Hindu philosophy

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-F002-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 20, 2019, from

7. Other philosophical schools

Sāṅkhya and Vedānta are similar with respect to epistemology and some ontological issues. Sāṅkhya was an old dualistic school reaching back to the ontologies of Upaniṣadic times. It postulated an irreducible duality of consciousness and material stuff. Originally, the material stuff existed in an undifferentiated form, until it was disturbed by an intangible prodding of consciousness. Once disturbed, it produced twenty-three parts of the universe, with the human individual’s parts in preponderance. Altogether, with consciousness and the undifferentiated material stuff, there are twenty-five things that exist. The goal of Sāṅkhya was to experience the basic duality in a trance-like state, to discriminate between ‘spirit’ and ‘matter’. Perhaps this dualism reflected vacillation between idealistic/metaphysical tendencies and naturalistic/materialistic tendencies.

Another old school was Vaiśeṣika, which in some respects was close to Sāṅkhya. Like Sāṅkhya, it strove to list all the things that exist in reality, to name everything there is. Such a proto-scientific enumeration of categories marks the antiquity of these systems. The number of ontological categories according to the classical Vaiśeṣika of Praśastapāda is six. Other philosophers enumerated as many as ten, others only seven. Among these categories, such as substance, quality and activity, we find a category of relation, inherence. Inherence is a relation between things that do not exist in isolation. It holds between qualities and substances, and between particulars and universals; a quality inheres in its substratum, a substance, so that, with a red apple, the red colour is a quality of the substance apple. This red colour cannot exist on its own, but always has to inhere in something, whether an apple or a hibiscus flower. The Vaiśeṣikas are known as the Indian atomists. Motion inheres in the atoms, which, in their varying compositions as whole objects, are the substratum of motion (see Ontology in Indian philosophy).

The Vaiśeṣika school is frequently lumped together with the Nyāya (‘Logic’) school. The reason for this might be that later Nyāya philosophers took it upon themselves to comment upon and revise the old atomistic school. The word nyāya is often used for a maxim or an example in an argument, which is perhaps why it was adopted for the Logic school; earlier, however, it was used to refer to the system of Mīmāṃsā, yet another school.

The Nyāya school also had a list of basic categories. Their sixteen categories are quite obviously the parts of a rigorous argument: for example, instruments of knowledge, objects of knowledge, doubt, purpose, example, and so on. Thus the list consists of epistemological or proto-epistemological tools. The main preoccupation among the Naiyāyikas was to build proper arguments. They used a five-member syllogism based on the constant relation between logical reason and thing-to-be proved (sādhya). This relation came later to be known as concomitance or pervasion (vyāpti). The Naiyāyikas also tried to safeguard against possible mishaps in argument by distinguishing three kinds of fallacy in reasoning.

The early Mīmāṃsakas were completely engaged in interpreting the scriptures, which conveyed injunctions for ritual actions such as sacrifices and ceremonies. These actions should be performed because the Vedas say so – the Vedas are authoritative. Other pursuits, such as acquiring knowledge of oneself or engaging in philosophical debates about God, serve no purpose. Furthermore, any philosophical pursuit may give rise to doubts, and the doubts may extend to the authority of the Vedas. It was centuries before Mīmāṃsā was freed from such dogmatism, by the philosophers Kumārila and Prabhākara (both seventh century). They maintained atheistic positions, and made fun of inconsistencies in arguments for the existence of God. Prabhākara put forward a theory of the self-verifying nature of simple (non-propositional) perceptual knowledge which was heavily criticized by philosophers of other schools.

Yoga was a practical discipline of physical postures, breathing techniques and meditation whose origin we are unable to trace to any precise time, place or event. It went hand-in-hand with the ascetic life, no matter what the value system or outlook of its practitioners. Yoga is classically grouped with Sāṅkhya. There may be two reasons for this. First, both systems date back to the ancient encounter in Indian history between Aryan nomadic conquerors and a settled agricultural people (which lasted several centuries from 1500 bc onwards). There are speculations that Sāṅkhya developed within the newcomers’ tradition, whereas Yoga was practiced among the original inhabitants. Perhaps just as the worldviews of these groups grew together, so were the schools assimilated one to the other. The second reason may have been that Yoga needed a theoretical background to become a system. Sāṅkhya is the oldest recognizable proto-philosophical bundle of ideas. But what Sāṅkhya and Yoga share is not really significant in view of the fact that many other schools adopted Yoga techniques.

According to the Yogasūtra, the aim of Yoga is to be able to attain a state of deep concentration (samādhi) by stopping the activity of the mind. Yoga differs significantly from Sāṅkhya in requiring the grace of God for liberation. Yoga can be seen as a practical discipline capable of being adapted by various theoretical systems, especially those whose adherents are supposed to undergo spiritual experiences to achieve liberation from pain, anguish, longing and rebirth.

Citing this article:
Clear, Edeltraud Harzer. Other philosophical schools. Hindu philosophy, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-F002-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2019 Routledge.

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