ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Swami Bhadreshdas is a renowned Sanskrit scholar. He is an ordained sadhu of the Bochasanwasi Akshar-Purushottam Swaminarayan Sanstha (BAPS) and was initiated by Pramukh Swami Maharaj. Upon completing multiple masters on the Vedic Ṣaḍdarśana, he composed in 2007 a five-volume classical Sanskrit commentary on the Prasthanatrayi. Titled the Swaminarayan Bhashyam, this text illuminates the Vedic roots of the Akshar-Purushottama philosophy as it was revealed by Bhagavan Swaminarayan and later by Brahmaswarup Shastriji Maharaj. His notable recognitions include the Darsanakesari, Vedantamartanda and Mahamahopadhyaya awards. Swami was also bestowed a D. Litt. for his outstanding contributions in Sanskrit literature. He is the head of BAPS Swaminarayan Research Institute, Akshardham, Delhi, and travels as an international lecturer on the Swaminarayan Darshana.
Sage Kapila sits on the earth, with water, fire, air and ether on either side. Eighteen rays represent the other tattvas, or entities of prakṛti. He introduced the gunas, the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas, shown here as the yellow, red and blue triangular halos. His right hand is in chin mudra, the insignia of knowledge.
SĀṄKHYA DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE
Sāṅkhya is one of the oldest of the ṣaḍdarśana. Origins of some of its beliefs are often traced to the Vedas. It has also been discussed in philosophical texts such as the Bhagavadgītā and purāṇa texts like the Bhāgavata. Kapilamuni is the founder of this school. His teachings are compiled in an aphoristic text named the Sāṅkhyasūtras, also called the Sāṅkhyapravachanasūtra1, which consists of six chapters2. The Sāṅkhyasūtras are referenced in Vijñānabhikṣu’s 16th century text Sāṅkhyapravachanabhāṣya3. However, instead of Kapila’s Sāṅkhyasūtras, āchāryas have historically preferred to cite the Sāṅkhyakārikā, a 72-verse text written by Īśvarakṛṣṇa.4 It is considered the earliest authoritative text on classical Sāṅkhya.5 Several commentaries have been written on it, including the Mātharavṛtti, Gauḍapāda’s Gauḍavādabhāṣya, and Vāchaspati Miśra’s Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī,6 all suggesting the text’s significance.
A Darśana of Complete Knowledge: The name Sāṅkhya is derived in two ways: By joining sam (सम्), meaning “complete” with khyā (ख्या)meaning “knowledge,” the word Sāṅkhya is formed to mean “complete knowledge.”7 Sāṅkhya views the world as divided into two distinct entities: the sentient (puruṣa) and insentient (prakṛti). For Sāṅkhya, complete knowledge consists of understanding the difference (vivekajñāna) between puruṣa and prakṛti. The title of the darśana originates from this emphasis on attaining this complete knowledge. Alternatively, the Mahābhārata and the Matsyapurāṇa offer that the term Sāṅkhya originates from the word saṅkhyā, meaning “number.”8 Since the Sāṅkhya Darśana presents a precise enumeration of the entities that make up the world,9 it is also identified as the school of enumeration.
Prakṛti, the Material Cause of Creation: Prakṛti means “that which exceedingly does.”10 As such, it is used to refer to the material cause (upādānakāraṇa11) of creation. It is real, insentient, eternal and imperceptible. It is accepted as being constituted of three qualities: sattva, rajas and tamas.12 Satva is light and bright, rajas is exciting and mobile, and tamas is heavy and enveloping.13 They mutually suppress, support, produce and exist, but do not appear alone.14 In Sanskrit, guṇa expresses two meanings: “for others” or “secondary,” and “strands.” Sattva, rajas and tamas are identified as guṇa because they benefit others by their role in producing variety in creation;15 their significance is only secondary to a puruṣa’s; and, like a rope,16 they bind the puruṣa to the circle of birth and death (saṃsāra).
The Separate Puruṣa: Puruṣa is the self (ātman). It is sentient, eternal, immutable and neither a cause or effect of anything. Puruṣa is understood as being without parts and all-pervasive. It does not perform any action. It can be analogized with the Moon, whose reflection in turbulent water makes it seem as if it is moving, when in fact it is not. Sāṅkhya claims that there are many such puruṣas. It reasons that since beings are born and die at different times and locations, engage in different actions throughout their life, and experience pleasure and misery differently, there cannot be just one puruṣa, but must be many.
Creation from the Sentient and Insentient: According to Sāṅkhya, prakṛti is with action but insentient; whereas puruṣa is sentient but without action. As a result, neither can cause creation alone. Sāṅkhya, therefore, explains that the world is created by the union of prakṛti and puruṣa. This mutual dependence is explained using the analogy of a crippled man leading a blind one.17 One needs eyes to see; whereas the other needs legs to move forward.
At the time of dissolution, prakṛti is in a state of equilibrium (sāmyāvasthā), with the three guṇas equally balanced. However, in the presence of puruṣa, this equilibrium becomes disrupted and results in creation.
Satkāryavāda, Pre-existence of Creation: Within its creation narrative, the Sāṅkhya Darśana also accepts the principle of satkāryavāda—the pre-existence of creation. It believes that the created resides in an unmanifest form in its material cause.18 For Sāṅkhya, an effect is merely a manifestation of what already existed in its cause. It believes that no new substance ever comes into existence. Rather, that which already existed becomes manifest. For instance, in the case of a clay pot, it is believed to have existed in an unmanifest form in the clay from which it was made. Creation and dissolution are understood as merely appearance (āvirbhāva) and disappearance (tirobhāva) of that which already existed.
Īśvara: There has been great debate regarding the role of Īśvara in Sāṅkhya. Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṅkhyakārikā remains silent on the matter. Because of this, some believe that Sāṅkhya does not advocate the existence of Īśvara. Others, however, argue that silence does not demonstrate refusal and do not agree with the above inference. Despite this, however, in his Sāṅkhyapravachanabhāṣya, Vijñānabhikṣu, who wrote extensively on the Vedānta, Sāṅkhya and Yoga darśanas, strongly establishes that Sāṅkhya advocates the existence of Īśvara.19 Descriptions of Sāṅkhya as seśvara (“with Īśvara”) from purāṇa texts like the Bhāgavata, historical texts like the Mahābhārata, philosophical texts like the Bhagavadgītā,20 and Bhagavān Svāminārāyaṇa’s description of Sāṅkhya as a means for understanding Paramātman21 also justify the position that the darśana is seśvara.
Epistemology: The study of knowledge can be roughly divided into investigations of the following four elements: the subject of knowledge (prameya), the knower (pramātā), the means of knowledge (pramāṇa) and knowledge itself (pramā). Among these, darśanic epistemology greatly focuses on investigations of pramāṇa.
