Narach Philosophy

THE SYSTEMS OF HINDU PHILOSOPHY


Connected systems of thought; the Mimansa does not stand alone, and needs to be understood in its relation to the other systems of philosophy, each of which is called a Darsana, which means "a vision or a point of view". Indeed, it would be found on examination, that they are all but different points of view from which we can survey the great problem of life. Life is too large to be seen from a single angle; and so the ancients conceived of the idea of examining it from six different points of view, according to the instrument of knowledge used for the purpose; and it is for this reason that these systems are spoken of as Darsanas.

We shall presently see what these points of view are; but it follows from this that each of them, taken by itself should be incomplete; while all of them, taken together, include all that the ancients knew at the time. Unfortunately, however, each of them has been regarded as a complete system by itself; or they are at best taken in pairs, with the result that there has been a great deal of confusion and conflict of thought in regard to their real idea. Indeed, as has been observed, the original Sutras are generally regarded as unintelligible; and the student has, for the most part, been obliged to be guided by the opinion of commentators who, though extremely learned and eminent in their own way, confined themselves to but a few of these systems, and regarded them as complete; but, finding that they did not fit into their own scheme of thought, imported their own ideas into them.

Nor did they feel bound to limit their exposition to the language of the Sutras, which they conceived to be but independent utterances, complete in themselves, and more like pivots of thought, round which a great body of ideas, their own and of the ancients could move; and so they felt free to make their own contributions to these systems. But a proper study of the Sutras shows that they are not only not unintelligible, but that a single thread of thought runs through all of them; and that, while each system constitutes its own special body of thought, it serves as a stepping stone to the following one; and all of them, taken together, make a great indivisible whole, so that, as the Sankhya is the first and Vedanta the last; the question posed in the first Sutra of the former has its final answer in the last Sutra of Vedanta.

This is not a mere statement of a personal opinion, for the character of the systems of philosophy has been described in the Vedanta Sutras themselves, and the whole idea may be summarized as follows:

All systems of philosophy are equally important, for no single system can be regarded as all comprehensive; and the whole range of thought has been divided among them just as we may divide the number hundred into parts to enable us to understand it. At the same time each of them has its own point of view; and we approve of this division, for it enables us to appreciate.

But there are some who believe that these divisions are arbitrary, and this has led to a conflict of opinion. But, so far as we are aware, this is the view only of those who have a limited experience of the laws of life, and it is rejected by Jaimini (the celebrated author of the Mimansa). According to Badarayana (the celebrated author of the Vedanta Sutras), we can prove our point, for this division is based on reason, and we can clearly explain its whole principle, which is not meant merely to glorify these systems.

It is not difficult to do so, for we are able to get the meaning of the text from the words themselves. There is no uncertainty about them, because they are all properly described. Nor are there any symbolic expressions like "kindling the fire", etc.; and there is a proper connection of cause and effect in their ideas, which have their counterparts in the sruti. But it is necessary to have calmness and self-control to be able to understand them. It would be found on examination that this is the real character of the language of the Sutras. They are accordingly not only intelligible, but, comparatively speaking, easy to understand.

Division of thought in the systems: A proper study of the systems of philosophy will show that they are characterized by clearly defined divisions of thought. Thus we might observe that all knowledge is from the known to the unknown; and the known is the world of Nature around us, while its knower is Man. All knowledge is accordingly based on the relation between the two, Nature and Man out of which arises the idea of the Unknown, which we may describe as the Unmanifest or God. The Sankhya, the first of these systems of philosophy, accordingly makes a rapid survey of all that the ancients knew of the great principles of Nature; and, assuming it to be the supreme creator of things, examines the different problems of life in its light.

It has, therefore, no place for God as a creator in its scheme; and its final conclusion is that the soul of man is different from all that is in Nature, and that it can attain to freedom from sorrow and pain, the end of all our quest in the world by devoting itself to pure self-knowledge, and refraining from all action which arises from Nature or Prakrti.

