Samkhya : Part Six : Samkhya – Buddhism – Vedanta

03 Oct

Continued from Part Five

W. Samkhya and Buddhism

50.1. Samkhya and Samkhya-like ideas certainly predate emergence of Buddhism. One of the teachers of the Buddha is said to have taught a doctrine that resembled Samkhya. There are certain similarities between Samkhya and the early Buddhism. It is likely each influenced the other, in their later stages. That does not however mean that Buddhism is the same as Samkhya. Their dissimilarities are perhaps more significant than their similarities.

50.2. The similarities between Samkhya and the early Buddhism could briefly be mentioned as:

  • acceptance of the notion that life is characterized by suffering;
  • rejection of the notion of absolute God; 
  • rejection of the concept of soul;
  • emphasis on individual rather on cosmic;
  • similarity in the theories of evolution;
  • similarity in the view of the world as a constantly becoming and changing phenomena;
  • acceptance of the concept of Gunas;
  • acceptance of the Satkarya vada that the effect resides in its cause; 
  • similarity in enumeration of the basic elements or components of nature;
  • similarity in the notions of liberation kaivalya or nirvana
  • rejection of both the Vedic authority and the validity of rituals;
  • rejection of extreme practices and self torture etc.

50.3. In each of these similarities, the Buddhist projections appear more radical or perhaps more elaborate. Having said that let me also mention that such similarities are not unique to Samkhya and Buddhism alone. One finds such features generally among other ancient Indian Schools too.

For instance, the adoption of enumeration of various components of nature (Anveshiki) was a well accepted method among other systems of thought; rejection of Vedic authority and its ritualistic attitude was also a feature of other rational schools; the notion of aloofness kaivalya absolute independence was also the ideal of Jains. Similarly, the theories of Karma, Gunas and such other beliefs were commonly accepted by most schools.

50.4. But one similarity which is rather striking is the emphasis on Dukkha suffering and its eradication. That was the stated objective of both the systems. Buddhism however made that the central point of its doctrine. The Buddha’s second and the fourth postulates on the origination of sorrow and the methods of elimination of sorrow are his original contribution to Indian thought; the former being his philosophical stand point and the latter his religious system.

50.5. The other distinctive characteristics of Buddhism are the emphasis on compassion and ethics. . The Buddha asserted that it is not adequate if one merely focuses on elimination of suffering; but one must acquire the skill of probing the nature of the object. Those efforts must essentially be rooted in ethics and a wholesome mental state. The cultivation of the four sublime virtues of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic Joy, and equanimity is of great importance.

50.6. The Samkhya abandons the idea of the existence of the absolute, but it retains the idea of spirit (Purusha) and of material world (Prakrti); the Buddhism, on the other hand abandoned both these two conceptions, and retained only the fleeting series of mental states (stream of consciousness) as a quasi reality, In either case there is effort to disown the human psycho-physical apparatus and its functioning.

51.1. Samkhya teaches that we should look beyond our personal affinities with Prakrti and realize the timeless unchanging nature of our true self, which resides beyond Prakrti as Purusha the pure consciousness. This realization can be understood as the reverse process of evolution back into the Purusha. Whereupon the Purusha is established in its own nature as kaivalya solitary and independent, indifferently observing the natural world.

51.2. Early Buddhism as also Samkhya attempted to do away with the illusion that empherical ego is the real Self; though the Buddha remained silent on the question of Self as also on the question of nirvana. But, the Buddha’s studious disapproval of metaphysical discussion on these aspects did not seem to have yielded the results he desired. Because, his silence spurred series of speculations in the later Buddhist Schools; and caused much confusion and bewilderment.

51.3 . The nature of Nirvana is perhaps the most debated issue of Buddhist philosophy, probably because the Buddha himself refused to speculate on it. His attitude was, in effect: If you want to know what nirvana is like, then experience it. But clearly Nirvana does not involve the isolation of a pure consciousness as in the case of Samkhya, because there is no such thing as permanent consciousness in early Buddhism. The unique feature of Buddhism is that there is no permanent Self at all, and never was; there are only five skandhas, “heaps” of elements, which constantly interact. It is significant that the skandhas do not constitute a Self; the sense of a Self is merely an illusion created by their interaction. The Buddha emphasized that one should not identify anything as the Self.

[The following are few chosen extracts from Introduction to the Modern Samkhya: Ancient Spirituality for the Contemporary Atheist, written by  Douglas Osto, a member of the Philosophy Programme in the School of Humanities, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand; and,  one who specializes in Indian Mahayana Buddhism, South Asian religions and philosophies, contemporary Buddhist and Hindu practice,

The goal of his book, as Prof. Osto says, is to present a manual of “Modern Sākhya” for use as a path toward transcending personal suffering; a practical guidebook for activating Sākhya philosophy; and, to serve as a tool for transcending suffering.

khya and Buddhism

Although both Sākhya and Buddhism emerged from the same historical context in ancient India and share a number of important features characteristic of the renouncer traditions, the two have followed substantial different paths since.

