The Six Schools of Vedic Insight

Posted November 20, 2011 by in The Vedas

The Six Schools of Vedic Insight

Out of the Vedas arose six schools of philosophy, shad darshanas, which literally means six ways of seeing or insight. These were designed to show the logical, metaphysical and cosmological implications with the Vedic mantras. Classical yoga as expounded by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras is one of these six schools of Vedic philosophy. Patanjali himself was said to be in the line of the great yogi and Vedic sage Yajnavalkya, one of the seers of the Yajur Veda and Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, and Patanjali was said to be a teacher of the Sama Veda as well. Hiranyagarbha, a name for the sun god as the cosmic Creator, was the traditional founder of the Yoga system.

The Six Schools of Vedic Philosophy and Their Founders:

1. Nyaya — Logic School — Gautama

2. Vaisheshika — Atomic School — Kannada

3. Samkhya — Cosmic Principle School — Kapila

4. Yoga Yoga School — Hiranyagarbha

5. Purva Mimamsa — Ritualistic School — Jaimini

6. Uttara Mimamsa/Vedanta — Theological or Metaphysical School — Badarayana


Nyaya and Vaisheshika are schools of logical philosophy, similar to the system of Plato in Western thought. All Vedic schools, including Ayurveda and yoga, insist upon the development of strong rational skills, which comes about through training in Nyaya-Vaisheshika. Both the yogi and the ayurvedic doctor must support their conclusions with the proper logic, though this is made subordinate to a higher intuitive perception.

Samkhya provides the background philosophy and cosmology both for yoga and Ayurveda, as already noted earlier in the book. It has a scientific view, examining both internal and external reality. The Samkhya system outlines the tattvas or cosmic principles that yogic practice seeks to realize.

However, there is a slight difference between Samkhya and yoga. Samkhya is more concerned with knowledge of the tattvas (soul, mind, sense organs, motor organs, elements), while yoga is concerned more with purification of the corresponding tattvas within us. Yoga prepares us for the knowledge of Samkhya because only when a tattva is purified can we understand it. Yoga adds a theistic view to Samkhya and could be called a theistic form of Samkhya. Yet the approach of yoga is more practical and so more of a technology than a philosophy and can be used with various philosophical systems.

 Yoga occurs along with Samkhya as a common term in late Vedic texts, like the Bhagavad Gita of Sri Krishna, which is also said to be a yogic scripture. Yoga is commonly mentioned in the Upanishads, particularly the Prashna, Katha and Svestasvatara. References to Yoga can be found in all the Vedas going back to the Rig Veda itself. Many great modern yogis like Sri Aurobindo, Ganapati Muni or Paramahamsa Yogananda have explained the Vedic basis of yoga. Yet Yoga pervades all Vedic schools and is not limited to Yoga as one of the six schools only. Many other forms and branches of Yoga have existed through time.

The ritualistic school, Purva Mimamsa, emphasizes proper performance of rituals for both individual and social welfare, using special prayers and offerings to link us with the beneficent forces of the universe. These rituals are good for purifying body and mind and prepare us for meditation. This is the field of karma yoga or the yoga of service.

The term Vedanta is used specifically for the Uttara Mimamsa school, which is the most concerned of the six systems with the proper interpretation of Vedic texts (though all the six systems share this concern). Vedanta or the theological/metaphysical school discusses the nature of God, the soul, the Absolute and their relationship. There are several schools of Vedanta, which became in time the most important and extensive of the Vedic philosophical traditions.

Non-dualistic (advaita) Vedanta, taught by the great philosopher Shankara (seventh century), makes both God and the soul to be manifestations of the Absolute, which constitutes their real Self. It emphasizes jnana yoga or the yoga of knowledge, such as made popular today through the teachings of the modern sage of South India, Ramana Maharshi.

Dualistic (dvaita) Vedanta, like that taught by Madhva (fourteenth century), makes God and the soul to be different but eternally related. It teaches devotion to God and the subordination of the soul to His grace. It emphasizes bhakti yoga or the yoga of devotion. Many Vaishnavas (worshippers of Vishnu) follow this line, including the Krishna movement of Prabhupada.

