Indian Philosophy

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The "India" in question is the Indian subcontinentthe land constituting present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and surrounding countries such as Srī Lanka to the south and Bhutan, Sikkim, Afghanistan, and Nepal to the north. And although philosophy in the sense in question covers much of what is covered by the term philosophy in its contemporary usage in English-speaking countries, it also has a specific use in the Indian context, in which it refers to the thoughts expressed in the literature relating to liberation (moka; nirvāa ). In this usage, philosophy, and the philosophical literature of India, is contrasted in Indian thinking with the literature pertaining to other matters, notably the literature concerned with political and social concerns (arthaśāstra ), with interpersonal relations such as the sexual and aesthetic dimensions of love (kāmaśāstra ), and with morals (dharmaśāstra ), each of which has a pertinent literature of its own. The "philosophical" literature of India, then, relates to ultimate concerns, especially how to achieve liberation from rebirths and the nature of a universe in which liberation is possible and available. It is a literature that does not primarily include such Western fields of philosophy as political and social philosophy (for that is artha ), aesthetics (for that is kāma ) and ethics (for that is dharma ). It also does not include the literature concerning the natural and social sciences (although it is arguable that parts of Indian philosophy are offshoots of aspects of early Indian protoscience) or the applied sciences (agriculture, astronomy, and so on); nor does it include the domain of poetry and prose literature.

Whether Indian philosophy overlaps religion or not is a matter of how one thinks of "religion." The majority of the early Indian philosophical systems (darśana ) do not acknowledge, and in some cases explicitly deny, the existence of a supreme being or lord (īśvara ). All classical Indian thinking accepts gods (deva ). They are viewed as unliberated, like humans; they are beings who inhabit other realms and occasionally visit ours. They eventually live out their lengthy period as gods and are reborn into lower realms as humans or even animals. This process is part of the Indian theory of karmaaccepted until modern timesaccording to which selves are beginningless and are caused by their past actions to inhabit a series of bodies ranging from insects (or even plants) up to gods, depending on the particular portion of the stored-up results of past actions (karman ) that becomes activated (prārabdha ) as one enters the next birth.

In what has been dubbed the "bhakti period"the period beginning around the turn of the second millenium CE, many philosophical viewpoints became inspired by and wedded into one or another religious movement. These movements typically recognize and worship one or more of the Hindu deities such as Śiva or Viu, and their literature is a mixture of devotional and philosophical concerns. However, the systems that originated in the previous centuriesSākhya and Yoga, Nyāya and Vaiśeika, Pūrvamīmāsā and Advaita Vedānta, Buddhism and Jainismhave persisted up to the present. Their literature continues to expand, and for most of them (except Buddhist systems) there are still maha s and āśrama s in India where followers devote their lives to the study of one of these systems.

In the "modern" periodfrom the nineteenth century to the presentthe application of the term "Indian philosophy" has become more complex because the British-founded system of higher education has bred a group of philosophers (in the Western sense) who are native South Asians. Because of the broad Western connotation of the terms philosophy and philosophers, among modern Indian philosophers one finds not only academic philosophers but also profound and influential political and social thinkers such as Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Aurobindo, and even Gandhi.

The Indian Philosophical Literature

This article covers, under a variety of topical headings, the philosophical views (darśana ) discussed in the classical literature. The writers focus chiefly on the path that can lead to liberation from karmic bondage. These writers also defend the very possibility of gaining liberation against doubts. In mounting this defense, they explore the nature of the kind of universe that would allow for the working out of karma. They examine the very possibility of liberation and what it takes to confront and overcome the causes of bondage. These writings have yielded a rich variety of profound metaphysical, logical, and epistemic theories.

The language of this Indian philosophical literature is mainly Sanskritic. The broad designation "Sanskritic" includes not only Sanskrit itself but also vernaculars such as Pāli (the language of early Buddhist philosophical treatises) and Prakrit, the language of some early Jain works. In the case of a few of the "bhakti -period" movements, some of the philosophical literature comes to us in Tamil and occasionally other modern Indian languages. But for the most part, classical Sanskrit is the language of Indian philosophy.

Great foundational works of Sanskrit literature are frequently included within the literature of Indian philosophy, specifically works such as the Vedas, the Upaniads, the epics, the Bhagavadgītā, the Pāli canon, the canonical Jain works, and the Bhāgavatapurāa. These works certainly include matters that pertain to "Indian philosophy" as characterized above, but it is commentaries on these foundational works that are the locus of a significant portion of India's philosophical literature.

Of the many philosophical systems that have grown up in India, there is one basic text that has come to be viewed as the basic scripture for each system. Sometimes such works have a title that ends in "-sūtra s." Thus the Nyāyasūtras, Vaiśeikasūtras, Mīmāsāsūtras, and Brahmasūtra s play this basic role, respectively, for the Nyāya, Vaiśeika, Pūrva-mīmāsā, and Vedāntic schools of thought. For other systems a basic text (if there is one) has a different kind of title. From these basic textswhether called "sūtra " or notan interpretive literature grew up over the centuries that is a significant part of the Indian philosophical corpus. For example, in the case of Nyāya, there is a series of commentaries upon commentaries stemming from the basic Nyāyasūtra s. The number of commentaries and subcommentaries on the Brahmasūtra s is vast, because there are many Vedānta systems, and each has its own interpretive literature based on that text.

The Systems of Indian Philosophy

Indian scholars traditionally speak of "six systems of Indian philosophy." But there are many more than six. A "system" or "school" (darśana, literally a "view") in this context constitutes a set of theories about liberation and the means to it based on a certain ontology, logic, and epistemology. This definition has to be understood in a loose way. The system known as Cārvāka has a theory about liberationit denies that it is possible to be liberatedso its position is largely an extended polemic against the rest of the systems, whose theories are adopted specifically to account for and illuminate the possibility of liberation. Some of the Vedāntic systems place limitations on who is and who is not capable of liberation, and some of them elevate devotion to God to a position that equals or even surpasses liberation itself. The later Buddhist notion of the Bodhisattva who declines his own liberation until all beings have been liberated implies another exception to the general view that it is one's own liberation from karmic bondage that is the defining concern of Indian philosophy.

