There are two kinds of schools of Indian philosophy, Astika and Nastika. Astikas accept the authority of the Vedas, whereas Nastikas reject the authority of the Vedas. The Astika schools are part of Hinduism, while the Nastika schools fall under the broader category of Dharmic faiths. Now there are six Astika schools: Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa, and Vedanta. (They're all dead other than the Vedanta school, which encompasses most Hindus today as I discuss here.)

Because they accept the authority of the Vedas, these schools all believe in Yagnas, the law of Karma, the existence of the soul, the afterlife, reincarnation, and Moksha. But one thing they disagree on is how to get Moksha. So my question is, what is the means of attaining Moksha according to each of the six Astika schools?

3 Answers 3


Let me address each of the six Astika schools:

  1. Samkhya: The Samkhya school believed that meditation on the 25 Tattvas, i.e. Purusha or soul, Prakriti or matter/energy, and the 23 evolutes of Prakriti, is what leads to knowledge of the difference between Purusha and Prakriti, which is what leads to Moksha. Here is what Ishwara Krishna says in verses 64-66 of the Samkhya Karika:

    evaṃ tattvābhyāsān nāsmi na me nāham ity apariśeṣam |
    aviparyayād viśuddhaṃ kevalam utpadyate jñānam ||
    tena nivṛttaprasavām arthavaśāt saptarūpavinivṛttām |
    prakṛtiṃ paśyati puruṣaḥ prekṣakavad avasthitaḥ svasthaḥ ||
    dṛṣṭā mayetyupekṣaka eko dṛṣṭāham ityuparatānyā |
    sati saṃyoge api tayoḥ prayojanaṃ nāsti sargasya ||

    By practising the principles thus, there arises the knowledge, viz., ‘I am not, naught is mine, there is no Ego’, which is complete, absolute and pure, because there remains no doubt. By this knowledge, the Spirit, seated composed like a spectator, perceives the Nature which has ceased to be productive and, consequently, which has now reverted from seven forms. One (the Spirit) is indifferent like a spectator in play; one (the Nature) desists, (saying) that I have been seen. (Now), in spite of their contact, there is no motive for creation.

  2. Yoga: The Yoga school believed that practicing Ashtanga Yoga is what leads to knowledge of the difference between Purusha and Prakriti, which is what leads to Moksha.  Here is what Patanjali says in Adhyaya 2 Sutras 25-29 of the Yoga Sutras:

    tad-abhābāt-saṁyoga-abhāvo hānaṁ taddr̥śeḥ kaivalyam ||
    viveka-khyātir-aviplavā hānopāyaḥ ||
    tasya saptadhā prānta-bhūmiḥ prajña ||
    yoga-aṅga-anuṣṭhānād-aśuddhi-kṣaye jñāna-dīptir-āviveka-khyāteḥ ||
    yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-'ṣṭāvaṅgāni ||

    The bringing of this association to an end, by bringing the darkness of unwisdom to an end, is the great liberation; this is the Seer's attainment of his own pure being. A discerning which is carried on without wavering is the means of liberation. His illuminations is sevenfold, rising in successive stages. From steadfastly following after the means of Yoga, until impurity is worn away, there comes the illumination of thought up to full discernment. The eight means of Yoga are: the Commandments, the Rules, right Poise, right Control of the life-force, Withdrawal, Attention, Meditation, Contemplation.

