Hindu Of Universe

“God’s light is within you, It never leaves you.”

Hindu philosophy is seen through the six streams of :

Samkhya is the oldest and the most orthodox philosophical system of Hinduism and is said to have been propagated by Sage Kapila.

Samkhya states that the Universe consists of two eternal realities:

  • Purusha (souls) are numerous in numbers but devoid of qualities and are the silent spectators of Prakriti.
  • Prakriti (matter or nature) is composed of three gunas (dispositions) – sattvas, rajas, and tamas (steadiness, activity, and dullness).

The relationship between Purusha and Prakriti is intertwined and so when the equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed, the world order needs to evolve.

This is a dualistic philosophy in which the difference is between the self and matter.

Yoga is considered to have arisen from the Samkhya philosophy and is essentially described as a universal method of union with The Supreme. 

The basis of this philosophy are the four primary systems as mentioned in the Bhagvad Gita: Karma-Yoga; Buddhi-Yoga; Dhyana-Yoga; and Bhakti-Yoga.

Sage Patanjali wrote “Yoga Sutra” on Raja Yoga (meditational Yoga).

The difference between Yoga and Samkhya philosophies is that Yoga incorporates the concept of Ishvara who is treated as a personal God and also the ideal for meditation. 

Ishvara is treated as not being entangled with Prakriti (Nature).

Yoga also utilizes the Vedic terminologies and concepts like Brahman. 

Moksha or Nirvana is said to be the realization of the goal of Life in Yoga.

The Nyaya school of philosophy is said to have been propagated by Aksapada Gautama and is based on texts called the Nyaya Sutras.

This philosophy is based on logic.

According to the Nyaya school, there are only four sources of knowledge (pramanas): perception, inference, comparison, and testimony.

Knowledge obtained through each of these can be valid or invalid.

The practitioners of Nyaya philosophy are called Naiyanikas and they have given logical proofs for the existence of God/Ishvara.

The Vaisheshika system of philosophy was founded by the Sage Kanada and it deals witjh atomic pluralism.

According to this school of philosophy, all the objects in the physical universe can be reduced to a certain number of atoms.

God is regarded as the fundamental force who causes consciousness in these atoms.

The Vaishesika system merged with Nyaya due to the closely related metaphysical theories. However, 

Vaishesika differs from Nyaya in one aspect : Nyaya accepts four sources of knowledge whereas Vaisheshika accepts only two – perception and inference.

Purva Mimansa
The main objective of the Purva (“earlier“) Mimansa school was to establish the authority of the Vedas and this school of philosophy was propagated by Sage Jaimini.

This philosophy formulated the rules of Vedic interpretation.

The practitioners of Mimansa are called Mimamsakas and they believe that there should be unquestionable faith in the Vedas, mantras and yajnas that sustain the activity of our Universe.

According to Mimansa, salvation can be attained only by strictly adhering to the Vedic prescriptions.

 Later on, the thoughts of “Mukti“, and doctrines of God were also added to this school.

Uttara Mimansa
Uttar Mimansa is also called Vedanta and it concentrates on the philosophical teachings of Upanishads.

Vedantic thought was based on Vedic cosmology, hymns and philosophy.

This school of philosophy stresses on self discipline, spiritual connectivity and meditation.

This philosophy was propagated by Sage Vyasa.

Uttar Mimansa also says that consciousness of the Self (Jivatma) is continuous and indistinguishable from the consciousness of the Supreme Spirit (BrahmanParamatma).

The Uttar Mimansa school of philosophy gave rise to the three main schools of Vedanta :

  • Advaita Vedanta : Advaita(not two) refers to a monistic (or non-dualistic) system, which emphasises oneness. It was propagated by AdiShankaracharya who based his theories of advaita on the Upanishads and teachings of his own guru : Govinda Bhagavadpada. He exposed the relative nature of the world and established the non-dual reality of Brahman in which Atman (the individual soul) and Brahman (the ultimate reality) are same. Adi Sankara denounced caste and meaningless rituals.
  • Vishistadvaita Vedanta : Ramanujacharya was the propagator of the concept of Sriman Narayana as the supreme Brahman. He taught that ultimate reality had three aspects : Ishvara (Vishnu), Cit (soul) and Acit (matter). Vishnu is the only independent reality, while souls and matter are dependent on God for their existence.
  • Dvaita Vedanta : Madhvacharya identified God with Vishnu. But he said that there was a difference between the individual soul and the Ultimate Soul. Thus his system is called Dvaita.

The concept of Bhakti takes its name from the Hindu term that signifies a blissful, selfless and overwhelming love of God.

Bhakti is seen as a form of Yoga, or union and it seeks to dissolve the ego in God.

It is believed by the folowers of Bhakti school of thought that it is God who brings about all changes, is the source of all works,

and acts through the devotee as love and light. ‘Sins’ and evil-doings of the devotee are said to fall away of their own accord due to the love of God towards his devotees.

The most popular means of expressing love for God in the Hindu tradition is through puja.

The word “Tantra” means treatise and is applied to a variety of mystical, occult, medical and scientific works.

The Tantra Shastra is a development of the Vedic Karmakanda, promulgated to meet the needs of that age.

Tantra has given birth to or influenced ritual, yoga, and sadhana of all kinds.

Hindu philosophies

The most common formulation of Hindu philosophy is the Shaddarshana or ‘six schools’ (or six visions, views or perspectives) which are Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta, considered as ‘orthodox’ (unlike Buddhist or Jain approaches) in that they acknowledge the authority of the Veda.

However, as the indologist Wilhelm Halbfass demonstrates, there were many other schools and this list of six became fixed only comparatively recently.

Notwithstanding the convention of six schools, there were debates and disagreements within them, with the school of Vedanta covering several different philosophies often treated as schools in their own right.

Moreover, only two of the schools (Mimamsa and Vedanta) actually involved the interpretation of Vedic texts.

The schools are often presented in complementary pairs: Nyaya and Vaisheshika, Samkhya and Yoga and Mimamsa and Vedanta.

Nyaya focuses on logic and the valid sources of knowledge, said to be perception, inference, comparison, and testimony.

This complements Vaisheshika’s specialism in metaphysics and ontology which analyses reality into six or seven categories (substance, quality, action, generality, particularity, inherence and sometimes non-being).

Samkhya distinguishes between active unconscious nature (Prakriti) and inactive conscious selves (Purusha), understanding the spiritual goal (Kaivalya or ‘isolation’) to be freeing the self from material nature.

Yoga sets forth an eight-limbed spiritual discipline (Ashtanga Yoga) to achieve such liberation,

encompassing positive and negative moral precepts, physical postures, breathing techniques, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and transcendence.

Mimamsa and Vedanta share a stress on Vedic exegesis according to which Mimamsa is styled Purva Mimamsa, meaning Prior Investigation and referring to the earlier part of the Veda,

the Samhitas and Brahmanas, and Vedanta is styled Uttara Mimamsa, meaning Final Investigation and referring to the later part of the Veda, the Upanishads or Vedanta (Veda + anta or end).

Mimamsa seeks to uphold the performance of ritual and Vedanta to promote insight into truth or ultimate reality (Brahman).

Of all these philosophies, it is Vedanta, or to be more precise Advaita Vedanta in its recent neo-Vedantic form, that is probably most familiar.

Advaita Vedanta, associated with the eighth/ninth-century thinker Shankara, gave a non-dual account of Vedanta,

 identifying the Self (Atman) with ultimate reality (Brahman) at the higher level of truth and relegating the plurality of selves and physical objects to the lower level of truth.

In the modern era,

Advaita Vedanta was reworked by Vivekananda (1863-1902) and popularised by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan (1888-1975), typically,

involving an emphasis upon the empirical reality of the world and an appeal to the oneness of humanity that accorded greater significance to ethical action in the world rather than renunciation, monasticism and spiritual liberation.

Neo-Vedanta promoted a positive image of Hinduism as tolerant and inclusive, defending it against allegations of confusion and incoherence arising out of the variety of its forms.

This was accomplished by appeal to the principle of hierarchy as allowing Hinduism to accommodate a range of different beliefs and practices as a unity in diversity.

For such reasons, Neo-Vedanta has proved hugely influential in modern Hinduism, endorsed by leading nationalists and reformers, and contributing towards the postcolonial project of forging a new Indian identity.

It has also been attractive to Westerners who have been persuaded that Vedanta in this sense is central to Hinduism (if not also India).

However, other Vedanta schools are also very important and reveal major differences between Vedantic thinkers.

Vishishtadvaita (non-dualism with distinctions), of which the twelfth-century thinker Ramanuja is the most famous exponent and Dvaita (dualism), following the teaching of the thirteenth-century Madhva, are theistic in contrast to Advaita’s relegation of a personal deity/deities to the lower level of truth.