It is, indeed, impossible to give a finite list of Indian systems of philosophy. For one thing, new schools are being founded even now; their durability might be far from certain, but some recent ones have their adherents. For another thing, it is not always clear how to differentiate one system from anotherit is not obvious, for example, whether those called "Buddhist logicians" are to be counted as a separate school of Buddhist thought or not; and there are clearly several disparate branches of Mīmāsā; there are an indefinite number of schools that call themselves "Vedānta."

Assumptions Common to All Systems (Except CĀrvĀka)

As noted earlier, the Cārvākas do not accept liberation as a feasible goal. Their outlook has been culled from references in polemical passages by others attempting to refute their views and a limited number of literary works such as Jayarāśi's Tattvopaplavasiha and Ka Miśra's Prabodhacandrodaya.

All the other systems in this survey accept at least two relevant theses: The first is that there was no absolute beginning of things, that the series of lives each of us has lived is without beginning. This doctrine of beginninglessness (anāditva ) entails, of course, that there can be no God who created us ab initio or who functions as the first cause of the universe. As we shall see, this does not necessarily stop Indian philosophers talking about God (īśvara ); various roles are assigned to Him aside from that of ultimate creator.

The other thesis generally accepted by all systems except Cārvāka is what is often referred to as the "karma theory" or the "law of karma." Although many details about how karma works can be gleaned from the pages of the Indian philosophical literature, karma remains an assumption underlying all philosophical theories rather than a theory itself. It is infrequently defended, merely assumed.

What is this "karma theory"? First, given the assumption of the beginninglessness of selves, each person has always existed; each is always performing actions ("action" being the basic meaning of karman ), at least some of which lay down "karmic traces" (saskāra; vāsanā ) that are stored up in the agent until each is eventually "worked off" through performance of another action at some later date. These traces, which constitute each self's "karmic baggage," are carried through life and over into the next birth, where a certain portion of that baggage is identified or "ticketed" as requiring working off during that coming lifetime. In working off the ticketed portion, one performs more actions that in turn breed more traces, so that one must be born again and again in order to work off both stored-up karma from previous lives and un-worked-off karma from one's present life.

A commonly cited passage in the Yogasūtra s specifies three aspects of one's life that are determined by the traces stored up from previous lives. One is the kind of life one gets at each birth. Some part of one's karmic store, perhaps the traces of the latest or perhaps of the most virtuous or vicious actions, results in the coming birth's occurring at an appropriate place in the great chain of beingperhaps as an animal if the aspects are vicious, perhaps as a god if they are virtuous. A second aspect of one's life said to be governed by one's activated karma is the length of the life one is about to lead. And a third is the kind of experiences one is likely to have as one goes through this coming lifetimerelatively pleasant if good karma predominates, relatively unpleasant if bad karma predominates.

The philosophical literature often denies that karma implies fatalism. Although karmic traces are powerful, they are not indestructible. It is possible, although not easy, to resist the force of one's karma. That is why philosophy has an important role to play in indicating the modes of thought and action that can avoid laying down new traces and thereby destroy the power of one's ticketed karma. Traveling the path to liberation usually requires the personal attention and advice of a teacher (guru ) who can give advice about how to meditate and behave so as to bring the powers of past actions to heel.

Eight Types of Philosophical Systems

Indian philosophical systems are divided into eight groups (nine if one includes the Cārvākas). It is traditional to distinguish a basic three systems: Jain, Buddhist, and Hindu. The Hindu systems are here distinguished into six groups: (1) Sākhya and Yoga, which share a common metaphysics; (2) Nyāya and Vaiśeika, which share an ontology; (3) "Mīmāsā," more properly "Pūrvamīmāsā," whose members share a common approach to the interpretation of the authority of the Vedas, which they view mainly as a source of prescriptions about behavior; (4) "Vedānta," which treats the "closing sections of the Vedas" (vedānta )the Upaniadsas authoritative; (5) a group of philosophical systems whose common ground is that their proponents are worshipers of Śiva; and (6) the Grammarians (vaiyākaraa ), who view the study of language as providing the key to liberation. Many of these approaches claim ancient authority for their standpoints.

SĀkhya and Yoga

The characteristic terminology of these two systems, featuring terms such as prakti and purua, is found in the earliest Indian literature, the Vedas, which date roughly from the end of the second millennium BCE. Sākhya terms are also prominent in the great Indian epics, especially the Mahābhārata, for example in the portion that constitutes the Bhagavadgītā. There is reason to believe that several Sākhya authors lived prior to the fourth century CE, at which time the basic Sākhya text, the Sākhyakārikās, ascribed to one Īśvaraka, appears to have been composed. This work plays the role of the system's basic sūtra s. A much later work by Kapila (1375) is named the Sākhyasūtra s, but its claims to antiquity are usually disputed (though the name "Kapila" is ascribed to one of the otherwise unknown earlier sages cited in the later literature). One or two commentaries on the Sākhyakārikās are regularly studied to elucidate that text. The most frequently cited is by Vācaspati Miśra (940), the Tattvakaumudī, but there are numerous others. And a few independent works on Sākhya were written over the centuries: the Yuktidīpikā, of unknown authorship and date; and several works by a relatively late writer, Vijñānabhiku (1575), an interpreter.

