Considered one of the oldest religions of the world, the origin of Hinduism dates back to more than four thousand years. Hindu philosophy is the longest surviving philosophy in India. Today, it has about over nine-thousand million followers. Therefore, making it the world’s third-largest religion after Christianity and Islam. However, the origin of Hinduism is difficult to find, as it has no specific founder.
For the soul, there is never birth nor death.
Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be.
He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval.
He is not slain when the body is slain.
– Bhagwat Geeta
According to most scholars, Hindu philosophy stands for the collection of philosophical views stated in Hindu religious texts (like the Vedas). But, Hindu philosophy does not only includes the philosophical doctrines present in the religious texts but also the systematic philosophies of the Hindu schools. In the later years, Hindu philosophy has influenced other religions also, like- Buddhism and Jainism. Moreover, earlier we knew about just two stages of Hindu philosophy. That is- Non-Systematic Hindu Philosophy (The religious texts) and Systematic Hindu Philosophy (The Darśanas). But, in recent times, Hindu philosophy has evolved into something that the scholars call “Neo-Hinduism.” Let us read in-depth about Hindu philosophy and its different stages and ideas.
Stage One: Non-Systematic Hindu Philosophy (Religious Texts)
The Four Vedas
The Vedas originally committed to memory, which was later transmitted orally from teacher to student. The word Veda, in Sanskrit, means ‘knowledge’ or ‘Wisdom’. Composed in the language, which appears a mix of Indo-European, known as Sanskrit. But, most of it seems a precursor to Sanskrit, properly known as Vedic. The four Vedas- Rig Veda, Sama Veda, Yajur Veda, and Atharva Veda, each have four distinct sections. That is, Mantras, Brāhmanas, Āraṇyakas, and Upaniṣads.
Action section. Considered the main portion of the Vedas, it consists of mantras, or sacred chants and incantations. The Brāhmanas section contains the Vedic rituals instructions and the meanings of the same.
Knowledge Section. This section talks about the Āraṇyakas, also known as the forest book. The rituals stated in this seem more engaging and expressive. After that Upaniṣads comes, which describes the conversation between a teacher and a student. In this, they talk about metaphysical, axiological, and cosmological issues.
Secondary Texts (Smriti Literatures)
As the Vedic period ended, the time of smrti literature began. However, in many ways, it is still alive. Written in Sanskrit originally, this literature later translated into vernacular language. It was so that everyone can read them. To learn more about Hindu Philosophy, you must learn about the three most important smrti literature.
Itihasas. This literature talks about philosophical discussions on cosmology and ethics. The great Hindu epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana come under the smrti literature. However, these epics have gone through series of revisions and evolution with time.
Bhagavad Geeta. Even though a part of Mahabharata, where Krishna gives Arjuna life teachings during the was with his cousins. Owing to its importance and philosophically famous, we regard Bhagavad Geeta as a stand-alone text.
Puranas. The word ‘Purana’ means history. It provides a detailed history of how the Universe formed and the origin of various Gods. Among several Puranas, Bhagavata Purana stands as the most famous.
Stage Two: Systematic Hindu Philosophy (The Darśanas)
The word ‘Darśana’, in Sanskrit, means “vision”. Even though many scholars say that Hindu Philosophy originated from texts and literature like Vedas and Puranas. Moreover, many even tend to believe that they are the only philosophy. But, many beg to differ, therefore, calling it non-systematic Hindu philosophies. Upon questioning, the darśana came in light.
As the Vedic period ended, scholars began to record the systematic Indian philosophy in Sanskrit. Therefore, over centuries, in context with Hindu Philosophy, scholars developed six darśanas also known as six schools of Indian Philosophy. The approximate date of each school had been written down, but the exact time when these schools existed is not defined. However, many of the schools of Hindu philosophy existed side by side.
The six schools of Indian philosophy or the six darśanas:
Traditionally, the word nyāya meant ‘formal reasoning’, but later it began addressing in-general and legal reasoning. Around the 2nd Century, sage Aksapada Gautama founded this school of philosophy. According to this school of philosophy, there are four sources to obtain knowledge- intuition, inference, comparison, and verbal testimony. Nyāya believes in God who is omniscient and omnipotent and explains the last bit of this school. In short, we can say that this system investigates Hinduism and Hindu philosophy logically and analytically. Moreover, it shows a way of salvation and establishes a rational relationship between body and soul.