Similarly, Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita are realist about the material world in contrast to Advaita’s idealism that regards the world as ultimately illusory.

Vishishtadvaita and Dvaita have been very influential in Hindu devotional traditions that prioritise the relationship of the devotee with a personal God.

It was the need to reconcile Vedanta with Vaishnava bhakti (devotion) to a personal God that inspired Ramanuja to present an alternative to Advaita’s impersonal absolute, by retaining some distinction between God and individual souls, while Madhva taught a dualistic vision in which God and individual souls are separate entities.

His teaching is followed by ISKCON today.

Is philosophy the best label for the Saddarshanas?

Some Western philosophers, drawing upon the distinction made between theology and philosophy in the European Enlightenment, might query whether the Shaddarshana qualify as philosophy,

if philosophy is understood as the independent exercise of reason without deference to external authority such as that represented by religious traditions.

However, the label ‘theology’ can also be queried.

Although Nyaya proposes arguments for the existence of God that invite comparisons with the cosmological and teleological arguments of Christian philosophy of religion,

Samkhya does not need a divine creator to explain the origin of the universe.

Even where a deity or deities are featured, they may not correspond to the theistic idea of a Supreme God.

Perhaps these schools could be seen as ‘psychology’, as the cultivation of mental discipline is central, not only in Yoga but more widely.

Yet this also seems inadequate given the subjects addressed by the schools, some being neither religious nor psychological in scope or purpose,

such as Vaisheshika’s proto-scientific investigations of the physical world.

It is important to note that not all of the Saddarshana were originally primarily concerned with liberation,

and that there is space for atheist and realist thinking within the huge scope of Hindu tradition.

Even Mimamsa, arguably the most orthodox of the Saddarshana in its concern for interpretation of the Vedic texts and correct ritual,

could be described in these terms.

Attempting to understand the Shaddarshana in terms of ‘philosophy’, ‘theology’, or ‘psychology’ illustrates the issues that arise when applying Western academic categories and classificatory systems to non-Western cultures.

It may be worthwhile imagining what would happen if India determined global cultural and cognitive paradigms and these were applied to the Western history of ideas.

Hinduism has six different schools of philosophy

  1. Samkhya
  2. Nyaya
  3. Vaisheshika
  4. Yoga
  5. Purva-mimamsa and
  6. Uttara-mimamsa (also called Vedanta)

Of these schools of philosophy,

the most popular one is Vedanta, within which,

the following sub-groups are predominant:

  1. Advaita (Monism) by Adi Shankara
  2. Vishistadvaita (Qualified monism) by Ramanujacharya
  3. Dvaita (Dualism) by Madhvacharya
  4. Achintya Bhedabheda (Inconceivable oneness and difference) by Krishna Chaitanya


Samkhya is widely regarded to be the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in Hinduism.

Its philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two eternal realities: purusha and prakrti.

The purushas (souls) are many, conscious and devoid of all qualities.

They are the silent spectators of prakrti (matter or nature), which is composed of three gunas (dispositions): satva, rajas and tamas (steadiness, activity and dullness).

When the equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed, the world order evolves.

This disturbance is due to the proximity of Purusha and prakrti.

Liberation (kaivalya), then, consists of the realisation of the difference between the two.

This was a dualistic philosophy.

But there are differences between the Samkhya and Western forms of dualism.

In the West, the fundamental distinction is between mind and body.

In Samkhya, however,

it is between the self (purusha) and matter, and the latter incorporates what Westerners would normally refer to as ‘mind’.


The Nyaya school of philosophical speculation is based on a text called the Nyaya Sutra.

It was written by Gautama (not to be confused with the founder of Buddhism), also known as Akshapada, round about the fourth or fifth century B.C.

The most important contribution made by this school is its methodology.

This is based on a system of logic that has subsequently been adopted by most of the other Indian schools (orthodox or not),

much in the same way that Western science, religion and philosophy can be said to be largely based on Aristotelian logic.

But Nyaya is not merely logic for its own sake.

Its followers believed that obtaining valid knowledge was the only way to obtain release from suffering.

They therefore took great pains to identify valid sources of knowledge and to distinguish these from mere false opinions.

 According to the Nyaya school, there are exactly four sources of knowledge (pramanas): perception, inference, comparison and testimony.

Knowledge obtained through each of these can of course still be either valid or invalid, and the Nyaya scholars again went to great pains to identify, in each case,

what it took to make knowledge valid, in the process coming up with a number of explanatory schemes.

In this sense, Nyaya is probably the closest Indian equivalent to contemporary Western analytical philosophy.

An important later development in Nyaya is the system of Navya Nyaya (New Logic).


The Vaisheshika system, which was founded by the sage Kanada, postulates an atomic pluralism.

In terms of this school of thought, all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a certain number of atoms.

Although the Vaishesika system developed independently from the Nyaya, the two eventually merged because of their closely related metaphysical theories.

In its classical form, however, the Vaishesika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaishesika accepted only perception and inference.


The Yoga system is generally considered to have arisen from the Samkhya philosophy. Its primary text is the Bhagavad Gita,

which explores the four primary systems (see Bhagavad Gita); the sage Patanjali wrote an extremely influential text on Raja Yoga (or meditational) entitled the Yoga Sutra.

The most significant difference from Samkhya is that the Yoga school not only incorporates the concept of Ishvara (a personal God) into its metaphysical worldview, which the Samkhya does not, but also upholds Ishvara as the ideal upon which to meditate.

This is because Ishvara is the only aspect of purusha that has not become entangled with prakrti.

It also utilizes the Brahman/Atman terminology and concepts that are found in depth in the Upanishads, thus breaking from the Samkhya school by adopting Vedantic monist concepts.

The Yoga system lays down elaborate prescriptions for gradually gaining physical and mental control and mastery over the personal, body and mind, self,

until one’s consciousness has intensified sufficiently to allow awareness of one’s real Self (the soul, or Atman) (as distinct from one’s feelings, thoughts and actions).

Realization of the goal of Yoga is known as moksha, nirvana and samadhi.

They all speak to the realization of the Atman as being nothing other than the infinite Brahman.

See Yoga for an in-depth look at its history.

Purva Mimamsa

The main objective of the Purva (“earlier”) Mimamsa school was to establish the authority of the Vedas.

Consequently this school’s most valuable contribution to Hinduism was its formulation of the rules of Vedic interpretation.

Its adherents believed that revelation must be proved by reasoning, that it should not be accepted blindly as dogma.

In keeping with this belief, they laid great emphasis on dharma, which they understood as the performance of Vedic rituals.

The Mimamsa accepted the logical and philosophical teachings of the other schools, but felt that these paid insufficient attention to right action.

They believed that the other schools of thought, which pursued moksha (release) as their ultimate aim, were not completely free from desire and selfishness.

In Hinduism, we are all illuminated under the light of god.

When we have moksha, we believe that we become closer to god.

According to the Mimamsa, the very striving for liberation stemmed from a selfish desire to be free.

Only by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of the Vedas could one attain salvation (rather than liberation).

At a later stage, however, the Mimamsa school changed its views in this regard and began to teach the doctrines of God and mukti (freedom).

Its adherents then advocated the release or escape from the soul from its constraints through what was known as jnana (enlightened activity).

While Mimamsa does not receive much scholarly attention these days, its influence can be felt in the life of the practising Hindu.

All Hindu ritual, ceremony and religious law is influenced by it.

Uttara Mimamsa: The Three Schools of Vedanta

The Uttara (“later”) Mimamsa school, more commonly known as the Vedanta, concentrates on the philosophical teachings of the Upanishads rather than on the ritualistic injunctions of the Brahmanas.

While the traditional Vedic ‘karma kanda’ (ritualistic components of religion) continued to be practiced as meditative and propitiatory rites gearing society (through the Brahmins) to Self-knowledge, more jnaan (knowledge/discrimination) centered understandings began to emerge,

mystical streams of Vedic religion that focused on meditation, self-discipline and spiritual connectivity rather than more practical aspects of religion like rituals and rites.

The more abstruse Vedanta (meaning literally the end of the Vedas) is the essence of the Vedas, encapsulated in the Upanishads which are commentaries on the four original books (Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva).

Vedantic thought drew on Vedic cosmology, hymns and philosophy.

The first Upanishad, the Brihadaranyaka, appeared as far back as 1500 BCE.

While thirteen or so Upanishads are accepted as principal, over one hundred exist.

The most influential Vedantic thought, based on the Upanishads, considers the consciousness of the Self – Jeevatma – to be continuous with and indistinguishable from the consciousness of the Supreme or Brahman – Paramatma .

The Upanishads are acknowledged by scholars and philosophers from both East and West, from Schrödinger, 

Thoreau and Emerson to Rabindranath Tagore, Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo Ghosh, to be superlatively beautiful in poetry and rich in philosophy.

