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By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli

Darsanas or metaphysical worldviews form the basis of the diverse schools of Indian spiritual philosophy. The worldviews(Darsanas), and the traditions based on these (sampradayas) together constitute the system of Indian spirituality and religion, their synthesis and practice.

The word darsana literally means vision. In the context of spiritual philosophy darsana means a worldvision, a view or window to the true nature of the world. Traditionally darsana is defined as one that envisions the true nature of of the world (samsara), the cause of binding (mula karana) and the path to liberation of self (nishreyasa). The purpose of darsana is to show the path to liberation, and the source of binding. The knowledge of self (jiva), phenomenal world (jagat) and absolute nature of the world (brahman) and the consciousness that relates these, is the basis for knowing the nature of binding and liberation.

There are several darsanas that describe the nature of world, self and absolute and their relation in diverse ways. While they all differ in their definitions of these three elements, each darsana defines its own framework within which its definitions are valid.

Major Darsanas

Sayana Madhavacarya created a compilation of sixteen darsanas called the Sarva Darsana Sangraha. They are as follows:

  1. Gautama Darsana (Nyaya)
  2. Kanada Darsana (Vaiseshika)
  3. Kapila Darsana (Sankhya)
  4. Patanjala (Yoga darsana)
  5. Jaimini darsana (Purva Mimamsa)
  6. Sankara Darsana (Advaita Vedanta)
  7. Ramanuja Darsana (Visistadvaita)
  8. Purna Prajna Darsana (Dvaita of Madhvacarya)
  9. Panineeya Darsana (Vyakarana)
  10. Nakuleesa Pasupata
  11. Saiva Darsana
  12. Rasesvara Darsana
  13. Pratyabhijnana Darsana
  14. Bauddha Darsana
  15. Arhata Darsana (Jaina)
  16. Carvaka/Nastika Darsana

Of these, Pasupata of Nakuleesa, Saiva, Rasesvara and Pratyabhijnana are Saiva Darsanas. Purna Prajna and Ramanuja darsanas are Vaishnava Darsanas. There are other Vaishnava darsanas too, such as the Suddhadvaita of Vallabhacarya (which is also called Pushti marga), Bhedabheda (Gaudiya Vaishnava), Dvaitadvaita of Nimbarkacarya. These philosophies are closely knit with religious practices and theology.

Some of the Darsanas like Vaiseshika or Vyakarana for instance, are spiritual philosophies knit with sastras. They contain a worldview, and how the sastra explains the phenomenal world, along with the definition of how jiva is bound in the phenomenal world and what causes liberation. While Vaiseshika enumerates the world in terms of viseshas or attributes, vyakarana being sabda sastra sees the world as a manifestation of sound-energy and gives ways to refine words to make the sacrifice (yajna) of life fruitful. Vyakarana is the science of purifying word and word brings understanding of the world.

Vedanta darsana is further interpreted according to the lights of seers. And they have become different darsanas over time. The famous ones are Advaita Vedanta, Visistadvaita and Dvaita. There are many other “darsanas”, such as Dvaitadvaita, Bhedabheda, Suddhadvaita, Nakuleesa Pasupata, Pratyabhijna and so on. Advaita Vedanta holds six pramanas and is purely a Vedanta (having spiritual philosophy) darsana. It holds vivarta vada. Dvaita and Visistadvaita accept three pramanas, pratyaksha, anumana and sabda (Sruti). Visistadvaita holds parinama vada. Dvaita in particular is called Tatva-vada, which deals with the Tatvas of the universe. There are Saiva schools such as Saiva, which also hold dvaita or dualism.

Salient Features of Darsanas

Most darsanas have these elements in common: They hold that Atman/Self is distinct from manas (mind), buddhi (intellect) and prakriti (nature). Atman is eternal and free, and liberation is to realize this clearly and not to mistake it for something else.

The darshanas differ in the technicalities like how binding comes, and the methods and meaning of liberation. They are not unanimous in accepting Veda as the highest authority on Truth. They are not unanimous in accepting the existence and nature of Iswara or a unitary Godhead.

