Reality is truth, and what is true is so,
irrespective of whether we know it is, or are aware of that truth.
Akṣapada Gautama in Nyaya Sutra

The true being is eternal, having no cause. Its indicator is its effect. The presence of the effect arises from the presence of its cause.
Vaisheshika Sutras 4.1-3


Here is the write-up of the ninth day of HH 17th Karmapa’s teaching on the Origins of Secret Mantra (the video is here).

In the first part of the teaching, Karmapa spoke about the Age of Indian Philosophy, why philosophy develops and the major questions and doubts people ask themselves about life and reality that lead to philosophical thinking. This was then followed by a discussion of the development of the six orthodox Hindu Schools of thought and their views.

The second part of the teaching was then a detailed discussion of each the six schools, the meaning of their names, founders, textual sources and their different views.

The 17th Karmapa emphasized the importance of understanding these advanced philosophies and their importance in subjects of logic, physics, metaphysics and culture. For example, the famous Greek Philosopher, Aristotle (tutor of Alexander the Great) is said to have taken the Indian ideas on logic and syllogisms and made his own system of logic from it. In addition, these philosophical systems had a great influence on Buddhist tenets and logic, and vice versa.

The Karmapa ended by giving a succint and clear summary of the views of the six schools.

Music? Because by the Beatles. Because the world is round, It blows my mind!

Written, compiled and edited by Adele Tomlin, 12th September 2021.



Image from 17th Karmapa’s presentation on the development of Indian philosophy

“During the Age of Philosophy, first there were the Sutras, these developed out of the Brahmanas. Then there were the Purushanas and the orthodox Indian schools that developed from the Upanishads.  Generally, many different views developed in that era. The main reason for there to be so many different views or philosophies is because the Upanishads are primarily records of the ideas that occurred to people and they appeared in different fragments. They aren’t completely logical texts, thus within the six dharshanas/the six orthodox Hindu schools, it was only when the Sāṃkhya [1] school appeared that a deep and detailed school of philosophical logic developed.

What are these philosophies investigating? The connection between mind and matter, the nature of the world, what is going to happen in the future, what sort of plans are best for us for the future. These are the sub-topics of their detailed investigations.”

Basically, the first philosophy that was complete with all different aspects, was the Sāṃkhya. As it was first, all the later schools also were greatly  influenced by the Sāṃkhya school. If we begin with the Sāṃkhya, then the last of these six Hindu schools is the Vedānta, which appeared to compete with the Sāṃkhya school and spread widely. Thus people take great interest in that school of thought. In particular, the Advaita (non-dual) Vedānta school that has the position that the Brahman itself are not true. Many people have praised this non-dual tradition. 

Due to the development of the six schools, there was a complete set of philosophical schools that appeared in India. These six traditions that developed, reached a very high level in terms of philosophy and spread widely throughout the world. Other than these six schools, there are many other schools that also appeared, such as are mentioned in the Sutra of the Kshatriya Woman, translated from Chinese into Tibetan. It is very famous in China. It’s not so well-known in Tibetan. It asserts that there are 62 different philosophical views.

Image of Indian Kshatriya women

“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 tenets/schools, among which the Sāṃkhya philosophy is considered the most remarkable.

Now, the views at that time were generally considered inferior views, so only a few of them have been preserved continuously to the present day. The ones that have been preserved, which we have the texts for, are those contained within these six orthodox schools. 

Among them, the one that is the most remarkable and is the original philosophy is the Sāṃkhya school. For that reason is it very special.”

Questions of philosophy – 6th to 5th Century BC, a global philosophy revolution

“The root texts of the six schools are mainly written in the Sutra style. This means the words of the Sutras are easy to understand and not long, thus, if one does not have a commentary and just read the root text it is difficult to understand them. The reason why the roots texts of the six schools are in the form of a Sutra is so that it would be easier for students to memorise.  If they were written in prose, they would be hard to remember.

In any case, around the 6th Century BC, there was a great revolution in philosophy globally. There was the Persian master, Zoroaster, Confucius in China, the Indian sage, Kapila (founder of the Sāṃkhya school) and also the Buddha, who all appeared in the same era, within the space of one or two centuries. So that time of 6th to 5th Century BC was a time of great development in thought.

Generally, even though there are many types of philosophy in the world, the basic questions they are asking are the same. If we think about the basic teachings:

  1. Who am I? Where did I come from? Where will I go? There is a feeling there is a me and a concern about where I arose from and am going.
  2. What is the relation between mind and matter? The relation between external things and the inner? We can see things, but we cannot see the mind but we feel it. Are there any phenomena that transcend these two?
  3. How did this external world come into being? What is this larger universe that is greater than what we can see? Was there a Creator in the beginning who made this vast world? The sun rises and sets, the four seasons, what makes these changes happen?
  4. If there is a Creator of the world, what is that Creator like? Was it a God or a human? What was their character like? We see inequalities in the world, some are rich and some are poor. Some from the moment they are born are in fortunate situations and some from the time they are born are in unfortunate and difficult situations. There are many like that. Why do some people have bad circumstances? Is the Creator compassionate or not? Do they have a human form or formless ?
  5. Where does the idea of good and bad, or morality and immorality come from? Likewise, how can we reach a stage of perpetual happiness?

There are many questions that come up. It is only if you have doubts or questions then you can have philosophy.  If we summarise philosophical questions, those are the main ones.”

Āstika  and nāstika  – the difference between orthodox and non-orthodox views

“Generally, when thinking about the history of Indian philosophy,  all those philosophers who respect the Vedic literature as sacred are called the Āstika[2] schools. They are positive, or orthodox schools. Those that do not accept the Vedas are called the nāstika[3] schools. These are considered nihilistic or wrong views.

