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Intro to the Six Systems of Vedic Philosophy

Emma Morrison
Intro to the Six Systems of Vedic Philosophy

If you’ve done yoga before, you might have heard the term Veda or Vedic. “Veda” means “knowledge.” Vedic knowledge is also called apauruseya. This means it is not knowledge from humans. It is knowledge from the gods.

There are six schools of thought in Vedic wisdom. Each system has a different philosophical view. These views are called darshanas. A different famous sage authored each system.

Below are the six philosophical views:

– Nyaya (Logic)

– Vaisesika (Atomic Theory)

– Sankhya (Analysis of Matter and Spirit)

– Yoga (Discipline of Self-Realization)

– Mimamsa (Science of Fruitive Work)

– Vedanta (Science of God-Realization)

All these systems accept Vedic authority. They all share the same basic principle too.

They believe that the self is an individual spiritual being. It is born of nature and eternal consciousness.

The self acquires a succession of physical bodies. This is also called reincarnation. The self suffers because of its contact with matter. And each system attempts to end suffering.

#1 Nyaya

Nyaya
Nyaya

Nyaya was created by the sage Gautama. It is considered the Indian logical system. Nyaya is a prerequisite for all philosophical inquiry.

The Nyaya system states that there are sixteen knowable entities and four means of knowing.

Through this system, one can understand reality. This understanding will help them achieve salvation.

Nyaya analyzes nature. It assesses sources of knowledge. And it attempts to separate valid knowledge from invalid knowledge.

If one obtains valid knowledge, they will also attain liberation. Mastering these logical techniques will help along this journey. With reasoning, one can rid of suffering in their everyday life.

The ultimate goal of the Nyaya system is liberation. It attempts to end all pain and suffering.

Nyaya’s Sixteen Padarthas of Studying Reality

Nyaya's Sixteen Padarthas of Studying Reality
Nyaya’s Sixteen Padarthas of Studying Reality

#1 Pramana – The Four Sources of Valid Knowledge

Pramana describes the four ways of receiving knowledge.

– Pratyaksa (perception)

– Anumana (Inference)

– Upmana (Comparison)

– Sabda (Testimony)

This philosophy divides knowledge into two categories. There are Anubhava and Smrti.

These are also known as Experiential Knowledge and Memory.

Experiential knowledge can be received through the four pramanas. Memory is derived from one’s mind. Memories also depend on experiential knowledge.

There is valid and invalid knowledge, or prama and aprama. Aprama can be divided into three categories:

– Samsaya (Doubt)

– Bhrama (Faulty Cognition)

– Tarka (Hypothetical Argument)

Nyaya understands true knowledge. It always corresponds with the nature of its objects. True knowledge is when a thing is understood in its true nature. True knowledge can lead to success. But false knowledge makes one helpless. It can lead to failure and disappointment.

#2 Prameya – The Twelve Objects of Cognition

Prameya - The Twelve Objects of Cognition
Prameya – The Twelve Objects of Cognition

Prameya is the object of cognition. It is also translated as “that which is knowable.” There are twelve objects of cognition.

– Atman (The Self)

– Sarira (The Body)

– Indriyas (The Five Senses)

– Artha (Objects of the Senses)

– Buddhi (Cognition)

– Manas (The Mind)

– Pravrtti (Activity)

– Dosa (Mental Defects)

– Pretyabhava (Rebirth)

– Phala (Fruits of Actions)

– Dukha (Suffering)

– Apavarga (Liberation)

#3 Samsaya – Doubt

Samsaya - Doubt
Samsaya – Doubt

Samsaya is a state of doubt. The mind wavers between conflicting views. But it always regards a single object. In doubt, there are two alternate views. But neither can lead to certainty.

#4 Prayojana – Aim

No one can act without an aim or target. It does not matter if that aim is fully understood. One must act to achieve their desires. Sometimes, they act to rid of undesirable things. These objects motivate one’s activities.

#5 Drstanta – Example

Drstanta - Example
Drstanta – Example

The use of an example can illustrate a common fact. This also helps to establish an argument. This is an important aspect of reasoning. This can be accepted by both parties. It is not disputable.

#6 Siddhanta – Doctrine

Doctrine is an undisputed truth. It is the foundation of an entire theory. It also exists in every philosophical system. Doctrine is accepted as truth. It can be derived from direct experience or logic and reasoning.

#7 Five Avayavas – Constituents of Inference

Five Avayavas - Constituents of Inference
Five Avayavas – Constituents of Inference

Inference is an important source of correct knowledge. It contains five necessary constituents to determine correct knowledge.

