“Orthodox” Responses
to the “Unorthodox” Traditions

The Development of Hindu Philosophy & Social Organization


The word sankhya may be translated as “calculation” or “enumeration” and refers to the philosophy’s attempt to list the various components that make up reality. ... A crucial point of departure for Sankhya’s philosophical speculations, as for many of the sramana darsanas, was to understand the cause of and solution to suffering (duhkha). ...
Sankhya is a dualistic philosophy, positing that reality is composed of two types of entities. The first is Purusa, which may be understood as pure, or supreme consciousness, or as the true Self, and the second is Prakrti, often translated as nature or materiality. Both are real, but transcendent, in that they are not readily apprehensible to the senses. Prakrti is composed of three qualities, or gunas. These are the sattva guna of luminosity, clarity, or purity, the rajas guna of passion and activity, and the tamas guna of inertia, dullness, or opacity. Purusa, or supreme consciousness, is the impassive observer of all phenomena. Prakrti, however, in response to Purusa’s presence, has its gunas thrown out of equilibrium. It moves from transcendence to immanence and undergoes a series of transformations through which the multiform world comes into being. Sankhya then enumerates 23 tattvas, components or elements of Prakrti’s evolutionary manifestation, from buddhi, the most subtle element, to the mahabhutas, the grossest elements. Every tattva contains the three gunas, but in various proportions. The guna concept is still pervasive in many aspects of Hinduism beyond the Sankhya system. For instance, pure foods such as ghee may be classified as sattvic, while stimulating foods such as alcohol might be regarded as rajasic, and disagreeable or ritually polluting foods, such as rotting flesh, are tamasic. ...
According to Sankhya teachings, particularly as articulated in the practical teachings of Yoga, it is vital for intelligence, that is, the discriminating intellect (buddhi), to function at its highest or purest capacity. As it does so, it begins to discern the workings of ahankara [ego], and its mistaken identifications. Figuratively, the grosser tattvas then get progressively enfolded into their subtler elements. Ahankara ceases its erroneous activities. Quite crucially, buddhi too ultimately recognizes that even it is not the true observer, and stops functioning. Thus Prakrti’s elements are completely enfolded. Prakriti returns to its unmanifest state, and Purusa, unobscured by the dynamic activities of manifest Prakrti, knows itself as pure consciousness, the true Self, isolated from any delusions. This is known as “only-ness” (onliness) or isolation, kaivalya, which is the Sankhya systems equivalent term for moksa. The “real” consists of only Purusa and Prakrti, two real but transcendent principles. Purusa, the true Self, was never really in bondage, or enmeshed with Prakrti. There was a conditional self, produced through Prakrti’s manifestations, that was burdened with suffering through misapprehensions and false identifications. (IH, 131-2)
The darsana classified as Yoga is often grouped together with Sankhya, because the early articulations of Yoga philosophy are based on the metaphysical system of the tattvas associated with Sankhya. The earliest systematic presentation of Yoga, and still one of its most authoritative treatises, is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (Aphorisms on Yoga). ... The word yoga derives from the Sanskrit root, yuj (“to unite”), and means “union.” It is cognate with the English word “yoke.” ... From the perspective of Sankhya metaphysics one might understand that through yoga one unites or integrates the various components of Prakrti until Purusa is revealed. Others describe yoga as uniting the seemingly separate and incorrectly conceived self with its true nature. (IH, 133-4)
The Eight Limbs of Yoga
A handy summary of the essential components of yogic practice is found in Patanjali’s list of the eight limbs (astanga) of yoga, which are elaborated upon by later commentators. (IH, 136)

The Moral Foundation
Controlling Emotions/Desires

1. Yama (restraints):refers to practices that should be avoided for the effective attainment of liberation. These restraints are: not-harming (ahimsa), not lying, not stealing, chastity (brahmacarya), and not being acquisitive.(IH, 136)

2. Niyama (observances): “refers to practices that should be cultivated. These are: self-purification, contentment, austerity (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and a sincere commitment to the endeavor.” (IH, 136)

  • A movement from control over external conduct towards a purification of one’s internal states, providing the moral foundation necessary to remove the disturbances caused by emotions and desires.

