Indian School of Philosophy: A Synopsis

Indian School of Philosophy: A Synopsis

Ramesh Gupta MD


Indian school of philosophy (also, called the Vedic philosophy) sheds lights on some deep and unseen facts. The soul can attain the state of salvation after freeing itself from all the bonds by achieving true knowledge of God, soul and matter. It appears that the sole aim of teachings of all the Darshan Shaastras or the Indian School of Philosophy is to resolve all human physical, intellectual, mental and spiritual problems and lead us to the lasting peace and happiness (Aanand) which may result in Moksha or salvation. In fact there is no problem of life, which has not been addressed to and given solution of in Darshan Shaastras. Actually, teachings of this school of philosophy are connected to knowledge of proper code of conduct, religion (better term will be dharma), objectives in life, health sciences, and knowledge of the three entities as suggested above (God, Soul and Matter). Ample and deep thought has been given in Darshan Shaastras for total human development. Knowledge of God, Soul, different Devatas (which represent God’s attributes and functions), mind, intellect, our duties in life, origin of universe including sun, earth, human creation, facts about this life and life after death, concept of heaven and hell, phenomenon of rebirth, matter or Prakriti, the five elements: agni (fire), jala (water), vayu (air), prithvi (earth) and aakash (ether), five subtle elements: roopa (sight), rasa (taste), gandha (smell), sparsha (touch) and shabda (sound), life and death, time-space and consciousness, understanding of the happiness and sorrows in life with their causes and remedies, human psychology, different states of mind (awake, sleep, dream), etc. are some of the subjects explained in the Indian School of Philosophy.


This school of philosophy has its roots in the Vedas, followed by Brahman granths, Aranyaks, and then the Upanishads. There are six Vedic Darshans: Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Saankhya, Yoga, Meemansa and finally the Vedaanta Darshan. These darshans can be considered in 3 groups. 1. Saankhya and Yoga, 2. Nyaya and Vaisheshik, 3. Meemansa and Vedaanta. Their brief description follows:


  1. Nyaya Darshan: This was written by Maharshi Gautam. It has 5 chapters. Main topic of consideration is the Science of Logic. Word nyaya literally means a source or means by the help of which one can reach to a definite principle or a decision. Goal of this darshan is to relieve suffering by dispelling of ignorance through the attainment of true knowledge and prove beyond doubt that there is God by looking at the creation since there is a perfect order and purpose in this universe. Eeshvar is the efficient cause and the Prakriti is the material cause of this creation and the soul in the end user and efficient cause as well in a limited way. Two types of knowledge have been described. These are: Pramaa or the true knowledge and the Apramaa or false knowledge (illusion). Pramaan or proof is what is to be used to achieve the Pramaa.

To achieve this goal, 16 elements have been detailed in this Darshan. These are:  pramaan (proof), prameya (those objects which have been proven by evidence or pramaan as above), sanshaya (doubts), prayojan (aim), drashtanta (example), siddhanta (principle), avayav(the sentences which are used to prove something through anumman pramaan. tarka (argument), nirnaya (decision), vada (discussion), jalpa (dialogue or discussion where the sole aim is to win the discussion and not necessarily to gain proper knowledge), vitandaa (discussion in which one is just trying to negate the opponent’s points), hetvabhasa (even though it may not be real, it appears to be the reason), chhala (deception), jaati (improper meaning), and nigrahasthan (acceptance of defeat).  There are two traditions of this Darshan, the old and the new. Some details of these 16 elements      are as follows.

    PramaanPramaa can be achieved by 4 ways. These Proofs or Pramaans are pratyaksha or which is obvious and visible either by our 5 senses or our mind. Statements made by true yogis because of what they have perceived can also come under this category. Second is anumaan. Example of this would be where there is smoke; there is fire and not vice versa.. Third type is upaman. This is when we try to explain certain thing by comparing it with something else. The fourth type is the shabd. This is word of wisdom.