– Pratijna (Statements)

– Hetu (Reason)

– Udaharana (Example)

– Upanaya (Universal Proposition)

– Nigamana (Conclusion)

#8 Tarka – Hypothetical Argument

All systems of Indian philosophy agree that the mind can create confusion. It can misunderstand information when it is clouded. That is why it is important to wash out one’s mind before attempting to understand.

Tarka is a process of questioning and cross-questioning. It leads to a particular conclusion. Tarka is a form of supposition. It can be used to attain valid knowledge.

Tarka is a great instrument for analyzing common statements. It can discriminate valid knowledge from invalid knowledge.

#9 Nirnaya – Conclusion

Nirnaya - Conclusion
Nirnaya – Conclusion

Certain knowledge must be attained through legitimate means. To understand assured truth, one must use recognized and legitimate sources of knowledge.

#10 Badha – Discussion

Badha is a debate between two parties. Each party tries to establish its position. They also try to refute the other’s position. Both of them try to arrive at truth through reasoning and logic. Badha is an effective and efficient way of reaching valid information. But both parties must be honest and free from prejudice.

#11 Jalpa – Wrangling

Jalpa - Wrangling
Jalpa – Wrangling

Jalpa is the process through which opponents try to attain victory. But they do not do this through honest means. They involve their ego.

Therefore, the truth cannot be found.

Jalpa contains all of the same characteristics as a valid debate. But it does not aim to discover the truth. Each party has a prejudice. And they try to gather all possible arguments in their favor.

#12 Vitanda – Irrational Reasoning

Vitanda is an argument aimed to destroy an opponent’s position. It is not concerned with establishing or defending one’s position. It is just destructive towards the opponent.

Vitanda usually occurs when one or both parties realize that their case is weak. They cannot defend their case. So they attack their opponent with destructive intent.

#13 Hetvabhasa – Specious Reasoning

Hetvabhasa - Specious Reasoning
Hetvabhasa – Specious Reasoning

Hetvabhasa is reasoning that appears valid. But it is entirely unfounded.

Specious reasoning is false and made of inference.

#14 Chala – Unfair Reply

Chala is used to cheat or fool someone. It uses a word or phrase and pretends to understand it in a different way than it was intended. Chala denies the truth with deliberate misinterpretation.

#15 Jati – Generality Based on a False Analogy

Jati - Generality Based on a False Analogy
Jati – Generality Based on a False Analogy

Jati is used to describe a debate in which one replies unfairly. This unfair reply is based on a false analogy. It is unfounded and invalid.

#16 Nigrahasthana – Grounds for Defeat

Nigrahasthana is when a proponent misunderstands their own or their opponent’s premises. They do not understand the implications on either side. They become helpless and must admit their defeat.

#2 Vaisheshika

Vaisheshika
Vaisheshika

Vaisheshika is a system developed by sage Kanada. Its work is divided into ten cantos. Each canto contains two sections. Vaisheshika is an ally to the Nyaya system of philosophy. Both accept liberation of the self as the end goal. Both also view ignorance as the root cause of all pain and misery.

Vaisheshika and Nyaya both believe liberation can be attained through correct knowledge. 

But Nyaya philosophy accepts four independent sources of knowledge. Vaishesika accepts only two, including Perception and Inference.

Nyaya maintains that all reality must be comprehended by sixteen categories. But Vaisheshika recognizes only seven categories.

Vaisheshika’s Seven Categories of Reality

#1 Nina Dravyas – Substance

Nina Dravyas - Substance
Nina Dravyas – Substance

Dravya is a substance in which a quality or action can exist. But the substance itself is different from the quality and action.

Without substance, there can be no quality or action. There are nine kinds of substances including earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, direction, soul, and mind.

#2 Twenty-Four Gunas – Quality

A guna is a quality. It cannot exist by itself. It only exists in a substance. Therefore, it cannot be a constituent or material cause of anything else’s existence.

Gunas may be considered nonmaterial causes of things but only because they determine the nature of things.

There are twenty-four qualities or gunas:

– Rupa (Color)

– Rasa (Taste)

– Gandha (Smell)

– Sparsa (Touch)

– Sabda (Sound)

– Sankhya (Number)

– Parimana (Magnitudes)

– Prthaktva (Distinctness)

– Samyoga (Conjunction or Unions)

– Sukha (Pleasure)

– Dukha (Pain)

– Iccha (Desire)

– Dvesa (Aversion)

– Prayatna (Effort)

– Gurutva (Heaviness)

– Dravatva (Fluidity)

– Sneha (Ciscidity)

– Samskara (Tendency)

– Dharma (Merit or Virtues)

– Adharma (Demerit or Nonvirtue)

#3 Karma – Action

Karma - Action
Karma – Action

Karma is viewed as a physical movement. But it refers to more than just body movements. It is also considered a kind of substance. Just like quality, an action only exists in substance. It cannot exist by itself.

