The Mar Ngok Summer Teachings
6 September 2021
The Six Darshanas
His Holiness began by recapping: during the Age of Philosophy, the sutras developed out of the Brāhmanas, followed by the Six Darshanas (orthodox Hindu schools), which developed out of the Upanishads.
In general, many different philosophies developed in that era, he explained, mainly because the views presented in the Upanishads were not presented logically but were primarily records of the ideas that occurred to people, presented in a fragmentary way. Only once the Sāṃkhya school appeared did a careful and rigorous logical system develop in India. In a deep and profound way, people began to investigate the mutual connections between mind and matter, the nature of the world, what was going to happen in the future, and so forth. Thus, it was the Sāṃkhya school that first had a complete philosophy; all the philosophical schools that appeared later show the influence of the Sāṃkhya school.
The six Darshanas are as follows:
The last of the six Darshanas is the Vedanta school which also investigated the hidden meaning of things. This school competed with the Sāṃkhya school and then spread widely. This is a school we take great interest in, and there has been a lot of research into this school, in particular the Advaita Vedanta, or Non-Dual school, that holds the view that the Self is not true. For this reason, many have praised the Vedanta philosophy.
Because of the development of the six orthodox Hindu schools, a great number of philosophical traditions developed in India, due to which India led the world in reaching a high level in the spread of philosophy, religion, and literature.
Apart from these six schools, there were many other philosophical schools that appeared, such as are mentioned in the Sutra of the Kshatriya Woman translated from Chinese into Tibetan, which asserts that there are 62 different philosophical views. Likewise, in the Pali Tripitaka, it is said in one text that there are 96 different views. However, many were considered inferior views, so only a few have been preserved to the present day. The texts which have been preserved are the Six Darshanas, among which the Sāṃkhya philosophy is by far the most remarkable.
The root texts of the six orthodox schools are written in the sutra style, with many aphorisms, written in verse, which makes it difficult to gain a good understanding from the root text without a commentary. The reason for their being written in sutra form is probably so that it would be easier for the students to memorise and keep in mind.
Around the sixth century BCE, there was a great revolution in thinking and philosophy all around the world. The Persian Zoroaster, the Chinese master Confucius, the Indian sage Kapila (the founder of the Sāṃkhya school), and likewise the Buddha, all appeared around the same period, probably within the time period of one or two centuries. That time during the 6th and 5th century BCE was a time of great development and change in philosophy and thought. Though there were many philosophies and questions that arose, fundamentally, the basic questions that they investigated, are the same. People wondered:
- Who am I? Where did I come from? Where will I go?
- What is the relation between mind and matter, i.e., what is the connection between external things and the internal mind? Are there any phenomena that transcend these two?
- How did the external world come into being? What is this larger universe that is greater than what we can see? Is there a creator of the world? How do the changes of the sun rising and the sun setting come about? Who made the changes of the four seasons, how do they occur?
- If there is a creator of the world, what is that creator like? Is that person human? What is their character? When looking at this world, we see a lot of inequalities, some people are rich, others are poor; why does not everyone have a good situation? Is the creator of the world compassionate or not? Does the creator have a human form or an unapparent form?
- What is the origin of wrong-doing and misdeeds? Likewise, how can we reach a state of perpetual happiness? Is there a place we can go to and experience eternal happiness, or is it a level of thinking?
Next, the Karmapa gave a brief introduction to the six Darshanas.
The Way Vedic Philosophers Viewed Other Schools
Generally, in the history of Indian philosophy, those philosophies that respect the Vedic literature as sacred, are called the or orthodox schools, and those that do not accept the Vedas as sacred, are the Nastika or unorthodox schools, and are seen as holding a wrong or nihilistic view.
The six Darshanas or six orthodox Hindu schools count as Astika. So, what is the dividing line between the Six Darshanas and the Nastika philosophies? It is most appropriate to answer this question by using the important Vedic texts as a basis. The text by the Indian Madhava Acharya entitled Sarva Darsana Samgraha (A Summary of All Views), written in the 14th century, explains the philosophies of sixteen schools in great detail and explains the support they give for the Vedanta view. He also explains the distance of those philosophies from the Vedanta school.