The fundamental text of Yoga philosophy is the very popular, widely studied and quoted Yogasūtra s of Patañjali (300). An ancient (475) commentary, the Yogabhāya, is ascribed to someone named Vyāsa, and Vācaspati Miśra (940) has written a commentary on that named Tattvavaiśāradī. The term yoga is of course now standard throughout the world and no longer merely a Sanskrit term. In general usage it connotes techniques of breath control, bodily postures, and meditation, among the topics addressed in the texts just cited. The underlying metaphysics of Yoga, however, is the same as that of the Sākhya ontology; in effect, Yoga provides the account of how to go about achieving liberation through meditation, whereas Sākhya lays out the account of the ontological, logical, epistemogical, and psychological truths that form the basis of what is to be meditated upon.

Sākhya (and thus Yoga as well) postulates two fundamental kinds of real entities: puruas and prakti. Each self in the universe is termed a purua in this system, and there are as many purua s in the world as there are embodied minds, perhaps even more if bugs and plants are included. However, a peculiarity of the system is that a self has only one function: to be a seat of consciousness. All other features ascribed to humans belong to prakti.

One might think that prakti thus corresponds to the "body" side of the mind/body dichotomy. But this is not true for Sākhya. The consciousness that is purua is merely "pure" consciousness, not any particular awareness or mental state. Particular modes of awarenesses, such as sensations, emotions, and mental events of all sorts, along with particular physical features such as the particular bodies, sense-organs, and activities of what is ordinarily called a "self," are features of a being's prakti. (Remember that selves are not limited to human beingseach center of consciousness from gods down to insects and perhaps plants are selves.)

Karmic bondage pertains only to one's prakti, since it is that being's prakti alone that changes from time to time, birth to birth. The true self, purua, remains unaffected in reality; it appears to be affected only by karma. To use an analogy that is constantly appealed to, a purua is like a lamp that lights up things that are themselves inert; some of those thingsthoughts and modes of awareness, for examplemay seem to us to be conscious, others in turn to be objects of those modes of awareness, but for Sākhya fundamentally all prakti whether psychological activity or physical objectsis unconscious, inactive.

One must not, however, misunderstand Sākhya as contending that all prakti is unreal. Unmanifest (avyakta ) prakti is real, permanent, and is the real cause of real effects. Appealing to language of great antiquity we are told that prakti is made up of three gua s, called sattva, rajas and tamas. Every actual element in manifest prakti, that is, in the world that we experience, is different from every other, and the difference is due to which gua s are dominant in each thing and to what extent.

So for Sākhya both causes and effects are real. Unmanifest prakti, made up of the three gua s, actually causes real effects (the term used is pariāma, usually translated as "evolves" or "transforms"), just as milk really produces real curds. And so there is no question about the reality of bondage either, since a state of bondage is the real product of causal forces that are themselves constituted by the balance of the three gua s that constitute that state.

For this system bondage is due to a failure to discriminate between what is permanentthe pure self and unmanifest prakti and what is temporaryall the evolutionary states of prakti that we normally construe as our nature and the nature of the world and the universe. To learn to discriminate the permanent from the temporary is the purpose of meditation, of yoga. When properly discriminated, the self will no longer be subject to the limitations of prakti and will have achieved liberation.

NyĀya and VaiŚeika

These two systems merged by the end of the first millennium CE. At the start, though, there were two distinct sets of sūtra s, the Vaiśeikasūtra s ascribed to Kaāda (whose date is unknown but who lived probably during the first couple of centuries CE) and the Nyāyasūtra s ascribed to some Gautama (not the Buddha), who most likely flourished in the second century CE.

The Vaiśeikasūtra s lay out six categories of actual entities that the aspirant needs to thoroughly understand and that are intended to cover all the things that exist in the world. These six are substances (dravya ), qualities (gua ), motions (kriyā ), univeral properties (sāmānya ), individuators (viśea ), and inherence (samavāya ). The Vaiśeikasūtra s, like most sūtra s, are extremely laconic and require a commentary to be understood. The earliest extant commentary is by Praśtapāda (530) entitled Padārthadharmasagraha. Commentaries on Praśastapāda's work by Vyomaśiva (950), Śrīdhara (991), and Udayana (1054) develop accounts of the six categories and add a seventh, the category of negative entities or "absences" (abhāva ). Most commentaries on the Vaiśeikasūtra s prior to the fifteenth century are known only from references by others, but there is a full commentary by Śakara Miśra (1440).

The author of the Nyāyasūtra s works from a broad conceptual base that suggests its origins in a worldview with an approach broadly similar to that of Kaāda. Gautama starts from a list of sixteen topics, some epistemic, some ontological, but most of them harking back to the ancient practice of holding debates. The metaphysics, though not identical with Vaiśeika's categories, clearly presupposes them. The epistemology proposes four ways of gaining knowledge: through perception (pratyaka ), inference (anumāna ), comparison (upamāna ), and authoritative language (śabda ). The sixteen categories are as follows: instruments of knowledge, objects of knowledge, doubt, purpose, example, tenets, members of an inference, reductio ad absurdum, ascertainment, discussion, sophistry, cavil, fallacies, quibble, futile rejoinder, and ways of losing a debate. The last two "debate categories" by themselves take up the the entire fifth and last book of the Nyāyasūtra s.

A series of commentaries on commentaries is developed through the ages stemming from these Nyāyasūtra s, each commentary explaining the previous one in the list. This list comprises the Bhāya by Vātsyāyana (450), the Vārttika by Uddyotakara (610), the Tātparyaīkā of Vācaspati Miśra (960), and the Pariśuddhi by Udayana (1054). Important independent expositions of the Nyāya system are found in the Nyāyamañjarī by Jayanta Bhaa (870) and in several works by Udayana (1054).

