Philosophy is the theory of all things practical. Oh, the irony! The sum of individual experiences, knowledge, and reality. But isn’t it also the truth that each one sees, perceives and analyzes things differently. Based on such knowledge and life experience everybody can come to lead their own philosophies, some are labeled Orthodox some heterodox. Such schools of thought can also be seen in Hindu dharma.
Some sect is believed to be Astikas (Orthodox) like Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa, and Vedanta while Charvaka, Jainism, and Buddhism are considered Nastika (Heterodox) schools.
On this Article
Astika – Orthodox school of thought
The āstika, in Hindu philosophy, any orthodox school of thought, defined as one that accepts the authority of the Vedas (sacred scriptures of ancient India); the superiority of the Brahmans (the class of priests), who are the expositors of the law (dharma); and a society made up of the four traditional classes (varna). The term āstika comes from the Sanskrit “Asti”, which means “there is.”
The schools are named thus:
- Nyaya, the school of logic
- Vaisheshika, the atomist school
- Samkhya, the enumeration school
- Yoga, the school of Patanjali (which assumes the metaphysics of Samkhya)
- Purva Mimansa (or simply Mimansa), the tradition of Vedic exegesis, with accent on Vedic ritual, and
- Vedanta (also called Uttara Mimansa), the Upanishadic tradition, with an accent on Vedic philosophy.
Sankhya is the oldest philosophy. It was put forward by Sage Kapila. It is generally believed that Sankhya Philosophy is dualistic and not monistic because it has two entities, Purusha (spirit) and Prakriti (nature) in it. The two are originally separate, but in the course of evolution Purusha mistakenly identifies itself with aspects of Prakriti. Right knowledge consists of the ability of Purusha to distinguish itself from Prakriti.
Samkhya emphasizes the attainment of knowledge of self by means of concentration and meditation. Sankhya holds that it is the self-knowledge that leads to liberation and not any exterior influence or agent. Samkhya forms the philosophical basis for Yoga. In Samkhya, the necessity of God is not felt for epistemological clarity about the interrelationship between higher Self, individual self, and the universe around us.
The Samkhya school assumes the existence of two bodies, a temporal body and a body of “subtle” matter that persists after biological death. When the former body has perished, the latter migrates to another temporal body. The body of subtle matter consists of the higher functions of buddhi (“consciousness”), ahamkara (“I-consciousness”), manas (“mind as coordinator of sense impressions”), and prana (“breath,” the principle of vitality).
Purusha vs Prakriti: In the beginning, the philosophy was materialistic as it talked only about Prakriti, but later the element of Purusha was also added to it. While Purusha is posited as the only sentient being, ever existent, and immaterial, Prakriti is said to be the material basis of this universe, composed of three basic elements (Gunas) – namely Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva.
Yoga presents a method of physical and mental discipline. The Yoga presents a practical path for the realization of the self. Its basic text is the Yoga-sutras by Patanjali. Yoga does not require belief in God, although such a belief is accepted as help in the initial stage of mental concentration and control of the mind.
Yoga holds with Samkhya that the achievement of spiritual liberation (moksha) occurs when the spirit (Purusha) is freed from the bondage of matter (Prakriti) that have resulted from ignorance and illusion. The Samkhya view of the evolution of the world through identifiable stages leads Yoga to attempt to reverse this order, as it were so that a person can increasingly dephenomenalize the self until it reenters its original state of purity and consciousness.
Yoga, in a less technical sense of achieving union with God, is also used, as in the Bhagavadgita, to distinguish the alternate paths (Margas) to such a union.
Nyaya Philosophy states that nothing is acceptable unless it is in accordance with reason and experience (scientific approach). Founder of this philosophy is Gautam and the principles are mentioned in Nyaya Sutras. Nyaya says that the world is real and the philosophy does not follow a monist view.
Nyaya philosophy relies on several pramanas i.e. means of obtaining true knowledge as its epistemology. According to it, the pradhan pramana or principal means of obtaining knowledge is pratyaksha pramana i.e. the knowledge obtained through the 5 senses
The classical Indian philosophy Vaisheshik was the physics of ancient times. It propounded the atomic theory of its founder Kannada. At one time Vaisheshik was regarded as part of the Nyaya philosophy since physics is part of science. But since physics is the most fundamental of all sciences, Vaisheshik was later separated from Nyaya and put forth as a separate philosophy. Vaisheshik is a realistic and objective philosophy of the universe.
