Tag Archives: Indian philosophy



Shankara, also called Shankaracharya (born 700?, Kaladi village?, India—died 750?, Kedarnath), philosopher and theologian, most renowned exponent of the Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy, from whose doctrines the main currents of modern Indian thought are derived. He wrote commentaries on the Brahma-sutra, the principal Upanishads, and the Bhagavadgita, affirming his belief in one eternal unchanging reality (brahman) and the illusion of plurality and differentiation.

Vedanta, one of the six orthodox systems (darshans) of Indian philosophy and the one that forms the basis of most modern schools of Hinduism.

The name is a morphophonological form of Veda-anta = “Veda-end” = “the appendix to the Vedic hymns”. It is also said that “Vedānta” means “the purpose or goal [end] of the Vedas”.  Vedanta can also be used as a noun to describe one who has mastered all four of the original Vedas.

In earlier writings, Sanskrit ‘Vedānta’ simply referred to the Upanishads, the most important and philosophical of the Vedic texts. However, in the medieval period of Hinduism, the word Vedānta came to mean the school of philosophy that interpreted the Upanishads.

Vedānta is also called Uttarā Mīmāṃsā, or the ‘latter enquiry’ or ‘higher enquiry’, and is often paired with Purva Mīmāṃsā, the ‘former enquiry’. Pūrva Mimamsa, usually simply called Mimamsa, deals with explanations of the fire-sacrifices of the Vedic mantras (in the Samhita portion of the Vedas) and Brahmanas, while Vedanta explicates the esoteric teachings of the Āraṇyakas (the “forest scriptures”), and the Upanishads, composed from the 9th century BCE until modern times.

All sub-schools of the vedanta propound their philosophy by interpreting the Prasthanatrayi, literally, three sources, the three canonical texts of Hindu philosophy, especially of the Vedanta schools. It consists of:

The Upanishads, known as Upadesha prasthana (injunctive texts), and the Śruti prasthāna (the starting point of revelation)
The Brahma Sutras, known as Nyaya prasthana or Yukti prasthana (logical text)
The Bhagavad Gita, known as Sadhana prasthana (practical text), and the Smriti prasthāna (the starting point of remembered tradition)

The Upanishads consist of twelve or thirteen major texts, with total 108 texts. The Bhagavad Gītā is part of the Mahabhārata. The Brahma Sūtras (also known as the Vedānta Sūtras), systematise the doctrines taught in the Upanishads and the Gītā.

All major Vedantic teachers, like Shankara, Rāmānuja, and Mādhvāchārya, have composed often extensive commentaries not only on the Upanishads and Brahma Sutras, but also on the Gita. While it is not typically thought of as a purely Vedantic text, with its syncretism of Samkhya, Yoga, and Upanishadic thought, the Bhagavad Gita has played a strong role in Vedantic thought.

No single interpretation of the texts emerged, and several schools of Vedanta developed, differentiated by their conceptions of the nature of the relationship and the degree of identity between the eternal core of the individual self (atman) and the absolute (brahman). These range from the nondualism (Advaita) of the 8th-century philosopher Shankara to the theism (Vishishtadvaita; literally “Qualified Nondualism”) of the 11th–12th-century thinker Ramanuja and the dualism (Dvaita) of the 13th-century thinker Madhva.

The Vedanta schools do, however, hold in common a number of beliefs; transmigration of the self (samsara) and the desirability of release from the cycle of rebirths; the authority of the Veda on the means of release; that brahman is both the material (upadana) and the instrumental (nimitta) cause of the world; and that the self (atman) is the agent of its own acts (karma) and therefore the recipient of the fruits, or consequences, of action (phala). All the Vedanta schools unanimously reject both the heterodox (nastika) philosophies of Buddhism and Jainism and the conclusions of the other orthodox (astika) schools (Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, and, to some extent, the Purva-Mimamsa).

The influence of Vedanta on Indian thought has been profound, so that it may be said that, in one or another of its forms, Hindu philosophy has become Vedanta. Although the preponderance of texts by Advaita scholastics has in the West given rise to the erroneous impression that Vedanta means Advaita, the nondualistic Advaita is but one of many Vedanta schools.

Excerpts from Vedanta Articles on Wikipedia and Encyclopaedia Britannica

twenty-five elements


Most yoga teachers know of the great sage Patanjali and of raja yoga, the eight-limbed system he developed and encoded in theYoga Sutra. However, fewer teachers know that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is based on Samkhya, an Indian philosophy that defines the language of yoga.