  3. Nyaya:  The Nyaya school believed that knowledge of the 16 Padarthas or categories of logical reasoning and argument is what leads to Moksha.  Here is what Gautama says in the first Sutra of the Nyaya Sutras:

    pramāṇa-prameya-saṃśaya-prayojana-dṛṣṭānta-siddhānt-avayava-tarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇḍā-hetvābhāsa-cchala-jāti-nigrahasthānānī tattva-jñānān niśreyasa-adhigamaḥ

    It is the knowledge of the real essence (or true character) of the following sixteen categories that leads to the attainment of the Highest Good -

    1. The means of Right Cognition
    2. The objects of Right Cognition
    3. Doubt
    4. Motive
    5. Example
    6. Theory
    7. Factors of Inference
    8. Cogitation
    9. Demonstrated Truth
    10. Discussion
    11. Disputation
    12. Wrangling
    13. Fallacious Reason
    14. Casuistry
    15. Futile Rejoinders
    16. Clinchers
  4. Vaisheshika:  The Vaisheshika school believed that knowledge of the 7 Padarthas or qualities of existence is what leads to Moksha.  Here is what Kanada says in the fourth Sutra of the Vaisheshika Sutras.

    dharma-viśeṣa-prasūtād dravya-guṇa-karma-sāmānya-viśeṣa-samavāyānāṃ padārthānāṃ sādharmaya-vaidharmyābhyāṃ tattva-jñānān niḥśreyasam

    The Supreme Good (results) from the knowledge, produced by a particular dharma, of the essence of the Predicables, Substance, Attribute, Action, Genus, Species, and Combination by means of their resemblances and differences.

  5. Purva Mimamsa: The Purva Mimamsa school wasn't too focused on Moksha, being more concerned with the fruits obtained from Yagnas.  But those Mimamsakas that did believe in Moksha thought that knowledge of the Jivatma of individual soul is what leads to Nishkama Karma, i.e. doing your Vedic Dharma without desiring the fruit, and that Nishkama is what leads to Moksha.  Here is what Kumarila Bhatta says in this excerpt from the Shloka Vartika:

    The fact (as to the manner of Deliverance) is that for those that have come to know of the real character of Self,—all their past actions having been exhausted by fruition, and there being no subsequent residue (of actions),—the body is never again produced (and this is what is meant by Deliverance). It is only for the purpose of enjoying the results of our past actions that our body is produced; consequently, when there are no actions (left to bring about their results), there is no cause left for such productions (of the body).  One desiring Deliverance, therefore, would not engage in (i.e., perform) such actions as are either prohibited or are enjoined with a view to the attainment of certain (material) results. But he would continue to perform those that are enjoined as necessary (and to be performed daily), and those that are enjoined as to be performed on certain specific occasions (such as eclipses and the like),—in order to avoid the sin (accruing from | the non-performance of such actions). The effects (of the necessary sacrifices f.i.) are known to result only when they are desired by the agent ; and as such they could not accrue to one who does not desire them. And as this (aversion to results) exists in one who knows one's real self, it is in this that such knowledge comes to be of indirect use (to the attainment of Deliverance).

    Some Mimamsakas went further and added that the performance of Vedic Dharma should not only be desireless, but it should be done as devotional service to Brahman.  Here is what Apadeva says in this excerpt from his Mimamsa Nyaya Prakasha:

    And this duty, when it is performed with a view to that with a view to which it is enjoined, produces that (promist fruit). But performed with the intention to offer it to the Exalted Govinda, it produces supreme beatitude. And there is no lack of authority for performing it with the intention of offering it to Him. Because there is the traditional statement: "Whatever tho doest, whatever thou eatest, whatever thou offerest as oblation or givest in gifts, whatever penance thou doest, Son of Kuntï, that do as an offering to Me." And because this (statement) is valid authority, like the smriti-prescription of the Eighth-lunar-day-rite etc. This is set forth in full elsewhere.

    But other Mimamsakas didn't even believe in Brahman.

  6. Vedanta: The Vedanta school believes that meditation on Brahman using the 32 Brahmavidyas is what leads to knowledge of Brahman, which is what leads to Moksha.  Here is what Vyasa says in Adhyaya 4 Pada 1 Sutras 12-14 of the Brahma Sutras

    ā prayāṇāt tatrāpi hi dṛṣṭam ||
    tadadhigama uttarapūrvāghayoraśleṣavināśau tadvyapadeśāt itarasyāpyevamasaṃśleṣaḥ pāte tu

    (Meditation is to be repeated) up till the moment of death, for it is noticed in the scriptures that it is done so even then. On the realization of That, there occur the non-attachment and destruction of the subsequent and previous sins respectively, because it is declared so. In the very same way there is no attachment of the other (ie., of virtue) as well. Liberation must follow as soon as the body falls.

