This article is intended to give a detailed explanation of the 6 darshanas which are
- Nyaya (Logic or Tarka)
- Vaisheshika (The Indian atomic theory)
- Sankya(The precursor to contemporary Vedanta)
- Yoga (Totally different from the one practiced today. Based on Sankya)
- Mimamsa (System of Vedic interpretation, especially the ritualistic parts. This system is the basis of the Indian constitution
- Vedanta (Needs no introduction)
What is the meaning of darshanas and why “Astika”
The darshanas are views (From the word darshan) or systems of philosophy. The word Astika means all the above 6 accept the Veda as a valid source of knowledge, also called as pramana. We will go into the details of what is a pramana and all the epistemological back ground later. There are 6 other darshanas called nastika darshanas. They are called nastika because they do not accept the veda as a valid source of knowledge. These 6 Nastika darshanas are
- Charvaka (Materialists, who believe that there is nothing above the body)
- Four schools of Buddhism.
These Astika darshanas derive their authority from the Veda and mostly deal with existential questions. The following is the list of knowledge sources of Vaidhika Dharma (Decreasing order of importance)
- Four Vedas
- The six angas Shiksha(Phonetics), Chandas(Prosody), Nirukta(Lexicography), Vyakarana(Grammar), Jyothisha(Astronomy), Kalpa(A cover term used for Dharma, grihya and kalpa sutras)
- The 6 Astika darshanas as listed at the beginning of the article
Thus all 16 are called together as the shodasa vidyas sthanas. If a dharmic question arises, it should be settled by seeing what the Veda says, if it is not clear then check the anga and so on.
The relevance of the 6 Darshanas
The Vedic angas and darshanas are very ancient and are right from the “Vedic period”. Unfortunately majority of the Hindus are not aware of the immense knowledge, both spiritual and worldly found in them. Grammatical, astronomical and geometrical and legal knowledge are found within the Angas. The system of predicate logic, Elementary atomic theory, precursor to the concepts of evolution and a framework for designing a legal system etc are found in the darshanas. Without the knowledge of them we have become emaciated.
As a practical application of the Darshanas let us consider a trivial example from the Veda (Taittriya Aranyaka) and use a simple principle from the Poorva Mimamsa to resolve it. The pravargya rite as defined by the Taittriya Aranyaka 1st prashna, is the symbolic joining of Rudra's head to his body after he loses his head. But in the same Aranyaka 8th prashna, it is said that the pravargya represents symbolically the joining of Vishnu's head to his body after his head was severed. Here we have two conflicting versions. How do we resolve this? In Mimamsa we have the principle of Upasamhara or proximity. The above story is provided as an arthavada (Eulogy) of the rite. So the artavada appearing closer to the description of the rite is to be taken. Also to derive the meaning of similar words have swaras that help to resolve them. We have krama pata etc for error correction and detection. We do not have these things for other texts.
It is imperative to know at least the basics of the darshanas. Therefore this article.
Sources of knowledge or pramana (Epistemology)
Before we go into the depths of each darshana it is important to understand the meaning of the word “Pramana”. This word simply means “Right source of knowledge”. Epistemology in English means the science of validating the source of knowledge. Indian systems have a very deep understanding of this area. As a good example there is a book called “Pramana Lakshanam” by Madhava. It is available online and can be easily searched on Google. It treats the subject of Epistemology in depth. Indian Epistemology classifies pramanas or sources of knowledge into the following
- Pratyaksha (Direct perception). When one see's a fire he can conclude there is a fire
- Anumana (inference). When one does not directly see fire, but sees smoke one can conclude there is a fire burning
- Shruti Pramana (Verbal testimony).When one did not go out of the house, but hears from his neighbor that there is a fire burning somewhere, this is verbal testimony. As said earlier, the Veda is taken as a reliable source of shruti pramana. Again we discuss this in detail later.
- Upamana or Analogy. For example if somebody does not know what Bison is and has never seen one, we can give an analogy of a cow saying that the Bison grazes grass like a cow and give milk like a cow. But is much bigger in appearance than a cow. This could help the person to identify the Bison later.
- Artapatti or derivation from situations. For example if a boy is not in school after 4p.m and is not to be found in any of the known place to be found, we can tell that he is at home. Again this is not true always. Will discuss this in detail later.
- Anupalabdi or Abahava , non-perception. Again not a very reliable source or pramana. For example when the a article is expected to be found at a particular place and is not found now, means it could have been stolen.
