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The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy: 1

Continued part 2...

Religion evolves as a means to narrate, to gain intellectual grasp, and to enable the seeker after truth to meditate upon the concepts so as to become free. The six systems of Hindu philosophy are concerned with intellectual analysis and sharpening of 'reason' necessary to comprehend the true nature of self, God, and universe. These six systems are the Vaisheshika, the Nyaya, the Samkhya, the Yoga, the Mimamsa, and the Vedanta. Rishis Kanada, Gotama, Kapila, Patanjali, Jaimini, and Vyasa are believed to be the earliest exponents of these systems respectively.

Although exact dates of the origin of these schools of thought are not known they are believed to have been formulated in sutras or aphorisms prior to Buddha. Many put them roughly between 600 and 200 BCE. Then the art of writing was unknown and as such these sutras were handed down from teacher to disciples by word of mouth. To minimize the load on memory these aphorisms were rendered as short as possible, an extra dot or letter was ruthlessly deleted. However, this miserliness of words made the sutras unintelligible without commentaries and explanatory notes. Thus, we see many additions to the original text over a period of time.

There are certain common features to these six systems of thought; first and foremost is that they accept the authority of the Vedas, the feature that distinguishes them from philosophical schools of Buddhism and Jainism. This feature gives them the label of Hindu orthodox systems. Second important feature is that, although superficially these systems seem to have contradictions amongst them, they in fact represent a progressive development from lower to higher truth. All the six schools believe in the 'Law of Karma', rebirth, and attainment of Moksha/Liberation as the highest goal of human struggle. All the systems are concerned with the nature of true Self, the realization of which through Yoga and other spiritual disciplines makes one free.

In the context of modern times, Vaisheshika is not of great importance, while Nyaya and Samkhya are studied widely for their powerful system of logic and analytical cosmology respectively. Mimamsa mostly deals with ritual portion of the Vedas, believing that sutras/verses without corresponding ritual/Yajna is incomplete and thus do not yield desired effect. Yoga and Vedanta have caught the attention of students of religion, scholars, as well as lay people for their practicality, rationality, and scientific basis. All Hindus now accept Vedanta as their 'living faith'.

Nyaya and Vaisheshika

These two systems are separate and independent. But for the sake of convenience and because of certain commonality these can be grouped together. Vaisheshika is older than Nyaya. Rishi Kanada or Uluka in his sutras maintains that proper object of philosophy is to focus on Dharma, virtue, so that people can prosper in life and character -Abhyudaya- as well as can attain the highest goal/good in life -liberation, Nihshreyasa.

This liberation can be attained by direct perception or knowledge of ultimate realities of Self and the universe. These ultimate realities - padarthas, or categories - are termed as 1. dravya (substance), 2. guna (qualities), 3. karma (action or motion), 4. samanya (genus), 5. vishesah (species), and 6. samavaya (relation), and additionally 7. abhava (negation).

Out of these, dravya is the basic and independent category. On this basic dravya depend all other categories.
Dravya, in turn, are nine in number. 1) The Self, 2) Manas or mind, 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.) Earth, water, air, fire, ether, 8. 9.) space and time.
Self is the substratum of consciousness. Manas when comes in contact with Self is birth, and when gets detached from it is death. Man or individual self is jivatman, and is distinct from paramatman or Supreme Self. God is the efficient cause of creation. The law of causation applies here also. Cause and effect cycle creates new world in each cycle, aarambhavada.

Nyaya deals with knowing. It has sixteen categories, dealing with the means to understand the universe. Ignorance bars the way to liberation. Ignorance results from identification of the Self with the body, the sense, and the mind. Thus we become slaves to attachment and hatred. These are the causes of our sins and sufferings. Death causes rebirth because of our ignorance of the True Self. Transcendental knowledge of our True Self is Liberation, end of cycle of birth and death, and freedom from misery.
To sum up:
Nyaya and Vaisheshika systems assert that by leading virtuous life and remaining on the side of Dharma, one will have both growth and fulfillment in life (Abhyudaya) as well as realization of the highest good - Liberation (Nishreyasa). These systems are dualistic in their conception of God (Supreme Self), Jiva (individual self), and the universe. These units have their own separate objective reality, it is said. God is seen as the Supreme Ruler of this universe, of which Jiva is a part. Existence of God is accepted as a ruler, lawgiver, controller, and governor that allows maintenance of order in the universe. According to Nyaya theory the world is more or less as we perceive it. However, the defects in the sense organs like improper or partial perception of something and the influence of fear, anticipation and other mental conditions lead to inappropriate and defective perception of the same. Nyaya regards that clear perception in general is a sound means of cognition, which discloses things to us as they really are.

As can be seen, this all is very complicated to understand and difficult write. I have written on the basis of my reading of the six systems from the book: 'The Spiritual Heritage of India' by Swami Prabhavananda.


Samkhya forms the philosophical basis for Yoga of Patanjali. Therefore, both Yoga and Samkhya can be grouped together, Yoga forming the practical methodology to achieve the goal. Samkhya provides rational analysis of the Truth. Its reasoning is very logical, neat, and scientific that it does not find it necessary to posit the concept of God to comprehend the Truth and freedom form suffering. Basically, Samkhya is a system based on duality of Purusha and Prakriti. 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.

Permutations and combinations of these gunas lead to formation of multifarious world. Not only all material objects fall under this category, but also mind and its functions of language and thoughts are composed of matter in the final analysis. Therefore, it is necessary to go beyond -transcend - the mind to reach immaterial sentient reality. This is the goal and endeavor of all human actions and activities, and Yoga Sutra of Patanjali explains and guides step by step us to this realization. First, by controlling the mind stuff - chitta - the sadhaka tries to minimize modifications of mind. And a stage is reached when single pointed mind can be transcended and the state of samadhi reached.

C S Shah