Buddhism eventually traveled beyond India and  spread throughout all of Asia ; and, in the modern period has undergone profound changes during its transmission to the West.

khya, on the other hand, while exerting a profound influence on India thought throughout the centuries, never took root beyond India ; and , has all but become extinct as an independent religious philosophy in the modern period.

One of the most profound changes to occur to Buddhism in its encounter with modernity has been termed “psychologization“, whereby Buddhism is viewed as psychology; and, its mythological and traditional aspects are either downplayed or ignored. This has in turn led to the “Buddhicization” of psychology, whereby growing numbers of psychologists use Buddhist concepts and techniques for therapeutic reasons.

We see this most clearly in the “mindfulness” craze that has entered mainstream psychology in the United States. Thus a de-traditionalized, psychologized Buddhism is now firmly entrenched within the American medical and psycho-therapeutic communities.

Another aspect of this new Buddhism is the downplaying or complete ignoring of the world-renouncing aspects of Buddhism, in favor of the “this-worldly” benefits of Buddhism

The above comments are not meant as a criticism of modern Buddhism or how it is used by some people in the contemporary world. Rather it is to point out that religions and religious philosophies are constantly undergoing changes and transformations in order to adapt to the needs of people. These days renouncing the world to become a wandering ascetic is not a viable option for most people living in modern, industrialized societies.

Moreover, few people would choose to give up all their worldly possessions, emotional attachments, erotic relationships, and family ties to pursue a transcendent state beyond space, time, death and decay. However, what many people today want as much as the ancient Indian renouncers is to live a life free from suffering, and attain some type of lasting happiness.]

X. Samkhya and Vedanta

52.1. Even prior to the emergence of Samkhya as a system , the Samkhya-like ideas and terms appeared in the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita, the epics and other texts .This suggests that the monistic trends in Vedic thought and dualistic concepts of Samkhya had common origins.

52.2. But Samkhya as a doctrine was ever distinct from the Vedic stream of speculative intuitions. The early Samkhya, in sharp contrast, refused to speculate on god and rejected the scriptures and rituals as means for human attainments. It stepped aside cosmological explanations or implications.  It affirmed the existence of the objective-world; emphasized the world has to be understood in the context of human existence; and, said the world is inextricably wound up with the presence of human existence. One has to therefore deal with the world positively.

52.3. The Samkhya separated itself from the scripture- based Vedanta and preferred to be a group of reason-based free thinkers with only a loose scriptural affiliation. But, the Samkhya never rejected the Veda completely unlike the Buddhists and the Jains; but, it maintained that Vedas cannot be accepted as unquestioned sole authority. Besides, the Samkhya brand of atheism never collapsed into the materialism of Charvakas and naturalists (Lokayatas). Samkhya always maintained spiritual and salvation-oriented outlook.

52.4. Though both the Upanishads and Samkhya identified knowledge (jnana) and effective discrimination (viveka) as the means for attaining human aspirations, which is realizing one’s true identity, Samkhya was dualistic to its core, whereas the Upanishads adopted a non-dual approach saying that the absolute consciousness encompasses the entire universe; everything that resides in it is but a transformation of that principle.

53.1. The Samkhya insisted that the individual consciousness, the true identity of man , is distinct from everything else and there are infinite number of such unit consciousness. It said consciousness (Purusha) which sees the world (Prakrti) is separate from what it sees. It asserted that confusing the seer for the seen or mixing both is the cause for man’s suffering.

53.2. Vedanta, on the other hand, asserted the notion of identity of the individual consciousness and the Universal consciousness. It declared that the entire manifest universe is an expression or transformation of that absolute consciousness. Vedanta sharply differed from the Samkhya theory of evolution of the manifest world as emanating through a series of causes and effects.

53.3. Samkhya maintains two independent realities and infinite numbers of Purushas. Vedanta does not accept two infinite-s and multiplicity of Souls.

The extreme form of dualism between subject and object was seen as a basic inadequacy of Samkhya as it left no room for coexistence of the two categories.

53.4. The later variations of the Samkhya School attempted to resolve these difficulties by (1) conceiving Purushas not as distinct from each other, but as various aspects or reflections of one unitary consciousness; and (2) conceiving Prakrti not as distinct from this unified consciousness, but as an aspect of it.

But this, of course, transformed Samkhya into a completely different system; because, it gives up the basic dualism of Purusha and Prakrti.

