6 Schools | Hindu Philosophy | Shivananda

Hindu philosophy is not mere speculation or guesswork. It is lofty, sublime, unique, and systematic. It is based on mystic spiritual experience, or Authoritative Witness:

The seers, sages and Rishis who had direct, intuitive perception of the Truth are the founders of the different philosophical systems in India.

The different schools of philosophy are all based on the Śrutis or the Vedas, directly or indirectly. Those who have studied carefully the Upanishads will find that the revelations of the Śruti (Vedas) are in harmony with the conclusions of philosophy.

In the following pages you can find a short overview of the six major schools of Indian Philosophy, also traditionally termed Six Darśanas or Shad-Darśanas, such as:

The Nyāya, The Vaiśeṣika, The Sānkhya, The Yoga, The Pūrva Mimāṁsa 6. The Uttara-Mimāṁsa or The Vedanta + as also the major teachings of Shaivism and Śaktism.

The work has been written by one of the greatest personalities of XX Century – Swami Shivananda (1887 – 1963) – a great practitioner of Yoga and Vedanta himself and author of over 200 books and founder of Shivananda Ashram and Divine Life Society.

Hindu Philosophy
By Swami Shivananda, The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh

Philosophy – Its Origin and Its Limitations

Philosophy is the rational aspect of religion:

It is an integral part of religion in India. It is a rational enquiry into the nature of Truth or Reality. It gives clear solutions for the profound, subtle problems of life. It shows the way to get rid of pain and death and attain immortality and eternal bliss.

Philosophy has its roots in the practical needs of man. Man wants to know about transcendental matters when he is in a reflective state:

There is an urge within him to know about the secret of death, the secret of immortality, the nature of the soul, the Creator and the world.

Philosophy helps him to know all these things. Philosophy is the self-expression of the growing spirit of man. The philosophers are its voice. Great creative thinkers and philosophers appear in all ages. They elevate and inspire the people.

Certain philosophical questions arise in the mind of man:

What is this Samsāra? (Samsāra = life through repeated births and deaths; the process of worldly life). Has it any purpose? Is the world real or mere appearance?

Is there any Creator or Governor of this universe? If there is a Creator, what is His nature? What is the relation between man and the Creator?

Is there any way to escape from the round of births and deaths? Is there any such thing as the Impersonal Absolute? If so, what is Its essential nature?

How did man come into bondage? What is his essential nature? Is he a part of the Supreme Soul, or is he identical with It?

What is the difference between Personal God and the Impersonal Absolute?

What is the source for this world? What is matter? What is mind? What is individual soul? What is the goal of life?

The search for a solution of these problems is philosophy.
Philosophy solves beautifully all these problems.

Death – The Starting Point of Philosophy

The idea of death has ever been the strongest motive-power of religion and religious life. Man is afraid of death and wants to live forever. This is the starting point of philosophy.

Philosophy enquires and investigates. It boldly proclaims:

“O man! Do not be afraid of death. There is an immortal abode. That is Brahman (the Supreme Reality). That is your own Ātman (soul) which dwells in the chamber of your heart. Purify your heart and meditate on this pure, immortal, changeless Self. You will attain immortality”.

Death is the ultimate pointer to the transience of all things and the existence of an ultimate reality.

Various Schools of Philosophy

A clear understanding of man’s relation to God is a matter of momentous importance to students of philosophy and to all aspirants.

Philosophers, prophets, saints, sages, thinkers, Acharyas and great religious leaders of the world have tried to explain the relation of man to God and the universe.

Various schools of philosophy and different kinds of religious beliefs have come into existence, on account of various explanations given by different philosophers.

Philosophy and Intuition

Philosophy will take you to the gates of the realm of eternal bliss, but it cannot allow you to enter that realm. Intuition or realisation is necessary for entering that holy land of everlasting joy and ineffable glory.

