Philosophy can be understood as either belonging to the orthodox
school of thought or otherwise. This piece deals with the Nastika
schools, or those which do not use the Vedas to establish their own
Hindu Philosophy in
Indian thought encompasses within it various diverse and complex
schools. The schools did not follow each other in some sort of
logical progression. In India philosophical debate started at a
period of time of which there is no record. There are many different
and divergent streams of thought flowing as tributaries of a stream.
The original treaties of the Vedas and Upanishads were written in
short sentences containing only key words, almost like prompters for
students in a lecture. These in later centuries gave rise to
different commentaries and at times wholly divergent schools of
philosophical thought and debate in India the basic quest has been
one : the search for the understanding of the ultimate truth or the
essence, the Atman. Though philosophical thought other then
the Upanishads must have existed, there is scant or no record of it.
The Hindus classify
philosophical systems in two classes, the nastika and the
astika. Nastika refers to the schools that do not
regard the Vedas as infallible and do not use the Vedas to
establish their own authority. These are the Buddhist, Jaina and
Carvaka. The astika or orthodox schools which believe in the
sanctity of the Vedas are six in number; Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya,
Vaisesika, Vedanta and Mimamsa.
In the Upanishads, the
materialists were the two schools of the Carvakas. The name
Carvakas originated from Carv which means to eat. They did not
believe in any religious or moral duty. The Carvakas did not believe
in the authority of the Vedas or any other scripture. They did not
accept the existence of soul and believed that life and consciousness
was merely a combination of matter. Since they did not believe in
the existence of anything other than the physical being, they did
not believe in any theory of after life. This meant that even the
concepts of sin or virtue were of no importance of them. The purpose
of life was enjoyment as after death there was no further existence.
The Dhurtta school of the
Carvakas believed that nothing but the four elements of earth,
water, air and fire existed and atomic combination resulted in the
body. The Susiksita Carvakas did allow the existence of a
soul apart form the body but it was destroyed with the death of the
body. The original work of the Carvakas was probably written by
Brihaspati. Alongside the Carvakas existed a philosophy
propounded by Makkahali Gosala believed by many to be a Renegade
disciple of the Jaina saint Mahavira.
This was total
determinism denying absolutely, the free will of man and his moral
responsibility for supposed good or evil. The essence of the
philosophy was that there was no cause either proximate or remote for
the depravity or purity of man. Nothing depends on human endeavour
or enterprise. Everything is merely a combination of fate,
environment or their own nature.
Buddhist philosophy is
said to have drawn a lot from the Samkhya-Yoga schools. It is
well accepted that conflict with the Buddhist systems of thought led
to a lot of enquiry in the other schools. Gautama, the Buddha is
said to have been born in or about the year 560 B.C. in the Lumbini
grove in the town of Kapilavastu, in what is now the dense Terai
region of Nepal. Legend has it that it was prophesied that he would
become an ascetic when he saw a dead man, a decrepit man, a diseased
man and a monk. His King-father tried his best to keep him
surrounded with riches and luxury.
Siddhartha as he was
known then, was confronted by these sights everytime he ventured from
the palace. Ultimately he determined to find a way to remove the
torment of man. For the fulfillment of this task he renounced all
and turned ascetic. After years of extreme asceticism he discovered
that the path of enlightenment was not severe self discipline but
instead balanced course. Through this method he finally obtained
enlightenment The teachings of this great saint have spread
throughout the world. Indian philosophy of all schools was
rejuvenated due to these teachings.
The Buddhist scriptures
were contained in three different collections, the Sutta : relating
to doctrines, the Vinaya : relating to discipline of the monks and
Abidhamma : relating to doctrines but in a technical and scholastic
Early Buddhist Philosophy
did not accept any fixed entity as determining all reality. All
phenomena was transitory. They had a causal theory of dependent
origin. The series of events which occurred were dependent of each
other for their happening. The concept of existence is also known as
the wheel of existence. The Buddha accepts rebirth as a fact and
does not offer any criticism of the concept. Buddha said that there
was no Atman (soul).
