Hindu Philosophy (one of the main divisions of Indian Philosophy) is traditionally seen through the prism of six different systems that are listed here. The characteristic of this Philosophy is to consider being (consciousness) together with the other issues.
NyayaThe Nyaya school of philosophical speculation is based on a text called the Nyaya Sutra. It was written by Gautama, also known as Akshapada, (not to be confused with Gautama, the founder of Buddhism), 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.
VaisheshikaThe 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.
SamkhyaSamkhya is widely regarded as 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".
YogaThe Yoga system is largely based on the Samkhya Philosophy, and the sage Patanjali is regarded as its most famous systemizer. The most significant difference 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 purusha that has never become entangled with prakrti. The Yoga system lays down elaborate prescriptions for gradually gaining physical and mental control and mastery over the personal self, until one's consciousness has intensified sufficiently to allow awareness of one's real Self (as distinct from one's feelings, thoughts and actions).
Purva MimamsaThe 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).
VedantaThe 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. But there are over a hundred Upanishads and they do not form a unified system. Their systematisation was undertaken by Badarayana, in a work called the Vedanta Sutra.
The cryptic way in which the aphorisms of the Vedanta texts 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 VedantaThis 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.
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.
Qualified Monism: Vishistadvaita VedantaRamanuja (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 independentreality, 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 VedantaLike Ramanuja, Madhva (1199-1278) identified god with Vishnu, but his view of reality was purely dualistic and is therefore called Dvaita (dualistic) Vedanta.
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