Hindu philosophy is not mere speculation or guesswork. It is lofty, sublime, unique, and systematic. It is based on mystic spiritual experience, or Aparokṣa Anubhuti:

The seers, sages and Rishis who had direct, intuitive perception of the Truth are the founders of the different philosophical systems in India.

The different schools of philosophy are all based on the Śrutis or the Vedas, directly or indirectly. Those who have studied carefully the Upanishads will find that the revelations of the Śruti (Vedas) are in harmony with the conclusions of philosophy.

The Orthodox and the Heterodox Systems of Indian Philosophy

The six systems of Indian philosophy or the Shad-Darśanas are the six orthodox systems of philosophy. They are the 6 ways of looking at the Truth. These are:

1. The Nyāya
2. The Vaiśeṣika
3. The Sānkhya
4. The Yoga
5. The Pūrva Mimāṁsa
6. The Uttara-Mimāṁsa or The Vedanta.

The orthodox systems of philosophy believe in the authority of the Vedas.

The heterodox systems of philosophy do not believe in the authority of the Vedas. The six heterodox systems of philosophy are:

1. The Materialistic School of Chārvāka
2. The System of the Jainas
3. The School of Presentationists or Vaibhāṣikas (Buddhist)
4. The School of Representationists or Sautrāntikas (Buddhist)
5. The school of idealism or Yogacharas (Buddhist)
6. The school of Nihilism of the Mādhyamikas (Buddhist)

The Shad-Darśanas or the Six Orthodox Schools

The Shad-Darśanas or the six orthodox systems grew directly out of the Vedas.

Darśana means literally sight or vision. Darśana means a system of philosophy. The Darśana literature is philosophical. Each Darśana is a way of looking into the Truth; is a standpoint in respect of the Truth.

Gautama Rishi systematised the principles of Nyāya or the Indian logical system.

Kaṇāda composed the Vaiśeṣika Sutras.

Kapila Muni founded the Sānkhya system.

Patañjali Mahāṛṣi is the first systematiser of the Yoga school. He composed his Yoga Sutras. The Yoga-Darśana of Patañjali is a celebrated text-book on Raja-Yoga.

Jaimini, a disciple of Vyāsa, composed the Sutras of the Mimāṁsa school, which is based on the ritual sections of the Vedas.

Badarayana composed his famous Vedanta Sutras or Brahma Sutras which expound the teachings of the Upanishads. The different schools of the Vedanta have built their philosophy on the foundation of these Sutras.

Different Ways of Approach to the Same Goal

The six schools of thought are like the six different roads which lead to one city. You may go to Bombay by train or airplane or motor bus or any other vehicle. Even so, you can reach the goal of life through Yoga, or Vedanta, or any other path.

The methods or ways of approach to the Goal are different to suit people of different temperaments, capacities and mental calibre.

But they all have one aim, viz., removal of ignorance and its effects of pain and sufferings and the attainment of freedom, perfection, immortality and eternal bliss by union of the individual soul (Jīvātman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramātman).

No student of Hinduism ought to be satisfied without acquiring a clear and accurate knowledge of the principal distinguishing characteristics of the six philosophical schools.

The more advanced scholar should study the original Sutras in which the doctrines of each school are enunciated. Study of the six schools of philosophy will sharpen the intellect and give you vast knowledge.

You will have clear and comprehensive understanding of the Truth.
Each system is a step or rung in the spiritual ladder.

Interrelation between the Six Systems

The six schools are divided into three groups:

1. The Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika
2. The Sānkhya and the Yoga
3. The Mimāṁsa and the Vedanta

The Vaiśeṣika is a supplement of the Nyāya.
The Yoga is a supplement of the Sānkhya.
The Vedanta is an amplification and fulfilment of the Sānkhya.

The study of Vyākaraṇam (grammar), Mimāṁsa, Nyāya and Sānkhya is necessary to understand the Vedanta.

The Nyāya sharpens the intellect and enables the aspirants to grasp the Vedanta. The Nyāya is considered as a prerequisite for all philosophical enquiry.

