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Astika (Sanskrit: आस्तिक, IAST:āstika; "orthodox") and Nastika (नास्तिक, nāstika; "heterodox") are technical terms in Hinduism used to classify philosophical schools and persons, according to whether they accept the authority of the Vedas as supreme revealed scriptures, or not.[1] By this definition, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta are classified as astika schools; while Charvaka, Jainism and Buddhism are considered nastika schools. [2] The distinction is similar to the orthodox/heterodox distinction in the West.

In non-technical usage, the term astika is sometimes loosely translated as "theist" while nastika is translated as "atheist".[3] However this interpretation is distinct from the use of the term in Hindu philosophy. Notably even among the astika schools, samkhya[4]and the early mimamsa school do not accept a God (see Atheism in Hinduism) while accepting the authority of the Vedas; they thus are "atheistic astika schools".

The different usages of these terms are explained by Chatterjee and Datta as follows:

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' or 'one who believes in life after death'. ('nāstika' means the opposite of these). The word is used here in the first sense. In the second sense, even the Jaina and Buddha schools are 'āstika', as they believe in life after death. The six orthodox schools are 'āstika', and the Cārvāka is 'nāstika' in both the senses.[5]



Astika (IAST:āstika) is a Sanskrit adjective (and noun) that is derived from asti ("it is or exists")[6] meaning "believing" or "pious";[7] or "one who believes in the existence (of God, of another world, etc.)."[6] Nastika (na (not) + āstika) is its negative, literally meaning "not believing" or "not pious". As used in Hindu philosophy the differentiation between astika and nastika refers to belief in Vedic authority, not belief or lack of belief in theism. As N. N. Bhattacharyya writes:

The followers of Tantra are often branded as Nāstika by the upholders of the Vedic tradition. The term Nāstika 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.[8]

Classification of 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:[9]

  • Nyaya, the school of logic
  • Vaisheshika, the atomist school
  • Samkhya, the enumeration school
  • Yoga, the school of Patanjali (which assumes the metaphysics of Samkhya)
  • Purva 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 schools of Indian philosophy that do not base their beliefs on the Vedas were regarded as heterodox by Brahmins:

The use of the term nastika to describe Buddhism and Jainism in India is explained by Gavin Flood as follows:

At an early period, during the formation of the Upanişads and the rise of 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 Buddhism and Jainism] are understandably regarded as heterodox (nāstika) by orthodox (āstika) Brahmanism. [10]

The Tantric traditions in Hinduism, 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.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 82, 224-49
  2. ^ For an overview of this method of classification, with detail on the grouping of schools, see: Radhakrishnan & Moore 1989
  3. ^ For instance, the "Atheist Society of India" produces a monthly publications Nasthika Yugam which it translates as "The Age of Atheism".
  4. ^ "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 Flood 2003
  5. ^ Chatterjee & Datta 1984, pp. 5, footnote 1
  6. ^ a b Monier-Williams 2006
  7. ^ Apte 1965, pp. 240
  8. ^ Bhattacharyya 1999, pp. 174
  9. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 231-2
  10. ^ Flood 1996, pp. 82
  11. ^ Banerji 1992, pp. 2


  • Apte, V. S. (1965), A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary  
  • 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  
  • Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984), An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (Eighth Reprint ed.), University of Calcutta  
  • Flood, Gavin (1996), An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ISBN 8175960280  
  • edited by Gavin Flood. (2003), Flood, Gavin, ed., Blackwell companion to Hinduism, Blackwell Publishing, ISBN 0-631-21535-2  
  • Monier-Williams, Monier (2006), Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary, Nataraj Books, ISBN 18-81338-58-4  
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli; Moore, Charles A. (1989) [1957], A Source Book in Indian Philosophy (Princeton paperback 12th ed.), Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-01958-4  


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