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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. [14]
[14] 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." [15] 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." [16]

[15] Six Systems, p. 60.

[16] Op. cit., pp. 95, 96.
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.

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 existences; 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." [17]
[17] 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." [18] 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.
[18]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,[19] 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).
[19] 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."[1] 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 (māyā).

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?[2]

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.[1]

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 Om.

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. Yet the 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.[1] 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 destruction.

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."[1] 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.[2] 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." [1]

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. [2] 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.
[1] Sayce, The Ancient Empires of the East, p. 257.

[2] 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.
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.

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 included.

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).


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