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Hinduism is a philosophy because it has given, through a rational analysis and in a
convincing manner, knowledge about the ultimate truths behind man and the
universe, as also the final goal and the path.
It has given freedom of thinking and expression to all schools and sub-schools of
thought, though they may not agree among themselves. Differences of opinions are
respected whereas the spiritual seekers are given the full liberty to opt any one of
Some Hindu philosophies are given here in brief. The respective books and the links
for further reading are also given wherever possible.
The Hindu philosophy can be Darsanas. However, Darsana is more than mere
intellectual speculation. It is the direct experience of the Hindu sages. They saw the
truth and then wrote about it. Therefore, mere believe in any of the darsanas is
insufficient. A believer must also follow it as a way of life.
The darsanas deal with four main themes:
• The existence of God, His nature and attributes
• Creation or evolution of the universe
• Nature of human beings and other living beings
• The goal of human life and the ways of achieving it
Different views on these four themes have lead to a variety of schools. These
schools are broadly divided into two classes:
The Astika Darsanas – those that accept the authority of the Vedas.
The Nastika Darsanas – those who rejects the authority of the Vedas.
The six darsanas or Saddarsanas under the Astika group are –
Nyaya Darsana of Gautama
Vaisesika Darsana of Kanada
Sankhya Darsana of Kapila
Yoga Darsana of Patanjali
Mimamsa Darsana of Jaimini
Vedanta Darsana of Badarayana
The three Nastika Darsanas are:
Carvaka Darsana - This school denies the existence of Atman and hold that the
body is the only real existence. Therefore, it preached a materialistic way of life
without any thought for the after-life. Though the writings of the Charvakas are
no longer available, its believers are still living all over the world who considers
that bodily enjoyment is the only goal of life.
Jaina Darsana – This is known today as Jainism
Bauddha Darsana – This is known as Buddhism
This system has laid a firm foundation for the science of Indian logic. Hence is has
been called Nyayavidya, Tarkasastra and Anviksaki also. The basix text of this
system is the Nyayasutras of Gautama.
According to Nyaya Darsana, the ultimate aim of a human being is to attain the
state of apavarga or moksha wherein there is total cessation of all suffering. This is
possible only when tattvajnana or right knowledge about apavarga and other
essential is obtained.
This system was founded by the Kanada (also known as Uluka). The basic text is
the Vaisesika Sutras of Kanada. This system accepts the existence of God – called
Isvara or Mahesvara under whose will and guidance this world is created, sustained
and destroyed. Creation is not by chance by executed by God in a planned manner,
as per the karmas of the individual souls, for the proper realization of their
ultimate moral perfection.
This system was founded by the sage Kapila through Sankhyasutras. According to
this system, Jnana or knowledge is the only means of liberation. Sankhyan
metaphysics has reduced all the realities in our experiences to two fundamental and
eternal substances: the prakrti (the insentient nature) and the purusa (the
conscious self or soul). This system does not accept Isvara or God.
This is the work of Patanjali called Yogasutras of Patanjali. This system accepts all
the principles of the Sankhya darsana and in addition, the concept of Isvara or God.
This system primarily deals with Sadhanas or spiritual disciplines. (More on this
If there is any system of Hindu philosophy where the Book becomes more
important than the Maker of the book, it is the Mimamsa. Also called Purva
Mimamsa Darsana, it primarily aims at giving a methodology of interpretation with
the help of which complicated Vedic injunctions regarding rituals may be
understood and given effect to. To justify the supreme authority if the Vedas, the
Mimansa Darsana has developed an elaborate epistemology which has been
accepted by other schools also, especially the Vedanta Darsana.
The Mimamsa Sutras of Jaimini (200 B.C.) is the basic test of this system.
