India has a long tradition of philosophy and varied interpretations of value based lived experiences and the space to engage in complicated conversations about the same. Insight (darshana) from lived experiences always had an important place in the Indian way of life. Families and communities were deeply rooted in ethics and values based on the insights of their lived experiences. While, we classify Indian insights into 6 schools of philosophy in current times, there must have been many more learning systems embedded in each category. These learning systems embedded in various schools of lived experiences engaged with each other through various modes of communication thereby creating acceptance for a very vibrant heterogenous ethical and value-based learning society.
We can compare the interconnected Indian learning systems based on lived experiences to natural systems like forests. It is impressive to see the interdependence and balance to coexist and provide support in natural systems. The interdependence in a natural ecosystem is central to the survival and growth of the system. Even though, each species of plant is different from the other having distinct identity, they provide each other space to grow and engage with each other to maintain the overall health of the ecosystem. Such a heterogenous system can overcome adversity and tide over unfavorable circumstances. This is the backbone of survival of dharmic culture even after an onslaught of over 1000 years of invasion by alien forces.
Dharmic traditions have been divided into six schools of philosophy as a way of life (darshana) based on their underpinnings in the Vedas. They have been grouped together as astika schools whereas those that do not embed themselves in the Vedas are called as nastika schools. Nastika is not to be confused with or as atheist school of philosophy; Jainism, Buddhism and Charvaka philosophy are some of the prominent nastika schools. Western Indologists have classified them as orthodox and heterodox schools also! Some scholars have questioned whether the classification into orthodox and heterodox schools is sufficient or accurate and the debate goes on. Given that there is diversity and evolution of views within each major school of dharmic philosophy, some sub-schools of Shaivism combine heterodox and orthodox views leading to the development of offshoots like Kashmir Shaivism. It is believed that the existing schema was created between the 12th and 16th centuries by Vedantins. The orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy have been called ṣaḍdarśana (“six systems”). These six systems of learning and way of life permeate the many interpretations of lived experience across India – Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta.
These six schools of philosophy are classified based on the epistemological proofs or pramana they accept. Nyāya literally means “method” or “judgment”. This school’s most significant contributions to Indian philosophy was systematic development of the theory of logic, methodology, and its treatises on epistemology i.e. understanding how knowledge is constructed. Nyaya school’s epistemology accepts four out of six Pramanas as reliable means of gaining knowledge. Pratyakṣa (perception), Anumāṇa (inference), Upamāṇa (comparison and analogy) and Śabda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts). Nyaya school is closely related to Vaisheshika school of philosophy. Nyaya expounds that human suffering results from mistakes and inappropriate choices produced by activity under inadequate knowledge (notions and ignorance). Nyaya states that Moksha (liberation), is gained through appropriate knowledge. This premise led Nyaya to concern itself with epistemology, that is developing the reliable means to gain appropriate knowledge and to eliminate inappropriate notions and delusions. Appropriate knowledge is described as discovering and overcoming one’s delusions, and understanding true nature of soul, self and reality.
Nyaya as a school of philosophy approached itself as a form of direct realism, stating that all that really exists in principle can be known by humans. According to Nyaya, appropriate knowledge and understanding is different and more complex than simple, reflexive cognition. Nyaya school shares some of its methodology and human suffering foundations with Buddhism; however, a key difference between the two is that Buddhists believe that there is neither a soul nor self and are categorized as a nastika school.
Vaisheshika or Vaiśeṣika is one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy.In its early stages, Vaiśeṣika was an independent philosophy with its own metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics etc. Over time, Vaiśeṣika system became similar in its philosophical procedures, and ethical conclusions to the Nyāya school, but retained its difference in epistemology and metaphysics. The epistemology of Vaiśeṣika school of philosophy, like Buddhism, accepted only two reliable means to knowledge: perception and inference. Vaiśeṣika school and Buddhism both consider their respective scriptures as indisputable and valid means to knowledge with a difference that the former validates Vedas and the latter does not. Vaisheshika school is known for its insights in naturalism and philosophy. Vaisheshika postulated that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramāṇu (atoms), and one’s experiences are derived from the interplay of substance (a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements). Vaisheshika states that the quality, activity, frequency, particularity and inherence of materials impacts experiences. According to Vaiśeṣika school, knowledge and liberation are achievable by a complete understanding of the world and experiencing it. Vaisheshika as a school of philosophy is parallel to phenomenology of Western philosophy.