Udayana is likewise the author of a widely studied book that has become the standard work concerning arguments for the existence of God: Nyāyakusumāñjali. In Nyāya-Vaiśeika God is another self, though one unlike us in never having been involved in the round of transmigration and rebirth. At the beginning of each era (kalpa ) His function, according to Nyāya, is to cause the atoms, which were unmoving during the period (pralaya ) between creations, to come into contact, thus starting the production of physical bodies that the selves (who have persisted throughout pralaya ) inhabit through their karma. Since the Vaiśeikasūtra s themselves make no mention of God, and the Nyāyasūtra s mention Him only in reporting the opinion of an objector, it appears that the development of the role of God in Nyāya-Vaiśeika may have been influenced by the growing tendency toward devotionalism in India toward the close of the first millennium CE.

The method of gaining liberation as described by Nyāya-Vaiśeika appears to be mainly intellectual, requiring study of the tenets of the system, which eventually removes the ignorance (avidyā ) that occasions defects (doa ) defects that occasion the desires and other mental attitudes that conduce to bondage.

With Gageśa (1320) an important new phase of Nyāya-Vaiśeika begins, known appropriately enough as Navyanyāya, "new Nyāya." Gageśa's sole work was the seminal Tattvacintāmai, which takes up the four ways of gaining knowledge in a fresh way and employs a style of explanation that involves a host of new technical terms to indicate the various relations among the things contained in the Nyāya categories. These new relations make it possible for Navyanyāya to develop an "artificial" or "ideal" language in a way that resembles the methods of the logical positivists in modern analytic philosophy in the West. It also, not surprisingly, makes reading Navyanyāya texts especially difficult for the reader uninitiated into the technical terminology.

Gageśa's text is the basis for a flowering of hundreds of commentaries composed over the following centuries down to the present. The best known of these is the Dīdhiti by Raghunātha Śiromai (1510), the subject, in turn, of myriads of commentaries, the most influential of which are those by Jagadīśa Tarkālakāra (1620), Mathurānātha Tarkavagīśa (1650), and Gadādhara (1660). Also during this post-Gageśa period two works were composed that introduce the student to the terminology, categories, and logic of Nyāya-Vaiśeika: the widely studied introductory work by Annambhaa (1500) (Tarkasagraha) and that by Viśvanātha Nyāyācārya Bhaācārya (1640) (Bhāāpariccheda, with its autocommentary Siddhāntamuktāvalī ).


The term mīmāsā connotes a method of textual interpretation, especially of the Vedas. Rules determining the proper way to read and interpret the passages of the Vedic corpus developed early. The earlier portions of the Vedas did not speak of liberation; the subject discussed was taken to be dharma, featuring prescriptions on sacrifice, how to live, and what actions to perform and not to perform.

These Mīmāsakas viewed the Vedas as without any authornot even the gods were the authors of scripture. The authority of the Vedas is based on their being beginningless and thus authorless and so not subject to the foils of any human or even divine creator. However, because the Upaniads, the later part of Vedic scripture, allude to liberation, later Mīmāsā philosophers beginning with Kumārila and Prabhākara recognized the possibility of attaining liberation.

While the Vedas themselves constitute the basic literature of Mīmāsā, a particular set of aphorismsthe Mīmāsāsūtra s ascribed to Jaimini (25 CE?)is regularly cited as Mīmāsā's basic text, with the commentary (Bhāya ) by Śabara (400) on it appealed to for explanations. These two works are largely devoted to matters that concern the proper interpretation of Vedic maxims about how to sacrifice and act in appropriate ways. But the literature of the Mīmāsā philosophical systems about to be discussed include interpretive and other works that, although largely concerned with Vedic interpretation, develop categorial frameworks that are comparable to those found in the other systems of Indian thought, and attempt to controvert the views of those other schools.

The Bhāa school of Mīmāsā looks to the interpretation of Kumārila (660) as found in that writer's commentary on Śabara's Bhāya, particularly in that portion of it titled Ślokavārttika, in which Kumārila makes a trenchant attack on other views known to him and provides reasons for preferring his own interpretation. The Bhāa literature develops through the works of Maana Miśra (690) (Brahmaviveka, Vidhiviveka ), Pārthasārathi Miśra (1075) (Nyāyaratnamālā, Śāstradīpikā, Nyāyaratnākara ), Āpadeva (1610) (Mīmāsānyāyaprakāśa ), Laugāki Bhāskara (1660) (Arthasagraha ), and Ka Yajvan (1750) (Mīmāsāparibhāā ).

The Prābhākara school is named after Prabhākara (700), author of the commentary Bhati on Śabara's Mīmāsābhāya. Among later Prābhākara Mīmāsakas, far fewer in number to the Bhāas, one may note Śālikānātha Miśra (825), author of the Prakaraapañcikā.

There is also said to be a third Mīmāsaka school known as the "Miśras" after Murāri Miśra, reputed author of several works most of that are now lost.

Advaita VedĀnta

The term vedānta literally means "the end or final portions of the Vedas." Those final portions are the Upaniads. The various systems that are called "Vedānta" take at least the older Upaniads as authoritative, bolstered by the Bhagavadgītā and the Brahmasūtra s. Vedānta commentaries and independent works expressing the views of these schools claim to represent the correct interpretations of these scriptural materials. But the philosophical positions they take vary widely.

The best-known Vedānta system is Advaita, "nondualism." It takes the position that there is only one real entity: the Brahman identified in the Upaniads as the true Self (ātman ). Perhaps the oldest completely extant text expounding Advaita views is a commentary on the Māūkya Upaniad by Gauapāda (600). But the writer acknowledged as the authoritative source of Advaita is Śakarācārya (710), who wrote a number of works and who is assumed to be the author of many others of later origin. The most important of Śakara's works is his commentary (Bhāya ) on Bāarāyana's (50 CE) Brahmasūtra s. Śakara is also probably the author of commentaries on several of the oldest Upaniads and on the Bhagavadgītā, and of at least part of an independent work titled Upadeśasāhasrī.

