Schools of Philosophy

India is a country, which keeps the sacred ancient traditions over thousands of years. That is why many philosophy schools find their roots here. Most of them are based on Vedas, the oldest layer of Sanskrit literature and the oldest scriptures of Hinduism. Veda means the Knowledge (Knowledge of everything). Though they are ancient they are applicable even today. Teaching was through oral communication. Vedas are Sanskrit chants set to a meter based on music. The meanings of these chants depend on the meter and hence importance was given for proper chanting. As the students memorized, repeated and dwelt on the meaning of these chants, they came out with their own interpretations and insights. Thus different perspectives came up, which developed in different schools of philosophy.


The Schools of Philosophy can be divided into

  1. Ancient
  2. Medieval
  3. Modern


1. Ancient schools of philosophy, which are orthodox, are called Darshanas (from the root “Drush”, to see).


There are six schools, which accept Vedas (Astika Darshanas):

  • Vaisheshika: Given by a Rishi Kaanaada (Rishi means a Seer. One who saw higher aspects of the Totality in the transcendental state), is based on Kanas or Paramaanus, which means atoms. This is similar to some of the concepts of Physics.
  • Nyaaya: Given by Gautama, is based on logic. According to this theory everything can be derived using logic.
  • Saankhya: Given by Kapila, is based on 25 aspects of creation and this philosophy gave the concept of Gunas viz Satva, Rajas and Tamas.
  • Yoga: Given by Patanjali, is called Raja Yoga or Ashtanga Yoga, has eight limbs, viz. Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi.
  • Poorva Mimamsa: Given by Jaimini, is based on the concept of Eternal Heaven where one can enjoy pleasures after acquiring merit by doing good actions on the Earth. After the exhaustion of merit one will return to Earth and gain new one.
  • Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta: Given by Veda Vyasa, one who actually divided the Vedas. This is the non-dualistic philosophy of oneness (Advaita Vedanta).


There are six schools, which do not accept Vedas (Naastika Darshans):

  • Chaarvaka: Materialistic philosophy. This life is one-off accidental one, hence enjoy. How you live doesn’t matter, is similar to Epicurean theory.
  • Jaina: is given by 24 Tirthankars or Jain teachers. This philospophy based on Tapas (austerity, discipline) and Ahimsa (non-violence).
  • Soutraantika (Buddhistic): This is based on Buddhistic Sutra Literature of Sutta Pitika
  • Yougika (Buddhistic): Is based on a particular form of Yoga and based on Mandalas etc. followed in Tibet.
  • Kshanika Vijnana Vada (Buddhistic): Is based on the concept that Consciousness is like a flicker, which comes and goes.
  • Shoonya Vada (Buddhistic): Given by Nagajuna says that everything is made up of Shoonya or Emptiness. As one keeps analyzing things one will end up in almost emptiness.


2. The Medieval schools of Philosophy are many. The main are:

  • Vishishta Adwiata: Qualified Non-Dualistic
  • Dwaita: Dualistic
  • Sudhha Advaita: Pure Non-Dualistic
  • Vaishvavisam: all about Lord Vishnu as the center of everything
  • Shaivism: all about Shiva
  • Sikkhisam: about Truth as told by Gurus, about Name as God


3. There are innumerable schools of Philosophy in Modern India in the last hundred years.

  • Arya Samaaj
  • Brahmo Samaaj
  • Brahma Kumaris
  • Radha Swomi and many more.


The fundamentals, which govern the religious life of India are basically from three main concepts about God

  1. Dwaita or Dualistic
  2. Vishishtaadwaita or Qualified Non-Dualistic
  3. Advaita or Non-Dualistic
  4. Dwaita Philosophy says the Individual and God are separate. Individual is limited in every aspect and God is unlimited. Individual can become bigger and bigger but never become God who is the biggest. Individual needs to serve the God and God will bless by fulfilling desires.
  5. Vishistadwaita Philosophy says that Individual is a part of God like even a Wave is a part of the Ocean or Leaf is a part of the Tree. The Totality has generated the individual, and is sustaining and will finally merge. Individual is a part of Totality called God. Here the individual is advised to surrender and serve the Totality or God.
  6. Advaita Philosophy says that in Nature Individual is not different from Totality or God, even when one feels the other way. Like Wave is the Ocean, because both are water, water is their essential nature. Advaita proposes Unity of Consciousness.


Temples in India (which itself is a very elaborate topic) are not connected to any particular school of philosophy. Any one can visit and worship there. A person visiting a temple can follow any philosophy. Though the concept of temple looks as though they follow either Dualistic or qualified non-dualistic philosophy, yet Non-Dualistic (Advaita) philosophy is never opposed to the other philosophies. Temples in India are built based the concept of body. Centre of the temple is called sanctum sanctorum which is equivalent of the heart center of the individual, Indicating that we are always in touch with the Truth as stated in the Bible: The Kingdom of God is within.


All the philosophies are meant to make the life meaningful, peaceful, loving, sharing and creating harmony. If this purpose is not served then that philosophy becomes a burden and needs to be rejected.

by Rishi Sudhir