Yoga is part of six classical philosophical systems: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa and Vedanta.
Each was tersely formulated in sutra form by its “founder,” and elaborated in extensive commentaries by other writers. They are understood as varied attempts at describing Truth and the path to it. Elements of each form part of the Hindu fabric today.
– Nyaya: “System, rule; logic.” A system of logical realism, founded sometime around 300 bce by Gautama, known for its systems of logic and epistemology and concerned with the means of acquiring right knowledge. Its tools of enquiry and rules for argumentation were adopted by all schools of Hinduism.
– Vaisheshika: “Distinctionism.” From “vishesha,” differences. Philosophy founded by Kanada (ca 300 bce) teaching that liberation is to be attained through understanding the nature of existence, which is classified in nine basic realities (dravyas): earth, water, light, air, ether, time, space, soul and mind. Nyaya and Vaisheshika are viewed as a complementary pair, with Nyaya emphasizing logic, and Vaisheshika analyzing the nature of the world.
– Sankhya: “Enumeration, reckoning.” A philosophy founded by the sage Kapila (ca 500 bce), author of the Sankhya Sutras. Sankhya is primarily concerned with “categories of existence,” tattvas, which it understands as 25 in number. The first two are the unmanifest purusha and the manifest primal nature, prakriti – the male-female polarity, viewed as the foundation of all existence. Prakriti, out of which all things evolve, is the unity of the three gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas. Sankhya and Yoga are considered an inseparable pair whose principles permeate all of Hinduism.
– Yoga: “Yoking; joining.” Ancient tradition of philosophy and practice codified by Patanjali (ca 200 bce) in the Yoga Sutras. It is also known as raja yoga, “king of yogas,” or ashtanga yoga, “eight-limbed yoga.” Its object is to achieve, at will, the cessation of all fluctuations of consciousness, and the attainment of Self Realization. Yoga is wholly dedicated to putting the high philosophy of Hinduism into practice, to achieve personal transformation through transcendental experience, samadhi.
– Mimamsa: “Inquiry” (or Purva, “early,” Mimamsa). Founded by Jaimini (ca 200 bce), author of the Mimamsa Sutras, who taught the correct performance of Vedic rites as the means to salvation.
– Vedanta (or Uttara “later” Mimamsa): “End (or culmination) of the Vedas.” For Vedanta, the main basis is the Upanishads and Aranyakas (the “end,” anta, of the Vedas), rather than the hymns and ritual portions of the Vedas. The teaching of Vedanta is that there is one Absolute Reality, Brahman. Man is one with Brahman, and the object of life is to realize that truth through right knowledge, intuition and personal experience. The Vedanta Sutras (or Brahma Sutras) were composed by Rishi Badarayana (ca 400 bce).