    But getting Moksha through meditation upon Brahman is extremely difficult, especially in the Kali Yuga, so Krishna describes an easier alternative path to Moksha in chapter 18 of the Bhagavad Gita:

    sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja | ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ ||

    Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.

    This refers to Sharanagati or complete surrender to the lotus feet of Vishnu, as Vedanta Desikan explains in this excerpt from his Rahasyatraya Sara.

In any case, it's striking that all six Astika schools agree that knowledge/meditation of some kind leads to Moksha.

  • 12
    I encourage everyone to perform Sharanagati or complete surrender to the lotus feet of Vishnu.------ Is this a Vaishnava forum or are u a Vaishnava Guru that you are giving such advises? And are u trying to use this platform to proselytize?? Moreover who are u to give such advice? Everyone has their own Gurus, elders and Ishtas to guide them.
    – Rickross
    Oct 22, 2017 at 5:41
  • 3
    @Rickross Every School has their own interpretation and we should be least interested in their interpretations even if Mahabharata says Brahman Spoke Gita. But encouraging everyone to perform some sect (Vaishnavism) specific ritual is proselyting. As per guidelines, we shouldn't proselytize or promote our Ista Devas.
    – The Destroyer
    Oct 22, 2017 at 6:58
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    I am not interested in knowing ur interpretations of scriptures. Vishnu is Vishnu Krishna is Krishna. Argument like "That Vishnu This Vishnu" does not really work."I would say that Brahman is Sriman Narayana" Yeah that's exactly why i think it is attempt to proselytize. Trying to force or influence others with what one thinks as true. Not allowed here i guess.
    – Rickross
    Oct 22, 2017 at 7:48
  • 2
    "Vishnu is Vishnu Krishna is Krishna." Yes, and 1=1 and 2=2. It's still true that 1+1=2, and it's still true that Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. ""That Vishnu This Vishnu" does not really work." Yes, it does. The name Vishnu refers pervasion, and Vamana is called that because he pervaded the Lokas when grew in size. Vishnu is definitely not the son of Kashyapa and Aditi. Kashyapa is the son of Marichi, who is the son of Brahma, who is the son of Vishnu. It is Vamana whose parents are Kashyapa and Aditi. Oct 22, 2017 at 8:00
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    "lotus feet of Vishnu"@keshav srinivasan - is there a scriptural reference that Vishnu had lotuses for feet?
    – S K
    Dec 2, 2017 at 15:44

In Kashmiri Shaivism, Liberation or Moksha which brings JagadAnanda wherein whole universe become one's own body is achieved by a class of techniques called ShAmbhavopaye. Other classes of techniques which are ShAktopAye & AnavopAye are just to make aspirant capable to practice ShAmbhavopAye. Why I am using the word class is because there are many techniques involved with each class of techniques which are at least 112 in numbers - mentioned all in VijnAnabhairava tantra. Since it is difficult to summarize all techniques here, I will quote AchArya Abhinavgupta's verses which explains ShAmbhavopaye.

In this highest state of supreme God consciousness [anuttara] there is no need of spiritual progress, no contemplation, no art of expression, no investigation, no meditation, no concentration, no recitation, exertion or practice. Tell me then, what is the supreme and well-ascertained truth? Listen indeed to this! Neither abandon nor accept anything, enjoy everything, remain as you are! A.A-1

Attraction and repulsion, pleasure and pain, rising and setting, self-confidence and depression; all these states with which the universe is formed shine as mutually different but in reality they are not. Whenever you perceive the specificity of some thing, at that very moment you should perceive the essence of your own consciousness as one with it… why not take delight in the fullness of that awareness! A.A-5

So, as you have seen, ShAmbhavopAye is choiceless awareness - Neither rejection, nor acceptance. When one practices it, thought streams are reduced to ashes in absence of polarity which is always in form of acceptance & rejection. ShAmbhavoAye is actually highest form of surrender wherein you just surrendered the struggle with duality in form of acceptance or rejection.

