Hinduism is one of the oldest and most diverse religious traditions in the world. It has no single founder, no single scripture, and no single set of doctrines. Rather, it is a complex mosaic of beliefs, practices, rituals, and philosophies that have evolved over thousands of years in the Indian subcontinent. Hinduism is often called a way of life rather than a religion, as it encompasses various aspects of human existence, such as ethics, culture, art, science, and spirituality.
In this blog post, we will explore some of the main features and themes of Hinduism philosophy, which is the set of Indian philosophical systems that developed alongside the religion of Hinduism. We will also look at some of the major schools and sub-schools of Hinduism philosophy, and how they differ and relate to each other.
## What is Hinduism Philosophy?
Hinduism philosophy is not a single, unified system of thought, but rather a collection of diverse and sometimes contradictory views that share some common elements. These elements include:
- A textual connection to the Vedas, which are the oldest and most sacred scriptures of Hinduism. The Vedas consist of four collections of hymns, rituals, and speculations that were composed over several centuries by different sages. The Vedas are considered to be revealed by the supreme reality (Brahman) to the sages, and are therefore authoritative and infallible sources of knowledge.
- A belief in the concept of reincarnation, which is the cycle of birth and death (samsara) that every living being undergoes according to their actions (karma) in previous lives. The goal of Hinduism philosophy is to attain liberation (moksha) from this cycle by realizing one's true nature (atman), which is identical with Brahman.
- A recognition of the four aims or values of human life (purusharthas), which are dharma (duty or righteousness), artha (wealth or prosperity), kama (pleasure or desire), and moksha (liberation or bliss). These aims are meant to guide one's actions and choices in accordance with one's stage and role in life (varna and ashrama).
- A respect for the diversity of paths and practices that lead to the same ultimate reality. Hinduism philosophy acknowledges that different people have different temperaments, preferences, and capacities, and therefore allows for a variety of ways to approach the truth. These include ritualistic worship (karma marga), ethical action (dharma marga), devotional love (bhakti marga), and rational inquiry (jnana marga).
## What are the main schools of Hinduism Philosophy?
Hinduism philosophy can be broadly divided into two categories: orthodox (astika) and heterodox (nastika). The orthodox schools accept the authority of the Vedas as the supreme source of knowledge, while the heterodox schools reject or question it. The orthodox schools are further classified into six systems (shad-darshana), which are:
- Samkhya: This is the oldest and most influential school of Hinduism philosophy. It is based on a dualistic ontology that posits two fundamental realities: purusha (consciousness or spirit) and prakriti (matter or nature). Purusha is eternal, unchanging, and independent, while prakriti is dynamic, evolving, and dependent. The interaction between purusha and prakriti produces the manifold phenomena of the world, including the human body-mind complex. Samkhya aims to liberate purusha from its bondage to prakriti by discriminating between them through logical analysis.
- Yoga: This is a practical school that complements Samkhya by providing a method for achieving liberation through physical and mental discipline. Yoga is based on the teachings of Patanjali, who codified the eight limbs or stages of yoga in his Yoga Sutras. These are: yama (ethical restraints), niyama (personal observances), asana (physical postures), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (absorption). Yoga aims to calm the fluctuations of the mind (chitta vritti) and attain union with purusha.
- Nyaya: This is a logical school that focuses on epistemology and reasoning. Nyaya is based on the teachings of Gautama Akshapada, who formulated the rules of inference and debate in his Nyaya Sutras. Nyaya holds that there are four valid sources of knowledge: perception (pratyaksha), inference (anumana), comparison (upamana), and testimony (shabda). Nyaya aims to establish valid knowledge and refute invalid knowledge by applying the methods of analysis and argumentation.
- Vaisheshika: This is a naturalistic school that focuses on metaphysics and ontology. Vaisheshika is based on the teachings of Kanada Kashyapa, who classified the categories of reality in his Vaisheshika Sutras. Vaisheshika holds that there are six categories of reality: substance (dravya), quality (guna), action (karma), generality (samanya), particularity (vishesha), and inherence (samavaya). Vaisheshika aims to explain the nature and cause of the world by describing its atomic structure and causal laws.