It examines the teachings of the Veda in the light of karma-kanda rituals, ie karma-mimamsa system is called purva-mimamsa. Purva mimansa (or briefly mimansa) lays emphasis on the performance of the yagya for attaining various spiritual and worldly benefits. Hence this philosophy relies on the Brahmana (and samhita) part of the Vedas.
Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanta)
Vedanta is monistic, in other words, it says that there is only one reality, Brahman. Vedanta lays emphasis on Brahma Gyan, hence relies on the Upanishad part of the Vedas. Vedanta has its roots in Sankhya Philosophy.
There are three sub-branches for Vedanta :
- Absolute Monism of Shankara
- Vishishtha Advaita or qualified monism of Ramanuja
- Dvaita of Madhva
The materialist systems were often called “Lokayata,” which means “that which is found among people in general.”
Lokayata held that perception is the only valid source of knowledge, for all other sources like testimony and inference are unreliable. Perception revealed only the material world, made of the four elements: air, fire, water, and earth. Minds and consciousness were, too, the products of matter. Souls, gods, and the afterlife could not be perceived, and thus could not be said to exist. Religious rituals were useless, and scriptures contained no special insight.
Thus, the only purpose of life was to enjoy pleasure and avoid pain.
But most Lokayata were naturalists. They believed things moved and transformed because of their inherent natures, according to lawful necessity. Their fundamental principle was nature (svabhava).
The earliest known Indian Materialist was Brhaspati.
The whole Hindu system is a contrivance of the priesthood to secure a means of livelihood for themselves.” Because of him, earliest Indian materialism was sometimes called
The Nastika – Heterodox school of thought
Theologically, many streams of Hindu Dharma are remarkably tolerant and pluralistic, allowing for freedom of worship, co-existence, and even pro-existence with other religious points of view. Schools that do not accept the authority of Vedas are by definition unorthodox (nastika) systems. The following schools belong to heterodox schools of Indian Philosophy.
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 a soul and believed that life and consciousness were 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 the atomic combination resulted in the body. The Susiksita Carvakas did allow the existence of a soul apart from the body but it was destroyed with the death of the body. The original work of the Carvakas was probably written by Brihaspati.
Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the “Buddha” (meaning “awakened one”), probably lived in the 5th century B.C. Suffering lay at the core of Siddhartha’s philosophy. According to him, there was some suffering even in what appeared to be a joy. But everything has a cause, and the cause of suffering is the desire for worldly things, which causes us to be born into suffering again and again. If we understood that worldly desires cause suffering, we would not hold on to these desires. But we are ignorant. Liberation from suffering, the Buddha taught, comes through awareness of these truths and abstinence from worldly desire.
This philosophy was codified as the “four noble truths”:
- There is suffering,
- Suffering has a cause,
- There is an end to suffering, and
- There is a path leading to the end of suffering.
The path to liberation was called the “eightfold noble path”, and consisted of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.
By these methods, the Buddha taught, one may reach a liberation from suffering into nirvana: a perfect peace of mind, free from desire — the end of identity due to a realized oneness with the world, perfect bliss and highest spiritual attainment.
The Jains accepted inference (assuming that the rules of correct reasoning are followed), and they accepted testimony when it came from a reliable authority. The Jains held that there are souls in humans, animals, plants, and even in dust particles (perhaps an anticipation of microorganisms). Some souls are more conscious than others. Dust particles may have only a sense of touch, while men and higher animals have touch, sight, taste, smell, and hearing. But all souls are capable of consciousness.
Unfortunately, the desires of souls attract tiny bits of matter that weigh them down. Only by removing its desires can a soul free itself from the bondage of matter and achieve happiness.
What can free a soul from its desires? Three things:
- Faith in the teachings of Jaina saints
- Right understanding of these teachings, and right conduct
- and right conduct.
Right conduct consisted of abstinence from injury to life, from lying, from stealing, from sensual indulgence, and from attachment to earthly objects. When liberated from its desires, the soul may attain infinite knowledge, power, and bliss. This is the state achieved by the Jaina saints of the past, who led the way for others.
These various school of thoughts might differ in so many aspects yet the basic quest has been one: the search for the understanding of the ultimate truth or the essence, the Atman and Moksha.