When we think about positive existential views, the six orthodox schools are considered the best. They are about ‘existence’.  What is the dividing line between these two? There are many ways to answer this. 

Mādhava of Sangamagrāma

Mādhava of Sangamagrāma (1340 – 1425)

“There is an Indian master called Mādhava of Sangamagrāma (c. 1340 – c. 1425) [4] He was probably a 14th Century Master. In a text entitled Sarva Darsana Samgraha (A Summary of All Views), written in the 14th century, explains the philosophies of different schools in great detail. He is a Vedantist, so he described their explanations and the difference between them and the Vedānta school. I will use his explanation as my basis here.  Here is the list of schools:

  1. Lokayata
  2. Buddhist
  3. Jain
  4. Vaiśeṣika
  5. Nyāya
  6. Mīmāṃsa
  7. Sāṃkhya
  8. Yoga

The higher up on the list, the more distant from the Vedas, and the ones at the bottom are closer to the Vedas. So, the school furthest from the Vedas is the Lokayata school. It is the most different from the Vedānta. Then, Buddhism, Jainism and last is Yoga. The author of the list is a Vedantist so he didn’t include the Vedānta. The closest is the Yoga and before that, the Sāṃkhya school.

The way the Vedāntas saw the other Indian schools and the way they considered the harmony between themselves and other schools can be understood from this list.

When these philosophies were developing, they were re-compiling the rituals, and making laws and grammar and poetics. As I said yesterday, they had also invested greatly in the idea of geometry and reached the heart of that. There was great advancement in mathematics and philosophical schools developed, and even the Buddha’s teachings were able to distinguish themselves and reach a high view. If there had not been such an environment it would have been difficult for it to develop in India. There were so many Hindu or non-Buddhist philosophies and Buddhism was able to arise and develop within that.

We should be grateful to the orthodox Indian Schools and consider them important. Similarly, when we think about these texts they are a great accomplishment that the Indian masters have left behind for the entire world.  

I will now introduce these six schools. I cannot go into detail it would take several days. However, as the topic is not this, I will give a little background and do not plan to speak too much about the philosophy.  In the future, if I have the opportunity, then it is possible I will give a more in-depth presentation of them. For example, when teaching the monastic shedras, I may teach that. Today, I would like to give a brief historical background of these six schools.”


  1. Sāṃkhya (Drangchenpa) – dualism of Mind and Matter

“Among all the philosophical traditions of India, the Sāṃkhya is considered to be the oldest. It is the earliest philosophical tradition globally too. The word Sāṃkhya appears in the Upanishads, even before it developed as a school, this word was used. There are many different ways to explain its meaning, but it originally meant ‘counting’ or ‘enumeration’.

Among all the academics who researched the Sāṃkhya school, one of the most important and influential is a German scholar called Garbe (1857-1927). Garbe explained that the reason why the Sāṃkhya school developed was because they believed that all phenomena are made up of two constituents, The nature of everything is included within twenty-five categories[5]. As things are categorised by numbers, other schools almost ridiculed them and said ‘oh they are just counting things’ and called them the ‘counters’. That is how they got the name Sāṃkhya, according to Garbe.”

German Indologist, Richard Garbe. Photo in the Tübinger Professorengalerie


Founder – Kapila

Founder of the Sāṃkhya school

Who founded Sāṃkhya?  This is generally accepted to be Kapila (Drangsong Serkya), which means ‘light yellow’, as his body was golden yellow. He had a student called Āsuri, who had a student called Pancasikha. These are among the best of his students[6]. It is difficult now to say how important they were and what impact they had on the Sāṃkhya tradition because they didn’t leave traces behind. However, afterwards people had as much faith and reverence in Kapila as they would for a God. That did not occur for the founders of the other schools but it did for Kapila. 

The main reason why they had such love and affection for Kapila only, is that he was very ancient and much time had passed since the system was founded. For example, he was very well-known a century before the Buddha appeared. He was a great thinker, logician and the founder of the oldest tradition. However, he probably didn’t have that many students who upheld his tradition. Thus, his philosophical school never became religion.

Sometimes we talk about the difference in religion and philosophy and think there is no difference, but there is. In Tibetan tradition we talk about the four main philosophical schools. For example, we talk about the Middle Way, Madhyamika school. We think about them as a philosophical school but not as a religion. The non-Buddhist schools never rose to the status of a religion like Buddhism.  The Sāṃkhya school was a very ancient and influential school but it never rose to the status of a religion.

Textual Sources- the Sāṃkhya Sutras and Sāṃkhya-Karika

“As for the texts of the Sāṃkhya. The six schools texts were all written in Sutra style. However, for the Sāṃkhya school there is a Sāṃkhya Sutra but there is a lot of debate whether the Sāṃkhya verses can be identified as a root text. The most important text is called the Sāṃkhya-Karika (Verses on the Sāṃkhya). This is their most important text and was written by Īśvarakṛṣṇa probably in the 5th or 4th century BCE.

Now, the Sāṃkhya Sutras traditionally are said to be written by the founder Kapila. However, people debate whether or not they were written by him or not. This is because there is no discussion of this text in the early Sāṃkhya texts and they do not quote from it. If it was written by Kapila then they would have to discuss it and quote from it.

