Philosophy can be understood in two distinct
contexts, as either belonging to the orthodox school of thought or
otherwise. This piece deals with the Astika schools, or those which
use the Vedas to establish their own authority.
The astika or orthodox
schools which believe in the sanctity of the Vedas are six in number;
Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Vedanta and Mimamsa. These
schools argue that the philosophy as expounded by the Veda texts
contain all the knowledge of the universe. The differences in these
schools occur because the texts are cryptic sentences containing only
key words and therefore allowing many explanations.
school is believed, by many philosophers, to be the earliest schools
of thought. The Samkhya is said to have originated from
Kapila. The earliest works of this school are lost. The main
commentaries of this system are the Samkhya karika written by
Isvarakrsna and the Samkhya Sutras which seem to be the work of an
unknown scholar after the ninth century. A famous commentary on the
Sutras being that of Vijnana Bhikshu.
The word Yoga was used in
the sense of achieving the unachieved. The Yoga system is attributed
to Patanjali and the original sutras are called the Patanjali Yoga
Sutras. There exists a was corpus of literature of this school of
important philosophical value.
These two schools had
similar metaphysical propositions. They had similar explanations for
the soul, nature and cosmology and the final goal was the same. The
distinction lies in the fact that the Yoga system acknowledged the
existence of an Isvara or God as different from the Atman or
soul and laid stress on certain physical exercises as essential for
the attainment of liberalization. The Samkhya on the other
hand denies the existence of Isvara. Caraka, one of its
early proponents, interpreted the Samkhya system as consisting of six
elements, air water, sky, etc. From a different viewpoint in the same
school, the elements were considered to be ten, the five cognitive
and the five conative senses. Purusa is the permanent unchanging,
also considered the cause. If Purusa were not the cause each would
have to be responsible for the acts of others. Prakriti represents
change. Purusa and Prakriti from the unmanifested and manifested
universe. In later time Purusa as soul and Prakriti as essence of
all matter were the two basic principle of the school. Thought is
illuminated by Purusa which is the intangible buddhi and
intelligence. Evolution is because of Prakriti. According to this
school rajas and tamas were states within the body which were
considered negative. Sattva was considered favourable. Efforts had
to be made to increase the satvik component and decrease the
rajas-tamas ratio. The ultimate state of emancipation is
either absolute annihilation or uncharacteristic absolute: the
The Samkhya school
believes that sincere thought and culture would bring about awareness
of truth leading to liberation. This school is one which provides a
well though out logic to balance the teaching of the Upanishads and
the rituals of sacrifice. It is important to note that both Buddhism
and Jainism arose in strong opposition to ritualism and sacrifice.
In the Samkhya-Yoga doctrine all Jaina and Buddhist sayings
are interpreted in such a way as to incorporate both the theories of
permanence of the Jains and theory of momentariness of the Buddhists.
This may be due to the fact that each of these three schools of
thought were heavily influenced by the other.
philosophy provides a critique of the earlier three schools of
thought. The word Nyaya is derived from ni, which means
that, by which words mean one thing and not the other.
Nyaya was composed of two branches, the debate on religion and the
theory of logic and debate. It is thought that Gautama, also known
as Aksapada, would have written the earlier text of this school.
Vatsyayana, one of its important scholar propounders, wrote the
earliest commentary on it. He concentrated on the importance of
logic since most scholars were already in agreement on the importance
of the metaphysical aspect.
The Vaisesika sutras
may have been written before the Nyaya because they contain
reference to systems of reference which do not include Nyaya
theories. The Nyaya school believed that five premises were needed
for a syllogism as opposed to the idea that they needed ten. The
Vaisesika sutras begin with the purpose of explaining Dharma, virtue.
Dharma is attained by prosperity and salvation. It then states that
the validity of the Vedas is in the fact that it leads to both.
Salvation is the result of real knowledge. It then tells of
substance and its characteristics. Substance is dravya, the
qualities are guna, class concept, particularity and inherence. The
Vaisesika sutras were so well developed that the whole of Carakas
medical physics was based on Vaisesika physics. This school is very
important not only because it is a systematic study of logic in its
simple and complex forms, but also of atoms. The school propounded
the theory that the whole of matter was made of minute particles.
Their theory of causation states that effect exists in cause.
Apriori principles cannot be used to deduce cause or effect,
they have to be in conjuction. The Vaisesika sutras believe in the
perception of negation; abhava through the perception of the focal
point to which such negation refers. The Nyaya sutras also state
that negation or absence or non-existence can also be perceived.