53.5. With these modifications Samkhya came to resemble the monistic system of Sri Shankara. It was also rendered theistic with Samkhya accepting the existence of a Supreme Being (Parama Purusha) the God.  But, these adaptations rendered Samkhya acceptable to Vedic Schools; and Samkhya came to be regarded, since about the sixteenth century, as one of the six accepted Schools of traditional Indian philosophies (Darshana).

53.6. With or without its modifications, Samkhya is a very important School of thought; and has contributed to the richness, profundity and breadth of the Indian philosophy. The explanations and elaborations offered by most other Schools of Indian thought are based in the foundations provided by the terms and concepts provided by the Samkhya. 

Swami Vivekananda in his exposition of Samkhya philosophy aptly remarked, “If we take into consideration Advaita Vedanta, then our argument will be that the Samkhya is not a perfect generalization …and yet all glory really belongs to the Samkhya. It is very easy to give a finishing touch to a building when it is constructed.”

Y. Kaivalya, Nirvana and Moksha

54.1. Samkhya, Buddhism and Vedanta are the three most important philosophical systems. The three together represent almost the whole of Indian philosophies. Nearly every shade of metaphysical discussion revolves round these three pillars. They may also be viewed as three basic ways of resolving the relation that exists between God and world; Man and God; Man and world; and in general the nature of relation between subject and object.

54.2. All the three systems regard realizing ones true identity and gaining release from suffering of all sorts as the goal of human evolution. There are similarities as also differences among the three modes of inquiry.  All the three instruct the individual to avoid identifying with any physical or mental phenomenon but to let-go all identities. All three agree that enlightenment – variously called as kaivalya, nirvana or moksha- is not an intellectual construct.  They point out that liberation cannot be attained through theoretical knowledge of the scriptures because it is a state that is beyond all categories of thought. In other words, enlightenment or liberation is beyond philosophies. Enlightenment is an experience.

55.1. The question is: since all the three systems regard enlightenment as a state beyond intellect, are they all referring to the same experience or whether there are different kinds of enlightenment?

That question arises because the basic tenets and methods of the three systems are irreconcilably different. Samkhya is dualistic; the early Buddhism may be considered pluralistic; while, Advaita Vedanta is monistic.

55.2. Samkhya is the most radical possible dualism between subject and its object. The separation between the two (Purusha and Prakrti) is so extreme that the system-connect virtually fails because the two neither can come together nor communicate with each other.

55.3. Early Buddhism attempts to combine subject into object. Consciousness according to Buddhism has no independent existence; it is something that is conditioned and arising out of the interaction with other factors (skandas). Buddhism does not believe in a permanent Self. The Self is merely an illusion created by the interaction of the five aggregates (skandas). The Self shrinks to nothing and there is only a void; but the Void is not a thing — it expresses the fact that there is absolutely nothing, no-thing at all, which can be identified as the Self.

Both Samkhya and Buddhism focus on the individual and do not discuss cosmic aspects of existence. Both are basically radical and dualistic in their approach. And, both disregard the Vedas, Vedic authority and its rituals.

55.4. Advaita Vedanta on the other hand conflates object into subject. There is nothing external to Brahman, the One without a second. Since Brahman is a non-dual, self-luminous consciousness, it encompasses the entire universe. And the universe is nothing but the transformation of Brahman. Everything is the Self the Brahman.

56.1. What do kaivalya, nirvana or moksha   mean in these systems

 According to Samkhya, the Purusha in its true form is ever pure and ever-present. The Arhat, said the Buddha, is “deep, immeasurable, and unfathomable, like the mighty ocean.”  The Brahman of Vedanta is an infinite pure consciousness pervading everywhere.

The Samkhya ideal of attaining enlightenment (Kaivalya) is described as Discriminative Knowledge (Viveka-khyāti). It consists in Purusha (pure consciousness) realizing its distinction from Prakrti (everything else) with instruction of Buddhi (knowledge of discrimination).Ignorance (Aviveka)  is failure to differentiate Purusa (Jnasvarupa) as distinct from the intellect, ego, mind and other modifications of Prakrti. Liberation (Kaivalya) in Samkhya is neither the acquisition of a new state, nor the shaking of an old one. It is only the disappearance of the conditioned factors of Aviveka, ignorance or the wrong-knowledge. The state of liberation is named as Kaivalya (aloneness) because the Purusa enjoys unique aloofness in its splendid isolation.

But,  Kaivalya which is essentially based in dualism was viewed as an inadequacy of the Samkhya. The Yoga which has its theoretical base in Samkhya sought to correct the position. In Samadhi the pure consciousness becomes one with the object of meditation. The distinctions between the knower, knowing and the known is obliterated .It is akin to the Advaita ideal of realizing the whole universe as the Self.

