Indian Schools of Philosophy

By the beginning of Christian era six schools of Indian Philosophy developed and divided into two schools:

Orthodox School:

  • According to this school:
    • The Vedas are the ultimate revealed texts that contain the keys to salvation.
    • The validity of the Vedas was not contested.
    • They had six sub schools: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Veisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta.

Heterodox School:

  • According to this school:
    • They questioned the presence of God and rejected the Vedas’ historicity.
    • Buddhism, Jainism, and Lokayata are the three main sub-schools that make up this group.

Orthodox School


  • According to early Samkhya philosophy the presence of the divine agency is not essential to the creation of the world. The creation is more owed to Prakriti.
  • It was a rational and scientific view.
  • Around the fourth century AD. in addition to Prakriti, Purusha or spirit was introduced as an element in the Samkhya system and the creation of the world was attributed to both.
  • Kapila propounded this philosophy and wrote the Samkhya sutra.


  • It is based upon the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali dated from the first half of the 1st millennium AD.
  • According to it, a person can attain salvation through meditation and physical application.
  • Practice and control over pleasure, senses and bodily organs is central to this system.
  • Exercises include physical and breathing exercises called asanas and pranayama.
  • There is a broad variety of Yoga schools, practices, and goals in Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism. Most well-known types of yoga are Hatha yoga and Raja yoga.
  • International Day of Yoga is celebrated on 21st June every year since its inception in 2015.


  • Nyaya or the school of analysis was developed as a system of logic. According to it salvation can be attained through acquisition of knowledge.
  • The veracity of a proposition or a statement can be assessed through inference, hearing and analogy.
  • Gautama is said to be the author of the Nyaya Sutras.


  • Gives importance to material elements or dravya.
  • This school propounded the atom theory and thus marked the beginning of physics in India.
  • However, scientific view was diluted with belief in God and spiritualism, and this school put its faith in both heaven and salvation.
  • Founded by Kanada.


  • Mimamsa means the art of reasoning and interpretation. It was founded by Jaimini.
  • According to it, the Vedas contain the eternal truth.
  • Principal object of this philosophy was to acquire heaven and salvation.
  • To attain salvation, it recommended performance of Vedic sacrifices which needed services of priests and legitimized social distance between various varnas.


  • Vedanta means end of Vedas. Brahmasutra of Badarayana compiled in 2nd century BC is its basic text.
  • Later famous commentaries include that of Ramanuja (Brahma possess attributes) and Shankara (Brahma is without attributes).
  • According to it, Brahma is the reality and everything else is unreal (maya). The self or atma is identical with Brahma.
  • Propounded theory of karma and theory of rebirth.

Heterodox School 

Materialist View of Life

  • The schools of philosophy with emphasis on materialism developed in the period of expanding economy and society between 500 BC and 300 AD. It is outside the ambit of 6 major philosophical schools.
  • This view appeared in doctrines of Ajivikas, a heterodox sect during Buddha’s time. But Charvaka was main exponent of materialistic philosophy.


  • The etymology of Charvaka is uncertain. Also known as Lokayata (worldly) philosophy of ancient India and the ideas derived from common people.
  • It is based on the materialist ideology of philosophy.
  • It rejects ritualism and supernaturalism.
  • It underlines the importance of intimate contact with the world and showed a lack of belief in the other world.
  • It accepted the sensory perception as the only source of knowledge.
  • It believes that reality is only one that human can experience.
  • Rejected the notion of soul, God, incarnation, karma theory, cycle of rebirth etc.
  • The only goal of human is to enjoy pleasures and avoid pain.
  • Charvaka denies operation of divine and supernatural agencies and makes man the centre of all activities.

Ajivika Sect

  • Got popularity under the leadership of Makkhali Gosala (5th century BCE) (Contemporary of Buddha & Mahavira). Purana Kassapa and Pakudha Kachchayana were other important scholars of this sect.
  • Their ideas are named as fatalists i.e., they believe that everything is pre-determined. Hence, human action could not influence any event or process.
  • Central idea of Ajivikas is Niyati (fate), a principle that determines and control everything in the world.
  • It believed in transmigration of soul and karma concept but human cannot control it. They rejected the Vedic philosophy but believed in the Atman.
  • Its followers practised the austerities, nudity, ahimsa and celibacy.
  • Patrons included King of Kosala Prasenjit, Bindusara, Ashoka, Dashrath (Ashoka’s successor).
  • Mauryan ruler Ashoka donated caves to Ajivikas in Barabar hills near Gaya.

Other Heterodox Sects

  • There were many non-brahmanical heretical sects which expounded ideas which were at variance with Brahmanical beliefs. These were contemporary of Buddha as mentioned in Digha Nikaya.
  • Purana Kassapa: Preached the doctrine of Akriya or non-action. He believed that action did not lead to either merit or demerit. He believed, that even if a man kills all creatures on earth, there would be no sin.
  • Ajita Kesakambali: There is no merit in giving alms, sacrifice or offering. He is considered to be the first proponent of Indian materialism and ideas of Charvaka school (Lokayata), usually described as materialists.
  • Pakudha Kaccayana: There are seven immutable elements – Earth, Fire, Water, Air, Joy, Sorrow & Life (soul). His theory is named as atomism or asasvatavada. These seven elements do not lead to any pleasure or pain.
  • Sanjay Belatthiputta: He was the philosopher who believed there is no definite answer to metaphysical questions. Thus, he believed in suspension of judgement. His philosophy has been named as ‘ajnana’ or radical Indian scepticism.
  • Nigantha Nagaputta: This was another name of Mahavira, the 24th tirthankara of Jainism. 
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