I The Rise of the Systems

THE age of Buddha [563 483 B.C.] represents the great springtide of philosophic spirit in India. The progress of philosophy is generally due to a powerful attack on a historical tradition when men feel themselves compelled to go back on their steps and raise once more the fundamental questions which their fathers had disposed of by the older schemes. The revolt of Buddhism and Jainism, even such as it was, forms an era in the history of Indian thought, since it finally exploded the method of dogmatism and helped to bring about a critical point of view. For the great Buddhist thinkers, logic was the main arsenal where were forged the weapons of universal destructive criticism. Buddhism served as a cathartic in clearing the mind of the cramping effects of ancient obstructions.. . The need for laying the foundations deeper resulted in the great movement of philosophy which produced the six systems of thought, where cold criticism and analysis take the place of poetry and religion. The conservative schools were compelled to codify their views and set forth logical defences of them. The critical side of philosophy became as important as the speculative. The philosophical views of the presystematic period set forth some general reflections regarding the nature of the universe as a whole, but did not realise that a critical theory of knowledge is the necessary basis of any fruitful speculation. Critics forced their opponents to employ the natural methods relevant to life and experience, and not some supernatural revelation, in the defence of their speculative schemes.. . The force of thought which springs straight from life and experience as we have it in the Upanisads, or the epic greatness of soul which sees and chants the God vision as in the Bhagavad gita give place to more strict philosophising”?¦the spirit of the times required that every system of thought based on reason should be recognised as a darsana. All logical attempts to gather the floating conceptions of the world into some great general ideas were regarded as darsanas. They all help us to see some aspect of the truth. This conception led to the view that the apparently isolated and independent systems were really members of a larger historical plan. Their nature could not be completely understood so long as they were viewed as self dependent, without regard to their place in the historic interconnection.

  1. Relation to the Vedas

The adoption of the critical method served to moderate the impetuosity of the speculative imagination and helped to show that the pretended philosophies were not so firmly held as their professors supposed. But the iconoclastic fervour of the materialists, the sceptics and some followers of Buddhism destroyed all grounds of certitude. The Hindu mind did not contemplate this negative result with equanimity.. . . It cannot be that the hopes and aspirations of sincere souls like the rsis of the Upanisads are irrevocably doomed. It cannot be that centuries of struggle and thought have not brought the mind one step nearer to the solution.. . . The seers of the Upanisads are the great teachers in the school of sacred wisdom. They speak to us of the knowledge of God and spiritual life. If the unassisted reason of man cannot attain any hold on reality by means of mere speculation, help may be sought from the great writings of the seers who claim to have attained spiritual certainty. Thus strenuous attempts were made to justify by reason what faith implicitly accepts. This is not an irrational attitude, since philosophy is only an endeavour to interpret the widening experience of humanity. The one danger that we have to avoid is lest faith should furnish the conclusions for philosophy.

Of the systems of thought or darsanas, six became more famous than others, viz., Gautama’s Nyaya, Kanada’s Vaisesika, Kapila’s Samkhya, Patanjali’s Yoga, Jaimini’s Purva Mimamsa and Badarayana’s Uttara Mimamsa or the Vedanta. They are the Brahmanical systems, since they all accept the authority of the Vedas. The systems of thought which admit the validity of the Vedas are called astika, and those which repudiate it nastika. The astika, or nastika character of a system does not depend on its positive or negative conclusions regarding the nature of the supreme spirit, but on the acceptance or non acceptance of the authority of the Vedas.. . .

The philosophical character of the systems is not much compromised by the acceptance of the Veda. The distinction between sruti and smrti is well known, and where the two conflict, the former is to prevail. The sruti itself is divided into the karma kanda (the Samhitas and the Brahmanas) and the jnana kanda (the Upanisads).

The latter is of higher value, though much of it is set aside as mere arthavada or non essential statements. All these distinctions enable one to treat the Vedic testimony in a very liberal spirit. The interpretations of the Vedic texts depend on the philosophical predilections of the authors. While employing logical methods and arriving at truths agreeable to reason, they were yet anxious to preserve their continuity with the ancient texts. They did not wish it to be thought that they were enunciating something completely new. While this may involve a certain want of frankness with themselves, it helped the spread of what they regarded as the truth. Critics and commentators of different schools claim for their views the sanction of the Veda and exercise their ingenuity in forcing that sanction when it is not spontaneously yielded. In the light of the controversies of subsequent times, they read into the language of the Vedas opinions on questions of which they knew little or nothing. The general conceptions of the Vedas were neither definite nor detailed, and so allowed themselves to be handled and fashioned in different ways by different schools of thought. Besides, the very vastness of the Vedas, from which the authors could select out of free conviction any portion for their authority, allowed room for original thought.