Śakara refers to at least two other Vedānta systems. One is regularly termed "Bhedābhedavāda." In contrast to Śakara's austere nondualistic position that there is only one real entity, Brahman, and that all difference and thus all plurality is illusory, the Bhedābheda view is that Brahman is both different (bhedā ) and nondifferent (abheda ) from the world. Śakara also clearly has in mind for refutation a contemporary named Maana Miśra, who, in a work entitled Brahmasiddhi, defends an interpretation of Advaita according to which one does not (contrary to Śakara's interpretation) achieve complete liberation prior to death. Maana holds that an enlightened person must still continue to practice meditation after achieving emancipation.

Śakara's own position is that the Upaniadic texts are of one or the other of two types, in effect comprising two distinct portions of scripture referred to as the karmakāa and the jñānakāa. The karmakāa, as its name implies, consists of those portions of scripture that are governed by injunctions about how one should act. Because it prescribes actions, proper attention to it should lead one to perform appropriate kinds of action, as the Pūrvamīmāsakas correctly suppose. The viewpoint required by one who appeals to the karmakāa for advice is a view that assumes differences (bheda ) between things. One could hardly act if one did not assume differencesbetween what is and what should be, between what is done and what ought to be done, between action and agent, between you and me.

In contrast, Śakara claims that the other part of the Upaniadic texts, the jñānakāa, deals not with what is to be done but with what one should know. Instead of injunctions to act, the contents of this part refer solely to what is actually the case. Instead of enjoining us to act, this part provides us with knowledge; instead of dealing with differences among the many things and beings of the world, including ourselves, the jñānakāa speaks merely to the one Reality in which no distinctions or differences can ACTUALLY abide. That Reality is called Brahman, and the "great sentences" (mahāvākya ) of the Upaniadssentences such as "that art thou" (tattvamasi )can provide us with enlightenment concerning the ultimate unity of Brahman and one's true Self if and when we are ready to appreciate it.

Once realization has dawned, one is completely liberated from bondage to actions, for that bondage requires recognition of differences and the liberated person no longer recognizes any differences as real. True, one remains alive and appears to act because of the prārabdhakarman that constituted the rationale for his present life, but there will be no future lives for such a one, no rebirth. The contrary view of the Bhedābhedavādins and of Maana Miśra, that one must still meditate even after liberation, is claimed by Śakara to be incorrect, for meditation is an act, and the liberated self is incapable of performing any action because that would require recognition of that reality of differences among things and people that, in his liberated state, he no longer recognizes.

Important Advaita treatises are ascribed to Śakara's pupils Padmapāda (740) (Pañcapādikā ) and Sureśvara (740) (Naikarmyasiddhi and commentaries on at least two of Śakara's commentaries on the Upaniads). The standard account of post-Śakara Advaita, which has been subjected to serious dispute, distinguishes two or three schools of Advaita, one stemming from Padmapāda, though named after a commentary on that work, the Vivaraa by Prakāśātman (975); another from Vācaspati Miśra's (940) commentary Bhāmatī on Śakara's Brahmasūtrabhāya ; and (sometimes) a third, unnamed, school stemming from Sureśvara. The vast majority of interpretations of Advaita defend the Vivaraa position. Among the writers who represent this school are Jñānaghana (975), author of Tattvaśuddhi, Vimuktātman (975) (Iasiddhi ), Sarvajñātman (1027) (Sakepaśārīraka ), Citsukha (1200) (Citsukhī ), Vidyāraya or Mādhava (1350) (Pañcadaśī ), Sadānanda (1500) (Vedāntasāra ), Prakāśānanda (1505) (Vedāntasiddhāntamuktāvalī ), Madhusūdana Sarasvatī (1570) (Advaitasiddhi ), and Dharmarājadhvarīndra (1615) (Vedāntaparibhāā ). The Khaanakhaakhādya of Śrīhara (1180) is a polemical treatise attacking the Nyāya-Vaiśeikas on behalf of Advaita. The far less numerous Bhāmatī-school authors include Amalānanda (1255) (Vedāntakalpataru ) and Akhaānanda Sarasvatī (1670) (juprakāśikā ).

ViŚiĀdvaita VedĀnta

In contrast to Advaita's monistic interpretation of the relation of Brahman to the world, which says that only Brahman is real and that the world is illusory, the system of Viśiādvaita views Brahman and the world as real and takes Brahman and the world to be the same thing. The earliest author of this persuasion whose works are available is Yāmuna (1010), the author of Āgamaprāmāya, Bhagavadgītārthasagraha and Siddhitraya. The real founder of Viśiādvaita is, however, Rāmānuja (1120), the author of a Bhagavadgītābhāya, the Śrībhāya on the Brahmasūtra s, and several independent works (Vedāntadīpa, Vedāntasāra,and Vedārthasagraha ). The most important writers in the ensuing centuries include Lokācārya Pillai (1300), who wrote in Tamil; Vedānta Deśika (1330), who is believed to have written more than thirty Sanskrit works; and Śrīnivāsa (1625), whose Yatīndramatadīpikā provides a useful summary of the major tenets of the school.

Viśiādvaita, frequently rendered as "qualified nondualism," is a kind of pantheism in which the unity of Brahman is gained not (as in Advaita) by denying Brahman's relation to anything else but rather by construing Brahman's unity as an "organic" unity of everything. Rāmānuja postulates three distinct real types of entitiesselves, matter, and Godand construes "Brahman" as referring to the organic whole that they constitute. That is, Brahman for Viśiādvaita is sagua it really has qualitieswhereas for Śakara it is nirgua, without any qualities whatsoever.

