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History of Philosophy|
by Turner, William (S.T.D.)
|The Veda, or collection of primitive religious literature of the
Hindus, consists of books of sacred hymns, the Rig-Veda, the
Sāma-Veda, the Yagur-Veda, and the Atharva-
Veda. In each it is usual to distinguish the Mantras, or
hymns, the Brāhmanas, or ritualistic commentaries, and the
Upanishads, or philosophical commentaries. 
 Cf. Hopkins, The Religions of India (Boston, 1898),
pp. 7 ff.
The Vedic hymns, which are the oldest portion of the Veda (1500 B.C.
being the date to which conservative scholars assign the earliest of
them), consist of songs of praise and prayer directed to Agni
(fire), Soma (the life-awakening, intoxicating juice of the
soma-plant), Indra (the god of the wars of the elements, of
thunder and rain), Varuna (the great, serene, all-embracing
heaven), and other deities, all of whom possess more or less definitely
the twofold character of gods of nature and gods of sacrifice. The gods
of the Vedic hymns are styled Devas (shining divinities) and
Asuras (lords). There is, in the poems, no evidence of a
sustained attempt to trace the genealogy of these deities or to account
by means of mythogical concepts for the origin of the universe.
In the Brāhmanas, or ritualistic commentaries, appears the
concept of a god distinct from the elemental deities, a personification
of the act of sacrifice, -- Brahmanaspati. From this concept the
monotheistic and pantheistic speculation of the Hindus may be said to
have started, although it is undeniable that even in the hymns there is
expressed at least "a yearning after one supreme deity, who made the
heaven and the earth, the sea and all that in them is," -- a yearning
to which expression was given in the name Pragāpati (the lord of
all creatures), applied successively to Soma and other divinities. Of
more importance, however, than the name Pragāpati is the
expression Tad Ekam (that One) which occurs in the poems as the
name of the Supreme Being, of the First Origin of all things. Its
neuter form indicates, according to Max Müller, a transition from
the mythological to the metaphysical stage of speculation. With regard
to the word Brahman which succeeded Tad Ekam: as the name
of the Supreme One, Max Müller refers it to the root brih
(to grow) and asserts that while the word undoubtedly meant prayer, it
originally meant "that which breaks forth." It "was used as a name of
that universal force which manifests itself in the creation of a
visible universe."  The word Ātman, which was also a
name of the deity, is referred by the same distinguished scholar to the
root ātma (breath, life, soul) and is translated as
Self. There grew up, he says, in the hymns and Brāhmanas
of the Veda the three words Pragāpati, Brahman, and Ātman,
"each of which by itself represents in nuce a whole philosophy,
or a view of the world. A belief in Pragāpati, as a personal god,
was the beginning of monotheistic religion in India, while the
recognition of Brahman and Ātman, as one, constituted the
foundation of all the monistic philosophy of that country." 
 Six Systems, p. 60.
In the Upanishads, or speculative commentaries, we find the
first elaborate attempts made by India to formulate a speculative
system of the universe and to solve in terms of philosophy the
problems of the origin of the universe and of the nature and destiny of
man. It must, however, be remembered that probably until the fourth
century B.C. the Upanishads, in common with the other portions of the
Veda, did not exist in writing, being handed down from one generation
to another by oral tradition. The Sūtras, or aphorisms,
therefore, which we possess of the six systems of Indian philosophy do
not represent the first attempts at philosophical speculation. The men
whose names are associated with these Sūtras, and are used to
designate the six systems, are not, in any true sense, the founders of
schools of philosophy: they are merely final editors or redactors of
the Sūtras belonging to different philosophical sects, which, in
the midst of a variety of theories, and in a maze of speculative
opinions, retained their individuality during an inconceivably long
period of time.
 Op. cit., pp. 95, 96.
Before we take up the separate study of the six systems of philosophy
it will be necessary to outline the general teaching of the Upanishads.
This teaching belongs to no school in particular, although each of the
six schools is connected with it in more than one point of doctrine.
The Upanishads teach:
1. The identity of all being in Brahman, the Source, or
Ātman, the Self, which is identical with Brahman.
2. The existence of māyā (illusion), to which is
referred everything which is not Brahman.
