Philosophical Schools of Ancient India

According to the ancient thinkers all the men after birth strive to attain four goals in their life. These four goals were Dharma (basic principle of living), Artha (economic resources), Kama (physical pleasure) and Moksha (salvation). Actually, in real sense all these four goals were so designed as to attain Moksha.

Moksha was the ultimate goal, which everybody wants to achieve in their lives. To attain Moksha or Salvation, the ancient thinkers provided three paths Jnana, Bhakti or Karma. People according to their choice were/are following one of these three paths. So, in the ancient India, six Orthodox Philosophical Schools developed. These are Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa, Yoga and Vedanta.

Orthodox Philosophical Schools
Orthodox Philosophical Schools

Philosophical Schools


Ardhranarishwara: Fusion of Prakriti and Purusha
Ardhranarishwara: Fusion of Prakriti and Purusha

Samkhya literally means ‘count’. Prakriti or Nature and Purusha or Spirit are the basic elements of this philosophical school. Kapil Muni was the propounder of this philosophy. This is a dualistic theory, which states that the both Prakriti and Purusha contribute to creating the world.

According to Samkhya Philosophy, any person can attain Moksha by Jnana Marga (Knowledge Path). This knowledge can be acquired through Perception (Pratyaksha), Inference (Anumana) and Hearing (Shabda). According to Samkhya philosophy, Prakriti is made of the triad of fundamental attributes (Gunas), Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Purush is pure consciousness or the spiritual element.

Samkhya Philosophy
Samkhya Philosophy


Yoga literally means ‘addition’. It is also a dualistic theory. It was propounded by the Maharshi Patanjali (very famous brand nowadays 😉 ). According to this school Atma and Parmatmaare two different identities. So, anyone who does meditation and physical exercises can combine these two to attain salvation.

This sometimes also called as the applied Samkhya. It devised a systematic method of bringing about the release of Purusha (spiritual growth) from Prakriti (nature). Patanjali also gave many Asana (postures) and techniques of Pranayama (breathing exercises).

Yoga Philosophical School
Yoga Philosophical School

In Yoga, we actually divert our bodily energy into an upward direction. So, when the energy flows upward one can have a stable mindset. This state of mental and physical stability in every circumstance is called Sthitprajna in Shrimad Bhagwat Geeta.


Nyaya is one of the Orthodox Philosophical Schools, propounded by the Gautam Muni. This school considers God as a creator who is free from Law of Karma. According to Nyaya philosophy, salvation can be attained through the Knowledge. So, Nyaya makes a desired detailed study of the sources of Knowledge. In this school, focus laid on the use of logics.

Nyaya Philosophy by Gautam Muni
Nyaya Philosophy by Gautam Muni


This is also one of the Orthodox Philosophical Schools of ancient India. It was propounded by the Kanâada. Kanâada gave the atom theory. He said that when the atoms of five basic elements Earth, Fire, Water, Air and Sky combine they gave birth to the new things. So, as the creation of world begins.

Law of basic Physics by Kanaada
Law of basic Physics by Kanâada

According to the Kanâada, the whole world is made up of atoms. So, Vaisheshika is the basis for the physics in the India or World.


Mimamsa literally means the art of reasoning and interpretation. Jaimini gave birth to this philosophical school. This school gave emphasis on the Vedic rituals. To attain salvation, this school gave very much importance to the rituals and traditions.

According to the Mimamsa philosophy, Vedas contain the eternal truth. Though it is also true that through Mimamsa, Brahmanas wanted to establish their ritual authority. To preserve the Brahmanical character of the society, after the coming of new religions Buddhism and Jainism, it became necessary for brahmana to revive the importance of Vedas and Vedic Samhitas.

The principal objective of this philosophy is to acquire heaven and salvation. A person will enjoy the bliss of heaven till his accumulated virtues exhausted. As soon as his virtues expires he will come back to the earth. Whereas when a person attains salvation, he actually end the cycle of death and birth in the world.

Uttara Mimamsa or Vedanta

Badarayana and Shankaracharya propounded the philosophy of Vedanta. It states that Atma and Paramatma are the same. According to the Shankaracharya, one can attain salvation through acquiring knowledge ie Jnana Marga. But the Ramanuja gave a different way to achieve salvation and it was Bhakti Marga or path of devotion to the God.

According to the Vedanta philosophy, Paramatma is the ultimate reality and the whole world is an illusion (Maya). The philosophical thinking of the Vedanta is based in the Prasthanatrayi ie Upanishads, Bhagwat Geeta and Brahmasutra.

Other Philosophical Schools


Ajeta Keshakambalim, who was contemporary of the Buddha gave the philosophy of complete Materialism. He preached his followers that everything ended with the death. So, there is no further life after the death. So, he asked people to enjoy all the pleasures of the world before they die. He also preached that there is no sin in the killing.


The Ajivikas were Shudra Sannyasins. It was a sect. It was also contemporary to Buddha and Mahaveer Swami. The founder of this sect was Nand Vachcha. But it reaches to the people at the time of Makhali Ghosal. So, sometimes Makhali Ghosal is said as the founder of Ajivikas sect.

It enjoyed popularity between the 5th and 3rd Centuries BCE. Just like Buddhism and Jainism, this sect also stood for the consistent and radical criticism of Brahmanism, caste structure and the traditional interpretation of Karma.


Actually, when the people do not understand what actually religion is for, then all the evils of the society get their wings. When the religion becomes the cause of suppression for certain people, it is compulsory to have introspection. So, it was the only reason for the coming of Buddhism, Jainism and Ajivikism.

Actually, Dharma remains same and all these religions have the same basic Dharma. But when the preachers do not understand the exact difference between Dharma and Religion, society faces troubles. 

As we know in the Later Vedic Period, the condition of Women and Shudras became weary. So, it was the time for the reformist movement and leaders like Gautama Buddha, Mahaveer Swami and Makhali Ghosal etc took the responsibility for it.


Charvak or Brihaspati believed in complete materialism. So, Charvak founded a new philosophy of Lokayat. It signifies a person who intends to eat, drink and be merry (the root Charv means to eat). He said that the aim of human life should be to enjoy all the material pleasures of life. One of the famous quotes of Charvak is,

यावज्जीवेत्सुखं जीवेत् ऋणं कृत्वा घृतं पिबेत् ।

भस्मीभूतस्य देहस्य पुनरागमनं कुतः ।।

meaning  “As long as you are alive enjoy your life. You can incur heavy debt, but lead a lavish life. Is your body, once burnt on the pyre, going to come back?”


So, here we understand that Indian Philosophical Schools contains both the aspects of living. One is Materialistic Growth and another one is Spiritualistic Growth. But, when it was seen in a broader perspective it was concluded that the material growth without exploitation of other Atma/Paramatma can be preferable.

So, we have adopted a middle path to attain salvation. This middle path was to first attain spiritual growth and then acquire material things to survive.

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