But they do not form one single set of writings.

There are over a hundred Upanishads and they do not form a unified system.

They are traditionally classed into twelve or thirteen primary Upanishads, most notably one of the largest and the first to be written down (approximately 1500 BCE) called the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.

Their systematisation into one coherent treatise was undertaken by Badarayana , in a work called the Vedanta Sutra, also known as Brahma Sutra .

The cryptic way in which the aphorisms of the Vedanta sutras are presented leaves the door wide open for a multitude of interpretations.

This led to a proliferation of Vedanta schools.

Each of these interprets the texts in its own way and has produced its own series of sub-commentaries – all claiming to be faithful to the original.

Monism: Advaita Vedanta

Advaita Vedanta is probably the best known of all Vedanta schools.

Advaita literally means “not two”; thus this is what we refer to as a monistic (or non-dualistic) system, which emphasises oneness.

Its first great consolidator was Shankara (788–820).

Continuing the line of thought of some of the Upanishadic teachers, and also that of his own teacher Gaudapada , Shankara expounded the doctrine of Advaita – a nondualistic reality.

By analysing the three states of experience (waking, dreaming and deep sleep) he exposed the relative nature of the world and established the supreme truth of the Advaita: the non-dual reality of Brahman in which atman (the individual soul) and brahman (the ultimate reality expressed in the trimurti) are identified absolutely.

His theories were controversial from the start and some of his contemporaries accused him of teaching Buddhism while pretending to be a Hindu.

However, many more see Adi Shankara drawing from the monist concepts that were visibly ingrained in formerly existing texts,

those pre-dating Buddha, like the more abstuse sections of the Vedas as well as the older Upanishads,

several of which are conservatively and thus reliably dated as far back as 1000 BCE, if not 1500 BCE.

Subsequent Vedantins debated whether the reality of Brahman was saguna (with attributes) or nirguna (without attributes).

Belief in the concept of Saguna Brahman gave rise to a proliferation of devotional attitudes and more widespread worship of Vishnu and Shiva.

Advaita Vedanta is strictly grounded in a belief that the ultimate truth is nirguna Brahman.

The Vishistadvaita and Dvaita schools believed in an ultimately saguna Brahman.

Qualified Monism: Vishistadvaita Vedanta

Ramanuja (1040 – 1137) was the foremost proponent of the concept of Sriman Narayana as the supreme Brahman.

He taught that Ultimate reality had three aspects: Ishvara (Vishnu), cit (soul) and acit (matter). Vishnu is the only independent reality, while souls and matter are dependent on God for their existence.

Because of this qualification of Ultimate reality, Ramanuja’s system is known as qualified non-dualism.

Dualism: Dvaita Vedanta

Like Ramanuja, Madhva (1199 – 1278) identified god with Vishnu, but his view of reality was purely dualistic and is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta.

Synthesis: Acintya Bheda – Abheda Vedanta

Caitanya (1486–1534), a devotee of Krishna, proposed a synthesis between the monist and dualist philosophies by stating that the soul is equally distinct (bheda) and non-distinct (abheda) from god, and that this,

although unthinkable (acintya), is experiencable in devotion.

Indian Philosophy – Hinduism

‘Hindu’ is the Persian name for India (Persia and India are next door to each other and have traded for thousands of years).  

Our society borrows the term from the British, who get the term from the Persians.  

As we read in the Vedas, Hinduism brought together many traditions from many regions with many gods, but there are three levels that are equally interchangeable and separable.  

First, each can have a particular god that is the emphasis of one’s particular branch of the tradition.  

Second, the many gods are each one aspect of a single god, often the great father and creator, named by most traditions Brahma.  

Third, there is a philosophical monism that goes beyond god or not god, living or dead, conscious or unconscious, that is the One.  

Locals practicing devotional worship often operate on the first level, priests who study the Vedas often operate on the second level,

while philosophers and unorthodox Indian schools that do not accept the authority of the Vedas such as Jains, Buddhists and the materialist Charvakas operate on the third.

As Hinduism was brought together as a tradition that brought together many separate people with separate traditions,

first the Vedas spoke largely though not entirely on the first level, then particular passages of the Vedas and the later Upanishads spoke on the second level,

and then many schools went beyond the Upanishads and understood a simple,

neither theistic nor atheistic One to be the real underlying truth of the first and second levels.  Vedanta, literally “Veda’s End”,

debated back and forth between the second and third levels in the tradition of the Upanishads.

This came together over many periods in the history of Indian thought.  

About 2000 BCE, India was invaded by a fire worshiping people who likely came from modern day Iran. 

While European scholars previously argued that this was the spark of civilization migrating to India,

we know today that the area was already well developed at the time, with great buildings and impressive public baths with plumbing.

Although the area was already developed, the fire worshiping Aryans were a big influence on the Vedas and ancient Indian culture,

but scholars are critical of just how influential as it was said only recently that the Aryans civilized India and brought the Vedas with them. 

While the Vedas may have been strongly influenced by the Aryans, it is debatable how much is composed of earlier native Indian pre-Aryan traditions.  

The Nazis, following earlier German historians, believed that the Aryans were Germanic tribes who civilized not only India but Egypt, Greece, and Persia.  

The swastika, and Indian name for a symbol that can be found in much of the world, including tribal German lands, was thought to be the sun symbol of the Aryans, and so it was used by the Nazis.  

Unfortunately for this Germanic theory of history, we know that the Aryans were indeed from modern day Iran, what became Persia very soon after the Aryan conquests in India.

Next, in the Vedic period, 1500-800 BCE, the four Vedas were composed as oral traditions that eventually were written down in texts, including the foremost Rg Veda of which there are selections in your reader.  

The golden age of Indian thought followed from 800-200 BCE, the time when the Upanishads distilled the Vedic hymns to the gods into inner philosophical and psychological teachings, the six orthodox schools that follow the Vedas (Vedanta, Yoga, Mimamsa, Samkhya, Nyaya and Vaisheshika) as well as the unorthodox schools (Charvaka, Jainism and Buddhism) flourished, and the great Hindu epics (the Mahabharata and Ramayana) were written.  

After this, from 200 BCE – 500 CE is a period when the schools and traditions of the golden age were systematized into sutras or central texts.  

Finally, after 500 CE and up to the present time, is the period of commentaries written on the earlier systems and their sutras.  

This persisted through the period of conquest by Muslims of North India in the 1500s and then by the British in the 1800s.

The Three Paths

There are three paths of worship in Hinduism.

First, there is devotional worship, known as Bhakti yoga (‘yoga’ means ‘discipline’, or practice).  

In Bhakti devotional worship, the devotee prays, sings hymns, lights incense, and performs rituals to gain favor with the gods and heavens.  

It is impossible not to notice that most of what we call ‘religion’ the world over is in fact forms of Bhakti practice, devotion to particular gods and ancestral spirits.  

The two most populous forms of Bhakti Hinduism are Shaivism,

the worship of Shiva (the transformer and destroyer) and his incarnations such as Ganesh (the elephant headed god), and Vaishnavism, the worship of Vishnu (the savior or preserver) and his incarnations such as Krishna.  

Worship is often called ‘darshana’, or seeing/experiencing, and Hindus will say,

I am going to the seeing, meaning I am going to see and be seen by the god.  

Another common form of Bhakti devotion is worship of a particular goddess such as Kali.  

Notice that, like a scientist,

Bhakti practitioners also believe in learning by experience and seeing, but their subject matter is quite different

Raja yoga, the second path, is worship by meditation and asceticism (living in isolation, standing in place for days, fasting chanting the names of gods for hours, sitting on spikes, and other means of hard activity) meant to gain a meditative state of insight. Raja means ‘force’ or ‘effort’, and India is famous for its forest sages practicing these techniques. 

As we will study soon, the Jains and later Buddhists became famous for their practices of discipline, training both the body and the mind. 

Jains would sometimes stand in the jungle for such long periods of time that vines would grow up their bodies, as depicted in some of their venerated images.

Jnana yoga (“zshna-na”), the third path and my personal favorite, is worship by acquiring knowledge, wisdom and understanding the order of things through study and philosophizing.  

This class itself could be seen as a form of Jnana yoga, designed to bring you closer to the core by studying the ways of the world.

All three paths, or any mixture of the three, are understood to work towards the same goal: liberation from the bonds of attachment and desire, rising into enlightenment and release from the constraints of identity to join together with the whole.

There are two ultimate goals to this process.  

First, there is hope for a better next life.  

Many are familiar already with the Hindu idea of reincarnation.  

This is not a form of afterlife particular to India, but in fact there is evidence that many tribal cultures and early Egypt believed that one’s present life will be reincarnated in another life on earth based on one’s actions and intentions.  

