । chit), pure bliss (आनन्दम् । ananda) and pure being (सत् । sat).

But all agree in holding that it is pure and unsullied in its nature and that all impurities of action or passion do not form a real part of it. When all impurities are removed the pure nature of the self is thoroughly and permanently apprehended and all other extraneous connections with it are absolutely dissociated.[2]

दर्शनानं वैशम्यम् ॥ Points of Differences

While we see above the different points on which all Darshana shastras agree on there are some points of differences for which each shastra proposes its theory and standpoint. A few such concepts are as follows

  1. Nature of the World : Real or Unreal. The outside world is known to us through the mind assisted by the operation of the senses. However, whether the external world is dependent on the mind or not is an important controversy among philosophers. Those darshanas which believe that independent existence of the external world are described as Realistic and those that believe in the reverse are termed Idealistic.
  2. Srshti Siddhanta (सृष्टिसिद्धान्तः । Cause of the Universe): Creation (Asatkaryavada), Evolution (Satkaryavada), Transformation (Parinamavada). Many such Siddhantas describing are propounded explaining the cause and existence of universe according to each school of thought.
  3. Nature of Ultimate Reality : One (Monistic View) or Many (Bahupurushavada or Pluralistic View). Nyaya similar to Samkhya darshana maintains that it is many, while Advaita vedanta maintains that Brahman is One.
  4. Nature of Matter : Physical or Mithya. While Nyaya and Vaiseshika clearly describe that universe is made up of Padarthas (पदार्थाः) and paramanus, Advaita vedanta proposes that Jagat is Mithya (unreal) and does not explain about the nature of matter.
  5. Path to Moksha : Although all astika darshanas agree in principle about the goal being attaining or identifying the oneness with the Supreme Being or Brahman, the paths prescribed are quite different.
  6. Number of Pramanas : All darshanas accept the requirement of means of cognition (Pramana) for valid knowledge (Prama) but have divergent opinions about the nature of Pramana and number of pramanas accepted by each of them. All of them agree on at least 3 Pramanas (Pratyaksha, Anumana and Shabda), while Nyaya accepts the Upamana, Advaita vedanta accepts Abhava pramana.

दार्शनिकलक्ष्यम् ॥ Goal of Darshanas

Though the belief that the world is full of sorrow has not been equally prominently emphasized in all systems, yet it may be considered as being shared by all of them. It finds its strongest utterance in Samkhya, Yoga and Buddhism. This interminable chain of pleasurable and painful experiences does not lead one to a peaceful end but embroiling and entangling us in the meshes of karma, rebirth, and sorrow. All human experiences are essentially sorrowful and ultimately sorrow begetting. Sorrow is the ultimate truth of this process of the world. That which to an ordinary person seems pleasurable appears to a wise person or to a yogi who has a clearer vision as painful. The greater the knowledge the higher is the sensitiveness to sorrow and dissatisfaction with world experiences. This sorrow of worldly experiences cannot be removed by bringing in remedies for each sorrow, nor be avoided by mere inaction or suicide. The only way to get rid of it is by the culmination of moral greatness and true knowledge (ज्ञानम् । Jnana) which uproot sorrow once and for all. It is our ignorance that the self is intimately connected with the experiences of life or its pleasures, that leads us to action and arouses passion in us for the enjoyment of pleasures and other emotions and activities.[2]

  • The Upanishads tell us that the Vedas - the storehouse of knowledge - have been breathed forth from Him (Brhd. Upan. 2.4.10); but they regard the Karma-kanda as secondary, being only a help to purify the mind by which purification one is made fit to receive the real teaching about Brahman.
  • We find in Chandogya Upanishad (7.2) the Narada Sanatkumara Samvada that even though one is well-versed in the knowledge of the Vedas, Mantras and the Chaturdasha Vidyas, he or she could still be ignorant about the Self. Only one who knows the Self goes beyond sorrow.
  • The Mundakopanishad (1.1.4 and 5) tells us: "Two kinds of knowledge must be known, the higher (Para) and the lower (Apara). The lower knowledge is that which the Rk, Sama, Atharva, ceremonial, grammar give .... but the higher knowledge is that by which the immortal Brahman is known.
  • In the Bhagavadgita (2.45 and 46) also Srikrishna asks Arjuna to rise above the three gunas. [1]

Through the highest moral elevation a man may attain absolute dispassion towards world-experiences and retire in body, mind and speech from all worldly concerns. When the mind is so purified the Self shines in its true light and its true nature is rightly conceived. When this once done the self can never again be associated with passion or ignorance. Self at this stage ultimately dissociates from Chitta, which is the root of all emotions, ideas and actions. Thus, emancipated the self forever conquers all sorrow.[2]

Brief Description of Shad Darshanas

Here we attempt to give a brief outline about the six schools of Indian philosophy. It may be noted that all the topics will be covered in a detailed manner under respective individual headings. We see that each school has its own characteristic points (such as Mahat and Ahamkara of Sankhya, Padarthas of Vaiseshika etc) all the while presenting arguments in agreement with and refuting some of their principles.

