Schools of Indian philosophy – Introduction

Schools of Indian philosophy are a part of Hindu philosophy has a long history originating in ancient India with several scholars intrigued by the mysteries of life and death, metaphysics, purpose of existence, belief in God etc. They codified their world views in what is referred to as schools of philosophy with each of them having extensive literature. Almost all Indian schools of thought accepted the theory of karma and rebirth, and the ideal of moksha is conceived as liberation from the cycle of births and deaths. Moksha/liberation is considered as the highest goal of human struggle.


These schools of Indian philosophy can broadly be divided into two categories:

  1. Orthodox(Astik)
  2. Heterodox(Nastik)

Schools of Indian philosophy: Difference between Astik schools and Nastik schools

The difference between these two schools of Indian philosophy is  based on the recognition of Vedas. Orthodox schools recognize the authority of Vedas while heterodox schools don’t believe in the authority of Vedas.

Schools of Indian philosophy: Further subdivision

The orthodox schools can be further subdivided into the following 6 schools

  1. Samkhya
  2. Yoga
  3. Nyaya
  4. Vaisheshika
  5. Purva Mimamsa (or simply Mimamsa)
  6. Vedanta (also called Uttara Mimamsa)

The heterodox schools can be further subdivided into the following 3 schools

  1. Carvaka
  2. Budhhist
  3. Jain

Out of these nine systems, eight are atheistic as there is no place for God in them. Only Uttara Mimansa, which is also called Vedanta, has a place for God in it.

Schools of Indian philosophy: Details

Let us know look at each of these schools in detail

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Samkhya

Samkhya is the oldest school of philosphy. It was put forward by Kapila who wrote Samkhya Sutras. Samkhya or Sankhya literally means count. This school stressed on the acquisition of knowledge and a scientific system of inquiry. It holds that it is the self-knowledge that leads to liberation and not any exterior influence or agent. It also believes in dualism and postulates that everything stems from purusha (self or soul or mind) and prakriti (matter, creative agency, energy). It also forms the philosophical basis for Yoga school.

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Yoga

The Yoga school was expounded by Patanjali in his 2nd Century B.C. Yoga Sutras. It accepts the Samkhya psychology and presents yogic techniques as a method of physical and mental discipline. It presents a path that combines meditation and yoga for the realization of the self whereas the Samkhya school emphasizes the attainment of knowledge of self solely by means of concentration and meditation. The physical postures of Yoga are referred to as asanas and the breathing techniques are known as pranayama

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Nyaya

The Nyaya school founded was founded by Gautam and propounded in Nyaya Sutras. It believes in logical thinking to achieve salvation and that nothing is acceptable unless it is in accordance with reason and experience (scientific approach). Nyaya philosophy relies on several pramanas i.e. means of obtaining true knowledge which are derived from the Samkhya school. They are :

(i)Pratyaksha pramana (Perception obtained through the 5 senses)

(ii) Anumana (Inference, through which we can obtain true knowledge)

(iii)Shabda pramana (Statement of an expert)

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Vaisheshika Philosophy

Vaisheshika school was founded by Kanada and deals with the physicality of the universe. It also propounded the atomic theory stating that all material objects are made up of atoms. They also argue that everything in nature was created by the five main elements i.e. Fire,Air,Water,Earth and Sky. Some of their concepts were closely intertwined with the philosophy of the Nyaya school.

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Purva mimamsa (Mimansa)

The word Mimamsa means to analyze,reason and understand thoroughly.  The main objective of the Purva Mimamsa school is to interpret and establish the authority of the Vedas. It requires unquestionable faith in the Vedas and the regular performance of the Vedic fire-sacrifices to sustain all the activity of the universe. Mimamsa philosophy lays emphasis on the performance of the rituals and yagya as prescribed by the Vedas for attaining salvation. It relies on the Brahmana and Samhita part of the Vedas. Although in general the Mimamsa accept the logical and philosophical teachings of the other schools, they insist that salvation can only be attained by acting in accordance with the prescriptions of the Vedas.

  1. Orthodox Schools of Indian philosophy: Uttara Mimamsa (Vedanda)

Vedanta literally means end of the Vedas. It is inspired by the philosophy propounded in the Upanishads (mystic or spiritual contemplations within the Vedas .Vedanta says that the world is unreal or Maya. It focus on meditation, self-discipline and spiritual connectivity, more than traditional ritualism. The school later separated into six sub-schools, each interpreting the texts in its own way and producing its own series of sub-commentaries: Shankaracharya propounded the theory of Advaita (which holds that the soul and Brahma are one and the same and that the Brahma has no attributes). Ramanuan on the other hand believed that Brahma has certain attributes. This school also gave the concept of Karma and rebirth or Punarjanama.

Heterodox Schools of Indian Philosophy

  1. Heterodox Schools of Indian Philosophy: Carvaka

The term Carvaka was first recorded in the 7th Century by the philosopher Purandara, and in the 8th Century by Kamalasila and Haribhadra. Also known as Lokayata, Carvaka is a materialistic school of thought and is aimed at common people. It is characterised as a materialistic and aesthetic school of thought. It accepted direct perception as the surest method to prove the truth of anything and rejected the theory of Brahmana and God.

  1. Heterodox Schools of Indian Philosophy: Buddhist

It is a system of beliefs based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama. Buddhism is a non-theistic philosophy whose tenets are not especially concerned with the existence or non-existence of God. The question of God is largely irrelevant in Buddhism, and it is mainly founded on the rejection of certain orthodox Hindu philosophical concepts (althought it does share some philosophical views with Hinduism, such as belief in karma).

Four Noble Truths in Buddhism are the following.

  • There is suffering
  • There is a cause of suffering
  • There is a cessation of suffering
  • There is a way to the cessation of suffering

Buddhists philosophy of life to get ‘Nirvana’ from suffering is based on the following eight principles:

  • Right Faith (Samyak Dristi)
  • Right Resolve (Samyak Sankalpa)
  • Right Speech (Samyak Vakya)
  • Right Action (Samyak Karmanta)
  • Right Living ( Samyak Ajiva)
  • Right Thought (Samyak Smriti)
  • Right concentration (Samyak Samadhi)
  • Right Effort (Samyak Vyayama)
  1. Heterodox Schools of Indian Philosophy: Jainism

Already in existence by 6th century B.C, it was revived by Mahavira, the 24th Jain Tirthankara. According to Jainism, Nirvana or liberation is obtained through three jewels: Right Philosophy, Right Knowledge and Right Conduct (Tri-ratna). Right conduct implies 5 absinences: not to lie, not to steal, not to strive for luxury and not to strive for possessions, not to be unchaste and not to injure (Ahimsa). The central tenets of Jain philosophy were established by Mahavira in the 6th Century B.C., although Jainism as a religion is much older. A basic principle is anekantavada, the idea that reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is completely true (similar to the Western philosophical doctrine of Subjectivism). According to Jainism, only Kevalis, those who have infinite knowledge, can know the true answer, and that all others would only know a part of the answer.

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