This interconnection is called karma, which simply means ‘action’ in Sanskrit.  

Interestingly, physical causation is karma, just as it is also metaphysical causation (next life physics), an understanding of cause and effect applied to a different sphere of existence.  

If you punch someone in the head, it is karma that makes their head reel backward, and karma that also weighs down your chance for a favorable life after death in the Hindu tradition such that if you punch too many people, you get reborn a cockroach.

Second, there is hope for release, for freedom from rounds of rebirth on earth.  

This can be thought of as dwelling in a heaven with one’s personal or family god, but also as a dwelling with the order of things without residing in any particular place.  

Bhakti yoga tends to favor the dwelling with a lord, while raja and jnana tends to favor the dwelling with the universe as a whole,

however it is important to remember that some Hindus believe that both amount to the same exact thing (while others will insist that their school’s truth is ‘more true’, the same variation one finds in any religion and in our own culture).  

This release is also called Moksha and Samadhi, but in America we know this first and foremost by the same name as the famous grunge band, Nirvana.

While moksha is the ultimate goal, via the more immediate goal of positioning oneself favorably for moksha either in this life (dwelling in the forest or a monastery) or in a next life, there are three other goals that Indian philosophy points to as desirable making four in total.  

In addition to moksha/nirvana, there is law or morality, ‘dharma’ (the term Jains and Buddhists use to describe their traditions and rules), pleasure, ‘kama’ (as from the Kama Sutra), and material well-being or comfort, ‘artha’.  

Clearly, the overall idea is that pleasure and comfort (kama and artha) are not in themselves evil, but one should pursue liberation through discipline (moksha through dharma), first and foremost. 

Buddhists symbolize dharma with a wheel, one of the earliest images of Buddhism found. 

Just like early Christians identified with the symbol of the fish before depicting Jesus, Buddhists identified with the wheel before depicting the Buddha.

The Vedas

In sections of the Vedas we can see several that foreshadow the Upanishads and their more monistic understanding of the metaphoric narratives.  

This is also how we can understand the Hindu Epics we will examine this session.  


teachings of the ancient world that are legendary can be understood by the common person as a real and miraculous event of history while the elite and wise could understand the legend as containing a deeper truth that can be transmitted to the common people as a story to be taken as history but which is more properly revealed as a metaphor.

Particularly aided by the plurality of stories and traditions accepted into Indian and Hindu thought, there is much room for skepticism and subjectivism concerning conflicting truths and the shared common meaning having more importance than the conflicts in literal meaning.  

This is reflected in these Vedic passages, which were then extended in the Upanishads and Vedanta.

In a hymn to Indra, the storm father god who was often the chief sky father all god until unseated by Brahman (a more abstract, all-godhead), we find that we should praise Indra, if indeed he does exist.  

It asks, if someone wishes to purchase Indra from me for a modest price, you can return him after he has slain the demons.  

This is surprising humor found in the central Veda, the Rg Veda.

A hymn to Vishvedevas asks,

“Who hath beheld him as he sprang to being, seen how this boneless One supports the bony?  

Where is the blood of earth, the life, the spirit?  

Who may approach the man who knows, to ask it?”.  

The boneless One, a humorous portrayal of the monistic All which has no bones because it is one without any articulation or part, supports all the many things with their many parts.  

Whenever we say, “All” or “reality”, we are summing everything together effortlessly without any divisions and without leaving any particular thing out.

A hymn to frogs tells us that, just as Vedic priests gather together with their rituals, so too do the frogs gather around the pond croaking to celebrate the first rain.  

This is remarkably similar to a passage of Zhuangzi, the Daoist patriarch, who asks if the supreme wisdom of humans is any different from the chirping of baby birds, which we will read later in the course.  

Another hymn asks for blessings for the “liberal worshipers”, who will hopefully turn in faith to the gods rather than doubt their existence with philosophical monism.  

Notice that the hymn refers to these skeptical and philosophical individuals as “worshipers”, not as atheists or heathens.

The Upanishads

It is just these sort of individuals who would go on to write the Upanishads, the Vedanta and both the orthodox and unorthodox schools of Indian thought, including the Jainism and Buddhism we will study in the next few weeks.  

As the Upanishads continued to gain teachers and followers, there was a new flowering of many schools of thought between 700 and 400 BCE that took much from the Vedas and Upanishads but developed the teachings in new directions.  

These new schools often rejected the caste system (still in place today in spite of these ancient rebellions) and thus gained massive followings among all classes and castes of India.  

Jainism was one of the first, but it was quickly developed and transformed itself into a religion that is possibly the most popular system of thought in history, Buddhism.

As the Upanishads continued to gain teachers and followers, there was a new flowering of many schools of thought between 700 and 400 BCE that took much from the Vedas and Upanishads but developed the teachings in new directions.  

These new schools often rejected the caste system (still in place today in spite of these ancient rebellions) and thus gained massive followings among all classes and castes of India.  

Jainism was one of the first, but it was quickly developed and transformed itself into a religion that is possibly the most popular system of thought in history, Buddhism.

The Upanishads (beginning in 800 BCE, most having been written by 600 BCE) were philosophical teachings about the soul/self (atman) and how to release the soul from desire and identity to merge with the great One and All (the goal of moksha or nirvana, discussed last time).  

The Upanishads frequently interpret the stories of the Vedas as metaphoric teachings, instructions for the truly wise on how to develop the mind/soul/self.  

The self (atman) was to be united with the supreme reality, oneness, and spirit of all, Brahman.  

‘Upanishad’ means “sitting down near/beside”, (upa, ‘near’, ni, ‘down’, sad, ‘sit’) as these are the close teachings of the priest, philosopher or master who has taught the Vedas for a long time and knows their secret  and hidden ‘inner’ meaning.  

The students who were talented and advanced would sit down beside the teacher after the normal lecture to get the advanced, inner teaching that the normal students were not ready to hear.  

Unfortunately, there are no authors to which the texts are ascribed, having been lost to history.

Perhaps some of these teachings are as old as the Vedas, and were only written down after 800 BCE.  

here are over 200 Upanishad texts, though there are 10 central Upanishads.

One of the most famous sayings from the Upanishads is Tat Tvam Asi, “That is you”. No matter what “that” you are looking at, it is in fact your own self because all is one and there are no complete or permanent separations between any two things.  

This means there is no complete distinction between any ‘this’ or ‘that’, and thus no complete distinction between atman and Brahman, or between any of the gods and Brahman.  

This is similar to another passage of Zhuangzi the Daoist, one of my favorite skeptical passages of philosophy, which says, “A sage too has a this and a that, but his that has a this, and his this has a that”.  

Notice the monism that unites all connecting not only the various Hindu gods together but all individuals in the singular One of reality.

In Indian artwork, for all schools of Indian thought including both Hinduism and Buddhism, one of the most common hand gestures or ‘mudras’ is the thumb and index finger touching forming a circle with the rest of the fingers extended, much like the ‘OK’ hand sign.  

The thumb and index finger are symbolically pinching the seed, grain or essence of a thing.  

While we may be skeptical of spiritual powers associated with hand gestures, hand and finger positioning has been shown to stimulate the same areas of the brain as counting, numbers and language.  

This is likely because the development of number and language systems went ‘hand in hand’, so to speak, with the earliest gestures for primitive communication.  

We naturally begin and often continue counting on our fingers, and use our fingers to point, intend and indicate.  

The sages instructing students in the Upanishads and the Buddha are often portrayed displaying the essence/grain mudra, as it is associated with not only teaching, and teaching about essences (such as, the self is essentially, at bottom, basically an illusion),

but also on a deeper level the supreme One which is the true undifferentiated reality supporting and consisting of all particular things and all individual selves.

Just like the unorthodox systems of Jainism and Buddhism would do later, the Upanishads point beyond particular duties to ritual, sacrifice, caste or class to the supreme goal of self-liberation.  

This had a great appeal to those who were not Brahmins, the priests who formed the top level of the caste system.  

While the Upanishads did not say to abandon the caste system, the teachings were applicable to all.  

As we will see, Mahavira who founded Jainism and the Buddha both had great appeal as they openly said that one did not need to be reborn as a priest to have a shot at nirvana.  

Rather, one could have it in this very life and not need to reposition oneself for a better life through karma.  

Both Mahavira and Buddha were warrior’s sons and so were second class themselves.  

We can see that, as the Upanishads caught on and became one of if not the most influential source in the further developments of Indian thought,

people increasingly questioned the Vedas and the caste system even as they continued to retain them as many still do today.

In the Isha Upanishad, we find:

Onward, descending, go whoever are slayers of the self.  Unmoving, the One is swifter than the mind…

It moves.  

It moves not.

It is far, and it is near.  

It is within all this, and it is outside of all this….

