Hindu philosophy

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Hindu philosophy is divided into six āstika ("orthodox") schools of thought, or darshanas (literally, "views"), which accept the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures. Three other nāstika ("heterodox") schools do not accept the Vedas as authoritative. The āstika schools are:

  1. Samkhya, a strongly dualist theoretical exposition of mind and matter, that denies the existence ofGod.
  2. Yoga, a school emphasizing meditation closely based on Samkhya
  3. Nyaya or logics
  4. Vaisheshika, an empiricist school of atomism
  5. Mimamsa, an anti-ascetic and anti-mysticist school of orthopraxy
  6. Vedanta, the logical conclusion to Vedic ritualism, focusing on mysticism. Vedanta came to be the dominant current of Hinduism in the post-medieval period.

The nāstika schools are:

  1. Buddhism
  2. Jainism
  3. Cārvāka, a skeptical materialist school, which died out in the 15th century and whose primary texts have been lost.

In Hindu history, the distinction of the six orthodox schools was current in the Gupta period "golden age" of Hinduism. With the disappearance of Vaishshika and Mimamsa, it was obsolete by the later Middle Ages, when the various sub-schools of Vedanta (Dvaita "dualism", Advaita "non-dualism" and others) began to rise to prominence as the main divisions of religious philosophy. Nyaya survived into the 17th century as Navya Nyaya "Neo-Nyaya", while Samkhya gradually lost its status as an independent school, its tenets absorbed into Yoga and Vedanta.


Samkhya is the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in Hinduism. Samkhya is a strongly dualistic philosophy that postulates everything in reality stems from purusha (Sanskrit: पुरुष, self, atma or soul) and prakriti (matter, creative agency or energy). There are many living souls (Jeevatmas) and they possess consciousness. Prakriti consists of three dispositions known as qualities (gunas): activity (rajas), inactivity (tamas) and steadiness (sattva) which arises when the two other gunas are held in equilibrium. Because of the intertwined relationship between the soul and these dispositions, an imbalance in disposition causes the world to evolve. Liberation of the soul happens when it realizes that it is above and beyond these three dispositions. Samkhya denies the existence of God. Western dualism deals with the distinction between the mind and the body, whereas in Samkhya it is between the soul and matter. The concept of the atma (soul) is different from the concept of the mind. Soul is absolute reality that is all-pervasive, eternal, indivisible, attributeless, pure consciousness. It is non-matter and is beyond intellect. Originally, Samkhya was not theistic, but in confluence with Yoga it developed a theistic variant.


In Indian philosophy, Yoga is the name of one of the six orthodox philosophical schools. The Yoga philosophical system is closely allied with the Samkhya school. The Yoga school as expounded by Patanjali accepts the Samkhya psychology and metaphysics, but is more theistic than the Samkhya, as evidenced by the addition of a divine entity to the Samkhya's twenty-five elements of reality.[8] The parallels between Yoga and Samkhya were so close that Max Müller says that "the two philosophies were in popular parlance distinguished from each other as Samkhya with and Samkhya without a Lord...." The intimate relationship between Samkhya and Yoga is explained by Heinrich Zimmer:

"These two are regarded in India as twins, the two aspects of a single discipline. Sāmkhya provides a basic theoretical exposition of human nature, enumerating and defining its elements, analyzing their manner of co-operation in a state of bondage (bandha), and describing their state of disentanglement or separation in release (mokṣa), while Yoga treats specifically of the dynamics of the process for the disentanglement, and outlines practical techniques for the gaining of release, or 'isolation-integration' (kaivalya)."

The foundational text of the Yoga school is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, who is regarded as the founder of the formal Yoga philosophy.The Sutras of the Yoga philosophy are ascribed to Patanjali, who may have been, as Max Müller explains, "the author or representative of the Yoga-philosophy without being necessarily the author of the Sutras."


The Nyaya school is based on the Nyaya Sutras. They were written by Aksapada Gautama, probably in the second century B.C.E. The most important contribution made by this school is its methodology. This methodology is based on a system of logic that has subsequently been adopted by the majority of the Indian schools. This is comparable to the relationship between Western science and philosophy, which was derived largely from Aristotelian logic.

Nevertheless, Nyaya was seen by its followers as more than logical in its own right. They believed that obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to gain release from suffering, and they took great pains to identify valid sources of knowledge and distinguish these from mere false opinions. According to Nyaya, there are exactly four sources of knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. Knowledge obtained through each of these is either valid or invalid. Nyaya developed several criteria of validity. In this sense, Nyaya is probably the closest Indian equivalent to analytic philosophy. The later Naiyanikas gave logical proofs for the existence and uniqueness of Ishvara in response to Buddhism, which, at that time, was fundamentally non-theistic. An important later development in Nyaya was the system ofNavya-Nyāya.mandlu


The Vaisheshika school was founded by Kanada and postulates an atomic pluralism. All objects in the physical universe are reducible to certain types of atoms, and Brahman is regarded as the fundamental force that causes consciousness in these atoms.

Although the Vaisheshika school developed independently from the Nyaya, the two eventually merged because of their closely related metaphysical theories. In its classical form, however, the Vaisheshika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaisheshika accepted only two—–perception and inference.

