Āstika and nāstika

Āstika (Sanskrit आस्तिक IAST: āstika) derives from the Sanskrit asti, "there is, there exists", and means “one who believes in the existence (of a soul separate from the material world, Brahman, etc.)” and nāstika means "an unbeliever".[1] These have been concepts used to classify Indian philosophies by modern scholars, and some Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina texts.[2][3][5] Āstika has been defined in one of three ways; as those who accept the epistemic authority of the Vedas, as those who accept the existence of ātman, or as those who accept the existence of Ishvara.[6][7] In contrast, nāstika are those who deny the respective definitions of āstika.[6]

The various definitions for āstika and nāstika philosophies has been disputed since ancient times, and there is no consensus.[6][8] Buddhism is considered to be nāstika, but the Gautama Buddha is considered an avatar of Vishnu in some Hindu traditions.[9]

The most studied Āstika schools of Indian philosophies, sometimes referred to as orthodox schools, are six: Nyāyá, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta. The most studied Nāstika schools of Indian philosophies, sometimes referred to as heterodox schools, are four: Buddhism, Jainism, Cārvāka, and Ājīvika.[10][11] This orthodox-heterodox terminology is a construct of Western languages, and lacks scholarly roots in Sanskrit. Recent scholarly studies[6] state that there have been various heresiological translations of Āstika and Nāstika in 20th century literature on Indian philosophies, but quite many are unsophisticated and flawed.

Astika and Nāstika do not mean "theism" and "atheism" respectively in ancient or medieval era Sanskrit literature.[6] In current Indian languages like Hindi, āstika and its derivatives usually mean "theist", while nāstika and its derivatives denote an "atheist.”[12] However, the terms are used differently in Hindu philosophy.[13] For example, Sāṃkhya is both an atheist (as it does not accept an anthropomorphic God) and āstika (Vedic) philosophy, though “God” is often used as an epithet for consciousness (purusa) within its doctrine.[14]


Āstika is a Sanskrit adjective (and noun) that is derived from asti ("there is or exists").[1] meaning "knowing that which exists" or "pious";[15] Nāstika (na (not) + āstika) is its negative.

One of the traditional etymologies of the term āstika–based on Pāṇini's Aṣṭādhyāyī, 4.4.60 ("astināstidiṣṭam matiḥ") says ‘he whose opinion is that Īśvara exists’ ("asti īśvara iti matir yasya").[16] Other definitions include "opposite of nāstika" (nāstika bhinna); "he whose idea is that Īśvara exists" (īśvara asti iti vādī); "he who considers the Vedas as authorities" (vedaprāmāṇyavādī). According to Sanskrit grammarian Hemachandra, āstika is a synonym for ‘he who believes’.[16]

As used in Hindu philosophy, the differentiation between āstika and nāstika does not refer to theism or atheism.[6] The terms often, but not always, relate to accepting Vedic literature as an authority, particularly on their teachings on Self (Soul). The Veda and Hinduism do not subscribe to or include the concept of an almighty that is separate from oneself i.e. there is no concept of God in the Christian or Islamic sense. N. N. Bhattacharya writes:

The followers of Tantra were often branded as Nāstika by the political proponents of the Vedic tradition. The term Nāstika does not denote an atheist since the Veda presents a godless system with no singular almighty being or multiple almighty beings. It is applied only to those who do not believe in the Vedas. The Sāṃkhyas and Mīmāṃsakas do not believe in God, but they believe in the Vedas and hence they are not Nāstikas. The Buddhists, Jains, and Cārvākas do not believe in the Vedas; hence they are Nāstikas.

— Bhattacharyya 1999, pp. 174

Āstika is also a name, such as that of a Vedic scholar born to the goddess Mānasā ("Mind") and the sage Jaratkaru.[17]

Classification of schools

The terms Āstika and Nāstika have been used to classify various Indian intellectual traditions.

Āstika Hindu

A list of six systems or ṣaḍdarśanas (also spelled Sad Darshan) consider Vedas as a reliable source of knowledge and an authoritative source.[18] These are the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta schools of Hinduism, and they are classified as the āstika schools:

  1. Nyāyá, the school of logic
  2. Vaiśeṣika, the atomist school
  3. Sāṃkhya, the enumeration school
  4. Yoga, the school of Patañjali (which assumes the metaphysics of Sāṃkhya)
  5. Mīmāṃsā, the tradition of Vedic exegesis
  6. Vedanta or Uttara Mimāṃsā, the Upaniṣadic tradition.

