The Astika Schools

In the previous article, we discussed broadly about the Nastika and Astika systems of philosophy.  In this article we will understand the approaches adopted by each of the Astika system to answer the fundamental question of “Experiencing the bliss of knowing the truth of existence”.

Sankhya: Sage Kapila is considered to be the proponent of this system.  What is the fundamental approach of this system? The approach that is used here is “If we discover how the universe has evolved we will be able to understand the truth of existence” and thus proceeds to give an explanation of the evolution of the universe. Sanhkya provides a model in understanding the evolution of the universe.

The earliest surviving authoritative text on Sanhkya philosophy is Sanhkya karika by Ishvarakrishna.  The most popular commentary on the Sankhya Karika is by Gaudapada through his work Gaudapada Bhasya. Other important commentaries on the Karika are Yuktipada and Vacaspati’s Sankhyatattvakaumudi.  The second most important work of the Sankhya school is Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra.

Analysis adopted by Ayurveda has its roots in the Sankhya philosophy.

Yoga: Yoga’s approach is by going within. It is an inquiry into understanding the inner world with an emphasis on bringing in a transformation from within, where the answer for the question dawns from within.  Sage Patanjali is considered to be the proponent of this system. The Yoga school accepts Samkhya psychology and metaphysics, but is considered theistic because it accepts the concept of personal god, unlike Samkhya. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is considered to be a key text of this school.  The other texts on yoga are by Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatamaram; Ghrendha Samhita and Shiva Samhita.

Nyaya: Sage Gautama is considered to be the founder of this school of philosophy.  The approach of this system is if you need to find the answer to the question, you need to have the proper tools to theorize an answer.  In a sense, Nyaya provides the necessary tools to arrive at the answer. The Nyāya school is a realist āstika philosophy. The school's most significant contributions to Indian philosophy were its systematic development of the theory of logic, methodology, and its treatises on epistemology. The foundational text of the Nyāya school is the Nyāya Sūtras of the first millennium BCE. The text is credited to Aksapada Gautama and its composition is variously dated between the sixth and second centuries BCE.

Tarka-Sangraha is a treatise in Sanskrit giving a foundational exposition of the ancient Indian system of logic and reasoning. The work is authored by Annambhatta and the author himself has given a detailed commentary, called Tarka-Sangraha Deepika, for the text. Annambhatta composed the text as well as the commentary in the second half of 17th century CE. The text of Tarka-sangraha is a small book with about 15 pages only and it was composed to help boys and girls learn easily the basic principles of Nyaya.

Vaisheshika: Sage Kanada Kasyapa is considered to be the founder of this school of philosophy. The Vaisheṣika philosophy is a naturalist school. It is a form of atomism in natural philosophy. It postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramāṇu (atoms), and that one's experiences are derived from the interplay of substance (a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), quality, activity, commonness, particularity and inherence. Knowledge and liberation are achievable by complete understanding of the world of experience, according to Vaiśeṣika school. The foundational text is the Vaisheshika Sutras by Sage Kanada Kasyapa. Praśastapāda’s Padārthadharmasaṁgraha  is the next important work of this school. Candra’s Daśapadārthaśāstra  based on Praśastapāda’s treatise is available only in Chinese translation. The earliest commentary available on Praśastapāda’s treatise is Vyomaśiva’s Vyomavatī. The other three commentaries are Śridhara’s Nyāyakandalī, Udayana’s Kiranāvali and Śrivatsa’s Līlāvatī.

Purva Mimamsa: Sage Jaimini is credited as the founder of this school.  The approach that is used in this school is to “correctly follow” the rituals prescribed by the Vedas. Consequently, this school derives heavily from the “ritual” part of the Vedas or the Karma kanda of the vedic texts.

There are two sub-schools in Purva Mimamasa:

  1. The Kumarila Bhatta school
  2. The Prabhakara sub school

The foundational text for the Mīmāṃsā school is the Purva Mīmāṃsā Sutras of Jaimini. A major commentary Mīmāṃsāsūtrabhāṣyam was composed by Śābara. Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, Mandana Miśra, Pārthasārathi Miśra, Sucarita Miśra, Ramakrishna Bhatta, Madhava Subhodini, Sankara Bhatta, Krsnayajvan, Anantadeva, Gaga Bhatta, Ragavendra Tirtha, VijayIndhra Tirtha, Appayya Dikshitar, Paruthiyur Krishna Sastri, Mahomahapadyaya Sri Ramsubba Sastri, Sri Venkatsubba Sastri, Sri A. Chinnaswami Sastri, Sengalipuram Vaidhyanatha Dikshitar were some of the Mimamsa Scholars.

Kumārila Bhaṭṭa, the founder of the first school of the Mīmāṁsā commented on both the Sūtra and its Śabara Bhāṣya. His treatise consists of 3 parts, the Ślokavārttika, the Tantravārttika and the Ṭupṭīkā. Manḍana Miśra was a follower of Kumārila, who wrote Vidhiviveka and Mīmāṁsānukramaṇī. Prabhākara, the originator of the second school of the Mīmāṁsā wrote his commentary Bṛhatī on the Śabara Bhāṣya. Āpadeva (17th century) wrote an elementary work on the Mīmāṁsā, known as Mīmāṁsānyāyaprakaśa or Āpadevī. Arthasaṁgraha of Laugākṣi Bhāskara is based on the Āpadevī.

Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta: Sage Badrayana, author of the Brahma Sutras is considered to be the founder of this school. This school is the most developed and best-known of the Hindu schools.

The Upanishads, the Bhagavadgita and the Brahma Sutras constitute the basis of Vedanta. All schools of Vedanta propound their philosophy by interpreting these texts, collectively called the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources.

Varying interpretations of the Upanishads and their synthesis, the Brahma Sutras, led to the development of five different schools of Vedanta over time.

  • Advaita, many scholars of which most prominent are Gaudapada and Shankara
  • Dvaita, founded by Madhvacharya
  • Vishishtadvaita, prominent scholars are Nathamuni, Yāmuna and Ramanuja
  • Suddhadvaita, founded by Vallabha
  • Bhedabheda, some scholars are inclined to consider it as a "tradition" rather than a school of Vedanta.
    • Upadhika, founded by Bhaskara in the 9th Century CE
    • Svabhavikabhedabheda or Dvaitādvaita, founded by Nimbarka in the 13th century CE
    • Achintya Bheda Abheda, founded by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu

Besides the major orthodox and non-orthodox schools, there have existed syncretic sub-schools that have combined ideas and introduced new ones of their own. The medieval scholar Madhva Acharya includes the following, along with Buddhism and Jainism, as sub-schools of Sanatana Dharma philosophy:

  • Pashupata Shaivism, developed by Nakulisa
  • Shaiva Siddhanta, the theistic Sankhya school
  • Pratyabhijña, the recognitive school of Kashmir Shaivism
  • Raseśvara, a Shaiva school that advocated the use of mercury to reach immortality
  • The Ramanuja school
  • The Pūrṇaprājña (Madhvācārya) school
  • The Pāṇinīya

In the next article, we will discuss about the Nastika schools of Indian philosophies.