Classical Indian philosophy refers to the philosophical traditions that developed in India from about the 6th century BCE to the 19th century CE. These traditions include Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Advaita Vedanta, each of which has its own unique insights and contributions to the field of philosophy.
In this post, we will explore the key ideas and concepts of each of these philosophical traditions, as well as how they compare and contrast with one another. By the end of this post, you should have a good understanding of the diverse and rich philosophical heritage of classical India.
The Samkhya School
The Samkhya school is one of the oldest and most influential philosophical traditions in India. It was founded by the ancient Indian sage Kapila, and its name comes from the Sanskrit word “samkhya,” which means “to count” or “to enumerate.”
The central idea of Samkhya philosophy is the concept of purusha and prakriti. Purusha is the pure, consciousness aspect of reality, while prakriti is the material aspect of reality. According to Samkhya philosophy, purusha and prakriti are two distinct and eternal principles that coexist and interact with one another, but are never fully merged or absorbed into each other.
One of the key teachings of Samkhya is that suffering and ignorance arise when purusha becomes entangled or identified with prakriti. To achieve liberation, the individual must realize the distinction between purusha and prakriti and the true nature of their own self as pure consciousness.
The Yoga School
The Yoga school is another ancient philosophical tradition in India, which is closely related to the Samkhya school. It was founded by the Indian sage Patanjali, and is known for its emphasis on the practice of yoga as a means of attaining spiritual liberation.
According to the Yoga school, the ultimate goal of human life is to achieve a state of union with the divine, or to realize the ultimate reality of the self. This is achieved through the practice of the eight limbs of yoga, which include yamas (ethical restraints), niyamas (observances), asanas (postures), pranayama (breathing techniques), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption).
The Yoga school teaches that through the practice of these eight limbs, the individual can achieve a state of inner peace and clarity, which allows them to see the ultimate reality of the self.
The Nyaya School
The Nyaya school is a philosophical tradition that emphasizes the use of logical argument and debate as a means of gaining knowledge and understanding. It was founded by the ancient Indian sage Gautama, and its name comes from the Sanskrit word “nyaya,” which means “logic.”
According to the Nyaya school, there are four sources of valid knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and testimony. The Nyaya school also developed a set of logical principles and rules for conducting debates and evaluating arguments, which are known as the “Nyaya Sutras.”
One of the key teachings of the Nyaya school is that knowledge is attained through the process of reasoning and argumentation, rather than through faith or revelation.
The Vaisheshika School
The Vaisheshika school is a philosophical tradition that emphasizes the concept of atomism, or the idea that all physical substances are made up of indivisible units called “atoms.”
The Vaisheshika school was founded by the ancient Indian sage Kanada, and its name comes from the Sanskrit word “vaisheshika,” which means “particular.”
According to the Vaisheshika school, there are nine categories of reality: substance, quality, motion, quantity, time, space, position, separation, and contact. These categories are thought to be the ultimate realities of the universe, and everything else can be explained in terms of them.
The Vaisheshika school also teaches that the universe is eternal and that there is a natural law governing the behavior of atoms. This natural law is thought to be the ultimate cause of all events in the universe.
The Mimamsa School
The Mimamsa school is a philosophical tradition that focuses on the interpretation and application of the Vedas, the ancient sacred texts of Hinduism. It was founded by the ancient Indian sage Jaimini, and its name comes from the Sanskrit word “mimamsa,” which means “reflection” or “inquiry.”
According to the Mimamsa school, the ultimate goal of human life is to fulfill one’s duty and achieve the rewards promised in the Vedas. This is achieved through the performance of Vedic rituals and the observance of moral virtues.
The Mimamsa school also teaches that the Vedas are eternal and uncreated, and that they contain all the necessary knowledge and guidance for human life.
The Advaita Vedanta School
The Advaita Vedanta school is a philosophical tradition that teaches the concept of non-duality, or the idea that ultimate reality is a single, undivided consciousness. It was founded by the ancient Indian sage Shankara, and its name comes from the Sanskrit words “advaita,” which means “non-dual,” and “vedanta,” which means “the end of the Vedas.”
According to the Advaita Vedanta school, the ultimate reality of the self is not the individual ego, but rather the universal consciousness that underlies all things. This universal consciousness is thought to be eternal, unchanging, and all-pervading.
The Advaita Vedanta school teaches that the individual ego and the world of separate objects are illusory and that the ultimate goal of human life is to realize the non-dual nature of the self and merge with the universal consciousness.
In this post, we have explored the major philosophical traditions of classical India, including Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, and Advaita Vedanta. Each of these traditions has its own unique insights and contributions to the field of philosophy, and together they form a rich and diverse philosophical heritage.
Whether through the concept of purusha and prakriti in Samkhya, the practice of yoga in the Yoga school, the use of logical argument and debate in the Nyaya school, the concept of atomism in the Vaisheshika school, the interpretation of the Vedas in the Mimamsa school, or the idea of non-duality in Advaita Vedanta, classical Indian philosophy has had a profound and enduring influence on modern thought and continues to be studied and debated by philosophers around the world.