Bodily Discipline
Suppressing Physical Distractions

3. Asana (posture): “According to Patanjali, asana, or posture, should be steady and relaxed, transcending the dualities of effort and lassitude. The varied postures, which most observers associate with yoga practice, derive from prescriptions in other texts, such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.” (IH, 137)

4. Pranayama (breath control):entails regulation of the vital energy (prana), which is all around us. It is believed that prana moves through us and within us, and air is one of its vehicles. Yoga regards mastery of regulated breathing, in combination with the control of the movement of “air” through the body, aided by opening and closing various pranic valves (bandha) necessary to maintain vitality and enhance concentration.” (IH, 137)

5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): “enables the practitioner, known as a yogi or yogin (feminine: yogini), to detach any and all of the five senses from their engagement with external objects. This allows the yogi to be freed from sensory distractions and focus on interior processes (antah-karana).” (IH, 137)

  • Together, posture, breathing and sense-withdrawal represent the stilling of the body, which is likened to a tortoise pulling its limbs and head into its shell in order to eliminate disturbances from the external world.

Establishing Control of the Mind

6. Dharana (concentration): “Mastery of the capacity to to disengage the senses permits the development of dharana or concentration. The yogi should strive to develop ekagrata, one-pointedness, which is the ability to pay singular attention to a phenomenon, particularly mental ones.” (IH, 137)

7. Dhyana (meditation): “As dharana intensifies in duration, and has the capacity to attend with unbroken awareness to the dynamic interplay of mental phenomena, it becomes meditation (dhyana). Some interpreters see this as akin to the slow unbroken stream of honey poured from one container to another.” (IH, 137)

8. Samadhi (contemplative absorption): “Raja Yoga distinguishes between two types of samadhi: sabija (with seed) and nirbija (withoutseed). Sabija samadhi is a unitive absorption with an ‘object’ in material consciousness.” (IH, 137)

  • “In all samadhi states, the boundary between an observing consciousness and the observed phenomenon vanishes. ... However, the existence of an ‘object,’ even though it may be a subtle mental phenomenon that is observed, and even though it is no longer ‘objectified’ ... still sows a karmic seed (bija), which will bear fruit as a ripple in thought (citta-vrtti). ... Recognizing the intrinsic emptiness of all manifest phenomena, including itself, which is one of the most subtle ‘objects’ of material consciousness, buddhi then ceases its manifestation. Prakrti figuratively returns to its transcendent state and Purusa (supreme consciousness) shines forth, no longer with any Prakrti-produced ‘object’ with which to be absorbed. This is seedless or nirbija samadhi, the perfection of yoga, and the attainment of moksa. (IH, 137-8)
Relevance to Siva?
Raja yoga (as Patanjali’s Yoga is now commonly called) is fundamentally non-theistic. It does assert the existence of Isvara, the Lord, but Isvaras characteristics are not like a typical god in theistic darsanas. Isvara is a unique purusa (supreme consciousness) that has never experienced the cognitive play of Prakrti’s manifestation. Unbound by time, it has been venerable since antiquity. Isvara is embodied by the cosmic vibration, the pranava (Aum/Om), whose repetition leads to the comprehension of its meaning. However, in other yogic formulations, that are not strictly Raja yoga, Isvara begins to take on a theistic flavor. Siva, known as the supreme yogi, is also known as Mahesvara (Great Lord), and is thus identified by his devotees with the Lord of Raja yoga. Vedanta philosophers who identify Brahman with the pranava, tacitly identify Raja yoga’s Isvara with some mode of Brahman. (IH, 135-6)


As its name implies Vedanta, also known as Uttara Mimamsa (Investigation of the Latter), reflects its concern with interpretation of the latter (anta) portions of the Vedas. Thus Vedanta focuses on the study and understanding of the Upanisads. (IH, 141)
Radical Non-Dualism