56.2. Nirvana is also the realization of the true nature of Reality – of being, non-being and becoming.  The term Nirvana derived from the root va (to blow like the wind) qualified by a negative prefix nir denotes a state of motionless rest where no wind blows, where the fire has been quenched, where the light is extinguished and where the stars have gone out .The Buddha explained it with a simile of an oil-lamp sinking upon itself and expiring when its fuel has been consumed .Nirvana suggests a state of emptiness and nothingness. At the same time Nirvana is described as a state of blessedness, unbound peace and deliverance.

Nirvana is characterized as a state beyond conditioned consciousness, beyond the ceaseless motion of life (Samsara).  It is the absolute extinction of suffering and attainment of unique intuitive wisdom ( Prajna or Pannā). The Buddha however refused to speculate on the nature of it. We therefore do not really know how the Buddha understood Nirvana. The Pali Canon speaks of a state beyond all conceptual thoughts; and yet, it could be experienced in meditation.

But nirvana does not seem to involve the isolation of a pure consciousness, (as in the case of Samkhya) because such concept is not present in the early Buddhism. The concept of a permanent Self is also not there. The Buddha emphasized that one should not identify anything as the Self. Nirvana, in essence is complete freedom by abandoning all sensations, all perceptions, all volitions, and acts of consciousness. It is a state of bliss which is entirely different from and free from all that exists in the Samsara.

The Buddhist Nirvana is not the eternal essence, which is the basis of everything and from which the whole world has arisen (like the Brahman of the Upanishads) but the reverse of all that we know, something altogether different which must be characterized as a nothing in relation to the world, but which is experienced as highest bliss by those who have attained to it (Anguttara Nikaya, Navaka-nipata 34).

56.3. Vedanta says Brahman is One without a second; Brahman is unbound there is nothing outside it. For Sri Shankara, moksha, liberation, is the realization that I am, and always have been, Brahman. One does not attain or merge with this Brahman; one merely realizes that one has always been Brahman. Sri Shankara uses the analogy of the space within a closed jar: that space has always been one with all space; their separateness is nothing but a construct (kalpana vishesha)

57.1. On the face of it the early Buddhism and Vedanta appear to have serious differences. While Buddhism does not believe in a Self, Vedanta says everything is the Self. There is apparently no consciousness in nirvana, but everything is consciousness in moksha. The one appears to be the mirror image of the other. They are extreme positions, trying to resolve the relation between the Self and the non-self by conflating the one into the other. The not-self of Buddhism holds within it the Self; while the Self of Advaita swallows the not-self.

57. 2. How different are they? Or do they mean the same thing in reverse?

It perhaps depends on the way one looks at it. In either case there is no duality between the object (that which is observed) or the subject (that which observes).If you look at it in another way there is not a great deal of difference between the two systems.

In both the systems the right understanding is the key to salvation. It is the right understanding that liberates. In Vedanta, one does not attain or merge with this Brahman; one merely realizes that one has always been Brahman. Similarly in Buddhism too one does not achieve anything new, but realizes ones true nature (or Buddha nature) as being always been pure and unstained. All that one needs to do is to realize that fact.

The concept of Shunya emptiness of later Buddhism is rather fascinating. Shunyata transcends human thoughts and speech. In Mahayana Buddhism shunyata, emptiness not merely refers to the absence of a Self but is also the fundamental characteristic of all reality; shunyata is the category which corresponds to the Vedanta concept of Brahman.

57.3. But can shunyata be reconciled with the One without a second?

Yes, it can be done. The explanation offered is that there is essentially only one thing; and to put it more accurately it is not even one in the numerical sense. We cannot say that it is One, yet, we cannot say it is not one, not two or not any number. The term selected by Vedanta to give expression to its idea  of Reality is: ‘it is not two’ (a-dvaita).

To call it One, is just a way of saying that it is a unity and there is nothing outside it — no duality of a subject and an object. The it (tat) would not even be aware of itself as being one or being alone. It is absolute wholeness. In another way of saying, because there is nothing outside it, its phenomenal experience would be of nothing or nothing, which is shunyata.

58.1. There are some passages in the Pali Canon which almost sound Vedanta- like. Its language too resemble the mysticism of Vedanta

 There is Oh disciples an unborn, un-originated, uncreated and unformed. Were it not there … Oh disciples,.. there would be no possibility of existence of the world of the born, generated, created and formed.(Udana 8.3)

The great ocean is deep, immeasurable and unfathomable..So also the Perfect One is deep, immeasurable and unfathomable as the great ocean. (Samyutta Nikaya 4)

58.2. The Buddha emphasized that nirvana is neither annihilation nor eternal life. In the Brahmanimantanika Sutra (Majjhima-Nikaya), the Buddha said: Do not think that this [nirvana] is an empty or void state. There is this consciousness, without distinguishing mark, infinite and shining everywhere (Vinnanam anidassanam anantam sabbato-pabham); it is untouched by the material elements and not subject to any power.
On another occasion the Buddha describes the state of an Arhant the one who has realized;

He who has gone to rest, no measure can fathom him.