The second reason is within the Sāṃkhya Sutra there are many traces of the Vedānta in it and signs of its influence. Thus, they assert that it was written by a scholar of the Vedānta school in the 19th century or the 14th Century. The German scholar, Garbe says that the earliest time they could have been written was in the 14th Century and no earlier than 1380. The latest date is around 1415 AD. So he identifies that as the period they were written. Thus, researchers doubt they were written by Kapila. 

In place of that, the most important text is the Sāṃkhya-Karika. There are seven well-known commentaries on the Sāṃkhya in India. I don’t have time to recite their names so I won’t do that now. In Chinese though, there is a text called the Seventy Golden Verses that was translated into Chinese by Paramārtha (Yangdag Denpa) in the 6th Century[7].

There was also Master Wonchok (Chinese: 圓測  Yuáncè) [8], who was actually a Korean monk. During the Tang dynasty, this master wrote a long commentary on the Sutra of Unraveling the Thought[9] (Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra)[10] and he speaks about these verses again and again. In 7th Century he translated the Seventy Golden Verses into Chinese. There is a story about why it is called that.  There is a debate as to whether or not these verses are the same as the ones written by Īśvarakṛṣṇa. I won’t speak about that in detail. Now I will speak about their tenets.”

Wonchek – Korean monk  (613–696)


Tenets – Two basic elements of reality Self/Knower and the Primal Nature

Reality as presented in the Samkhya philosophy

“Essentially, it is a dualistic system that says all phenomena come from two basic constituents. The first is the person or Purusha; the Self, consumer. The other is called the primal nature or prakṛti (प्रकृति,)[11]. That is material by nature. To explain it simply, one is a cognitive element and the other is material element[12]

It has three qualities  [of rajas, sattva, and tamas] and twenty manifestations and so on.  I am not speaking about the tenets too much today. If I speak about them  briefly you won’t understand, if I say too much there is not enough time.  So there are these two basic constituents: cognitive and material. All phenomena are said to arise from the primal nature.”

[Author’s Note: Interestingly the renowned European philosopher, Descartes (1596-1650) who made the distinction between mind and matter, in his famous quote ‘I think therefore, I am’, may have had its philosophical roots in this Ancient Indian tradition.]

Descartes (1596-1650)


2) The Yoga School (Neljor-pa) – a theist Sāṃkhya variation

Image from 17th Karmapa teaching on the Yoga School

“The second school is Yoga (Neljor-pa). The Sāṃkhya school view is atheist and asserts there is no Creator of the world. As they had that view, many people did not support it because they thought there was a God who was important and sacred. In order to rectify this fault, the Yoga school developed. 

The Yoga school, from one perspective, upholds the tenets of the Sāṃkhya school but in addition to that, they also uphold there is a supreme deity, Ishvara whom they worship and are devoted to. There was the perception connected to the secret practice of yoga.

Thus, the Sāṃkhya school is the basis and  adds some practices of yoga to that.  So, it is not a philosophy that brings out something unique and special from the Sāṃkhyas. We could say this is the theistic side of Sāṃkhya, which would be the Yoga school.”

Founder – Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras

Statue of Patanjali, author of the Yoga Sutras

“Generally, 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. However, when researching whether there was a yoga tradition as a philosophy, scholars say it was only after the sage, Patanjali (Drangsong Tshu-lung) came that the tradition arose and the reason he wrote this was because of the text the Yoga Sutras. Only then did a Yoga school as a tradition arise.

As for the dates of Patanjali’s birth and death, it is difficult to say. This is one of the issues, it is very difficult to say them categorically.  In the 4th Century BC, there was the grammarian, Panini who I mentioned yesterday. Some say that Patanjali authored a commentary on the Mahādhsyam — the grammar written by Panini in the 4th century BC. If that is the case, we can infer that Patanjali was active during the 1st century CE.

However, there are people who doubt that he wrote that. There are other people who say the Yoga Sutras were not composed by a single author but are fragments of Yoga Sutras that are compiled over many years; that it was around the time of Nagarjuna, in the second or third century AD, that the text was completed. Other scholars say that the Yoga Sutras’ author appeared in the 5th or 6th Century BC. It’s not clear.”

The Four Main Chapters

The Yoga Sutras have four main chapters (see image above). 

1) Samadhipada (on Samadhi)

2) Sadhana Pada, [which includes the 8-limbed Aṣṭānga Yoga] (on Practice)

3) Vibhuti Pada (on Yoga) and

4) Kaivalya Pada (on Isolation, which means liberation).

The Sāṃkhyas called liberation, isolation. When the self is separated from primal nature, it is called isolation, which means liberation.

1. Samadhipada

First, the Samadhi Pada, teaches samadhi (ting nge dzin). This means by limited movement of the mind from a focus, one attains Samadhi and limits the motion of the mind. One has to instill the habit of mindfulness and awareness, it does not happen all at once. Faith and devotion for Ishwara was essential, or the realisations won’t arise. That is what is taught on the chapter on Samadhi. 

2.Sadhana Pada

Then there is the chapter on practice, Sadhana Pada (drubthab). They teach there are 8 different methods, and the last three are the essence of the practice 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.

3. Vibhuti Pada

The next chapter is on Yoga on Vibhuti (neljor), which is on clairvoyance about knowing past and future events. hearing sounds in all directions, knowing about situations in other worlds, being able to have conversations with Gods and spirits, being able to fly in the air, to walk on water without sinking and other super-human powers. “

The flourishing and decline of the Yoga School

Image of Patanjali, used in the 17th Karmapa’s presentation

“There are many differences from the Sāṃkhya but essentially it is the same. 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). The Sāṃkhyas are called the atheist, whereas the Yoga school are called the theistic Sāṃkhya.