Samkhya or Sankhya is one of the six āstika schools of dharmic philosophy. It is usually related to the Yoga. Sāmkhya is an enumerations philosophy whose epistemology accepts three of six pramanas. These include pratyakṣa (perception), anumāṇa (inference) and śabda (āptavacana, word/testimony of reliable sources). Sometimes, described as the rationalist school of dharmic philosophy, its reliance on reason was exclusive but strong. Samkhya is strongly dualist and regards the universe as consisting of two realities, namely puruṣa (consciousness) and prakṛti (matter). Jiva (a living being) is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakṛti in some form. According to Samkhya, the union led to the emergence of buddhi (“intellect”) and ahaṅkāra (ego consciousness). This darshana describes the universe as one created by purusa-prakṛti infused with elements, senses, feelings, activity and mind in various permutations and combinations. During the state of imbalance, one or more constituents overwhelm the others, creating bondage of the mind. The end of this imbalance or bondage is called liberation or kaivalya.
Samkhya is known for its theory of guṇas (qualities, innate tendencies). Guṇa are of three types: sattva being compassion, illumination, and positivity; rajas being activity, chaos, passion, and impulsivity and tamas being the quality of darkness, ignorance, destruction, lethargy, negativity. According to Samkhya, all matter (prakṛti) has these three guṇas, but in different proportions. The interplay of these guṇas defines the qualities of a person and his or her personality. The Samkhya theory of guṇas was widely discussed, developed and refined by various schools of dharmic philosophy. Samkhya’s philosophical treatises also influenced the development of various theories of Hindu ethics.
Yoga is one of the six major schools of dharmic philosophy. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a key text of the Yoga school of philosophy. This is possibly the most popular school of dharmic philosophy in contemporary world. Yoga is an extension of Samkhya; while the Samkhya school suggests that jnana (knowledge) is a sufficient means to moksha, the Yoga school suggests that systematic techniques and practice, or personal experimentation is essential. Yoga holds that rigorous practice along with Samkhya’s approach to knowledge, is the path to moksha. Yoga also shares several central ideas with the Advaita Vedanta school, with the difference that Yoga philosophy is a form of experimental mysticism, while Advaita Vedanta is a form of monistic and individualistic experiential personalism.
Mīmāṃsā is a Sanskrit word that means “reflection” or “critical investigation”. This tradition is also known as Pūrva-Mīmāṃsā because of its focus on the earlier (pūrva) Vedic texts dealing with rituals and actions. This particular school is known for its philosophical theories on the nature of dharma, and hermeneutics of the Vedas. The Mīmāṃsā school was foundational and influential for the development of vedāntic schools, which are also known as Uttara-Mīmāṃsā. Vedantic schools focus on the “later” (uttara) portions of the Vedas, the Upaniṣads. While both “earlier” and “later” Mīmāṃsā investigate the aim of human action, they do so with different focus towards the necessity of ritual praxis.
Vedanta or Uttara Mīmāṃsā is one of the six orthodox (āstika) schools of Dharmic philosophy. Vedanta literally means “end of the Vedas”, as it reflects on ideas that emerged from the speculations and philosophies contained in the Upanishads. It does not stand for one comprehensive or unifying doctrine. Rather it is an umbrella term for many sub-traditions, ranging from dualism to non-dualism. All Vedanta schools concern themselves with the following three categories but differ in their views regarding the concept and the relations between them: Brahman is considered the ultimate metaphysical reality; Ātman / Jivātman – the individual soul or self, and Prakriti is the empirical world, ever-changing physical universe, body and matter.
Some of the popular sub-traditions of Vedanta include Advaita (non-dualism), Vishishtadvaita (qualified non-dualism), and Dvaita (dualism). Most other Vedantic sub-traditions are subsumed under the term Bhedabheda (difference and non-difference). Over time, Vedanta adopted ideas from other dharmic (āstika) schools like Yoga and Nyaya, and through this syncretic assimilation, became the most prominent school of dharmic philosophy. Many extant forms of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shaktism have been significantly shaped and influenced by the doctrines of different schools of Vedanta. The Vedanta school has had a historic and central influence on dharmic culture.