Many of the darsanas have developed along with spiritual philosophy, elaborate methods and practices that help the individual’s liberation. The methods are based on the theory of consciousness (theory of consciousness is discussed in the Consciousness Studies article). Yoga is a good example of this. They all lay emphasis on dharmic life, devotion, turning mind inwards and meditation on the ultimate reality.

Some spiritual philosophies have not developed separately but closely related to theology and religious practices, the way Visistadvaita developed hand in hand with Sri Vaishnava. They are almost inseparable. The same holds with Saiva Darsanas like Pasupata and Saiva. Worship of deity, theology of the deity, paths to salvation, how God manifests in the phenomenal world, are contained in these in addition to a Vedantic worldview.


Each darsana specifies the pramanas it accepts. Pramana is a source of knowledge, as well as a reference for validation of knowledge. The main pramanas are pratyaksha (perception), anumana (inference), upamana (analogy), ardhapatti (presumption), anupalabdi (non-apprehension) and sabda (scriptural source/authority). All the six pramanas are accepted by both Mimamsa Darsanas. Nyaya accepts four of them, Vaiseshika two, Sankhya three, Yoga three.

Prathyaksha and Sabda are the two common pramanas for all the canonical Vedic darsanas with the exception of Vaiseshika. Acceptance of sabda pramana or axiomatic knowledge (Sruti and Smriti to the extent that it conforms with Sruti constitute Sabda pramana) makes a darsana Astika/Vaidika. Nonacceptance of the same makes a darsana Nastika.

Bauddha and Jaina accept two pramanas, pratyaksha and anumana. Carvaka accepts pratyaksha alone. They do not accept Veda pramanya and this is the reason that they are not counted as Vedic darsanas.

The acceptance of pramanas can be explicit or implicit. Though Vaiseshika lists only Pratyaksha and Anumana as its pramanas, it is still treated as an Astika Darsana because it does not reject Veda pramana, and recognizes Vedic knowledge and methods as the means to knowledge and liberation, and upholds the Vedic Dharma of Varna and Ashrama. Thus its acknowledgment of Veda is implicit and not explicit. This is unlike the Nastika darsanas that explicitly reject Veda pramana as well as Varna-Ashrama dharma. Similarly Sankhya does not list analogy, but applies it as part of logical inference making it an implicit acknowledgment.

The Absolute

Absolute or Brahman, the immutable eternal existence is the ultimate and independent reality. Everything else, the individual self and the phenomenal world is a reality dependent on and relative to the absolute.

The Universe

Each darsana explains the origin of the world, its creation and transformation.

There are two kinds of causes, nimitta (acting/nominal) and upadana (substantive). For instance when a pot is made, the potter is nimitta and clay is the upadana karana.

There are three different approaches that these darsanas follow: arambha vada, parinama vada and vivarta vada. Roughly, Arambha vada holds that the universe is created. Parinama vada holds that the universe is not created or destroyed but it only transforms. Particularly, it is transformation of the manifesting form of the immutable absolute. There are many theories subscribed to by the different worldviews, but one of the famous analogies given for the creation is the way a spider weaves its abode, how the thread comes from inside it without transforming the spider itself. This is the way the world is formed out of absolute and dissolves in it, without transforming it.

Vivarta vada holds that the Universe as it appears is but because of the limitation of observer and it appears so, because of Maya, the indescribable principle of manifestation from the unmanifest. What the world actually is, is Brahman and once that is realized the illusion is no more there (meaning it puts an end to the sense-perception of universe and not an end to the universe as such).

The Individual Self

The darsanas describe self as sentient. However they differ in the attributes of self in the bound and liberated states. The vivarta school maintains that self has no attributes and is eternally free, while binding and liberation are for the being with upadhis or witnessing faculties of consciousness. Also, the individual self is undifferentiated from the absolute. The parinama schools on the other hand maintain that self has attributes in the bound state and rids of those in the liberated state. Some of them hold that the self is unitary and some of them hold the multiplicity of self. Some of the parinama schools hold that the self in the liberated state is undifferentiated from absolute/brahman, and some hold that the liberated beings are multiple and different from the absolute.