These are often coupled into three groups for both historical and conceptual reasons: Nyāyá-Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya-Yoga, and Mimāṃsā-Vedanta.

Nāstika Hindu

The main schools of Indian philosophy that reject the Vedas were regarded as heterodox in the Brahmanical tradition:[4]

  1. Buddhism
  2. Jainism
  3. Cārvāka
  4. Ājīvika
  5. Ajñana

The use of the term nāstika to describe Buddhism and Jainism in India is explained by Gavin Flood as follows:

At an early period, during the formation of the Upaniṣads and the rise of Buddhism and Jainism, we must envisage a common heritage of meditation and mental discipline practiced by renouncers with varying affiliations to non-orthodox (Veda-rejecting) and orthodox (Veda-accepting) traditions.... These schools [such as Buddhism and Jainism] are understandably regarded as heterodox (nāstika) by orthodox (āstika) Brahmanism.

— Gavin Flood[19]

Tantric traditions in Hinduism have both āstika and nāstika lines; as Banerji writes in "Tantra in Bengal":

Tantras are ... also divided as āstika or Vedic and nāstika or non-Vedic. In accordance with the predominance of the deity the āstika works are again divided as Śākta, Śaiva, Saura, Gāṇapatya and Vaiṣṇava.

— Banerji[20]



Manusmriti, in verse 2.11, defines Nāstika as those who revile "Vedic literature based on two roots of science of reasoning (Śruti and Smriti)".[6] The 9th century Indian scholar Medhatithi analyzed this definition and stated that Nāstika does not mean someone who says "Vedic literature are untrue", but rather one who says "Vedic literature are immoral". Medhatithi further noted verse 8.309 of Manusmriti, to provide another aspect of the definition of Nāstika as one who believes, "there is no other world, there is no purpose in giving charity, there is no purpose in rituals and the teachings in the Vedic literature."[6]

Manusmriti does not define, or imply a definition for Astika. It is also silent or contradictory on specific rituals such as animal sacrifices, asserting Ahimsa (non-violence, non-injury) is dharma in its verses such as verse 10.63 based on Upanishadic layer of Vedic literature, even though the older layer of Vedic literature mention such sacrifices unlike the later layer of Vedic literature.[21] Indian scholars, such as those from Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vedanta schools, accepted Astika to be those that include Śabda (शब्द, Aptavacana, testimony of Vedic literature and reliable experts) as a reliable means of epistemology, but they accepted the later ancient layer of the Vedic literature to be superseding the earlier ancient layer.[6]

Definition without reference to Vedas

In contrast to Manusmiriti, the 6th century CE Jain scholar and doxographer Haribhadra, provided a different perspective in his writings on Astika and Nāstika. Haribhadra did not consider "reverence for Vedas" as a marker for an Astika. He and other 1st millennium CE Jaina scholars defined Astika as one who "affirms there exists another world, transmigration exists, virtue (punya) exists, vice (paap) exists".[6][8]

The 7th century scholars Jayaditya and Vamana, in Kasikavrtti of Pāṇini tradition, were silent on the role of or authority of Vedic literature in defining Astika and Nāstika. They state, "Astika is the one who believes there exists another world. The opposite of him is the Nāstika."[6][22]

Similarly the widely studied 2nd-3rd century CE Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna, in Chapter 1 verses 60-61 of Ratnāvalī, wrote Vaiśeṣika and Sāṃkhya schools of Hinduism were Nāstika, along with Jainism, his own school of Buddhism and Pudgalavadins (Vātsīputrīya) school of Buddhism.[23][24]

Definition based on belief in Atman

Astika, in some texts, is defined as those who believe in the existence of Atman (Soul, Self, Spirit), while Nastika being those who deny there is any "soul, self" in human beings and other living beings.[7][25] All six schools of Hinduism classified as Astika philosophies hold the premise, "Atman exists". Buddhism, in contrast, holds the premise, "Atman does not exist".[26][27] Asanga Tilakaratna translates Astika as "positivism" and Nastika as "negativism", with Astika illustrated by Brahmanic traditions who accepted "soul and God exists", while Nastika as those traditions, such as Buddhism, who denied "soul and God exists".[28]