The Vaiśeṣika is not very much in honour now.
The Nyāya is popular.
The Sānkhya is not a living faith.
The Yoga is practised by a few in its practical form.
The Vedanta is the most popular of all the schools today.

The Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika will give you an analysis of the world of experience:

They arrange all the things of the world into certain kinds or categories (Padārthas).
They explain how God has made all this material world out of atoms and molecules.
They show the way to attain knowledge of God.

The Sānkhya will provide you with deep knowledge of Hindu psychology. Kapila Muni was the father of psychology.

The Yoga deals with the control of Vṛittis or thought-waves, and with meditation. The Yoga system shows the ways to discipline the mind and the senses.

The Yoga will help you to cultivate concentration and one-pointedness of mind and enter into Nirvikalpa Samādhi or the Superconscious State.

The Pūrva-Mimāṁsa deals with the Karma-Kāṇda (rituals- ceremonies) of the Vedas, and the Uttara-Mimāṁsa is also known as the Vedanta-Darśana. This is the corner stone of Hinduism.

The Vedanta philosophy explains in detail the nature of Brahman or the Eternal Being, and shows that the individual soul is, in essence, identical with the Supreme Self.

It gives methods to remove Avidya or the veil of ignorance and to merge oneself in the ocean of bliss or Brahman.

The Nyāya calls ignorance Mithyā Jñāna, false knowledge. The Sānkhya styles it Aviveka, non- discrimination between the real and the unreal. The Vedanta names it Avidya, nescience.

Each philosophy aims at its eradication by knowledge or Jñāna. Then one attains eternal bliss or immortality.

By study of Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika, one learns to utilise his intellect to find out fallacies and to know the material constitution of the world.

By study of Sānkhya, one understands the course of evolution.

By study and practice of Yoga, one gains self-restraint and obtains mastery over mind and senses.

By practice of Vedanta, one reaches the highest rung of the ladder of spirituality or the pinnacle of divine glory, oneness with the Supreme Being, by the destruction of ignorance (Avidya).

Vedanta – The Most Satisfactory System of Philosophy

Some of the doctrines of the Nyāya, the Vaiśeṣika, the Sānkhya and the Yoga are opposed to the teaching of the Vedas. These systems are only superficially based on the Vedas.

The Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika schools rely too much on human reason, though they accept the Vedas as the supreme authority.

Human intellect is frail and finite. It has got its limitations. It functions within time, space and causation. Its findings cannot be infallible. It cannot solve transcendental matters.

Vedas only are infallible and authoritative. They contain the revelations or direct intuitional experiences of seers and Rishis. These experiences will tally with the experiences of those who have attained Knowledge of the Self (Brahma-Jñāna).

The Vedanta is the most satisfactory system of philosophy. It has been evolved out of the Upanishads. It has superseded all other schools. The Mimāṁsa school has laid great stress on rituals, or Karma-Kāṇda.

According to Mimāṁsa school, Karma or ritual is all-in-all in the Veda. Upāsanā (worship) and Jñāna (knowledge) are only accessories to Karma. This view is refuted by the Vedanta school:

According to the Vedanta, Self-realisation (Jñāna) is the foremost thing, and ritual and worship are accessories:

Karma will take one to heaven which is only an impermanent place of refined sensual enjoyment. Karma cannot destroy the cycle of births and deaths, and cannot give eternal bliss and immortality.

During the time of Śankarāchārya, all the six schools of philosophy flourished. Therefore, he had to refute the other systems in order to establish his absolute monism (Kevala Advaita).

But, nowadays, Sānkhya, Vaiśeṣika, etc., are in name only.

Even now, some Hindu preachers, Sannyāsins and Mandaleśvars try to establish Advaita Vedanta by refuting these old systems. This is a mistake. They will have to refute at the present moment materialism, agnosticism, atheism and science, and then establish Advaita Vedanta.