An intermediate school, the qualified non-dualist Visishtadvaita school of Ramanuja (twelfth century), is also important. It is devotional and Vaishnava in nature like the dualistic school. It has a special connection to yoga. Krishnamacharya of Madras is the guru of many yoga teachers famous in the West, such as B.K.S. Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois or T.V. Deshikar, who was of this line.

Yoga is closely aligned with Vedanta of some sort. Most of the original yoga teachers who came to the West — Swami Vivekananda, Rama Tirtha, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Rama, or the many disciples of Swami Shivananda — taught Yoga-Vedanta of the advaitic line. Most ayurvedic teachers are also Vedantins.

Vedanta is close to Samkhya, and in later India took over much of the place of Samkhya, whose main teachings it adapted. Samkhya itself was originally a Vedic system, with its own commentaries on Vedantic texts. Yet there is a slight difference between Vedanta, Samkhya and Yoga.

Samkhya and Vedanta are both concerned with knowledge of the tattvas. However, Samkhya is concerned with knowledge of all the tattvas leading to the purusha or individual soul. Vedanta, particularly in the advaitic school, is aimed mainly at paramatman (the supreme soul) and Brahman (the absolute), the highest tattva, and has less concern with the lower tattvas. Devotional Vedantic schools are theological in nature and concerned mainly with Ishvara tattva or the Creator, which is not a separate tattva in classical Samkhya.

To use Sanskrit terms: Samkhya is concerned with tattva vichara or inquiry into the nature of the tattvas. Advaita Vedanta involves Atma tattva vichara, inquiry into the Self or the highest tattva. Dualistic Vedanta’s main concern is Ishvara tattva vichara, inquiry into the nature of God and our relationship with Him (or Her, as the divine is not limited to the masculine gender in Hindu thought).

Yoga is concerned with tattva shuddhi, which means not only purification of the tattvas but research into them. Yoga, in purifying the tattvas, allows for inquiry into them to proceed, which cannot occur when mind and body are in an impure condition. The proper practice of yoga in all of its eight limbs up to samadhi, therefore, provides us the aptitude to pursue Samkhya and Vedanta. For this reason many Vedantins require that their students first gain proficiency in yoga so that they have the right training to proceed on their knowledge quest.

Yet yoga in some form is part of all six schools, which are integral parts of the same Vedic darshana or way of seeing. Yoga provides the practical foundation for the insights that the other systems seek to develop — preparing body, prana and mind to become tools of inner inquiry. In this regard yoga is probably the most universal of the six systems and is the main link between them. Ayurveda provides the foundation of right living for yoga and for all the six systems, whose world view and practices it shares, so it also is common to all the six systems.

Yoga and Ayurveda, at least to some degree, were adopted by non-Vedic systems in India as well. Buddhist, Jain and even Sufi teachers have used various insights and methods of Ayurveda and yoga. Many connections are through tantra, which employs aspects of yoga and Ayurveda and has Hindu and Buddhist forms. Tibetan medicine, for example, is predominantly ayurvedic.


The following two tabs change content below.

Acharya Pandit Vamadev Shastri ( David Frawley) is an American Hindu author, publishing on topics such as Hinduism, Yoga and Ayurveda. David Frawley is an expert in ayurveda, Vedic astrology, yoga, and tantra, all of which, he says, have their basis in Vedanta. Indeed it is the interdisciplinary approach to Vedanta that he sees as his particular contribution in demystifying eastern spirituality. David Frawley has written a number of books on all these disciplines, including Yoga and Vedanta, and Ayurveda and the Mind. His Vedic translations and historical studies on ancient India have received much acclaim, as have his journalistic works on modern India. Pandit Vamadeva Shastri was also the founder and the first president of the American Council of Vedic Astrology from 1993-2003. He is also a Patron Founder of the British Association of Vedic Astrology.

Latest posts by Vamadev Shastri (see all)



One Comment


    great work sir

Leave a Response