3. The worthlessness of all knowledge of things in their isolated
existence, and the incomparable excellence of the knowledge of all
things in Brahman or Ātman. This latter, the only true
knowledge, is difficult of attainment; still it is attainable even in
this life. It is this knowledge which constitutes the happiness of man
by uniting him with Ātman. "In the bee's honey one can no longer
recognize the taste of the single flowers; the rivers which emanate
from the one sea and again return to it lose meanwhile their separate
a lump of salt dissolved in water salts the whole water and cannot be
grasped again: so the true being can nowhere be grasped. It is a subtle
essence which lies at the foundation of all phenomena, which are merely
illusions, and is again identical with the ego." 
 De la Saussaye, Manual, p. 538; cf. Khandogya
Upanishad, trans. in S.B.E., Vol. I, pp.92 ff.
4. The immortality of the soul. "The idea," writes Max
Müller, "of the soul ever coming to an end is so strange to the
Indian mind that there seemed to be no necessity for anything like
proofs of immortality, so common in European philosophy."  Equally
self-evident to the Hindu mind was the samsāra, or
transmigration of the soul. In some systems, however, as we shall see,
it is the subtle body which migrates, while, during the process of
migration, the soul, in the sense of self, retaining its complete
identity, remains as an onlooker.
Op. cit., p. 143.
With the idea of immortality is associated that of the eternity of
karman (deed), namely, the continuous working of every thought,
word, and deed through all ages. If a man were, once in a thousand
years, to pass his silken handkerchief across the Himalayan mountains
and thus at last succeed in wiping them out, the world would, indeed,
be older at the end of such a long space of time, but eternity and
reality would still be young and the deed of to-day would still exist
in its results. At a late period in the development of Vedic
speculation the immensity of the duration of Brahman was given popular
expression in the doctrine of kalpas (aeons), or periods of
reabsorption (pralaya) and creation.
5. Mysticism and deliverance from bondage. All the Indian
systems of philosophy recognize the existence of evil and suffering and
concern themselves with the problem of deliverance by means of
knowledge. From the rise of Buddhism (fifth century B.C.) date a
clearer perception of the reality of suffering and a more emphatic
assertion of the
importance of freeing the soul from the bondage which suffering
imposes. It is to be remarked that, even in the Upanishads, existence
is referred to as an evil, transmigration is presented as something to
be avoided, and the final goal of human endeavor is proclaimed to be a
union with Ātman, in which all individual existence is merged in
the general Self, and individual consciousness is quite extinguished.
Turning now to the six great historical systems of Indian philosophy,
we meet at the very outset the vexed question of chronological order.
Many of the Sūtras, or aphorisms, in which these systems are
formulated are of very great antiquity, ranking with the Upanishads in
point of age. Besides, the athors of these Sūtras are more or
less vaguely historical or altogether mythical persons. It is hopeless,
therefore, to attempt to arrange the systems in chronological order.
The order followed will represent rather the fidelity with which
the systems (all of which were considered orthodox) adhere to the
doctrines described as the common teaching of the Upanishads.
1. The Vedānta, or Uttara-Mīmāmsā, is first
in importance among the systematic expositions of the philosophical
teachings of the Upanishads. It is contained in Sūtras composed
by Bādarāyana, who is sometimes identified with
Vyāsa, the author of the Mahābhārata
(one of the great epics of India), and in commentaries composed by
Samkara (about A.D. 900).
 Mīmāmsā means investigation. The
Uttara-Mīmāmsā (later investigation)
called because it is regarded by the Hindus as later than the
Pūrva or prior investigation. The designations are
maintained even by those who do not admit the posteriority of date,
since the Pūrva-Mīmāmsā refers to first, or
practical, while the Uttara-Mīmāmsā refers to the
second, or speculative portion of the Veda.
The fundamental doctrines of the Vedānta are those of the
Upanishads. The Vedānta insists on the monistic concept of
reality: "In one half verse I shall tell you what has been taught in
thousands of volumes: Brahman is true, the world
is false, the soul is Brahman and nothing else." "There is nothing
worth gaining, there is nothing worth enjoying, there is nothing worth
knowing but Brahman alone, for he who knows Brahman is Brahman."