An action or movement is dependent on its substance. It is impossible to find action in intangible substances.

There are five kinds of action including upward, downward, inward, outward, and linear.

#4 Samanya – Generality

Generality refers to abstract characteristics that are singular and eternal. The essence of common characteristics unites different entities. Generality is sometimes translated as universality.

Samanya recognizes three levels of generality. These include highest, lowest, and intermediate. The highest kind is existence itself. The lowest kind is limited referents. Intermediate concepts do not include other categories of reality.

#5 Visesa – Uniqueness

Visesa - Uniqueness
Visesa – Uniqueness

Visesa is a characteristic of a thing that distinguishes it from others. It is abstract and eternal like imperceptible substances. Everything in the world is accompanied by uniqueness. Generality and uniqueness are opposite concepts.

#6 Samavaya – Inherence

There are two kinds of relationships between things: conjunction and inherence.

Conjunction is one of twenty-four qualities. But inherence is one of seven categories of reality. Conjunction is temporary. It is a noneternal relationship between two things. Those things can be separated at any time.

Inherence is a permanent relationship between two entities. One inheres the other and cannot be produced on its own. The whole is always related to its parts.

#7 Abhava – Nonexistence

Abhava - Nonexistence
Abhava – Nonexistence

Nonexistence is the last category of reality. It is negative in contrast to the first six categories.

There are two kinds of nonexistence. Samsargabhava is the absence of something in something else. And Anyonyabhava is mutual nonexistence.

There are three kinds of Samsargabhava:

– Pragbhava (Antecedent Nonexistence)

– Pradhvamsabhava (Nonexistence After Its Destruction)

– Atyantabhava (Absolute Nonexistence)

Mutual nonexistence differentiates one thing from another. When two things are different, they mutually exclude one another.

#3 Sankhya

Sankhya
Sankhya

Sankhya believes in a central idea. A being can be free of ignorance if they understand the twenty-four elements that constitute matter.

Sankhya was systematized by the ancient thinker Kapila. There are various principles within this system. Some of these principles are dualistic.

The Sankhya Theory of Cause and Effect

All Indian philosophies base their explanation of evolution as cause and effect. 

This asserts that an effect already exists in an unmanifested form. In this way, the process of producing an effect from cause brings the effect into view. No one can convert nonexistence into existence. Therefore, nothing that exists can be entirely destroyed.

Prakrti – The Unconscious Principle

Prakrti - The Unconscious Principle
Prakrti – The Unconscious Principle

The Sankhya system also believes that the entire world is dependent upon certain effects. It also believes these effects can limit or produce the world.

The ultimate cause of the world is an uncaused, eternal, all-pervading potential. It is more subtle than the mind and intellect.

This ultimate cause is considered prakrti.

The Gunas

Sankhya philosophy also recognizes sattva, rajas, and tamas. These are underlying qualities through which the universe is perceived. These qualities can be inferred from all features of the material world.

The whole universe is evolved from the gunas. And the natural equilibrium of the gunas is prakrti.

When out of balance, the world is in vikrti. This is known as the heterogeneous state. Sattva is weightlessness or light. Rajas is motion or activity. And tamas is heaviness or concealment.

Purusa – Consciousness

Purusa - Consciousness
Purusa – Consciousness

Sankhya recognizes dualistic philosophy and acknowledges two aspects of reality. These include Prakrti, the unconscious principle, and Purusa, or the Self, consciousness.

Each body contains a self. But the self is different from the body. The self is a conscious spirit. It is both the subject and object of knowledge. It is pure consciousness itself. It is unchanging and all-pervading.

According to Sankhya, there are many selves or consciousness principles. There is one in each living being.

The Process of Evolution of the Universe

According to Sankhya, the entire world evolves from the interaction between Prakrti and Purusa.

Praktri is influenced by the presence of purusa. The process of manifestation begins with the infusion of purusa into prakti. Prakrti is metaphorically described as the mother principle. And purusa is described as the father principle. The father fertilizes the mother. Prakrti is the soil in which consciousness can take root.

Thus, prakrti embodies consciousness and is the material cause of all existence.

#4 Yoga

Yoga
Yoga

“Yuj” is the Sanskrit root of the word “yoga.” It means “to unite.” The yoga system provides methodologies for linking individual consciousness with Supreme consciousness. The Sage Patanjali systemized yoga.