According to G. S. Ghurye, the Jain texts define "na+astika" as one "denying what exists" or any school of philosophy that denies the existence of the soul.[29] The Vedanta sub-traditions of Hinduism are "astika" because they accept the existence of soul, while Buddhist traditions denying this are referred to as "nastika".[29]

One of the earliest mentions of astika concept in Jain texts is by Manibhadra, who states that an astika is one who "accepts there exist another world (paraloka), transmigration of soul, virtue and vice that affect how a soul journeys through time".[30]

The 5th–6th century Jainism scholar Haribhadra, states Andrew Nicholson, does not mention anything about accepting or rejecting the Vedas or god as a criterion for being an astika or nastika. Instead, Haribhadra explains nastika in the manner of the more ancient Jain scholar Manibhadra, by stating a nastika to be one "who says there is no other worlds, there is no purpose in charity, there is no purpose in offerings".[30] An astika, to Haribhadra, is one who believes that there is a purpose and merit in an ethical life such as ahimsa (non-violence) and ritual actions.[30] This exposition of the word astika and nastika by Haribhadra is similar to one by the Sanskrit grammarian and Hindu scholar Pāṇini in section 4.4.60 of the Astadhyayi.[31]

The 12th century Jaina scholar Hemachandra similarly states, in his text Abhidhana Cintamani, that a nastika is any philosophy that presumes or argues there is "no virtue and vice".[32]


Nagarjuna, according to Chandradhar Sharma, equates Nastikya to "nihilism".[33]

The 4th century Buddhist scholar Asanga, in Bodhisattva Bhumi, calls nastika Buddhists as sarvavai nasika, describing them as who are complete deniers. To Asanga, nastika are those who say "nothing whatsoever exists", and the worst kind of nastika are those who deny all designation and reality.[34] Astika are those who accept merit in and practice a religious life.[34] According to Andrew Nicholson, later Buddhists understood Asanga to be targeting Madhyamaka Buddhism as nastika, while considering his own Yogacara Buddhist tradition to be astika.[34] Initial interpretations of the Buddhist texts with the term astika and nastika, such as those composed by Nagarjuna and Asvaghosa, were interpreted as being directed at the Hindu traditions. But, states John Kelly, most later scholarship considers this as incorrect, and that the astika and nastika terms were directed towards the competing Buddhist traditions and the intended audience of the texts were Buddhist monks debating an array of ideas across various Buddhist traditions.[35]

The charges of being a nastika were serious threat to the social standing of a Buddhist, and could lead to expulsion from Buddhist monastic community. Thus, states Nicholson, the colonial era Indologist definition of astika and nastika schools of Indian philosophy, was based on a narrow study of literature such as a version of Manusmriti, while in truth these terms are more complex and contextually apply within the diverse schools of Indian philosophies.[34]

The most common meaning of astika and nastika, in Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism was the acceptance and adherence to ethical premises, and not textual validity or doctrinal premises, states Nicholson. It is likely that astika was translated as orthodox, and nastika as heterodox, because the early European Indologists carried the baggage of Christian theological traditions and extrapolated their own concepts to Asia, thereby distorting the complexity of Indian traditions and thought.[34]