What follows is a list of some important philosophies, ranked in descending order of distance from the Vedas, the philosophies higher in the list being those more distant from the Vedas:
Thus, the Lokayata school differs most from the Vedic school, while the view closest to it is the Yoga school. The Karmapa explained that the Vedanta school was omitted from the list because Madhava Acharya held the Vedanta view.
The period when these philosophies were developing, was like a new age or a revolution in Indian philosophy. This was an era when people were recompiling the old rituals, establishing laws, and inventing more complete grammar and poetics. In particular, there was research that reached the heart of geometry and there was a great advancement in mathematics. Philosophical thinking advanced so far that the vast philosophy of Buddhism was able to arise, continue and reach a high level because it was such a conducive environment. Thus, we should be grateful to the orthodox Hindu schools and consider them as very important.
Their philosophies and philosophical texts are really a great accomplishment that the ancient Indians have left behind for our entire world. Among them, in particular the Sāṃkhya school founded by the Sage Kapila and the Buddhist teachings established by Buddha Shakyamuni are exemplars that stand out in Indian history.
Then, His Holiness gave a short introduction to each of these schools, primarily focusing on their respective historical background.
1. Sāṃkhya School
Among all the philosophical traditions of India, the oldest is the Sāṃkhya—it is among the earliest in the world. The word sāṃkhya appears in the Upanishads, and there are many ways to explain the word, but the original meaning is ‘counting’.
One of the most famous researchers of the Sāṃkhya school is the German scholar Garbe. He explains that the connotation of ‘counting’ comes about because the Samkhya school categorises all knowable phenomena into two original constituents and twenty natures, so other schools ridiculed them as being “counters,” and this is how they were given the name Sāṃkhya.
The founder of the Sāṃkhya is generally accepted to be the Sage Kapila. His student was Asuri, and Asuri’s best student was Pancaśikha. However, there is little known of how important they actually were in the development of the Sāṃkhya tradition because they left no traces behind. However, later, people would have as much faith and reverence for the Sage Kapila as for a god, which was unique and did not occur with regard to the founders of other schools. He was very well-known at the time of the Buddha. His philosophy remained a philosophy without becoming a religion, and, His Holiness asserted, there is actually quite a difference between a philosophy and a religion. Taking as an example one of the four philosophical schools in the Tibetan Buddhist system, His Holiness considered the Madhyamaka or Middle Way school. It is regarded as a philosophical school and not as a religion, he pointed out. The non-Buddhist philosophical schools had not risen to the status of a religion.
Sāṃkhya Fundamental Texts
The fundamental texts of most of the six Darshanas are written as sutras in verse.
Although a text called the Sāṃkhya Sūtras exists, the root text of the Sāṃkhyas is Verses on the Samkhya (Samkhyakārikā). This is their most important text and was written by Īśvarakṛṣṇa probably in the 5th or 4th century BCE.
As to the Sāṃkhya Sūtras – said to have been written by the Sage Kapila – researchers question their authenticity. The main reason for this is that there is no mention of this text in early Sāṃkhya writings or quotations from it. In addition, it appears to be heavily influenced by Vedanta, so researchers assert it was written by a scholar of the Vedanta school between the 9th and 14th centuries.
The scholar Garbe suggests that the Sāṃkhya Sūtras were written no earlier than 1380 CE and not later than 1450 CE. In contrast, there are said to be seven well-known commentaries on the Verses on the Sāṃkhya. However, due to lack of time, His Holiness did not further elaborate on them. There is a Sāṃkhya text called the Seventy Golden Verses that was translated into Chinese by Master Yangdak Denpa in the 6th century. There is debate as to whether this is the same text as Īśvarakṛṣṇa.
The Sāṃkhya is fundamentally a dualist system. There are two basic constituents of all knowable phenomena. One is the person or puruṣa. It is the knower, the consumer, and also called the self. The other is the primal nature or pradhāna. It is material by nature, the creator of all manifestations or appearances. It is the constituent that has three qualities [of rajas, sattva, and tamas] and twenty manifestations. In short, one constituent is cognitive and one is material.
