[Culture] India Philosophy and Heterodox Sects in Ancient India

The development of systems of philosophy in India took over a period of time and there was a transition from the materialistic culture of Rig Vedic time to the spiritualistic culture during the Later Vedic times. Upanishads are rich depository of philosophical ideas. The Gupta period may be said to be the landmark in the development of philosophical thoughts. There are six school of thoughts
(shaddarshana) that date back from the ancient times in India.

The Six  Systems are Vaisheshika, Nyaya, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansa, Vedanta.

The first Indian philosophy, Vaisheshika discusses the material element , dravya and it is a atomic philosophical school. Its founder was  Uluka Kanada. It combines  scientific principles and  spiritualism. It believes in heaven and salvation. It in a way marked the beginning of physics. Nyaya was the school of analysis and system of logic deriving mainly from the sutras of Akshapada Gautama. Its main expositor was Pakshilavamin Vtasyayana. Nyaya also believes in salvation by knowledge. The veracity of any principle can be tested on the basis of inference, hearing and analogy. It contributed to systemic thinking and reasoning. The next school , Sankhya teaches twenty five principles. Its believes that divine agencies are not essential for creation It focuses on purusha(soul , person) and prakriti (nature) Salvation is through the path of knowledge  and it is obtained through perception(pratayaksha), inference (anuman), hearing( shabd). Its earliest exponent was Kapila. The next school Yoga, derives its basic text from Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It deals with control of the body. Salvation can be attained by meditation, control over senses, asanas and pranayama. It principle of Ashtang yog consists of Yam, Niyam, Asana, Pranyama, Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyan and Samadhi. This has been the cultural export of India all over the world. Mimansa , stressed that Vedas contain eternal truth and sought to explain and revive the Vedas. Unlike other schools it propagates that salvation is attained by performance of rituals. The bliss of Heaven lasts as long as virtue accumulated lasts and once it is exhausted the being comes back to Earth. Its earliest texts is said to be the Sutras of Jaimini and early scholar Shabarsvamin. Vedanta also called Uttarmimansa, exposits that only Brahma is real while the rest is unreal, Maya . It is an illusion. Self, soul is identical with brahma and is indestructible. The soul travels and changes its form and manifestation. Badrayana is said to have formulated its main tenets. Gaudapada was also an important thinker of this school, but the most popular is Shanakaracharya, who during the 8th – 9th century not only revived Hindusim but made Vedanta the main pillar of Indian philosophy. It believes in salvation through knowledge of self and thus knowledge of Brahma. Another tenet is that of rebirth, punarjanama and the theory of Karma. All Indian philosophies merge into Vedanta. In Indian philosophy, the debate has been more on Vedic tradition Vs Non vedic, than theism Vs atheism.

There were others like Charvaka , who denied the existence of divine supernatural agency. It opposed the quest for spiritual salvation and focussed on reality which could be experienced by human senses. It was a materialist philosophy and put man at the centre of all activities.

There were many heterodox sects but only a few developed and ultimately gave rise to a religion.
The founder of one such sect was Mahavira, born in 540 BC.  He was the 24th Tirthankara born to Siddhartha, head of Jnatrika clan, and Trishala. in Kundagrama. He attained enlightenment in Jrimbhikagrama and Moksha near Pava at 72 years of age.  Jainism developed during the 6th c BC . The social condition were conducive for such a religion which would accept the outcastes of Brahmanism. It rejects the idea of a creator and the authority of Vedas. The good or bad is determined by actions rather than birth it believes in Karma and transmigration of soul. Nirvana can be attained through a threefold path, The Triratna : Right faith, right knowledge and right conduct. The last doctrine includes non injury (ahimsa), non possession (aparigraha), truth, no stealing, and the fifth added by Mahavira, chastity( Brahmacharya ) Its earliest works is in Apabrahmsha and its literature is compiled in ardhamagadhi. The use of common language, in preaching Prakrit was used, made it even more popular. The doctrine of Syadvada, an essential ingredient of Jaina philosophy says that no absolute affirmation or denial is possible as truth is relative. Every mortal possesses the potential of becoming great as a tirthankar but has to follow the path. Purification of soul can be done through penance, non violence, truth etc. Mahavira was also known as conqueror of all senses.

Another simultaneous development was that of Buddhism. Siddhartha or Gautam Buddha was born in 563 BC to Suddhodhana and Maya. He attained enlightenment In Bodh Gaya and Mahaparnirvana at Kushinara. The doctrines of Buddhism were simple. Worldly pleasures should be avoided and asceticism and self mortification should be followed. Life is transient, causes sorrow . There are Four Noble truths, existence of suffering. This is caused by trishna, desire however suffering can cease and Nirvana can be attained through the eight fold path or Ashtangamarga. It consists of right speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, concentration, thoughts and understanding. It prescribes a code of conduct quite similar to Jainism. Do not covet the property of others, no violence, lie, corrupt practises, in toxicants etc. It also denied the authority of Vedas, opposed animal sacrifice.

These were the prevalent system of thoughts and heterodox trends in Ancient India which continues to present.


  1. Thank you for letting me know about this culture of India. This is a country with a history of extremely profound sects!

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