See also


  1. ^ a b Monier-Williams 2006
  2. ^ Roy Perrett (2000), Indian Philosophy, Routledge, ISBN 978-0815336112, page 88
  3. ^ Sushil Mittal & Gene Thursby (2004), The Hindu World, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415772273, pages 729-730
  4. ^ a b Flood 1996, pp. 82.
  5. ^ Flood: "These schools [such as Buddhism and Jainism] are understandably regarded as heterodox (nāstika) by orthodox (āstika) Brahmanism."[4]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Andrew J. Nicholson (2013), Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History, Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0231149877, Chapter 9
  7. ^ a b GS Ghurye, Indian Sociology Through Ghurye, a Dictionary, Ed: S. Devadas Pillai (2011), ISBN 978-8171548071, page 354
  8. ^ a b Wendy Doniger (2014), On Hinduism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199360079, page 46
  9. ^ Literature review of secondary references of Buddha as Dashavatara which regard Buddha to be part of standard list:
  10. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 82, 224–49
  11. ^ For an overview of this method of classification, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan & Moore 1989
  12. ^ For instance Archived 18 April 2007 at the Wayback Machine, the "Atheist Society of India" produces a monthly publications Nastika Yuga, which it translates as "The Age of Atheism".
  13. ^ Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984), An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (Eighth Reprint ed.), University of Calcutta, pp. 5, footnote 1, In modern Indian languages, "āstika" and "nāstika" generally mean "theist" and "atheist,” respectively. But in Sanskrit philosophical literature, "āstika" means "one who believes in the authority of the Vedas". ("nāstika" means the opposite of these). The word is used here in the first sense. The six orthodox schools are "āstika", and the Cārvāka is "nāstika" in both the senses.
  14. ^ "By Sāṃkhya reasoning, the material principle itself simply evolves into complex forms, and there is no need to hold that some spiritual power governs the material principle or its ultimate source." Francis Clooney, CJ, "Restoring 'Hindu Theology' as a category in Indian intellectual discourse", in Francis Clooney (2008). Gavin Flood, ed. The Blackwell Companion to Hinduism. Blackwell Academic. pp. 451–455. ISBN 978-0-470-99868-7.
  15. ^ Apte 1965, pp. 240
  16. ^ a b Squarcini, Federico; Squarcini, Federico (2012). "Traditions against Tradition. Criticism, Dissent and the Struggle for the Semiotic Primacy of Veridiction": 446. doi:10.7135/UPO9781843313977.018.
  17. ^ George Williams (2003), Handbook of Hindu Mythology, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0195332612, page 65
  18. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 231–2
  19. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 82
  20. ^ Banerji 1992, pp. 2
  21. ^ Sanskrit: Manusmriti with six scholar commentaries VN Mandlik, page 1310
    English: Manusmriti 10.63 Berkeley Center for World Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown University
  22. ^ P. Haag and V. Vergiani (Eds., 2009), Studies in the Kāśikāvṛtti, Firenze : Società Editrice Fiorentina, ISBN 978-8860321145
  23. ^ Markus Dressler and Arvind Mandair (2011), Secularism and Religion-Making, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199782949, page 59 note 39
  24. ^ Ernst Steinkellner (1991), Studies in the Buddhist Epistemological Tradition: Proceedings of the Second International Dharmakīrti Conference, Vienna, Volume 222, Austrian Academy of Sciences Press, ISBN 978-3700119159, pages 230-238
  25. ^ C Sharma (2013), A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120803657, page 66
  26. ^ Dae-Sook Suh (1994), Korean Studies: New Pacific Currents, University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824815981, page 171
  27. ^ John C. Plott et al (2000), Global History of Philosophy: The Axial Age, Volume 1, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120801585, page 63, Quote: "The Buddhist schools reject any Ātman concept. As we have already observed, this is the basic and ineradicable distinction between Hinduism and Buddhism".
  28. ^ Asanga Tilakaratna (2003, Editors: Anne Blackburn and Jeffrey Samuels), Approaching the Dhamma: Buddhist Texts and Practices in South and Southeast Asia, Pariyatti, ISBN 978-1928706199, pages 128-129;
    God, states Tilakaratna, in Brahmanic traditions is Parama-atma (universal soul, Ishvara, Brahman)
  29. ^ a b S. Devadas Pillai (1997). Indian Sociology Through Ghurye, a Dictionary. Popular Prakashan. pp. 353–354. ISBN 978-81-7154-807-1.
  30. ^ a b c Andrew J. Nicholson (2013). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. pp. 172–175. ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7.
  31. ^ Andrew J. Nicholson (2013). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7.
  32. ^ Ramkrishna Bhattacharya (2011). Studies on the Carvaka/Lokayata. Anthem Press. pp. 164–166. ISBN 978-0-85728-433-4.
  33. ^ Chandradhar Sharma (2000). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 101. ISBN 978-81-208-0365-7.
  34. ^ a b c d e Andrew J. Nicholson (2013). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press. pp. 174–176. ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7.
  35. ^ John D Kelly (1996). Jan E. M. Houben, ed. Ideology and Status of Sanskrit: Contributions to the History of the Sanskrit Language. BRILL Academic. pp. 88–89. ISBN 90-04-10613-8.



Ajñana was one of the nāstika or "heterodox" schools of ancient Indian philosophy, and the ancient school of radical Indian skepticism. It was a Śramaṇa movement and a major rival of early Buddhism and Jainism. They have been recorded in Buddhist and Jain texts. They held that it was impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it was useless and disadvantageous for final salvation. They were specialized in refutation without propagating any positive doctrine of their own.


