As the different systems of philosophy constitute the bases of the different systems of religion, it would be of interest to correlate their fundamental ideas and theories.
Fundamental ideas of the systems of philosophy: As we have seen, the fundamental ideas of the different systems of philosophy may be resolved into the conception of knowledge or action as the final goal of human life; and we can understand their essential idea of the soul as well as God in their terms. For instance, the Sankhya believes that action is the cause of all our sorrow and pain; that Nature is self- created and there is no place for God in the scheme of life; that the soul is different from all that is in Nature; and that it can make itself happy and free only by means of perfect knowledge and renunciation of all action. The other systems deal with the same problem from different points of view, and the conclusion of Vedanta is the very opposite of that of the Sankhya.
The idea of God and systems of philosophy: Now, if we conceive of God as Sat-chit-ananda or the principle of good, intelligent and joyous action made manifest in the universe, the opposition between soul, Nature, and God disappears, and we can harmonize them into one great Whole. We can, therefore, examine the different systems of philosophy in the light of the measure of their belief in God as the supreme creator of the universe.
We have seen that the Sankhya has no place for Him in its scheme, while Vedanta conceives of Nature itself but as a form of God; and, between these extremes, the remaining systems have their own ideas of God.
Three groups of ideas: These may be divided into three groups. We may believe that Nature is the supreme creator of the universe, or that God is the supreme creator, or that the two together jointly create the world.
Now, if we believe that Nature is the supreme creator of life, it is possible to have three points of views: that Nature is the sole supreme creator; or, if there is God, He is but a spectator of Nature's work; or has, at best, but a small share in it. We cannot, in any case, agree that God is equal or superior to Nature, or the sole creator of the universe.
If, again, we believe that God and Nature are joint creators of life, we can have three points of view: that the share of Nature is more than that of God; that the two are equal; or that the share of God is more than that of Nature.
If, on the other hand, we believe that God is the supreme creator of the universe, there are again three points of view; that God is the sole supreme creator; or, if there is Nature, it is but a spectator of His work; or has, at best, a small share in it. This is the exact opposite of the first group of ideas based on the conception of Nature as the supreme creator of the universe, and the two exclude each other. Between them lies the second group, which has a point of view in common with each, and so may be said to be their connecting link. Thus, if, starting with the idea that there is no place for God in the scheme of things, we come to believe that He is a spectator of the work of Nature, and then that He is a small creator too, we not only rise to the top of the first group of ideas in this system of thought, but also find ourselves at the bottom of the second; and similarly, when we rise to the top of our second group, we are at the bottom of the third; and in this manner can ascend from the lowest to the highest point of thought in this scale.
The Trimurti: It is this that gives us the Trimurti or the threefold form of the Deity, Brahma, Siva, and Vishnu, to which there are innumerable references in the sacred books. When we desire to live in accordance with the scheme of thought based on the first group of ideas, we get the system of religion called after the name of Brahma; the second gives us the system of Siva or Mahadeva; while the third that of Vishnu.
The word Brahma is not the same as Brahma, although they are closely allied, and both are derived from Brahman. Brahma is the nominative masculine, while Brahma the nominative neuter form of this word; and the former refers to a personal, and the latter to an impersonal form of the Supreme Spirit, the sense in which it is used in the Vedanta-Sutras.
Jainism and Buddhism: We notice, however, that the system of Brahma, based on the idea that Nature is the supreme creator of the universe, leads to the conclusion of the Sankhya and its allied systems, namely, that the ultimate goal of human life is knowledge and renunciation of action. Action is a necessary evil so long as we have to live; but happiness or freedom from sorrow can be attained only by means of knowledge and the renunciation of action. But a total renunciation of action, as the Mimansa has taught us, belongs only to the last stage of human life, when the spirit departs. The course of life based on the system of Brahma may, accordingly, be divided into two parts, the beginnings of life, when we learn to live, and so must have more of knowledge than action, and the end, when we are about to die, when all action, however important, must come to an end; and corresponding to this the system of Brahma was divided into two parts, Jainism and Buddhism the one emphasizing the role of knowledge at the beginning, and the other at the end, of life.
Saivism and Vaishnavism: Between these extremes lies the great work of life, which sustains and preserves the race, and demands the application of knowledge to action designed to that end.
But here again we can have two points of view; we may believe that action is indeed necessary, but knowledge, coupled with renunciation, is still our final goal; or we may hold that knowledge and action are but two aspects of the same thing, life; and that there is an essential harmony between the two, and that life goes on forever; and corresponding to this we have the two systems of religion associated with the names of Siva and Vishnu. The latter believes that not Only is life not evil or characterized by constant sorrow and pain, but that it is based essentially on the principle of goodness) intelligence and joy; and so God himself is born from age to age in the world. It is this that gives us the idea of the "incarnations" of Vishnu; and the systems of Siva and Vishnu constitute the bulk of what is known by the name of Hinduism. They embrace the whole range of human life from the time a child grows into a boy and is able to think for himself and act; and so we go on through experience of family life to a bond with the whole race and the world, and to the attainment of perfection through harmony of knowledge and action, when we realize that happiness or freedom from sorrow consists not in running away from life, but in its fulfillment, and the attainment of a state of equilibrium in the midst of all that may happen in the world. And so, if a person live in this manner, all his life becomes a sacrifice, full of goodness, intelligence, and joy, and death may come when it will, and he is not disturbed.
