Achintya Bheda Abheda
Achintya Bheda Abheda
Shastras and Sutras
Other Indian philosophies
Part of a series on
Four Noble Truths
Buddhist Paths to liberation
Aids to Enlightenment
Buddhism by country
Part of a series on
Ethics of Jainism
The 24 Tirthankaras
Schools and Branches
Āstika literally means "there is, there exists" and nāstika means
"not āstika". These have been concepts used to classify Indian
philosophies by modern scholars, and some Hindu, Buddhist and Jaina
texts. 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. In contrast, nāstika are those who deny the
respective definitions of āstika.
The various definitions for āstika and nāstika philosophies has been
disputed since ancient times, and there is no consensus.
Buddhism is considered to be nāstika, but the
Gautama Buddha is
considered an avatar of
Vishnu in some Hindu traditions. The most
studied Āstika schools of Indian philosophies, sometimes referred to
as orthodox schools, are six: Nyāyá, Vaiśeṣika, Sāṃkhya, Yoga,
Mīmāṃsā, and Vedānta – all schools of Hinduism. The most
studied Nāstika schools of Indian philosophies, sometimes referred to
as heterodox schools, are four: Buddhism, Jainism, Cārvāka, and
Ājīvika – last two are also schools of Hinduism. This
orthodox-heterodox terminology is a construct of Western languages,
and lacks scholarly roots in Sanskrit. Recent scholarly studies
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. In current Indian
languages like Hindi, āstika and its derivatives usually mean
"theist", while nāstika and its derivatives denote an
"atheist.” However, the terms are used differently in Hindu
philosophy. For example, Sāṃkhya is both an atheist and āstika
2 Classification of schools
3.1.1 Definition without reference to Vedas
3.1.2 Definition based on belief in Atman
4 See also
Āstika is a
Sanskrit adjective (and noun) that is derived from asti
("there is or exists"). meaning "knowing that which exists" or
"pious"; Nāstika (na (not) + āstika) is its negative.
As used in
Hindu philosophy the differentiation between āstika and
nāstika does not refer to theism or atheism. 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' as in the
Christian or Islamic sense. As N. N. Bhattacharyya 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.
— N. N. Bhattacharyya
Astika is also a name, such as of a Vedic scholar born to goddess
Manasa (mind) and sage Jaratkaru.
Classification of schools
The terms Āstika and Nāstika have been used to classify various
Indian intellectual traditions.
A list of six systems or ṣaḍdarśanas (also spelled Sad Darshan)
Vedas as a reliable source of knowledge and an authoritative
source. These are the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga,
Vedanta schools of Hinduism, and they are classified
as the āstika schools:
Nyāyá, the school of logic
Vaiśeṣika, the atomist school
Sāṃkhya, the enumeration school
Yoga, the school of Patañjali (which assumes the metaphysics of
Mimāṃsā, the tradition of Vedic exegesis
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
The main schools of
Indian philosophy that reject the
regarded as heterodox in the Brahmanical tradition:
The use of the term nāstika to describe
Jainism in India
is explained by
Gavin Flood as follows:
At an early period, during the formation of the Upaniṣads and the
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
Jainism] are understandably regarded as heterodox (nāstika) by
orthodox (āstika) Brahmanism.
— Gavin Flood
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.
Manusmriti, in verse 2.11, defines Nāstika as those who revile "Vedic
literature based on two roots of science of reasoning (
Smriti)". 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."
Manusmriti does not define, or imply a definition for Astika. It is
also silent or contradictory on specific rituals such as animal
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. Indian
scholars, such as those from Samkhya, Yoga,
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
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".
The 7th century scholars Jayaditya and Vamana, in Kasikavrtti of
Panini 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
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.
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. All six schools of
Hinduism classified as Astika
philosophies hold the premise, "Atman exists". Buddhism, in contrast,
holds the premise, "Atman does not exist".
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
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. The
Vedanta sub-traditions of
"astika" because they accept the existence of soul, while Buddhist
traditions denying this are referred to as "nastika".
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".
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". 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. This exposition of the word
astika and nastika by
Haribhadra is similar to one by the Sanskrit
grammarian and Hindu scholar Panini in section 4.4.60 of the
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".
Nagarjuna, according to Chandradhar Sharma, equates Nastikya to
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. Astika are those who accept merit in
and practice a religious life. According to Andrew Nicholson,
later Buddhists understood
Asanga to be targeting
as nastika, while considering his own
Yogacara Buddhist tradition to
be astika. Initial interpretations of the
Buddhist texts with the
term astika and nastika, such as those composed by
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
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
The most common meaning of astika and nastika, in Buddhism, Hinduism
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.
