Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Introduction to the six systems of Indian Philosophy


                                                                                                                   Dr. Ch. Durga Prasada Rao

It is a natural tendency of every living being to desire happiness and avoid misery. Happiness we acquire in day to day life is subject to gradation and is always accompanied by some element of misery. Even the very thought of loosing happiness also causes misery.  Though the enjoyment of heaven is pure and not mixed with any sort of misery, it is not everlasting.    So it is imperative on the part of wise to opt for permanent and absolute happiness.


The Rishis of our ancient times derived the source of real and absolute happiness through intuition and declared that man could achieve real and absolute happiness on the realization of his own nature. It is unanimously accepted that there is no higher purpose of human existence than knowing one's own self. Atmalabhat na param vidyate kinchit

DARSANAS: (Heterodox and Orthodox)

The philosophical systems established by famous Rishis are called Darsanas. Etymologically, Darsana connotes that through which Atman can be seen. It suits every Darsana since the exponents of every Darsana were convinced that that was the actual Atman. Darsanas are of two kinds: orthodox and heterodox.  Those systems, which do not accept the testimony of the Vedas, are Heterodox, while those which do are Orthodox.    Charvaka, Jaina and the four schools of Buddhism, namely, Madhyamika, Yogachara, Sautrantika and Vaibhashika are heterodox systems while the orthodox systems are Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisehika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. Here some important aspects of orthodox systems are briefly sketched.

Metaphysics: The branch of Philosophy that deals with the general problems regarding reality – man nature and God..

Epistemology: The branch of Philosophy deals with the theory of knowledge which enquires in to the nature of human knowledge, as to how it develops and how far it is able to grasp reality. There are eight means of knowledge. 1. Pratyaksha (Perception), 2. Anumana (Inference), 3.  Upamana (Analogy), 4.  Sabda ( Verbal Testimony) 5. Arthapatti ( Presumption), 6.  Anupalabdhi (Absence), 7. Sambhava ( possibility) 8.  Aitihya (Heresy).
Vaiseshikas accept 1,2 only .  Sankhyas and a section of Vaiseshikas accept 1, 2 &3. Yoga accepts 1, 2, 3&4) . Nyaya accepts 1,2,3,4 &5. . Prabhakara Mimamsa accepts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5&6. Bhatta Mimansa and Vedanta   accept 1, 2,3,4,5,6&7 and common people accept 1-8.  

Ethics: The branch of Philosophy concerned with moral principles

Ontology: Philosophy concerned with the nature of being.


 Sankhya means right knowledge as well as number. Right knowledge is the knowledge of the separation of the Purusha from Prakriti. It is also the Philosophy of numbers because it deals with twenty five categories. They are:1. Prakriti[1] 2.  Mahat [1] 3. Ahankara [1] 4. Manas [1] Purusha [1]5 .  Sense Organs [5], 6. Motor Organs [5],  7.  Subtle Elements (Tanmatras) [5] 8. Gross Elements (Panchabhutas)  [5]      

                  Out of these twenty five the Purusha is neither a cause nor an effect. Prakriti is only the cause and not the effect; Mahat, Ahankara, five Tanmatras or subtle essences are both causes and effects. Five Jnanendriyas [sensory organs], five motor organs [karmendriyas], Panchabhutas [five gross elements] and Manas [mind] are effects only.                

                             Sankhya believes that all material effects are the modifications of Prakriti. They pre-exist in the eternal bosom   of Prakriti and simply come out of it at the time of creation and return to it at the time of dissolution.  
There are   three kinds of pain and suffering   Adhibhautika , Adhidaivika and Adhyatmika and the  aim of human life is to get rid of   these three. Liberation means complete cessation of all sufferings.
                      Purusha is free and pure consciousness. It is the ego, and not the Purusha which is bound. When the Purusha realizes its own pure nature it gets liberated which in fact it always was. Hence bondage is due to ignorance or non – discrimination   between the self and not - Self and liberation is due to right knowledge or discrimination between the self and the not self. Sankhya admits both jivanmukti and Videhamukti. The moment right knowledge dawns, the person becomes liberated here and now, even though he may be embodied due to Prarabdha karma. On account of the momentum of past deeds, the body continues to exist for some time.
 Sankhya accepts three means of knowledge, Perception, Inference and Verbal Testimony.