Nyaya and Vaiseshika

The Vaiseshika darshana is regarded as conducive to the study of all systems. It deals with the Padarthas (पदार्थः । categories) and the entire universe is reduced to six or seven padarthas. The word 'padartha' means 'the meaning of a word' or 'the object signified by a word'. All objects of knowledge or all reals come under padartha. Padartha means an object which can be thought (ज्ञेयम् । jneya) and named (अभिधेयः । abhidheya). The Vaiseshika system is a pluralistic realism, a philosophy of identity and difference, which emphasizes that the heart of reality consists on difference. It is a mere catalogue of the knowables, an enumeration of the diverse reals without any attempt to synthesize them. Originally the Vaiseshika believed in the six categories and the seventh, that of Abhava or negation was added on later. The Vaiseshika divides all existent reals which are all objects of knowledge into two classes - bhava or being and abhava or non-being. All knowledge necessarily points to an object beyond and independent of it. Nyaya accepts the metaphysics of the Vaiseshika school and the accounts of matter, soul and God are almost the same as those in the Vaiseshika.[1]

As an astika system Nyaya holds that the highest goal is called nihsreyasa or liberation.[7] Nyaya-Vaiseshika believes in the doctrine of Asatkaryavada (असत्कार्यवादः ) which means that the effect does not pre-exist in its cause. The effect is a new beginning, a fresh creation. It is also called Arambhavada (आरम्भवादः) or Paramanukaranavada (परमाणुकरणवादः). Among the Nastika darshanas Hinayana Buddhism, Charvakas, and a group of Mimamsa believes in Asatkaryavada.[1]

All physical things are produced by the combinations of atoms. Creation thus means the combination of atoms in different proportions and destruction means the dissolution of such combinations. The material cause of the Universe is neither produced nor destroyed. It is the eternal atoms. It is only the atomic combinations which are produced and which get destroyed. [1] The following are the primary differences between Nyaya and Vaiseshika darshana concepts.

Vaiseshika Nyaya
Recognizes seven padarthas and classifies all reals under them Recognizes sixteen padarthas and includes all seven Vaiseshika padarthas in one of them called Prameya
Develops metaphysics and ontology (nature of beings and the relationships between them) Develops logic and epistemology (the theory of knowledge)
Recognizes only three Pramanas : pratyaksha (perception) and anumana (inference) and shabda (verbal testimony) Recognizes four Pramanas : perception, inference, Upamana (comparison) and shabda (verbal authority).

Samkhya and Yoga

This system of thought is one of the oldest, but its origin has been a matter with various versions among the scholarly groups. Whatever be its origin, it is considered important next to Vedanta.

Samkhya regards both matter and spirit as ultimately real and admits a Plurality of Purushas (Self). It traces the whole of the physical universe, with all its variety to a single source called Prkrti. The three gunas or 'cosmic constituents' - Sattva, Rajas and Tamas are in a state of perfect equilibrium Prkrti, until it begins to differentiate itself and the diversity of the things that spring forth (with different proportions of gunas) make up the process of evolution. Evolution here means change of form (parinama). The evolutionary process is periodical and every period of evolution (sristhi) is followed by a period of dissolution (pralaya) when the whole diversity of the universe becomes latent or goes to 'sleep' as it were, in Prkrti.

Samkhya (साङ्ख्यम्) propounds the origin of the 25 principles - Mahat, Ahamkara, the Tanmatras and Purusha.

Of this group, the most important are Manas (मनः । Mind), Ahamkara (अहंकारः। Egoism) and Buddhi (बुद्धिः । intellect),which are together described as Antah-karana (अन्तःकरणम् । internal organ). Briefly its chief function is to receive the impressions from outside and respond suitably to them. The whole apparatus, consisting of the Antahkarana and several accessories (sense organs etc) are specific to each individual and together with certain other factors, are supposed to accompany him throughout worldly existence (samsara). This relatively permanent accompaniment of Purusha is known as the sukshma sareera (सूक्ष्मशरीरम् । sutble body). Unlike the physical form 'sthula sarira' (स्थूलशरीरम् । gross body) it does not part from one even at death and is cast off only when freedom is fully achieved.[4]

Yoga is intimately allied to Samkhya. The Bhagavadgita calls them one. Yoga means adhyatmik action and Samkhya means knowledge. Samkhya is theory and Yoga is practice. Yoga mostly accepts the postulates of Samkhya and shows the practical path by following which one may attain Vivekajnana which alone leads to liberation.