With regards to pramāṇa, the Sāṅkhya Darśana accepts three means of knowledge: pratyakṣa-pramāṇa, anumāna-pramāṇa and śabda-pramāṇa. Pratyakṣa-pramāṇa utilizes the senses as a means for acquiring knowledge. Anumāna-pramāṇa utilizes logical inference. The final, śabda-pramāṇa, identifies the speech or words of one who is authoritative and truthful (āptavaktā) as a means to knowledge.22
Liberation: Sāṅkhya believes that liberation is the permanent elimination of misery (duḥkha). On this subject, Īśvarakṛṣṇa clearly states that bondage and liberation are not states of the puruṣa; but of prakṛti.23 Despite this, the bondage of prakṛti that is believed as puruṣa’s is caused by a lack of discernment, or vivekajñāna: an understanding of the nature and form of puruṣa and prakṛti as distinct.
When a puruṣa is liberated, Sāṅkhya describes prakṛti as becoming silent. Īśvarakṛṣṇa explains this using an analogy: just as a performer becomes quiet after displaying her form on stage, prakṛti becomes dormant having revealed its true nature to the puruṣa.24
Liberation Before and After Death: The Sāṅkhya Darśana describes two types of liberation: jīvanamukti and videhamukti. In the state of jīvanamukti, one experiences liberation while still being alive. In this state, one is not bound by karma even when performing action. To explain the continued life of the liberated, the analogy of a potter’s wheel that continues to move for some time, despite the absence of the potter’s applied force, is often offered.25 The attainment of everlasting liberation after death is known as videhamukti. Upon attaining liberation, bondage never reoccurs.
We can thus summarize that the Sāṅkhya Darśana is a school of dualism, pluralism and realism.
Banerji, Sures Chandra. A Companion to Sanskrit Literature. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1989. Print.
Bhaṭṭācārya, Śrītārānātha Tarkavācaspti. Vācaspatyam. Vol. 6th. Vāraṇasī: Caukhambā Saṃskṛta Series, 1962. Print. 6 vols.
Brahmadarnadāsa, Sādhu. Bhāratīya Darśana. Vol. 2. BAPS Svāminārāyaṇa Mandira Sāraṅgapura, 1996. Print.
Chatterjee, Satishchandra, and Dheerendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Third. Calcutta: Calcutta University Press, 1948. Print.
Hiriyanna, M. Outlines of Indian Philosophy. First. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 2005. Print.
Ishwarkrishna. Sāṅkhyakārikā. Bombay: Gujarat Printing Press, 1931. Print.
Īśvarakṛṣṇa. Sāṅkhyakārikā. Vārāṇasī: Caukhambā Surabhāratī. Print.
King, Richard. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1999. Print.
Larson, Gerald James. Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning. Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass, 1998. Print.
Miśra, Vācaspati. Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī. Ed. Śrīrāma Śāstrī Bhaṇḍārī. Benares: Caukhambā Surabhāratī, 1921. Print.
Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy. Vol. 2. Holland: George Allen & Unwin, 1948. Print. 2 vols.
Sharma, Har Dutt. Sāṃkhyakārikā. Poona: Oriental Book Agency, 1933. Print.
Svāminārāyaṇa, Bhagavāna. Vachanamrut. Ed. Gopalanand Swami et al. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2009. Print.
Taponiṣṭha, Vedamūrti, ed. Matsyapurāṇa. Saṃskṛta Saṃsthāna. Print.
Vijñānabhikṣu. Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya. Ed. Richard Garbe. Boston: Harvard University, 1895. Print.
Vyāsa, Veda. Śrīmadbhagavadgītā. Gorakhapura: Gītāpress, 2066. Print.
Yogī Patañjali meditates in padmāsana beneath the holy banyan tree (Ficus bengalensis), with its roots woven deeply into the earth. Its eight limbs, representing the eight stages of yoga, reach for the sky. The illustration reminds us that a yogī must be grounded to soar from within. A five-headed serpent, symbolizing the kuṇḍalinī power, surrounds him.
YOGA DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF CONTEMPLATION
Do you ever fear; are you harassed by incessantly changing thoughts? Do you feel like a victim of anger? You cannot concentrate and feel as if you are smoldering with jealousy and strife. Are you tired, disgruntled and stressed? More importantly, do you wish to free yourself from all of this? If so, the Yoga Darśana will provide much to learn from, including the necessary tools to live a peaceful life.
Most readers will know, to some extent, about the Yoga Darśana. Many view yoga as a solution to the modern concern for health and fitness, and a means for overcoming the anxiety of modern-day living. However, the essential philosophy behind yogic practice lies in something beyond.
Yoga has been put into practice ever since Vedic times. It is also mentioned in the Purāṇas, the Bhagavadgītā and the Mahābhārata. Despite its previous historic practice, Patañjali molded yoga into a systematic school of thought by creating the Yogasūtras. Its text consists of 196 aphorisms distributed amongst four chapters (pāda):1
The first chapter, titled Samādhipāda, defines yoga, samādhi and other relevant terms. The second chapter, called Sādhanāpāda, focuses on the practice of yoga. Chapter three, named Vibhūtipāda, narrates the various fruits of yogic endeavor, while the final chapter, Kaivalyapāda, describes liberation and the means for its attainment.
Patañjali’s Yogasūtras were followed by the creation of significant expository texts on the philosophical and theological tenants of the Yoga Darśana. Among them, Veda Vyāsa’s Vyāsabhāṣya, Vāchaspati Miśra’s Tattvavaiśāradī and Vijñānabhikṣu’s Yogavārtika and Yogasārasaṃgraha are well known.
Companionship with Sāṅkhya: The Yoga Darśana is a companion of Sāṅkhya in that it accepts much of the metaphysics, epistemology and soteriology of Sāṅkhya. Despite their similarities, Sāṅkhya places greater emphasis on deliberation, while the Yoga Darśana focuses on spiritual endeavor (sādhanā). As such, it is not incorrect to say that Yoga is a practical application of the tenants of Sāṅkhya. This companionship is clearly substantiated by the Bhagavadgītā, “Children (the unknowledgeable) state that Sāṅkhya and Yoga are distinct, not the wise.” 2
Yoga, Restraining the Mind: Yoga is derived from the Sanskrit verb yuj, meaning “intense absorption” or “contemplation” (samādhi), control (saṃyamana), or “association” (sambandha). Hence, Patañjali defines yoga as the restraint of the function or movement of the chitta (cittavṛttinirodha)3 Here chitta refers to an inner faculty: the faculty by which we think, desire, decide and conduct such cognitive tasks. Physical and mental discomforts, such as stress, anxiety and illness, which we experience in our everyday lives, are the consequences of the chitta’s (mind’s) unsteadiness. Yoga explains that the puruṣa acts, enjoys and suffers through the functions of this chitta. These functions create latent inclinations which, in turn, give rise to others; in this way the cycle of saṃsāra revolves.
The practice of yoga is the act of establishing control over the chitta. The ātman is bound because of the unsteadiness of the chitta, which is often compared to a fluttering flag. Obtaining this control is not easy. The Bhagavadgītā explains that controlling the mind is as difficult as trying to grasp the wind.4 For this reason Patañjali exceedingly focuses his attention on understanding the chitta. He discusses the chitta’s five different transformations (vṛtti) as: correct knowledge (pramāṇa), false knowledge (viparyaya), verbal knowledge about something that is nonexistent (vikalpa), deep sleep (nidrā) and recollection (smṛti).5 Whether it is our flowing thoughts, emotional surges, or any other internal proceedings, they are included in one of these five.
