[Advaita-l] shaDdarhana and other unorthodox schools

Ramesh Krishnamurthy rkmurthy at gmail.com
Thu Jan 18 02:32:37 CST 2007

On 17/01/07, Abhilash Shastry <abhilash.shastry at yahoo.co.in> wrote:
>   I never heard about thirteen orthodox schools. I will be grateful if you or some other members can elaborate on this. If vidyAraNya listed thirteen orthodox schools, how did "shad-darshana" come to be accepted almost universally?
>   --Abhilash

The 'shad' in 'shad-darshana' is more of an ideal number than an
actual representation of the number of schools. Similar ideal numbers
occur in other cases also - for example, we say that there are 12
jyotirlinga-s, but there are actually about 15 or 16 locations that
are traditionally regarded as jyotirlinga-s. We also talk of the "7
wonders of the world", but surely there are more than 7 wonders.

But more importantly, the term darSana refers mainly to philosophical
schools rather than sects. The difference between a philosophical
school and a sect is somewhat blurred but it is still a very useful
difference to keep in mind while looking at the traditional Hindu
schools. This is because it is possible for more than one sect to
follow the same darSana and vice-versa.

This can be understood through the case of the tantra-s. tantra in
general refers to the use of mantra-shAstra outside the
shrauta/gR^ihya ritual context of the veda-s (the mantra-s themselves
may be derived from the vedic saMhita or the Agama/tantra texts). In
addition to mantra-s and guidelines for the deployment of mantra-s,
the texts of a particular tantric school will typically include a
jnAna kANDa which may lean towards a particular darSana.  In general,
a tantra/Agama connotes a complete sect with its own guidelines on
dharma, mantra-based ritual as well as a jnAna kANDa that leans
towards a particular darSana. However, not all followers of the tantra
will accept the jnAna kANDa as it is! Its all highly mixed up.

For example, the ancient pAncarAtra Agama-s are said to have sAMkhyan
leanings philosophically (I may be mistaken here but I have gathered
this from more than 1 source). The teachings of the pAncarAtra are
generally not considered a separate darSana but they do constitute a
sect. Their modern descendants, the SrI-vaiShNava-s, preserve some of
the pAncaratric mantra-shAstra but have considerably departed from
their philosophy. In terms of the 6 darSana-s, the SrI-vaiShNava-s
would generally be classified as vedAntic but many advaita-vedAntins
(including vidyAraNya svAmI) would consider advaita to be closer to
pAtanjala-yoga & sAMkhya than to the viSiShTAdvaita of the

Many tantra-s also have a strong advaitic flavour in their jnAna
portions. The texts of SrIvidyA are the best example. Many Sankaran
mutts such as Sringeri are also centres of SrIvidyA and Adi
SankarAcArya himself wrote many works on SrIvidyA. So while there is
considerable overlap between advaita-vedAnta and SrIvidyA, it is not
absolutely necessary for advaitins to follow SrIvidyA practices.
Similarly, a SrIvidyA follower may or may not put much emphasis on
advaita. However, most presen day SrIvidyA followers are advaitins or
at least smArta-s. So whether advaita-vedAnta and SrIvidyA are
considered separate would depend largely on the context. In general
however, SrIvidyA would not be considered a darSana but a tantra that
primarily follows the advaita-vedAnta darSana.

The nyAya darSana also has a similar story. Some smArta-s and many
pASupata-s were followers of this darSana. So whether the pASupata-s
are classified seprately would depend on the context, i.e. on whether
one is focusing only only on the philosophy or the religious practices
as a whole.

In vidyAraNya's sarva-darSana-saMgraha, a total of 16 schools are
listed in order of increasing similarity (based on whatever criteria
the author considered relevant) to advaita-vedAnta. Both the dvaita of
mAdhva and the viSiShTAdvaita of rAmAnuja are quite far away from
advaita in this scheme, the closest being pAtanjala yoga.


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