What delusion, what sorrow is there, of him who perceives the unity!  

The bright, the bodiless, the scathe-less, the sinew-less, the pure…

Appropriately he distributed objects through the eternal years.  

Into blind darkness enter they that worship ignorance.  

Into darkness greater than that they that delight in knowledge.  

Other, indeed, they say, than knowledge!  

Other, they say, than non-knowledge!…

Knowledge and non-knowledge:

He who this pair conjointly knows, with non-knowledge passing over death, with knowledge wins the immortal.  

Into blind darkness enter they who worship non-becoming.

Into darkness greater than that they who delight in becoming.  

Other, they say, than origin!  Other, they say, than non-origin…

Becoming and destruction: He who this pair conjointly knows, with destruction passing over death, with becoming wins the immortal.

Notice this passage suggests that the One moves and does not move, is knowledge and the opposite of knowledge, is the permanent and eternal as well as endless transformation, both evolution and decomposition.  

It warns that you can fall into ignorance by preferring any one of these to its opposite, as you would then be following a part, not the whole.  

Remember that Vishnu is the great savior and preserver god in the Hindu tradition, and Shiva is the great destroyer and transformer god.  

This Upanishad is quite compatible with seeking a union of Vishnu, Shiva and all of their incarnations as not only Brahma, the singular One personified as a god, but Brahman, the One as unpersonified, as beyond personifications and anthropomorphism.

In the Katha Upanishad, a dialog between the sage Naciketas and Yama, god of death, the good is praised above the pleasant.  

As the sourcebook points out, this is very similar to what Socrates argues in dialogues written by Plato.  

The highest mind is to be pursued, rather than the simple passing pleasures.  

Naciketas says to Death, after being taught:

Ephemeral things!  That which is a mortal’s, O End-maker, even the vigor of all the powers, they wear away.  

Even a whole life is slight indeed.  

Yours are the vehicles!  Yours is the dance and the song!”.  

This passage uses ‘vehicles’ as vessels or individual things that convey pleasure or anything else.  

The vehicle is a popular metaphor for teaching or school in Indian thought, and as we will see the various schools of Buddhism are known as vehicles.

Yama replies that those who teach that reality is some part rather than the whole are blind men led by a blind man.  

This is, in fact, the origin of the phrase, “blind leading the blind”.  

Yama says, “Him who is the bodiless among bodies, stable among the unstable, the great, all-pervading self, on recognizing him, the wise man sorrows not”.  

Yama uses a metaphor used by Plato through the mouth of Socrates, the self as charioteer, the body as a chariot, and the senses and passions as the horses.  

Yama tells of a complex stack of higher and truer selves:

Higher than the senses are the objects of sense.  

Higher than the objects of sense is the mind, and higher than the mind is the intellect (buddhi, also ‘consciousness’ or ‘awareness’,

just as the Buddha is the ‘awakened one’).  

Higher than the intellect is the great self.  

Higher than the great is the unmanifest.  

Higher than the unmanifest is the great person.

Higher than the person is nothing at all.  

That is the goal.  That is the highest course.

In the Mundaka Upanishad, we read:

There are two knowledges to be known, as indeed the knowers of Brahman are wont to say: a higher (para) and a lower (apara).  

Of these, the lower is the Rg Veda, the Yajur Veda, the Sama Veda, and the Atharva Veda (the four principle Vedas, the central canonical and dogmatic texts above which there is no other).  

Now, the higher is that whereby that Imperishable is apprehended.  

That which is invisible, ungraspable, without family, without caste, without sight or hearing is It, without hand or foot, eternal, all-pervading, omnipresent, exceedingly subtle, that is the imperishable, which the wise perceive as the source of beings…

He who knows that, set in the secret place of the heart, he here on earth, my friend, rends asunder the knot of ignorance…

What that is, know as being and non-being, as the object of desire, higher than understanding, as what is the best of creatures!…

Taking as a bow the great weapon of the Upanishad, one should put upon it an arrow sharpened by meditation.  

Stretching it with a thought directed to the essence of that, penetrate that imperishable as the mark, my friend…

As the flowing rivers in the ocean disappear, quitting name and form, so the knower, being liberated from name and form, goes unto the heavenly person, higher than the high.  

He who knows that supreme Brahman, becomes very Brahman.

In the Chanddogya Upanishad, we see Jabala leaving to study sacred knowledge and seek a teacher, so he asks his mother what family he comes from.  

This is important, as family is caste and ethnicity according to the tradition and purity laws.  

His mother tells him, and he in turn tells his teacher and sage, that when she was young she was a maid and got pregnant and does not know who his family is.  

His teacher replies that he will accept him as a student, as only a Brahmin, the top priestly caste, could answer that way.  

This is an interesting reversal, considering that the Brahmins are supposed to be pure and preserve their purity, while his mother’s story seems anything but top caste or pure.  

He then begins to be taught:

In the beginning, this world was just being (sat), one only, without a second.  

To be sure, some people say in the beginning this world was just non-being (asat), one only, without a second, from that non-being, being was produced.  

But verily, how could this be?…

It bethought itself, would that I were many.  

Let me procreate myself…

As the bees prepare honey by collecting the essences of different trees and reducing the essence to a unity, as they are not able to discriminate,

‘I am the essence of this tree’ or ‘I am the essence of that tree’, even so, indeed, all creatures here, though they reach being, know not ‘We have reached being’.  

Whatever they are in this world,

whether tiger or lion, or wolf, or boar, or worm, or fly, or gnat, or mosquito, that they become.  

That which is the finest essence, this whole world has that as its self.  

That is reality.  

That is self.  

That art thou.

This is the place where this central thought, ‘Tat tvam asi’, is written. 

The sage asks Jabala to bring him a fig, and then cut it up.  

He asks what is inside, and Jabala says seeds.  

He asks Jabala to cut the seeds, and asks what he sees inside, and Jabala replies, ‘Nothing’.  

The sage responds, “That is the essence that you do not perceive, and it gives rise to the entire fig tree”. 

Then the sage asks Jabala to put salt in water so it dissolves and asks him to sip from several sides, and each time Jabala replies that he tastes salt.  

Like the inside of the fig seed, the sage says that the essence of all is hidden yet perceivable in all things equally.

In a hilarious passage of the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, a student questions that master about how many gods there are repeatedly, and the master keeps changing his answer.  

At first, he says that the Vedic hymn to all the gods says there are 303 and 3003, which would be 3306 all together.  

Then he says there are 33, then 6, then 3 (likely Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma), then 2, then one and a half, and finally one, which is breath and Brahman. 

The sage goes on to teach the student:

There are two conditions: being in this world and being in the other world.  

There is a third condition that is being in sleep.  

By standing in this condition one sees both of the others…

When one goes to sleep, one takes along the material of this all containing world , himself tears it apart, himself builds it up, and dreams by his own brightness, by his own light.  

Then this person becomes self-illuminated.  

There are no chariots there, no spans, no roads, but he projects from himself chariots, spans, roads.  

There are no blisses there, no pleasures, no delights, but he projects from himself blisses, pleasures, and delights.  

There are no tanks there, no lotus pools, no streams, but he projects from himself tanks, lotus pools and streams, for he is a creator.  

While he does not there know, he is truly knowing, though he does not know, for there is no cessation of the knowing of a knower, because of his imperishability…

There is on earth no diversity.  

As a unity only is it to be looked upon, this indemonstrable, enduring being, spotless, beyond space, the unborn self, great enduring.

In the Maitri Upanishad, we read:

In this cycle of existence I am like a frog in a waterless well…

In thinking ‘This is I’, and ‘That is mine’, one binds oneself with oneself, as does a bird with a snare…

Therefore, by knowledge (vidya), by austerity (tapas), and by meditation (cinta), Brahman is apprehended.

For thus has it been said: He who is in the fire, and he who is here in the heart, and he who is yonder in the sun – he is one.

The Ramayana and Mahabharata Epics

As the Upanishads gained prominence and pushed towards philosophical monism, for Brahman beyond even the personification of Brahma,

the Hindu tradition simultaneously gathered theistic traditions together in the great epics.  

These tails tied many gods together along with Hindu traditional law and philosophical teachings of the Upanishads.

This is why these texts have such a key role in Hinduism, providing the teachings and morals in a narrative and memorable form.

The Ramayana is a story of Rama, incarnation of Vishnu, and his quest with Hanuman, the monkey god, to rescue his wife Sita from the demon Ravana. 

In the beginning of the story,

Ravana is a demon but also a sage devoted to Shiva who meditates for an impossibly long time and grows nine other heads that give him all the magical powers in the world.  

Having obtained everything achievable, he decides to end his existence and proceeds to cut off one head at a time and throw them into a fire.  

