- 1. Origin and meaning of ‘Darshan’
- 2. Content
- 3. Objectives and importance
- 4. Doctrines
- 5. Special features
- 6. Number
- 7. History
- 8. Types
- 9. Spiritual practice
‘Drush (दृश्) meaning to see is the root from which the word darshan (दर्शन) has been derived.
- “दृश्यते यथार्थतत्त्वम् अनेन इति ।” means that path by means of which the God principle is seen (realised) are the scriptures known as Darshans (Shabdakalpadrum).
- “तत्त्वज्ञानसाधनं शास्त्रम् ।” means the Darshans comprise of a science which help a seeker to realise the God principle (Nyayakosh). Thus the Darshans are referred to by scholars as scriptures which teach about the principles in this world as well as those in the worlds beyond.
- The literal meaning of the word darshan is knowledge acquired through vision or that which is actually seen.
This is evident from a few quotes from the Upanishads. When explaining the comparative strength and weakness of external organs, the Bruhadaranyak quotes like “चक्षुर्वै सत्यम्” meaning what the eyes see is the truth and “चक्षुर्वै प्रतिष्ठा” meaning what the eyes see is factual (5.14.4; 6.1.3). When discussing the first quote Shri Shankaracharya explains –
तस्मात् यद् यदीदानीमेव व्दौ विवदमानौ विरुद्धं वदमानावेयातामागच्छेयाताम्
अहमदर्शं दृष्टवानरमीत्यन्य आहाहमश्रौषं त्वया दृष्टं न तथा तव्दस्त्विति तयोर्य एवं
ब्रूयादहमद्राक्षमिति तस्मा एव श्रद्दध्याम न पुनर्यो ब्रूयादहमश्रौषमिति ।
Meaning: When one comes across two people making contradictory statements of which one says “I have witnessed it” and the other says “I have heard that what you have seen is not as you say so” one should believe the former and not the latter.
Thus in comparison with the other organs the eyes are the closest to the truth. The word darshan was used to refer to the science of Spirituality whose aim is to study the ultimate truth, as it seeks to discriminate between what is the soul and what is not.
The main objective of all the Darshans is describing the soul principle. While describing the soul principle they discuss various issues such as what is the embodied soul, how it originated, the true nature of the manifest world, how it was created, the reason for its creation, whether it is gross or endowed with divine consciousness, etc. Answering such questions with conviction is considered an analogous objective of the Darshans. The world, the embodied soul, God and the Final Liberation (Moksha) are the four main concepts discussed in all the Darshans. These questions have been discussed from the point of view of past, present and future lives upto the Final Liberation.
- From the point of view of present life: This discusses all categories based on the belief that the visible world itself is the sole reality. Authors of the Darshans like Charvak professed this viewpoint.
- From the point of view of past and present life: This is the viewpoint which along with the present birth of an embodied soul accepts the doctrine of its past births. Authors of all the Darshans describing the soul principle except Charvak belonged to this school of thought.
- From the point of view of past, present and future lives upto the Final Liberation: The concept discussed here considers the Final Liberation (Moksha) as the ultimate goal of life. Both the viewpoints i.e. that of the present and past lives are included in this school of thought so as to be able to discuss Spirituality on the plane of past, present and future lives leading to the Final Liberation.
There is a very close association between life and the Darshans. In short, life and the Darshans are designed for each other. To bestow an embodied soul undergoing the three types of suffering, with Serenity (Shanti) and satisfaction and to liberate one from the world full of conflicts the various Darshans were compiled in India.
All the principles discussed in the Darshans are basically found in the Upanishads. However they are not arranged systematically; but are found at random. The spiritual experiences that the sages of those days acquired through penance and contemplation were recorded by Them in the Upanishads. However spiritual experiences being subjective, they differ from each other. Despite this being so all of them are in the context of The Supreme Principle. Each one expressed the spiritual experience of The Supreme Principle as He realised it. Hence theoretical clarification of doubts in the Upanishads is not in a particular order. None of the principles in the Upanishads are bound by serial order. Although the Principle is one, the viewpoints about its nature are numerous. The Darshans then undertook the mission of resolving these mutually conflicting concepts and of arranging them sequentially to create a science.