More emphatically still is the unity of all being in Brahman asserted
in the famous words Tat tvam asi (Thou art that), which Max
Müller styles "the boldest and truest synthesis in the whole
history of philosophy." But, if the individual is Brahman, how are we
to account for the manifold "thous" and for the variety of individuals
in the objective world? The Vedānta-Sūtras answer
that the view of the world as composed of manifold individuals is not
knowledge but nescience, which the Vedānta philosophy aims
at expelling from the mind. This nescience (avidyā) is inborn in
human nature, and it is only when it is expelled that the mind
perceives Brahman to be the only reality. Samkara, the commentator,
admits, however, that the phenomenal world, the whole objective world
as distinct from the subject (Brahman), while it is the result of
nescience, is nevertheless real for all practical purposes. Moreover,
it is clear that phenomena, since they are Brahman, are real: only the
multiplicity and distinction of phenomena are unreal
With regard to the origin of the universe: the universe, since it is
Brahman, cannot be said to originate. And yet Brahman is commonly
represented as the cause of the universe. The Hindus, however, regarded
cause and effect as merely two aspects of the same reality: the
threads, they observed, are the cause of the cloth, yet what is the
cloth but the aggregate of threads?
Since the finiteness and individual distinctions of things are due to
nescience, it is clear that the road to true freedom
(moksha ) from the conditions of finite existence is the way of
knowledge. The knowledge of the identity of Atman with
Brahman, of Self with God, is true freedom and implies exemption from
birth and transmigration. For, when death comes, he who, although he
has fulfilled all his religious duties, shall have failed to attain the
highest knowledge, shall be condemned to another round of existence.
The subtle body, in which his soul (ātman) is clothed,
shall wander through mist and cloud and darkness to the moon and thence
shall be sent back to earth. But he who shall have attained perfect
knowledge of Brahman shall finally become identified with Brahman,
sharing in all the powers of Brahman except those of creating and
ruling the universe. Partial freedom from finite conditions is, even in
this life, a reward of perfect knowledge. The Vedāntists,
however, did not neglect the inculcation of moral excellence; for
knowledge, they taught, is not to be attained except by discipline.
II. The Pūrva-Mīmāsā is a system of
practical philosophy and is contained in twelve books of Sūtras
attributed to Gaimini. Here the central idea is that of
duty (Dharma), which includes sacrificial observances and
rests ultimately on the superhuman authority of the Veda.
III. The Sāmkhya philosophy may be described as a toning
down of the extreme of the Vedanta. It is contained in the
Sāmkhya-Sūtras or Kapila-Sūtras. These,
at least in their present form, date from the fourteenth century after
Christ, although the sage, Kapila, to whom they are ascribed
lived certainly before the second century B.C. Of greater antiquity
than the Sūtras are the Sāmkhya-Kārikās,
or memorial verses, in which the philosophy of Kapila was epitomized as
early as the first century B.C. A still older and more concise
compilation The Sāmkhya philosophy is found in the
Tattva-Samāsa, which reduces all truth to twenty-five
topics. This latter compendium is taken by Max Müller as the basis
of his exposition of the teachings of Kapila.
The Samkhya philosophy is essentially dualistic. It does not, like the
Vedānta, assume that the objective world, as distinct from
Brahman, is mere illusion or ignorance; it accepts the objective world
as real and calls it prakriti, or nature in the sense of
matter-containing-the-possibilities-of-all-things. This principle is of
itself lifeless and unconscious, and rises into life and consciousness
only when contemplated by the soul (purusha). What we call
creation is, therefore, the temporary union of nature with soul, -- a
union which arises from a lack of discrimination. How then is the soul
to be freed from the bondage of finite existence? This is for the
Sāmkhya, as it was for the Vedanta, the chief problem of
practical philosophy. But, while the Vedanta found deliverance in the
recognition of the identity of the soul with Brahman, the Sāmkhya
finds it in the recognition of the difference between the soul and
nature. This recognition confers freedom; for nature, once it is
recognized by the soul as distinct, disappears together with all
limitation and suffering: "Prakritri, once recognized by
Purusha, withdraws itself so as not to expose itself for a
second time to the danger of this glance." The assertion of the
individuality of the soul as opposed to nature implies the multiplicity
of souls. And this is another point of contrast between the
Vedānta and the Sāmkhya: the former asserted the oneness of
Ātman; the latter affirms the plurality of purushas.