The word ‘Yoga’ literally means ‘union’ of the individual soul with the universal soul. But according to Patanjali Yoga means the cessation of modifications of chitta.
This cessation is through meditation   or   concentration.  It is the return of the purusha to its original perfection.
   The modifications of chitta are of five kinds:
 1.  Pramana [Right knowledge]
2. Viparyaya [wrong cognition]
3. Vikalpa [imagination]
4. Nidra [sleep]
5. Smriti [memory]
                In fact the Purusha is the eternally pure and transcendental consciousness. It is the chitta with the reflection of the purusha in it or the purusha as reflected in the chitta, which is phenomenal ego or Jiva, which is subject to birth and death and transmigration and to all painful and pleasurable experiences, and which imagines itself as the agent and the enjoyer.
The bondage of the self is due to its wrong identification with the mental modifications and liberation, there fore  means,  the end of this  wrong identification through proper discrimination between purusha and prakriti and the consequent cessation of the mental modifications. It is the aim of Yoga to bring about this result.  

 Yoga advocates control over the body, the senses and suggests the eight- fold path of discipline:
 Yama, Niyama, Asana,  Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi. One has to practise these eight disciplines for obtaining liberation.

1. Yamas:  Ahimsa means abstention from all kinds of injury to any life. Satya means truthfulness in thought and speech. Asteya means non stealing. Brahmacharya means celibacy. Aparigraha means non acceptance of unnecessary gifts from other people.
2.Niyamas: Saucha is purification internally as well as externally. Santosha means contentment, Tapas means austerity, Swadhyaya means study of one’s own branch of learning. Ishwarapranidhana means devotion to God.
3. Asana: It means steady and comfortable posture.
4. Pranayama:  It means control of breath which constitutes regulation of inhalation, retention and exhalation of breath.
5. Pratyahara: Control of the senses by withdrawing them from their respective objects.
6. Dharana:  It is fixing the mind on the object of meditation.
7.Dhyana: Steadfast, undisturbed and continuous attention to a particular object.
8.Samadhi:  It is a state of complete union with self and God. It is the ultimate aim of Yoga.        


This is primarily concerned with the correct knowledge of sixteen principles also known as Padarthas.  They are :     1) Means of right knowledge    (Pramana)
2) Object of right knowledge. (Prameya), 3) Doubt (Samsaya), 4) Purpose (Prayojana), 5) Illustrative instances (Dristanta), 6) Accepted conclusion (Siddhantha)
7) Premises (Avayava), 8) Argumentation (Tarka)
9) Ascertainment (Nirnaya), 10) Debate (Vada)
11) Dispensation (Jalpa), 12) Fallacy (Hetvabhasa)
13) Quibble (Chala), 14) Refutation (Jati)
15) Destructive criticism (Vitanda), 16) Points of opponent's defeat ( Nigrahasthana)

Nyayadarsana proposes four Pramanas to elaborate the above sixteen issues by the knowledge which the highest good, Nissreyasa, is attained.


The word vaiseshika  is  derived from the word 'Visesha' which means particularity. The system involves the seven Padarthas: Dravya (substance), Guna (quality), Karma (action), Samanya (generality), Visesha (particularity), Samavaya (inherence) and Abhava (non - being).
                   Vaiseshika believes in the authority of the Veda and in the moral law of karma. He regards bondage as due to ignorance and liberation is due to knowledge. The soul, due to ignorance, performs actions. Actions lead to merits and demerits. They are due to attachment and aversion and aim at obtaining pleasure and avoiding pain. If actions are in conformity with the vedic injunctions, they lead to merit; if they are prohibited by the veda, they lead to demerit. Actions whether good or bad reap the fruits of actions which leads creation for the sake of enjoyment or suffering of the individual soul. As long as the soul will go on performing actions, it will be bound. To get rid of bondage, the soul must stop actions.
According to Vaiseshika,  Liberation is the cessation of all life, all consciousness, all bliss, together with all pains and all qualities.