The whole problem thus resolves itself into the attitude of man to knowledge and action on the one hand, and the idea of Nature or God as the supreme creator of the universe, on the other. As the knower of all this is man, we can examine it in the light of his different faculties, his senses, mind, ahankara (or the I-as-an-actor), intellect and the soul; and corresponding to these we have the five remaining systems of philosophy, Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimansa, Yoga, and Vedanta. As we shall presently see, Nyaya deals with the question in the light of the function of the senses, conceives of God as a mere onlooker of things, and lays special emphasis on knowledge as the goal of life. The Vaiseshika does so in the light of the character of the mind, conceives of an Unknown Power which has a share in the shaping of things, and, while stressing the importance of knowledge, brings out the idea of action too.

The Mimansa considers it in the light of the character of ahankara or the I-as-an- actor, ever ready to act, conceives of action as of the essence of life, and as including knowledge itself and speaks of the great forces of Nature as acting intelligently and for the benefit of all, and so sustaining the universe. Yoga examines it in the light of the character of the intellect, gives God a special place in the scheme of life, and, though it admits the importance of action, still concludes on knowledge as the final end. Lastly, Vedanta examines the whole problem in the light of the character of the soul itself which, unlike the Sankhya, it does not regard as altogether different from all that is in Nature; and so it conceives of Brahma or God as including all that is in the universe, and regards knowledge and action but as counterparts of the same energy of the soul; and tells us that real freedom is achieved only when a person attains to equilibrium in the midst of action and the experience of pleasure and pain. As will be observed, Vedanta contains the most trenchant criticism of the Sankhya, and its last Sutra provides an answer to the question raised in the opening Sutra of that system.

The word ahankara, aham-kara, means literally "(aham) I as an (kara) actor". This is the original idea of the word; and its meaning as egoism, or something that needs to be repressed, is a subsidiary one. It is sometimes identified with abhimana, which is said to be an erroneous conception regarding one's self or the soul, the meaning being that the soul is really not an actor, but when through an error of thought we regard it as such, it may be described as ahankara. Ahankara is thus the soul erroneously conceived to be an actor; but when we distinguish it from the soul, it may be said to be an instrument of action like the senses, mind, etc.

Pairs of systems: All human faculties are connected together, and some of them in a special way; and corresponding to this the six systems of philosophy are often grouped together into three pairs, Sankhya and Yoga, Nyaya and Vaiseshika, and Mimansa and Vedanta, also called Purva-Mimansa and Uttara-Mimansa respectively. The Sankhya and Yoga are grouped together, because, as we have observed, Yoga is based on the character of the intellect, and the Sankhya too, though it has its own ideas of Nature, soul, and God, attempts to evolve a rational system of thought and to provide a rational solution to the fundamental problem of life, freedom from sorrow and pain; and so both Sankhya and Yoga are based on the character of the intellect, although their conclusions are not the same; and it is for this reason that the Bhagavad Gita speaks of the basic identity of the two. Similarly, as Nyaya is based on the character of the senses, and Vaiseshika on that of the mind, and there is a vital connection between the two, there is a corresponding connection between these systems, and they too are often taken together.

There is a similar connection between ahankara and the soul. According to the Sankhya, ahankara or the I-as-an- actor evolves out of the intellect, because action can take place only after there is a decision to act, and the latter is the function of the intellect. Again, the Sankhya maintains that all things in the universe, including the intellect, ahankara, mind, the senses, the "elements" and their properties, indeed everything except the soul is a creation of Nature or Prakrti; and so it attempts to make a clear distinction between ahankara and the soul. But it does not succeed, because it is obliged to admit that, though the soul is, according to it, different from ahankara, it identifies itself with it through lack of knowledge, and imagines that it is an actor itself; and it cannot explain why, since it is really so different, it should be affected by ignorance, and do so. The question is really answered by Vedanta, which tells us that the soul is forever linked up with a "subtle body", which partakes of the character of the essence of the intellect, mind, and the senses, and so cannot be dissociated from all that is in Nature. It accordingly maintains that the soul and ahankara are but two aspects of the same entity; and when the soul is engaged in action, it is spoken of as ahankara; and when it is not, we speak of it as soul. And corresponding to this there is a close connection between the Mimansa and Vedanta, based on the character of ahankara and the soul respectively; and so the one is spoken of as Purva and the other as Uttara-Mimansa, the beginning and end of all philosophy.

