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Aastika and Naastika

I would like to better understand what these two words mean in a Hindu context. Unlike in the Western dichotomy of atheist and believer in Jesus, my understanding is that these words have more complexity and express a sense of what belief entails.

Would appreciate the opinions of others more knowledgeable than me on this.



Well-known member
Question-Astik-Nastik school of Indian philosophy.Discuss

- The Vedas are considered of highest importance in the Indian philosophy, roots of which can be traced back to vedas. The Vedic tradition is divided into two sections- jnana kanda and karma kanda.

- The latter has been developed by the Brahmana scriptures while the former by Aranyakas and the Upanishads. Indian philosophy is multi dimensional and multi-versional. It is religious and secular, theistic and atheistic, materialistic and idealistic, pro and anti vedic or Astik and Nastik.

- The Indian philosophical system has been divided into two classes ie Astik and Nastik. The word Astik literally means theist or a believer in God while the word Nastik means an atheist or one who does not believe in God.

- However, in Indian philosophy these words represent concept of believer and non believer respectively in the testimony of the Vedas. Astik here does not mean one who believes in rebirth since even the Nastik systems of Jaina and Buddha believe in rebirth.

The Astik Class:

- As mentioned, astik system of Indian philosophy believes in the testimony of Vedas. This class includes six systems of Indian philosophy which are collectively known as Sad Darshan. These are Mimamsa, Vedanta, Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya and Vaiseshika.

- A significant fact is that of these systems, Mimamsa does not believe in God. However, the astik system is not confined to only these; according to Madhavcharya, even grammar and medicine belong to this class. Most often though the six mentioned above are generally considered.

- Mimamsa focusses on the ritualistic aspect of the Vedas and Vedanta on the knowledge aspect. Since they are directly based upon the Vedas, both these types are sometimes called Mimamsa. To make a distinction, Vedanta is known as Purva Mimamsa or Jnana Mimamsa and the other as Uttara Mimamsa or Karma Mimamsa.

The Nastik Class:

- The charvakas, jainas and buddha systems fall under Nastik class of the Indian philosophical system. They do not believe in the testimony of the Vedas. As a matter of fact, they owe their origin in the response against Vedic traditions.

- According to Jainism, nastikavada is a system of beliefs that are nastika in nature ie who is ignorant of the meaning of the religious texts or those who deny the existence of the soul.

- The Buddhist philosophers too have condemned faith in the Vedas. But neither Jains nor Buddhists have abused the Vedas nor shown disrespect as Charvaka has done. As a matter of fact, despite their association with the Nastik class, they are closer to the Astik systems as compared with Charvaka.



Well-known member
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 (as it does not accept an anthropomorphic God) and āstika (Vedic) philosophy, though “God” is often used as an epithet for consciousness (purusa) within its doctrine.

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 in the Christian or Islamic sense. N. N. Bhattacharya 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.
— Bhattacharyya 1999, pp. 174


Well-known member
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 Pāṇini 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 the Nāstika."

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.



Well-known member
I would like to better understand what these two words mean in a Hindu context. Unlike in the Western dichotomy of atheist and believer in Jesus, my understanding is that these words have more complexity and express a sense of what belief entails.

Would appreciate the opinions of others more knowledgeable than me on this.

Opinions are dime a dozen. What you should focus is the FACT what these words mean, rather than opinions.

The word "Astika" is derived from the root word "asti" meaning "It is (so)". IT here meaning two things:

(A) Supremacy of Vedas
(B) Belief in the theory of re-births based on Karma theory.

An atheist can also be an Astika, because it is not necessary to believe in the existence of God. pUrva meemAmsakas who analyzed threadbare the ritual portion of vedas were/are athiests but they are considered Astikas, whereas Buddhists who believe only in theory of rebirth but do not subscribe to the supremacy of vedas are called "nAstikAs".

In short an Astika does not get translated into a believer, as most people assume and as Western Indologists have supposed.


With time and space(place) the meaning of a word may change. Having said that, the word Aastik to me conveys having Aastha of faith and Nastik is just the opposite. Now ask the question Aastha in what or Naastha is what? So if one use the two words in reference to God, then one is a believer or non believer. One can have Aastha in individual, government etc.

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