Sankara is probably the most highly regarded Hindu philosopher ... who is believed to have lived in the eighth or ninth century CE, and to have died at the age of 32. ... Sankara’s philosophy is known as Advaita Vedanta, or radical non-dualism. It is non-dualistic (advaita), because it proposes that there is only one thing that is absolutely real and that is Brahman. Moreover, Brahman is the only thing in existence. Sankara’s philosophy is radical, because it proposes that Brahman is indivisible, and thus cannot be partitioned into qualities, components, and so on. Brahman is nirguna, beyond or without attributes. ... Since Brahman is all there is, by extension, this means that the Atman , one’s true Self, is identical with Brahman. Atman is not a part of Brahman, because Brahman is not composed of parts. It is Brahman, because Brahman is all there is. The reason this assertion seems counterintuitive to our day to day experience of a personal self, and our perception of what appears to be a world full of various separate things, is that we are under the sway of Maya. Sankara equates Maya with ignorance (avidyaajnana), and explains that Maya is not different from Brahman. ... In order to counter arguments that Maya then appears to be an attribute or quality of Brahman, Sankara offers the analogy of a rope mistaken for a snake. As long as the illusion persists, it creates effects, such as fear or fascination. However, once the illusion is penetrated, the illusory snake vanishes, revealing the substrate upon which it was superimposed. ... This is moksa, the realization of one’s true nature as Brahman. Maya is therefore not fully real (i.e., existent), because its illusions are grounded in ignorance of Brahman, and these vanish with Self-realization. But Maya’s illusions are not fully unreal, since they have the power to cause us to feel and act, which something that is non-existent could not do. ...

All conceptions about the Absolute Brahman (i.e. Parabrahman or Nirguna Brahman) are the workings of Maya, Brahman’s creative power, which generates our thoughts and imaginings. Thus, when we apply these imaginings to Brahman, it is understood as God, and is accorded various capacities. Sankara calls this Saguna Brahman (Brahman with attributes) or Isvara (The Lord). Isvara presides over the world and is the object of religious devotion and activities. ... [However] Sankara upholds the path of transcendental knowledge (jnana marga), as the ultimate means through which ignorance is removed and liberation attained. Since any quality that one predicates upon Brahman is a distorting limitation on its essential nature, Advaita Vedanta promotes the approach of negation, known as neti-neti (not “this,” not “that”). ... For many centuries, the renouncer traditions that were grounded in philosophical inquiry had been dominated by heterodox darsanas, particularly Buddhism. Meanwhile, Hinduism had come under the sway of bhakti approaches. Sankara’s Advaita provided a darsana that blended some of the most appealing dimensions of Buddhism (e.g. monasticism) and Buddhist philosophy with traditional Hinduism, reinvigorating the latter. Nirguna Brahman is only marginally different from the Buddhist conception of Emptiness (sunyata), and Sankara’s concept of Isvara allowed a place for Hinduism’s bhakti and karma-marga approaches. The ever-malleable Hindu orthodoxy embraced these ideas. (IH, 142-4)
Ramanuja was born near the South Indian city of Chennai (Madras) in the eleventh or twelfth century. Initially trained in Sankara’s Advaita philosophy, he eventually gravitated towards a more theistic and devotionally based approach to religion, and joined the Sri-Vaisnava tradition centered at the great temple of Sritangam. ... Ramanuja’s philosophy is known as Visistadvaita (Qualified Non-Dualism). It is non-dualistic (advaita) because, like Sankara’s philosophy, it upholds that there is only one Absolute Reality, and that is Brahman. However, it is qualified (visista) because, according to Ramanuja, it is meaningless to comprehend, relate to, or speak about a Nirguna Brahman. Thus Maya is real, and Brahma is Saguna, or possessing qualities. Thus Brahman is Isvara (the Lord or “God”), and may be called Narayana (i.e., Visnu) together with his consort, Sri (i.e., Laksmi). ... Atmans (or jivas) are not identical with Brahman, but modes or aspects of Brahman, wholly dependent upon the Lord. ... Upon liberation (moksa), the individual Self (atman) is no longer subject to the limitations brought about through illusion and karma. It expands to its fullest extent, but retains its distinctness, allowing it to share, now with perfect wisdom and love, a profound communion with the Lord.
      Although it is important to tread the paths of action (karma), which destroys karmic seeds, and knowledge (jnana), which is typically understood as the study of Vedanta, Ramanuja upholds bhakti as the highest path. Moreover, as a crucial concept in Ramanuja’s approach, it is only complete surrender (prapatti) to the Divine that is the ultimate expression of loving devotion. Ultimately, it is the Lord’s decisionto liberate a being, which is done through the descent of his grace, the goddess Sri. ... The Visistadvaita philosophy, grounded as it is in a bhakti-based theism, synchronizes much more closely with the actual beliefs and worship practices of the majority of Hindus, than does Sankara’s radical non-dualism. This does not mean that the majority of Hindus “follow” Visistadvaita philosophy, but that the philosophy offers compelling rationales for why they might think and act as they do. Ramanuja and Sri Vaisnavism gave theism, and the chaotically expressed theologies of feeling ... a substantial and systematic philosophical foundation. It fused these with speculative Vedic tradition of the Upanisads in ways that heightened their legitimacy as credible articulations of Hindu orthodoxy.
(IH, 144-5)