While, these are the 6 classical schools of dharmic traditions; there are several other schools in practice as established way of life! There are several traditions of Shaivism, Vaishnavism and Shaktism that have absorbed various aspects of the classical darshana to emerge and reemerge at various points of space time constructs across Bharat. Several darshana like Pashupath and Lakulish Shaivism that focused on renunciation of the world are only prevalent in pockets. While, others like Kashmir Shaivism are thriving in Maharashtra and Odisha. Kashmir Shaivism is a monoistic philosophy that differs from Vedanta in understanding perceptions. Vedanta considers all perception an illusion while, Kashmir Shaivism understands and states the world and perception of it as real! What is commonly called “Kashmir Shaivism” is actually a group of several monistic and tantric traditions that flourished in Kashmir over a period of time. These traditions have survived only in a weakened form among the Brahmans of Kashmir, but there are pockets in Maharashtra and Odisha that follow various of these traditions either as is or in amalgamation with local culture. These traditions are quite easily distinguished from a dualistic Shaiva Siddhānta tradition that also flourished in medieval Kashmir. The most salient philosophy of monistic Kashmiri Shaivism is the Pratyabhijnā, or “Recognition,” system. The basic tenets of spiritual practice in Kashmir Shaivism, includes the appropriation of worship of shakti (Shaktism). Kashmir Shaivism involves the approach to Shiva through Shakti. As the Shaiva scripture ‘Vijnāna-Bhairava’ proclaims, Shakti is the door to Shiva. The adept pursues the realization of identity with the omnipotent Shiva through Shakti.
One comes face to face with these varied lenses of understanding the world and ways of lived experience only when we travel across the length and breadth of the culture. People have assimilated varied aspects of darshana in their lived experiences in multitude of ways. Irrespective of which darshana a person or a family follows in contemporary times, they would have very creatively adsorbed many of the aspects of other prominent darshana like Vedanta or Samkhya or Yoga into their lived experiences. Yoga and its varied facets like asanas, breath control and meditation have become popular flagbearers of dharmic traditions across the world. Yoga has incorporated several aspects of Samkhya into its fundamental principles. Eg. The classification of guna and associated work on keeping the internal consciousness as sattvic as possible. Similarly, various schools of Vedanta have also assimilated Samkhya philosophy into their framework.
As we travel from the South towards the North, we observe that rituals are varied and quite distinct! In Kerala one observes various schools of tantra as well as Vedanta. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have an equal spread of practice of various Vedanta sub groups; both Advaita and Vishisthadvaita are prominent. Dvetadvaita is sporadic but still quite prevalent in pockets. Karnataka is strongly rooted in Shaivism and along with Vedanta sub groups like the Veera Shaivas and Lingayats have their own varied rituals and way of life! As we move towards Central India, Madhya Pradesh has a variety of tantric practices along with Vedanta. So, is the case with Maharashtra! Gujarat which was once the birth place of Pashupath and Lakulish Shaivism has a variety of Bhakti cultures that evolved over a period of time. Vaishnavism has flourished in Gujarat with deep rooted devotion in Lord Krishna! Uttar Pradesh with Benaras at its heart has a plethora of dharmic and tantric traditions all evolving as a melting pot together in the fertile Ganga basin. The Eastern part of India has remained significantly rooted in Shakti and tantric rituals associated with Shaktism. The Himalayan regions are rooted in experience of energy, there is hardly any school of thought in particular! The energy one experiences clears one of distortions and facilitates us to bring clarity to our perceptions. The festivals, fairs and community gatherings that incorporate varied darshana as a way of life and diversity in India is its strength. It is imperative that we work towards developing an understanding of the heterogenous culture across India. It is this heterogenous nature that has allowed dharmic traditions to mingle, merge, reconceptualize, reframe and evolve from time immemorial! It is upon us to understand the beauty, strength and respect the diversity across the length and breadth of the land if we are to participate and contribute to the ever-flowing nectar that dharma and dharmic traditions are!
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