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Hindu Philosophies

In this article, I will explain the different Philosophies of the Hindu religion.  

The Astika School

Sankhya

Sage Kapila is the proponent of this theory. According to Sage Kapila, if we need to experience the truth, we need to understand how this entire universe is created.  Sage Kapila propounds a detailed theory of how twenty five different components combine to create this universe. Ayurveda, the oldest medical modality is based on the Sanhkya philosophy.

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.

Yoga

You are alive and are able to experience the external world.  Without a living observer, the external world has no meaning and hence to answer the basic question, you need to go within yourself and understand what is happening within you.  This is the approach adopted by Sage Patanjali who is considered the proponent of this system.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras is considered to be the key text of this school. The other texts on yoga are  Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatamarama; Ghrendha Samhita and Shiva Samhita.

Nyaya

Both external world and internal world needs to be considered to arrive at the answer.  If we can understand and analyze the interaction between the internal and external world, we should be able to arrive at the answer that we are seeking.  The internal world finds expression as Language.  By analyzing the language, we can understand the interactions and thus arrive at the answer.  This is the approach adopted by Sage Gautama who is considered to be the founder of this school of 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 Nyaya school is the Nyaya Sastras 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.

Vaisheshika

Every complex system consists of smaller components and their interaction.  By breaking down the entire entity into smaller components and studying the interaction between the different components, we will be able to reach our objective.  This is the theory proposed by Sage Kanada Kasyapa who is considered the founder of this philosophy.

The Vaisheshika philosophy is a naturalist school. It postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramanu (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 Vaisheshika school.

The foundational text is the Vaisheshika Sutras by Sage Kanada Kasyapa.

Purva Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa

The Vedas are revealed texts by the Divine.  Simply, following the instructions detailed in the Vedas is sufficient to achieve the objective.  This is the approach adopted by Sage Jaimini who is credited as the founder of this school.

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: Prabhakara and Bhatta

The foundational text for the Mimamsa school is the Purva Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini.

Vedanta or Uttara Mimamsa

The Vedas are revealed texts by the Divine. Understanding the deeper meaning and philosophy propounded within the Vedas is the way to find the answer to our question.  This is the approach of  Sage Badrayana who is considered the proponent of the Vedanta philosophy. 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, Yamuna and Ramanuja

The Nastika School

Ajnana philosophy

Ajnana was one of the nastika schools of ancient Indian philosophy, and the ancient school of radical Indian skepticism.

They held that it was impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it was useless and disadvantageous for final salvation. They were sophists who specialised in refutation without propagating any positive doctrine of their own.

Charvaka

Charvaka, originally known as Lokayata and Brhaspatya, is the ancient school of Indian materialism.

Ajita Kesakambali is credited as the forerunner of the Charvakas, while Brihaspati is usually referred to as the founder of Charvaka or Lokayata philosophy. Much of the primary literature of Charvaka, the Barhaspatya sutras (ca. 600 BCE), are missing or lost.

It is considered an example of atheistic (Nastika) schools in the Hindu tradition.

It holds that there is neither afterlife nor rebirth, all existence is mere combination of atoms and substances, feelings and mind are an epiphenomenon, and free will exists.

Ajivika

Ajivika was one of the nastika schools of ancient Indian philosophy, and the ancient school of Indian fatalism.
This school was founded in the 5th century BCE by Makkhali Gosala and a major rival of early Buddhism and Jainism. Ajivika were organised renunciates who formed discrete communities.

The Ajivika school is known for its Niyati (“Fate”) doctrine of absolute determinism, the premise that there is no free will, that everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely preordained and a function of cosmic principles. Ajivikaz considered the karma doctrine as a fallacy. Ajivika were atheists and rejected the authority of the Vedas, but they believed that in every living being is an ātman

Founded in what is now the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Ajivika philosophy reached the height of its popularity during the rule of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara, around the 4th century BCE. This school of thought thereafter declined, but survived for nearly 2,000 years through the 14th century CE in the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Ajivika philosophy, along with the Charvaka philosophy, appealed most to the warrior, industrial and mercantile classes of ancient Indian society.

Jaina or Arhata

According to Jainism, no single, specific statement can describe the nature of existence and the absolute truth. This knowledge (Kevala Jnana), it adds, is comprehended only by the Arihants. Other beings and their statements about absolute truth are incomplete, and at best a partial truth.

Jainism, like Buddhism, is a Nastika philosophy and rejected the authority of the Vedas.

Jainism places strong emphasis on asceticism and ahimsa (non-violence) as a means of spiritual liberation.

Boutha

Buddhist philosophy is a system of thought which started with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, or “awakened one”.

The Buddha argued that there is no permanent self, no ‘essence of a person’ or ‘what makes me, me’. This means there is no part of a person which is unchanging and essential for continuity, it means that there is no individual “part of the person that accounts for the identity of that person over time”. This is in opposition to the Upanishadic concept of an unchanging ultimate self and any view of an eternal soul. The Buddha held that attachment to the appearance of a permanent self in this world of change is the cause of suffering, and the main obstacle to liberation.

Buddhism’s main concern has always been freedom from dukkha (unease), and the path to that ultimate freedom consists in ethical action (karma), meditation and in direct insight (prajna) into the nature of “things as they truly are” (yathabhutam viditva). Indian Buddhists sought this understanding not just from the revealed teachings of the Buddha, but through philosophical analysis and rational deliberation.

Now that we understand the different philosophies, how do we choose the most “appropriate” philosophy? This is the question that we will answer in the next article.