A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the indian systems of philosophy: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the third part in the series called the “general observations on the systems of indian philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

The Hindus classify the systems of philosophy into two classes, namely, the nāstika and the āstika. The nāstika (na asti “it is not”) views are those which neither regard the Vedas as infallible nor try to establish their own validity on their authority.

These are principally three in number,

  1. the Buddhist,
  2. Jaina
  3. and the Cārvāka.

The āstika-mata or orthodox schools are six in number,

  1. Sāṃkhya,
  2. Yoga,
  3. Vedānta,
  4. Mīmāṃsā,
  5. Nyāya
  6. and Vaiśeṣika,

generally known as the six systems (ṣaḍdarśana[1]).

The Sāṃkhya is ascribed to a mythical Kapila, but the earliest works on the subject are probably now lost. The Yoga system is attributed to Patafijali and the original sūtras are called the Pātañjala Yoga sūtras. The general metaphysical position of these two systems with regard to soul, nature, cosmology and the final goal is almost the same, and the difference lies in this that the Yoga system acknowledges a god (Iśvara) as distinct from Atman and lays much importance on certain mystical practices (commonly known as Yoga practices) for the achievement of liberation, whereas the Sāṃkhya denies the existence of Iśvara and thinks that sincere philosophic thought and culture are sufficient to produce the true conviction of the truth and thereby bring about liberation. It is probable that the system of Sāṃkhya associated with Kapila and the Yoga system associated with Patañjali are but two divergent modifications of an original Sāṃkhya school, of which we now get only references here and there. These systems therefore though generally counted as two should more properly be looked upon as two different schools of the same Sāṃkhya system—one may be called the Kāpila Sāṃkhya and the other Pātañjala Sāṃkhya.

The Pūrva Mīmāṃsā (from the root man to think—rational conclusions) cannot properly be spoken of as a system of philosophy. It is a systematized code of principles in accordance with which the Vedic texts are to be interpreted for purposes of sacrifices. The Vedic texts were used as mantras (incantations) for sacrifices, and people often disputed as to the relation of words in a sentence or their mutual relative importance with reference to the general drift of the sentence. There were also differences of view with regard to the meaning of a sentence, the use to which it maybe applied as a mantra, its relative importance or the exact nature of its connection with other similar sentences in a complex Vedic context. The Mīmāṃsā formulated some principles according to which one could arrive at rational and uniform solutions for all these difficulties. Preliminary to these its main objects, it indulges in speculations with regard to the external world, soul, perception, inference, the validity of the Vedas, or the like, for in order that a man might perform sacrifices with mantras, a definite order of the universe and its relation to man or the position and nature of the mantras of the Veda must be demonstrated and established.

Though its interest in such abstract speculations is but secondary yet it briefly discusses these in order to prepare a rational ground for its doctrine of the mantras and their practical utility for man. It is only so far as there are these preliminary discussions in the Mīmāṃsā that it may be called a system of philosophy. Its principles and maxims for the interpretation of the import of words and sentences have a legal value even to this day. The sūtras of Mīmāṃsā are attributed to Jaimini, and Sabara wrote a bhāṣya upon it. The two great names in the history of Mīmāṃsā literature after Jaimini and Sabara are Kumārila Bhaṭṭa and his pupil Prabhākara, who criticized the opinions of his master so much, that the master used to call him guru (master) in sarcasm, and to this day his opinions pass as guru-mata, whereas the views of Kumārila Bhaṭṭa pass as bhaṭṭa-mata[2] It may not be out of place to mention here that Hindu Law (svirti) accepts without any reservation the maxims and principles settled and formulated by the Mīmāṃsā.

The Vedānta sūtras , also called Uttara Mīmāṃsā, written by Bādarāyana, otherwise known as the Brakma-sūtras, form the original authoritative work of Vedānta. The word Vedānta means “end of the Veda,” i.e. the Upaniṣads, and the Vedānta sūtras are so called as they are but a summarized statement of the general views of the Upaniṣads. This work is divided into four books or adhyāyas and each adhyāya is divided into four pādas or chapters.

The first four sūtras of the work commonly known as Catuhsūtrī are

  1. How to ask about Brahman,
  2. From whom proceed birth and decay,
  3. This is because from him the Vedas have come forth,
  4. This is shown by the harmonious testimony of the Upaniṣads.