Yoga sutras are divided into four parts.

  1. Samadhipada which deals with the nature and aim of concentration.
  2. Sadhanapada explains the means to realise concentration.
  3. Vibhutipada deals with the supra-normal powers which can be acquired through yoga.
  4. Kaivalyapada describes the nature of liberation and the reality of the transcendental self.[1]

Purva Mimamsa

Represented primarily by the Sutras of Jaimini, it consists of 12 adhyayas divided into 60 padas (quarters or sections). It considers about a thousand topics so that is by far the biggest of the philosophic sutras and probably oldest among them. Earliest available commentary is by Shavara and this shastra has been explained in two somewhat different ways by Kumarila Bhatta and Prabhakara otherwise known as Guru.

Of the seven padarthas formulated in the Nyaya-Vaiseshika theories, the Mimamsa accepts five of them. This philosophy holds that existents like substance and attribute or the particular and the universal are not totally distinct, but distinct while being the same. The relation between them are termed Bhedabheda. Kumarila Bhatta's siddhanta is given briefly here for a general understanding of the Mimamsa school of thought.[4]

Kumarila Bhatta Siddhanta : The ultimate particles he postulates of the four elements - earth, water, fire, and air - are not indivisible and possess finite magnitude so that they are not strictly atomic at all. Whole and parts are not accordingly absolutely distinct, but distinct while being same. Like the Nyaya-Vaiseshika, this system also postulates 24 qualities but with a few modifications. Mimamsa system accepts six pramanas including perception, inference and verbal testimony apart from the three accepted by Kumarila namely - Comparison (Upamana) Presumption (arthapatti) and Non-apprehension (anupalabdhi). Kumarila primarily advocates that all things are positive from their own standpoint but negative from that of others (Sadasadatmaka).

According to him, who recognizes no God, the Veda is valid, because knowledge and validity is inherent in it. The central features of the Mimamsa view of the Vedas are taken to teach only truth because

  • it is self-existent or eternal
  • the scope of teaching is confined to supersensuous matters beyond the reach of common human experience.
  • it includes portions requiring to be interpreted not literally but liberally.

An few important differences between the two schools of Mimamsa (Kumarila's and Prabhakara's) are given as follows

Anupalabdhi pramana

  • Kumarila holds that the absolute non-existence of an object may be deduced by Anupalabdhi pramana. This is the significance of 'non-apprehension' as a separate pramana for knowing what are called 'negative facts' (abhava). Thus the recognition of this pramana implies the recognition of "non-existence" (abhava) as a separate category.
  • Prabhakara explains every form of non-existence in a positive manner. Thus they represent a table as the "mutual non-existence" of the chair and the piece of wood out of which it is made as its "prior non-existence". Thus this school rejects non-apprehension or Anupalabdhi and accepts only the remaining five pramanas.

Acceptance of Samavaya relationship

  • Acceptance of Samavaya (the relationship between whole and part) implies that the Prabhakaras regard the substance and attribute, parts and whole, as quite different and do not form an identity in difference (tadatmya) as Kumarila holds.

Explanation of Error (Aprama)

  • Kumarila's explanation of error is nearly the same as Nyaya-Vaiseshika. He admits that in error, knowledge partly strays from reality and misrepresents it (anyatha-khyati).
  • Prabhakara's explanation substitutes Kumarila's positive view of error to a negative one. He explains error as one of omission (akhyati) and not as one of commission (anyatha-khyati).[4]

Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta

The final systematization of the teachings of Upanishads, called Vedanta, signify the settled conclusions of the Vedas taken as a whole. This philosophy thus combines in one harmonious whole the results attained by all previous orthodox thinkers, and is therefore looked upon as the most perfect expression of Indian thought. The oldest form is seen as Sutras of Badarayana called commonly as Vedanta Sutras, is cryptic and it consists of four chapters, each divided into four padas (sections). In the current view the Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita, and Vedanta Sutras of Badarayana constitute the triple basis of the Vedanta. Due to its cryptic nature and ambiguity several interpretations of it have arisen.[4]

Broadly the schools of Vedanta may be classed as either Absolutistic (representing Brahman, the Ultimate Reality, an impersonal principle) or theistic (representing a personal God). The vagueness of Upanishadic teaching is particularly in reconciling statements that identify Brahman with the individual soul and with the physical universe. Although many thoughts have been presented regarding this topic, the chief of these schools are three known as