Buddhism (, US also ) is the world's fourth-largest religion with over 520 million followers, or over 7% of the global population, known as Buddhists.

Buddhism encompasses a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on original teachings attributed to the Buddha and resulting interpreted philosophies. Buddhism originated in ancient India as a Sramana tradition sometime between the 6th and 4th centuries BCE, spreading through much of Asia. Two major extant branches of Buddhism are generally recognized by scholars: Theravada (Pali: "The School of the Elders") and Mahayana (Sanskrit: "The Great Vehicle").

Most Buddhist traditions share the goal of overcoming suffering and the cycle of death and rebirth, either by the attainment of Nirvana or through the path of Buddhahood. Buddhist schools vary in their interpretation of the path to liberation, the relative importance and canonicity assigned to the various Buddhist texts, and their specific teachings and practices. Widely observed practices include taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, observance of moral precepts, monasticism, meditation, and the cultivation of the Paramitas (virtues).

Theravada Buddhism has a widespread following in Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia. Mahayana, which includes the traditions of Pure Land, Zen, Nichiren Buddhism, Shingon and Tiantai (Tendai), is found throughout East Asia.

Vajrayana, a body of teachings attributed to Indian adepts, may be viewed as a separate branch or as an aspect of Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism, which preserves the Vajrayana teachings of eighth-century India, is practiced in the countries of the Himalayan region, Mongolia, and Kalmykia.


Heterodoxy in a religious sense means "any opinions or doctrines at variance with an official or orthodox position". Under this definition, heterodoxy is similar to unorthodoxy, while the adjective "heterodox" could be applied to a dissident.

Heterodoxy is also an ecclesiastical term of art, defined in various ways by different religions and churches. For example, in the Apostolic Churches (the Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of the East, the Anglican Communion, and the Non-Chalcedonian or Oriental Churches), heterodoxy may describe beliefs that differ from strictly orthodox views, but that fall short either of formal or of material heresy.

Hindu philosophy

Hindu philosophy refers to a group of darśanas (philosophies, world views, teachings) that emerged in ancient India. These include six systems (ṣaḍdarśana) – Sankhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Mimamsa and Vedanta. These are also called the Astika (orthodox) philosophical traditions and are those that accept the Vedas as an authoritative, important source of knowledge. Ancient and medieval India was also the source of philosophies that share philosophical concepts but rejected the Vedas, and these have been called nāstika (heterodox or non-orthodox) Indian philosophies. Nāstika Indian philosophies include Buddhism, Jainism, Cārvāka, Ājīvika, and others.Scholars have debated the relationship and differences within āstika philosophies and with nāstika philosophies, starting with the writings of Indologists and Orientalists of the 18th and 19th centuries, which were themselves derived from limited availability of Indian literature and medieval doxographies. The various sibling traditions included in Hindu philosophies are diverse, and they are united by shared history and concepts, same textual resources, similar ontological and soteriological focus, and cosmology. While Buddhism and Jainism are considered distinct philosophies and religions, some heterodox traditions such as Cārvāka are often considered as distinct schools within Hindu philosophy.Hindu philosophy also includes several sub-schools of theistic philosophies that integrate ideas from two or more of the six orthodox philosophies, such as the realism of the Nyāya, the naturalism of the Vaiśeṣika, the dualism of the Sāṅkhya, the monism and knowledge of Self as essential to liberation of Advaita, the self-discipline of yoga and the asceticism and elements of theistic ideas. Examples of such schools include Pāśupata Śaiva, Śaiva siddhānta, Pratyabhijña, Raseśvara and Vaiṣṇava. Some sub-schools share Tantric ideas with those found in some Buddhist traditions. The ideas of these sub-schools are found in the Puranas and Āgamas.Each school of Hindu philosophy has extensive epistemological literature called pramāṇaśāstras, as well as theories on metaphysics, axiology, and other topics.

Index of Eastern philosophy articles

This is a list of articles in Eastern philosophy.