Within the Tibetan texts on the philosophical schools, they don’t speak about the Yoga school because of their similarity with the Sāṃkhya on the philosophy. However, the Yogas assert a Creator who is permanent, and other than the Primal Nature. Its connection with the Self is that God is like the universal Self and the Pursusha is like the individual Self.

In brief, the Yoga school feature is that it takes the Yoga tenets and unites the two schools. It was appealing to people of that time because of  that. It had a full presentation on logic like the Sāṃkhya school but also the presentation of God. Thus, for a short period of time, people became very smitten with it.

What is disappointing is that in society at that time, people became more superstitious and had blind faith views, with more belief in the mantras such as in the Atharvaveda. When I talk about mantra here, this is different from how we practice mantra, then it was primarily it was done to accomplish things for this life. They took a great interest in the practice of mantra. In the beginning the Mantra school was not that important, but by the end they were fooled by the teachings on it, and started to do animal sacrifices, which were cruel. As they were doing so many sacrifices, the Yoga school lost its high regard and status and declined quickly. Therefore, it did not become widespread and could not maintain its status for a long time.”


3) Nyāya School (Rigpachen-pa)  – logic and validity

“There are different spellings for the word Nyāya[13]. This is the school that developed the presentation of logic and validity. It’s like the ancestor or root of all the Indian logical traditions and that is why it is called the Nyāya or logical school.  In Sanskrit it is called the Nyāya-Vidyā or Logical Knowledge, which is shortened into Rigpachenpa in Tibetan.  The composer is said to the sage,  Gautama and another sage called Akṣapāda. Some people say they are the same person, or that they are different. Generally, among the ancient sages, there were three well-known ones called Gautama. 

The founder – Gautama and Nagarjuna

“The first Gautama was the one who compiled the Sutras and began that tradition. The second was the founder of the Nyāya school. The third is our teacher Buddha, who is also called Gautama. It is important to know which of these people we are speaking about, and that we are not referring to Buddha. 

Since Gautama is the one who established the systems of logic, his name is well-known to Buddhist scholars. We don’t know when he lived but researchers estimate he probably lived between 100-50 BC. in particular, there is a text by Nagarjuna called the Finely-Woven [Vaidalya Sutra, ཞིབ་མོ་རྣམ་འཐག, contained in the six works on logic of Madhyamaka] which lists each of the sixty points of the Nyāya Sutras and refutes each of them in turn[14].  Thus we can see that Gautama was around at the same time as Nagarjuna, or earlier than him.”

Textual Sources – Nyāya Sutras

“What is the basic, root text of the Nyāya school? It is a text called the Nyāya Sutras. This text is traditionally said to be written by Gautama and has 538 stanzas and five books. [The Nyāya sutras are divided into five books, each book then divided twice into two āḥnikas. It is believed that Gautama finished the Nyāya sutras in ten lectures, corresponding to the 10 āḥnikas].

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. So the texts on logic began among the non-Buddhists of the Brahmanical traditions and gradually spread into Buddhism.

The influence of Buddhist logic on the Nyāya tradition

Dharmakīrti (fl. c. 6th or 7th century)

“After the 5th Century, within the Buddhist tradition logic and validity spread very widely. This was mainly because of the Indian masters, Dignaga and Dharmakīrti (fl. c. 6th or 7th century). One could say these two were the masters on validity, who refined the teachings on the earlier logical traditions, so they are known as the later masters of validity. 

If we look at the positions of the modern Nyāyas. Their positions are different from the early Nyāyas, whose positions were refuted by Dignaga and Dharmakīrti. This shows that there was a great influence from the Buddhist logic. 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.. After that, their positions on validity and logic became much more in accord with Buddhist positions. In fact, the Nyāyas themselves said they had incorporated it into their tradition.”

The five-part syllogism – origin of logic and the influence on Greek philosopher, Aristotle

“Now the greatest impact that Gautama had was the establishment he made of sixteen different categories. This establishment of logic and philosophy by way of different categories wasn’t just making an intellectual tradition. It’s primary aim was to realise the suchness of the ultimate nature.

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. For example, the statement ‘where there is smoke there is fire’:

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)

It uses five different processes of inference to establish the conclusion.

Bust of Greek philosopher, Aristotle. Marble, Roman copy after a Greek bronze original by Lysippos from 330 BC.

“If you remove either the first two or the last two of the five steps in this syllogism, it becomes the same as the logic or syllogism of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC). As these 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.  One developed in Greece the other in India but they appeared at the same time.   There is no conclusive evidence because of the lack of sources, however, some scholars assert two points:
1) Greek logic developed later than Indian logic, and 2) when you compare the systems, Indian logic is more highly developed than the Greek. Thus,  it is possible that perhaps Aristotle, teacher of the Greek emperor Alexander the Great when he invaded India, studied Indian logic. That Aristotle was very intelligent and he took it and improved it. “

Image of Aristotle, teaching Alexander the Great


4. Vaiśeṣika (Jedragpa) – Physics and Atoms

“The fourth school is the Vaiśeṣika (Jedragpa) school. This school arose because as the Yoga school had seen faults in the Sāṃkhya school’s proof that there is no creator God, so they added the idea of God to their school.  Similarly, the Vaiśeṣikas saw faults in the Nyāya and added some points of their own to make it their own school.

Founder – Kaṇada

Traditionally, it is said that the founder of the Vaiśeṣikas is the sage, Kaṇada (Drangsong Zegsen), who is also nicknamed Kaṇabhakṣa/Kaṇabhuj, ‘grain-eater’, or Ulūka, ‘owl.

