The following points highlight the six important systems of Hindu philosophy. The systems are: 1. The Nyaya System 2. The Vaisesika System 3. Sankhya System 4. Yoga System 5. The Purva Mimansa 6. The Uttar Mimansa.
1. The Nyaya System:
The Nyaya System applied the analytical and logical method to spiritual matters. It took up the ordinary stock notions of traditional philosophy as space, time, cause, matter, mind, soul and knowledge and after investigation set forth the results in the form of a theory of universe. The first exposition of Nyaya philosophy is found in the sutras of Aksapada Gautama. This system serves as an introduction to all systematic Hindu philosophy because from its very nature logic is the basis of all studies.
According to Nyaya philosophy there are four methods or sources for the acquisition of knowledge viz. Pratyakasha (intuition), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Sahda (verbal testimony) Perception take place when the manas (mind) operates in conjunction with the senses but not otherwise.
Anumana follows perception. In anumana we pass from the perceived to the unperceived. Anumana is of three kinds viz. purvavat i.e. when we see the antecedent and infer the consequent as from clouds to rain, sesavat. i.e. when we see the consequent and infer the antecedent as from a flooded river to rain, samanyato Dristan i.e. inference based on uniformity of experience as seeing a horned animal we infer it has a tail. Upamana is the means by which we gain knowledge of a thing from its similarity to another thing previously known.
Verbal testimony or sabda is the method of acquiring knowledge on authority of others i.e. by popular testimony, historical tradition or scriptural revelation. Nyaya system deals with the causes of doubt in details and analyses them thoroughly. Doubt is due to lapse of memory or aberrations in recognition or perception.
Truth is that which reveals itself to those who have sounded the depths of experience and cannot be ascertained by a mere counting of heads. The soul is held to be real with its incorporeal attributes of desires, aversions, volitions etc. and consciousness cannot exist apart from it “as the brilliance of the flame cannot live apart from it.” The system believes in the theory of transmigration and freedom from bondage is held to be the summum bonnum.
Nyaya system believes in a God who is a personal being possessing existence, knowledge and bliss. He is omnipotent and omniscient. Adrista or God is the limit of explanation in Nyaya philosophy.
In short we can say Nyaya System attempts a logical and analytical investigation of Hindu religion and philosophy with a view to rationally synthesizing the ends of life and of religion, to establishing a rational relationship between body and soul, and showing a way of salvation.
Scklegel has highly praised this system and called it “an idealism with purity and logical consistency of which there are few instances.” Nyaya school exercised profound influence on the evolution of Hindu thought and scientific investigation by indicating the pitfalls to be avoided and the canons of correct reasoning to be observed.
2. The Vaisesika System:
The Vaisesika was essentially a system of particularity and derives its name from its doctrine of atomic individualities (viseshas) and is also known as the ‘Philosophy of Discrimination’.’ The first systematic exposition of this system is found in the sutras of Kanada. Its logic is similar to that of the Nyaya system.
One of its fundamental doctrines is that of Padartha, which are divided into six categories viz. substance (dravya), quality (guna), activity (karma), generality (samanya), particularity (vivesa), and inherence (samavaya). A dravya (substance) has an independent existence apart from its qualities. Earth, water, light, air, akasha, time, space, soul and manas are the nine substances.
The physical theory is developed in connection with the five substances viz. earth, water, light, air and akasha. The earth possesses the four qualities of smell, taste, colour and tangibility; water, the three qualities of taste, colour and tangibility, while the air has the quality of tangibility and akasha that of sound. According to this system the ultimate constituents of concrete things are atoms.
Four classes of pramanus answering to the four great classes of material objects earth, water, light and air are assumed and they produce the four senses of touch, taste, sight and smell. It holds that there cannot be eternal annihilation. The structures may perish but the atoms with their qualities continue to exist.
It may be noted that this theory differs the Greek hypothesis of Democritus to whom atoms have only quantitative and not qualitative differences, while in Kanada’s hypothesis the atoms are different in kind each having its own distinct individuality. The Greek view of the universe was a mechanical one while Kanada believed in souls.