Indian philosophy

Indian philosophy refers to ancient philosophical traditions of the Indian subcontinent. The principal schools are classified as either orthodox or heterodox – āstika or nāstika – depending on one of three alternate criteria: whether it believes the Vedas as a valid source of knowledge; whether the school believes in the premises of Brahman and Atman; and whether the school believes in afterlife and Devas.There are six major schools of orthodox Indian Hindu philosophy—Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Mīmāṃsā and Vedanta, and five major heterodox schools—Jain, Buddhist, Ajivika, Ajñana, and Cārvāka. However, there are other methods of classification; Vidyaranya for instance identifies sixteen schools of Indian philosophy by including those that belong to the Śaiva and Raseśvara traditions.The main schools of Indian philosophy were formalised chiefly between 1000 BCE to the early centuries of the Common Era. Competition and integration between the various schools was intense during their formative years, especially between 800 BCE and 200 CE. Some schools like Jainism, Buddhism, Yoga, Śaiva and Vedanta survived, but others, like Ajñana, Charvaka and Ājīvika did not.

Ancient and medieval era texts of Indian philosophies include extensive discussions on Ontology (metaphysics, Brahman-Atman, Sunyata-Anatta), reliable means of knowledge (epistemology, Pramanas), value system (axiology) and other topics.

Indian religions

Indian religions, sometimes also termed as Dharmic faiths or religions, are the religions that originated in the Indian subcontinent; namely Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism and Sikhism. These religions are also all classified as Eastern religions. Although Indian religions are connected through the history of India, they constitute a wide range of religious communities, and are not confined to the Indian subcontinent.Evidence attesting to prehistoric religion in the Indian subcontinent derives from scattered Mesolithic rock paintings. The Harappan people of the Indus Valley Civilisation, which lasted from 3300 to 1300 BCE (mature period, 2600–1900 BCE), had an early urbanized culture which predates the Vedic religion.The documented history of Indian religions begins with the historical Vedic religion, the religious practices of the early Indo-Iranians, which were collected and later redacted into the Vedas. The period of the composition, redaction and commentary of these texts is known as the Vedic period, which lasted from roughly 1750–500 BCE. The philosophical portions of the Vedas were summarized in Upanishads, which are commonly referred to as Vedānta, variously interpreted to mean either the "last chapters, parts of the Veda" or "the object, the highest purpose of the Veda". The early Upanishads all predate the Common Era, five of the eleven principal Upanishads were composed in all likelihood before 6th century BCE, and contain the earliest mentions of Yoga and Moksha.The Reform or Shramanic Period between 800–200 BCE marks a "turning point between the Vedic Hinduism and Puranic Hinduism". The Shramana movement, an ancient Indian religious movement parallel to but separate from Vedic tradition, often defied many of the Vedic and Upanishadic concepts of soul (Atman) and the ultimate reality (Brahman). In 6th century BCE, the Shramnic movement matured into Jainism and Buddhism and was responsible for the schism of Indian religions into two main philosophical branches of astika, which venerates Veda (e.g., six orthodox schools of Hinduism) and nastika (e.g., Buddhism, Jainism, Charvaka, etc.). However, both branches shared the related concepts of Yoga, saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).The Puranic Period (200 BCE – 500 CE) and Early Medieval period (500–1100 CE) gave rise to new configurations of Hinduism, especially bhakti and Shaivism, Shaktism, Vaishnavism, Smarta and much smaller groups like the conservative Shrauta.

The early Islamic period (1100–1500 CE) also gave rise to new movements. Sikhism was founded in the 15th century on the teachings of Guru Nanak and the nine successive Sikh Gurus in Northern India. The vast majority of its adherents originate in the Punjab region.

With the colonial dominance of the British a reinterpretation and synthesis of Hinduism arose, which aided the Indian independence movement.


Magadha was an ancient Indian kingdom in southern Bihar, and was counted as one of the sixteen Mahajanapadas (Sanskrit: "Great Countries") of ancient India. Magadha played an important role in the development of Jainism and Buddhism, and two of India's greatest empires, the Maurya Empire and Gupta Empire, originated in Magadha.

The existence of Magadha is recorded in Vedic texts much earlier in time than 600 BCE. The earliest reference to the Magadha people occurs in the Atharvaveda, where they are found listed along with the Angas, Gandharis and Mujavats. The core of the kingdom was the area of Bihar south of the Ganges; its first capital was Rajagriha (modern day Rajgir), then Pataliputra (modern Patna). Rajagriha was initially known as 'Girivrijja' and later came to be known as so during the reign of Ajatashatru. Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengal with the conquest of Vajji confederation and Anga, respectively. The kingdom of Magadha eventually came to encompass Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa, West Bengal, eastern Uttar Pradesh, and the areas that are today the nations of Bangladesh and Nepal.The ancient kingdom of Magadha is heavily mentioned in Jain and Buddhist texts. It is also mentioned in the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Puranas. The Mauryan Empire and Gupta Empire, both of which originated in Magadha, saw advancements in ancient India's science, mathematics, astronomy, religion, and philosophy and were considered the Golden Age of India. The Magadha kingdom included republican communities such as the community of Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions.


Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of the Supreme Being or deities. In common parlance, or when contrasted with deism, the term often describes the classical conception of God that is found in monotheism (also referred to as classical theism) – or gods found in polytheistic religions—a belief in God or in gods without the rejection of revelation as is characteristic of deism.Atheism is commonly understood as rejection of theism in the broadest sense of theism, i.e. the rejection of belief in God or gods. The claim that the existence of any deity is unknown or unknowable is agnosticism.

Unifying Hinduism

Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History is a book Andrew J. Nicholson on Indian philosophy, describing the philosophical unification of Hinduism, which it places in the Middle Ages. The book was published in the US in 2010 in hardcover, with a paperback edition appearing in 2014. An Indian hardcover edition was published by Permanent Black in 2011. The book won the 2011 award for Best First Book in the History of Religions from the American Academy of Religion, and has been reviewed in numerous professional journals.


Ajivika (IAST: Ājīvika) is one of the nāstika or "heterodox" schools of Indian philosophy. Purportedly founded in the 5th century BCE by Makkhali Gosala, it was a śramaṇa movement and a major rival of vedic religion, early Buddhism and Jainism. Ājīvikas were organised renunciates who formed discrete communities.Original scriptures of the Ājīvika school of philosophy may once have existed, but these are currently unavailable and probably lost. Their theories are extracted from mentions of Ajivikas in the secondary sources of ancient Indian literature. Scholars question whether Ājīvika philosophy has been fairly and completely summarized in these secondary sources, as they were written by groups (such as the Buddhists and Jains) competing with and adversarial to the philosophy and religious practices of the Ajivikas. It is therefore likely that much of the information available about the Ājīvikas is inaccurate to some degree, and characterisations of them should be regarded carefully and critically.

The Ājīvika school is known for its Niyati ("Fate") doctrine of absolute determinism, the premise that there is no free will, that everything that has happened, is happening and will happen is entirely preordained and a function of cosmic principles. Ājīvikas considered the karma doctrine as a fallacy. Ajivika metaphysics included a theory of atoms which was later adapted in Vaisheshika school, where everything was composed of atoms, qualities emerged from aggregates of atoms, but the aggregation and nature of these atoms was predetermined by cosmic forces. Ājīvikas were considered as atheists. They believed that in every living being is an ātman – a central premise of Hinduism and Jainism.Founded in what is now the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, Ājīvika philosophy reached the height of its popularity during the rule of the Mauryan emperor Bindusara, around the 4th century BCE. This school of thought thereafter declined, but survived for nearly 2,000 years through the 14th century CE in the southern Indian states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. The Ājīvika philosophy, along with the Cārvāka philosophy, appealed most to the warrior, industrial and mercantile classes of ancient Indian society.


Śramaṇa (Sanskrit: श्रमण; Pali: samaṇa) means "one who labours, toils, or exerts themselves (for some higher or religious purpose)" or "seeker, one who performs acts of austerity, ascetic". The term in early Vedic literature is predominantly used as an epithet for the Rishis with reference to Shrama associated with the ritualistic exertion. The term in these texts doesn't express non-Vedic connotations as it does in post-Vedic Buddhist and Jain canonical texts. During its later semantic development, the term came to refer to several non-Brahmanical ascetic movements parallel to but separate from the Vedic religion. The śramaṇa tradition includes Jainism, Buddhism, and others such as the Ājīvikas, Ajñanas and Cārvākas.The śramaṇa movements arose in the same circles of mendicants in ancient India that led to the development of yogic practices, as well as the popular concepts in all major Indian religions such as saṃsāra (the cycle of birth and death) and moksha (liberation from that cycle).The Śramaṇic traditions have a diverse range of beliefs, ranging from accepting or denying the concept of soul, fatalism to free will, idealization of extreme asceticism to that of family life, wearing dress to complete nudity in daily social life, strict ahimsa (non-violence) and vegetarianism to permissibility of violence and meat-eating.


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