Besides, These techniques ... Bhakti/Devotion or Surrender to Lord Shiva has been given utmost importance. All AchArya wrote devotional hymns to Lord Shiva telling this only, E.g Lalleshwari, like Meera, got enlightenment through Bhakti only. She said -

Whatever work I did became worship of the Lord;
Whatever word I uttered became a prayer;
Whatever this body of mine experienced became
the sadhana of Saiva Tantra
illumining my path to Parmasiva. -138

The Lalia of Padmanpora,
Gulp by gulp Amrit who drank,
who saw Shiva face to face everywhere:
Grant me too that boon,
O. Lord Shiva! - 88

Also, AchArya Somananda goes one step ahead & declare other techniques inferior against Bhakti in Shiva Stotrvalli as (Translating by myself, if anyone can translate it better, he/she is allowed):

O Lord! even if I get the highest enlightenment or experience without your devotion, it would be sour/irrelevant for me without any taste. But if I get your consistent devotion without any self realization It is everything to me. SS-1.11

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Astika schools don't seem to disagree on the means to attain moksha , though their expression of the same reality seem to be different . The following is a partial ans. wrt to samkya.

Sanmkya and Advaita don't seem to differ in their understanding of consciousness in principle as

Nishkalam nishkriyam shantam Niravadyam niranjanam(Svet up 6.19)

as well as Maya(Prakrithi) detailed in( Svet up 10.4)as the material cause(Upaadhaana Karanam) consciousness its master(Maheshwar)

mayAntu. prakrutim vidyAm mAyinantu maheshwaram

(Also concerning Maya(Prakrithi) as Jada(inert) which is defunct without the consciousness.)

Difference lies in theory of causation (Parinama Vada and Vivarta Vada), leading to two schools ,dualistic and the idea of illusion(Advaita) .secondly wrt. to the number pramanas in agreement.

Since both the schools are grounded on vedic literature , means for liberation from bondage do not differ. This is evident from Kapila Gita (Kapila-proponent of samkya, Gita -philosophical dialogue that teaches Brahma Vidya)

Brahman/Consciousness in the context of Jiva(Pratyag atma) understood as Purusha .Here though the expression is different ,quintessence remains the same.

Following are the verses from kapila Gita

yathA putrAscha vitttA ca pRRithaG martyaH pratIyate / apyAtmatvatvenA-bhimatAt dehAdeH Purushhas-tathA // III – 28 -39

Just as offsprings and wealth are considered distinct from oneself, so also is the Purushha different from one’s body that is taken by affection to be oneself.(English Translation by prof.Krishnamurthy)

anAdir-AtmA PurushhaH nirguNaH prakRRitaiH paraH / pratyag-dhAmA svayamjyotiH vishvaM yena samanvitaM // (III – 26 – 3)

Wise men attribute to PrakRRiti the relationship of Cause and Effect as well as the agency of action. And they point to the Purushha, that transcends the PrakRRiti, as the cause of enjoyership of happiness and unhappiness.(English Translation by prof.Krishnamurthy)

yathA jalastha AbhAsaH sthalasthenA-vadRRishyate / svAbhAsena tathA sUryo jalasthena divi sthitaH // evaM trivRRid-ahaMkAro bhUtendriya-manomayaiH / svAbhAsair-lakShito’nena sadAbhAsena satya-dRRik //

The presence of the Supreme Lord can be realized just as the sun is realized first as a reflection on water, and again as a second reflection on the wall of a room, although the sun itself is situated in the sky. The self-realized soul is thus reflected first in the threefold ego and then in the body, senses and minds.(English Translation prof.Krishnamurthy)

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