Hindu Social Organization
Dharma derives from the Sanskrit root dhr (to support or uphold), and appears to develop in relationship to the Vedic conception of rta. Whereas rta affirmed the existence of an orderly creation, subject to patterns and orderly cycles,  developed into a notion of the way things should be if harmoniously aligned with rta. As such, dharma both articulates the way things are and prescribes how one should behave in relation to the cosmic order. ... The Dharma Sastras lay out the specifics of social obligations for Hindus in a system known as varnasramadharma. Varna refers to the various classes into which Hindu society is traditionally divided, while asrama refers to the stages that demarcate a person’s journey through life. These injunctions are complex because the system attempts to incorporate variations based on gender, socio-economic circumstances, and so on in relationship to a conception of the cosmic reality within which human beings are located. The Laws of Manu, for instance, covers such topics as the creation, cosmic geography, the divisions of the Vedas, and the class system. It tells how to choose a wife, and how to perform post-cremation rituals. It discusses issues of purity and pollution, and what foods are fit to eat and what should be avoided. It prescribes rules for kings, and how they should conduct themselves in war. It has prescriptions for dealing with boundary disputes, loans, and punishing thieves. It deals with relationships between master and servant, husband and wife, king and subject, and one varna toward another. It discusses duties of the varnas, injunctions for women, and even discusses the law of karma.
       It is evident that the rise of this literature was a response to tensions that had developed on the Indian subcontinent during that period. The sramana movements had begun to challenge the authority of the Vedic world view, which was grounded in concerns about attaining fortunate rebirths by sustaining the cosmic order through sacrificial ritual. Furthermore, interactions with “outsiders” provoked concerns on issues such as intermarriage and differences in values. The Dharma Sastras provide a codified attempt to articulate standards of conduct, to protect the status of the upper classes, and to effect compromises that incorporate newer religious values, such as renunciation, along with the traditional ones, such as social involvement. 
(IH, 69-71)
The Duties Associated with Caste
The Dharma Sastras agreed with the Upanishads that the final goal of life was release from samsara, but beyond this common point the emphasis was quite different. The Upanishads and the later jnana traditions [such as the system of Samkhya] put primary emphasis on knowledge of Brahman and the self. Ritual and social duties were recognized but given little attention, since the seeker after final knowledge had presumably gone beyond such worldly concerns. Dharma texts, on the other hand, noted only in a perfunctory way the final goal of Brahman knowledge. ... The dharma texts concentrated instead on the particulars of social duty. The basic focus was not the goal beyond society but the arrangement of life within the social system. (HRT, 74-5)