The two doctrines which one comes across while studying the Indian Darshans are –
- The Vedanta Darshan which elucidates the doctrine based on the logic of spiritual unity of the universe which contains various objects named differently.
- Actualisation of The Supreme Soul which is the fundamental support of the all pervading unity through meditation, concentration and the superconscious state (samadhi). This is a practical doctrine and is elaborated upon in the Yoga Darshan.
The ancient Vedic sages realised this spiritual oneness associated with the basic Great Illusion existing in different forms and that which undergoes transformation from moment to moment, by direct experience and later compilers of the Darshans established it by describing it logically and with examples. Just as a changeless Principle exists in the ever changing universe pervading within and outside it, so also does it exist inside and outside the embodied soul (pinda). It is the only principle which regulates the embodied soul and the universe. The Upanishads preach that realisation of this single soul principle existing throughout the embodied soul and universe is the ultimate goal of human life.
A. A logical basis: The Indian (Bharatiya) scriptures of the Darshans are not based merely on blind faith. Logic has been used everywhere in their compilation. Different authors of the Darshans have presented important topics such as God, using the concepts of Brahman with the help of logic and not in their own way. All the Darshans seem to aim towards Self-realisation. “आत्मानं विद्धि meaning get to know the soul” is the basic mantra of the Darshans. To realise the soul it has to be distinguished from all objects which are not the soul. This itself is known as the faculty of discrimination between what is the soul and what is not (atmanatmavivek). The Indian Darshans have used this faculty of discrimination everywhere based on logical thinking. The Darshans are written based on proofs (pramans), ideas, logic and the spiritual experience of Self-realisation of knowledgeable souls.
B. The Path to attainment of Final Liberation when still embodied (Sadeha mukti): Majority of the Darshans have primarily emphasised upon the Final Liberation (Moksha). The Final Liberation is the fruit of nectar (amrutphal) of the wish-fulfilling tree (kalpavruksha) which exists in the form of the Darshans. The sole tool to attain the Final Liberation is spiritual knowledge. The unanimous proclamation of all the Darshans is “ऋते ज्ञानान्न मुक्ति: meaning there is no Final Liberation without spiritual knowledge”. The general belief is that the Final Liberation is attained only after death; but this is not so. Most of the Darshans have clearly stated that man can attain it when still embodied. In short, Liberation during embodiment (jivanmukti) is the ultimate target of most Darshans. This concept is a very precious gift bestowed by the Upanishads.
There was a master (acharya) named Haribhadra in the twelfth century A.D. who wrote a holy text called Shadadarshansamuchchaya which discusses six Darshans comprising of three non-Vedic viz. Charvak, Buddhist and Jain and three Vedic Darshans viz. Nyaya-Vaisheshik, Sankhya–Yoga and Mimansa-Vedanta.
From the era of the Rugveda two philosophies are noticed in the Indian sphere. The first is based on spiritual intellect (pradnya) and the second on logic (tarka). The Upanishad philosophy was generated later with the confluence of both these philosophies and culminated in the Vedanta which is based on spiritual intellect and which establishes the oneness of the soul and The Supreme Soul. It is from the pure philosophy based on logic that later Darshans like the Sankhya and Yoga which believed in the duality of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) and the Nyaya-Vaisheshik Darshans which professed multiplicity were written. Some authors of the Darshans segregated themselves from the Vedas and began to analyse the principles independently with logic. It is from this that the Syad philosophy of the Jains, the Shunya philosophy of the Buddhists, the philosophy of science (vidnyanvad) and Charvak’s Bhutatmavad philosophy came into existence.
The word shadadarshane is used to refer to the six Darshans (shad means six). However there is a difference in opinion of scholars regarding which Darshans are to be incorporated in these shadadarshans. It is not definite that the number of the Darshans is six. It is seen that one who felt attracted towards a particular philosophy considered it to be a Darshan. Madhavacharya in His holy text the Sarvadarshansangraha places the number of Darshan holy texts at sixteen. A separate text on the Charvak Darshan is not available. It is known by virtue of its reference made in other holy texts.
The history of the Indian Darshans can be divided into the following four periods of time.