IV. The Yoga philosophy is contained in the Sūtras
ascribed to Patańgali, who is supposed to have lived
during the second century B.C. In these Sūtras we find
practically all the metaphysical principles of the Sāmkhya and,
in addition, certain doctrines in which the theistic element is
insisted upon. Kapila had denied the possibility of proving the
existence of Īsvara, the personal creator and ruler:
Pata&ntiled;gali insists on the possibility of such proof. Of course,
Īsvara is not conceived as creator in our sense of the word, but
merely as the highest of the purushas, all of which may be said
to create inasmuch
as they, by contemplating nature, cause nature to be productive. Among
the means of deliverance practised by the Yogins were the observance of
certain postures, meditation, and the repetition of the sacred syllable
V. The Nyāya philosophy is contained in the
Nyāya-Sūtras. The founder of the system was
Gotama, or Gautama. According to this system, the supreme
resignation, or freedom, in which man's highest happiness consists, is
to be attained by a knowledge of the sixteen great topics of
Nyāya philosophy. These topics (padārthas) are means
of knowledge, objects of knowledge, doubt, purpose, instance,
established truth, premises, reasoning, conclusion, argumentation,
sophistry, wrangling, fallacies, quibbles, false analogies, and
unfitness for arguing. Taking up now the first of these, namely, the
means of knowledge, we find that there are, according to the
Nyāya philosophy, four kinds of right perception: sensuous,
inferential, comparative, and authoritative. In order to arrive at
inferential knowledge (anumāna), we must possess what is
called vyāpti, or pervasion, that is to say, a principle
expressing invariable concomitance. So, for example, if we wish to
infer that "this mountain is on fire," we must possess the principle
that smoke is pervaded by, or invariably connected with, fire.
Once in possession of this principle, we have merely to find an
instance, as, "this mountain smokes," whence we immediately infer that
"it has fire." But, while this is the comparatively simple means of
acquiring inferential iowledge, we cannot impart this knowledge to
others except by the more complicated process including: (1)
Assertion, "The mountain has fire"; (2) Reason, "Because
it smokes"; (3) Instance, "Look at the kitchen fire"; (4)
Application, "So too the mountain has smoke"; and (5)
Conclusion, "Therefore it has fire." The process, in both cases,
bears a close resemblance to the syllogism of Aristotelian logic; and
it is by reason of the prominence given to this means of knowledge that
the Nyāya philosophy came to be regarded as a system of logic.
Nyā ya philosophy is far from being merely a systematic
treatment of the laws of thought; for the syllogism is but one of the
many means by which the soul or self (Ātman) is to attain
true freedom, a state in which all false knowledge and all inferior
knowledge shall disappear, and all individual desire and personal love
and hatred shall be extinguished.
VI. The Vaisheshika philosophy, founded by Kanāda,
is contained in the Vaisheshika-Sūtras, which, according
to Max Müller, date from the sixth century of the Christian era,
although the Vaisheshika philosophy was known in the first century B.C.
The system is closely related to the Nyāya philosophy, even its
most characteristic doctrine, that of atomism, being found in
undeveloped form in the philosophy of Gotama. Here, as in the
Nyāya, supreme happiness is to be attained by the knowledge of
certain padārthas, or quasi-categories, namely: substance,
quality, action (karman), genus or community, species or
particularity, inhesion or inseparability, and (according to some)
privation or negation. The substances are earth, water, light, air,
ether, time, space, self (Ātman), and mind (manas).
The qualities are color, taste, number, etc. These are called
gunas , a word which occurs in the Upanishads and is a common
term in all the six systems.
The four substances, earth, air, water, and light, exist either in the
aggregate material state or in the state of atoms (anus). The
single atom is indivisible and indestructible; its existence is proved
by the impossibility of division ad infinitum. Single atoms
combine first in twos and afterwards in groups of three double atoms;
it is only in such combinations that matter becomes visible and liable
To these six great historical systems, which were orthodox in so far as
they recognized the supreme authority of the Veda, were opposed the
heterodox systems of the heretics (Nāstikas) who, like the
Buddhists, the Jainas, and the Materialists, rejected the divine
authority of the sacred writings.