In short the Vaiseshika system argues that in order to attain deliverance from samsara of wheel of birth, one must realise the pure nature of the soul and the unreality of matter through a proper comprehension of the Vaiseshika doctrine of six categories.
But probably the most important contribution of this school of Hindu philosophy is its concept of atom, its analysis of the phenomenal world, its theory of propagation of sound and its observations about heat and light.
3. Sankhya System:
This is perhaps the oldest of the six systems of Indian philosophy. We find some mention of it in the Bhagavad-Gita as well as Upanishads. According to the legends this school of Hindu philosophy was founded by the ancient sage Kapila, but the earliest surviving text of this system is Sankhya-karika of Isvarakrsna of the fourth century A.D.
This system rejects the rigid categories of the Nyaya-Vaisesika system as inadequate instruments for defining the universe. It substituted evolution for creation.
It asserts that there exist in the universe two active principles called Purusha and Prakriti. The Purusha or Soul is the pure spirit, which in its natural state, is devoid of all attributes, is imperishable and is unaffected by emotions and sensations. But deluded by Maya and drawn by the glamour of Prakriti, the Purusha plunges into the former and gets caught in the web of samsara and karma.
Thus there is a fall from its original state of blissful peace and the Purusha gets entangled in the web of samsara. It can acquire salvation only if it acquires supreme wisdom which will reveal to the soul the snares and illusions of material existence and will help it to realise its true nature and original condition.
According to Sankhya system prakriti is the primary form of being from which different forms and orders of existence issue. The Prakriti is developed out of three gunas—sattva (goodness, truth, purity etc.), Rajas (passion for activity) and Tamas (inertia, stolidity, obstruction etc.). These gunas do not exist quite separately but generally intermingle with one another. Sattva and rajas are held in check by tamas.
This theory of three Gunas was adopted by many schools of Hindu philosophy and formed the basis of the Buddhist philosophy. It even exercised great influence on the philosophies in other countries. For example Prof. Hopkins believes that ‘Plato is full of Sankhyan thought’.
Similarly Davies says that the ideas of Schopenhauer and Hermann are “a reproduction of the philosophic system of Kapila in its materialist part, present in a more elaborate form, but on the same fundamental basis.”
4. Yoga System:
The term has been used in the Upanishads and in Bhagavad-Gita to denote union of the soul with the Supreme. However in Patanjali it is used to denote a methodical effort to attain perfection through the control of the physical, mental and astral elements of human nature.
The Yoga system accepts the presumptions of Sankhya, but does not attach that much importance to knowledge as a means of liberation. It on the other hand holds that liberation can be attained only by methods of devotional exercises and mental discipline.
It thus introduced the concept of God. The chitta is the basis of Yoga and its distraction has to be fully controlled. Yoga aids the development of super-sensory perception by strengthening the body and transforming the psychic organism. It helps the individual to go beyond the limits of sense perception and attain Samadhi or the stage in which the soul gets beatific vision and is reunited with God.
The Yoga system does not ignore the physical part of existence because it is through the body that spiritual life is expressed. To overcome the hindrances in the way of the development of spiritual life the Yoga system suggests an eightfold method viz. yama (abstention), niyama (observance), asana (posture), pranayama (regulation of breath), pratyahaca (withdrawal of the senses), dhyana (fixed attention) and samadhi (concentration).
The first six are a sort of ethic preparation for the practice of Yoga, while the last two represent the culmination. Dhyana is the resulting state of an even current of thought undisturbed by others. The condition of Samadhi represents the stage when the connection with the outer world is broken and the seer abides in himself and attains perfect tranquility and thoughts flow in the clearest possible manner.
In the Yoga system freedom or final liberation is a state of absolute independence in which the purusa is freed from the fetters of prakriti. The law of Karma is also accepted and self-control is considered to be the chief factor which leads to liberation.
By passing through the various stages of self-control the yogi attains marvelous and magical powers called siddhis. The final object of meditation according to Patanjali is not the attainment of union with God but the absolute separation of aurusa from Prakriti.