Among the Astika Darsanas, the Vedanta school had gained the most important
place. The basis of this school is the Upanishads, the Brahmasutras (Vedanta
Sutras) and the Bhagavadgita. These three books are called the Prasthanatraya or
the three great paths. The Vedanta darsana had branched out to three well-known
systems :
Advaita of Sri Sankaracharya
Visisthadvaita of Sri Ramanujacharya
Dwaita of Sri Madhvacharya
Sri Sankaracharya summarized the Advaita darsana as ‘Brahma Satyam jagad
mityam’. There is only one reality called Brahman (the Absolute). The world and all
the beings do not have a real existence. The world that we perceive is a wrong
perception caused by ignorance. Brahman or Atman has been described as Nirguna
(without attributes) and Nirakara (Without forms).
Brahman is Sat (Eternal
Reality), Chit (Pure Consciousness) and Ananda (Unalloyed Bliss).
Brahman when associated with Maya becomes Saguna Brahman (Brahman with
attributes) or Isvara (God). It is this aspect of Brahman that creates, preserves and
dissolves the universe.
The practice of Advaita Vedanta requires four preliminary disciplines:
Viveka – discrimination or able to differentiate between the eternal and the
Vairagya – dispassion
Samadisatka – cultivation of the six attributes
Mumuksutva – desire for liberation
For more reading:
What is Advaita?
Advaita Vedanta by Swami Ranganathananda
The Concept of Maya
The Vedanta Philosophy
Vedanta’s Timeless Appeal
The Sankhya and Vedanta
The best exponent of this system was Ramanuja (A.D.1017-1137). However, the
system itself is much older than Ramanuja. The twelve Alvars, Nathamuni
(A.D.824-924) and Yamunacharya (A.D.918-1038) and Ramanuja evolved the
system out of the teachings in the Prasthanatraya and gave it a definite shape.
The Visistadvaita system of philosophy recognizes two kinds of works as equally
authoritative. They are:
Upanishads, Brahmasutras and the Bhagavadgita (in Sanskrit)
Divyaprabandham (in Tamil)
It is not a dry metaphysics, but a philosophy of religion. In it, reason and faith have
been nicely synthesized. It guarantees the vision of God and salvation to all finite
beings – human, subhuman or celestial.
According to Ramanuja, matter, souls and God are inseparable connected. God is
intra-cosmic, the Antaryamin.
This system was propagated by Madhva (A.D.1238-1317). According to this school
of philosophy, the ultimate Reality is not one but many.
Brahman is different from the jivas and the prakriti. The jivas are different from one
another. The various objects evolved out of prakriti also are different from one
God is personal, but has no physical body, no anthropomorphic form. A jiva is in
samsara or bondage due to avidya or ignorance indused in him by God. Hence it is
only by the grace of God that a jiva can get liberation from that bondage.
Bhakti Vedanta
Somehow there is a general feeling that ‘Vedanta’ means the Advaita Vedanta of
Sankara only. This is not correct. Many teachers who came after Sankara had
established their own Vedanta traditions. The most noteworthy among them are
Ramanuja, Madhva and Sri Krishna Caitanya.
According to this Bhakta School, we can attain freedom or Mukti only through
devotion to God and by the grace of God. The devotional cults of Hinduism have
been divided into two main streams:
• The Saiva (that of Siva; this includes the Sakta or the cult of the Divine
• The Vaishnava (that of Vishnu).1
Bhagavatamata is another name by which this system has been known.
Vaishnavism is the philosophy and a religion centred round Vishnu.
A Concise Encyclopaedia of Hinduism
The Narayaniya section of the epic Mahabharata (vide Santiparva, Chapters 334351) seems to be the earliest systematization of Vaishnavism. Other sources are:
Bhagavadgita, Vishnupurana, Bhagavata, Pancaratra, Vaikhanasa Agamas and
Bhaktisutras of Narada and Sandilya.
The basic structure of Vaishnavism as revealed in some of the earliest sources like
the Narayaniya advocated the supremacy of Visnu-Narayana as God and bhakti or
devotion to Him as the chief means of moksa or liberation.
Some of the chief Acharyas of Vaishnavism
Madhvacharya, Nimbarka, Vallabha, Kabirdas,
the Alwars, Ramanuja,
Krishna Caitanya, and
The credit for establishing Vaishnavism on a firm foundation and making it popular
among the masses should go to Madhvacharya.