Dvaita Philosophy

Taking a straightforwardly pluralistic attitude toward the relations between Brahman, God, humans, and the things in the world was Madhva or Ānandatīrtha (1250), who wrote commentaries on the usual body of Vedānta texts (the Brahmasūtra s, Bhagavadgītā, and Upaniads) along with a number (usually reckoned as ten) of independent treatises. His system is known as Dvaita or "dualistic," or, in this case, more aptly, "pluralistic." Jayatīrtha (1370) comments on most of Madhva's works. The Nyāyāmta of Vyāsatīrtha (or Vyāsarāya) is a polemical treatise in which the author uses Navyanyāya methods to defend Dvaita and to criticize the views of others. Where Rāmānuja divided reality into three aspects of the organic unity of Brahman, Madhva's position features a basic distinction between Brahman, the Lord, who is deemed independently Real (svatantra ), and the other Reals (including selves and things in the world), which are classed as real but dependent (paratantra ) on Goddependent not for their being, which is beginningless, but for their being allowed to live, act, and gain release.

Other VedĀntic Systems

The Bhedābhedavāda position, mentioned previously, which Śakara criticizes, was apparently propounded in works, now lost, by writers who preceded Śakara, notably Bhartprapañca (550). Later, Bhāskara (750) wrote a Brahmasūtrabhāya defending the position. A similar standpoint, called "Dvaitādvaita," is defended by Nimbārka (1250) in his commentary on the Brahmasūtra s, Vedāntaparijātasaurabha, and in other works.

A position known as Acintyabhedābheda has achieved some importance outside of India through the influence of the Hare Krishna movement. The founder of this school is Caitanya (1520), who wrote no works but whose views are capably expounded and defended by Sanātana Gosvāmin, Rūpa Gosvāmin, and Jīva Gosvāmin, all of whom seem to have lived in the sixteenth century. The writings of these and other exponents of this religious philosophy construe liberation as devotion to God culminating, according to A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami (The Nectar of Devotion, p. 38), in "five liberated stages, which are 1) to be one with Me, 2) to achieve residence on My planet, 3) to have My opulences, 4) to possess bodily features similar to Me, and 5) to gain personal association with Me."

The Śuddhādvaita Vedānta school's literature starts with the numerous works of Vallabha (1525), which include an Anubhāya on the Brahmasūtra s and a commentary on the Bhagavata Purāa, along with more than thirty independent treatises. A series of commentators during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is capped by the prolific Puruottama Pītamabara Sarasvatī, who is credited with more than eighty works. The term Śuddhādvaita, "pure monism," is based on this school's theory that Brahman (called the highest Self [puruottama ] or Śrī Ka) by nature emanates existence, intelligence, and joy like sparks from a fire. A spark where the joy portion becomes concealed by the existence portion constitutes an individual self. When, through devotion generated by God's grace (puibhakti ), the lost joy is regained, one rejects liberation and chooses eternal service of Lord Ka, enjoying the boundless joy experienced in eternal play.

Śaiva Systems

Of the philosophical systems devoted to Śiva, perhaps the oldest literature is that of Kashmir Śaivism. Vasugupta (840) is the reputed author of Śivasūtra s and the Spandakārikās, and Somānanda (850) of Śivadi. Utpala's (925) Īśvarapratyabhijñā is another important work. Abhinavagupta (1014) contributes copiously and significantly to this tradition in a variety of works of which the Tantrāloka is the most enterprising. Kemarāja (1040) is the author of a popular exposition of the system in his Pratyabhijñāhdaya.

Kashmir Śaiva philosophy is also called the Pratyabhijñā system because it considers the ultimate aim to be self-realization (pratyabhijñā ). Ontologically it teaches that the world is made to appear by Śiva's power (śakti ) of consciousness. An individual self (paśu ) is a center of consciousness, which is different from Śiva's in that a self's consciousness is limited by impurities (mala ). Through following the spiritual path, one removes the impurities and gains realization. Three basic kinds of means (upāya ) constituting the spiritual path are distinguished: external (āava ), consisting of yogic postures, control of breathing, and so on; mental (śākta ), voluntary meditation involving conceptual construction (vikalpa ); and spontaneously viewing the entire world including oneself as a reflection of Śiva, a view that is effortless or construction-free (nirvikalpaka ). In this final state the mind is dissolved into consciousness because of the removal of obstructions.

Śaiva Siddhānta has its home in the South of India. Its literature was written entirely in Tamil. Among the important authors and works in this tradition are those by Sadyojyoti (890), Meykanta Tevar (1221) (Śivajñānabodha ), Aruanti Śivacariyār (1253) (Śivajñānasiddhiyār ), Umāpati Śivacariyār (1310) (Tiruvarupayan ), and Śivāgra Yogi (1600) (Śaivaparibhāā ).

Other Śaiva systems that have a literature in Sanskrit include those of Vīraśaiva and Śivādvaita. The most widely known work of the latter system is Śrīkaha's (1400) Śrīkāra-bhāya on the Brahmasūtra s, along with Appayya Dīkita's (1585) Śivakaraidīpikā. Appayya Dīkita has also written two independent treatises on this system.

Grammarian Philosophy

One of the remarkable achievements of early Indian science was in linguistics or grammar. Pāini (perhaps fifth century BCE) anticipates the linguistic analysts of the twentieth century in having managed, in his Aādhyāyī, to have shown how to generate the entire Sanskrit language from a series of rules, including rules about how to apply the rules. Grammar (vyākaraa ), which formed a distinct science with a sizable literature, also caught the attention of philosophers of several of the systems discussed previously. But Grammarian philosophy is largely a product of Bharthari (450) who, in his work Vākyapadīya,wedded grammar, epistemology, and ontology into a full-fledged philosophical system.

Bharthari's innovations pertain to the proper account of language, of epistemology and ontology. The characteristic and unique idea of Bharthari's view of language is the notion of the sphoa, which is conceived to be a unitary and permanent entity underlying the significance found in syllables, words, and sentences. A cognition is likewise construed as a unitary mental event that appears as having distinctions of subject and object, of time and space. But ultimately such distinctions are transcended: only language itself existseeven physical objects are no longer discriminated.

