Sad-Darshan: Of the six orthodox philosophies of Vedic tradition, only the Vedānta of Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa is free of error.
Srimad Bhagavatam 10.87.25
janim asataḥ sato mṛtim utātmani ye ca bhidāṁ vipaṇam ṛtaṁ smaranty upadiśanti ta ārupitaiḥ
tri-guṇa-mayaḥ pumān iti bhidā yad abodha-kṛtā tvayi na tataḥ paratra sa bhaved avabodha-rase
Supposed authorities who declare that matter is the origin of existence, that the permanent qualities of the soul can be destroyed, that the self is compounded of separate aspects of spirit and matter, or that material transactions constitute reality — all such authorities base their teachings on mistaken ideas that hide the truth. The dualistic conception that the living entity is produced from the three modes of nature is simply a product of ignorance. Such a conception has no real basis in You, for You are transcendental to all illusion and always enjoy perfect, total awareness.
The true position of the Supreme Personality is a sublime mystery, as is also the dependent position of the jīvasoul. Most thinkers are mistaken in one way or another about these truths, since there are countless varieties of false designation that can cover the soul and create illusion. Foolish conditioned souls submit to obvious delusions, but the illusory power of Māyā can easily subvert the intelligence of even the most sophisticated philosophers and mystics. Thus there are always divergent schools of thought propounding conflicting theories concerning basic principles of truth.
In traditional Indian philosophy, the followers of Vaiśeṣika, Nyāya, Sāṅkhya, Yoga and Mīmāṁsā philosophies all have their own erroneous ideas, which the personified Vedas point out in this prayer. The Vaiśeṣikas say that the visible universe is created from an original stock of atoms (janim asataḥ). As Kaṇāda Ṛṣi’s Vaiśeṣika-sūtras(7.1.20) state, nityaṁ parimaṇḍalam: “That which is of the smallest size, the atom, is eternal.” Kaṇāda and his followers also postulate eternality for other, nonatomic entities, including the souls who become embodied, and even a Supreme Soul. But in Vaiśeṣika cosmology the souls and the Supersoul play only token roles in the atomic production of the universe. Śrīla Kṛṣṇa-dvaipāyana Vedavyāsa criticizes this position in his Vedānta-sūtras(2.2.12): ubhayathāpi na karmātas tad-abhāvaḥ. According to this sūtra, one cannot claim that, at the time of creation, atoms first combine together because they are impelled by some karmic impulse adhering in the atoms themselves, since atoms by themselves, in their primeval state before combining into complex objects, have no ethical responsibility that might lead them to acquire pious and sinful reactions. Nor can the initial combination of atoms be explained as a result of the residual karma of the living entities who lie dormant prior to creation, since these reactions are each jīva’s own and cannot be transferred from them even to other jīvas, what to speak of inert atoms.
Alternatively, the phrase janim asataḥ can be taken to allude to the Yoga philosophy of Patañjali Ṛṣi, inasmuch as his Yoga-sūtras teach one how to achieve the transcendental status of Brahmanhood by a mechanical process of exercise and meditation. Patañjali’s yoga method is here called asat because it ignores the essential aspect of devotion — surrender to the will of the Supreme Person. As Lord Kṛṣṇa states in Bhagavad-gītā (17.28):
aśraddhayā hutaṁ dattaṁ
tapas taptaṁ kṛtaṁ ca yat
asad ity ucyate pārtha
na ca tat pretya no iha
“Anything done as sacrifice, charity or penance without faith in the Supreme, O son of Pṛthā, is impermanent. It is called asat and is useless both in this life and in the next.”
The Yoga-sūtras acknowledge the Personality of Godhead in an oblique way, but only as a helper whom the advancing yogī can utilize. Īśvara-praṇidhānād vā: “Devotional meditation on God is yet another means of achieving concentration.” (Yoga-sūtra 1.23) In contrast, Bādarāyaṇa Vedavyāsa’s philosophy of Vedānta emphasizes devotional service not only as the primary means to liberation but also as identical with liberation itself. Ā-prāyaṇāt tatrāpi hi dṛṣṭam: “Worship of the Lord continues up to the point of liberation, and indeed goes on in the liberated state also, as the Vedas reveal.” (Vedānta-sūtra 4.1.12)
Gautama Ṛṣi, in his Nyāya-sutras, proposes that one can attain liberation by negating both illusion and unhappiness: duḥkha-janma-pravṛtti-doṣa-mithyā-jñānānām uttarottarāpāye tad-anantarābhāvād apavargaḥ. “By successively dispelling false conceptions, bad character, entangling action, rebirth and misery — the disappearance of one of these allowing the disappearance of the next — one can achieve final liberation.” (Nyāya-sutra 1.1.2) But since Nyāya philosophers believe that awareness is not an essential quality of the soul, they teach that a liberated soul has no consciousness. The Nyāya idea of liberation thus puts the soul in the condition of a dead stone. This attempt by the Nyāya philosophers to kill the soul’s innate consciousness is here called sato mṛtim by the personified Vedas. But the Vedānta-sūtra (2.3.17) unequivocally states, jño ’ta eva: “The jīva soul is always a knower.”