A joint work: All this would, however, be possible only if all these systems of philosophy were composed at the same, time, and their authors collaborated with one another; and an examination of their form and subject-matter warrants such a conclusion. Indeed, there are clear references to Nyaya, Vaiseshika and Yoga in the Sankhya; while Vedanta constitutes the most powerful criticism of this system. At the same time the opinions of Jaimini and Badarayana, the celebrated authors of Mimansa and Vedanta quoted freely in their respective systems, go clearly to show that they were contemporaries.

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan is of the opinion that the whole tone and manner of composition of the Sutras suggests that they belong apparently to the same period, and believes that these systems must have existed in some form before the Christian era.

The problem of dates: It would indeed be difficult, if not impossible, to fix the chronology of the sacred books, even of the systems of philosophy with any degree of accuracy, for the ancients had their own conception of Time; and so we have, for the most part, to depend on internal evidence, that of the works themselves. There are, however, not a few who would assign widely different dates to these systems, so that the question of their being a joint work of contemporaries cannot, so far as they are concerned, arise. Some of them would go so far as to maintain that the Sankhya, in its present form, was composed in about the fourteenth century A.D., mainly on the ground that we have, no certain knowledge of its reputed author, Kapila; and Madhava, the author of the Sarva-darsana-sangraha, who lived in the sixteenth century A.D., makes no mention of the Sankhya, and gives an account of the Sankhya-karika of Isvara-krshna instead. In this connection it may be of interest to point out that Isvara-krshna himself refers to the Muni (who can only be Kapila), as the author of the work on which he had based his own; and states that it consists of sixty topics, and that he had written his own after a careful study and grasp of the original, and had omitted its short tales and subjects of controversy. An examination of the Sutras of the Sankhya in its present form will show that the statement of Isvara-krshna is true in every part, for this system really consists of sixty topics, and the character of the Sankhya-karika is indeed as its author has described it to be. As Isvara-krshna is believed to have lived in the first century A.D., this may enable us to fix the date of the Sankhya and other systems, as also of still earlier works.

It has been stated by Isvara-krshna that he had composed the Karika after properly understanding the original text, implying that it was not easy to understand the Sankhya even in his days. These Sutras are still believed to be largely unintelligible; but it may be presumed that they were not exactly so in his time still not quite easy to grasp. The history of modern languages shows that it takes nearly a thousand years for the original forms of expression to lose their meaning; and, if we apply the same test to Sanskrt, the Sutras of the Sankhya, which appeared to be difficult to understand even in the days of Isvara-krshna, must have been composed before the eighth century B .C. Indeed, as all the six systems of philosophy must have been composed at the same time, the date of composition of all would be the same.

We can fix the approximate date of composition of the Vedas in the same manner. The Mimansa tells us that the original meaning of the Vedas had been lost in the days of Jaimini, that is, the eighth century B.C. Indeed, it appears from what has been stated in the Mimansa, that the original idea of even the Smrtis, the Epics and the Puranas had all but disappeared. The latter works must accordingly have been composed a few hundred years earlier, that is, between 1500 and 2000 B.C., while the Vedas a few hundred years earlier still, that is, between 2000 and 2500 B.C. The Vedas may indeed belong to a still earlier period, for they have always been regarded as sacred, and persistent attempts must have been made not only to preserve their original form, but also their original meaning. In any case they are not likely to be earlier than about three thousand B.C., and there can be little wonder if their original meaning has been forgotten or lost.

An essence of the sacred books: As the systems of philosophy contain an essence of the sacred books, it would be convenient to give a summary of their Sutras, as that will enable the reader not only to have a proper idea of the place of the Mimansa, but also to understand the range of thought of the ancients and the character of the sacred books.