Maana Miśra (see above) has contributed an important work on Grammarian philosophy, the Sphoasiddhi. Several of the best grammatical works contain considerable philosophical material: for example, Kaua Bhaa's (1650) Vaiyākaraa-bhūaa and several works by Nāgeśa (or Nāgojī) Bhaa (1700).

Jain Philosophy. Jainism and Buddhism (along with Cārvāka) are sometimes referred to as "heterodox" schools in that they, unlike the systems listed above, do not view the Vedas as authoritative. (In fact, among the foregoing schools Nyāya-Vaiśeika and Sākhya-Yoga do not cite the Vedas as authority either, although some texts of those schools very occasionally appeal to Vedic passages when suitably supportive.)

The Jain sūtra s represent early (the precise dating is unclear) representations of a variety of concerns only occasionally philosophical. They are written in Prakrit, a Sanskritic vernacular. Some of the Jain interpretive literature is also in Prakrit, though for the most part it exists in Sanskrit.

Perhaps the most notable feature of Jain thought is its refusal to accept a single account of reality. This is reflected in the Jain theory of anekāntavāda, that there are several equally true aspects of any given thing or topic. This is spelled out in their theories of syādvāda and saptabhagī, which emphasize that everything we cognize can be viewed in several different ways each of which is acceptable given its particular orientation. The earliest writers of texts on Jain philosophy appear to have been Kundakunda (200?) (Pañcāstikāyasāra, Pravacanasāra, Samayasāra ) and Umāsvāti (200?) (Tattvārthasūtra ). The interpretive literature on the latter work is voluminous, starting with Pujyapāda (500) (Sarvārthasiddhi ), who also wrote the Samādhitantra. Bhadrabāhu (550) is the author of authoritative commentaries on the Jain sūtra s. Bhaa Akalaka (680) contributed a number of important works to the extensive literature on logic, along with Vidyānanda (850). A Siddhasena Divākara, whose date is not entirely certain, is the author of a small work, Nyāyāvatāra, which is perhaps the usual beginning point for students beginning the study of Jain philosophy. Other important contributors to the Jain philosophical literature are Haribhadra Sūri (750) (at least twenty-five works), Maikyanandin (950) (Parīkāmukha ), Nemicandra Siddhāntacakravartin (1080) (Gomatasāra, Dravyaviveka ), Vādideva or Devasūri (1143) (Pramāanayatattvāloka ), Hemacandra (1150) (Pramāa-mīmāsā, Anuyogavyavacchedadvātriśikā ) and Yaśovijaya (1680), to whom over thirty works are attributed.

Buddhist Philosophy

Although the number of Buddhist philosophical schools is still unsettled six distinct positions will here be distinguished. The standard division into Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna is not really relevant to these distinctions, although Theravāda, Sarvāstivāda and Sautrāntika are usually classed as Abhidharma (an expression we prefer instead of the pejorative "Hīnayāna"), the other three discussed here as Mahāyāna. Since Buddhism is discussed extensively elsewhere the most important authors and Indian texts on Buddhist philosophy are here merely listed.

Both the Theravāda and Sarvāstivāda acknowledge a list of seven Abhidharma texts, but a different seven for each of the two. The chronology of this literature is unclear, although we may conjecture that the seven texts in both lists existed prior to the beginning of the Christian era. The seven Sarvāstivāda or "northern" Abhidharma texts are Dharmaskandha, Sagītiparyāya, Prajñaptibhāya, Dhātukāya, Vijñānakāya, Prakaraapāda and Jñānaprasthāna, ascribed to various authors. The Sarvāstivāda reached its maturity, however, in the (Mahā)Vibhāā, compiled by committee in the first half of the second century CE, in which are recorded the opinions of many Abhidharma teachers concerning the proper understanding of Sarvāstivāda tenets. The names of a large number of Buddhist schools are also given in this and in various later works; the relations of some of these schools to the ones discussed in our brief overview are still being determined. In any case, the term "Vaibhāika" is used synonymously with "Sarvāstivāda" in recognition of the importance of the Vibhāā.

The fourth-century (?) author Vasubandhu (the dating is still controversial) is the author of the best-known exposition of Vaibhāika theses, entitled Abhidharmakoa, together with his own commentary (Bhāya ) in which Vasubandhu criticizes those very Vaibhāika views from the standpoint of the interpretation labelled "Sautrāntika" (derived from "sūtra "). The Sautrāntikas urged going back to the Buddha's own words as found in the Buddhist canon. Vasubandhu provides us with a detailed acount of the Sautrāntika's opinions, and perhaps goes on to criticize both Vaibhāika and Sautrāntika from a Yogācāra (see below) perspective. This defection from Vaibhāika tenets produced a violent reaction by Vasubandhu's contemporary Saghabhadra in his Nyāyānusāra.

Turning to the Theravāda, their list of seven Abhidharma works comprises the Dhammasagaī, Vibhaga, Dhātukathā, Puggalapaññatti, Kathāvatthu, Yamaka and Pahāna. The place of the Kathāvatthu is somewhat similar to that of the Vibhāā in the Sarvāstivāda tradition, in that it records many different opinions about a variety of Buddhist concerns, some doctrinal, others practical, which appear to have caught the notice of the author, who wrote in about the third century BCE A noncanonical work that appears to date from the pre-Christian era as well is the popular Milindapañha, a literary treatise presenting itself as recording a discussion between King Milinda (Menander?) and the monk Nāgasena.

Buddhism appears to have moved to what is now Śrī Laka several centuries after the Buddha, although the earliest literary remnants of Buddhism there are now lost. Around 425 two Indians, BuddhagHosa and Buddhadatta, appear to have visited Śrī Lakathere is a tradition about their meeting on the seas between island and mainlandand each wrote works in Pāli (a vernacular of Sanskrit) recording the philosophical position of the Theravādins. Buddhadatta's work, titled Abhidhammāvatāra, is not studied frequently nowadays, but the works of Buddhaghosa (who remained in Lanka), especially the mammoth Visuddhimagga, are seminal to the philosophical theses of the Buddhism that has flourished since, initially in Ceylon and eventually throughout Southeast Asia. Buddhaghosa is said to have also written commentaries on all seven of the works of the Theravāda or "Pāli canon" Abhidharma.