5. The Purva Mimansa:
This school of Hindu philosophy differs from other schools in so far as it is purely a school of exposition, instead of salvation. Its chief purpose was to demonstrate the validity of Hindu Dharma by systematizing the teachings of the Vedas. The earliest work of this school is the sutras of jaimini, which were most probably composed in the second century B.C.
It held that soul is a reality and is distinct from the body and the senses. The soul can be liberated only by faithfully following the orthodox rites and ceremonies prescribed in the Vedic texts, which being divinely inspired, are sacred, eternal and infallible.
It explained the esoteric significance of sacrifices and rituals and tried to reconcile action with knowledge. According to Purva Mimansa school here are two kinds of karmas—nitya karmas and kamya karmas. The non-observance of the nitya karmas begets sin, while the later are to be performed for special ends.
It may be noted that Jaimini did not deal with the problem of final liberation and the later writers dilated upon it. Liberation is defined as the absolute cessation of the body caused by the disappearance of all dharma and adharma. Karma can never lead to liberation. In the scheme of things envisaged by the Purva Mimansa, the benevolent or active God is not considered necessary.
“As a philosophical view of the universe, the Purva Mimansa cannot be said to be complete. It concerned itself with purely mechanical ethics and did not touch the problems of ultimate reality. Its concern was karma kand, a mere performance of sacrifices, without anything to touch the heart and make it glow.”
6. The Uttar Mimansa:
The Uttar Mimansa also known as Vedanta was the most important of the six schools of philosophy. In fact most of the prominent features of modern intellectual Hinduism were contributed by this school. The basic text of this system is Brahma Sutras attributed to Badarayana, written early in the Christian era. In this work he made an attempt to systematize the teachings of the Upanishads.
In 555 sutras each consisting of two or three words, the whole system is developed. The sutras are divided into four chapters. The first chapter deals with the nature of Brahma, its relation to the world and the individual soul.
The second meets the objections brought against this view, the nature of the soul ‘and its attributes. The third chapter discusses the ways and means of attaining brahmavidya. The fourth deals with the fruits of brahmavidya and the future of the soul after death.
During the subsequent centuries a number of scholars commented on the Brahma Sutras. Probably the best commentary was written by Sankara, a Saivite brahman of South India. In addition he also composed extensive commentaries on the Upanishads and popularized the Vedantic philosophy throughout the country.
The other prominent philosophers who made valuable contributions of this philosophy included Ramanuja, Nimbarka and Vallabha. According to this philosophy, the Brahma is a fundamental Reality and is the source, support and liquidator of the universe.
It does not possess and specific qualities of attributes. It pervades the whole universe and is unaffected by the changes. As Chandogyj, Upanishad says “He is myself within the heart, smaller than a com of rice, smaller than a corn of barley, smaller than a mustard seed, smaller than a canary seed. He is also myself within the heart, greater than the earth, greater than the sky, greater than heaven, greater than all these.”
The individual soul of the atman is only a fraction of the Brahma and is not different from it. The Brahma does not possess any shape or form of its own and assumes different names and forms. This can be explained with the help of an example. Just as the various vessels mace of clay may bear different names and forms, but in reality they are nothing but clay.
Similarly “as fire, though one, entering the world, takes a separate form according to whatever it burns so does the inner self within all things become different according to whatever it enters, yet itself is without form.” In short, the fundamental teachings of Vedanta philosophy is that all this universe is Brahma; from Him does it proceed, into Him it dissolves, in Him it breathes, so let in everyone adore Him calmly.”
However, the individual soul is unable to identify itself with the Brahma and gets entangled in the miseries of existence. The soul can get its emancipation only through real knowledge or vidya, which reveals the identity of the alma with the Brahma.
In other words salvation is possible through the spiritual awakening which follows a spiritual reconstruction through the detachment of the mind from worldly things and through the awareness of this fundamental unity in diversity.
This is borne out by one of the invocation in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad which says:
“From appearance lead me to reality
From darkness lead me to light
From death lead me to immortality.”