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The Philosophical Foundations of Hinduism
The philosophy of Hinduism is an in-depth and fascinating subject that covers a broad spectrum of teachings, philosophies and general societal and world views that were established in Ancient India. These elements came together to form the Hindu religion that we know today. Philosophy in particular is an important part of Hinduism. Darshana, or Darśana, - a word originating in Sanskrit meaning “vision”- is used in Indian tradition and means "our philosophies". In Hinduism, there are six darshanas that make up the basic philosophical foundations of Hinduism. These darshanas are Mimamsa (or Purva-Mimamsa), Yoga, Nyaya, Sankhya, Vedanta and Vaisheshika. By looking more closely at these darshanas, we can learn a little bit more about the Hindu religion.
Though relatively less studied than the other five teachings, Mimamsa or Purva-Mimamsa is highly influential to Hinduism due to its focus on epistemology. This means the philosophical study of knowledge and its place in the world. This kind of teaching covers a hugely broad subject of questions pertaining to knowledge in our universe, such as its origins and nature. When it comes to Hinduism, Mimamsa is a school of thought focusing on early Vedic texts - a body of ancient Indian religious texts that focus on ritual action - as well as the concept of “dharma", which relates to ethics or duty.
Vedanta is similarly linked to the contents within Vedic texts, much like Purva-Mimamsa. However, Vedanta focuses more on the ending of the Vedas. In fact, Vedanta translates directly to “end of Vedas”, which leans more into the idea of knowledge and the ways to achieve enlightenment, emancipation and a feeling of release. The main philosophical theories that Vedanta teaches are epistemology (as with Purva Mimamsa), ontology (the philosophical concept of reality and existence), and soteriology, which is the study of salvation via various religious doctrines.
The Yoga teaching of Hinduism also has elements of knowledge within its teachings, but they apply more to the idea of using this knowledge to better yourself. Not only does Yoga focus on applying knowledge to better yourself as a person, but it also hones in on how to spiritually, physically and mentally become the best you can be. The calming of the mind is encouraged with the Yoga teaching via morality, such as not intentionally harming others; physicality, like posture and breath control; and practicality, such as concentration skills.
Samkhya is similar to Yoga in that it has a similar emphasis on knowledge, duality and the components of mind, body and spirit. There is also a focus on souls, matter, creation and causation. It is often considered to be linked to rationalism, the philosophical theory of reason and rationality in conjunction with knowledge. It is a theory that emphasizes truth and knowledge being based within intellectual judgment and rationale.
This particular teaching focuses on logical matters, traditionally translating to “formal reasoning.” Nyaya has had substantial contributions to developments in key elements of Indian philosophy including methodology, practicality and logic. Although rhetoric and logical reasoning are what some consider the basis of the Nyaya teaching, it has strong roots in the idea of “argumentation”, pertaining to the systemic reasoning behind theories, ideas, actions and beliefs.
Finally, the Vaisheshika school of Indian philosophy relates to the philosophical school of theory known as naturalism and, more specifically, atomism. Naturalism is the idea that our universe is dictated by nature and natural law, rejecting spiritual or supernatural ideals. Atomism, which is a form of naturalism, focuses specifically on the idea that the physical world and universe is a construction made up of atoms. This relates back to Vaisheshika in the sense that it offers the idea that our experiences as people happen to us because of our relationship to these atoms as well as how these atoms are made up, such as their activity, how common they are, and what their particular role is. Vaisheshika is a theory that puts forward the idea that the understanding of the role of atomism and our physical world can lead to emancipation and knowledge.
Some of these theories may seem complex, but all of them offer values that can be simplified and made easy to follow, even for those with no interest in Hinduism. Knowledge is a key element of all six schools of teaching, and many of us can relate to that and attest to the importance of education. If you want to express your appreciation of Hinduism and its philosophical foundations, consider a Hindi inspired T-shirt from powsym.com, such as this Purple Namaste T-Shirt.