Shad Darshan: The Six Philosophies of Ayurveda

by Delight Yoga

Ayurvedic Philosophy

As every healing system has a basic foundation of philosophy, Āyurvedic philosophy is based on Shad Darshan, the six philosophies of life, which developed from the ancient sages and scriptures of India. These ancient scriptures are known as Vedas, meaning “bodies of knowledge”. The entire Vedic tradition is composed of highly spiritual wisdom and pure knowledge revealed through the hearts of enlightened rishis (seers). It is not a creation made by the mind of man, but rather a revelation from the hearts of meditative sages.

This ancient wisdom came from the caves and mountains of India where the rishis had ashrams and disciples. Students came to study with them, and the rishis imparted knowledge as they experienced it in a deep state of meditation. These early teachings were an oral tradition and, because there were no books, the students stored the knowledge in their minds and it became a part of them. As written music has no melody, so the written mantra has little energy. For this reason, the rishis believed that mantras should not be written down. They tried to impart this knowledge from one soul to another soul through the oral tradition.

The knowledge of Āyurveda has been passed down to us in sūtras, or small phrases. The Sanskrit word sūtra means “thread”. The small phrases of a sūtra are similar to a thread passing through the eye of a needle. The eye of the needle is small, but the trail of the thread leads to great hidden wisdom waiting for interpretation. Those few words hold together, like a thread, a mass amount of wisdom. It lies in the teacher to interpret and explain, so a teacher may spend hours interpreting one short sūtra.

These are the Shad Darshan, the six philosophies of life, and how each one of these philosophies has contributed to the thought of Āyurveda:

1. Sāmkhya

The word Samkhya comes from two Sankrit words: Sat, meaning “truth” and khya, meaning “to know”. The ancient rishi (“seer of truth”) Kapila realized, through deep meditations, the Samkhya philosophy of creation. Sāmkhya gave Āyurveda the theory of evolution and a theory of cause and effect.

2. Nyāya & Vaisheshika

Nyāya means “logic” and Vaisheshika means “to specify the important aspects of concrete reality”. Nyāya and Vaisheshika gave Āyurveda logical and sequential thinking. The body is a material machine and this machine should be corrected. This approach is reflected in modern physics.

3. Mimāmsa

Mimāmsa means to analyze and thoroughly understand the truth. Mimāmsa is about action, the path of life, freedom through the performance of dharma, duty. Its teachings include methods and means of attaining God through rituals, ceremonies and fasting.

4. Vedānta

Veda meaning “knowledge” and anta meaning “ending”, so Vedānta means the “ending of knowledge”. Knowledge is necessary for learning, inquiring and investigating but to fully realize life, the merger of the lower self into the higher Self, knowledge becomes a barrier. Vedānta gave profound thinking to Āyurveda about eternal, changeless Brahmā, the ultimate achievement of each human being. To achieve that goal each person needs perfect health.

5. Yoga

Yoga comes from the word Yuj, that means “to unite” - the union of the lower self with the higher Self, the union of man with God. Patānjali was the pioneer who organized yogic discipline as a science through his Yoga Sūtras and Āyurveda has accepted this philosophy for healing purposes.

6. Buddhism

Buddhism teaches that everything is going to end. Do not worry about diseases, because the disease is going to end. Have patience. Buddhist philosophy says there is suffering and a simple way to go beyond suffering is to have patience. To give time for the Samprapti, the disease, to eradicate itself. That is what Buddhism has given to Āyurveda.