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Nastika (नास्तिक, nāstika; "heterodox") and Astika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक, IAST:āstika; "orthodox") are technical terms used in Indian philosophy to classify philosophical schools and persons based on whether or not they accept the authority of the Vedic scriptures as supreme.[1] There are six orthodox schools (i.e. Veda accepting) of Hindu philosophy: Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Raja yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta, while three other systems of Indian philosopy are considered to be nastika (i.e. Veda-rejecting): Carvaka, Jainism and Buddhism.[2]

Hindu philosophy asserts that it is more important to accept the authority of the Vedas than it is to accept the existence of a God (Theism). Thus, unlike other religions, the criterion of both orthodoxy and heresy in Hinduism is not based on the belief in, or worship of, a particular god. Notably even among the astika schools, samkhya[3]and the early mimamsa school do not accept a God (while still accepting the authority of the Vedas); thus they are still astika schools.

It should be noted that the definition of heterodoxy (as "Veda-rejecting") presupposes a Hindu viewpoint and position of power in the articulation of orthodoxy. Thus, the term "nastika" may be offensive to those labeled as such. Certainly, the Buddhists and Jains do not consider their own views to be heretical, inspite of the fact that they reject the Vedas.


Astika (IAST:āstika) is a Sanskrit adjective (and noun) that is derived from asti ("it is or exists")[4] meaning "believing" or "pious";[5] or "one who believes in the Vedas." Nastika (na (not) + āstika) is its negative, literally meaning "not believing" or "not pious." Specifically, nastika refers to rejection of Vedic authority, non-belief or lack of belief in the Vedas.

Classification of Indian Philosophical schools

Many Indian intellectual traditions were codified during the medieval period into a standard list of six orthodox systems, the shaddarshanas (şaddarśana), all of which cite Vedic authority as their source:[6]

  • Nyaya, the school of logic
  • Vaisheshika, the atomist school
  • Samkhya, the enumeration school
  • Raja Yoga, the school of Patanjali (which assumes the metaphysics of Samkhya)
  • Mimamsa (or simply Mimamsa), the tradition of Vedic exegesis, and
  • Vedanta (also called Uttara Mimamsa), the Upanishadic tradition.

These are often coupled into three groups for both historical and conceptual reasons: Nyaya-Vaishesika, Samkhya-Yoga, and Mimamsa-Vedanta.

The three main heterodox "schools"[7] of Indian philosophy do not base their beliefs on Vedic authority. These "schools" are identified as follows:

  • Buddhism
  • Jainism
  • Carvaka, the materialists, who rejected all sources of knowledge except sensory-perception.

Additionally, the "followers of Tantra are often branded as Nāstika by the upholders of the Vedic tradition."[8] The Hindu Tantric traditions, however, have both astika and nastika 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."[9]

Heterodoxy in Hinduism

The experience of heresy or heterodoxy in Hinduism has not been analogous to the violent history of heretical movements found in Christianity or Islam. Theologically, many streams of Hinduism are remarkably tolerant and pluralistic, allowing for freedom of worship, co-existence, and even pro-existence with other relgious points of view. Nevertheless, there have also been examples of orthodox violence towards nastika groups such the Jains and Buddhists. For instance, Kumarila Bhatta (c. 700 C.E.) was responsible for the massacre of Buddhists, and the philosopher Madhva was called the "hammer of the Jains"[10] for allegedly encouraging the impaling of nastika Jains who refused to accept his philosophical Dvaita viewpoint. However, this claim about Madhva has been called a "fabrication" by followers of Sri Madhvacharya and largely refuted.[11]

Modern Usage

According to Chatterjee and Datta, "[i]n modern Indian languages, 'āstika' and 'nāstika' [are sometimes used to] mean 'theist' and 'atheist', respectively. [However, traditionally,] in Sanskrit philosophical literature, 'āstika' means 'one who believes in the authority of the Vedas'…[12] As N. N. Bhattacharyya writes, "The term Nāstika [traditionally] does not denote an atheist. It is applied only to those who do not believe in the Vedas. The Sāṅkhyas 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."[13]


  1. Gavin Flood, ed. An Introduction to Hinduism, (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 82, 224-249
  2. For an overview of this method of classification, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: S. Radhakrishnan and C. A. Moore, A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989)
  3. "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 Gavin Flood, ed. Blackwell companion to Hinduism. (Blackwell Publishing, 2003)
  4. Monier-Williams, Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary. (Nataraj Books, 2006.)
  5. Apte, S. A Practical Sanscrit Dictionary (1965), 240
  6. Flood (1996), 231-232
  7. Technically, the following mentioned heterodox groups were not schools, per se, since they contained heterogenous philosophical viewpoints.
  8. N. N. Bhattacharyya. History of the Tantric Religion (New Delhi: Manohar, 1999), 174
  9. S. C. Banerji. Tantra in Bengal, second revised and enlarged ed., (Delhi: Manohar, 1992), 2
  10. Klaus K. Klostermaier, A Survey of Hinduism. (Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2nd edition, 1994), 59, 254.
  11. Dvaita Home Page A Critique of Klostermaier's A Survey of HinduismThe Web resource for Sri Madhvacharya's Doctrine.
  12. Satischandra Chatterjee and Dhirendramohan Datta, An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. (Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1984), 5
  13. Bhattacharyya (1999), 174

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Apte, S. A Practical Sanscrit Dictionary. 1965.
  • Banerji, S. C. Tantra in Bengal, second revised and enlarged ed. Delhi: Manohar, 1992. ISBN 8185425639
  • Bhattacharyya, N. N. History of the Tantric Religion, Second Revised ed. New Delhi: Manohar, 1999. ISBN 8173040257
  • Chatterjee, Satischandra and Dhirendramohan Datta. An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Calcutta, India: University of Calcutta, 1984.
  • Flood, Gavin (ed.) An Introduction to Hinduism. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996. ISBN 8175960280
  • __________. Blackwell companion to Hinduism. Blackwell Publishing, 2003. ISBN 0631215352
  • Klostermaier, Klaus K. A Survey of Hinduism, second ed., Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 1994.
  • Macdonnell, Arthur A. A Practical Sanscrit Dictionary. Nataraj Books, 2006. ISBN 9781881338567
  • Monier-Williams. Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary. Nataraj Books, 2006. ISBN 1881338584
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli and Charles A. Moore. A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton University Press, 1989. (original 1957). ISBN 0691019584


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