2. Yoga School
The Sāṃkhya school is actually a non-theistic school that does not accept a creator of the world because it cannot be proven. Many other schools during that time did not support the Sāṃkhya system, and in order to rectify that fault, the Yoga school arose.
To explain the Yoga school from another perspective, in addition to upholding the tenets of the Sāṃkhya, they also were a theistic school that had faith and devotion in a supreme deity called Īśvara, whom they worshiped. Moreover, they had some secret practices of yogic perception. Thus, the Yoga school shares the same tenet system as the Sāṃkhya school and adds some yoga practices to it. In other words, the Yoga school is like a theistic Sāṃkhya.
Yoga means ‘union’. The word appears in some Āranyakas and Upanishads, so we know that the practice of yoga had appeared prior to them and developed gradually. In the Mahabharata, it would seem as if the yoga school was present at that time or that the Mahabharata was written after the yoga school appeared.
But researchers postulate that a yoga tradition that has the character of a philosophy appeared only after the Sage Patanjali had written the Yoga Sutras. The dates of Patanjali’s birth and death are unknown, but many researchers say that he was the same Patanjali who authored a commentary on the Mahādhsyam — the grammar written by Panini in the 4th century BCE. If that is the case, we can infer that Patanjali was active during the 1st century CE.
But there are those who doubt this hypothesis.
Some scholars say that the Yoga Sutras were not written by a single author but are a compilation of fragments of yoga sutras by many yogis over many years and that it likely appeared around the time of Nagarjuna during the 2nd or 3rd century CE.
Others say it is earlier, from the 5th-6th century BCE.
The Yoga Sutras have four chapters, the Samadhi Pada (Chapter on Samadhi), Sadhana Pada (Chapter on Practice), Vibhuti Pada (Chapter on Power), and Kaivalya Pada (Chapter on Isolation, meaning liberation).
The Samadhi Pada (Chapter on Samadhi)
Samadhi is a level of mind attained after the movement of mind has been limited. In order to limit the motion of mind, one must train constantly and instil the habit of mindfulness and awareness. In addition, through faith and devotion in Īśvara, the superior experience of yoga arises.
Sadhana Pada (Chapter on Practice)
There are various methods for developing the superior practice of yoga. In addition to taking the essence of the Sāṃkhya system as the basis, yoga also teaches about the Aṣṭanga or eight branches of yoga. Among them, the last three dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi are the essence of the practice of yoga, and the three together are called saṃyāma. If one develops samadhi, one will achieve miraculous powers and clairvoyance, will be freed from the bonds of birth and death, and achieve the state of liberation.
Vibhuti Pada (Chapter on Power)
Here, clairvoyance means knowing the past and future, hearing sounds in all directions, knowing situations in other worlds, being able to converse with gods and spirits, the ability to walk on water or fly through the air, and gaining many other superhuman powers. These powers are called ‘vast clairvoyance’.
The Spread of Yoga
During the time when Yoga was developing, it was very close to the assertions of the Sāṃkhya. It accepts the Sāṃkhya presentation of the 25 knowables without any alteration. Basically, though the Sāṃkhya are non-theistic, the Yoga school asserts the god Īśvara. Thus, the Sāṃkhya are called the NirīśvāraSāṃkhya (non-theistic Sāṃkhya) and the Yoga school the Seśvāra-Sāṃkhya ( theistic Sāṃkhya). Tibetan texts use these two terms but do not the term Yoga school.
Another great distinction between the two is that the Yoga school asserts that there is a permanent god–Īśvara–who is other than the self/puruṣa and the primal nature. The relation between Īśvara and the self is that Īśvara is similar to a universal self whilst puruṣa is the individual self.
In brief, the distinctive quality of the Yoga school is that it united the Sāṃkhya tenets with a presentation of god. This was very appealing to the Indo-Aryans — it had a full presentation on logic, used the Sāṃkhya school’s logical analysis, and there was the god Īśvara — so for a short time, everyone was greatly interested and followed it. However, the society of that time became more superstitious and deluded by blind faith, so the people took greater interest in mantra practice, as taught in the Atharvaveda. The practice of mantra was not like that in Tibetan Buddhism, the Karmapa explained. It was primarily motivated by mundane aims for the sake of this life. At first the Mantra school was not so important but in the end it led to cruel animal sacrifices as well, and support rapidly declined.