There is no word to speak of him.
What thought could grasp has blown away.
And every path to speech is barred.
58.3. Just as there are passages in the Pali Canon which sound like Vedanta, so there are passages in the Upanishads which seem Buddhist-like. Perhaps the most famous among them is Yajnavalkya’s instruction to his wife Maitreyi in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad: “Arising out of these elements (bhuta), into them also one vanishes away. After death there is no consciousness (na pretya samjna ‘sti)….”

Yajnavalkya explains: For where there is a duality, as it were (iva), there one sees another…. But when, verily, everything has become just one’s own self, then what could one see and through what… Through what could one know that owing to which all this is known? So, through what could one understand the Understander? This Self… is imperceptible, for it is never perceived. (II. iv. 12-15)

Thus, the notions of infinity and nothingness appear in both the systems. Nothingness is an image or a reflection of the infinity.

59.1. But, why did Sri Shankara preferred to speak of the One and the Buddha of nothingness?

It seems that the answer to this lies in the nature of their philosophies. In referring to Brahman as One without a second, Sri Shankara tries to describe reality from outside, as it were, because that is the only perspective from which it can be understood as One. Sri Shankara was basically a philosopher; and as all philosophers do, he looks upon the whole of reality objectively and to comprehend its structure. It is as if the philosophizing intellect takes a look at the whole of existence from outside of it.

59.2. But the Buddha was describing his experience. He realized that one cannot get outside of reality and describe it as an object; because one is inseparable from that reality. He also believed too much philosophizing and clinging to ideas is an obstruction to enlightenment. He advocated meditation as a process to let go all attachments, even the attachment to ideas and concepts.

59.3. But both the savants accept that conceptual thinking is part of the problem; not in itself the way to enlightenment. If one accepts that the goal is to attain liberation rather than to understand it, then philosophy too must ultimately be transcended or let go. Philosophy might try to view things externally, but ultimately it is one’s experience that really matters.

59.4. Can nirvana or moksha be experienced? I do not know. But it appears these states suggest a condition where the boundaries of individual identity would simply dissolve. It would perhaps be a complete absence of tension and effort, a letting go of all identities and of everything that was previously clung to;   and one would eventually become that everything which in fact one always was.

60.1. In summary, the difference between the Buddhist nirvana and the Vedantic moksha is one of perspective. The Vedanta explanation — that of realizing ones true identity -is a philosophical view. The Buddhist interpretation of letting go all identities is objective description. But in each case the actual experience appears to be the same. Ones experience is the truest test of all, as Sri Shankara observed.


Duality is a normal reality of experience.. So Samkhya talks of a framework to link up with the dual world as elementising becomes logical and reasonable..and easier to comprehend. Advaita is an unusual reality… an abstract experience and perhaps can be obtained in a particular state. You can’t understand it as even elemntaising of a whole kills the essence. Buddhism is like Samkhya as it does not delve on question of god and is very practical to remove dukkha… and so is Samkhya.

All theses are true but in different locations… and if all locations exist within us…all these are true…as experiential realities. So one does not contradict the other.

..Prof. Durgadas Sampath

Lotus_Flower purity


References and sources

Vedanta and Buddhism

Enlightenment in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Samkhya


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13 responses to “Samkhya : Part Six : Samkhya – Buddhism – Vedanta

  1. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 2:18 am

    Dear Rao,

    Saivite scholars claim – Gyna Sambandar’s debate with the Jain scholars at Madurai and the most famous debate of Adi Shankara with the ritualist Maṇḍana Miśra established Advita sect of Vedantha as the supreme of all Indian philosophies .However history records the exit of Jains from Tamil land after Sambandar and in the whole of South India after the emergence of the three acharyas Sankara, Ramanuja and Madhwa.It also marks the decline of Buddhism from whole of India – until the recent reemergence after Dr.Ambedkar.

    If Buddhism dominated and practiced from aprox 5th century BC to 7th century AD in India – it will be interesting to know what made Sankara to have been accepted by scholars around as the greatest Guru in such a short span of life.He lived only up to 32 years – but marketed his line of thought as the best ever in Hinduism – the non dualistic school.

    In this context is the content of the debate that Acharya Sankara had with Pandit Mandana Misra available ? Even in Tamil there is mention of debates of Gyna Sambanda with the Jains as anal vadam,Punal vadam ( Fire debate,Water debate etc ) and the starting hymn he proceeded with.But the details/content on which point they have lost and surrendered is not known.