The personal joy of studying Samkhya is deeply stirring and transformative, as we are learning to unravel the greatest mystery of our lives—ourselves. The Samkhya philosophy systematically deciphers every part of our being, from the lowest level of mortal existence to the highest level of eternal consciousness and spirit. The journey through Samkhya unfolds through three processes: reading (comprehending terminology and philosophy), contemplation and  meditation(understanding and feeling the philosophy), and yoga practice (applying the philosophy so that our understanding results in authentic experience).

Samkhya is one of the six major philosophies of India. Originally written in Sanskrit, Samkhya describes the full spectrum of human existence by revealing the basic elements that make up the macrocosm and the microcosm. Samkhya teaches us about the components of the body, mind, and spirit, from the gross elements that make up the physical body to the more subtle elements of the mind and consciousness. Samkhya names each element, teaches us its function, and shows us the relationship each element has to all others. It is effectively a map of the human being.

Yoga takes the Samkhya philosophy into the realm of experience, through gradual and systematic progression. Based on the understanding we gain from Samkhya, we teach yoga starting from the gross or physical level, moving next to the subtler levels of mind and spirit, and then returning to the gross with a higher level of consciousness. We return to our “outer” lives rejuvenated and relatively more enlightened.

Samkhya states that the individual human being has 25 elements, or evolutes, that develop progressively out of one another. Learning about these evolutes and their order is, for a yogi, the equivalent of a musician learning musical scales—we need to know the scales before we can make music. Knowing Samkhya imbues all techniques of yoga, all the asana, pPranayama, and meditation, with meaning and direction. The body-mind is the instrument that consciousness learns to play.

Of the 25 elements, two are the source from which the whole universe evolves: consciousness, or purusha, the eternal reality; and nature, or prakriti, pure creative power. Within prakriti are the three fundamental forces called the maha-gunas: tamas, inertia and decay; rajas, momentum and desire; and sattva, balance, luminosity, and knowledge.

From prakriti arise also the three elements of the mind: the higher, intuitive, self-knowing mind (buddhi), which connects with consciousness; the lower-thinking, rational mind (manas), which connects consciousness to the outer world via the senses; and the ego (ahamkara), which exists in a space between the higher and the lower mind.

Samkhya also describes 20 further elements: the jnanendriyas, or five sensory organs (ears, skin, eyes, tongue, and nose); the karmendriyas, or five organs of action (tongue, hands, legs, reproductive organs, and excretory organs) the tanmatras, or five senses (sound, touch, vision, taste, and smell); and the mahabhutas, or five building blocks of nature (earth or solids, water or liquids, fire or transformation, air or gas—including breath and prana—and space or void).

The mind develops through a gradual process of meditation that includes relaxation, introversion and sense withdrawal, concentration, use of mantra and subtle breathing techniques. One of the best ways to work on the mind is through teaching breath awareness with the mantra [So Hum]. All yoga teachers can use this mantra, which is universal and safe. The Gayatri mantra provides a powerful way to purify, strengthen, and awaken the elements of the human being. Its 24 syllables each represent one of the 24 elements of the human being. We add the mantra Om, the mantra of consciousness, to make 25.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Yoga and Samkhya—Purifying the Elements of the Human Being by Dr. Swami Shankardev Saraswati and Jayne Stevenson


Samkhya (Sanskrit: सांख्य, IAST: sāṃkhya) is one of the six orthodox (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as a founder of the Samkhya school. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India.

The major text of this Vedic school is the extant Samkhya Karika circa 200 CE. This text (in karika 70) identifies Sāmkhya as a Tantra and its philosophy was one of the main influences both on the rise of the Tantras as a body of literature, as well as Tantra sadhana.

Sāmkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist. Sāṃkhya denies the final cause of Ishvara (God). Sāmkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities; Puruṣa (consciousness) and prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). Jiva is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha. Samkhya does not describe what happens after moksha and does not mention anything about Ishwara or God, because after liberation there is no essential distinction of individual and universal puruṣa.

Excerpt from Wikipedia Article Samkhya

The Samkhya Kārikā : Iśvara Kṛṣṇa’s Memorable Verses on Sāmkhya Philosophy with the Commentary of Gaudapādācārya As Translated By Vidyāsudhākara Dr. Har Dutt Sharma, M.A., Ph.D.