Atheism in Hinduism
^ a b Monier-Williams 2006
^ Roy Perrett (2000), Indian Philosophy, Routledge,
ISBN 978-0815336112, page 88
^ Sushil Mittal & Gene Thursby (2004), The Hindu World, Routledge,
ISBN 978-0415772273, pages 729-730
^ a b Flood 1996, pp. 82.
^ Flood: "These schools [such as
Buddhism and Jainism] are
understandably regarded as heterodox (nāstika) by orthodox (āstika)
^ 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
^ a b GS Ghurye, Indian Sociology Through Ghurye, a Dictionary, Ed: S.
Devadas Pillai (2011), ISBN 978-8171548071, page 354
^ a b Wendy Doniger (2014), On Hinduism, Oxford University Press,
ISBN 978-0199360079, page 46
^ Literature review of secondary references of Buddha as Dashavatara
which regard Buddha to be part of standard list:
A Dictionary of Asian Mythology By David Adams Leeming p. 19 "Avatar"
Hinduism: An Alphabetical Guide By Roshen Dalal p. 112 "Dashavatara"
""The standard and most accepted list found in
Puranas and other texts
is: ... Rama, Krishna, Buddha, Kalki."
The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M p. 73 "Avatar"
Hindu Gods and Goddesses By Sunita Pant Bansal p. 27 "Vishnu
Hindu Myths (Penguin Books) pp. 62-63
The Book of
Vishnu (see index)
Seven secrets of
Vishnu By Devdutt Pattanaik p. 203 "In the more
popular list of ten avatars of Vishnu, the ninth avatar is shown as
Buddha, not Balarama."
A Dictionary of
Hinduism p. 47 "Avatara"
Gavin D. Flood (13 July 1996). An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge
University Press. p. 116. ISBN 978-0-521-43878-0.
^ Flood 1996, pp. 82, 224–49
^ For an overview of this method of classification, with detail on the
grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan & Moore 1989
^ 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".
^ 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
"nāstika" in both the senses.
^ "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.
^ Apte 1965, pp. 240
^ Bhattacharyya 1999, pp. 174
^ George Williams (2003), Handbook of Hindu Mythology, Oxford
University Press, ISBN 978-0195332612, page 65
^ Flood 1996, pp. 231–2
^ Flood 1996, pp. 82
^ Banerji 1992, pp. 2
Manusmriti with six scholar commentaries VN Mandlik, page
Manusmriti 10.63 Berkeley Center for World Religion, Peace
and World Affairs, Georgetown University
^ P. Haag and V. Vergiani (Eds., 2009), Studies in the
Kāśikāvṛtti, Firenze : Società Editrice Fiorentina,
^ Markus Dressler and Arvind Mandair (2011), Secularism and
Religion-Making, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199782949,
page 59 note 39
^ 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
^ C Sharma (2013), A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Motilal
Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120803657, page 66
^ Dae-Sook Suh (1994), Korean Studies: New Pacific Currents,
University of Hawaii Press, ISBN 978-0824815981, page 171
^ 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
Hinduism and Buddhism".
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
God, states Tilakaratna, in Brahmanic traditions is Parama-atma
(universal soul, Ishvara, Brahman)
^ a b S. Devadas Pillai (1997). Indian Sociology Through Ghurye, a
Dictionary. Popular Prakashan. pp. 353–354.
^ 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.
^ Andrew J. Nicholson (2013). Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and
Identity in Indian Intellectual History. Columbia University Press.
p. 173. ISBN 978-0-231-14987-7.
^ Ramkrishna Bhattacharya (2011). Studies on the Carvaka/Lokayata.
Anthem Press. pp. 164–166. ISBN 978-0-85728-433-4.
^ Chandradhar Sharma (2000). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy.
Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 101.
^ 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.
^ 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.
Apte, V. S. (1965), A Practical
Banerji, S. C. (1992),
Tantra in Bengal (Second Revised and Enlarged
ed.), Delhi: Manohar, ISBN 81-85425-63-9
Bhattacharyya, N. N. (1999), History of the Tantric Religion (Second
Revised ed.), New Delhi: Manohar, ISBN 81-7304-025-7
Flood, Gavin (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, ISBN 81-7596-028-0
Francis Clooney (2003). Flood, Gavin, ed. Blackwell companion to
Hinduism. Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-21535-2.
Monier-Williams, Monier (2006), Monier-Williams
Nataraj Books, ISBN 1-881338-58-4
Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; Moore, Charles A. (1989) , A Source
Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton paperback 12th ed.), Princeton
University Press, ISBN 0-691-01958-4
Vivekananda, Swami (1900), Complete Works of, Volume 1, Lectures and
Discourses, ISBN 978-8185301761
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