Spread of Vaisnavism
Vaisnavism is an important aspect of the Bhakti movement which spread from the
13th century up to the 18th. There are two important streams centred on Rama and
The Rama sect which was ushered in by Ramananda and Kabir, was sustained and
developed by Goswami Tulasidas, Samartha Ramadas, Bhadracala Ramadas, and
the great musician-saint Tyagaraja and also their disciples.
The Krishna sect is more popular and wide-spread. The saints of Maharashtra, led
by Jnaneswar and followed by other saintly devotees such as Namdev, Eknath and
Tukaram revolutionized the way of life of the common folk with the PandurangaVitthala cult. Closely akin to it and on almost parallel lines was the Krishna-Bhakti
movement of the Haridasas of Karnataka like Purandaradasa, Kanakadasa and
Vijayadasa. In North India, the Bhakti movement was popularised by Surdas and
the queen-saint Mira.
The Bhakti movement of these musician-saints made religion simple and practical
for the common people. It also successfully reclaimed many of them who had gone
outside the Hindu fold.
Srivaisnavism, the religion, and Visistadvaita Vedanta, its philosophy, are of hoary
antiquity. According to tradition, Srivaisnavism was first thaught by the Lord
Narayana himself to Laksmi, his divine Consort, who communicate the same to
Visvaksena. From him it was handed over to series of teachers headed by
The Alvars are Srivaisnava saints of the Tamil country. The word ‘Alvar’ literally
means one who is immersed in divine love. There are twelve in number: Poygai,
Pudam, Pey, Tirumolisai, Nammalvar, Kulasekhara, Periyalvar, Tondaradippodi,
Tirumangai, Tiruppan, Madurakavi and Andal. Theirs was religion of ecstatic love for
God. Hence, neither caste nor sex was any barrier to their attaining to that state.
The Alvar moment was more emotional in nature than metaphysical.
The Alvars were great devotees of the Lord Visnu. They believe in the
impermanence of worldly enjoyments and in the acquisition of liberation by union
by him. They taught more by example than by precept, though they propagated the
philosophy of Visistadvaita in their songs. Hence it was left to the Acharyas
beginning with Nathamuni, who succeeded the Alvars, to put the system on a firm
footing, basing it both upon the Sanskrit scriptures and the Tamil teachings of the
Alvars. The Acaryas were orthodox Brahmanas, well versed equally in Sanskrit and
Tamil. Apart from expounding the philosophy of Visistadvita, they also laid down
various rules for the proper observance of festivals, fasts, vows and customs.
Visistadvaita is essentially a philosophy of religion. In it, reason and faith combined
to become ‘reasoned faith’. It is often called Ubhaya Vedanta, since it accepts both
the Sanskrit Prasthanatraya and the Tamil Prabandham as equally authoritative.
Pancaratra treatises are also put on a par with the Vedas. Thus Srivaisnavism, with
its philosophy of Visistadvaita Vedanta and the great stress laid on bhakti and
prapatti, has made the path of spiritual evolution a little easier for the ordinary
sadhakas or spiritual aspirants. It also has contributed to social harmony, atleast
among its own ranks.
Bhakti According to Sandilya,%20Ja
Prapatti or Self-Surrender,%20No
Saivisim is the religion and philosophy of those who believe that god Siva is the
Supreme Being. Over the centuries Saivism branched off into several varieties of
sects and cults. Six of these have left their imprint on religious history though two
or three only are surviving and thriving.
Kashmir Saivism or Pratyabhijna Darsana
The basic literature of Kashmir Saivism is some of the agamas like the Svacchanda,
the Netra and Vijnanabhairava. Some later compositions like Sivasutras,
Spandasutra, Spandasutravrtti, Sivadrsti and Isvarapratyabhijna are some of the
principle works of this school.
This system puts forward 36 tattvas or fundamental principles out of which the
whole creation has evolved. They are divided into three main groups:
Suddhatattvas, Suddhasuddhatattva and Asuddhatattva.