- Mimamsa: This is a ritualistic school that focuses on exegesis and hermeneutics. Mimamsa is based on the teachings of Jaimini, who interpreted the rules and meanings of the Vedic rituals in his Mimamsa Sutras. Mimamsa holds that the Vedas are eternal, self-evident, and authoritative, and that their main purpose is to prescribe actions (karma) that lead to desirable results (phala). Mimamsa aims to uphold the validity and efficacy of the Vedic rituals by applying the principles of interpretation and analysis.
- Vedanta: This is a spiritual school that focuses on metaphysics and soteriology. Vedanta is based on the teachings of Badarayana, who synthesized the essence of the Upanishads, which are the philosophical portions of the Vedas, in his Brahma Sutras. Vedanta holds that Brahman is the ultimate reality, the source and substratum of everything, and that atman is identical with Brahman. Vedanta aims to realize this identity and attain liberation by various means, such as scriptural study, logical reasoning, devotional worship, or meditative practice.
## What are the sub-schools of Hinduism Philosophy?
Hinduism philosophy also includes several sub-schools that integrate ideas from two or more of the orthodox schools, or that develop new perspectives on existing doctrines. Some of the prominent sub-schools are:
- Advaita Vedanta: This is a non-dualistic sub-school of Vedanta that was founded by Shankara, who commented on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Advaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is the only reality, and that everything else, including the individual self (jiva) and the world (jagat), is illusory (maya). Advaita Vedanta aims to dispel this illusion by knowledge (jnana) of one's true nature as Brahman.
- Vishishtadvaita Vedanta: This is a qualified non-dualistic sub-school of Vedanta that was founded by Ramanuja, who also commented on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Vishishtadvaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is the supreme reality, but that it has attributes (vishishta) such as consciousness, bliss, and personality. Vishishtadvaita Vedanta also holds that jiva and jagat are real but dependent on Brahman. Vishishtadvaita Vedanta aims to attain union with Brahman by devotion (bhakti) to its personal aspect as Vishnu or Narayana.
- Dvaita Vedanta: This is a dualistic sub-school of Vedanta that was founded by Madhva, who also commented on the Brahma Sutras, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. Dvaita Vedanta holds that Brahman is the supreme reality, but that it is distinct from jiva and jagat, which are also real but subordinate to Brahman. Dvaita Vedanta also holds that there are intrinsic differences among jivas in terms of their qualities and destinies. Dvaita Vedanta aims to attain service (seva) to Brahman as its personal aspect as Vishnu or Hari.
- Bhedabheda Vedanta: This is a sub-school of Vedanta that combines elements of both non-dualism and dualism. Bhedabheda Vedanta holds that Brahman is both identical with and different from jiva and jagat, depending on the level of analysis. Bhedabheda Vedanta also holds that jiva and jagat are manifestations or transformations of Brahman's energy (shakti). Bhedabheda Vedanta aims to attain harmony with Brahman by various means such as knowledge, devotion, or action.
## Conclusion: The Status of Hinduism Philosophy
Hinduism philosophy is a rich and diverse tradition that has contributed significantly to the history of Indian philosophy and culture. It has also influenced other philosophical traditions such as Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Islam in India. Hinduism philosophy continues to evolve and adapt to changing times.
(1) The Philosophy of Hinduism - Medium. https://medium.com/our-story-on-earth/the-philosophy-of-hinduism-536071869ca9.
(2) Hindu philosophy - Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_philosophy.
(3) Hindu Philosophy | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://iep.utm.edu/hindu-ph/.
(4) Hindu Philosophy - The Spiritual Life. https://slife.org/hindu-philosophy/.
(5) Getty Images. https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/hindu-god-statue-lord-shiva-sculpture-sitting-in-royalty-free-image/655235152.