The darśana also describes five hindrances (kleśa): ignorance (avidyā), erroneous identification of the self with the intellect (asmitā), attachment (rāga), aversion (dveṣa) and fear of death (abhiniveśa).6 Yoga provides a means for restraining the mind when it is confronted by these hindrances.
The Three Stages of a Yogin: Yoga presents the following three categories of yogic aspirants: yogarūḍha, yuñjāna and ārurukṣu. The highest category is that of the yogarūḍha. Through great yogic endeavor (sādhanā) in their past lives, the yogarūḍha have attained great heights of yoga. Those who have progressed significantly toward the yogic aim, but are still attaining the heights of yoga are called yuñjāna. The lowest category of yogic endeavor is that of the ārurukṣu. These aspirants are beginning on the path of yoga and have yet to engage in yogic endeavor.
The Eight Parts of Yoga: Patañjali advocates eight steps of yoga known as aṣṭāṅgayoga. It consists of the following:
1) Yama, moral imperatives, is the introductory step. It involves the practice of nonviolence (ahiṃsā), truthfulness (satya), avoiding theft (asteya), abstinence (brahmacharya) and avoiding avarice (aparigraha).7
2) Niyama, moral conduct, consists of attaining purity of the mind, body and speech (śaucha), contentment (santoṣa), austerity (tapas), study of sacred texts (svādhyāya) and an engrossed contemplation of Paramātman (Īśvarapraṇidhāna).8
3) Āsana, position, involves assuming a steady, comfortable posture.9
4) Prāṇāyāma, control of breath, is to restrain inhaling and exhaling.10 Patañjali does not describe in detail the various types of āsana and prāṇāyāma in his Yogasūtras, but instead places greater emphasis on other yogic endeavors.
5) Pratyahāra is the withdrawal of the senses from the outer world.11
6) Dhāraṇā, concentration, consists of binding the chitta to a particular location or subject.12
7) Dhyāna, meditation, is the uninterrupted stream of concentration on the object of dhāraṇā.13
8) Samādhi, perfect concentration, or contemplation, is the final stage of aṣṭāṅgayoga. It is a state of perfect focus in which only the object of concentration shines forth, while the self is understood as absent.14
Having described the eight parts of yoga in this way, Maharṣi Patañjali placed greater emphasis on the last three parts of yoga, dhāraṇā, dhyāna and samādhi, which mark the various stages of concentration. Within aṣṭāṅgayoga, these three are understood as more internal15 than the first five parts. By dhāraṇā, the roving mind is tied first to an object in order that it may become steady. In dhyāna, concentration of the object performed in dhāraṇā is continued, and in samādhi concentration becomes extremely intense, causing one to become submerged in absolute peace.
Abhyāsa and Vairāgya: Two universal problems hinder success: the lack of practice and attachment to things that deviate from the goal. To all of us, the Yoga Darśana presents two unique teachings that are beneficial for success in all fields of life: practice (abhyāsa) and detachment (vairāgya). Abhyāsa is continuous practice over an extended period of time, carried out in a respectful and thoughtful manner,16 and vairāgya is the act of subjugating the desire for objects that obstruct the goal. Through abhyāsa and vairāgya, a practitioner attains yoga.
The Fruit, Complete Liberation: The primary objective of yoga is to attain complete liberation. Through the practice of yoga, impurity is overcome and discriminative knowledge (vivekajñāna) is obtained. By this, ignorance is destroyed and misery comes to an end.
Īśvara in Yoga: Unlike the Sāṅkhya Darśana, Patañjali clearly discusses Īśvara in the Yogasūtras. He identifies Īśvara as a particular puruṣa who is unaffected by afflictions, karma, the fruits of karma and the resulting latent impressions.17 He also acknowledges Īśvara as the subject of profound meditation.18 Despite this, because of the sūtras’ conceptualization of Īśvara as a puruṣa and its mention of Īśvara as an alternative subject of profound meditation, many have found scope for debating Īśvara's existence and significance in yoga.
However, from the theistic descriptions of the darśana found in the Mahābhārata, Bhagavadgītā and the Bhāgavata, it seems only appropriate to say that not only is Yoga seśvara, but also that its ultimate goal is not just to concentrate on the self, but to attain samādhi in Paramātman. Bhagavān Svāminārāyaṇa also advocates the same while explaining the Yoga Darśana. He states, “The principle of the Yoga scriptures is as follows: ‘The functioning (vṛtti) of the mind should be first stabilized through practice (abhyāsa), and then it should be attached to Paramātman.’”19
In this way, the Yoga Darśana offers a comprehensive philosophical understanding along with a detailed description of the means for its realization. This is why Yoga continues, even today, to leave a lasting impression on our hearts.
Patañjali. Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Ed. Kāśīnātha Śāstrī. Pune: Ānandāśramamudraṇālaya, 1904. Print.
— The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Trans. James Haughton Woods. New York: Dover Publications, 2003. Print.
Svāminārāyaṇa, Bhagavāna. Vachanamrut. Ed. Gopalanand Swami et al. Amdavad: Swaminarayan Aksharpith, 2009. Print.
Vyāsa, Veda. Śrīmadbhagavadgītā. Gorakhapura: Gītāpress, 2066. Print.
Maharṣi Gautama sits under the sacred Ashoka tree (Saraca indica) with disciples in front of his thatched forest kutir. He is debating deep philosophical topics with an opponent and has his followers listening and learning. In the sky shines a symbolic sun, whose rays represent the 16 categories to be known for attaining liberation.
NYĀYA DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF LOGIC
If you like reasoning, you will enjoy reading the Nyāyaśāstra. The Nyāya Darśana is known for its precise descriptions, meticulous definitions and systematization of reasoned thought. Rishi Gautama’s creation of the Nyāyasūtras,1 an aphoristic text spanning five chapters, resulted in the systematic representation of the principles of the Nyāya Darśana.
Rishi Gautama is also known as Akṣapāda, hence the Nyaya Darśana is alternatively called Akṣapāda Darśana. The darśana’s analysis of the nature and source of knowledge and its validity identifies it as also ānvīkṣikī-vidyā, meaning “the study of investigation.” The school’s followers are aptly identified as tārkikas or naiyāyikas because of the darśana’s great emphasis on logic and reasoning (tarka).
After Gautama, these followers of the Nyāya tradition gave extensive elaborations on many of his metaphysical and epistemological principles. Among these commentaries and expositions, Vātsyāyana’s extensive commentary on the Nyāyasūtras, Udyotakara’s creation of the Nyāyavārtika, Jayanta Bhaṭṭa’s Nyāyamañjarī and Vāchaspatimiśra’s Nyāyavārtikatātparyaṭīkā are distinguished.