If noted closely items 4-6 are derivations of 3. So we can take the first 3 as main categories. Why do we need to know all these to understand the darshana's? Because each darshana bases its tenets on one or more of these pramanas. For example Sankya accepts only the first 3. All schools of Vedanta accept all 6 and so on.
More on Shabda pramana (Hereafter this will mean Vedic testimony unless specified otherwise)
The reason why the Vedas are considered reliable means of knowledge or pramana is due to the effort taken to preserve them as is. The body of knowledge generated to preserve them itself is a vast ocean. Apart from the Angas, we have pratishakyas for each shaka, lakshana books, various kind of shiksha's like pluta shiksha and so on. Why do we do this for the Veda? Because the Vedas are considered apaurusheya (Not man-made) or revealed to a rishi. So the source of that piece of knowledge is super-sensual. So it is good if we restrict Shabda pramana to the vedas & angas alone.
Enough with the digressions we will start discussing each Darshana in no particular order. I plan to give an elaborate explanation for 5 other Darshanas other than Vedanta as that seems to be the most popular one.
The Darshanas in detail
The reason for starting with this is that, this is the most famous among the six. As everybody knows, Veda+Anta = Vedanta. The portions that appear at the end of each Veda i.e.the Upanishads are the basis for this school of philosophy. Examples are the well-known Taittriya, Brihadaranyaka, Chandogya etc. They occur at the end of the Taittiya Brahmana, Shatapatha Brahmana and Talavakara Brahmana respectively. But the Ishavasyopanishad occurs in the samhita of the Shukla yajus.
In addition to the Vedic sources the Brahma sutras and the Gita also forms an important part of this school. This school accepts all the 6 pramanas stated above. All the 3 Upanishads, Brahma sutras and Gita are called prastana traya. Unfortunately because of a lack of padha pata and swaras for most Upanishads (The Taittriya and Isha and Brihadaranyaka have swaras) and due to different interpretation of the Brahma Sutras there are 3 schools under Vedanta Advaita, Vishishtadvait and Dvaita. I do not plan to go into the details of each school here as they are known very well and there are large number of followers in each school. It should be said to some extent that Vaidika Dharma has survived because of these 3 schools. The reason is that these 3 mutts have preserved the Vedas and much of the local arts and literature. Like for example the Shri Vaishnava mutts have preserved the Divya prabhandam in tamizh and the Madhva mutts have preserved Kannada devotional literature.
Note that though there are 108 Upanishads available (Some consider it to be 1008), only 10-15 are considered to be authentic by the traditional acharya’s of the 3 schools. The criteria for an Upanishad to be considered authentic are,
1. It belongs to an existing Vedic shaka and is of considerable antiquity
2. It does not have sectarian overtones.
3. Its tenets do not go against the mainstream Shruti, Smriti and Shishtachara.
The reasons for criteria 1 is that if the Shaka of the Upanishad is known, then the swara rules for that shaka become known. Based on this criterion alone it is possible to eliminate many so called Upanishads. The second criterion is to safe guard Vaidhika dharma from external attacks. Imagine what it would be like if a Christian missionary somehow wrote a “Yesopanishad” and let it loose. The unsuspecting Hindu with his liberal outlook may be deceived. So if any Upanishad harps too much on one deity who does not belong to the Vedic pantheon or even on one deity who is found in the purana alone, then it is to be rejected.
That is why Upanishads like the Ganesha Atharva Shira though chanted widely in south India, is not considered authentic because its swaras are ambiguous. I have checked with Atharva Vedins and they are sure that it is not part of the 2 existing Atharva shakas, Shaunikiya and Paipalada. The same goes for the Kali Santara Upanishad. It is the one that gives the mantra “Hare Rama Hare Krishna” Vedic sanctity. But even Vaishnavaite schools of Vedanta do not consider it authentic because it fails criterion 1, 2 and 3.
Consider the Vajra Suchiko Upanishad. It says that “A brahmin is a brahmin only if he realizes brahman and not just by wearing a yajnopavita, shika and vedic study”. Astika’s reject this because if the Upanishad is taken, then Brahmins can never perform the Shastraic ordained duty because only a Brahma jnani can be a Brahmin. This violates criteria 1 & 3. How many Brahmins can be a brahma jnani in thousand years? Actually this Upanishad is suspected to be a work of the Baudha Nagarjuna. There are a number of cases like this and it would be impossible to list them here.