Although the soul is in truth both conscious and active, the proponents of Sāṅkhya philosophy wrongly separate these two functions of the living force (ātmani ye ca bhidām), ascribing consciousness to the soul (puruṣa) and activity to material nature (prakṛti). According to the Sāṅkhya-kārikā (19-20):
tasmāc ca viparyāsāt
siddhaṁ sākṣitvaṁ puruṣasya
draṣṭṛtvam akartṛ-bhāvaś ca
“Thus, since the apparent differences between puruṣas are only superficial (being due to the various modes of nature that cover them), the puruṣa’s true status is proven to be that of a witness, characterized by his separateness, his passive indifference, his status of being an observer, and his inactivity.”
acetanaṁ cetanā-vad iva liṅgam
guṇa-kartṛtve ’pi tathā
karteva bhavaty udāsīnaḥ
“Thus, by contact with the soul, the unconscious subtle body seems to be conscious, while the soul appears to be the doer although he is aloof from the activity of nature’s modes.”
Śrīla Vyāsadeva refutes this idea in the section of the Vedānta-sūtra (2.3.31-39) that begins, kartā śāstrārtha-vattvāt: “The jīva soul must be a performer of actions, because the injunctions of scripture must have some purpose.” Ācārya Baladeva Vidyābhūṣaṇa, in his Govinda-bhāṣya, explains: “The jīva, not the modes of nature, is the doer. Why? Because the injunctions of scripture must have some purpose (śāstrārtha-vattvāt). For example, such scriptural injunctions as svarga-kāmo yajeta (‘One who desires to attain to heaven should perform ritual sacrifice’) and ātmānam eva lokam upāsīta (Bṛhad-āraṇyaka Upaniṣad 1.4.15: ‘One should worship with the aim of attaining the spiritual kingdom’) are meaningful only if a conscious doer exists. If the modes of nature were the doer, these statements would serve no purpose. After all, scriptural injunctions engage the living entity in performing prescribed actions by convincing him that he can act to bring about certain enjoyable results. Such a mentality cannot be aroused in the inert modes of nature.”
Jaimini Ṛṣi, in his Pūrva-mīmāṁsā-sūtras, presents material work and its results as the whole of reality (vipaṇam ṛtam). He and later proponents of Karma-mīmāṁsā philosophy teach that material existence is endless — that there is no liberation. For them the cycle of karma is perpetual, and the best one can aim for is higher birth among the demigods. Therefore, they say, the whole purpose of the Vedas is to engage human beings in rituals for creating good karma, and consequently the mature soul’s prime responsibility is to ascertain the exact meaning of theVedas’ sacrificial injunctions and to execute them. Codanā-lakṣaṇo ’rtho dharmaḥ: “Duty is that which is indicated by the injunctions of the Vedas.” (Pūrva-mīmāṁsā-sūtra 1.1.2)
The Vedānta-sūtra, however — especially in the Fourth Chapter, which deals with life’s ultimate goal — elaborately describes the soul’s potential for achieving liberation from birth and death, while it subordinates ritual sacrifice to the role of helping one become qualified to receive spiritual knowledge. As stated there (Vedānta-sūtra4.1.16), agnihotrādi tu tat-kāryāyaiva tad-darśanāt: “The Agnihotra and other Vedic sacrifices are meant only for producing knowledge, as the statements of the Vedas show.” And the very last words of the Vedānta-sūtra (4.4.22) proclaim, anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt: “The liberated soul never returns to this world, as promised by the revealed scripture.”
Thus the fallacious conclusions of the speculative philosophers prove that even great scholars and sages are often bewildered by the misuse of their own God-given intelligence. As the Kaṭha Upaniṣad (1.2.5) says:
avidyāyām antare vartamānāḥ
svayaṁ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitam-manyamānāḥ
jaṅghanyamānāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā
andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ
“Caught in the grip of ignorance, self-proclaimed experts consider themselves learned authorities. They wander about this world befooled, like the blind leading the blind.”
Of the six orthodox philosophies of Vedic tradition — Sāṅkhya, Yoga, Nyāya, Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṁsā and Vedānta — only the Vedānta of Bādarāyaṇa Vyāsa is free of error, and even that only as properly explained by the bona fide Vaiṣṇava ācāryas. Each of the six schools, nonetheless, makes some practical contribution to Vedic education: atheistic Sāṅkhya explains the evolution of natural elements from subtle to gross, Patañjali’s yoga describes the eightfold method of meditation, Nyāya sets forth the techniques of logic, Vaiśeṣika considers the basic metaphysical categories of reality, and Mīmāṁsā establishes the standard tools of scriptural interpretation. Apart from these six, there are also the more deviant philosophies of the Buddhists, Jains and Cārvākas, whose theories of voidism and materialism deny the spiritual integrity of the eternal soul.
Ultimately, the only perfectly reliable source of knowledge is God Himself. The Personality of Godhead isavabodha-rasa, the infinite reservoir of unfailing vision. To those who depend on Him with absolute conviction, He grants the divine eye of knowledge. Others, following their own speculative theories, must grope for the truth through the obscuring curtain of Māyā. Śrīla Śrīdhara Svāmī prays:
bhrāmyan-manda-mater amanda-mahimaṁs tvad-jñāna-vartmāsphuṭam
śrīman mādhava vāmana tri-nayana śrī-śaṅkara śrī-pate
govindeti mudā vadan madhu-pate muktaḥ kadā syām aham
“For the bewildered soul wandering within the darkness of those exalted philosophies promoted by the harsh methods of false logic, the path of true knowledge of You, O Lord of magnificent glory, remains invisible. O Lord of Madhu, husband of the goddess of fortune, when will I become liberated by joyfully chanting Your names — Mādhava, Vāmana, Trinayana, Śrī Śaṅkara, Śrīpati and Govinda?”
♥ Hare Krishna ♥