Sixteen Categories to be Known: Gautama, in his Nyāyasūtras, enumerates sixteen categories whose knowledge is emphasized for understanding the world and attaining liberation. He lists them as: 1) valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa), 2) objects of knowledge (prameya), 3) doubt (śaṃśaya), 4) purpose (prayojana), 5) example (dṛṣṭānta), 6) conclusion (siddhānta), 7) parts of an argument (avayava), 8) hypothetical reasoning (tarka), 9) doubtless settlement (nirṇaya), 10) constructive discussion (vāda), 11) wrangling (jalpa), 12) caviling (vitanḍā), 13) fallacious reason (hetvābhāsa), 14) the use of equivocation (chala), 15) objection by the use of similarity and distinction (jāti) and 16) inadequacies of argument (nigrahasthāna).2
From this categorization, it becomes clear that Nyāya, in addition to emphasizing a contemplation of entities, also places great significance on the nature and methods of reasoning and dialogue. This emphasis becomes even more evident in its extensive expositions on conducting formal debates. The darśana’s elaborations on knowledge, the process of argumentation, the fallacy of arguments and the characteristics of sound arguments provide the necessary tools for understanding, explicating and even evaluating the darśanic dialogue.
The Existence of Non-Existence: Can non-existence exist? Nyāya’s and also Vaiśeṣika’s acceptance of non-existence (abhāva) as an independent object is particularly interesting. Both darśanas categorize non-existence as four types: prior non-existence (prāgabhāva), posterior non-existence (pradvaṃsābhāva), absolute non-existence (atyantābhāva) and mutual non-existence (anyonyābhāva).3 In terms of, for example, a pot, prior non-existence is the non-existence of the pot before it was created. Posterior non-existence is its non-existence after it is destroyed. Absolute non-existence is its non-existence in all times and at all places; and mutual non-existence is the rejection of the identity between two things, such as the pot and, for instance, a piece of cloth.4 Although some have followed by accepting non-existence as an independent object, others have rejected it and offered substantial arguments against it.
Epistemology: The Nyāya Darśana accepts four means for acquiring knowledge: perception (pratyakṣa-pramāṇa), inference (anumāna-pramāṇa), verbal testimony (śabda-pramāṇa) and comparison (upamāna-pramāṇa).5 Of these, the darśana’s introduction of comparison is noteworthy. Upamāna-pramāṇa is the ability to obtain knowledge about something by its similarity to something else.6 It is described by the following example. Suppose a man who has never seen a gavaya (Bos frontalis früher),7 upon entering a forest, is informed by a forester that a gavaya is similar to a cow. When he encounters a creature that looks like a cow but is not, he recalls the statement of the forester and comes to know that it is a gavaya. The means by which the knowledge of a gavaya is obtained in this case is called upamāna-pramāṇa.
Although many other darśanas have criticized upamāna as a distinct means of knowledge, some Mīmāṃsakas and Vedāntins later accepted it as such.
From Smoke to Fire: Of the four means of knowledge, the amount of contemplation Nyāya performed in inference is rarely seen in any of the other darśana. Gautama defines inference (anumāna) as “knowledge which is preceded by perception.” Inference is the act of establishing through reason. For instance, in the inference: “There is fire on that mountain, since there is smoke on it, like in a kitchen,” the knowledge of fire that exists on the mountain is established indirectly through seeing smoke. The following major components make up this inference:
- what is to be established (sādhya): i.e., fire
- where it is to be established (pakṣa): i.e., on the mountain
- by which it is to be established (hetu): i.e., smoke
- an example used in inference (udāharaṇa): i.e., a kitchen
The Nyāya Darśana uses inference in this way to acquire knowledge.
Five Steps of Establishment: Nyāya distinguishes two types of inferences: those that are for oneself (svārtha) and those that are for others (parārtha). When inference is intentioned for convincing others, Nyāya emphasizes a particular system by which arguments are to be presented. This system helps to effortlessly direct the mind of the listener to think reasonably. The presented argument takes the form of the following five specific types of propositions set forth in the proceeding order:
- thesis (pratijñā): the statement that is to be examined
- reason (hetu): the reason by which the statement is established
- illustration (udāharaṇa): an example applicable to the statement and reason
- comparison (upanayana): application of the first three elements
- conclusion (nigamana): confirmation of the examined statement
The inference given above can be expressed in this sequence as follows: “That mountain is on fire” is the thesis; “Because there is smoke” is the reason; “Like in a kitchen” is the illustration; the application of the above three to establish the conclusion is the comparison; and the confirmation that “The mountain is on fire” is the conclusion.
Because of such particular analysis and its universal application, Nyāya Darśana’s exposition on inference, its commentaries and independent texts on each of the aspects of inference are not only well studied, but also explicated in texts produced by scholars even today.
Īśvara: Nyāya is a rational defender of theism. Within Gautama’s Nyāyasūtras, we find clear references to the existence of Īśvara. He accepts Īśvara as omniscient, flawless and the cause of the world. He argues that in order to understand the relationship between karma and its fruits, it is necessary to accept the existence of an omniscient Īśvara. To establish the existence of Īśvara, the Nyāya Darśana presents a great number of different arguments. For instance, Udayanāchārya, a prominent tenth-century scholar of Nyāya, discusses principle arguments against the existence of Īśvara, refutes them and, in return, presents several justifications for the existence of Īśvara in his Nyāyakusumāñjali. In this way, Naiyāyikas (followers of Nyāya) are an example of a synthesis of faith in Vedic principles with an adeptness in strong reasoning.
The Permanent Cessation of Misery: In the Nyāya Darśana, liberation is the permanent cessation of all types of misery.8 Gautama presents a sequence by which liberation is attained. He explains that first ignorance (ajñāna) is destroyed. Thereafter, faults (doṣa) are eliminated, followed by the end of activity (pravṛtti). Because of this, rebirth (janma) never occurs; leading finally, to everlasting freedom from misery (duḥkha).9 Here, liberation is not about achieving, but rather releasing.
Birth of Neo-Nyāya: The early scholars of Nyāya emphasized the expositions of the darśana’s philosophical principles. However, as time passed and debates arose with other darśanas, each became skilled at presenting and defending their own principles. This eventually resulted in the development of a robust methodology for not only constructing rational formulations, but also conducting and evaluating dialogues. As a consequence, Neo-Nyāya took birth. It was a new form of the Nyāya Darśana that focused its investigations predominantly on the nature of knowledge, its analysis and means of acquisition and systematization of the inter-darśanic dialogue.
Among the scholars of Neo-Nyāya, Gaṅgeśa Upādhyāya, the author of the famous Tattvachintāmani, was a prominent founder of the tradition. Well-known commentaries on his work include Raghunātha Śiromaṇi’s Dīdhiti and Mathurānātha’s Māthurī.
By utilizing reasoning for the right purposes, providing precise methods of characterization, and structuralizing and fostering both inter-darśanic and intra-darśanic dialogue, without tainting the freedom of expression, the Nyāya Darśana gifted the world with many intellectual achievements.
Basu, B. D., and Gautama, eds. The Nyāya Sūtras of Gotama. Trans. Satiśa Candra Vidyābhuṣaṇa. Allahabad: Bhūvaneśvara Āśrama, 1913. Print.