  • Advaita Siddhanta (non-dualism) given by Sri Shankaracharya (Absolutistic)
  • Visishta Dvaita Siddhanta advocated by Sri Ramanuja (Theistic)
  • Dvaita Siddhanta given by Sri Madhvacharya (Theistic)

A few important concepts of each of these siddhantas are presented here. [4]

Advaita Siddhanta

According to Advaita siddhanta of Sri Shankaraacharya (absolutism)

  • All physical world is only an appearance (mithya or maya) and this is the fundamental difference from Samkhya-Yoga systems. The real (sat) is that of the eternal being and Brahman is the sole reality of that type. The unreal (asat) is that of absolute nothing. The world, in all its variety, is neither of the one type nor of the other (real or unreal).
  • The world is an actual change of Maya or that it is a change, as it were, of the Brahman. However, while Maya is conceived as really undergoing change in the process of manifesting the world, Brahman here is conceived as remaining changeless.
  • All the six pramanas are accepted in this philososphy.
  • Brahman is the sole reality and it appears both as the world and as the individual self (jiva). The former is an illusory manifestation of Brahman, while the later is Brahman itself appearing under the limitations which form part of that illusory universe.
  • Creation is effected by transformation and not by evolution, thus agreeing with the philosophy of Samkhya to a certain extent. Brahman is the material cause and source of all. The theory of causation is called Vivartavada, where the variety seen is only an appearance or change of the ultimate source, the Brahman, as the illusory serpent is of the rope.
  • The means to liberation is neither adherence to moral and religious duty (to cultivate detachment or vairagya) alone nor acquisition of right knowledge alone (jnana) but a combination of both. Thus Vedanta integrates jnana and karma (jnana-karma-samucchaya) for achieving self-perfection and moksha.
  • When the truth is realized, one attains moksha which is not merely knowing Brahman, but being Brahman. The person who has reached this stage is a jivamukta or a free man, although he may continue to be associated with his several physical accompaniments. When a jivanmukta casts off his physical body at death, he becomes freed in the final sense of the term (videha mukti).

Vishishtadvaita Siddhanta

According to the Vishishta Advaita Siddhanta of Sri Ramanujaacharya[4]

  • The Brahman, the soul and the physical world are all different and equally eternal, they are at the same time quite inseparable.
  • Ramanuja acknowledges only two categories - substance (dravya) and non-substance (adravya) or attribute. By substance is meant "what undergoes change" or "what has modes (avasthas)" and it is of six kinds, three of which are Prkrti, Jiva and God.
  • Prkrti is similar to that conceived in Samkhya, the differences being that according to Ramanuja it is not regarded as independent of spirit and that sattva, rajas and tamas are taken to be its attributes and not its constituents.
  • The physical world, in its infinite variety, evolves out of Prkrti under the guidance of God. This theory of causation is termed Satkaryavada, it is the sat itself, or already existing, that is conceived as effect by transformation taking place in the modes (avasthas). The nature of the evolutes and their order of emergence from Prkrti are similar to those of Samkhya.
  • The Jiva is different from God, but not independent of him. It is described as a prakara of God, an accessory to him. The Jivas are of three kinds -
    • those that are never in bondage (Garuda) and have always been free
    • those that have passed through the ordeals of life and through successful self-discipline, become free
    • those that are still in the process of transmigration
  • God like the individual soul is of the essence of intelligence, self-revealing, and knows objects through dharma-bhuta-jnana. But unlike it, he is free from all defects and is possessed of all auspicious qualities. He is omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent. He is also all-merciful and it is through his grace that man attains salvation.
  • Only three pramanas are admitted - perception, inference and verbal testimony.
  • The ideal is the attainment of the world of Narayana and the enjoyment there, under the aegis, of perfect freedom and bliss. The means to this is of two types - prapatti (absolute self surrender to Narayana) and bhakti (involves training in three stages - karmayoga, jnanayoga and bhaktiyoga).

Dvaita Siddhanta

This philosophy advocated by Sri Madhvacharya resembles Vishishtadvaita in being theistic and identifies the supreme God with Narayana or Vishnu. But is more explicitly pluralistic.[4]

  • Not only are the individual souls distinct from one another and from matter, the material objects too are different. Bheda or difference, whose notion is fundamental to this view, is explained as fivefold, as all are absolutely distinct.
    • God and soul
    • Different souls
    • God and matter
    • Soul and matter
    • Matter itself in various forms
  • The senses which are instrumental in knowing are reckoned as seven, including manas and sakshin. The conception of Sakshin as an organ of sense (indriya) is a distinctive feature of Dvaita.
  • Dvaita is realistic in absolute sense. Existence in space and time is the general criterion of reality.
  • God transcends sattva, rajas, and tamas which are not qualities of Prkrti (as in Vishishtadvaita) here but are its first products. Attributes of God include infinite power and mercy in addition to being the essence of knowledge and joy. He is apprehensible but not comprehensible.
  • God is not only the creator and destroyer of the whole universe, he also entirely controls each and every one of its aspects.
  • Like Vishishtadvaita, here also three pramanas are admitted - perception, inference and verbal testimony.
  • The knowledge of God is essential to release, but the final liberation is achieved through his grace, by the means of unbroken love of God or devotion (bhakti).

