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The sixth or the last set of scriptures is the six Darshanas (meaning visions) which are schools of philosophy. These are for the intellectuals and the scholars who have six main schools of philosophic thought to guide them. They are Nyaya founded by Gautama Rishi, Vaiseshika by Kanada, Sankhya by Kapila Muni, Yoga by Patanjali, Mimamsa by Jaimini and Vedanta by Badarayana (Vyasa).
The philosophy of Nyaya is guided by pure logic and reasoning. Although this system itself is not popular today, its emphasis on logic and tarka or debate, has influenced all thinking in India through the ages.
The Vaiseshika school is the earliest in the world to talk of the universe as consisting of countless atoms each with its own visesha or particular quality. The Nyaya and Vaiseshika doctrines merge into one another and are studied together.
The Sankhya system also emphasises logic and inference but its main belief is that the universe consists of two elements, purusha and prakriti (spirit and matter). It is the oldest school of all and mention is made of it in the Mahabharata.
The Yoga school accepts Sankhya philosophy but uses the system of mind control as the means of attaining God-head.
Mimamsa places great emphasis on Vedic rituals and sacrifices. (Yajna, the ritual of sacrifice, does not mean animal sacrifice, as is often misunderstood, but means the chanting of the Vedas while melted butter (ghee), grain and other offerings are poured into the sacred fire.) Vedanta, meaning the end of the Vedas, bases its doctrine on the Upanishads. Of the six schools of philosophy, it is considered the most valid for the times we live in. For example, it teaches that the Supreme God can be reached only by one's own individual spiritual experience. Such a school of thought is more acceptable to the modern mind.
Each Veda has a Karma Kanda dealing with rituals, Upasana Kanda dealing with worship, and Jnana Kanda dealing with spiritual knowledge. Of the six schools, Vedanta holds that the Jnana Kanda or the path of knowledge is all-important and the other paths are merely steps to the final goal.
Vedanta insists on strict adherence to Truth and to tireless investigation. Thousands of years ago our ancients taught what is today in conformity with the modern scientific approach. The Manduka Upanishad says, "The path to the Divine is through Truth. Victory lies only with Truth. Untruth can never win". This emphasis on truth, investigation and individual spiritual experience makes Vedanta a philosophy appealing to the young and to the old. It is eternal and is applicable to all peoples and races of the thinking world.
All thinking in India has been affected by Vedanta which, even though we may not be aware of it, is the very root of our culture and beliefs. The Upanishads, the Vedanta Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita are called the Prasthana Traya, or the three authoritative scriptures of Hinduism. The three great commentators on the Vedanta Sutras were Adi Shankara, Ramanuja and Madhvacharya.
Vedanta has influenced great thinkers from time immemorial. Greek thinkers like Plato and later European philosophers like Spinoza, Nietzche and Schophenhauer were influenced by Vedantic philosophy as expounded by the ancient Rishis of the Upanishadic period, as have been philosophers all over the world through the ages, some subtly others overtly.
Vedanta appeals to the mind and to one's logical understanding. It gives satisfactory answers to the spiritual doubts of wise men at all times in all ages. It is a school of philosophy that appeals equally to the mystical minds of the Seers of the East, and to the philosophers of the Western world who are conditioned by a pragmatic and scientific environment.
Writer – Shakunthala Jagannathan