Bhaṭṭa, Annam. Tarkasaṃgraha. Varanasi: Chowkhambha, 2009. Print.
Fowler, Jeaneane. Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press, 2002. Print.
Sage Kaṇāda sits beneath the sacred Parijata (Nyctanthes arbortritis) tree, with his texts on naturalism and atomism. His school postulates nine realities, symbolized by the nine particles swirling around him. His stress on understanding nature is indicated by the wide ocean behind and cosmic bodies in the sky above. Mahākāla, great time, reigns just above him.
VAIŚEṢIKA DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF PARTICULARITY
The darśanas of India are seen to concentrate their attention from the astronomical to the subatomic and at other times from the subtle to the cosmological. They have touched on both spectrums: investigating the most extensive and also exploring the most elemental of substances. As a result, it is not an oversight to state that thoughts on the subatomic are not exclusive to modern science. Ever since antiquity the Indian mind has ventured into the realm of atoms. The Vaiśeṣika Darśana stands as a testament of this journey. Sages trod a path from the atom to its subatomic parts. They described creation as the consequence of particles coming together and defined destruction as the result of their separation. In this light, the Vaiśeṣika Darśana anticipated the modern world’s understanding of reality.
The Vaiśeṣika Darśana’s name originates from its notion of particularity (viśeṣa). Udayanāchārya presents an etymology in his Kiraṇāvalī. He explains that the school is recognized as Vaiśeṣika because it offers a narration of viśeṣa or distinct entities.
Although this darśana’s principles can be traced back to antiquity, Rishi Kaṇāda presented their systematic formulation in the Vaiśeṣikasūtras, a text containing 370 aphorisms spread over ten chapters. The creation of this text eventually resulted in the Vaiśeṣika principles taking on the form of a darśana.
This form was later molded by many who followed. Among them, Praśastapāda is noteworthy for his creation of the Padārthadharmasaṅgraha, an expository text that later inspired the creation of many extensive commentaries. Other works including, Śrīdhara’s Nyāyakandalī, Udayanāchārya’s Kiraṇāvalī, Śrīvatsa’s (also known as Vallabhāchārya) Nyāyalīlāvatī and Vyomaśivāchārya’s Vyomavatīṭīkā are also well known in the darśana. Although these texts were predominantly dedicated to explicating and establishing Vaiśeṣika’s principles, much later attempts were also made by many, including Viśvanātha Pañchānana, the author of Nyāyasiddhāntamuktāvalī, and Annaṃ Bhaṭṭa, the creator of Tarkasaṃgraha, to consolidate both Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika into one comprehensive darśana.
Darśanic Definition of Vedic Dharma: Kaṇāda makes it very clear from the beginning of his Vaiśeṣikasūtras that the purpose of Vaiśeṣika is to investigate dharma.1 The aphorisms then continue by defining dharma as not any particular faith system, but rather the means to prosperity and liberation.2 How is dharma to be attained? The darśana answers that one must seek guidance of the Vedas in order to realize dharma.3 The aphorisms suggest that since the Vedas explain the nature of the entities of the world, an investigation of dharma is nothing other than to comprehend the nature of these entities. It is in this sense that, to the Vaiśeṣika, the dhārmika are understood to be “the learned.”
The World of Six: Kaṇāda commenced an investigation of dharma by partitioning the world into six different entities (padārthas):4 substance (dravya), quality (guṇa), action (karma), generality (sāmānya), particularity (viśeṣa) and inherence (samavāya). He then characterized them in the following way:
Substance is that in which qualities and action reside. Vaiśeṣika quantifies nine such substances: earth (pṛthivī), water (āpa), fire (tejas), wind (vāyu), ether (ākāśa), time (kāla), direction (dik), the self (ātman) and the mind (mana).5
Quality is that which resides in substance. There are twenty-four different types of qualities including color, taste, smell, touch, number, measurement and separateness.6
Action is movement. This movement resides in substance. It is divided into five types, each of which describes a particular direction in which movement takes place.7
Generality stands for generic property. For instance, there are many humans; but each has the same, what one would call, humanness that identifies them as humans. This humanness is an example of generality; it is believed to be singular, since there are not two types of humanness.
Particularity is that which distinguishes. In Vaiśeṣika, it is used to distinguish one particle (paramāṇu) from another.
Inherence is the relationship between two entities, one of whose existence cannot be without the other. The relationship between cane syrup and sweetness is one of samavāya. The type of relationship between an object and its parts is also known as samavāya.
Vaiśeṣika offers that, without understanding these six and their natures, it is difficult to comprehend the creation, sustenance and dissolution of the world, and subsequently the nature of dharma.
Divided to the Undivided: In addition to the above categorization, one of the more notable contributions of both the Vaiśeṣika and Nyāya darśanas was their notion of atoms or particles as building blocks of creation (paramāṇukāraṇavāda). They demonstrated the existence of particles based on an inference from the experienced division of visible objects. Followers of Vaiśeṣika argued that although objects can be divided into parts, there must be a limit to which such division can occur. They identified this limit with the particle (paramāṇu): the smallest substance that cannot be further divided. They argued, that without accepting indivisibility, a fallacy of infinite regression would arise.
Vaiśeṣika also reasoned that, without acknowledging the particle as indivisible, something as large as a mountain would become the same size as a mustard seed. They reasoned that since the size of a created substance is dependent on the size of its parts and both the mountain and mustard seed would be equally made of an infinite number of infinitely small substances,8 they would both become identical in size. As a result, they concluded, there must be a limit to which substance can be divided. Based on this conclusion, they argued that the particle can neither be created nor destroyed. Creation and destruction of a substance, they claimed, requires it to be divisible. Thus, from the indivisibility of an particle, they also concluded that the particle is eternal.
Particles, the Building Blocks: Like Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika identifies four substances as having particles: earth (pṛthivī), water (jala), light (tejas) and wind (vāyu). It believes there are an infinite number of such particles and that they come together to create the objects we perceive. It also emphasizes that when these particles come together to create substances, the created substance is not just a collection of particles, but an altogether newly created substance. For example, when a clay pot is created, a new substance, different from the collection of its particles, is created. This newly created substance is can an avayavin—that which has parts.
The Created Never Existed Before: The significance of this belief lies in both the Naiyāyika and Vaiśeṣika’s acceptance of asatkāryavāda: the belief that a created substance did not previously exist. As we saw earlier, the Sāṅkhya Darśana believed in satkāryavāda: that the created resides in an unmanifest form in its material cause. Asatkāryavāda is just the opposite. According to it, an effect does not reside in any form in its cause, but rather is newly created. A pot created from clay did not already exist in the clay, but is distinct from the clay.