    Can you throw some light on this ?


    PS :

    Quote :
    Maṇḍana Miśra’s guru was the famous Mimamsa philosopher, Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa. Shankara sought a debate with Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa and met him in Prayag where he had buried himself in a slow burning pyre to repent for sins committed against his guru: Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa had learned Buddhist philosophy from his Buddhist guru under false pretenses, in order to be able to refute it. Learning anything without the knowledge of one’s guru while still under his authority constitutes a sin according to the Vedas.Kumarīla Bhaṭṭa thus asked Adi Shankara to proceed to Mahiṣmati (known today as Mahishi Bangaon, Saharsa in Bihar) to meet Maṇḍana Miśra and debate with him instead.

    After debating for over fifteen days, with Maṇḍana Miśra’s wife Ubhaya Bhāratī ( She was the incarnation of Sarawati ) acting as referee, Maṇḍana Miśra accepted defeat.Ubhaya Bhāratī then challenged Adi Shankara to have a debate with her in order to ‘complete’ the victory. Later, Ubhaya Bhāratī conceded defeat in the debate and allowed Maṇḍana Miśra to accept sannyasa with the monastic name Sureśvarācārya, as per the agreed rules of the debate.

    I feel – If even the parrots in the house of Mandana Misra discussed philosophy and logic it is a pity the content of the debates never saw the light of the day.It would have been great treasure to the students of Vedanthic philosophy.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 2:18 am

      Dear Shri Ravi, The points you raised about Shaivism in South India; and the relevance of Sri Sankara are very interesting.

      I reckon, during the time of the Child – Saint Sri Sambandar, which is about the 7th-century, Shaivism in South was not yet the great force it became. The celebrated saints of Tamil Shaivism Appar, Sambandar and Sirukottandar were perhaps the contemporaries of the Pallava King Nrusimha Varman (c.630-660 AD) in whose time it took shape. But it was not until the reign of the Chola King Raja-raja (985-1018) that Tamil Shaivism gained depth, authority and became widespread.

      The early Shaiva saints (like Appar and Sambandar) were remarkable for their devotion and poetic genius; but they did not seem to be academically oriented and did not build a philosophic system as such. The Shaiva –Siddantha as a system gained prominence in Tamil country by about the tenth century. It reached a fully developed stage with Maikanda-Deva’s celebrated work Siva-jnana-bodham dated early thirteenth century.

      Sri Sankara’s period (say mid seventh century) lies in-between the above two stages in the development of Shaivism ; but nearer to its early stage at the time of Sambandar .It appears therefore the Shaiva influence was not dominant in the South , at least in Kerala , during the time of Sri Sankara. The scholars therefore point out Sri Sankara’s own writings (Bhashyas) do not display Shivate leanings; but show inclination towards Vishnu.Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao in his scholarly analysis of Sri Sankara’s Adhyasa Bhashya has made a long list of references in Sri Sankara’s Bhashyas as also in the traditions of Sringeri Mutt elucidating this point.

      As regards the relevance of Sri Sankara, he arrived on the scene when the Traditional religion was beset with numerous problems such as: strangling influences of rituals and dogma; hedious practices; atheism; encroachment and oppression from rival religions; and above all a sense of confusion, disorientation and bewilderment. Sri Sankara strived to bring back the Upanishad spirit of enquiry, intuition, knowledge, reason, open-mindedness and its values of life. In short, Sri Sankara strived to recover the correct tradition, the Sampradaya. His was a voice of sanity.

      His commentary of the Brahma sutras was the beginning of a new era and a new line of thought. He attempted to free Vedanta from unwarranted assumptions and project it as model for the befit of an earnest seeker. It was a conceptual restructuring of the traditional framework; and, set a benchmark in philosophical and scriptural analysis. All the other schools of Vedanta could be said to a reaction to his commentary the Bhashya.

      He or someone else with that name (Shankaracharya) organized, ordered and systematized the old religion .For instance he classified the community of Sanyasins into ten orders (dasa-nami); established four monasteries exercising spiritual and temporal authority over four recognized zones of the country; laid down the systems and procedures for conduct of the monasteries sand the Sanyasins; and formulated a harmonious procedure of worship of the then recognized major deities (panchayatana). In short, he strived to bring some order into chaos. He arose in fulfillment of demands and needs of his times. It is not therefore surprising he is, as you said, regarded the greatest of the teachers.

      It would not be correct to say, Sri Sankara drove Buddhism out of India. No, the Buddhism had lost its vigor a couple of centuries before his arrival. And, the Mahayana Buddhism had moved closer to Upanishad ideals rendering the chasm separating it from Vedanta quite narrow or not very significant.