  1. Vaisheshik Darshan: This was written by Maharshi Kanaad. It consists of 10 chapters with total of 370 sukta. This Darshan deals with what is special or Vishesh. This is the reason for its name. In this Darshan, there is emphasis on the science of indivisible particle called atom. Actually this may be the first scripture, which emphasizes the importance of atomic science. The question arose, that if all that exists is made from the same indestructible atom, why are the objects different from each other. Maharshi Kanaad’s explanation of this mystery was that there are “Vishesh” elements inherent in the atomic particles. The examples of these are, that what becomes earth has vishesh earth elements and what becomes water has vishesh water elements etc. According to Maharshi Kanaad, there are seven padaarths (all that can be named are padaarths or elements). These are dravya (thing), guna (quality), karma (action), saamaanya (ordinary), vishesh (special), samavaaya (relationship between cause and action) and abhaava (deficiency).


  1. Saankhya Darshan: Maharshi Kapil wrote this Darshan. It has 6 chapters. First Sutra of the first chapter defines 3 types of unhappiness(Dukhas) and to be free from all these dukhaas is moksha or salvation. “Trividha dukhaatyant nivritti ratyantpurushaarthah”


The 3 dukhaas are aadhyaatmik, adhibhotik and adhidevik . Aadhyaatmik again could be from physical ailements or from our thoughts and desires. Adhibhotik is from other beings and adhidevik is from acts of nature.

This Darshan emphasizes on knowledge. Actually the word Saankhya itself means true knowledge. According to this Darshan, the God, soul and matter are all eternal. Total 25 elements have been described. These are: nature in its un-manifest form, 5 sensory organs (eyes, tongue, ears, nose and skin), 5 motor organs (hands, feet, organs for defecation, organs for urination and organs for procreation), 5 basic elements (fire, water, earth, air and ether), 5 tanmaatra (sight, taste, touch, smell and sound), mind, ego (ahankaar), mahatatva and the soul. The five sensory and the five motor organs and the five basic elements are all derived from the primordial matter or Prakriti, which fundamentally has three modes: sattva, rajas, and tamas.  There is a perfect order in this universe and all acts of God are purposeful. It is clearly stated that in order for something to be created, basic materials have to present in some form, either visible or non-visible. You cannot get anything starting from nothing. Creation is the combination of Prakriti and Purush or soul. Neither soul alone nor the nature alone can result in creation, since only the soul is the conscious being.

Here is the sequence of events leading to creation. First Mahattattva develops followed by intellect

( buddhi), ahankaar( sense of me or mine). It is because of ahankaar that the individual gets the desires to act, feels the ownership and really is the basis of all that an individual does in life. Ahankaar further leads to development of the 5 subtle elements called tanmaatras, which then results in development of the 5 sensory organs, 5 motor organs and the mind.  The 25th element is the purush or the atma which is needed for the functioning of Jeevaatma. There is some disagreement in interpretation of the darshan as to whether it affirms the belief in God in addition to the Prakriti and soul or not. This does however clearly accept the role of God as the sustainer at least.  In this darshan it is quite clear that everyone has full and equal right to seek Vedic knowledge and salvation.


  1. Yoga Darshan: This was written by Maharshi Patanjali. The book has four parts called Paad. These are Samaadhi-Paad, Saadhan-Paad, Vibhuti-Paad, and Kaivalya-Paad.  The Saankhya and Yoga Darshan are closely interlinked with each other.  According to this darshaan, Yoga has eight limbs/steps.  These are: Yama, Niyama, Aasana, Pranayaama, Pratyahaara, Dhaarana, Dhyaana, and Samaadhi.
  2. Yama is the social code of conduct and consists of Satya (honesty), Ahimsa (nonviolence), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (celibacy), and Aparigraha (avoidance of excessive materialism).
  3. Niyama, or the rules for yourself, that is the personal code of conduct. Shaucha (cleanliness of body and mind), Santosha (contentment), Tapa (hard work and non-deviation while facing difficulties), Swaadhyaya (introspection and contemplation of scriptures), and Eeshwar-Praanidhana (surrender to God).
  • Aasana: physical exercise including postures for relaxation and flexibility.
  1. Pranaayama: breath control through various breathing exercises.
  2. Pratyahaara: to disconnect your senses from the external objects and thoughts.
  3. Dhaarana: to concentrate mind on a specific object or point, preferably inside body.
  • Dhyaan: a stage of deeper meditation just before Samaadhi. Here, there is concentration becomes stable, unwavering and free from other thoughts.
  • Samaadhi: This is the deepest state of meditation where a Yogi can connect his/her aatma (soul) with parmaatma (God), reaching a state of bliss, or Aananda.