The Mimamsa-sutra, composed by Jaimini is the main source of this system. The word Mimamsa means detailed discussion or critical investigation. This system interprets the Vedic sentences and hence the title. The earlier part of the Veda advocates Karma while the latter part deals with Jnana.  Thus Mimamsa is divided into Purva-Mimamsa or Karmamimamsa  and Uttara-Mimamsa or Jnana Mimamsa. . This system has the function of upholding Vedic rituals.
                        The Mimamsa believes the reality of the perceived world and of other objects. There are souls, which are eternal spiritual substances. The material world arises out of atoms in accordance with the moral law of karma.                   The Mimamsa philosophy is pluralism and realism but not empiricism.  Mimamsa believes in the law of karma, in un seen power {Apurva} in heaven and hell, in liberation and in the ultimate authority of the eternal authorless Veda.
             Mimamsa does not accept the supremacy of the God. It also does not accept creation and dissolution of this world. Being uncreated and imperishable the world goes on forever.
This system has two schools Bhatta-School and Prabhakara –School.


 Vedanta means the Upanishads. Brahma –Sutras, written by Badarayana are the main source of this school. Since, the Brahmasutras are the logical interpretations and the Bhagavad-Gita is the essence of the Upanishads, these three together constitute Vedanta Darsana.
Badarayana was not the actual founder of this system, because the ideas are already existed in the Upanishads. His role consisted only in expatiating the philosophy of the Upanishads in his Sutras.  Though all the Upanishads declare the soul to be the noblest thought, to the superficial observer, the aphorisms seemed divergent. This seeming paradox had to be addressed by someone at some time. Badarayana succeeded in establishing the sameness or the similarity of the teaching of the Upanishads.
He discussed the nature of the Supreme Soul( Atman ), the individual soul (Jiva) and the world (Jagat)  and the relation of each of them with the other two.
  In course of time, the Philosophy of Vedanta is  elaborated as Advaita  by Sankara  (A.D 788-820)  Bheda-A bheda by Bhaskara (1000A.D), Visishta-Advaita  by Ramanuja (1140 A.D) , Dvaita by  Madhava ( 1238 A.D) , Dvaita-Advaita by Nimbarka (II half 13A.D), Saiva visishta-Advaita by Srikantha (1270A.D), , Veerashaivavisisa Atdvaita by Sripatipandita (1400A.D), Suddha-Advaita by Vallabha (1179-1244A.D),   Avibhaga-Advaita by  Vijnanabhikshu (1600A.D), Achintyabheda-Abheda by Baladeva (1725A.D) and so on. Every system and sub- systems are credited with hundreds of original treatises, commentaries and sub-commentaries.

 A.  Advaita of Sankara :

Sankara, wrote a commentary on the Brahma-Sutra and established Advaita. His commentary is known as Sarirakamimamsabhashya. According to him, Brahman alone is the Reality; the world is unreal and Jiva is not other than Brahman himself. The world is superimposed in Brahman just as the snake is superimposed in a rope.
 Brahman is one without a second.  It is Sat (Existence), Chit (Consciousness) and Ananda (Bliss), It is Omnipresent, Omnipotent and Omniscient.
Jiva, despite being Brahman himself, has the illusion of being different from It , due to Nescience. This illusion arises because Jiva has a body, senses and mind. Though Jiva is one, it appears to be many in respect of Upadhi.