Binding and Liberation

Each darsana defines the bound and liberated states of self, and the nature of self in those states. They explain the cause for the experiences of beings in the phenomenal world, how they bring about binding and what is the path to liberation.

The Six Darsanas

There are six Darsanas that treat Veda as authority (together called shad-darsanas or the "six darsanas"). They are Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa. Uttara Mimamsa is also called Vedanta Darsana.

The six darsanas can be grouped into three pairs – Nyaya-Vaiseshika, Sankhya-Yoga, Purvottara Mimamsa. Nyaya and Vaiseshika are called arambha vada. Sankhya and Yoga are called parinama vada. Purva and Uttara Mimamsa discuss philosophy of Veda. Purva Mimamsa discusses the philosophy of karma kanda and Uttara Mimamsa discusses the spiritual philosophy (esp. Upanishads). Nyaya, Yoga and Uttara Mimamsa say that there is an Isvara the Lord of All souls. The other three are Nireeswara vaadas. They talk of Atman, but not of Paramatman. Nireeswara vaada is not necessarily nastika vaada and these darsanas do lay an equal amount of stress on Dharma and that is the reason they are called aastika darsanas and not because they accept a Parabrahman different from individual atman. They differ in their basic tenets like Isvara.

All these darsanas hold that atman is distinct from manas(mind), buddhi (intellect) and prakriti (nature) and that binding is because of the contact of these with the Purusha. Once the contact is rid, that is liberation. They differ in which of these causes binding, what causes creation and whether creation is an appearance or true in a given state. They also differ in whether atman is identical with Brahman or not. Differentiating these and understanding the uniformity of these is very important both in understanding Hinduism as well as differentiating Hindu from non-Hindu ideology.


Text Vaiseshika darsana
Author Kanada
Bhashya kaara Prasasta Pada
Vartika kaara Jagadidh Bhattacary.

It has 10 chapters, 20 ahnikas, 370 sutras. It accepts 2 pramanas (criteria for verifiability) and 7 padarthas. Vaiseshika is one of the earliest darsanas hypothesised. According to it, atma-manas contact causes the nine Gunas – buddhi, sukha, dukha, iccha, dvesha, prayatna, dharma, adharma, sanskara. This is the samsara for atman. Realising this and separating mind from atman so that the Gunas get dissolved and do not arise again, is Moksha. This is possible through satkarma, sravana, manana and so on. According to Vaiseshika darsana, Guna-nasha forever is moksha.


Text Nyaya darsana
Author Gotama
Bhashya kaara Vatsayana
Vartika kaara Udyota kaara

It has 5 chapters, 10 ahnikas and 528 sutras. It accepts 4 pramanas and 16 padarthas.

According to Nyaya, midhya jnana (nescience) causes sansara and tatva jnana (gnosis) brings liberation. Destroying misery (dukha) forever is Moksha. Jiva is different from Isvara. Isvara is a nominal (nimitta karana) cause for creation, the substantial cause of creation is paramaanus (upadana karana). Jivas are multiple because of multiple bodies (sareera). But Iswara is one. Iswara created the Veda.

It is called Nyaya because it is constituted of five “laws” – Pratijna, Hetu, Udaharana, Upanaya, Nigamana. Nyaya includes formal logic and modes of scientific debate. It explains the logical constructs like antecedent and laws of implying. It expounds various modes of scientific debate and methods for debate, like tarka, vitanda, chala, jalpa and so on.


Text Sankhya darsana, Sankhya karikas
Author Narayana avatara Kapila gave 25 sutras and Vaiswanara avatara Kapila gave 6 chapters. Disciple line of the latter Kapila – Asuri, Panca Sikhacarya, Iswara Krishna. Iswara Krishna wrote the Sankhya Karikas with 70 aryavrittas.
Bhashya Gauda pada
Vartika Vijnana Bhikshu

It accepts 3 pramanas and 25 tatvas (principles).