3. Nyāya School
This is the school that developed the presentation of logic and validity and is the root of all Indian logical traditions, so it is called the Nyāya or Logical school. In Sanskrit it is called the Nyāya-Vidyā or Logical Knowledge, which is shortened into Rigpa Chenpa (རིགས་པ་ཅན་པ་) in Tibetan. The founder of the Nyāya is traditionally said to be the sage Gautama. Some say he is the same as Akṣapāda, but some do not.
Among the ancient sages, there were three well-known Gautamas. The first was the one who started the tradition of sutra literature. The second is the founder of the Nyāya school. And the third is the Buddha. Thus, it is important to know whom we are referring to when we use the name.
Because Gautama established the systems of logic, he is well-known among Buddhist scholars. His dates are not clearly known, but it is estimated that he lived between 150–50 BCE. Nagarjuna’s treatise The Finely Woven lists each of the sixteen points of the Nyaya sutras and refutes them, so he was either contemporary with or earlier than Nagarjuna.
Traditionally, the Nyāya Sūtra is considered to be the most important and traditionally said to have been written by the sage Gautama. It has 538 stanzas in five books. The earliest commentary on the Nyāya Sutra is the Commentary on the Nyāya Sutra written by Vatsyayana in the 5th century CE. He was a logician who probably preceded Dignāga by one generation and was contemporaneous with Vasubandhu. Hence, texts on logic began among the non-Buddhists in the Brahmanical traditions and gradually spread into Buddhism. After the 5th century, this tradition of logic and validity also spread widely among Buddhists, mainly because of the influence of Dignāga and Dharmakīrti. These two refined earlier assertions and wrote new commentaries on validity, so they are known as the later masters of validity.
The Nyāya system continued to develop. Even more well-known than Dharmakīrti, is Dharmottara, who had a great influence on the Nyāya tradition and wrote a commentary on Dharmakīrti’s Ascertainment of Validity that caused the Nyāya tradition to change, so that their positions on logic became much more in accord with the Buddhist positions.
The greatest impact that Gautama had was his establishment of a complete system by way of 16 categories. Its primary aim was to realise the suchness of the real nature; he asserted that realising suchness was achieving liberation.
Tenets or Distinguishing Features
The most distinctive feature of the Nyāya is the presentation of inferential logic, particularly the well-known five-part syllogism. This five-part syllogism was later used frequently in logic and became very influential. The Karmapa then gave an example:
1. There is fire on the hill (the hypothesis)
2. There is smoke above the hill (the reason)
3. Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, like in a kitchen (the analogy)
4. There is smoke on that hill (the reaffirmation)
5. Therefore it is decided there is fire (conclusion)
The Karmapa pointed out the similarities between the systems of logic developed in Ancient India and that developed by the Ancient Greeks. If you remove either the first two or the last two of the five steps in this syllogism, it becomes the same as the term logic or syllogism of the Greek philosopher Aristotle. As the two systems appeared at the same time and seem to be the same, people began to question whether they were connected and looked for a causal relationship between the two.
There is no conclusive evidence because of the lack of reliable sources, however, some scholars hypothesise that as
(1.) Greek logic developed later than Indian logic, and (2.) when you compare the systems, Indian logic is more highly developed than the Greek it is possible that perhaps Aristotle — a tutor to the Greek emperor Alexander the Great — studied Indian logic. He then applied his own intelligence to complete his own system of logic.
4. Vaiśeṣika School
The philosophy arose as a way to rectify the faults of the non-theistic Sāṃkhya system, and to rectify faults in the Nyāya system.
Traditionally it is said to have been founded by the sage Kaṇada, who is also nicknamed Kaṇabhakṣa/Kaṇabhuj, ‘grain-eater’, or Ulūka, ‘owl’. One explanation says he was called “grain-eater” because when he was practising austerities, he subsisted on grains from other people’s leftover food. Buddhist scholars say that he is called Ulūka because he determined the six categories from an owl’s hooting, but the Vaiśeṣika themselves say that it is his clan name. Some scholars say the word kaṇa means atom, and because his school teaches that the world is made entirely of atoms, his name means “proponent of atoms”.