The fundamental tattva of this system is Sivatattva, generally described as
Parasamvit or the highest (and pure) consciousness, the same as the Nirguna
Brahman of the Advaita Vedanta. However, as against the two aspects there – the
Saguna and the Nirguna aspects – there are five in this system.
This Parasamvit is the original primeval tattva from which all the other tattvas have
emerged. It is eternal and ineffable.
The significant points to be noted in this system are:
• Srsti or creation is the evolution of the Sakti or power of Siva
• The individual soul in bondage in creation is also Siva Himself
• The total number of fundamental cosmic principles is 36 and not 25 as in the
Sankhya system
The individual soul or Jivatman is called ‘pasu’ (bound soul). By practicing
pratyabhijna (remembrance os his real nature as Siva himself) the jiva can get rid
of all avaranas (coverings) and become one with Siva. This is called mukti or
Mukti can be attained only by service to the guru, listening to the teachings of the
Sastras (holy books), reflection on them and the practice of Yoga. But the final
deliverance can come only by Sivanugraha (grace of Lord Siva).
Ultimately, as per the system of Kashmir Saivism, it is Siva who covers Himself and
becomes the jiva. It is Siva, again, who recognizes His real nature and ‘regains’ it
as it were. Thus self-forgetfulness and self-remembrance are two scenes in the
world-play of Siva!
Pasupata Cult
The Pasupata Cult is based mainly on the Saivagamas, certain Puranas and a few
minor Upanishads of the post-Vedic period. The period of the agamas ranges from
the 1st century to 14th century. They are prevalent mostly in South India, especially
Tamil Nadu.
The five basic subjects dealt with in the Pasupata literature are called Pancarathas –
karana, karya, yoga, viddhi and duhkhanta.
This system is very akin to the Dvaita Vedanta system of Madhvacharya. The only
difference is that Siva has taken the place of Vishnu.
Though the word ‘Saiva-siddhanta’ means the doctrine of Saivism, it has come to
be particularly identified with the brand of Saivism that has been prevalent in Tamil
Nadu over the last 1300 years. It is more a religion of devotional mysticism than a
systematic and speculative philosophy. It is based on the compositions of the sixtythree Nayanmars of Tamil Nadhu and also the Sivasaranas of Karnataka.
The main compositions in Tamil are:
Tevaram – by Tirujnana Sambandhar, Tirunavukkarasar and Sundarar
Tiruvacakam and Tirukkovai – by Manikkavacagar
Tiruvisaippa and Tiruppallandu – by nine different saints
Tirumandiram – Tirumular
Periyapuranam – by Sekkilar
The first attempt at a systematic presentation of Tamil Saivism was by Meykandar
(13th cent. A.D.) in his well-known work Sivajnanabodham. It seems to be a
translation in Tamil, of a Sanskrit original.
Next in importance, considered a classic in Tamil Saivism, is the work Sivajnanasittiyar by Arunandi, a disciple of Meykandar.
The philosophy of Saivasiddhanta is very similar to that of the Pasupata cult, the
only difference being that the former accepts 36 basic principles (like Kashmir
Saivism) whereas the latter only 25.
In Saivasiddhanta, Sadasiva is the Supreme God, but absolutely formless, allpervading, extremely subtle and incomprehensible.
This sect is also known as Lingayata sect as it gives supreme importance, reverence
and worship to the Sivalinga. A follower of this sect, will wear around the neck, a
Sivalinga upon receiving the initiation from a guru.
The chief tenets of this faith are:
• Siva is the Supreme God
• The linga is His chief symbol
• The Pancakshari Mantra, Namassivaya, is the redeeming spiritual formula.
• Pancacaras and astavaranas are the main code of conduct.
• The philophy behind this system is called Sakti Visistadvaita. This is similar to
Visistadvaita of Ramanuja with a slight difference.
Sakti Cult
The two important books of this cult are the Devi Mahatmya and the Devi
Bhagavata. The root of this cult can be traced to the Rgveda itself.
For more reading:
On Hinduism by Swami Dayatmananda