Bhagavad Gita
  Brahma Sutras

The Darsanas

An article by Sri Swami Sivananda, the founder of Divine Life Society

What is Darsana

The six scriptures of the Hindus are: (i) Srutis, (ii) Smritis, (iii) Itihasas, (iv) Puranas, (v) Agamas, and (vi) Darsanas. While the first four are intuitional, and the fifth inspirational and emotional, the Darsanas are the intellectual section of the Hindu writings. Darsanas are schools of philosophy based on the Vedas. The Agamas are theological. The Darsana literature is philosophical. The Darsanas are meant for the erudite scholars who are endowed with acute acumen, good understanding, power of reasoning and subtle intellect. The Itihasas, Puranas and Agamas are meant for the masses. The Darsanas appeal to the intellect, while the Itihasas, Puranas, etc., appeal to the heart.

Philosophy has six divisions—Shad-Darsana—the six Darsanas or ways of seeing things, usually called the six systems or six different schools of thought. The six schools of philosophy are the six instruments of true teaching or the six demonstrations of Truth. Each school has developed, systematised and correlated the various parts of the Vedas in its own way. Each system has its Sutrakara, i.e., the one great Rishi who systematised the doctrines of the school and put them in short aphorisms or Sutras.

Sutras and Commentaries

The Sutras are terse and laconic. The Rishis have condensed their thoughts in the aphorisms. It is very difficult to understand them without the help of commentaries by great sages or Rishis. Hence, there arose many commentators or Bhashyakaras. There are glosses, notes and, later, commentaries on the original commentaries. Each set of Sutras has, therefore, got its Bhashya, Vritti, Varttika, Vyakhyana or Tika and Tippani.

A Sutra or an aphorism is a short formula with the least possible number of letters, without any ambiguity or doubtful assertion, containing the very essence, embracing all meanings, without any stop or obstruction and absolutely faultless in nature. A Bhashya is an elaborate exposition, a commentary on the Sutras, with word by word meaning of the aphoristic precepts, their running translation, together with the individual views of the commentator or the Bhashyakara. A Vritti is a short gloss explaining the aphorisms in a more elaborate way, but not as extensively as a Bhashya. A Varttika is a work where a critical study is made of that which is said and left unsaid or imperfectly said in a Bhashya, and the ways of making it perfect by supplying the omissions therein, are given. A Vyakhyana or Tika is a running explanation in an easier language of what is said in the original, with little elucidations here and there. Tippani is just like a Vritti, but is less orthodox than the Vritti. It is an explanation of difficult words or phrases occurring in the original.

The Six Systems of Philosophy

Gautama Rishi systematised the principles of Nyaya or the Indian logical system. Kanada composed the Vaiseshika Sutras. Kapila Muni founded the Sankhya system. Patanjali Maharshi is the first systematiser of the Yoga school; he composed his Yoga Sutras. The Yoga-Darsana of Patanjali is a celebrated text-book on Raja Yoga. Jaimini, a disciple of Vyasa, composed the Sutras of the Mimamsa school which is based on the ritual-sections of the Vedas. Badarayana composed his famous Vedanta-Sutras or Brahma-Sutras which expound the teachings of the Upanishads. The different schools of the Vedanta have built their philosophy on the foundation of these Sutras.

Different Ways of Approach to the Same Goal

The six schools of thought are like the six different roads which lead to one city. You may go to Bombay by train or aeroplane or car or bus or any other vehicle. Even so, you can reach the goal of life through Yoga, or Vedanta, or any other path. The methods or ways of approach to the Goal are different to suit people of different temperaments, capacities and mental calibre. But they all have one aim, viz., removal of ignorance and its effects of pain and sufferings, and the attainment of freedom, perfection, immortality and eternal bliss by union of the individual soul (Jivatman) with the Supreme Soul (Paramatman).

No student of Hinduism ought to be satisfied without acquiring a clear and accurate knowledge of the principal distinguishing characteristics of the six philosophical schools. The more advanced scholar should study the original Sutras in which the doctrines of each school are enunciated. Study of the six schools of philosophy will sharpen the intellect and give you vast knowledge. You will have a clear and comprehensive understanding of the Truth. Each system is a step or rung in the spiritual ladder.