Purva Mimamsa

The main objective of the Purva Mimamsa school was to establish the authority of the Vedas. Consequently, this school's most valuable contribution to Hinduism was its formulation of the rules of Vedic interpretation. Its adherents believe that one must have unquestionable faith in the Vedas and perform the yajñas, or fire-sacrifices, regularly. They believe in the power of the mantras and yajñas to sustain all the activity of the universe. In keeping with this belief, they place great emphasis on dharma, which consists of the performance of Vedic rituals.

The Mimamsa accepted the logical and philosophical teachings of the other schools, but felt they did not sufficiently emphasize attention to right action. They believed that the other schools of thought that aimed for release (moksha) are not allowed for complete freedom from desire and selfishness, because the very striving for liberation stemmed from a simple desire to be free. According to Mimamsa thought, only by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of the Vedas may one attain salvation.

The Mimamsa school later shifted its views and began to teach the doctrines of Brahman and freedom. Its adherents then advocated the release or escape of the soul from its constraints through enlightened activity. Although Mimamsa does not receive much scholarly attention, its influence can be felt in the life of the practising Hindu, because all Hindu ritual, ceremony, and law is influenced by this school.


The Vedanta, or later Mimamsa school, concentrates on the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads rather than the ritualistic injunctions of the Brahmanas.

While the traditional Vedic rituals continued to be practised as meditative and propitiatory rites, a more knowledge-centered understanding began to emerge. These were mystical aspects of Vedic religion that focused on meditation, self-discipline, and spiritual connectivity, more than traditional ritualism.

The more abstruse Vedanta is the essence of the Vedas, as encapsulated in the Upanishads. Vedantic thought drew on Vedic cosmology, hymns and philosophy. The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is believed to have appeared as far back as 3,000 years ago. While thirteen or so Upanishads are accepted as principal, over a hundred exist. The most significant contribution of Vedantic thought is the idea that self-consciousness is continuous with and indistinguishable from consciousness of Brahman.

The aphorisms of the Vedanta sutras are presented in a cryptic, poetic style, which allows for a variety of interpretations. Consequently, the Vedanta separated into six sub-schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own series of sub-commentaries.


Advaita literally means "non duality." Its first great consolidator was Adi Shankaracharya (788-820), who continued the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, and that of his teacher's teacher Gaudapada. By analysing the three states of experience—–waking, dreaming, and deep sleep—–he established the singular reality of Brahman, in which the soul and Brahman are one and the same. He saw this form as that of Vishnu. He wrote a thesis on the Vishnu Sahasranama (1008 names of Vishnu), and also composed poems like the Bhaja Govindham instructing people to think about Govinda (Vishnu) all the time. Ishvara is the manifestation of Brahman to human minds under the influence of an illusionary power called Avidya.


Ramanujacharya (1040–1137) was the foremost proponent of the concept of the Supreme Being having a definite form, name, and attributes. He saw this form as that of Vishnu, and taught that reality has three aspects: Vishnu, soul (jiva), and matter (prakrti). Vishnu is the only independent reality, while souls and matter are dependent on Vishnu for their existence. Thus, Ramanuja's system is known as qualified non-dualism.


Madhvacharya (1238–1317) identified Brahman with Vishnu, but his view of reality was pluralistic. According to Dvaita, there are three ultimate realities: Vishnu, soul, and matter. Five distinctions are made: (1) Vishnu is distinct from souls; (2) Vishnu is distinct from matter; (3) Souls are distinct from matter; (4) A soul is distinct from another soul, and (5) Matter is distinct from other matter. Souls are eternal and are dependent upon the will of Vishnu. This theology attempts to address the problem of evil with the idea that souls are not created.

Dvaitadvaita (Bhedabheda)

Dvaitadvaita was proposed by Nimbarka, a 13th century Vaishnava Philosopher from the Andhra region. According to this philosophy there are three categories of existence: Brahman, soul, and matter. Soul and matter are different from Brahman in that they have attributes and capacities different from Brahman. Brahman exists independently, while soul and matter are dependent. Thus soul and matter have an existence that is separate yet dependent. Further, Brahman is a controller, the soul is the enjoyer, and matter the thing enjoyed. Also, the highest object of worship is Krishna and his consort Radha, attended by thousands of gopis, or cowherdesses; of the celestial Vrindavana; and devotion consists in self-surrender.


Shuddhadvaita was proposed by Vallabhacharya (1479–1531), who came from the Andhra region and taught pushti bhakti. His pushtimarg has especially become prominent in Rajasthan and Gujarat.

Acintya Bheda Abheda

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (1486–1534), was stating that the soul or energy of God is both distinct and non-distinct from God, whom he identified as Krishna, Govinda, and that this, although unthinkable, may be experienced through a process of loving devotion (bhakti). He followed the Dvaita concept of Sri Madhva. This philosophy of "inconceivable oneness and difference" is followed by a number of modern Gaudiya Vaishnava movements, including ISKCON. ISKCON has recently participated in bringing the academic study of Krishna-related philosophies into Western academia through the theological discourse on Krishnology.


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