Buddhism, as is well known, was a distinctively religious
system: it recognized suffering as the supreme reality in life, and
devoted little or no attention to questions of philosophic interest,
except in their relation to problems of conduct. "To cease from all
wrong-doing, to get virtue, to cleanse one's own heart," -- this,
according to the celebrated verse, "is the religion of the Buddhas."
The four truths on which Buddhism is built are: (1) that suffering is
universal; (2) that the cause of suffering is desire; (3) that the
abolition of desire is the only deliverance from suffering; and (4)
that the way of salvation is by means of certain practices of
meditation and active discipline. In connection with the second and
third of these truths arises the problem of the meaning of karma
and nirvāna. In the Upanishad speculations karman,
as we have seen, meant deed, and its eternity meant the continuous
working of every thought, word, and work throughout all ages. In
Buddhistic speculation the substantial permanence and identity of the
soul are denied, and the only bond between the skandhas, or sets
of qualities, which succeed each other in the individual body and soul,
is the karma, the result of what man is and does in one
existence or at one time being inevitably continued into all subsequent
existences and times. The body is constantly changing, the qualities or
states of the soul are constantly replaced by other qualities and
states; but the result of what a man is and does remains, -- that alone
is permanent. With regard to nirvāna, scholars are not
agreed as to whether it meant total annihilation or a state of
painlessness in which positive existence is preserved. Max Müller
and Rhys-Davids may be cited favor of the latter interpretation.
Rhys-Davids defines nirvāna as "the extinction of that
sinful, grasping condition of
mind and heart, which would otherwise, according to the mystery of
Karma, be the cause of renewed individual existence."
Jainism, like Buddhism, was a religious system. The only
important speculative doctrine in which it differs from Buddhism is
that of the substantial reality and permanence of the soul.
Accordingly, the Jainas taught that nirvāna is the freedom
of the soul from the conditions which cause finiteness, suffering, and
ignorance. In this respect they approach very closely to the
speculation of the Upanishads.
The religion of ancient Persia and that of ancient India sprang from
the same origin, namely, the ideas and usages which were shared alike
by the Iranian and the Hindu branches of the original Aryan family.
There are, indeed, traces of a civilization which existed in Persia
prior to the Aryan invasion, and which closely resembled the Shamanism
of the Accadians of ancient Chaldea. Little, however, is known of
pre-Aryan Persia. All that can be said with certainty is that the
Aryan invaders found already existing in Bactria and the neighboring
regions a system of polytheism, which they replaced by a religion
monotheistic in its tendency and similar in many respects to the
religion of the Hindus of the Vedic period. The heaven god, known in
India as Varuna, became the principal deity of the Iranians.
Soma was also worshiped under the title Homa, and the
distinction between Devas and Asuras ("shining ones" and "lords") was
employed in Persia as well as in India to designate two important
classes of divinities. Gradually, however, a change was introduced: a
tendency towards dualism became more and more strongly marked; the
Devas came to be recognized
as evil deities, and the Ahuras (transliteration of Asuras)
came to be looked upon as divinities friendly to man. "The conflict
between these opposites assumed a moral form in the minds of the
Iranian wanderers; the struggle between night and day, between the
storm and the blue sky, of which the Vedic poets sang, was transformed
into a struggle between good and evil. In place of the careless nature
worshipers of the Panjab, a race of stern and earnest Puritans grew up
among the deserts and rugged mountains of Ariana." 
This dualistic conception of the universe, this antithesis between good
and evil, was already in possession when Zoroaster, or
Zarathustra, the great religious reformer, appeared, about the
middle of the seventh or the beginning of the sixth century B.C.  To
him, according to Parsee tradition, is to be ascribed the inspired
authorship of a portion, at least, of the Avesta, or sacred
literature of the Persians. This collection consists of five
Gathas, or hymns, written in an older dialect than that of the
rest of the collection, the Vendidad, or compilation of
religious laws and mythical tales, and the Zend, or commentary.