- The Vedic period: This extends from the period of the Sanhitas to that of the Upanishads. During this period the basic doctrines of the Darshans were highlighted and discussed at length in the Brahmans and Aranyaks through the Sanhitas of the Rugveda and the Atharvaveda; with the Upanishads enhancing their growth further.
- The post-Vedic period: During this period the Darshans opposing the Vedas such as the Charvak, Jain and Buddhist Darshans came to be written.
- The period of the Sutras: The period from 450 to 250 B.C. is called the period of the Sutras during which the sages who wrote the Darshans expressed Their own different opinions incorporating the principles advocated by the Upanishads. The basic Sutras of the Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta Darshans were compiled during this very period. These Sutras are considered to be the basic holy texts of the respective Darshans. Along with the establishment of personal opinions the opinions of others are also countered. (It is during this period that some Smrutis too were written.)
- The period of commentaries (bhashya): This period is vast extending from 200 A.D. to 1450 A.D. During this period the Sutras proved difficult to comprehend as they were brief and in the form of a summary. After creation of such a state of affairs, commentaries, varttiks and commentaries (tika) on the Sutras of those Darshans were compiled. Shabar, Kumaril, Vatsyayan, Prashastapad, Shankar, Ramanuj, Vachaspati and Udayan are prominent commentators on the Darshans of this period. Not only did these exponents unravel the secrets of previous masters but also established their own concepts. The characteristic of the texts of this period is establishing one’s own philosophy by countering the opinions of the opposite school, based on reasoning. (It is during this very period that the other Smrutis were written.)
The Indian Darshans can be grossly classified into theist and atheist Darshans. The theist Darshans believe in the Vedas as the axiom while the atheist Darshans do not. From this point of view the Nyaya, Vaisheshik, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Vedanta are theist Darshans and Charvak, Jain and Buddhist are atheist Darshans.
In common language, believers of God are called theists and non-believers are called atheists. However this classification of Darshans is not based on this conventional meaning because though the Mimansa is a theist Darshan it refutes the existence of God. The Sankhya Darshan too does not consider the necessity of God and believes that the universe is created, sustained and destroyed by the interaction of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush).
Panini has defined a theist and an atheist respectively as a believer and a non-believer in the existence of life beyond the earth (Ashtadhyayi 4.4.60). However according to this definition the Jain and Buddhist Darshans too would have to be incorporated in the theist Darshans because though they do not believe in the Vedas and God they certainly believe in life beyond, in the other regions.
Some Darshans have been created on the basis of the Agam holy texts. One wonders whether to call them theist or atheist because though they lie outside the purview of the Vedas they accept certain concepts such as the doctrine of the Law of Karma, rebirth, the Final Liberation, etc. from the theist Darshans. There is an odd admixture of various Vedic and non-Vedic doctrines in the Panchratrasanhita, Shaivasanhita and Shaktasanhita holy texts. In the verse (shloka) “Trayi sankhyam yogaha pashupatimatam vaishnavmiti (त्रयी सांख्यं योग: पशुपतिमतं वैष्णवमिति ।)” from the Shivamahimnastotra there is a mention of a Vaishnav Darshan. Though this Darshan too is non-Vedic it believes in concepts such as rebirth advocated by the theist Darshans. This will make it clear that it is very difficult to classify a Darshan created from the Agam texts as purely theist or atheist.
Indian culture is based on the Nigam and Agam texts; that is one base is the Nigams (Vedas) and the other is the Agams (Tantras). Thus it would be wise and beneficial to explain the Darshans based on both these schools of thought.’(1)
The table below gives the names of the six Darshans and their authors. The noteworthy point here is that these theist Darshans were present several centuries before they were compiled as Sutras. So in reality the authors of the Sutras were not their prime exponents. Information in this regard is given here only in brief and is elaborated upon in ‘Science of Spirituality: Vol. 14 – Path of Knowledge (Dnyanyoga)’.
