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There are different shades of interpretation of the terms Āstika-Nāstika.

Most of the answers on this forum relate to the interpretations that are propounded by some vested groups to denigrate other Indian faiths.

There is one question on this forum that could have been answered in the spirit of my question. However, it is married to another question, that reflects the general belief of the term Āstika-Nāstika and leaves no room to treat these terms divorced from the belief system. Hence, there is a need for a separate question.

However, the question that remains to be answered whether the terms Āstika-Nāstika can be explained without any connection to one particular faith or belief like Hinduism? Is there an etymological explanation for these terms?

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Instead of opinions, we can look to Pāṇini to find the meaning of the term.

He defines Āstika-Nāstika (4.4.60) through his sutra as

अस्ति-नास्ति-दिष्टं मतिः

Kasika the foremost commentator on Aṣhṭādhyāyī has categorically stated while commenting on the above sutra (see chapter 4):

तदस्य इत्येव ।

तदिति प्रथमासमर्थेभ्यः अस्ति नास्ति दिष्ट इत्येतेभ्यः शब्देभ्यः अस्य इति षष्ठ्यर्थे ठक्प्रत्ययो भवति यत्तत्प्रथमासमर्थं मतिश्चेत्तद्भवति ।

अस्ति मतिः अस्य आस्तिकः ।

नास्ति मतिः अस्य नास्तिकः ।

दैष्टिकः ।

न च मतिसत्तामात्रे प्रत्यय इष्यते, किं तर्हि, परलोकोऽस्ति इति यस्य मतिः स आस्तिकः ।

तद्विपरीतो नास्तिकः ।

प्रमाण-अनुपातिनी यस्य मतिः स दैष्टिकः ।

तदेतदभिधान-शक्ति-स्वभावाल्लभ्यते ।

अस्ति-नास्ति-शब्दौ निपातौ, वचनसामर्थ्याद्वा आख्याताद्वाक्याच्च प्रत्ययः ।

A free translation of the above means that anyone who believes in a world beyond this world i.e. "paraloka" is astika and who does not is nastika.

Hence, etymologically, in the strict of the word, Buddhists, Jain, Sikhs, Muslims, Zoroastrians, Christians and Hindus (and many others) are Āstika!

One can now add any personal interpretation to these terms. However, it is not easy to ignore historical texts and the history that is associated with the evolution of Hinduism as we know it today. Sramanism has strongly influenced the Hinduism and this is one of the examples to show how the meaning of the words was changed through such influence!

  • "A free translation of the above" vs. "etymological strict of the word" - could you pick one? – ram Nov 25 '19 at 19:15
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    I checked the translation of Ashtadhyayi by Srisa Chandra Vasu and this is correct. I still cant believe this, but forced to upvote! – user16581 Nov 25 '19 at 19:59
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    Jain and buddhists are called nastika philosophies. Astika strictly refers to follower of vedas. – Anisha Nov 26 '19 at 13:13
  • @Anisha The words (Astika and Nastika) has no connection whatsoever with Vedas and which is obviously self-evident. From Na+Asti = Does not exist, Nastika refers to a person who does not believe in the existence of God and afterlife etc. We Bengalis use this word on a day to day basis referring to a person who does not believe in God and the scriptures that assert the existence of God and after life. The reference given in the answer affirms the same. – Rickross Nov 27 '19 at 8:24
  • @Rickross, since Vedas were the only book that even told us about something called 'God', disbelief in Vedas equated to disbelief in God. There is no 'God' without 'Vedas'. It's like saying I believe in Rama but not Ramayana. – ram Nov 30 '19 at 7:50

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