Yoga accepts the mind as the cause of bondage. But the mind is also the cause of salvation. 

Through meditation, one can control the mind and transcend matter.

The Five Stages of Mind

The Five Stages of Mind
The Five Stages of Mind

Below are the five stages of the mind.

– Ksipta (Disturbed)

– Mudha (Stupefied)

– Viksipta (Restless)

– Ekagra (One-Pointed)

– Niruddha (Well-Controlled)

The predominance of rajas and tamas causes the mind to be disturbed and hyperactive. Tamas can make the mind lose its ability to discriminate. In this way, the mind is constantly disturbed by external stimuli.

Mudha is dominated by tamas. The mind becomes sluggish and loses its ability to think properly. It then becomes negative and dull.

The restless stage has a predominance of rajas. The mind runs from one object to another but never stays. This is the advanced stage of a disturbed mind.

The first three stages are negative. But the next two stages are peaceful and calm.

The one-pointed stage is dominated by sattva. The mind is tranquil and near to complete stillness. This is the aim of the yoga system.

In a well-controlled state, the mind is not disturbed. It is the pure manifestation of sattvic energy. Only these two stages are positive and helpful for meditation.

Modifications of the Mind

Modifications of the Mind
Modifications of the Mind

The yoga system categorizes the modifications of the mind into five classes.

– Valid Cognition

– Invalid Cognition

– Verbal Cognition

– Sleep

– Memory

All thoughts, emotions, and mental behaviors fall into these five categories. These five categories are divided into cause and not cause afflictions.

False cognition, verbal cognition, and sleep cause harmful modifications. Valid cognition and memories are not considered harmful to meditation.

Sources of valid cognition include perception, inference, and authoritative testimony. False cognition is ignorance or avidya. Ignorance is mistaking the non-eternal for the eternal. Verbal cognition is an attempt to grasp something that does not exist. It is merely one’s projection.

Overcoming the Modifications

Overcoming the Modifications
Overcoming the Modifications

Modifications of the mind are caused by nine conditions or impediments.

– Sickness

– Incompetence

– Doubt

– Delusion

– Sloth

– Nonabstention

– Confusion

– Nonattainment of Desired State

– Instability in Attained State

Yoga provides methods for overcoming these problems.

Patanjali states that the mind can be controlled through practice and detachment. 

Practice means a particular type of effort in which the mind maintains stillness. Detachment means having no expectations from external objects.

Patanjali also describes kriya-yoga which helps students attain a higher state of consciousness. Kriya-yoga means yoga of purification. It practices austerity, scriptures, and surrenders to God.

The Eightfold Path of Yoga

The Eightfold Path of Yoga
The Eightfold Path of Yoga

Success in yoga requires a one-pointed and well-controlled mind. It must be free from worldly desires. Below are the eight limbs of Patanjali Yoga:

– Yamas (Five Restraints)

– Nonhurting (Ahimsa)

– Nonlying (Satya)

– Nonstealing (Asteya)

– Sensory Control (Brahmacarya)

– Nonpossessiveness (Aparigraha)

– Niyamas (Five Observances)

– Purity (Sauca)

– Contentment (Santosa)

– Austerity (Tapas)

– Study (Svadhyaya)

– Surrender (Isvara Pranidhana)

– Asana (Yoga Postures)

– Pranayama (Control of Vital Force)

– Pratyahara (Withdrawal of the Senses)

– Dharana (Concentration)

– Dhyana (Meditation)

– Samadhi (Spiritual Absorption)

#5 Mimamsa

Mimamsa
Mimamsa

The sage Jaimini created the Mimamsa system of philosophy. The word “Mimamsa” means to analyze and understand thoroughly. This system aims to provide practical methods for using Vedic religion.

This satisfies one’s urges for wealth and sensual pleasure.

Mimamsa provides a materialistic explanation of Vedic rituals. It is meant for persons whose material desires have blinded them. They cannot see spiritual understanding. But Mimamsa aims to situate the selfish and skeptical human in subordination. It places them in duty to Vedic injunctions.

This system prepares humans for further advancement into the Vedanta system. There are various principles in this system which are included below.

The Concept of Duty

The Concept of Duty
The Concept of Duty

Duty is a tradition of responsibility. It is taken on by humans but it is derived from divine origin. The execution of duty is handed down by a higher authority. It is a path of honor.

Alternatively, the path of dishonor is the neglect of duty. Instead, one chooses to satisfy their animal urges.

There is always a hierarchy in one’s duties. Therefore, one must be able to discriminate between appropriate duties at a particular time and place.