Unity in Shad Darshanas

The knowledge of Six Darshanas may be seen as parts of a comprehensive attempt of a Jivatma to reach the goal of Mokhsa.[8]

  • In the Nyaya and Vaiseshika, man learns to use his intellectual powers rightly to discern the material constituents of the universe and to detect fallacies.
  • Samkhya takes him a step above the material things to understand the constituents of the unseen things (Mahat, Mulaprkriti, Tanmatras, Purusha etc) and the course of evolution of the gross worlds.
  • Yoga darshana teaches him to focus on his inner self and Manas to hasten his growth.
  • Mimamsa directs him in performing the actions (yajnas, karmas, upasanas) that train him to use the support of invisible world for helping the visible world.
  • Vedanta schools teach him to understand the nature of Brahman from the position of physical existence. The paths in which Atman in its perfect stage achieves brahmanhood and finally experiences the Ananda are expounded.
  • In this experience of the Self the Paravidya is attained and the Atma beholds Itself.

Unity in Indian Sadhana

The aim of studying philosophy is not merely to gratify theoretical curiosity, but also to live the right kind of life, consciously adjusting one's conduct to one's intellectual convictions. In common to all systems, developing discipline consists of two parts namely[4]

  • cultivation of detachment (vairagya)
  • acquision of knowledge (jnana) of the ultimate reality and transforming it into direct knowledge.

The former part of the discipline signifies adherence to the duty in the manner taught by Bhagavadgita, with no desire for its worldly fruit but with a view to perfecting character (karma-yoga). Success in this part of training is indicated by the appearance, in the disciple, of the following traits which are described as "fourfold aid" or sadhanachatushtaya to the study of Vedanta. They are

  1. ability to discriminate between the transient and the eternal
  2. absence of desire for securing pleasure or avoiding pain here or elsewhere
  3. attainment of calmness, temperance, the spirit of renunciation, fortitude, power of concentration of mind, faith (will to believe)
  4. desire for true freedom

When this is acquired, there is a three fold training, for acquiring knowledge, which is mainly intellectual.[4]

  1. Sravana or formal study : this signifies learning from a proper preceptor or Guru.
  2. Manana or reflection : as a result of the teaching the disciple comes to know the unity of the individual and ultimate reality
  3. Dhyana or meditation : constant dwelling on the truth to transform into direct experience the knowledge acquired by the study of Upanishads

Thus we see that all Indian shastras agreed upon the general principles of ethical conduct which must be followed for the attainment of Moksha. There are indeed divergences in certain details or technical names, but the means to be adopted for purification are almost same as those advocated by the Yoga system. It is in later times that devotion (भक्तिः ।bhakti) is seen to occupy a more prominent place specially in Vaishnava schools of thought. Thus, although many differences are seen among the various shastras, yet their goal of life, their attitude towards the world and means for the attainment of the goal (साधना । sadhana) fundamentally being the same, advocates a unique unity in the practical sadhana of almost all the Indian philosophical schools of thought. The religious craving has been universal in India and this uniformity of sadhana has therefore secured for India a unity in all her aspirations and strivings.[2]


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 Sharma, Chandradhar. (1962). The Indian Philosophy : A Critical Survey. USA: Barnes & Noble, Inc.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 Dasgupta, Surendranath. (7th Reprint : 2012) A History of Indian Philosophy. Volume 1. New Delhi : Motilal Banarsidass Publishers Pvt. Ltd.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 47-51
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 Hiriyanna. M. (1949) The Essentials of Indian Philosophy. London : George Allen and Unwin Ltd.
  5. Padma Purana (Kanda 6 Adhyaya 236)
  6. Swami Sivananda, All About Hinduism, Page 186
  7. Adhikary, Jaya. (2003) Ph. D. Thesis Title : The Nyaya Concepts of Prama Pramana and Pramanya : A critical study. University of North Bengal
  8. Sanatana Dharma : An Advanced Textbook of Hindu Religion and Ethics. (1903) Benares : The Board of Trustees, Central Hindu College