The reason he was said to be called Ulūka, the grain-eater, was that when the sage was practicing austerities he would only go looking for the seeds and grains in other people’s leftover food and eat those. So he was called ‘grain-eater’.

Some Buddhist scholars say he determined the six categories because of the owl’s hooting.  The Vaiśeṣika do not say this, they say it comes from the name of his clan, the Ulūka clan. There is no discussion among non-Buddhists saying that he was called that because of an owl hooting. 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”.

Textual Sources

Digital Rare Book: The Vaisesika Sutras of Kanada. Edited by Major B.D. Basu. Translated by Nandalal Sinha Published by Sudhindra Nath Sinha, Allahabad – 1923.

“The root text of this tradition 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. It is not clear when it was written. So one thing we have to remember is that India has no historical dates or literature and so on. If there’s nothing written down then later scholars could not figure out when it was written down. If something is memorised when the person dies, the text is lost. They cannot find any proof that the texts existed. 

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.

The foundation tenet of the Vaiśeṣika is that the world is made of atoms, which are eternal and unchanging and exist in innumerable quantity. The atoms are able to combine and they asserted that they must have a hidden power that we cannot see, which causes them to combine and separate. In any case, the whole world is made up of atoms. 

The composition of the atoms was not created by god but came about by the power of karma. The heart of the Vaiśeṣika system is an investigation of the material world, so it is more like physics than philosophy. This tradition is probably the first in India to do physics, some scholars say this.”


5. Mīmāṃsā (Chodpa-pa) – School of rituals/conduct

“Mīmāṁsā (मीमांसा[1]) is a Sanskrit word that means “reflection” or “critical investigation” and thus refers to a tradition of contemplation which reflected on the meanings of certain Vedic texts.  The other schools accept the Vedic literature but they aren’t directly connected to the Vedas. The earlier is called the Mīmāṃsa and the latter is called the Vedānta. In both the earlier and the later Mīmāṃsā, all their explanations come out of the Vedic literature. They are considered the most orthodox of the most orthodox views, since what determines orthodoxy is how close they are to the Vedas. 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.

What caused these two schools to develop? Most of the philosophies were tending towards an atheist direction, there didn’t say there is no god but that there was no true God or valid proof of there being a creator of the world. This does not mean they are not related to the Gods but the question of whether there is a Creator God who created the whole universe was a different question.

It was only the non-Buddhist Lokayanta School that said there was no creator God, but the other schools went in the direction of being non-theistic school are developed in order to uphold and preserve the traditional views of the Brahmas. This was because they had such attachment to the Vedic and Brahmanas schools because at this time.

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.”

Founder and Textual Sources – Jaimini and Mīmāṃsa Sutras

Founder of the early Mīmāṃsa, the sage Jaimini

“The founder of the early Mīmāṃsa was the sage Jaimini (Drangsong Gyelpokpa) [15]. 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 in Chinese, Buddhism spread in China before it spread in Tibet. So if we look in texts when the word Mīmāṃsa appears, there were texts translated into Chinese earlier than in Tibetan. It only appears in the 4th Century, in the Commentary on the Lamp of Prajna by Bhavaviveka. So we can see that the Mīmāṃsa might have developed anytime between the 5-6th century BC and the 5-6th century CE. Similarly, it also appears in 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 tenets of the Mīmāṃsā  school are that primarily everyone has a responsibility is to practice the rituals taught in the Vedas. For example, if we are speaking in monasteries it is like saying they must do rituals. 

The Mīmāṃsās also explained the reasons for doing them and encouraged them to engage in practice. In that respect, there is not a lot to say about them philosophically, they are more like a ritualist school than a philosophical school. They didn’t make any kind of deep enquiry.

However, they have such great reverence for the Vedas that they hold that the words of the Vedas are naturally present and permanent and that the sages heard them and were able to write them down. The words don’t have an author, they are just natural words that people heard and are permanent. For this reason, the Mīmāṃsa are also called “Proponents of Words.”

Generally, the Mīmāṃsā did not have many philosophical views but were primarily about rituals. The reason they are still considered one of the six orthodox schools is because their way of explaining the meaning in the texts with logic. 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. In Tibetan texts, we also talk about presenting one’s own tradition, refuting other traditions and so on. So in the Mīmāṃsā texts they explain things in a similar manner.”


6. Vedānta (Rigjetha-pa)- the ‘end of the Vedas’

“Then finally, there is the sixth orthodox school, the Vedānta (Rigjethapa) (वेदान्त, also Uttara Mīmāṃsā)[16]. The Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta were one and they split into two. They were based on the Vedic and Brahmanical literature.

One could call the early Mīmāṃsā, or ritual or karma Mīmāṃsā. In terms of Vedānta you can explain it in term of the wisdom of the Upanishads, or the wisdom of Mīmāṃsā, of those who were examining wisdom.

In particular, the Vedānta did a huge inquiry into Brahma, or the logic of Brahma. Basically, the Mīmāṃsā and Vedānta are like an important representative of the Orthodox Hindu schools. The reason is because the Mīmāṃsā are like the source for the present ritual practices of the present Hindus. The Vedānta is like the source for the present day views of the Hindus.

It is difficult for researchers to give a specific answer as to differences between the two. The main difference is that in the Brahma Sūtras (ब्रह्म सूत्र) [17] it says there is an ultimate aim to achieve. Whereas in the Vedāntas it says that the ultimate aim is achieving liberation. The Mīmāṃsā say that it is primarily by practicing rituals one achieves liberation. It was probably around the beginning of the first Millennium that the Vedānta appeared. 