Ritual Duty and Philosophy

Ritual Duty and Philosophy
Ritual Duty and Philosophy

Daily duties can lack positive inspiration. But ritualism provides an awareness of the deep significance in small duties of life.

In the Mimamsa concept, rituals are not performed to worship or please a deity. Rituals are performed because Veda commands one to perform them. These rituals are practiced for the sake of duty.

Mastery of ritual is mastery over the powers of the universe. 

By properly executing a ritual, the performer can experience prosperity on earth. Then, they can be promoted to heaven.

Mimamsa Analysis of the Veda

Veda is composed of various types of sentences.

– Vidhi (Imperative)

– Nisedha (Negative)

– Stuti (Devotional Sentences of Praise)

Mimamsa teaches that imperative sentences can be accepted and practiced.

But devotional sentences must be analyzed to determine their core meanings.

Science of Mantra

Science of Mantra
Science of Mantra

Mantra is a generic term for all Vedic verses and sentences. Vedia is the embodiment of knowledge. It is expressed through sound and symbolically represented in script.

Mimamsa accepts sound as eternal. It places greater emphasis on mantras than on gods and goddesses.

Mimamsa states that Vedic rites are grounded in empirical science, not religious faith. It does not view the performance of rituals as imploring favors from deities. Mimamsa studies sound in its origins and vibrational patterns.

It also recognizes the law of communication or vak shakti. This force flows from higher levels of consciousness to articulated levels of speech.

Vak Shakti has four levels listed below:

– Para (Transcendent)

– Pasyanti (Concentrated Thought Pattern)

– Madhyama (Formulated Through Thought Patterns Ready for Expression)

– Vaikhari (Expression with Help of Words)

Mimamsa Concept of Gods and Goddesses

There are certain rules in the Mimamsa system. Mantras convert into deities and deities convert into mantras. Both deities and mantras operate on a similar principle.

They each convert energy into matter and matter into energy.

Deities can present themselves through vibration when rituals are performed properly with mantras. Some Mimamsa philosophers even believe that one can utilize cosmic powers at will.

Mimamsa identifies two purposes of ritual. First, one can attain and expand their inner potential. This unites them with a cosmic force. Second, one can pay respects and show gratitude to cosmic forces. These are the foremost duties of human beings. And they should be an inseparable part of everyone’s lives.

The Physical as Divine

The Physical as Divine
The Physical as Divine

Mimamsa also views physical elements as divine. This perspective keeps the mindset from becoming overwhelmed with negativity. And one can realize that the whole universe is divine.

This is the representation of all Vedic statements.

Sources of Valid Knowledge

Mimamsa places great significance in the study of nature and valid knowledge. There are six different sources of valid knowledge:

– Perception

– Inference

– Comparison

– Testimony

– Postulation

– Non-Perception

These theories of perception and inference are similar to the Nyaya similar. But comparison is different from Nyaya.

Postulation is a necessary supposition of unperceived fact. It helps to explain conflicting phenomena.

It cannot solve contradictions, but it can assume solutions.

Nonperception is the source of one’s immediate cognition of non-existing things. One can know of a thing’s nonexistence by the absence of its cognition. If something is not present in the senses, it cannot be understood by any source of valid knowledge.

Concept of Soul

Concept of Soul
Concept of Soul

Mimamsa emphasizes a practical approach to karma-yoga or yoga of action. Rituals have three components. This includes the performer, the object of the action, and the process of performing it.

In this way, one is the master of their destiny. 

They are free to enjoy karma as either the master or the slave. This also considers the soul to be an eternal, infinite substance. The soul has a capacity for consciousness.

#6 Vedanta

Vedanta
Vedanta

Vedanta means “the supreme end of knowledge.” Vedavyasa, the guru of Jaimini, compiled these writings to create this system.

There are two branches in Vedanta: the personal and the impersonal. 

The personal branch views one’s devotion to a Personal God is a path towards perfection. In the impersonal branch, one realizes that they are an all-pervading, impersonal truth.

All six darshanas confirm that the individual self is non-material and eternal. The goal of existence is liberation. Each Darshana proposes a means by which the soul may be liberated. Vedanta posits two basic explanations of the soul. One is by mayavadis and the other is by four personalist schools.

Mayavadis says that there is only one soul. That one soul is the Supreme Soul or God. The concept of individual souls is an illusion.

But personalists refute this view. They point out that if God was only one soul, then the illusion of plurality is more powerful than God.

Personalists see the same spiritual qualities in God and souls. But there is still a difference between them.

Vedanta is widely accepted as the apex of all six systems. It is the only system that deals exclusively with Absolute Truth. And it is the only school of thought that has maintained relevance through the modern era.

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