Two-Fold Ātman: Similar to Nyāya, the Vaiśeṣika Darśana also believes the ātman to be a substance that is eternal, many, all-pervasive (vibhu) and the knower. Here, ātman refers to both the jīvātman (the self) and Paramātman. Although both are considered ātman, the darśana offers many differences between the two. It believes that there are many jīvātman, each of which is joined with a distinct mind by which it experiences, among other things, pleasure (sukha) and misery (duḥkha). Desire (icchā), aversion (dvesha), effort (prayatna), righteousness (dharma), unrighteousness (adharma) and the faculty of impression (saṃskāra) are also all believed to be qualities of this jīvātman. The Vaiśeṣika jīvātman is also not all-knowing; nor is its knowledge eternal.
Vaiśeṣika describes creation from elemental particles, which are themselves inactive. As a result, an independent cause is required to instigate its first movement. Vaiśeṣika offers Paramātman as this initial cause. Unlike the jīvātman, there is also only one Paramātman. This Paramātman is omniscient, and his knowledge is considered to be eternal. Because of these and other differences, Paramātman and the jīvātman are recognized as distinct.
Epistemology: Unlike Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika categorizes only two means of knowledge: perception (pratyakṣa-pramāṇa) and inference (anumāna-pramāṇa). Although, they define both as similar to the Naiyāyikas, verbal testimony (śabda-pramāṇa) is understood to be subsumed in inference, since the truthfulness of the spoken or written word is dependent on an inference of the truthfulness or authority of its speaker or writer. Similarly, comparison (upamāna-pramāṇa) is believed to be incorporated in verbal testimony or inference.
Although Vaiśeṣika’s principles are to some extent different from Nyāya’s, the two are greatly comparable and complementary. Hence later scholars have categorized these darśanas as similar and often combined their teachings in collective texts, such as Tarkasaṃgraha and Nyāyasiddhāntamuktāvalī.
Basu, Major B. D., ed. The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra of Kaṇāda. Trans. Nandalal Sinha. Second. Allahabad: Bhuvaneśvarī Āśrama, 1923. Print.
Bhaṭṭa, Annam. Tarkasaṃgraha. Varanasi: Chowkhambha, 2009. Print.
Bhaṭṭācārya, Viśvanāthapañcānana. Nyāyasiddhāntamuktāvalī. Varanasi: Caukhambā Surabhāratī. Print.
Sage Jaiminī scribes onto a palm leaf his school’s principles on philology and exegesis. Here, the yājmana couple, the purohitā and yājñikas conduct a homa with offerings of sandalwood, herbs, fruits, ghee, incense and flowers. Enhanced by the decorated zebu cow, their ritual has the power to move the forces of the universe. The devas have gathered within the temple-like tree to bless and observe.
PŪRVAMĪMĀṂSĀ DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF VEDIC RITUALS
Although the previous darśanas are rooted in the Vedas, we now commence a study of two schools that have direct relationship with the Vedas. Mīmāṃsā means “deep reflection” or “inquiry.” Reflection is at the heart of India’s ancient intellectual wealth, figuring prominently in the Vedas. As such, reflection is as ancient as the Vedas themselves. The Vedas offer an inquiry into the visible and invisible, the external and internal, and from the individual to the infinite. This constant inquiry gave birth to two Vedic darśanas: Pūrvamīmāṃsā (Mīmāṃsā) and Uttaramīmāṃsā (Vedānta). Purva, meaning “prior,” indicates a concern with the earlier portions of the Vedas, whereas uttara, or “later,” refers to the later portion, the Upanishads. This is the last pair of the Vedic ṣaḍdarśana.
Mīmāṃsāsūtras, a Text of Vedic Rituals: The Vedas are the soul of Hinduism. Without their authority, Hindu traditions could no longer survive. Criticisms of the Veda instigated the need to methodically establish its clarity and demonstrate the authenticity of Vedic thought. Jaiminī took it upon himself to systematically shape the Mīmāṃsā Darśana by creating the Mīmāṃsāsūtras. Spanning twelve chapters and divided into sixty sections, the text considers roughly a thousand different topics, making it the largest collection of philosophical aphorisms of the ṣaḍdarśana. The text principally occupies itself in providing expositions on topics pertaining to interpretation and performance of Vedic rituals.
Unlike the aphoristic texts of the previous darśanas, the Pūrvamīmāṃsā sūtras (as well as the Uttaramīmāṃsā sūtras) are not independent texts, but based on the śrutis of the Vedas. Therefore, without some understanding the Vedas, one cannot come to terms with the aphorisms of these texts; and without a basic understanding of these aphorisms, it is nearly impossible to comprehend the Vedas. In this way, these aphoristic texts and the Vedas are dependent upon one another.
Darśanic Developments: Mīmāṃsā’s desire to understand the nature of dharma is presented in the declaration at the beginning of the Mīmāṃsāsūtras: “Now commences an investigation of dharma.”1 Here, it defines dharma as Vedic directive.2 Mīmāṃsā investigates its cause3 and establishes it in the words of the Vedas.4
In characterizing this Vedic dharma, the Pūrvamīmāṃsā Darśana was later divided into three major schools of thought: Kumārila Bhaṭṭa’s Bhāṭṭamata, Prabhākara Miśra’s Gurumata, and Murāri Miśra’s Murārīmata. Of these three, much of the work that followed focused on the expositions of Kumārila and Gurumata. Maṇḍana Miśra, Vāchaspati Miśra and Pārthasārathi Miśra are well known for their contributions under the Kumārila school; while Śālikanātha, Bhavanātha and Nandīśvara were leading contributors to the teachings of Gurumata.
A Universal Hermeneutical Theory: Hermeneutics is the study of interpretation. The interpretation of Vedic śrutis is the primary focus of Mīmāṃsā’s epistemic investigations. Therefore, despite enumerating six distinct means of knowledge, the Mīmāṃsā Darśana places great emphasis on verbal testimony (śabda-pramāṇa).
Mīmāṃsā’s primary focus on interpreting Vedic śrutis generated a great need for developing an appropriate method of interpretation. As the fruits of much investigation, Mīmāṃsā developed many robust norms to guide and evaluate the act of interpretation. Among others, they presented the following criteria: (1) Commencement (upakrama): the presentation of the principle topic of discussion at the beginning of the text under consideration. (2) Conclusion (upasaṃhāra): the presentation of this topic at the end of the text. (3) Reiteration (abhyāsa): repetition of the topic throughout the text. (4) Uniqueness (apurvatā): the topic as being unknown by some other source, and hence uniquely found in the present discussion. (5) Fruit (phala): the intent or purpose of the topic. (6) Eulogy (arthavāda): praise or criticism intended to encourage. (7) Demonstration (upapatti): establishment of the main topic through various arguments.
The particularity and practicality of this system resulted in Mīmāṃsā’s Vedic interpretations becoming more robust. Because of this, even other darśanas that did not accept the philosophical principles of Mīmāṃsā utilized these methods for interpreting their own respective texts.
Fundamental Principles: Mīmāṃsā believes in the reality of the external world, the ātman and karma. It also accepts reincarnation, svarga and naraka (the heavenly and hellish realms) and liberation.
In addition, Mīmāṃsā offers the Vedas to be of supreme authority, infallible, and its words as eternal.5 Having explicitly stated the position of those who oppose the Vedas, proponents of the darśana respond to these criticisms and establish the Vedas as both eternal and infallible. In offering such responses, they also refute the seeming inconsistencies of the Vedic śrutis, harmonize them with one another, and ultimately offer philosophical justifications for the beliefs of its underlying ritualism.