Just as he is about to cut his original and final throat,

Brahma appears and says that he will grant Ravana whatever he desires, and Ravana asks to never be killed by gods,

spirits or demons.  Brahma grants this, and from this moment on Ravana is the villain of the story.

The first thing Ravana does is go to Shiva, who is portrayed as stoned on bhang (milk steeped in pot), and demand Shiva, the destroyer, submit to him.  

Shiva responds by lifting a finger and imprisoning Ravana in stone for thousands of years.

When Ravana finally breaks free he is quite pissed. 

Vishnu decides to be incarnated as Rama so that Ravana can be killed by a mortal human. 

After Ravana’s sister tries to seduce Rama and Ravana’s brother leads an army of demons against Rama and is slain,

Ravana decides to kidnap Sita, Rama’s wife.

There is an underlying theme of woman as desire and the instigator of conflict. 

Ravana is drawn against Rama by his sister, and Rama is drawn against Ravana by his wife.  Later in the story,

when Rama is following Brahma and his consort goddess Gayatri through the jungle,

and as the goddess sways as she walks Rama (who is, of course, identical with Brahma not only as an individual but an incarnation of a central god himself) catches glimpses of Brahma.  

This is clearly symbolizing desire as in motion (as the hips of a goddess),

and even though it too is one with all you can see glimpses of the All amidst and beyond the motions of desire which get in the way. 

This does, unfortunately, fit with the ancient cosmological view that women are of the earth, and of the body,

emotion and desire, and men are of the sky, on top of woman, and of the mind, reason and putting desire in check. 

This does place men above women, as well as suggest that women are not rational because they are emotional, which is not so egalitarian. 

Philosophers such as Hume and Nietzsche argue that thought is always driven by emotion and desire,

for both men and women, and psychologists tell us that men are just as emotional as women, but women tend to be more expressive of emotion and men tend to conceal emotion, particularly in conflict.

On his way to free Sita, Rama and his brother Lakshmana meet Hanuman, the monkey god. 

Monkeys, like women, are often symbolic of desire and attachment, the lower part of human nature. 

One exception to this are the baboons of Thoth, ancient Egyptian god of knowledge, who symbolize intelligence and inquiry. 

Monkeys, like people, are full of desire and tend to get into everything. 

We will soon cover the Buddhist concept of the monkey mind, leaping from thing to thing searching for satisfaction. 

The idea is not to eliminate desire, but to put it in check by reason, as mentioned, and so Hanuman serves Rama through the course of the story and helps him to rescue Sita after Rama helps Hanuman reconquer his monkey kingdom. 

Note that without Hanuman, without desire, Rama could not put things right again. 

Hanuman sends out search parties as king of the monkeys, and the team he sends to the south discovers that Sita has been taken to Sri Lanka, the large island south of India, where Ravana rules as king. 

After the armies of Rama and Ravana clash, and Ravana is slain, Rama returns home with Sita.

The Mahabharata is incredibly long.

It is almost two million words, ten times the length of the Odyssey and the Iliad, the two Greek Epics of Homer, combined.

The central and most celebrated part of the Mahabharata is the Bhagavadgita, the story of crown prince Arjuna hesitating before fighting a civil war against his family and former friends and teachers,

and then being counseled by Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu that as a warrior it is Arjuna’s duty to fight the just fight even if is against everyone else.  

Along the way,

Krishna explains Hindu doctrines of past lives, karma, liberation, the caste system, and duty.  

In the peak moment of the story,

Krishna reveals his true self to Arjuna, which is so dazzling, complex and monstrous that Arjuna trembles with fright.

Krishna teaches Arjuna that if you do your duty not for yourself but for the cosmos, you are free of doubt and death, and that the cosmos is far beyond human understanding.

Vedanta: The End of the Vedas

Vedanta means ‘end of the Vedas’ and is the further systematizing of the Upanishad wisdom.  

While the Vedic hymns to the gods and rituals were kept,

the Upanishads suggest again and again that self-discipline and philosophical insight are the inner meaning of the outer rituals just as the mind is the inner meaning and essence of the outer body.  

This is the true knowledge (vidya) of the ritual, and it is knowledge rather than ritual that dispels ignorance (avidya).  

Just as ritual was thought to please and nourish the gods, the Vedanta schools taught that knowledge and wisdom are the life’s blood of the cosmos, the nourishing of the cosmos through the nourishing of the self.  

As the self grows in wisdom, the self expands the cosmos and the cosmos expands the self.

This implies that the original position of the self is one of ignorance and darkness that is to be overcome through wisdom and enlightenment.  

Just as the Jains and Buddhists share much of the Upanishads’ outlook, they share the idea that the cosmos and self, as it first appears in a disjointed and articulated state, is maya or illusion.  

Sometimes maya was personified as a benevolent god (Maya, lord of illusion), sometimes as a demon as with some early Indian Buddhist schools.

In some stories, Maya is a playful trickster, while in some accounts of the enlightenment of the Buddha Maya, also called Mara, is king of the demons and sends all he can at the Buddha to prevent him from achieving enlightenment.

There were several Vedanta schools with their own teachers and teachings.  

The two most famous are the monistic school of Shamkara and the theistic school of Ramanuja.  Shamkara pushed beyond the personified gods towards the monism of the One and All,

while Ramanuja criticized Shamkara by name as well as other ‘liberal worshipers’ like those admonished in the Vedic hymn we read, for abandoning the gods and Bhakti devotional worship as inessential to participation in the unity of the cosmos.

For Ramanuja, the gods and darshana are an important and essential part of rising into the unity of All. 

Shamkara, the more progressive, pictured here, like the Buddhists and Jains understanding the Upanishads to be higher than the Vedas and thus beyond them,

while Ramanuja, the more traditional, sees the Upanishads and Vedanta as essentially rooted in the theism of the Vedas and thus requiring them.

The Strivers

As the primary Upanishads were being written down and shared between 1000 and 600 BCE, the golden age of ancient Indian thought dawned as many thinkers founded new schools of thought, including the six orthodox schools of Hinduism.  

There are also many references at the time in texts to “strivers” (shramanas) who were leaving Hinduism and setting off to form new unorthodox (non-Hindu) Indian traditions.  

Today we call this the Shramana Movement, which gave rise to two of the most famous thinkers in human history: Mahavira (599 – 527 BCE) and the Buddha (563 – 483 BCE). These two distinct but similar seekers were dissatisfied by traditional life and beliefs and went off to seek, learn and practice on their own, often in the jungle beyond civilization.  

In the Abrahamic tradition of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, similar sorts of strivers traditionally practice in the desert, symbolic of death.

Both Mahavira and Buddha were of the Kshatriya second caste, beneath the Brahmin first and top caste, warrior’s sons who wanted to be priestly philosophers instead.  

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus, whom some scholars thought wrongly was the Buddha, is also said to be a king who abandoned the throne to become a sage, symbolic of the mind’s superiority to the body, the mental conquering the physical.

Both Mahavira and Buddha supposedly left home at age thirty, with Mahavira obtaining enlightenment in twelve years and the Buddha in six.  

The Buddha and Buddhist tradition follow just after Mahavira and the Jain tradition in years, developing in dialog with each other, so this may possibly be Buddhists claiming the Buddha did what Mahavira did, but in half the time.  

Jainism, founded by Mahavira, is one of the world’s great religions with five million followers today, most living in India but with communities throughout the world.  Buddhism is one of the three largest cultures of human thought in history, along with Christianity and Islam.

6 Important Systems of Hindu Philosophy

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.”

What is Vedanta?

Swami Vivekenanda reinterpreted Hinduism for the modern world

Black and white photo of guru seated in calm meditation

History of Vedanta

Lord Vishnu had numerous avatars including Krishna

Features of Vedanta Philosophy

Vedanta philosophy teaches that the manifestation of one’s divinity is the goal of life. One can achieve the soul’s divine nature through a conscious understanding of the oneness of existence.

Vedantic philosophy affirms that a practitioner of Vedanta, known as a Vedantist, should seek harmony with all religions.

The Rig Veda, an ancient Hindu text written thousands of years ago, states: ”Truth is one, sages call it by various names.”

Though different schools of Vedanta exist, Vedanta teaches several core beliefs that practitioners adhere to.

Significance of Vedanta

Within Hindu philosophy,

Vedanta provides the foundation for spiritual knowledge that can be applied universally.

While Hinduism was born from Indian culture, Vedanta can be applied to all religions and cultures throughout the world.

Among the six different Vedanta schools, there are degrees of separation between classifications of consciousness, the nature of the soul, and the relationship between the supreme God and the individual self, or Brahman and atman.

Influence of Vedanta

Vedanta and Vedic philosophy has had a tremendous influence on Hinduism as well as Western thinkers and philosophers.

It is also believed that the Mesoamerican indigenous civilizations of the Mayan and Aztecs were influenced by Indian maritime traders.