  1. The Sutras

When the Vedic literature became unwieldy and the Vedic thinkers were obliged to systernatise their views, the Suitra literature arose. The principal tenets of the darianas are stated in the form of sitras or short aphorisms. They are intended to be as short as possible, free from doubt, able to bring out the essential meaning and put an end to many doubts; and they must not contain anything superfluous or erroneous. They try to avoid all unnecessary repetition and employ great economy of words. The ancient writers had no temptation to be diffuse, since they had to rely more on memory than on printed books. This extreme conciseness makes it difficult to understand the Sutras without a commentary.

The different systems developed in different centres of philosophical activity. The views had been growing up through many generations even before they were summed up in the Sutras. They are not the work of one thinker or of one age but of a succession of thinkers spread over a number of generations. As the Sutras presuppose a period of gestation and of formation, it is difficult for us to trace their origin… The systems must have evolved at a much earlier period than that in which the Sutras were formulated. The whole tone and manner of the philosophical Sutras suggests that they belong approximately to the same period. The authors of the Sitras are not the founders or originators of the systems but only their compilers or formulators. This fact accounts for the cross references in the philosophical Sutras, and it must be noted that the various systems had been growing side by side with one another during the period which preceded the formation of the Sutras. To the early centuries after Buddha and before the Christian era belongs the crystallisation of the different systems out of the complex solution. Oral tradition and not books were the repositories of the philosophical views. It may be that, through lapse of oral tradition, several important works perished, and many of those that have reached us are not even pure. Some of the earlier important Sutras,. . as well as large quantities of philosophical literature, are lost to us, and with them also much useful information about the chronological relations of the different systems. Max Muller assigns the gradual formation of the Sutras to the period from Buddha to Asoka [third century B.C.], though he admits that, in the cases of the Vedanta, the Samkhya and the Yoga, a long previous development has to be allowed. This view isconfirmed by the evidence of Kautilya’s Artha sastra [300 B.C.]. Up till then, the orthodox Anviksiki or logical systems were divided mainly into two schools, the Purva Mimamsa and the Samkhya. Though the references in Buddhist texts are very vague, it may be said that the Buddhist Sutras assume a knowledge of the six systems. The vivid intellectual life of the early centuries after Buddha flowed in many streams parallel to one another, though the impulse to codify them was due to the reaction against the systems of revolt. These systems of thought undergo modifications at the hands of later interpreters, though the resultant system is still fathered on the original systematiser.. . The greatest thinkers of India profess to be simply scholiasts; but in their attempts to expound the texts, they improve on them. Each system has grown in relation to others which it keeps always in view. The development of the six systems has been in progress till the present day, the successive interpreters defending the tradition against the attacks of its opponents.

In the case of every darsana, we have first of all a period of philosophic fermentation, which at a particular stage is reduced to sutras or aphorisms. This is succeeded by the writing of commentaries on the aphorisms, which are followed by glosses, expositions and explanatory compendia, in which the original doctrines undergo modifications, corrections and amplifications. The commentaries use the form of the dialogue, which has come down from the time of the Upanisads as the only adequate form for the exposition of a complex theme. The commentator by means of the dialogue is enabled to show the relation of the view he is expounding to the diverse trains of thought suggested by the rival interlocutors. The ideas are re stated and their superiority to other conceptions established.

  1. Common Ideas

The six systems agree on certain essentials. The acceptance of the Veda implies that all the systems have drawn from a common reservoir of thought. The Hindu teachers were obliged to use the heritage they received from the past, in order to make their views readily understood. While the use of the terms avidya [ignorance], maya [illusion or appearance], purusa [person, self], jiva [self, soul] shows that the dialect of speculation is common to the different systems, it is to be noted that the systems are distinguished by the different significations assigned to those terms in the different schools. It frequently happens in the history of thought that the same terms and phrases are used by different schools in senses which are essentially distinct. Each system sets forth its special doctrine by using, with necessary modifications, the current language of the highest religious speculation. In the systems, philosophy becomes selfconscious. The spiritual experiences recorded in the Vedas are subjected to a logical criticism. The question of the validity and means of knowledge forms an important chapter of each system. Each philosophical scheme has its own theory of knowledge, which is an integral part or a necessary consequence of its metaphysics. Intuition, inference and the Veda are accepted by the systems. Reason is subordinated to intuition. Life cannot be comprehended in its fulness by logical reason. Self consciousness is not the ultimate category of the universe. There is something transcending the consciousness of self, to which many names are given Intuition, Revelation, Cosmic Consciousness, and God vision. We cannot describe it adequately, so we call it the super consciousness. When we now and then have glimpses of this higher form, we feel that it involves a purer illumination and a wider compass. As the difference between mere consciousness and self consciousness constitutes the wide gulf separating the animal from man, so the difference between self consciousness and super consciousness constitutes all the difference between man as he is and man as he ought to be. The philosophy of India takes its stand on the spirit which is above mere logic, and holds that culture based on mere logic or science may be efficient, but cannot be inspiring.