      Yet, it seems , for some reason, the glory and fame of Sri Sankara and of his attainments came into prominence and shone forth only a couple of centuries after his demise.

      Regarding the debate said to have taken place between Sri Sankara and Mandana Misra , please check the following link . It provides a summary as taken from a book by Swami Chinmayananda. The account in the traditional texts sounds rather mythical.

      Warm Regards

      • sreenivasaraos

        March 19, 2015 at 2:21 am

        Dear Rao,

        Thank you for the details

        .I have read in great detail about Gyna Sambandar – and of other saivite scholars in Tamil.There is lot of jain literature in Tamil – Tamil kings patronized them before his time.More than history ( which was never fomally written ) there are strong literary evidences that Jains had to leave on account of a organized popular movement by poets known as Nalver ( Nalver is four some ) – appar.Manikka vasakar ( I have gone through his entire work in Tamil poetry known as Thiruvasakam ),sambandar and Sundarar among the 63 nayanmars ( savite scholars like 12 Azhwars of Vaishanivism – stories of their lives and deeds in Tamil poetry exists) – debate or no debate.

        Mandana Misra is associated with Sankara’s life story .The problem with all these information is its authenticity – many people after add their own information and hearsay the communication lapse was terrible – so no wonder it took 2 centuries for India to know who Adi Sankara was in spite of his super human wisdom and clarity of all confusions that existed before.His demise was at the age of 32.

        sometimes doubts arise all the works attributed to him was by one man – or were there many Sankaras ?( it is a common name after all ).Really it does not matter – his clarification of Vedanta undoubtedly appeals to many as the best to truth seekers of this complex relationship between individual and universe.




  2. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 2:21 am

    uality is a rnnormal reality of experience..
    so samkhya talks of a framework to link up with the dual world as elementising becomes logical and reasonable..and easier to comprehend.
    advaita is an unusual reality.. an abstract experience and perhaps can be obtained in a particular state. you cant understand it as even elemntaising of a whole kills the essence.
    Buddhism is like samkhya as it does not delve on question of god and is very practical to remove dukha.. and so is samkhya.
    all theses are true but in different locations.. and if all locations exist within us…all these are true experiential realities..
    so one does not contradict the other.

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 2:23 am

      Dear Shri Sampath .I am glad you read. I agree, each system in its context is true. They represent different perspectives of the same reality; and there is no real contradiction. You might not have agreed with all that I said about Samkhya. That is understandable for two reasons: One Samkhya is a many-layered maze, it is not easy to interpret; and the second is my own inadequacies in understanding the subject and putting it across lucidly. As , I mentioned at the commencement of the series , those who are familiar with Samkhya find these articles rather inadequate or even flawed; while those who are new to the subject find these just tedious. I think, I will take a relook at these after a while and see how they look from a distance in time. Thank you for reading these articles. Please keep talking. Regards

  3. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 2:23 am

    Dear Shri Ravi, Yes, I agree. The facts and myths are so mixed up it is no longer possible to get a realistic pictures of these persons. Even in case of Sri Sankara it is made to appear that he lived in a distant mythical age of demons of dragons; or ever perpetually immersed in Samadhi. I tried to put together a picture of him as I understood. Please check Sri Sankara – a genius, misunderstood . Similarly, please check Life of the Buddha- the Pali tradition . Regards

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 2:25 am

      Dear Rao,

      on the point explained by Sampath Sir – it is true Buddhism is very similar to Samkhya . As I understand both of them reject God – but Buddhism rejects Purusha and Prakirti too.On Atma question also there is a difference.Both of them belong to almost same time period and talks of Mukthi.Almost 1200 years later may be Sankara’s advocacy of Vedanta – had to bring the absolute element to negate Buddhism which was anti brahmnical.In order deal with Buddhism he chose to rope in Samkhya as an ally.

      No doubt the credit goes to to the original frame work of Samkiya Karikai by Eswara Krishnan – on which it is easier to develop further thought processes and make a building on the foundation.It was the need of the time that philosophers emerge with thoughts of relative time frame of civilization and impact of other sciences that develop along.

      Once an Arab was boasting to an Indian Muslim lawyer friend of mine in the club that all great prophets be it Mohammed or Jesus – or Jewish thoughts all emerged from middle east.And this chap who was his colleague in the law firm retorted – You guys needed them – because you were barbaric and uncivilized.

      If a prophet were to reappear today in Middle east I am sure he would re write the religion.