The root text is the Vaiśeṣika Sutras by the sage Kaṇada. The dates of its composition are not known because of the lack of documentary evidence from this era. The Karmapa reminded everyone that the Ancient Indians had no tradition of recording dates and for many generations they memorised things and produced no written records. Some researchers think it was composed before the appearance of Buddhism; some think it was in the first century or beginning of the 2nd century CE.
The Vaiśeṣika Sutras is in ten chapters and 370 stanzas. The earliest commentary is the Padārthadharmasaṃgrāha (“Compendium of the Properties of Matter”) by Praśastapāda The Vaiśeṣikas say there were two earlier commentaries, but they are no longer extant.
Tenets or Distinctive Features
The foundation tenet of the Vaiśeṣika is that the world is made of atoms, which are eternal and unchanging, therefore permanent, and exist in innumerable quantity. They are able to combine and separate by an invisible hidden power, and the entire world is made up of atoms. The composition of the atoms occurs because of this hidden power and is not created by a god, and they assert that it probably comes about through the power of karma.
The heart of the Vaiśeṣika tenets is an investigation of the material world and the energies related to it. Thus, it might be appropriate to say that, rather than being a philosophy, this is physics. This is the first Indian tradition to investigate physics.
5. Mīmāṃsa School
The Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools all accept the Vedas, but their traditions do not spring directly from the Vedic literature. The earlier and later Mīmāṃsa arose directly from the view of the Vedas, so in the Indian history of philosophy they are considered the most orthodox of the orthodox views. The Mīmāṃsa was originally one school, but it gradually split into two, the Pūrva (Early) Mīmāṃsa and the Uttara (Later) Mīmāṃsa known as the Vedanta.
Most of the schools of the time tended towards non-theistic views. This contention concerned the existence of a creator god who had created the universe, rather than lesser gods to whom sacrifices were made. It was only the non-Buddhist Lokayata school that declared there to be no gods at all and no virtues or misdeeds.
The Mīmāṃsa school arose to uphold and preserve the traditional views as they were. The Sāṃkhya had refuted the existence of Brahma and the Brāhmanic philosophy, and the Buddhists had eliminated distinctions in caste and taught that rituals were meaningless. Both views were very influential, and these philosophies became the dominant thought of the age. Hence, as a counter to these, the Mīmāṃsa put a lot of effort into improving their status and focused on the importance of ritual. Later, the Vedanta school primarily focused on the philosophy of the Vedas, asserting that the world has a creator and so forth. It preserved and propagated the meaning of the old Upanishads and became like the mother of all modern Indian (Hindu) philosophies.
The Founder and Foundational Texts
The founder of the Early Mīmāṃsa was the sage Jaimini. The dates of his birth and death are unknown. It is traditionally said that he wrote the Mīmāṃsa Sutras around 200 BCE. However, researchers are unable to determine whether the school developed on the basis of that text.
If we look at the Buddhist scriptures preserved in Chinese, the word Mīmāṃsa only appears during the 4th century. The earliest is in the Commentary on the Lamp of Prajna by Bhavaviveka. Similarly, it also appears in Master Dharmakīrti’s Treatise on the Vajra Needle. If we look at those, we see that the Mīmāṃsa might have developed anytime between the 5-6th century BCE and the 5-6th century CE.
The Mīmāṃsa Sutras have twelve chapters and 60 different sections in 2742 stanzas. This is the longest of the root texts of the six orthodox Hindu schools. The other sutras are not that long and often just contain a few hundred stanzas.
The earliest commentary on the Mīmāṃsa Sūtras is the Śāvara-bhaṣya by Śāvara, which was used as a source by the later Mīmāṃsakas for their own commentaries. It makes a clear differentiation between the Mīmāṃsa and Vedanta. Originally they were one school which then divided into two.
The main aim of the Mīmāṃsa is for humans to accomplish their appropriate responsibilities. Those appropriate responsibilities are to practice the rituals taught in the Vedas. Thus, they write a lot about ritual in their texts. The Mīmāṃsa explain why one must perform the Vedic rituals and encourage people to engage in their practice.
