Indian Philosophy Schools

If you like understanding how things work, or where things come from or the reason behind the way things are; you and I have a lot in common.  

I have been practicing yoga for more than thirteen years and when I decided to start teaching some years ago I wanted to learn more and more about why the yoga method worked, where did it come from, what is the philosophy behind it all and of course about the culture of India. 
I started researching and found that to understand where yoga comes from we must understand Indian philosophy basics. 
Below is a very condensed version of the Indian philosophy schools and what they study. There are two major sections which are the Orthodox (āstika) and the Heterodox (nāstika). 
To be able to be classified as one or the other, the philosophy must fulfill certain requirements:
  1. Does it believe the Vedas (Ancient religious Indian texts) as a source of knowledge?
  2. Does it believe in Brahman (Highest power or God) and Atman (the individual soul)?
  3. Does it believe in the Devas (Deities) and the afterlife?
Below I will explain briefly the basics of each of the schools for you to get a general idea.


The heterodox schools of philosophy deny the Vedas as a reliable source of knowledge. I won’t go too much into detail in these schools, because Yoga, my main topic of study of Indian philosophy, is actually in the Orthodox school category but here is some general information of what the five major heterodox schools are:
This school focuses on Ahimsa (non-violence). It’s an austerity-driven ascetic view of life. They do believe in the Devas and also in the Atman (individual soul) but do not believe in God as the creator of the universe.
This school does not believe in a personal God but they do believe in rebirth and the four noble truths which are: 
    1. Suffering is inevitable
    2. The cause of it is attachment
    3. To get rid of suffering you have to eliminate attachment and
    4. To do so you must follow the noble eightfold path to reach Nirvana. 

In this philosophy school the thought is that there is no free will, everything is predetermine. They do not believe in karma or the after-life or God as the creator. This school believes in the theory of elements and atoms.

This school does not believe in karma, it believes suffering is inevitable and shows doubts about the existence of Brahman (God).
This school doesn’t believe in Brahman (God) either, perception is the only reliable source of knowledge therefor it rejects the Vedas. 


Orthodox Indian philosophy focuses mainly in the human progress of spiritual awareness. In doing everything possible to release the soul from the entrapment of the material world. To break out of the temporary material world, out of the ignorance, and out of the suffering cycle.
These schools believe in Karma and also in reincarnation. They also believe that the root of suffering is because we are in contact with the material world and the goal of the philosophies is to end suffering, end the cycle and achieve liberation.
Also, these schools believe that individuals are eternal spiritual beings. They all study the nature of the external world and our relationship to it, this is done to understand the Ultimate Reality (The Supreme, God).
How one can get to liberation is the difference of each of the following schools.


Logic is a means to an end for this school. Logic is used to discriminate what knowledge is valid and what is not and it is used to identify the mind from the self to understand the Ultimate Reality (God). In this school there are sixteen divisions of studying reality to fully comprehend it.
For this school, liberation means the soul has to detach from the body for all the suffering to stop and once this is achieved, the soul will be freed forever.
There are various sources of knowledge: perception, inference, comparison, and testimony.
Like Nyaya, the school Vaisheshika believes the goal is to attain liberation of the individual self; ignorance is the root cause of suffering; and liberation is attained only through correct knowledge of what is truly real.
What makes this school different is that they believe in the atomic theory.
This school reflects on the meaning of ancient texts. It investigates the nature and purpose of human action (dharma).
They recognize Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison and analogy), Arthapatti (derivation from a circumstance), Anupalabdhi (cognitive proof) and Shabda (testimonial or reliable experts) as a source of valid knowledge. And they believe there is no sufficient proof of the existence of God. 
This school is often described as the science of God realization. The name of the school itself means “End of the Vedas” which tells us that they focus on the philosophies in the Upanishads (the last of the Vedas).
It reflects on the Atman (Individual soul), Prakriti (the material world) and also Brahman (God or Supreme Soul). It contains various sub-schools, some with dualistic views and some non-dualistic but all of them focus on studying the Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita and the Brahma Sutras. 
This is a dualistic school, which means they believe that the universe has two realities: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (Material world). These two are separate but Purusha identifies itself with aspects of Prakriti. When Purusha no longer mistakes itself for Prakriti, balance is achieved again, there is Moksha (liberation).
This school does accept the Vedas a source of reliable knowledge but deny the existence of a personal God. 
This school has a lot of elements in common with Samkhya school. It focuses on the discipline needed for self realization. Its a method to achieve liberation.
They believe in the Vedas as a reliable source of knowledge but also it relies on inference (Anumāna) and perception (pratyaksha) to gain true knowledge.
It believes in a dualistic universe, Prakriti (material word) and Purusha (consciousness) just like Samkhya, where Purusha is connected or tied to Prakriti. Purusha doesn’t know its true nature, it’s in a state of ignorance and when this happens a bondage is created. To liberate ourselves from that bondage is called Samadhi.
To achieve Samadhi we can start with the ethical rules of yoga called the Yamas and Niyamas, which are two of the eight limb path to follow (this is explained in the yoga sutras of Patañjali, one of the most important books for this school).
They believe in the cycle of rebirth called Samsara which is broken when liberation is achieved. Plus, they believe in a personal God (Ishwara), and in the Atman (the individual soul). 
According to Yoga philosophy there are five causes of suffering. The five kleshas: 
1. Avidya: Ignorance
2. Asmita: to identify with a false sense of self (the ego)
3. Raga: attachment
4. Dvesha: aversion
5. Abhinivesha: the fear of death
When these causes are removed by going through the eight limb path, Samadhi is attainable, the cycle is broken and Purusha no longer is tied to Prakriti, it knows its true nature. 
Hope this was helpful to understand a bit of Indian philosophy schools and where yoga stands in that. What do you think of the many schools of Indian philosophy?
With love,

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