Five states of mind have been described. These are: Kshipt or very disturbed, Moodha where mid can not make wise decisions, vikshipt where one wavers between right and wrong decision, aikagraa where mental concentration can be achieved and finally the best state of mind which is nirudha which leads to a real peace. This is the best state of mind. The whole idea of practice of yoga to achieve this state of mind and of course a better physical, mental and spiritual well being and even Moksha.

This darshan also guides us as how to live happily in the society. It says that when you see someone unhappy, feel sorry and try to make efforts to remove their sorrows. Be happy when you see a good person. When you meet a wicked person be indifferent. 5 types of sorrows have been described. These are: avidya ( mistaking body as the soul), asmitaa ( considering body and soul as the same thing), raga (intense desire to seek happiness), dvesh (anger) and abhinivish (fear of death). Goal of Yoga is to eliminate these and achieve aanand or lasting happiness.

  1. Meemansa Darshan: This was written by Maharshi Jaimini. The book has 12 chapters with 2745 sutras. The word meemansa means to resolve any problem or mental confusion about an issue through proper logic. This Darshan deals with day-to-day code of conduct and rituals and is appropriately also called the Karmameemansa. In this Darshan, there is a harmony between the knowledge, action, psychology, and the matter.  The main conclusions of this Darshan are: 1.  The soul exists after death and is eternal. Jeevaatma has to go through the fruits of action, good or bad. 2.  Soul is governed by another supreme power, called parmaathma, or eeshwar, (i.e. God) that acts only as a drashtaa, and does not get involved into the fruits of action.3. Vedas are authority by itself and doesn’t depend on any extraneous authority. 4. The creation is a reality, and is not mithya (an illusion) as maybe believed by some. Besides the ways of proving described in the Nyaya Darshan, there is yet another type of pramaan called arthaapatti in which a conclusion is drawn in an indirect way. The example is-if a person is overweight without eating anything in daytime, one would conclude that he/she must have been eating at night.


  1. Vedanta Darshan: This was written by Maharshi Baadarayan Vyasa. The Sutras of this Darshan are called Brahama-Sutra too. Upanishads are called Vedanta as well. In fact, Brahama-Sutra has been created based on the principles of Upanishads. Brahama-Sutra is also called Uttara-Meemansa, Shaareerik-Meemansa, Vedaanta-Sutra, and Shaareerik-Sutra. This book has four chapters. Different Aacharyaas have interpreted this scripture in their own way, at times quite different from each other. For example, Shankara-Achaarya considered Soul as part of God and the principle has been called the Advaitwad (Non-Dualism). Ramanujacharya believed that Soul and even the matter are special qualities of the Brahman. This concept was called “Vishishtaadvait”. Madhvaacharya on the other hand considered the Soul and God as two different entities and his concept was called the Dvaitwad (Dualism). There was yet another concept by Nimbaarkaacharya who theorized that the Soul and God were same in certain ways and different in some other ways and his concept was called “Dvaitadvait” (Dualistic Non-Dualism).


Maharshi Dayanand Saraswati (1824-’83), however firmly believed that there are three different eternal entities in this universe, the God, Soul and Matter. This concept is called “Traitwad” (Trinity). There are several mantras in the Vedas, Brahaman Granthas and Upanishads, which clearly prove this theory of Traitwad. This view seems to be most logical of all.

Ashram Vyavastha (4 stages of life)

Aashram Vyavastha or stages of life

Our sages have divided the life span of 100 yrs in to 4 stages. This division is called the “Aashrams of life”. The 4 stages are: Brahamacharya, or celibacy, Grihastha, or family life, Vaanpristha, or social life, and, sanyaasa, or the stage of total detachment.  The word Aashram denotes “hard work for self-benevolence”. Swami Dayanand Saraswati defines Aashram as a system in which one works as hard as possible and acquires the highest level of qualities. (aaryodesh ratnamala).