Jainism, Saivism and Vaishnavism: We have observed that Jainism corresponds to the beginnings of human life, when there is an emphasis on knowledge more than on action; while Saivism and Vaishnavism refer to the rest, with new conception of what belongs to active life and to its end; and, as this covers the entire range of human existence, these three systems still survive in India.
Buddhism: The system of Buddha, which too had its origin in this country, has, however, disappeared; and that, in spite of the fact that Buddha is said to be an avatar or "incarnation" of Vishnu. In this connection we have observed that Buddhism, as a system of religion or a scheme of life, corresponds to the end of a man's existence on earth, when all action must come to an end; and so it may be said to be a perfect plan of life in the path of death. But this is included also in the system of Siva, according to which knowledge, together with renunciation of action, is said to be the ultimate goal of life; and so all that is of real value in Buddhism is included in the system of Siva, and the existence of the two side by side can only cause confusion. Indeed, the existence of Buddhism as a separate system of religion would imply that it is in harmony with the main course of human life, whereas its principles apply largely to its end in death, when a man has completed his tasks and fulfilled his mission in life; and an active practice of its philosophy of negation of action, by men in their youth and nations in their prime, can only lead to decadence; and this would appear to be the reason why it was "driven out" of India as a separate system, and the best in it included in Saivism.
The founder of Buddhism is called Siddhartha (Siddha-artha), which means "he all whose objects have been attained"; and so it is only when a person has fulfilled his mission in life and attained to all he seeks, that he can awaken into the final truth (or become a Buddha, for that is the meaning of the word), that all action must ultimately be renounced. This is also the point of view of Saivism or Yoga, but not of Vaishnavism or Vedanta; for according to the latter, there is no end to life or action, and God himself is born from age to age.
The essential idea of the different systems of religion and their relation to the corresponding systems of philosophy has been dealt with elsewhere; and it would be examined again in connection with the "story" of the avataras or "incarnations" of Vishnu. We shall then understand why Buddha, though an "incarnation" of the Deity, is said to have been silent when questioned about the existence of God.
Systems of philosophy and religion: We have observed that these systems of religion are founded on the different systems of philosophy; and it is now possible to bring out their connection more clearly.
As we have seen, the Sankhya has no place for God in its scheme of life; and it comes to the conclusion that the highest end can be attained only by means of knowledge and a total renunciation of action. Corresponding to this we have the first form of the system of Brahma or the Digambara school of Jainism, which holds identical views.
Nyaya tells us that God does not grant the fruit or result of action, which accrues largely through our own effort. This may be taken to imply that God exists, but only as a spectator of the work of Nature or Prakrti, which alone creates; or, if He may be regarded as a creator in any sense of the term, His creation is limited to the first act, after which all things work out in accordance with a universal law, without any direction or interference on His part. Nyaya accordingly believes in a limited scope of action, emphasizes the role of knowledge, and explains the different means of acquiring it. As this attitude to life belongs to the stage of its beginning or the end, when we do not know how to act, or, being at the point of death, cannot do so, corresponding to this we have the Svetambara school of Jainism and the Hinayana school of Buddhism respectively; and the latter also corresponds to the first form of the school of Saivism.
After this we have the Vaiseshika, which refers not to God, but to an Unseen or Unknown Power, which has its own share in creation and shaping results; but we are not told exactly what it is. We are accordingly free to conclude that, if this Unknown Power may be identified with God, He would be deemed to act in conjunction with Nature or Prakrti, and His share may be less than, equal to, or greater than that of the latter; and corresponding to this we have the whole range of the system of Siva, which would also include the Mahayana school of Buddhism, and the first or dualistic form of the system of Vishnu.
The Vaiseshika is followed by the Mimansa, which, like the former, contains no reference to God, but tells us instead of a large number of gods, who represent the great forms and forces of Nature. We may, therefore, assume that its idea of God would be similar to that of the Vaiseshika, though wider in range. We have also explained that the Mimansa is but a first step to the philosophy of Vedanta; and so, in so far as the systems of religion are concerned, has little contribution of its own to make. This is due primarily to the fact that it is based on the character of ahankara. or the i-as-an-actor; for, if we regard the soul itself to be an actor, as a number of systems, and more specially Vedanta believe, there can be no separate place for ahankara as an actor; and, as the great systems of religion retard the soul as such, there is no separate place for the Mimansa in their construction.
Yoga, as we have seen, assigns a special place to God for the attainment of perfection. We have also explained that there is another aspect of Yoga, where it is, for practical purposes, identified with Vedanta; and that is the point of view of the Bhagavad Gita which, while giving a separate place to Prakrti, tells us that the real creator is only Krshna or God. There are thus two ways of looking at Yoga, so far as the relation of Purusha and Prakrti or God and Nature is concerned: God is the chief creator of the universe, and so far as Prakrti is concerned, it is either a spectator of His work, or is at best but a small co-sharer with Him. Yoga may, accordingly, be said to be the opposite of Nyaya; and, corresponding to its two aspects, we have the highest point of the system of Siva or Mahadeva, and the qualified monist school of the system of Vishnu. Vedanta, the culmination of all ancient thought, tells us that God is the sole supreme creator of the universe, and Nature itself is but His form. It is thus the exact opposite of the Sankhya; and corresponding to it we have the pure monistic school of the system of Vishnu.