|1. Nyaya||Sage Gautam||4. Yoga||Maharshi Patanjali|
|2. Vaisheshik||Sage Kanad||5. Purva
|3. Sankhya||Sage Kapil||6. Vedanta
A. The Nyaya Darshan: ‘This is the main from among the six Darshans. Substantiating the precepts of nyaya was the topic of the Nyaya Darshan. “प्रमाणैरर्थपरीक्षण न्याय:” defines nyaya as examining the Absolute principle using various proofs (pramans) [Vatsyayan Nyayabhashya 1.1.1]. This has acquired the name of Nyaya Darshan because it contains the description of the form of proofs and the general nature of examination of the proofs.’(2)
B. The Vaisheshik Darshan: ‘It is also known as the Kanad or Aulukya Darshan. Both the names are derived from its pioneer author Kanad, the son of Sage Uluk. Since a substance called “vishesh” is conceptualised in this Darshan it is called the Vaisheshik Darshan.’ (3)
C. The Sankhya Darshan: ‘This is one out of the six Indian Darshans. This Darshan originated during the period of the Atharvaveda. Its concepts have left a deep imprint upon the ancient Kath, Shvetashvatar, Prashna and Maitrayani Upanishads. This Darshan came to occupy a firm position in Indian philosophy in the post-Upanishad period. Indian Vedic scholars created the Darshan philosophy merging the Sankhya and the Vedanta. The philosophy in holy texts such as the Mahabharat, Gita, Purans and Manusanhita is based on the confluence between the Sankhya and the Vedanta. The Buddhist and Jain schools of thought also emerged in the atmosphere of the Sankhya Darshan. Perhaps the Sankhya philosophy came into existence approximately around 800 B.C. and is based on pure rationalism.
The name Sankhya can be defined in different ways. This Darshan first and foremost enumerated the principles. The enumeration is also called sankhya (number). This Darshan was so named because it attributed importance to the number. Another definition of sankhya is the power of discrimination (vivek).’(4) ‘सत्त्वरजस्तमोगुणानां साम्यावस्था meaning the Great Illusion (Prakruti) is the state of equilibrium (unmanifest state) of the three components – sattva, raja and tama’. The Great Illusion is also known as the unmanifest (avyakta) and primordial principle (pradhan). According to the Sankhyas (followers of the Sankhya philosophy) the Great Illusion is the cause for all that is gross or subtle. It being very subtle can be realised through some external medium. However since it incorporates the above three components they also manifest in all objects in the universe. The Great Illusion is eternal, all pervading, gross and independent. It is manifest and has a form and assumes new forms from moment to moment.’(5) ‘Man gets trapped in the cycles of birth and death because of his ignorance about the Great Illusion and the Absolute Being (Purush). But when he realises that the Absolute Being (embodied soul) is distinct and independent of the Great Illusion he attains the Final Liberation (Moksha). Because of the importance attributed to this knowledge of discrimination, this Darshan was named the Sankhya. Since this Darshan believes in the two basic concepts of the Great Illusion (Prakruti) and the Absolute Being (Purush) it belongs to the dualistic philosophy. Sage Kapil the exponent of this Darshan is called the foremost author of the Darshans and is glorified as the foremost scholar because during the ancient times this Darshan influenced the thinking of the people to a great extent.’(6)
D. The Yoga Darshan: ‘This is one of the six Darshans. Since its doctrines resemble those of the Sankhya Darshan a great deal, it is always associated with the latter. The Sankhya Darshan believes in twenty-five principles which are also accepted by the Yoga Darshan. Only the twenty-sixth principle, that of God which is rejected by the Sankhya Darshan is accorded great importance in the Yoga Darshan. The science of Yoga is closely associated with the science of vital energies (pran). The vital energies are directly connected to the science of Yoga through pranayam. All the Upanishads have advocated victory over the mind and the vital energies as the means to attain the Final Liberation.’(7)
E. (Purva) Mimansa Darshan: ‘This too is one of the six Darshans. The word mimansa (मीमांसा) is derived from the root word man (मान्) meaning worship or opposition when suffixed with the dative case (pratyay) san (सन्). It is also called the Purvamimansa. The Mimansas are defined as the “decision of principles after contemplation”. Mimansas are thus those texts which decide the meaning of Vedic mantras by surpassing the contradictions from among mutually contradictory Vedic mantras. Kumarilbhatt says –
धर्माख्यं विषयं वक्तुं मीमांसाया: प्रयोजनम् ।
Meaning: Discussion of the topic of Righteousness (Dharma) is the very purpose of the Mimansas.