The whole of the first chapter of the second book is devoted to justifying the position of the Vedānta against the attacks of the rival schools. The second chapter of the second book is busy in dealing blows at rival systems. All the other parts of the book are devoted to settling the disputed interpretations of a number of individual Upaniṣad texts. The really philosophical portion of the work is thus limited to the first four sūtras and the first and second chapters of the second book. The other portions are like commentaries to the Upaniṣads, which however contain many theological views of the system.

The first commentary of the Brahma-sūtra was probably written by Baudhāyana, which however is not available now. The earliest commentary that is now found is that of the great Saṅkara. His interpretations of the Brahma-sūtras together with all the commentaries and other works that follow his views are popularly known as Vedānta philosophy, though this philosophy ought more properly to be called Viśuddhādvaita-vāda school of Vedānta philosophy (i.e. the Vedānta philosophy of the school of absolute monism). Variant forms of dualistic philosophy as represented by the Vaiṣṇavas, Saivas, Rāmāyatas, etc., also claim to express the original purport of the Brahma sūtras.

We thus find that apostles of dualistic creeds such as Rāmānuja, Vallabha, Madhva, Śrīkaṇtha, Baladeva, etc., have written independent commentaries on the Brahma-sūtra to show that the philosophy as elaborated by themselves is the view of the Upaniṣads and as summarized in the Brahma-sūtras. These differed largely and often vehemently attacked Sankara’s interpretations of the same sūtras. These systems as expounded by them also pass by the name of Vedānta as these are also claimed to be the real interpretations intended by the Vedānta (Upaniṣads) and the Vedānta sūtras. Of these the system of Rāmānuja has great philosophical importance.

The Nyāya sūtras attributed to Gautama, called also Akṣapāda, and the Vaiśeṣika sūtras attributed to Kaṇāda, called also Ulūka, represent the same system for all practical purposes. They are in later times considered to differ only in a few points of minor importance. So far as the sūtras are concerned the Nyāya sūtras lay particular stress on the cultivation of logic as an art, while the Vaiśeṣika sūtras deal mostly with metaphysics and physics. In addition to these six systems, the Tantras had also philosophies of their own, which however may generally be looked upon largely as modifications of the Sāṃkhya and Vedānta systems, though their own contributions are also noteworthy.

Footnotes and references:


The word “darśana" in the sense of true philosophic knowledge has its earliest use in the Vaiśeṣika sūtras of Kanāda (ix. ii. 13) which I consider as pre-Buddhistic.

  • The Buddhist pitakas (400 B.C.) called the heretical opinions “diṭṭhi” (Sanskrit—dṛṣṭi from the same root dṛś from which darśana is formed).
  • Haribhadra (fifth century A.D.) uses the word Darśana in the sense of systems of philosophy (sarvadarśanavācyo’ rthahṢaḍdarśanasamuccaya 1.).
  • Ratnakīrtti (end of the tenth century A.D.) uses the word also in the same sense (“Yadi nāma darśane darśane nānāprakāram sattvalak-ṣaṇam uktamasti.” Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi in Six Buddhist Nyāya tracts, p. 20).
  • Mādhava (1331 A. D.) calls his Compendium of all systems of philosophy, Sarvadarśanasaṃgraha.

The word “mata” (opinion or view) was also freely used in quoting the views of other systems. But there is no word to denote ‘philosophers’ in the technical sense. The Buddhists used to call those who held heretical views “tairthika” The words “siddha,” “jñānin,” etc. do not denote philosophers in the modern sense, they are used rather in the sense of “seers” or “perfects.”


There is a story that Kumārila could not understand the meaning of a Sanskrit sentence “Atra tunoktam tatrāpinoktam iti paunaruktam” (hence spoken twice). Tunoktam phonetically admits of two combinations, tu noktam (but not said) and tunā uktam (said by the particle tu) and tatrāpi noktam as tatra api na uktam (not said also there) and tatra apinā uktam (said there by the particle apt). Under the first interpretation the sentence would mean, “Not spoken here, not spoken there, it is thus spoken twice.” This puzzled Kumārila, when Prabhākara taking the second meaning pointed out to him that the meaning was “here it is indicated by tu and there by api , and so it is indicated twice.” Kumārila was so pleased that he called his pupil “Guru” (master) at this.