Sankhya too, is an old school. It says that binding is because of mistaking Prakriti for Purusha. Realising their difference is liberation. As such, binding and liberation are for the Prakriti and not Purusha. They appear on the Purusha because of contact with Prakriti. Nyaya recognizes Iswara. The world is true. Purusha is asanga and chidrupa, not touched by creation or action. He is Jnana rupa, but not Jnanasraya. That is, Purusha is himself knowledge and not seen as a result of knowledge. In liberated state Purusha is neither jada nor ananda rupa. Multiple Purushas exist. There is no single Iswara, and Prakriti Herself does creation. Sukha, dukha and moha are caused by the three gunas (satva, rajas, tamas).


Text Yoga sutras
Author Patanjali
Bhashya Badarayana;
Vartika Vijnana Bhikshu

It has 4 padas and 194 sutras. It accepts 3 pramanas and 25 tatvas.

According to Yoga, mistaking buddhi for Purusha causes binding. Realising their difference is liberation. Purusha is asanga and chidrupa. Buddhi satva has three qualities (satva-rajas-tamo gunas) and it attracts Purusha. Atman separated from buddhi and its qualities is Moksha. Yoga of eight limbs (yama, niyama, asana, pratyahara, pranayama, dharana, dhyana, Samadhi) gets one to Samadhi state. By the grace of Iswara too one gets to Samadhi state. One can realize the buddhi–atman difference in that state. Avidya is binding and jnana is Kaivalya (liberation). Binding and liberation are for buddhi and not for atman, they only appear to be above the atman. Iswara is one.

Purva Mimamsa

Text Purva Mimamsa darsana
Author Jaimini
Bhashya Sabara Swamy
Vartika Kumarila Bhatt

It has 16 chapters in the adhikarana way. It accepts 6 pramanas. Purva Mimamsa is also called Karma-Mimamsa.

Dharma develops by performing Vedic rituals. By refraining from prohibited deeds and actions inspired by desires, one can be cleansed from sins. It leads to a state beyond dharma and adharma. After experiencing the result of past karma, body (sareera) dies. If the state beyond dharma and adharma is attained by then, the atman does not assume sareera any more. Thus liberation from sareera forever is Moksha. Moksha is a result of nivritti dharma. One can get to swarga (heaven) by pravritti. Atman is distinct from sareera and indriyas (sense organs). There is no Iswara separate from atman. Atman is jnanasraya but not jnanarupa. That is, atman can be known through jnana but is not jnana itself. Veda is accepted as pramana in Purva Mimamsa. Atma-manas contact causes the nine Gunas (spoken of by Vaiseshika). In the liberated state when atman liberates from contact with manas, gunas get dissolved. Atman is jada rupa in that state.

Uttara Mimamsa

Text Brahma sutras
Author Vyasa
Bhashya Adi Sankara
Vartika Narayana Saraswati

It has 4 chapters, 16 padas and 555 sutras. It accepts 6 pramanas (pratyaksha, anumana, upamana, agama, ardhapatti, anupalabdi) and 25 tatvas.

According to Uttara Mimamsa, binding is lack of discrimination between atman and non-atman. From knowledge of atman and its true nature, ignorance is dissolved. Experiencing it as nirguna (without qualities), advaya (one without second), and Brahman is Moksha. Jiva-Iswara difference is because of nescience. Once that goes, the natural unity of Jiva-Para realizes. Until the unity is realized, Jagat (world/universe) is true. Jagat appears over Brahman. Once that is realized, the world is an illusion (mithya) and only Brahman remains. Brahman is the undifferentiated (abhinna), nominal (nimitta) and substantial (upadana) cause for creation. Thus, Uttara Mimamsa holds the indefinable nature of Brahman. Purushas are not multiple. There is one Iswara and Prakriti does not create by Herself – She does it for and inspired by Iswara.