All the systems protest against the scepticism of the Buddhists, and erect a standard of objective reality and truth as opposed to an eternal, unstable flux. The stream of the world has been flowing on from eternity, and this flow is not merely mental, but is objective; and it is traced to the eternal prakrti [Nature] or maya or atoms. “That in which the world resides, when divested of name and form, some call prakrti, others maya, others atoms.” It is assumed that whatever has a beginning has an end. Everything that is made up of parts can be neither eternal nor self subsistent. The true individual is indivisible. The real is not the universe extended in space and time; for its nature is becoming and not being. There is something deeper than this -atoms and selves, or purusa and prakrti, or Brahman.

All the systems accept the view of the great world rhythm. Vast periods of creation, maintenance and dissolution follow each other in endless succession. This theory is not inconsistent with belief in progress; for it is not a question of the movement of the world reaching its goal times without number, and being again forced back to its starting point. Creations and dissolutions do not mean the fresh rise and the total destruction of the cosmos. The new universe forms the next stage of the history of the cosmos, where the unexhausted potencies of good and evil are provided with the opportunities of fulfilment. It means that the race of man enters upon and retravels its ascending path of realisation. This interminable succession of world ages has no beginning.

Except perhaps the Purva Mimamsa, all the systems aim at the practical end of salvation. The systems mean by release (moksa) the recovery by the self of its natural integrity, from which sin and error drive it. All the systems have for their ideal complete mental poise and freedom from the discords and uncertainties, sorrows and sufferings of life, ” a repose that ever is the same,” which no doubts disturb and no rebirths break into. The conception jivan mukti, or liberation in life, is admitted in many schools.

It is a fundamental belief of the Hindus that the universe is lawabiding to the core, and yet that man is free to shape his own destiny in it. The systems believe im rebirth and preexistence. Our life is a step on a road, the direction and goal of which are lost in the infinite. On this road, death is never an end or an obstacle but at most the beginning of new steps. The development of the self is a continuous process, though it is broken into stages by the recurring baptism of death.

Philosophy carries us to the gates of the promised land, but cannot let us in; for that, insight or realisation is necessary. We are like children stranded in the darkness of samsara [world and life of change or appearance], with no idea of our true nature, and inclined to imagine fears and to cling to hopes in the gloom that surrounds us. Hence arises the need for light, which will free us from the dominion of passions and show us the real, which we unwittingly are, and the unreal in which we ignorantly live. Such a kind of insight is admitted as the sole means to salvation, though there are differences regarding the object of insight. The cause of bondage is ignorance, and so release can be had through insight into the truth. The ideal of the systems is practically to transcend the merely ethical level. The holy man is compared to the fair lotus unsullied by the mire in which it grows. In his case the good is no more a goal to be striven after, but is an accomplished fact. While virtue and vice may lead to a good or bad life within the circle of samsara, we can escape from samsara through the transcending of the moralistic individualism. All systems recognise as obligatory unselfish love and disinterested activity, and insist on cittasuddhi (cleansing of the heart) as essential to all moral culture. In different degrees they adhere to the rules of caste (varna) and stages of life (Vramas).

A history of Indian philosophy … is beset with innumerable difficulties. The dates of the principal writers and their works are not free from doubt; and in some cases the historicity of well known authors is contested. While many of the relevant works are not available, even the few that are published have not all been critically studied. A historical treatment of Indian philosophy has not been taken up by the great Indian thinkers themselves.. . .

In obedience to custom, which it would be vain to try to unsettle, we shall start [in dealing with the six systems of Hinduism] with the Nyaya and the Vaisesika theories, which give us an analysis of the world of experience, and pass on to the Samkhya and the Yoga, which try to explain experience by bold speculative ventures; and we shall conclude with a discussion of the Mimamsas, which attempt to show that the revelations of sruti are in harmony with the conclusions of philosophy. Such a treatment has at least the support of sound logic though not of sound chronology.