The first two portions constitute the Avesta proper, that is to say,
"law" or "knowledge." In addition to the Avesta-Zend, there existed the
Khorda Avesta, or Small Avesta, which was a collection of
prayers. Zoroaster's share in the composition of these books is a
matter which it is impossible, in the present condition of our
knowledge, to determine. It is, however, beyond dispute that the sacred
literature of the Persians reflects the beliefs which existed before
the time of Zoroaster as well as those which Zoroaster introduced.
The religious reform effected by Zoroaster consisted in reducing to two
more or less vague principles the good and evil
elements in the universe. For him, as for his ancestors, the world is
a vast battlefield, in which the forces of good and evil meet in a
mighty conflict. But, instead of representing the contending forces as
independent principles, manifold, yet capable of being classified as
good and evil, he reduces all the conflicting powers to two, the good
and the evil, of which the individual forces are derivatives. The
good principle is called Ahura-mazda (Ormuzd, or
Ormazd), and the evil principle is called
Anra-mainyu (Ahrimān). The former is conceived as
light and day, the latter as darkness and night. From the former
proceed the Ahuras, or living lords (who were afterwards called
Yazatas, or angels), and in general all that is good and
beneficial to man: from the latter proceed the Devas, who
opposed the Ahuras in the original conflict between day and night and
who became the "demons" of latter Mazdeism, and, in general, from
Ahrimān comes all that is evil and injurious to man.
 Sayce, The Ancient Empires of the East, p. 257.
It is man's duty to worship Ormazd (fire, being the sacred symbol, is
also to be honored) by prayer, sacrifice, and the oblation of Homa (the
juice of the sacred plant). It is also his duty to cultivate the soil
and in other ways to promote the life and growth of the creatures of
Ormazd, to destroy the works of Ahrimān, to kill all venomous and
noxious things, and to rid the earth of all creatures injurious to man.
 For the date of Zoroaster and the question of his historical
reality, cf. Jackson, Zoroaster, the Prophet of Ancient Iran
(London and New York, 1899), pp. 3 and 14, and Appendixes I and II.
At the end of twelve thousand years the present cosmic period will come
to an end. Ormazd will finally triumph, for, although Ahrimān is not
inferior in power to Ormazd, he fights blindly and without adequate
knowledge of the results of his actions; therefore, he and his works
will come to an end, and, after the final struggle, storm and night
will cease, calm and sunshine will reign, and all will be absorbed in
Ormazd. In this universal absorption in Ormazd the human soul will be
Mazdeism (the religion of Ormazd) in its later development attached
great importance to the worship of Mithra, the sun god.
In this form it appeared in Rome and was among the first of the
Oriental religions to gain ascendency over the minds of the Romans.
Zoroastrianism was introduced as a heresy into the Christian Church by
Manes, the founder of the Manichean sect.
Retrospect. In the systems of thought which flourished among the
great historical nations of the East, there is, as has been observed,
an almost complete lack of the rational element. In some of them,
however, and especially in the Indian systems, there is abundance of
speculation. Living in a country where there was practically no
struggle for life, where the means of subsistence were produced without
much effort on the part of the tillers of the soil, and where for
thousands of years war was unknown save the war of extermination waged
against the original dwellers in the land, the Hindus gave themselves
up unreservedly to the solution of the problems, Whence are we come?
Whereby do we live? and Whither do we go?
In solving these problems, however, the Hindus, while they succeeded
better than other Oriental peoples in separating the speculative from
the mythological, failed to develop the rational or dialectical phase
of thought. Their speculative systems are positive rather than
argumentative. It was in Greece that philosophy as a dialectical,
argumentative science found its first home.
There can be no doubt that the systems which have just been sketched
exercised some, if only an indefinite, influence on the speculative
efforts of the first philosophers of Greece. The geographical
contiguity and the commercial intercourse of the Hellenic colonies with
the countries of the interior of Asia render such a supposition
probable. It was not, however, until Greek philosophy had run its
practically independent course of national development, that the
religious systems of the Orient were finally united with the great
current of Greek thought, East and the West pouring their distinctive
contributions into the common stream of Greco-Oriental theosophy.
For bibliography, cf. De la Saussaye, Lehrbuch, II,
4, and Manual, p. 497. Consult Max Muller, The Six Systems of
Indian Philosophy (London, 1899), and Deussen, Das System des
Vedanta (1883), and Allg. Gesch. der Philosophie (1899).