Vedanta traditions have become the most important and prominent Hindu school of thought and are celebrated today.

Lesson Summary

Vedanta is an ancient school of Hindu philosophy that was based on three primary Hindu texts: the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita.

Vedanta teaches the concepts of the soul, known as atman, and its relationship with the Supreme God, known as Brahman.

Vedanta is still studied today, with Advaita Vedanta being the oldest and most influential school of Vedantic philosophy. 

Swami Vivekananda was an influential Hindu spiritual leader who helped modernize Hinduism and Vedanta for the modern era.

Vedanta philosophy teaches that the individual’s goal in life is to manifest their divine destiny.

Practitioners of Vedanta are known as Vedantists.

Vedanta has metaphysical and mystical elements that teach about the nature of existence and illusion.

Many Western artists and philosophers have been influenced by Vedanta including Friedrich Nietzsche, Thomas Edison, Nikola Tesla, Aldous Huxley, Joseph Campbell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau.

What are the beliefs of Vedanta?

Vedanta teaches that the soul or individual self (atman) and the Supreme God (Brahman) are in relationship with one another.

Vedantists believe that the manifestation of one’s divine destiny is the ultimate goal of life, and can be achieved through meditation and devoted study.

What is the concept of Vedanta?

Vedanta is an ancient Hindu philosophical school based on the sacred scriptures of Hinduism.

Vedanta philosophy studies three Hindu texts: the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras, and the Bhagavad Gita.

There are six schools of Vedanta, each defining the relationship between Brahman (Supreme God) and atman (individual self) in subtly different ways.

Advaita Vedanta is the most studied school of Vedanta in the modern era.

The six major systems of Hindu philosophy

Nyaya shastra

Nyaya-Sastra was founded by Gautama Rishi. He wrote 521 Sutras.

These Sutras are divided into 5 parts with 10 chapters and 80 sub-chapters.

Many authors wrote commentaries on his teachings, interperated his ideas and added new ones.

Nyaya literally means Logic.

It is applied as a logical method itself, not only to describe a system structured according to the rules of logic.

The teaching of Nyaya states that the suffering of human existence is caused by the cycle of death and rebirth.

Re-birth occurs as a result of actions or deeds performed in previous lives.

The cause for action lies in having both the desire for pleasant experiences and in the wish to avoid unpleasant ones.

Wishes and aversions originate out of ignorance of the true nature of the human Soul, and its relationship to the body, as well as the other objects of creation.
True knowledge about the existence of the Soul as being non-different from the rest of creation dispels ignorance.

The elimination of ignorance changes desire and aversion into happiness (Ananda) and grants freedom from Karma.

In this way, knowledge leads to the end of rebirth and suffering of human existence.

Knowledge can be acquired through true sources of perception:


Detailed explanation of the rules of inductive and deductive logic follow, along with the cause and results.


  1. The Soul, different from human mind and body and all other created objects.
  2. The intellect or Buddhi, an attribute of the Soul not of the mind.
  3. The five sense organs of perception: seeing, hearing, feeling smelling and tasting.
  4. The five objects of the senses: ether, air, fire, water and earth.
  5. The five skills of contact of each sense organ with objects of the senses:
    1. hearing Ether with the ears
    1. touch of Air on the skin
    1. seeing Fire with the eyes
    1. tasting Water with the tongue
    1. smelling the Earth with the nose
  6. The human body consists of five objects of the senses: Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether.
  7. Karma or deeds.
  8. Positive or negative results of actions.
  9. Wish and rejection (Raga and Dvesa).
  10. Reincarnation
  11. Religion
  12. Realisation

This system of Indian philosophy acknowledges the existance of God as Creator of the Universe.

The Universe must have a creator like any other object.

The principle theme is Realisation of the true nature of the human Soul (Atma).

God or Paramatma is different from the body and other created things and is considered omnipresent and all pervading.

This principle describes a detailed atom theory of Matter.

Vaisheshika shastra

Founded by Kanada Rishi.

He wrote 100 Sutras divided into 10 parts with 20 chapters.

Many comments and interpretations followed. His original ideas were broadened with the addition of more Sutras.

The name Vaisheshika has its origin in the word Visesh = difference.

It means the different parts into which the human Soul and objects can be divided.

The aim of this philosophy is like that of the Nyaya Shastra.

Salvation from suffering comes through Liberation of rebirth, wishes and ignorance.
This school also acknowledges the existence of God or of the supreme Soul, which permeates the whole Universe.

The focus on the teachings of this system is on Realisation of the true nature of the Soul as different from all creation.

Kanada does not deal as much with logical explanations as Gautama, he tries to interpret things more from the scientific point of view.

He says that time, space and Soul are external.

Through concentration of the mind on the Soul, it is possible to attain liberation, all kinds of supernatural powers and knowledge of Reality, as well as knowledge of worldly matters and events.

Sankhya shastra

Its founder is Kapila Acharya, but his original works were lost.

The word “Sankhya” means a number (cipher).

This philosophy treats 25 elements.

According to this system, Knowledge of the 25 elements of the Universe is essential in order to overcome the suffering of our existence and the difference between two these elements: PURUSHA (or Soul), and PRAKRITI (or nature).

The Sankhya way of thought is:

When we are capable of analysing the elements of which the whole Universe consists, we come to the conslusion that our true Self is fundamentally different from the rest of the world, inclusive of body and mind.

When we observe the natural laws of nature in the whole Universe we automatically become indifferent to physical and mental suffering,

which are the cause of problems in human existence.

According to Sankhya there are two external realities:

  1. Soul, or PURUSHA, the conscious external all pervading observer of the Universe,
  2. Nature, or PRAKRITI, the cause of creation.

There are three GUNAS (qualities) existent in the whole of nature:

  1. SATTVA representing purity, nature, harmony, rhythm and all that is good,
  2. RAJAS symbolising wishes, greediness, egoism and egocentrism,
  3. TAMAS meaning ignorance, stupidity, darkness and laziness.

All is attributed to these three forces of nature.

They are in a state of balance prior to creation. First, the five elements, and then all sentient and insentient beings develop from these forces, through the union of PURUSHA (Soul) with three GUNAS (qualities).

PRAKRITI – nature, in its unmanifest state, is in perfect balance with these three Gunas.

Creation means the transformation of nature, PRAKRITI, through the process of evolution from the unmanifest into the manifest state.

Development occurs step by step, from the subtle to the more gross matter.

The dissolution of the Universe occurs in the opposite direction – coarse matter becomes more and more fine.

The first to originate was the most subtle and finest of all matter.

This fact explains the superiority of the SATTVA GUNA.

The first created objects are called MAHAT which is the transition between unmanifest nature and the manifested world.

It is called BUDDHI, or the „reason‟ behind creation. The original reason is not indivdual, rather Universal.

Creation developed from MAHAT – the Universal reason behind AHAMKARA – the ego or divided individual being.

PRAKRITI was transformed into MAHAT and MAHAT into AHAMKARA.

Then came the mind and the five elements.

They manifested according to the sequence of manifestation from the finest element (Ether) to the coarsest, (Earth).

PRAKRITI is non-manifest.

MAHAT is half manifested, the five elements and the creation are manifested.

AHAMKARA, mind and senses, are manifested but not physically material like all the other objects of the Universe.

According to this philosophical system PRAKRITI, nature, is the cause of creation and PURUSHA, the Soul, is only the observer of this process.

Purusha participates in creation only via the connection with nature (PRAKRITI), which contains all living beings and matter.

The twenty-five elements of the SANKHYA philosophy are:

PURUSHA – Soul, all-pervading
MAHAT – Universal intelligence
AHAMKARA – Ego, individual existence, self-consciousness
INDRIYAS – Senses of perception and of action.

The 11 INDRIYAS are:
MANAS – Central sense organ or the Mind.

MANAS directs INDRIYAS – the organs of sense through the sense subconscious.

  • MANAS – Central sense organ or the Mind. 

MANAS directs INDRIYAS – the organs of sense through the sense subconscious.

  • The five senses of perception (Jnana Indriyas):
    1. eyes – Caksu – seeing
    2. ears – Srotra – hearing
    3. skin – Tvak – feeling
    4. nose – Ghrana – smelling

5. tongue – Jihva – tasting

Five senses of action (Karma Indriyas):
1. mouth – Vani – speech
2. hands – Pani – action
3. feet – Pad – locomotion
4. reproductive organs – Upastha – procreation
5. Excretion organs – Guda – elimination

The five MAHA–BHUTAS (perceivable elements) have the quality of Tamas:

  • Akasha – Ether
  • Vaju – Air
  • Tejas – Fire
  • Apas – Water
  • Prithvi – Earth
    The five Bhutas combined with the five Jnana-Indriyas result in 25 apparent forms of distinctly separate forms in the Universe.