Interrelation Between The Six Systems

The six schools are divided into three groups: (i) the Nyaya and the Vaiseshika, (ii) the Sankhya and the Yoga, and (iii) the Mimamsa and the Vedanta. The Vaiseshika is a supplement of the Nyaya. The Yoga is a supplement of the Sankhya. The Vedanta is an amplification and fulfilment of the Sankhya. Study of Vyakarana (grammar), Mimamsa, Nyaya and Sankhya sharpens the intellect and enables the aspirants to grasp the Vedanta. The Nyaya is considered as a prerequisite for all philosophical enquiry.

The Vaiseshika is not very much in honour now. The Nyaya is popular. The Sankhya is not a living faith. The Yoga is practised by a few in its practical form. The Vedanta is the most popular of all the schools today.

The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika will give you an analysis of the world of experience. They arrange all things of the world into certain kinds or categories (Padarthas). They explain how God has made all this material world out of atoms and molecules. They show the way to attain knowledge of God. The Sankhya will provide you with deep knowledge on Hindu psychology. Kapila Muni was the father of psychology. The Yoga deals with the control of Vrittis, or thought-waves, and with meditation. The Yoga system shows the ways to discipline the mind and the senses. The Yoga will help you to cultivate concentration and one-pointedness of mind and enter into Nirvikalpa Samadhi or the Superconscious State. The Purva-Mimamsa deals with the Karma-Kanda of the Vedas, and the Uttara-Mimamsa with the Jnana-Kanda. The Uttara-Mimamsa is also known as the Vedanta-Darsana. This is the corner-stone of Hinduism. The Vedanta philosophy explains in detail the nature of Brahman or the Eternal Being, and shows that the individual soul is, in essence, identical with the Supreme Self. It gives methods to remove Avidya or the veil of ignorance and to merge oneself in the ocean of bliss or Brahman.

The Nyaya calls ignorance Mithya Jnana, false knowledge. The Sankhya styles it Aviveka, non-discrimination between the real and the unreal. The Vedanta names it Avidya, nescience. Each philosophy aims at its eradication by Knowledge or Jnana. Then one attains eternal bliss or immortality.

By study of Nyaya and Vaiseshika, one learns to utilise his intellect to find out fallacies and to know the material constitution of the world. By study of Sankhya, one understands the course of evolution. By study and practice of Yoga, one gains self-restraint and obtains mastery over mind and senses. By practice of Vedanta, one reaches the highest rung of the ladder of spirituality or the pinnacle of divine glory, oneness with the Supreme Being, by the destruction of ignorance (Avidya).

Vedanta—The Most Satisfactory System of Philosophy

Some of the doctrines of the Nyaya, the Vaiseshika, the Sankhya and the Yoga are opposed to the teaching of the Vedas. These systems are only superficially based on the Vedas. The Nyaya and the Vaiseshika schools rely too much on human reason, though they accept the Vedas as the supreme authority. Human intellect is frail and finite. It has got its limitations. It functions within time, space and causation. Its findings cannot be infallible. It cannot solve transcendental matters. Vedas only are infallible and authoritative. They contain the revelations or direct intuitional experiences of Seers and Rishis. These experiences will tally with the experiences of those who have attained Knowledge of the Self (Brahma-Jnana).

The Vedanta is the most satisfactory system of philosophy. It has been evolved out of the Upanishads. It has superseded all other schools. The Mimamsa school has laid great stress on rituals, or Karma Kanda. According to the Mimamsa school, Karma or ritual is all-in-all in the Veda. Upasana (worship) and Jnana (knowledge) are only accessories to Karma. This view is refuted by the Vedanta school. According to the Vedanta, Self-realisation (Jnana) is the foremost thing, and ritual and worship are accessories. Karma will take one to heaven which is only an impermanent place of refined sensual enjoyment. Karma cannot destroy the cycle of births and deaths, and cannot give eternal bliss and immortality.

During the time of Sankaracharya, all the six schools of philosophy flourished. Therefore, he had to refute the other systems in order to establish his absolute monism (Kevala Advaita). But, nowadays, Sankhya, Vaiseshika, etc., are in name only. Even now, some Hindu preachers, Sannyasins and Mandalesvars try to establish Advaita Vedanta by refuting these old systems. This is a mistake. They will have to refute at the present moment materialism, agnosticism, atheism and science, and then establish Advaita Vedanta.

Other Scriptures

The Tevaram and the Tiruvachakam are the hymns of the Saiva saints of South India; the Divya-Prabandham of the Alvar or Vaishnava saints of South India; the songs of Kabir; the Abhangas of Tukaram and the Ramayana of Tulasi Das—all of which are the outpourings of great realised souls—are wonderful scriptures. They contain the essence of the Vedas.

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