Founder  – Bādarāyaṇa, Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ and the Brahmasutras

One of its founders was called Bādarāyaṇa (बादरायण)[18] or Vyasa (Drangsong Zangpoi Lampa). This sage is probably around in the 1st Century but we cannot say what his date of birth was. His treatise is called the Pracchannabauddha, the Treatise on Scriptures, written by Gaudapada. 

Later, there was another well-known Vedānta scholar in all of India and he was called Adi Shankaracharya (आदि शङ्कराचार्यः Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ, who established the meanings of the Brahmasutras. and he developed a new school called the Advaita Vedānta[19] . Both texts were very influential, and particularly Shankacharya’s view of Brahma is very similar to the Buddhist Madhyamaka view of emptiness. They are extremely similar to Buddhist texts in the way their essence is described. 

Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ

“Thus, some people say that Shankarcharya pretended he was Hindu, while secretly a Buddhist. Many people objected to him for that reason. I don’t have much time to talk about him now but will go into detail about it in the future.

The Vedānta school became very widespread in India. Now there are traces of the Advaita Vedānta in many aspects of Indian culture and literature. The main text is the Brahmasutras. The proponents of the Vedānta system themselves say that their sources lie in the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Brahmasutras. They maintain that the Brahmasutras 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 Brahmasutras 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. Some might not know the difference what is meant by these terms. I will explain that tomorrow.

When we talk about Vedānta, this was present before in the Vedas and in some Buddhist texts as well. The main positions of the Vedānta school is that there is an all-pervasive God, that the entire world is Brahma, everything arose from it and in the end will dissolve back into Brahma. It is not like something identified as an individual God. The entire expanse originates from Brahma.S o, they refute the claims of the Brahmans that there are two separate things— the puruṣa, the knowing self, and the primal nature. They refute the Vaiśeṣika view that everything is made of atoms. They are one in essence, the nature of all phenomena is the empty Dharmadhatu. We say everything is emptiness, they explain everything is Brahma by nature and this is actually very similar.”

Summary of all six schools and their being grouped together

I will give you a summary now (see image above).

  1. Sāṃkhya say that there are two basic constituents, from which all phenonema arise. 
  2. Yoga school says there is a great Creator God, Ishvara, who transcends all things.
  3. Nyāya school determined the nature via validity and logic. They developed a new logical system.
  4. Vaiśeṣika school said the entire world comes from many permanent atoms.
  5. Mīmāṃsa said mainly that the Vedic rtiuals are the basic nature and explained them.
  6. Vedānta said all phenomena arise from Brahma and they are the same and they are not true.

When talking about the Sāṃkhya and the Yoga school in actual meaning, they are generally the same. In the Yoga school they take all the logical positions taken in the Samkhya school. Then in addition, the Sāṃkhya say there is no Creator God and the Yoga school say there is one. However, that God is a focus of their meditation on the nature. They don’t give a detailed presentation of the nature of that God in a logical or profound way.  For that reason, there are very few disagreements between the Sāṃkhya and the Yoga school.  They are like older and younger siblings. 

The Nyāya are always talking about logical texts and validity but in actuality, their aim is their striving towards liberation. So they become a philosophy.

The Vaiśeṣika school says all is composed of atoms, so their explanation is more physics than philosophy.

The Mīmāṃsa and the Vedānta, fhe Mīmāṃsa emphasised rituals so they are not really a philosophical tradition, the Vedānta determined the meaning of the philosophies from the Upanishads.

So in actuality, there are six names, but only really three philosophical schools. First, the Sāṃkhya and the Vaiśeṣika. Both of these have a strong non-theistic view. They are closer to the atheist view. The one that is closest to the Vedas and the most orthodox is the Vedantas. For that reason, it is considered very important in the Hindu and Brahmin tradition.

Did these six schools appear before Buddhism? One might think they must have appeared before Buddhist thought.

There is a Japanese scholar who said that the six schools all show traces of Buddhism, Therefore, most of the six schools appeared after the ‘original’ Buddhism. I will speak what is meant by ‘original Buddhism’ tomorrow.

Now when one talks about these six schools in one group. There is not much about them in the Chinese language and the Japanese scholars also do not know that much about them. Basically, in our traditional ways, they speak about the six non-Buddhist teacher but very few who teach about the six philosophical schools. Its a similar situation in our Tibetan Buddhism. There is no single group for the six philosophical schools. We speak a lot about them but they are separate and they are not brought together as one group and called the six orthodox schools. This is something that developed only in modern times in India, during the last six centuries. In the past, the way people spoke about them is very different from how am explaining it now. Later, in the Indian histories of philosophy, they speak mainly about these six orthodox schools. Thus, we have no choice but to be interested in them too. That is why I have given you this presentation of them.  It is difficult to speak about six great traditions in one day but I have done it as much as I can.”

Further Reading

Mikel Burley (2007). Classical Sāṃkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. Routledge.

Conger, George P. “Did India Influence Early Greek Philosophies?” <i>Philosophy East and West</i>, vol. 2, no. 2, 1952, pp. 102–128. <i>JSTOR</i>,

Jeaneane D. Fowler (2002). “Chapter Six: Sāṃkhya. Perspectives of Reality: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Hinduism. Sussex Academic Press. 

Hulin, Michel (1978). Sāṃkhya Literature. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. 

Gerald James Larson (2001). Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning. Motilal Banarsidass. 

Müeller, Max (1919). Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.