The five TANMANTRAS (subtle elements) are the types of perception of objects and matter through the organs of sense.

They have the quality of Sattva:

  • Sabda – Sound of ether through ears
  • Sparsa – Touch of air on the skin
  • Rupa – Sight of fire through the eyes
  • Rasa – Taste of water through the tongue
  • Gandha – Smell of earth through the nose

PURUSHA, PRAKRITI, MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS, 5 BHUTAS and 5 TANMANTRAS form 25 elements of this philosophical system. 

PURUSHA is lively, conscious, eternal, endless, unchangeable, the observer and enjoyer of creation.

Without being its creator PURUSHA stands above the three GUNAS: Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. 

PRAKRITI is eternal and limitless, it contains matter and living entities as well, it creates the Universe via its association with PURUSHA.

The human body consists of 2 sheaths (covers):

  1. The subtle body, consisting of MAHAT, AHAMKARA, 11 INDRIYAS and 5 TANMATRAS.
  2. The gross body, consisting of 5 BHUTAS – earth, water, fire, air and ether.

The subtle body does not die, and like the Soul, it too goes together with the ATMA to another body.

Only the material (gross) body dies, ie. it dissolves again into the 5 elements which were its origin.

A very important aspect in the system of SANKHYA philosophy, are the three GUNAS.

A perfect balance between the GUNAS exists prior to creation in PRAKRITI.

After creation these qualities or forces express themselves in various combinations in man.

Numerous characteristics arise according to the connection of the three qualities.

If SATTVA predominates, we speak about a good character.

If TAMAS predominates, the result is a bad character.

The quality of the consciousness of each individual being depends on how the qualities of the three Gunas has combined.

Yoga shastra of Patanjali

his system was founded by Rishi PATANJALI. He wrote 195 Sutras, divided into 4 parts.

Like the Sankhya school of thought, he wrote about the 25 elements, plus an additional one – God.

PATANJALI recognised the necessity to know these 25 elements, but went even further.

According to his teaching, the detachment of the Soul from nature (which is necessary in order to allow freedom from suffering), is possible.

It is possible to reach this goal through the practise of Yoga techniques such as concentration and meditation, as described in detail in his Sutras.

PATANJALI analyses and explores various states of the mind according to which guna is most predominant: good or SATTVIC, mixed or RAJASIC, bad or TAMASIC.
These three gunas exist in every individual being.

He describes techniques to achieve one pointed concentration and peace of mind.

He speaks about obstructions on the path. He writes about the gradual progress of spiritual development and of his efforts on the path of Self-Realisation.

PATANJALI defines YOGA as a technique to control the activity of the mind.

He teaches that it is impossible to quieten the mind until the mind and its activities are thoroughly brought under control.

This state is necessary for salvation.

To reach this control of mind there are many obstacles like illness, pride, loss of enthusiasm, inability to concentrate, ingnorance, greediness, depression etc.

The followers of his teaching should practise concentration and meditation daily, in divine virtue, to reach the desired aim.

Patanjali names two very effective “weapons” to overcome obstacles on the path: ABHYAS or continual practise of concentration without paying attention to difficulties, and VAIRAGYA,

the unceasing practise of equanimity towards the fruits of actions and unceasing endeavour despite repeated misfortune.

PATANJALI describes and instructs exactly how to reach control of the mind by regulation and final cessation of breath.

He provides rules and regulations on how to live one’s life, guidelines on the correct meditation position, on techniques of breath control, and on various objects of concentration eg.

God, the Anahat Chakra, Ajna Chakra or the Sahasrar Chakra.

He describes the experiences and effects of the concentration and meditation exercises.

PATANJALI speaks about numerous supernatural powers attained through the practise of concentration and meditation, such as the knowledge of the past, present and future, reading of thoughts, control of hunger and thirst, realisation of one’s true Self etc.

Till finally, liberation of the Atma occurs.

PANTANJALI warns of paying too much attention to these supernatural or psychic powers.

Egoistic application of these powers hinders liberation (which is the only aim) of a true BHAKTA (devotee).

Patanjali describes the state of consciosness reached through concentration and meditation as follows:

  • a quiet mind – through concentration on a certain object, or
  • on the highest level, the mind partially stops its activities and is completely under control.

Samo to posljednje stanje uma vodi k stvarnom odvajanju duše od prirode, što i jest ljudski cilj – oslobođenje.

Mimansa shastra

Rishi JAIMINI wrote over 1,000 Sutras divided into 12 chapters.

According to his philosophy, the only possibility to overcome suffering is to correctly practise the ceremonies as described in the VEDAS.

For him the VEDAS represent an unchangeable truth and authority.

The practise of VEDIC ceremonies without desire for result leads to liberation from rebirth.

Therefore this philosophical system interprets the rules of ceremonies and explains their exact practise.

As in the Nyaya Shastra, it explains the sources of true knowledge, ie. observation, hearing from others, conclusion of analogies, and the teachings of Sages.

As in Vaisheshika Shastra, there are texts about the various types and qualities of matter and objects – their functions, similarities and differences.

His work speaks, like previous ones, about body, mind, Soul, elements and the senses.

A special value is attributed to sound.

The unerring reality of sound, represented by the words of the Vedas, is the basis of his philosophical system.

This school acknowledges laws of KARMA and rebirth however, God is not mentioned here like in Sankhya.

Liberation is anticipated as a result of faithful performance of the ceremonies from the VEDAS.

These ceremonies should be performed with perfect awareness of duty and without desire for the fruits of them.

Here Liberation means a perfect, conscious happiness through Realisation of the true Self.

Vedanta shastra

Veda = the Vedas; Anta = end.

Vedanta has two meanings:
Knowledge transcending the Vedas (stretching beyond the Vedas)
The essence of the Vedas.

Vedanta means the end, completion or perfection of knowledge.
The philosophical school was grounded by VED-VYAS. He wrote 555 Sutras diveded into 4 chapters.

There is only one possibility for humans to be liberated from the suffering of existence which, according to his teachings, is true knowledge about God, man, the Universe etc.

as stated in the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.

The VEDANTA school is divided into three parts according to how they regard the relationship between God and the Universe:

1. Absolute Monism or Advaita
2. Relative Monism or Vishista Advaita
3. Dualism or Dvaita


or the absolute monism acknowledges God as the only reality in the cosmos and considers the whole creation (all that is created) as unreal. There exists nothing else but one endless BRAHMAN.

Creation appears to us as real due to our ignorance and this error becomes immediately obvious to us once ignorance is dispelled.

SHANKARACHARYA who lived in the 8th century after Christ, was one of the most significant representatives of this philosophy.

He put down the essence of VEDANTA philosphy in his work the “Viveka Chudamani” – the Jewel of Discrimination.


or relative monism, accepts God as a valid reality but acknowledges two other principles as reality:

mind and nature (although it considers them as two aspects of the one).

RAMANUJA from the 13th century, was the most significant representative of this system.


or dualism, postulates a separation between God and the Universe.

This school teaches that the human Soul, however near it may come to God, can never unite with him.

Mind and nature are two realities separate from God. 

MADHURA-ACHARYA from the 14th century, was a great philosopher of this school.

The Scriptures of ADVAITA are characterised by a brilliant logic and adhering proof.

The relative monism is a kind of compromise between ideal logic and limited human knowledge.

The dualistic school is an expression of devotion to God.

Despite existing differences, all three schools hold to the basic teaching of the VEDAS and UPANISHADS.

The Vedanta philosophy is the last and the most common of the six philosophical systems in India. 

VYAS rejected the teaching of Sankhya that creation happens through PRAKRITI (nature) and its connection with PURUSHA (Soul).

With reference to the VEDAS and UPANISHADS he explains that the Universe was created by God and directly from him with help of His divine MAYA.

Many philosophers wrote commentaries and interpretations on Vedanta.

The most significant is that from SHANKARACHARYA

Shankaracharya adopted the theory of absolute monism – ADVAITA.

For him there is only one reality – God.

The Universe and the whole of creation are unreal. They only appear to be real through the power of divine Maya or Illusion.

The creation of the world by God and from Him, may be compared to that analogy of the spider’s web.

Within its own body the spider produces the substance for the web.

Ignorance causes our error when we think the Universe is real.

It is similar to the situation when somebody looks at a rope on the ground and sees it as a snake, or sees a mirror as water.

Knowledge or the perception of God uniting with creation, can be reached through the following three techniques:

  1. Studying or hearing the Holy Scriptures
  2. Meditation on the truth in these works
  3. Samadhi or Spiritual Union. In this state, the Truth is consciously experienced and realised.

Vedanta gives exact instruction about purification of the mind which makes possible Realisaton of the supreme Truth, God and the Universe. Following these instructions leads to Liberation.