In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Six Systems/Darśanas

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews and Multi-System Studies

Hinduism Six Systems/Darśanas
Matthew R. Dasti
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0025


During the classical period of Indian philosophy (roughly 100–1800 CE), philosophical development generally occurs within the domain of specific schools or traditions of thought. Thinkers within individual schools then build upon and critique the work of their predecessors, while rebutting or adapting to the arguments of rival traditions. Such schools or traditions are called darśanas; darśana means “viewpoint” or “perspective,” and it is often translated as “philosophy,” “system,” or “school.” Indian thinkers thus speak of the nyāya-darśana, “the Nyāya school” or the bauddha-darśana, “the Buddhist school.” Specific darśanas are individuated according to factors like core doctrines, foundational texts, and leading teachers. What we may call mainstream Hindu philosophy (as opposed to Buddhists, Jains, and other Indian schools which reject the Veda and allied cultural traditions) eventually came to be identified with six specific darśanas: Nyāya (Logic), Vaiśeṣika (Atomism), Sāṁkhya (Enumeration), Yoga (Meditation), Mīmāṁsā (Vedic Exegesis), and Vedānta (Upaniṣadic Exegesis). These six are commonly classified in three groups of two: Nyāya/Vaiśeṣika, Sāṁkhya/Yoga, and Mīṁāṁsā/Vedānta. A few important qualifications must be added to this account of the six systems: First, although they cover much of classical Hindu thought, these six schools do not exhaust it; influential traditions like Kaśmiri Śaivism and the Grammarian school (Vyākaraṇa) do not fit cleanly into any of the six schools. Second, though the six are all “Hindu” and therefore may be said to possess a shared Vedic ancestry, this should not obscure the fact that they typically engaged in profound—and sometimes quite hostile—disagreement and debate over fundamental issues including epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of language, and soteriology. Third, one should keep in mind that the notion of six primary and discrete darśanas—and the specific list of schools that are said to comprise the six—is a late development. While, indeed, there were various schools from early on, the notion of six monolithic and completely independent traditions tracing back to antiquity is a misleading ahistorical abstraction.

General Overviews and Multi-System Studies

Studies which discuss multiple darśanas do so in one of two ways. They may be structured along the categories of specific darśanas, typically with a chapter or section devoted to each particular school. Chatterjee and Datta 1984, Dasgupta 2009, and Gupta 2012 are largely organized according to schools and serve as useful introductions to the darśanas generally. Agrawal 2002 is a translation of a medieval Indian textbook that examines the various schools—one per chapter—and will be useful for those who wish to learn from primary materials. The other form of such studies is topical, examining issues or debates as discussed by multiple schools. Ganeri 2001 tracks themes across schools, centered on the notion of reason. Mohanty 2000 is a taut study of trans-school developments on core philosophical topics. Krishna 2006 aims to refute some of the main lines of scholarly interpretation of Indian philosophy in the 20th century and may be considered as a dissenting voice to some well-received claims. Beyond these, Nicholson 2010 provides a historically directed approach to the idea of the six darśanas as constitutive of Hindu thought. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Bibliography is a regularly-updated bibliography of all work on Indian philosophy, categorized according to major schools of thought. Müller 1899 is a largely dated, but pioneering study of the six schools.

  • Agrawal, Madan Mohan, ed. and trans. Sarvadarśanasaṁgraha of Mādhavācarya. Delhi: Chaukhamba Sanskrit Pratishthan, 2002.

    A translation of the medieval Indian textbook Sarvadarśanasaṁgraha (Compendium of All Schools), a doxography which covers one darśana per chapter.

  • Chatterjee, Satischandra, and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. 8th ed. Kolkata: University of Calcutta Press, 1984.

    Though somewhat dated, and occasionally tinged by a certain neo-Vedāntic enthusiasm, still a very helpful, readable introduction to the six schools and their main non-Hindu competitors, which provides clear analysis of the main positions and arguments of each school.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

    A reprint of a groundbreaking study, originally published in 1922, of the major schools of Indian thought. Dated in some areas, but provides a clear, richly detailed engagement with each school.

  • Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies: Bibliography.

    Edited by Karl Potter, this database is an exhaustive bibliography of primary and secondary texts in Indian philosophy. Updated regularly.

  • Ganeri, Jonardon. Philosophy in Classical India: The Proper Work of Reason. London and New York: Routledge, 2001.

    An insightful study of philosophical developments within various schools, centered on the themes of reason and rationality. Informed by contemporary philosophy.

  • Gupta, Bina. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge, and Freedom. London and New York: Routledge, 2012.

    Largely organized along the lines of specific traditions, while providing analyses informed by contemporary academic philosophy. Contains select translations of texts as appendices, which allow readers engagement with samples from primary source materials.

  • Krishna, Daya. Indian Philosophy: A Counter Perspective. Revised and enlarged edition. Delhi: Sri Satguru, 2006.

    Reconsiders some of the main lines of scholarly interpretation of Indian philosophy in the 20th century. Especially noteworthy is a rebuttal of the view that Indian schools are chiefly concerned with soteriology and liberation.

  • Mohanty, J. N. Classical Indian Philosophy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2000.

    A concise examination of themes across different schools. Of best use to those with some familiarity with Indian thought.

  • Müller, Max. The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy. New York: Longmans, Green, 1899.

    Dated, but of historical interest, as it is one of the first modern treatments of the six systems of Hindu philosophy by a pioneering Indologist. Available in a number of public domain reprints.

  • Nicholson, Andrew J. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.

    An historical inquiry into the philosophical ancestors of “Hinduism” in classical Indian thought. Includes a substantial discussion of the history of “the six darśanas” as a doxographical category. Refutes a number of fossilized misconceptions about the history of the darśanas and Hindu philosophy more generally.

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