He said that when people
speak of having found the soul they are only taking of being aware of
the aggregates of bodily and psychical states. Thus, seeing the soul
is merely perceiving one of the states of consciousness.
In later centuries there
arose two main different schools of Buddhism. These arose from
schools which had formed when attempts were being made to record the
Buddhas oral teachings the Mahayansutras also
known as the Vaipulyasutras and were in the form of
instructions from the Buddha. Nothing is known of the compilers of
theses sutras. Hinayana was the other school that arose at around
the same time and was contrasted with the Mahayana school.
Hinayana is generally
translated to mean small vehicle, Mahayana on the other hand meant
big vehicle. These translations though do not symbolize the two
schools. The reason for the names is believed by some to be that,
considered from the point of view of religion, Mahayana occupies a
bigger place as opposed to the other school.
The Jaina school of
philosophy presents to the outer world certain superficial
similarities with Buddhism. The Jaina school is a completely
distinct school and existed at least as far back as Buddism did.
Vardhamana Mahavira, the most famous saint of this school was
therefore a contemporary of Buddha. Mahavira though was not the
founder of the sect, he was a seer and the last prohet, Tirthankara,
of the school. His predecessor, Parsva is predecessor in turn is
said to have died 84,000 years before Mahaviras Nirvana.
Orthodox Jainism believes that this philosophy is eternal as is
proved by the Tirthankaras.
There are mainly two
sects of Buddhism, the Svetambaras : those who wear white cloth and
the Digambaras : who do not clothe themselves. The tenets of the
Digambaras are rather severe. They believe that perfect saints like
the Tirthankaras live without food. They also believe that salvation
cannot be attained if one wears cloth or owns property. They are
sure that women cannot attain salvation.
The Digambaras do
not believe in the existence of canonical works, which the
Svetambaras believe in. The Digambaras believe that they are
the main followers, the Svetambaras deny this and in turn believe
themselves to be the principle follwers of the Jain philosophy.
Though the main ideology behind the two schools is the same the
rituals and literary history is separate and distinct.
The Sanskrit works of the
Digambaras go back in antiquity further than the Svetambaras. The
Jains believe that there were two kinds of sacred books, the fourteen
Purvas and the eleven Angas. The Purvas were gradually lost and
therefore the Angas are the oldest existing works from this school.
This is the contention of the Svetambaras . The Digambaras believe
that all the old texts are lost and the present ones are fake. The
main principle is not to hurt any living creature. The Jains did not
believe that qualities could only be perceived, as did the Buddhists.
The Jains believed that there was some permanent entity which lead
us to call the continuum of qualities a substance.
This brings us to their
theory of relative pluralism or Anekantavada. This doctrine
being opposed to the extreme absolutism of the Upanishads and the
pluralism of the Buddhists. This school believes that nothing can be
affirmed absolutely. All affirmations being true only under certain
conditions and therefore up to certain limits. This leads in turn to
the doctrine of Syadvada which propounds that the most contrary
characteristics can be ascribed to a substance depending on the
therefore would be true in one sense, false in another and indefinite
or inconceivable in another. This is very unique school of thought
which believes that a thing may be true, untrue or both or neither.
They held that the main test of true knowledge was that it helped
achieve the desrired purpose. The Jains believed in perceptual and
non-perceptual knowledge and the difference being that the former was
more vivid than the latter. The world according to Jain cosmology is
eternal. Loka is the place where sorrow and happiness are
experienced, as a result to virtue or vice.
It is composed of three
parts : where the gods reside, our world and hell . Only in this
three part Loka does Dharma reside, elsewhere there is only
space. Yoga is the cause of salvation. Yoga consisting of knowledge
of reality as it is, faith in the teaching and cessation from doing
all evil. The Jains do not believe any omniscient power created the
universe, rather it came into being out of its own nature.