The Shrutis are divided into two categories – the stage of ritualistic worship (karmakand) and the stage of spiritual knowledge (dnyankand). The stage of ritualistic worship deals with explanation of the rituals and practice of sacrificial fires. The task of the stage of spiritual knowledge is to describe the forms of the embodied soul (jiva), the universe and God and their relationships with one another. These Darshans were primarily created to eliminate the apparently contradictory statements between them. Since ritualistic worship is the first part of the Vedas it is called the Purva (pre) Mimansa and since the stage of spiritual knowledge is the final stage of the Vedas, the Vedanta it is known as the Uttar (post) Mimansa.’(8)
F. (Uttar) Mimansa or the Vedanta Darshan: ‘It is also called the Vedanta, Uttarmimansa and the Shankardarshan. This Darshan is the jewel in the crown of the entire science of Spirituality. This Darshan envisages the ultimate culmination of the Darshanik school of thought and philosophy prior to Shankaracharya. In the Upanishads the Vedanta is referred to as the ultimate doctrine of the Shrutis. The Upanishads themselves were called the Vedanta. The definition of the Vedanta can be given as –
वेदशिरोभागो ब्रह्मप्रतिपादक उपनिषद्रूपो ग्रन्थविशेष: ।
अत्र उपनिषदर्थनिर्णायकत्वेन ब्रह्मसूत्राणामपि
वेदान्तत्वमुपचर्यते इतिविज्ञेयम् ।। – न्यायकोश
Meaning: The concluding part of the Vedas and the holy text in the form of the Upanishads which describes Brahman is known as the Vedanta. – Nyayakosh’(9)
The Brahmasutras too elucidate the meaning of the Upanishads and hence are included in the Vedanta. The Upanishads were referred to as the Vedanta because they unravelled the mysterious meaning of the Vedas. Sage Badarayan compiled the Brahmasutras with the motive of eliminating the contradictions and differences of opinion in the Upanishads and creating an unanimous opinion.
‘Worship and spiritual practice have to be founded on some Darshan. Only then do they derive some significance. Prior to the elucidation of the unmanifest form of The Lord done in the Vedas there was no Darshan about its manifestation. Sage Vyas wrote the Brahmasutras and accomplished that task. He gathered the spiritual doctrines in that holy text in the form of aphorisms (sutras). Shankaracharya, Nimbarkacharya, Ramanujacharya, Vallabhacharya, Madhvacharya and other authors of the Darshans have compiled their own sectarian Darshans based on the Brahmasutras.’ (10)
‘Another name for the Tantra texts are the Agams. They preach the modes of accomplishing the two pursuits of life (purusharthas) viz. experiencing worldly pleasures and attaining the Final Liberation. The texts describing the forms of actions (karma), spiritual practice and knowledge are the Nigams and those advocating the paths of spiritual practice are the Agams. This is their distinguishing feature. The Varahi Tantra states that creation, dissolution, offering made unto deities, all spiritual practices, purashcharan (recitation of mantras), the spiritual practice of six actions (shatakarma) and the Path of Meditation (Dhyanyoga) are the seven characteristics of the Agam texts. The Agams too have two classes – the Vedic and the non-Vedic. The Buddhist Agams are non-Vedic. Although the Shaiva, Shakta and Pancharatra (Vaishnav) Agams fall outside the purview of the Vedas they are still in concordance with them.
A. The Shaiva Agam (Shaivagam Darshan): The four sects namely Pashupat, Shaiva, Kalamukh and Kapalik are known as Maheshvar. Their original religious and theoretical texts of doctrines are called the Shaivagams. All the three schools of thought – duality (dvait), non-duality (advait) and duality-non-duality (dvaitadvait) are found in the Shaivagam. Information on these is provided in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 A – Shiva’.
B. The Shakta Darshan: These Agams state that the embodied soul doing spiritual practice (jivatma) is not distinct from The Supreme Soul (Paramatma). The Shakta Darshan chiefly advocates spiritual practice according to the philosophy of non-duality. Excluding kamachar (the kama code of conduct) all the six codes of conduct from the Shaktas are originally from the Vedas. More information on this is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 9 B – Divine Energy (Shakti)’.