The Sánkhya Aphorisms of Kapila, 1885 translation by James R. Ballantyne, edited by Fitzedward Hall.

von Glasenapp, Helmuth (1999), Jainism: An Indian Religion of Salvation [Der Jainismus: Eine Indische Erlosungsreligion], Shridhar B. Shrotri (trans.), DelhiMotilal Banarsidass

Jacobsen, Knut A. (2008). Kapila, Founder of Sāṃkhya and Avatāra of Viṣṇu: With a Translation of Kapilāsurisaṃvāda. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal

Gangesa (2010), Classical Indian philosophy of induction: the Nyāya viewpoint, (Translator: Kisor Kumar Chakrabarti).

Gangesa (2020), Tattva-cintā-maṇi, (“Jewel”), translated by Stephen Phillips, Jewel of Reflection on the Truth about Epistemology. 3 volumes, London: Bloomsbury.

Gopi Kaviraj (1961), Gleanings from the history and bibliography of the Nyāya-Vaisesika literature, Indian Studies: Past & Present.

Arthur Keith (1921), Indian logic and atomism: an exposition of the Nyāya and Vaiçeṣika systems, Greenwood Press, 

Kanchana Natarajan. “Gendering of Early Indian Philosophy: A Study of ‘Sāṃkhyakarika.’” <i>Economic and Political Weekly</i>, vol. 36, no. 17, 2001, pp. 1398–1404. <i>JSTOR</i>, Accessed 11 Sept. 2021.

Bimal Matilal (1977), A History of Indian Literature – Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag.

Reigle, David (2001). “The Original Sankaracarya” (PDF). Fohat. 5 (3): 57–60, 70–71.

Stephen Phillips (2012), Epistemology in classical India: the knowledge sources of the Nyāya school, Routledge, 

Sanjit Sadhukhan (1990), The conflict between the Buddhist and the Naiyayika Philosophers, Journal: Bulletin of Tibetology, Vol. BT1990, Issues 1–3,

Karl Potter (1977), Indian metaphysics and epistemology: the tradition of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika up to Gaṅgeśa, Princeton University Press.

Frank Whaling (1979), Śankara and Buddhism, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 1–42

Zimmermann, R. “RICHARD KARL Von GARBE, 22nd Sept. 1927.” Annals of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, vol. 9, no. 2/4, 1928, pp. 339–342. JSTOR, Accessed 11 Sept. 2021.

Lectures on Nyāya The Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, Oxford University.



[1] Sāṃkhya (Sanskrit: साङ्ख्य, sāṅkhya) is a dualistic āstika school of Indian philosophy, regarding human experience as being constituted by two independent realities, puruṣa (‘consciousness’); and prakṛti, cognition, mind and emotions.

Puruṣa is the witness-consciousness. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable through other agencies, above any experience by mind or senses and beyond any words or explanations. It remains pure, “nonattributive consciousness”. No appellations can qualify purusha, nor can it substantialized or objectified.

Unmanifest prakriti is infinite, inactive, and unconscious, and consists of an equilibrium of the three guṇas (‘qualities, innate tendencies’),[7][8] namely sattva , rajas, and tamas. When prakṛti comes into contact with Purusha this equilibrium is disturbed, and Prakriti becomes manifest, evolving twenty-three tatvas,[9] namely intellect (buddhi, mahat), ego (ahamkara) mind (manas); the five sensory capacities; the five action capacities; and the five “subtle elements” c.q. “modes of sensory content” (tanmatras), from which the five “gross elements” c.q. “forms of perceptual objects” emerge, giving rise to the manifestation of sensory experience and cognition.

Jiva (‘a living being’) is that state in which purusha is bonded to prakriti.  Human experience is an interplay of purusha-prakriti, purusha being conscious of the various combinations of cognitive activities. The end of the bondage of Purusha to prakriti is called liberation or kaivalya by the Sāṃkhya school.

[2] Āstika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक; from Sanskrit: asti, ‘there is, there exists’) means one who believes in the existence of a Self or Brahman, etc. It has been defined in one of three ways:

  • as those who accept the epistemic authority of the Vedas;
  • as those who accept the existence of ātman;
  • as those who accept the existence of Ishvara.

[3] Nāstika (Sanskrit: na, ‘not’ + āstika), by contrast, are those who deny all the respective definitions of āstika; they do not believe in the existence of Self.

[4] Iriññāttappiḷḷi Mādhavan Nampūtiri known as Mādhava of Sangamagrāma (c. 1340 – c. 1425) was a Hindu mathematician and astronomer from the town believed to be present-day Kallettumkara, Aloor Panchayath, Irinjalakuda in Thrissur District, Kerala, India. He is considered the founder of the Kerala school of astronomy and mathematics. One of the greatest mathematician-astronomers of the Middle Ages, Madhava made pioneering contributions to the study of infinite series, calculus, trigonometry, geometry, and algebra. He was the first to use infinite series approximations for a range of trigonometric functions, which has been called the “decisive step onward from the finite procedures of ancient mathematics to treat their limit-passage to infinity”.

[5] The Samkhya system is called so because ‘it “enumerates'” twenty five Tattvas or true principles; and its chief object is to effect the final emancipation of the twenty-fifth Tattva, i.e. the puruṣa or soul’.