2. Vaiśeṣika system
Also known as the ‘Philosophy of Discrimination’, the Vaiśeṣika system derives its name from the doctrine of atomic individuality. Kaṇāḍa founded this school of Hindu philosophy in the 1st century, whose name translates to “atom-eater”. One of the fundamental doctrines, Padartha, has six main components- substance, quality, activity, generality, particularity, and inherence. Therefore, this system says that one must realize the pure nature of the soul and the unreality of matter, to attain deliverance from samsara of wheel of birth. Most importantly, this school contributed to the concept of the atom. It analyzed its phenomenal world, the theory of propagation of sound, and its observations about heat and light.
3. Sāṅkhya System
One of the oldest schools of systematic Hindu philosophy, the word Sāṅkhya means ‘enumeration’. This school defined the evolution for creation. Even the Bhagavata Geeta and Upaniṣads mention this school. Sage Kapila founded this school according to scholars. It states that the cosmos resulted due to the mutual contact of two distinct metaphysical categories- Prakriti (Nature) and Purusha (person). It considers person/sour as a pure spirit whereas, nature is the illusion phenomena. Nature attracts the soul, therefore, biding it into the vicious cycle of samsara and karma.
4. Yoga System
Like the Sāṅkhya system, we also find traces of the Yoga system in Bhagavata Geeta and Upnishads. In it, the term denotes the union of the soul with the Supreme. However, the systematic expression comes from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Yoga helps in developing super-sensory perception as it strengthens the body and transforms psychic organisms. Moreover, it helps the individual to attain Samadhi (union of the soul with God), as it allows to go beyond the limits of sense perception. To overcome physical hindrances, this system demonstrates an eight-fold method. Which is to say, Abstention, observance, posture, regulation of breath, withdrawal of the senses, fixed attention, and concentration. Moreover, as the yogis go through several stages of self-control, they attain marvelous and magical powers called siddhis.
5. The Pūrvamīmāṃsā
This school differs from all other schools as it directly associates with the Vedas. The Purva (earlier) and mimansa (inquiry), in context to Hinduism, are considered as one of the orthodox Hindu philosophy schools. As it defends and elaborates the early ritual-oriented content of the Vedas. It suggests that the soul will be free only if one faithfully follows the orthodox rites and ceremonies prescribed in the Vedic texts. This school describes two types of karma- Nitya karma (brings sin) and Kamya karma (performed for special ends).
6. The Vedānta
Also known as Uttar Mimansa, it was considered one of the most important among the six schools of Hindu philosophy. As the Pūrvamīmāṃsā school comprises the earlier portion of the Vedas, the Vedānta school consist of the later portion the Vedas. The modern intellectual Hinduism consists of many prominent features from this school. Therefore, this school’s ultimate teaching says, “all this universe is Brahma; from Him does it proceed, into Him it dissolves, in Him, it breathes, so let in everyone adore Him calmly”. Moreover, it says that the ultimate salvation is possible only with the help of spiritual awakening. This is possible only when the mind detaches from worldly things and through the awareness of this fundamental unity in diversity.
Stage Three: Neo-Hinduism
The concept of Hinduism evolved with time. The authors who read about the classic Hindu philosophy, as well as the western philosophy, brought this new concept- Neo-Hinduism. Some famous authors of this field consist, Swami Vivekananda, Rama Krishna, and India’s first president, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
The writings of these authors show resemblance to the Vedanta school. However, still, many scholars do not agree with the ideology and theology of these Neo-Hindu authors and take their philosophy against Hinduism. Many people find the views presented by the Neo-Hindus as a form of Universalism or Liberal theology. But in reality, Neo-Hinduism distinguishes from the different theological view that has long history in India, which we might call Inclusivist Theology. Neo-Hinduism views does not mean to sectarianism that characterizes the history of religion in the West. But, they point that they try to a genuine and modern attempt to re-understand the philosophical implications of earlier Hindu thought. Therefore, they do not, by any means, attempt to reconcile the various religions of the world.
Therefore, with the evolution of Hinduism, the viewpoint of Hindu Philosophers, vary on many points. As many do not agree upon the nature, scope, and validity of the Vedas. Whereas, some do not agree upon Stage three of Hindu Philosophy. However, the rich metaphysical diversity amongst Hindu philosophers represents the difference in ontology. Therefore, now we can say that Hindu philosophy is not just a static doctrine, but diverse philosophical perspectives, growing with a rich tradition. It does not only elaborate ancient traditions but shows a re-evaluated and dialectical evolution of Hindu philosophical thought.