C. The Pancharatra (Vaishnav) Darshan: The Pancharatra Agam is considered as the representative of all the other Vaishnav Agams. This Agam appears to have been prevalent during the era of the Upanishads. One has to accept that it is definitely older than the Mahabharat. All the Vaishnav Agams believe Lord Vishnu to be both the means as well as the end. This Agam lays emphasis on the principle of surrender. The basic doctrine of the Pancharatra Agam is described in the Shrutis. Description of the Pancharatra satra (ritual) is given in the Shatpath Brahman 13.6.1. The Vaishnav Agam gives the meaning of the word ratra as spiritual knowledge. This Agam is named Pancharatra (panch means five) because it advocates knowledge of five things – the supreme principle, worldly experiences, the Final Liberation, yoga and the material world. Since this Agam substantiates the oneness of the embodied soul and Brahman it does not accept the Vivartvad (philosophy of the Great Illusion) of the followers of non-duality (advait). It advocates the Parinamvad philosophy described by the Sankhya, Yoga and other Darshans.’(11) Information on this is given in ‘Science of Spirituality : Vol. 8 – Vishnu and His Forms (including Maruti and Datta)’.
‘Though the Buddhist and Jain Darshans do not accept the Vedic doctrines it would be improper to eliminate them from the hierarchy of the Upanishads. These are independent Darshans which impede the Upanishad hierarchy or philosophy. Their origin was related to the circumstances of the prevalent times. These Darshans came into existence to eliminate the great burden of rituals incorporated in the Vedic tradition and the various unrelated things that were also incorporated in it.’(12) The Buddhist ‘Agam’ literature is written in Pali while the Jain literature is in the Ardhamagadhi language. However the Darshans of both are in Sanskrut since it was the language of the scholars of those days.
The Buddhist Darshan: ‘Even Buddha accepted the doctrine that the Final Liberation cannot be attained without spiritual knowledge. All the same mere intellectual knowledge without purity of conduct does not liberate man. This very realisation led Him to emphasise on the path of conduct.
The Jain Darshan: The Jain Darshan also accords great importance to conduct. To resolve the problem of conduct the Jains created a separate philosophy of their own. The doctrine of this Darshan is that the truth is relative. The Jain teachers state that all the Darshans which set out in search of the truth finally found only a part of it, they did not realise the entire truth. Only this Darshan has been successful in describing the entire form of the ultimate truth both as theist and atheist philosophies. All other Darshans are incomplete; only this Darshan is complete. Since the object principle is present in various forms, the Jains called this doctrine of theirs the Anekant (multifold) philosophy. The path shown by all the Jain teachers is based on this philosophy.’(13)
The Charvak Darshan: This is an Indian philosophy advocating materialism. This text is spoken of in various holy texts and some holy texts have even criticised it. No separate text specific to this Darshan is available.
‘The verse (shloka) below advocates what one should do to attain Self-realisation.
श्रोतव्य: श्रुतिवाक्येभ्यो मन्तव्यश्चोपपत्तिभि: ।
मत्वा तु सततं ध्येय एते दर्शनहेतव: ।।
Meaning: One should hear a discourse about the soul from the Shrutis, should contemplate with the help of logical concepts and develop intense yearning by performing meditation, etc. according to the Path of Yoga. These are the three modes of realising the soul.
The Darshans have explained the above three means as follows.
- Listening to a discourse (shravan): The first means of attaining Self-realisation is understanding the nature of the soul through knowledge. The Shrutis elucidate the spiritual experiences of Self-realised knowers of Brahman which helps in this process.
- Contemplation (manan): This is the second means for Self-realisation. The Darshans have discussed their viewpoints and methods of realisation of the soul. The Praman mimansa being an extremely useful book for contemplation, it has been endowed tremendous importance in the Darshans.
- Intense yearning (nididhyasan): The third means of attaining Self-realisation is intense yearning (through meditation, concentration, etc.). It has been described in the Yoga Darshan. So long as the soul does not get experiences through meditation, concentration, etc. till then the first two means prove to be futile.’(14)