A School of Reflection on Action (Karma-Mīmāṃsā): It is impossible to live without action. Life itself is nothing but a synonym for collective action (karma). Hence, throughout the ages, we have yearned to know what we should do and how and when we should act. These questions have continued to bewilder us. The Mīmāṃsā Darśana offers a means for satisfying our inquiry. In this darśana, karma, as it is joined with the individual and all of creation, is contemplated. Mīmāṃsā uniquely enjoins rights and duty as two necessary aspects of action.
Because of Mīmāṃsā’s emphasis on ritualism, not only is this darśana identified as Karma-Mīmāṃsā, but its aphoristic text is also referred to as the Karmasūtras. To understand Mīmāṃsā’s ritualism, it is necessary to come to terms with its notion of karma.
The darśana presents the following five different types of karma:
(1) Obligatory Actions (nityakarma): those actions that one is to perform periodically. These include bathing, sandhyāvandanā, and the fire ritual (agnihotra). (2) Obligatory Actions for Specific Occasions (naimittikakarma): These actions include those performed at birth, rites of passage, and other saṃskāras. (3) Optional Actions (kāmyakarma): those actions performed for the fulfilment of some desire; for instance, the putreṣṭiyāga, a sacrifice performed for obtaining a child. (4) Prohibited Actions (niṣiddhakarma): actions, such as theft and other crimes. (5) Expiatory Actions (prāyaśchittakarma): actions undertaken to reduce the effect of performed prohibited actions. Chāndrāyaṇa and other austerities are considered expiatory actions.
These karmas are also alternatively divided into the following three types: (1) Accumulated Actions (sañcita-karma): the accumulated actions of one’s previous lives. (2) Ripened Actions (prārabdha-karma): among the sañchita-karma, those actions whose results are destined to come to fruition in the present life. (3) Present Action (kriyamāṇa-karma): the actions that one is undergoing at the present moment.
To the Mīmāṃsaka, the significance of karma lies its association with liberation and eventual identification with dharma. Nitya and naimittika Vedic karmas benefit in attaining liberation. The later Mīmāṃsakas, such Āyadeva and Laugākṣibhāskara, emphasize that when these karmas are offered to Paramātman they result in liberation. In one way, this significance appears to resemble the narration of karmayoga presented in the Bhagavadgītā.
Yajña, an Act of Sacrifice: Among these different karmas, Mīmāṃsā gives great significance to yajña, the act of sacrifice. Based on Vedic narrations, Mīmāṃsā offers narration on a number of different types of yajña, each described in great detail. These yajña are considered to be fulfilled only with the successful completion of the many ritual performances that constitute it. The details of these ritual sacrifices explicitly describe the intent with which they are to be performed; the specific order in which its constituent rituals are to be performed; what mantras are to be recited; at what time, location, and under what circumstances, by whom and for whom they are to be performed; what austerities are to be undertaken by those enjoined in the sacrifice; and the fruits of successful completion. All of these are described in great detail by Mīmāṃsā. Placing dhārmika actions such as yajña on the pedestal of inquiry and reflection is one of the most notable contributions of Mīmāṃsā.
Apūrva, a Necessary Connection: The Mīmāṃsā concept of apūrva is the necessary connection between action and its fruits. It is also referred to as adṛṣṭha, or “that which is unseen.” The Mīmāṃsaka reasons that at the completion of an act, the act itself ceases to exist, yet its fruits come to bear after some time; hence, some association that conjoins future fruits with past ceased action needs to exist. Mīmāṃsā conceives of apūrva as fulfilling this need. Whether it is apūrva itself or Paramātman who offers the fruits of action, is the subject of great debate within the darśana. Many later Mīmāṃsakas acknowledge a theistic intervention in the ascription of fruits.
Mīmāṃsā accepts the Vedas to be supremely authoritative. It also harbors great faith in Vedic dharma and the principle of karma and its fruits; and through reason and logic it establishes the claims of that very same faith. Hence, although Mīmāṃsā may not solely depend upon reason, it does not represent a blind dependence on unexamined and unsupported authority.
Basu, B. D., ed. The Mīmāmasā Sūtras of Jaiminī. Trans. Mohan Lal Sandal. Vol. 1. Allahabad: Sudhindre Nath Basu, 1923. Print. The Sacred Books of the Hindus XXVII.
Sage Bādarāyaṇa sits in a grove of holy rudrāksha trees, Eleocarpus ganitrus, writing the seminal Brahmasūtras. Behind him are gathered the āchāryas of some of the subsequent and philosophically distinct Vedānta schools: (left to right) Chaitanya, Śaṅkara, Niṃbārka, Madhva, Rāmānuja and Vallabāchārya.
VEDĀNTA DARŚANA: THE SCHOOL OF BRAHMAVIDYĀ
The Vedānta Darśana (also known as Uttaramīmāṃsā) is one of the most prominent and currently the most practiced school of the ṣaḍdarśana. The title Vedānta appropriately characterizes this darśana in the following three ways: (1) Vedānta is a Sanskrit compound constructed from joining Veda with anta. The term Veda refers to the Vedas. Each Veda has the following four parts: Saṃhitā, Brāhmaṇa, Āraṇyaka and the Upaniṣad. Among these, the Upaniṣads are referred to as the end part of the Vedas. Hence, Vedānta refers to the knowledge of the Upaniṣads: the end (anta) of the Vedas. (2) In addition, anta also means “concluding essence.” The essence of the Vedas is included in its Upaniṣads. Hence, Vedānta also refers to the concluding essence of the Vedas. The name of the darśana indicates that its principles rest on the teachings of the Upanishads. (3) When understood as a darśana, Vedānta also refers to the Brahmasūtras, the primary aphoristic text of the darśana. Just as the Mīmāṃsā’s aphoristic text is based on Vedic ritual expositions, Vedānta’s Brahmasūtras are based on the Upaniṣads.
Although the principles of Vedānta originate from Vedic literature, a systematic representation of its teachings is attributed to Maharṣi Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa. His creation of the Brahmasūtras established Vedānta as a darśana of Vedic philosophy. Since other āchāryas within the darśana based their respective philosophies on the expositions of this text, Vyāsa is also referred to as the ādi-āchārya of Vedānta.
Prasthānatrayī, a Trinity of Texts: Prasthāna means “a śāstra that establishes principles,” and trayī indicates “the quantity three.” There are three sacred texts held as authoritative by the Vedānta Darśana: The Upaniṣads, the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā and the Brahmasūtras (also known as the Vedāntasūtras). Because these three sacred texts establish the principles of Vedānta, they are collectively identified as the Prasthānatrayī.
Of these, the Upaniṣads are a form of śruti1, hence referred to as śrutiprasthāna); the Śrīmadbhagavadgītā is a form of smṛti2, and thus identified as the smṛtiprasthāna; and the Brahmasūtras are a form of tarka, or logic, hence identified as tarka-prasthāna.