Beginning at least by the first century CE a type of literary production began to appear, the importance of which for understanding the subsequent development of Buddhism both in India as well as throughout Asia is very apparent from the vast interpretive literature that has grown up around it. The texts in question are often referred to as "Mahāyāna sūtra s." While the exact connection between these works and the coming of Mahāyāna Buddhism (not to mention the use of the self-laudatory word "Mahāyāna") is not well understood, some of these works are among those most familiar and dear to the heart of millions of Buddhists throughout the world under names such as the "Lotus Sutra," "Heart Sutra," "Diamond Sutra," etc.

It is still being argued by scholars what is the correct account of the rise of what has come to be called "Mahāyāna." Some accounts connect it with Nāgārjuna (150 CE), author of a number of philosophical works such as the (Mūla)Madhyamaka-kārikās and Vigrahavyāvartanī. The connection between that Nāgārjuna and Mahāyāna is not at all clear, however. It is other Nāgārjunas, the apparent authors of works of probably later vintage, that show affinities with what are taken to be particularly Mahāyānic topics and theories.

In any case, the Madhyamaka tradition persists in India, and eventually in Tibet and East Asia, in a literature of which we mention here only the Indian portion. The works attributed to the second-century Nāgārjuna show their author to be a masterly critic of all philosophical positions, so much so as to have earned him the charge of being merely a skeptic orworse stilla nihilist. A vast secondary as well as a lively interpretive literature concerns itself with the proper interpretation of his position. Although it is still somewhat controversial to say so, the major lines of interpretation seem to be two, terms for which have been borrowed from subsequent Tibetan commentators. One line insists that when Nāgārjuna says that everything is "empty" or "void" (śūnya ) he means what he says, i.e., that (as he himself says) he has no thesis whatsoever, that he uses language solely to refute those who do take positions. This interpretation is known as "Prāsagika," and its earliest Indian protagonists are Buddhapālita (480) and Candrakīrti (600). An alternative, "Svātantrika" line of thinking is particularly defended by Bhavya (or Bhāvaviveka) (550), who wishes to allow for the positive use of inferential arguments to establish the interdependence of all things, termed "emptiness" in Madhyamaka. All these writers composed commentaries on Nāgārjuna's Mādhyamikasūtra s.

Madhyamaka is one of the philosophical positions regularly identified as Mahāyāna. The other is known as Yogācāra or Vijñānavāda Buddhism. Whereas Madhyamaka's position (if it has one) is that nothing is real (not even emptiness), the Yogācāras exempt consciousness itself from this denial. What exist are many streams of consciousness (or perhaps only one stream); what appears as an independent world is merely a construction based on our karma. The earliest proponents of this position are regularly held to be the brothers Asaga and Vasubandhu (fourth century), although scholars are fairly certain that these two did not found the system, that it was already in place and expounded in works slightly earlier, e.g., in the Sadhinirmocanasūtra and Lakāvatārasūtra (both about 325 CE). Furthermore, there is some reason to believe that at least parts of the works ascribed to Asaga are of an earlier vintage and that the Vasubandhu who wrote the influential Yogācāra works titled Triśikā and Viśkā as well as the Karmasiddhiprakaraa was not the same person as the one who wrote the Abhidharmakośa. In any case, a healthy literature soon grew up around these works, eventually leading to attempts to find rapprochement between Yogācāra and Madhyamaka, as in Śāntarakita (750) (Tattvasagraha ) and his commentator Kamalaśīla (770), and perhaps to the development of the Buddhist Logic tradition (see below) which is itself viewed by East Asian interpreters as merely a branch of Yogācāra. Eventually Yogācāra becomes very important in Tibet, expounded there by the influential monk Atīśa (or Dīpakara Śrījñāna, 1035) and others.

Attention is given to the theory of inference or logic by Vasubandhu and others prior to Dignāga (510) (Pramāasa-muccaya ), but it has become customary (influenced by Th. Stcherbatsky's book Buddhist Logic, available in a popular publication in English early in the twentieth century) to refer to Dignāga's philosophical position as that of the "Buddhist Logicians." The works by Dignāga and others that constitute the literature of this school concentrate on the methodology of inferential reasoning, but also speculate on many of the same metaphysical and epistemological questions that other Buddhist systems were addressing, for example, whether consciousness alone is real or whether nothing at all is real, and whether it is even possible to speak or think truly. Dignāga is ambiguous on those questions, but nevertheless he develops an identifiable position stemming from an epistemic distinction between "perception"which grasps what Westerners might call "sense-data," which are taken to be actual entitiesand inference which, since it deals with universal properties, is deemed unreal since it can only concern conceptual constructions. Dignāga's approach is taken up and critically clarified with zeal in subsequent periods, notably by Dharmakīrti (610), Dharmottara (770), Jitāri (990), Jñānaśrīmitra (1015), Ratnakīrti (1070), and eventually elegantly summarized by Mokākara Gupta (1100) in his Tarkabhāā.

See also Atomic Theory in Indian Philosophy; Brahman; Buddhism; Causation in Indian Philosophy; Karma; Knowledge in Indian Philosophy; Logic, History of: Logic and Inference in Indian Philosophy; Meditation in Indian Philosophy; Mind and Mental States in Buddhist Philosophy; Negation in Indian Philosophy; Philosophy of Language in India; Self in Indian Philosophy; Truth and Falsity in Indian Philosophy; Universal Properties in Indian Philosophical Traditions.


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Karl Potter (2005)