[6] “Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as a founder of the Samkhya school. It is unclear in which century of the 1st millennium BCE Kapila lived. Kapila appears in Rigveda, but context suggests that the word means ‘reddish-brown color’. Both Kapila as a ‘seer’ and the term Samkhya appear in hymns of section 5.2 in Shvetashvatara Upanishad (~300 BCE), suggesting Kapila’s and Samkhya philosophy’s origins may predate it. Numerous other ancient Indian texts mention Kapila; for example, Baudhayana Grhyasutra in chapter IV.16.1 describes a system of rules for ascetic life credited to Kapila called Kapila Sannyasa Vidha.  A 6th century CE Chinese translation and other texts consistently note Kapila as an ascetic and the founder of the school, mention Asuri as the inheritor of the teaching and a much later scholar named Pancasikha as the scholar who systematized it and then helped widely disseminate its ideas. Isvarakrsna is identified in these texts as the one who summarized and simplified Samkhya theories of Pancasikha, many centuries later (roughly 4th or 5th century CE), in the form that was then translated into Chinese by Paramartha in the 6th century CE.”

[7] Paramārtha (Sanskrit: परमार्थ Paramārtha; 真谛; Zhēndì) (499-569 CE) was an Indian monk from Ujjain in central India, who is best known for his prolific Chinese translations which include Vasubandhu’s Abhidharmakośa. Paramārtha is considered one of the greatest translators of sutras in Chinese Buddhism, along with Kumārajīva and Xuanzang.

[8] Woncheuk (613–696) was a Korean Buddhist monk who did most of his writing in China, though his legacy was transmitted by a disciple to Silla. One of the two star pupils of Xuanzang, his works and devotion to the translation projects was revered throughout China and Korea, even reaching Chinese rulers like Emperors Taizong and Gaozong of Tang and Empress Wu of Zhou. His exegetical work was also revered and greatly influenced Tibetan Buddhism and the greater Himalayan region.

[9] The Ārya-saṃdhi-nirmocana-sūtra (Shēnmì Jīng; dgongs pa nges ‘grel Gongpa Ngédrel) is variously romanized as Sandhinirmocana Sutra and Samdhinirmocana Sutra. The full Sanskrit title includes “Ārya” which means noble or excellent. The title has been variously translated as:

  • Unlocking the Mysteries (Cleary)
  • Explanation of the Profound Secrets (Keenan)
  • Elucidation of the Intention Sutra or Unravelling the Thought (Powers)
  • The Explication of Mysteries, L’explication des mystères (Lamotte)
  • Sutra which Decisively Reveals the Intention

[10] The Commentary on the Samdhinirmocana-sutra (解深密經疏), which is the largest extant commentary on that sutra—called “the Great Chinese Commentary” by the eminent Tibetan Buddhist master, Je Tsongkhapa.

[11] Prakriti or Prakruti (from Sanskrit language प्रकृति, prakṛti) is “the original or natural form or condition of anything, original or primary substance”.  It is a key concept in Hinduism, formulated by its Sāṅkhya school, where it does not refer to matter or nature, but “includes all the cognitive, moral, psychological, emotional, sensorial and physical aspects of reality,” stressing “prakṛti’s cognitive, mental, psychological and sensorial activities.” Prakriti has three different innate qualities (guṇas), whose equilibrium is the basis of all observed empirical reality.”

[12] The gendering of these two elements as male and female, is discussed in an interesting paper by Kanchana (2001).

[13] Nyaya (न्याय) is a Sanskrit word which means justice, equality for all being, specially a collection of general or universal rules.

[14] In his work Pramana-vihetana, Nagarjuna, takes up each of the sixteen categories of knowledge in Gautama’s Nyaya-sutras at the foundation of Nyaya’s discussion of “soul exists and the nature of soul in liberation process”, and critiques them using the argument that these categories are relational and therefore unreal

[15] “Jaimini was an ancient Indian scholar who founded the Mīmāṃsā school of Hindu philosophy. He was a disciple of sage Veda Vyasa, the son of Parashara. Traditionally attributed to be the author of the Mimamsa Sutras and Jaimini Sutras, he is estimated to have lived around the 4th-century BCE. His school is considered non-theistic, but one that emphasized rituals parts of the Vedas as essential to Dharma.”

[16] Vedanta is one of the six (āstika) schools of Hindu philosophy. Literally meaning “end of the Vedas”, Vedanta reflects ideas that emerged from, or were aligned with, the speculations and philosophies contained in the Upanishads, specifically, knowledge and liberation. Vedanta contains many sub-traditions on the basis of a common textual connection called the Prasthanatrayi: the Upanishads, the Brahma Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. Some scholars believe Brahma Sutra of vyasa is an interpolation from Madyamika school of Buddhism..

[17] Brahma Sūtras (ब्रह्म सूत्र)

[18] Badarayana (IAST Bādarāyaṇa; Devanāgari बादरायण) was an Indian philosopher, who is estimated to have lived around 500 BCE – 200 BCE. His work Brahma Sutras is variously dated from 500 BCE to 450 CE.[2] The Brahma Sutras of Bādarāyana, also called the Vedanta Sutra, were compiled in its present form around 400–450 CE,  but “the great part of the Sutra must have been in existence much earlier than that”. Estimates of the date of Bādarāyana’s lifetime differ between 200 BCE and 200 CE.

Badarayana is regarded as having written the basic text of the Vedanta system, the Vedāntasūtra a.k.a. Brahmasūtra.[6] He is thus considered the founder of the Vedānta system of philosophy.

[19] Adi Shankaracharya (Sanskrit: आदि शङ्कराचार्यः IAST: Ādi Śaṅkarācāryaḥ) (8th cent. CE) was an Indian philosopher, theologian and is believed to be avatar of Lord Shiva whose works had a strong impact on the doctrine of Advaita Vedanta. He founded four mathas (“monasteries”), which are believed to have helped in the historical development, revival and propagation of Advaita Vedanta.

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