Though both agree on the perception of negation their methods at
arriving to this conclusion are different. The new school of Nyaya
known as Navya Nyaya began with Gangesa Upadhyaya of Mithila. This
school dealt mainly in developing a system of linguistic notations to
specify accurately and precisely any concept or its relation with
other concepts. The technical expressions invented by this school
were generally accepted by other schools also, whenever accuracy was
required. The Nyaya Vaisesika school held that things were permanent
until conditions change and the substance is changed so far as to be
destroyed. Things do not exist because of our perception but because
of our perception but because it is one of their characteristics to
do so, existence being the most general characteristic of all things.
Time, in this school, is also regarded as a separate entity.
The Nyaya Vaisesika
school is a pluralistic system which neither tries to reduce the
diversity of experience to any universal principle nor dismiss patent
facts of experience on the basis of the need for logical coherence of
abstract thought. Its classification of several types of categories
due to which a thing is perceived is called padhartha.
The Mimamsa school
produced the Mimamsa sutra a systematic compilation which was written
by Jamini. The commentary on it was written by Sabara, but a
systematic elaboration was made by Kumarial, who preceded Kumarial
and Sankaracharya. Mimamsa literature has had a great influence on
Hindu thought. Most present day explanations of rituals and
religious commentaries are from the Mimamsa school. The foundation
of Mimamsa philosophy is the doctrine of the self validity of
knowledge or svatah pramana. This school asserts that all
knowledge, except remembering, is self validating, we are never aware
of any objective fact before knowledge reveals it to us. Nothing
reveals knowledge to us. According to this school there are two
kinds of perception, in two stages. The first stage is
indeterminate perception, nirvikalpa and the second is determinate or
is the first perception of an object by the senses, thus being simple
and non-determinate. Though the complexity is present right at the
first moment of perception, yet we do not perceive it, because we do
not remember the grounds for differentia.
In the second stage, the
self connects present impression with past and realize the universal
and particular characteristic of the object of perception. Knowledge
may be perceptual; pratyaksha or inferential; anumana. All knowledge
involves the knower, the object known and the knowledge at the same
moment. On their explanation of ignorance the Mimamsa school
follows the principle of akhyati. This is distinct from the Buddhist
school which believes the flow of perception to be responsible for
knowledge and ignorance: this is the atmakhyati doctrine. The Nyaya,
Vaisesikha and Yoga believe in anyatakhyati or viritakhyati: that
ignorance steam from the faulty connection between observation of
only the similarities between the object perceived and the object it
is thought to be. The differences between the two objects is not
perceived. The Mimamsa accepts the existence of soul. It is
regarded as distinct from the body, it is eternal, omniscient and one
is present in each body. Salvation is reached when man exhausts the
fruits of his good and bad actions and performs sacrifices and guards
against sin. Though the Mimamsa universe is made up of parts,
the theory does not admit the existence of any God. Since there is
no creator the world has eternally been.
The Brahma sutras provide
a refutation of all the other schools of Indian philosophy of those
times. Therefore it could not have been written very early, perhaps
around the 2nd century BC. Sankaras commentary on
the Brahma sutras was the basis of this vast and important school of
philosophy, the Vedanta school. IT seems that Badrayana, the author
of the Brahma sutra, was most probably an atheist rather than an
absolutist, like his commentator, Sankara. The Vedanta claims to be
the philosophy which explains the Upanishads as summarized in the
Brahma sutras. The Upanishads from the last par of Vedic literature
and so their study is also called Uttara Mimamsa or the later
Mimamsa, as opposed to the Mimamsa of Jamini.
commentary on the Brahma sutra has attained the most value
amongst all of its many commentaries. This was because he
revitalized the thought process by his explanations of concepts which
were not being adequately sustained by the other orthodox schools.
This school also has a coherent series of literary works available
for present day study. The fundamental of Vedanta philosophy is
Advaita, non dualism. The Sankara school of Vendanta believes that
the ultimate and absolute truth is the self, which is one though
appearing as many in different individuals. Tat tvam asi,
(that thou art) forms the cornerstone of Vedanta philosophy. The
essence of the universe and the individual are one, the Atman. This
Atman being omnipresent. The world around us is merely Maya, or
illusion, which after meditation and penance will be revealed to be
just that. Sankara advocated only spiritual study and discipline,
jnana yoga, to be learnt from teachers as the path to liberation, but
a later and equally famous saint advocated even devotion, Bhakti yoga
as a means of achieving the eternal.