The sole aim of human existence is to get rid of all forms of negativity and acquire lasting peace and happiness. To achieve such, a well-organized daily routine and hard work are essential. Our sages have given the doctrine of four forms of hard work in the form of Dharma, Artha, Kaama and Moksha. Dharma constitutes performing our duties in life while following the path of honesty and justice. Artha is to attain prosperity by following this path which leads to attainment of Kaama, the fulfillment of desires, ultimately leading to everlasting peace and salvation, Mokhsa.

These goals can be fulfilled only through the 4 stages of life.

Brahmacharyaashram: The goal of this aashram is to live with proper discipline, acquire all forms of knowledge, and achieve physical, mental and spiritual strength, all the while remaining distanced from materialistic desires so often expressed in our thoughts, speech and action. The first 25 years of life have been traditionally designated for this aashram.  Brahamacharya is made up of two words, brahama and charya. Brahama denotes Veda, knowledge, God etc. and charya is to achieve, obey, follow and utilize all that is given in life. In present context Brahamacharya, therefore, is to achieve knowledge of both materialism and spiritualism. The ancient Gurukul education curriculum consisted of exactly this lifestyle in which students were known as Brahamachaari.  During this first aashram of life, Brahamachaaris also remained unwed. The word Brahamachaari, therefore, became synonymous with one not having entered marriage, though even in Vedic times if a student in Gurukul was not married, he or she would still be referred to as a Brahamachaari. Even in present day, by practicing simplicity, hard work, acting perseverant and disciplined, this proper code of conduct can be followed alongside the modern education system to bring about the best of both worlds to produce confident and independent students to make the world a better place to live.

Grihasthaashram: In Vedic times, the right to enter in the family life was given only after finishing the education and going through the Brahmacharyaashram properly as outlined above. Usually the age of this part of life was considered appropriate from 25 to 50 yrs. To marry a person who would confirm to his/her personality, habits and expectations was considered most important. Even today, some of these elements are considered important in finding a life partner. What used to be equally important is that after getting married, the couple would follow the path of 5 Yagya and 8 part yoga in their life, have progeny, and do their absolute best to inculcate the same values in their children by example rather than preaching. The householders were also the main work force and used to take care of all other segments of society and everyone who is in the other 3 aashrams. Therefore, this aashram is considered the most important and the best part of life.  However, our sages made it very clear that this part of life was not a mere source of luxury and sensuous pleasures, but this opportunity was to be utilized for the upliftment of the society and be used as a step stone for self-realization and eventual salvation. The householders, who did not do sandhya and havan on a regular basis, did not take care of parents and other elders and of those who could not care for all other beings and the environment were not looked upon with respect. If this ideology and code of conduct is followed in our lives today, the result will be lasting happiness and peace in the personal and family lives and will result in a better community, nation and the world.

Vaanprasthaashram: Historically, the ideal way to fulfill the requirements of this aashram was to literally leave the house when one would be over 50 yrs. of age and became a grandparent and spend rest of the life serving the society while still taking care of your own needs physically and financially. It appears that the society in those times provided such a strong support and the personal needs were so minimal that this change of life did not pose any problem to anyone. However, today, our life styles have changed so much that such a drastic change is neither possible nor practical or beneficial to anyone. On the contrary, this can only put more burdens on the householder.  Actually it appears that the whole emphasis in the part of life seems to be on asking this individual and couple, who now has grown up children, some finances and knowledge about life and connections, to be able to provide service to the society in form of physical service, providing guidance, making donations etc. much more than they could ever provide while fulfilling the responsibilities as a householder. It is often seen that after retirement, most people spend their time purposelessly, eventually feels useless, get depressed, become ill and do not live long. If this golden period of life is spent with a purpose of self upliftement while being of service to the community at large, life will seem useful, there will be hope. This will certainly result is a better health and longevity.

Sanyasaashram: The word sanyas literally means God realization and live life of Dharma and the Sanyaasee is the one who lives life with high code of conduct. This is the last stage of life, traditionally from 75 to the end of life. Most people reach this stage of life after passing through the previously mentioned 3 stages (aashrams). However there are rare souls who can go directly from Brahamacharya to Sanyaasa. This requires a total control on senses, all forms of vices and intense disciple and is very difficult to follow in real life. A true sanyaasee has of follow the Yama and Neeyama, have a routine of regular sandhya, havan, praanaayama and other higher stages of meditation. In this stage a person can truly influence the society by example of their lives more than by simply preaching.