 ( B).  Bheda-Abheda  of Bhaskara:

Bhaskara wrote a commentary known as Bhaskarabhashya and  his doctrine is known as  BhedaAbheda. To him, both identity and difference between Brahman and Jiva are equally real. The waves are different from the sea, but also identical with it. The individual souls are in reality not different from God as the sparks of fire are the parts of fire but the difference is only due to material limitation. Matter and its limitations are real and they are not due to ignorance.

           (C). Visistha Advaita  of  Ramanuja:

       Ramanuja composed a commentary called Sribhashya and established Visista Advaita. According o him, Matter {achit}, Souls {chit} and God [Ishwara] are real. Though all are equally real, the first two matter and souls are absolutely dependent on God. According to him Chit and Achit are the body of God who is their soul. God is the soul of nature. God is also the soul of souls.
          God is immanent in the whole world as its inner controller ( antaryami) and yet in his essence He transcends the world.      He is qualified by matter and souls. Chidachidvisthah ishwarah.

 (D). Dvaita of Madhvacharya

Madhva composed a commentary, named Anuvyakhyana   and established Dvaita (Dualism). He advocates the reality of five fold differences.   He opines that the world is real and is always associated with five fold differences.
They are:
1. Between soul and God.
2. Between soul and soul
3. Between soul and matter
4. Between God and matter    
 5. Between matter and matter.

 Difference, therefore, is realized as the very nature of things that are perceived.

(E). Dvaita-Advaita  of Nimbarka:

Nimbarka, wrote a commentary named  ‘Vedantaparijata’ and  established Dvaita-Advaita. He believes in identity with  difference.
According to his doctrine, Brahman has transformed itself in to the world of matter and spirits.  They are the powers of Brahman. Yet, It ( Brahman) keeps its own independence, integrity and difference from them.
 (F). Saiva – Visistadvaita  of SriKantha:

Srikantha established Saivavisistadvaita and his treatise is called ‘Saivabhashya’ , a commentary on Brahma-Sutra.  Siva is the Supreme God, being equated with Brahman. He is the cause of the creation of the world, its maintenance and its ultimate dissolution. Siva alone is responsible for the liberation of souls, through the cessation of bondage.

(G) . Virasaiva-Visistadvaita  of Sripatipandita

Sripatipandita composed a commentary on Brahmasutra, known as ‘Srikarabhashya’ and his doctrine is designated as Virasaivavisistadvaita.
Siva is the Supreme Reality. He is both the instrumental and substantial cause of the world. So the world is real.

(H) . Suddha Advaita of Vallabha.

Vallabhacharya was the exponent of Suddha-Advaita ( Pure Non – dualism, which is free from the impurities of Maya ). His monumental work is  Anubhashya on the Brahma- Sutras  
Lord Krishna is the Ultimate Reality. He is transcendental as well as immanent. He is considered as Sat Chit Ananda, that is Existence, Consciousness and Bliss. He is considered in his physical form as the world, in His spiritual form as th absolute Brahma while in His divine form as Krishna himself.  

(I). Avibhagadvaita of Vijnanabhukshu.

 Vijnabhikshu proposed his doctrine,  Avibhagadvaita by  his  commentary on Brahma-Sutra known as Vijnanamrita hashya.  According to him,  the jivas are eternally different from God, because they share His nature they are indistinguishable from Him.
(J). Achintyabheda Abheda of Baladeva.

     Baladeva Vidyabhushana wrote a famous commentary known as ‘Govindabhashya’ on the Brahma-Sutra and proposed   the doctrine Achintyabhdaheda.  According to him there is an un-thinkable state of difference and non-difference between the God and the creation, and yet there is complete oneness in essence.

  Despite some doctrinal differences, in respect of the nature of the  Ultimate Reality, its relation with the world (soul and matter), the divinity of  soul is the underlying spirit in all the sub schools of Vedanta. Vedanta, being the best of all darsanas for  serving humanity as the beacon light, played playing and continues to play a very prominent role among the Orthodox - systems of Indian philosophy.

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