In this respect, it might be more appropriate to call the Mīmāṃsa a ritualist school rather than a philosophical school. Thus, the Mīmāṃsa preserve the tradition of the Vedas and Vedic practices and investigate the meanings of the texts of the Brāhmanas, but do not venture into deep philosophical inquiry.
They have such great reverence for the Vedas that they hold that the words of the Vedas are unerringly valid and permanent. For this reason, the Mīmāṃsa are also called “Proponents of Words.”
As the Mīmāṃsa are primarily ritual-based, why are they included in the Six Darshanas? It is because the Mīmāṃsa had a particular way of explaining the meanings of their texts. They explained them logically. First, they would explain the meaning of the text, and then gather all the doubts. Then they would present all the proofs negating them, the reasons for proving it, refuting the doubts of the objections, and then presenting a conclusion. This is very similar to what is being done in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
As the Karmapa had mentioned above, the Mīmāṃsa and the Vedanta schools were one at first but later split into two.
The earlier Mīmāṃsa school was primarily based on the four Vedas, the Brahmanas and the Brahmanical literature, which they investigated. They are also referred to as the Ritual Mīmāṃsa or Karma Mīmāṃsa. The Vedanta however, mainly examined and explained the philosophy and the section on wisdom in the Upanishads. Therefore, they are called the later Mīmāṃsa or Jnana [Wisdom] Mīmāṃsa.
In particular, proponents of the Vedanta also inquired about Brahma, or the logic of Brahma, and were thus referred to as the analysers of Brahma, the Brahma Mīmāṃsa.
So basically, the Mimasa and the Vedanta schools were important representatives of the orthodox Hindu schools. While the Mīmāṃsa school is the source of the present Hindu ritual practices, the Vedanta school is the source for the views of the Hindu philosophies.
The question regarding the reason why and when they split into two is difficult to answer. The main difference in their positions, according to their respective texts, is that, according to the Brahma sutras, there is an ultimate aim to achieve, and the Vedanta school – taking philosophy as their main aspect – says that the ultimate aim is to achieve liberation.
The Mīmāṃsa, on the other hand, say that by means of rituals – their main aspect – one would achieve liberation.
Founder and Foundational Texts
It was probably around the beginning of the first millennium that the Vedanta school appeared. Its founder was probably a sage named Badarayana or Vyasa (1st century CE).
Their most important treatise is the Pracchannabauddha, the Treatise on Scriptures, written by Gaudapada. Later, there was another great Vedanta scholar called Adi Shankara, who established the meanings of the Brahmasutra. He developed a new school, the Advaita Vedanta—non-dual Vedanta. Both texts were very influential, and particularly Sankara’s view of Brahma is very similar to the Buddhist Middle Way view of emptiness. Even within the Vedanta school some say that Sankara was secretly a Buddhist, just pretending to be a Hindu.
The non-dual Vedanta school became very widespread in India and many traces are still influential in Indian culture and literature nowadays.
One of the most important texts is the Brahmasutra. The proponents of the Vedanta system themselves say that their sources lie in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahmasutra. They maintain that the Brahmasutra is the primary text and within this is the awareness of Brahma and the Brahmavidya, which they recognise as the essence of their school. The Brahmasutra has four chapters and each chapter has four internal sections. It has a total of 555 stanzas. The time it was developed was probably the latest of the six orthodox schools; it appeared in the common era.
The main tenet of the non-dual Vedanta school is that there is an all-pervasive god and that the entire world and its nature is actually Brahma. All arose from the expanse of Brahma, and all will dissolve back into Brahma in the end. Brahma here refers not to an individual God but to the actual nature of things. So, they refute the claims of the Brahmans that there are two separate things— the puruṣa, the knowing self, and the primal nature pradhāna. They refute the Vaiśeṣika view that everything is made of atoms. The Vedanta maintain that all phenomena are one in essence, and that essence is Brahma. This is very similar to the Buddhist view that all is in the nature of emptiness, the Dharmadatu.
His Holiness closed the teachings by giving a short summary of the main views held by the six Darshanas.