Brahmasūtras, an Investigation of Brahman: The Brahmasūtras are partitioned into four chapters (adhyāya), with each further divided into four sections (pāda). The chapters of the text focus on the following topics: (1) Meaning Ascription (Samanvaya-adhyāya): the first chapter, through logical analysis, elaborates the meaning of the śrutis in which ānandamaya, ākāśa, prāṇa, akṣara, dahara, sat and others appear. In doing so it describes Brahman as, among other things, the sustainer of all, all-pervasive, and the all-doer. (2) Refutation of Objections (Virodhapratikṣepa-adhyāya): the second chapter discusses various objections to the mentioned nature of Brahman and refutes those objections. (3) Description of Endeavor (Sādhanā-adhyāya): This chapter elaborates the various spiritual endeavors for attaining liberation. (4) The Fruits of Brahmavidyā (Phala-adhyāya): The final chapter describes liberation, the liberated, their divine powers and the divine abode.
Just as the Mīmāṃsā aphoristic text was identified as the Karmasūtras, the Vedāntasūtras, by its dedicated investigation on the nature of Brahman, is also aptly named the Brahmasūtras. The text’s enquiry into the nature of Brahman is rooted in Upaniṣhadic revelation. Among the meanings of the term Upaniṣad, it is known to mean “That by which brahmavidyā (knowledge of Brahman) is known and attained.” The Upaniṣads themselves define brahmavidyā by clearly stating, “Brahmavidyā is that by which the knowledge of akṣara and puruṣa is obtained.”
Since the Brahmasūtras are based on the Upaniṣads and smṛti texts, it comes as no surprise that a call to investigate this brahmavidyā is expressed in the very first aphorism of the Brahmasūtras: “Therefore, now commences a desire to know Brahman.”3 It is also notable that here, at the outset, the Brahmasūtras, unlike the aphoristic texts of the other darśanas, undoubtedly makes itself known as theistic.
Fundamental Principles: Vedānta offers Brahman as the material cause (upādānakāraṇa) and instrumental cause (nimittakāraṇa) of the world, and as its all-doer. Vedānta also acknowledges the existence of an eternal and sentient ātman that is bound by karma, and as a result endures rebirth. The darśana identifies brahmavidyā as the means for attaining never-ending liberation of this ātman from the cycle of birth and death.
Vedānta’s metaphysical elaborations present descriptions of the ātman4 as the jīvātman5 and as the governors (īśvaras)6 of different realms (lokas). It also offers a detailed narration of the cause of bondage of these ātman. In addition, it explains the means for their liberation,7 the liberated,8 the divine abode9 of the liberated, the path10 toward this abode, and the supreme entity, Paramātman,11 who forever resides within it.
The Power of Words: The Vedānta Darśana recognizes the power of the scriptural word. Among the different accepted means of knowledge, it clearly establishes verbal testimony (śabda-pramāṇa) as foremost. Although the Naiyāyikas accepted the authority of verbal testimony, they relied predominately on inference when establishing the existence of Īśvara. In Vedānta, however, despite being aware of the Naiyāyikas’ efforts, the darśana emphasizes verbal testimony over that of pure inference. It seems that the reason for this prominence is its understanding of the instability and unpredictability of logic. Vyāsa himself clarifies in the Brahmasūtras, “Because reasoning has no sure basis…”12 One sees this emphasis on verbal testimony even in the beginning of the Brahmasūtras. Upon first proclaiming Brahman as the topic of discussion in the first aphorism, the text continues by describing that Brahman as the creator of the world. The next aphorism explicitly declares that it will demonstrate the nature of this Brahman through śāstra.
Guru in Vedāntic Hermeneutics: Guru-kṛpā is the heart of the Vedānta Darśana. Having established the significance of verbal testimony, Vedānta also emphasizes the importance of guru in its hermeneutics (theory of interpretation). Without understanding the significance of the guru in Vedānta, a study of Vedānta would be incomplete. It irrefutably states that it is not possible to experience the meaning of the śāstras without surrendering to a gurudeva. To demonstrate this, Vedānta appeals to the authority of the śrutis and smṛtis. The Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad explains, “To obtain that knowledge one must surrender oneself, with offerings in hand, only to that guru who has realized the essence of scriptures, who is Brahman, and steady in Parabrahman.”13 The Śrīmadbhagavadgītā describes such a guru as the jñānin (knowledgeable) and tattvadarśin (the seer of reality). “To master brahmavidyā,” the Gītā continues, “one must please him by bowing to him (praṇipātena), asking him meaningful questions (paripraśnena) and serving him (sevayā).”14 By the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, Vedānta makes clear the sentiments one needs to have for such a guru in order to realize the true meanings of the śāstras: “One should have the same devotion for the guru as one has for Parabrahman.”15 Here it advises to view the guru as Nārāyaṇasvarūpa (the form of Parabrahman). From this, it seems only appropriate that followers of Vedānta identify the guru as “Gurudeva” or “Guruhari.” Perhaps it is because of this guru-śiṣya (disciple) tradition that the Vedānta Darśana is of great significance even today. In this way, Vedāntic hermeneutics achieves completeness only by accepting the guru.
Sub-Darśanas of Vedānta: Many schools of Vedānta (saṃpradāyas) later emerged from the teachings of Prasthānatrayī. Within the Indian philosophical tradition, it became customary for these saṃpradāyas to establish their philosophical positions in relation to these three texts. Although these saṃpradāyas are positioned within the Vedānta Darśana, they themselves became identified with the title darśana. Among them, the most notable are Śaṅkara’s Advaita-darśana, Rāmānuja’s Viśiṣṭādvaita-darśana, Madhva’s Dvaita-darśana, Niṃbārka’s Dvaitādvaita-darśana, Vallabha’s Śuddhādvaita-darśana, Chaitanyamahāprabhu’s Achintyabhedābheda-darśana, and Svāminārāyaṇa’s Akṣarabrahma-Parabrahma-darśana16 (also known as the Akṣara-Puraṣottama-siddhānta). Each school is nurtured by a unique interpretation of the Prasthānatrayī presented in extensive commentaries.
By discussing, among other things, Brahman as the cause of the world, the form of the ātman, liberation and its means, and the unavoidable need of a guru to understand sacred texts, the Vedānta Darśana gifts the world with a unique school of philosophy.
Śāstrī, Jagadīśa, ed. Upaniṣatsaṅgraha. Delhi: Motīlāla Banārasīdāsa, 2006. Print.
Vedavyāsa. Brahmasūtra. Ed. Harikṛṣṇadāsa Goyandakā. Garakhapura: Gītā Press, 2009. Print. Vedānta-Darśana.
Vyāsa, Veda. Śrīmadbhagavadgītā.
Gorakhapura: Gītāpress, 2016.** Print.
Sadhu, Bhadreshdas. “Swaminarayan’s Brahmajñāna as Akṣarabrahma-Parabrahma-Darśanam.” Swaminarayan Hinduism. Ed. Raymond Williams and Yogi Trivedi. Oxford University Press, 2016. 172–90. Print.