  4. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 2:26 am

    Sree Rao
    I have been reading all the posts twice & thrice.
    Samkhya is rather complicated and in comparison Adwaitha is more lucid.
    True, what you have said. Sree Shankara did not drive out Buddhism. People would have found it easier to follow Adwaitha & Dwaitha than a complicated vague philosophy of Buddhism ( vague- not the Buddhist philosophy..but the human mind which could not comprehend the Buddhist philosophy.Shree Shankara, Madhwacharya and Ramanuja made Bhakthi & philosophy easier.
    But when I think of Sree Sankara I am in awe.
    My father gave me a copy of Viveka Chudamani & used to talk a lot about His Philosophy.
    But when I think of Shankara, all ideas of philosophy vanish from my mind. I can only see and experience to a certain extent, His Bhakthi.His establishing of Shanmathas..His Bhaja Govindam, the Soundarya Lahari, Sivananda Lahari..
    As they say, in Kaliyuga we don’t need any homams, or yagaas or philosophy. The mere utterance of Bhagwan Nama is enough to carry us through.When Bhakthi floods the heart and mind, philosophy just happens. Self analysis vanishes. Self too vanishes.And every day turns out to be a day with it Rama or Krishna or Siva or Sakthi. They become part of us and we do keep experiencing nirvana at the most unexpected moments.
    Thank you Shree Rao…
    your posts are making me think a lot…

    Usha Suryamani

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 2:28 am

      Dear ushasuryamani , yes, as you mentioned Samkhya is rather complicated as compared to Advaita. Samkhya with its variations is a many layered maze. It not easy either to understand it or to interpret it to everyone’s satisfaction. Add to that my own inadequacies. I admire your patience in reading all the six parts. I am sorry you had to read them over and again to drum some sense out of the posts. I share your regard and enormous reverence for Sri Sankara, his ideals, achievements and his relevance to the Traditional Religion. Please keep talking. Regards

  5. sreenivasaraos

    March 19, 2015 at 2:30 am

    Dear Rao,

    There is this very nice verse that summarises the evolutionary path that leads to the Supreme System: Advaita:

    विवर्तवादस्य पूर्वभूमिः वेदान्तवादे परिणामवादः ।
    व्यवस्थितेऽस्मिन् परिणामवादे स्वयं समायाति विवर्तवादः ॥
    (I think this verse is from the Sankshepa shArIraka)

    [In Vedanta doctrine, the precursor to VivartavAdaH (Advaita) is the PariNAmavAda of Saankhya. When one is well grounded in the PariNAma concept, the vivarta concept crystallizes all by itself.]

    The satkArya vAda of sAnkhya is explained thus: the effect resides in the cause as effect.
    The satkArya vAda of Vedanta (Advaita) is: the effect resides in the cause AS CAUSE. This major difference makes Vedanta a kevala Brahma vAda; the effect being a mere appearance of the cause itself, vivarta.

    Best regards and thanks for that fine series,

    • sreenivasaraos

      March 19, 2015 at 2:30 am

      Dear Shri Subrahmanian, That was a very valid observation. Thank you for mentioning it.I think , I should include it in the blog for benifit of all readers. Thank you.Regards.

  6. sreenivasaraos

    May 16, 2020 at 7:29 am

    Dear Rajula

    Wow.. that was great. You are very versatile indeed.

    Regarding Viveka:

    Viveka, which generally is translated as discrimination, has several layers of connotation.

    It, generally, could be taken as the faculty for judgement, discretion, distinguishing and classifying things and persons around you; the events that concern you or all; and, one’s own experiences.

    At the outset, it is the ability or acumen that lets one to analyse, to introspect and to differentiate the right from the wrong; the true from the false; and, what is truly good in the end (Shreyas) from what initially seems desirable but doesn’t lead to the ultimate good (Preyas) and so on.

    Viveka is also the ability to study, to reason, to deliberate, take a prompt and an apt decision; and act upon it at the right time.

    Viveka could also mean being worldly-wise (Vyvahara-jnana) , to behave prudently and to live among the fellow beings; and, it is not just being well-read and scholarly.

    It essentially is a virtue that is based on one’s own wisdom.

    In the Samkhya system, the term Viveka stands for Intellectual faculty , for reasoning that is freed from all attachments and prejudged notions, in order to separate pure consciousness (Purusha) from everything else (Prakrti). And that, according to Samkhya, is the surest way to ascertain your true identity- Who you are.

    In the Theravada Buddhism, Viveka generally could be construed as detachment: to view oneself as being separate from one’s gross body (Kaya-viveka); being emotionally unattached or unaffected by desires (Chitta-Viveka); to be unfettered by all types of limitations or hindrances that binds a person( Upadhi-viveka).

    Viveka is in realizing the impermanent-nature of things on this earth; that everything which comes in to existence should perish; and give place to the next. Don’t be too attached to anything or even to ideas and concepts.

    In the Jainism, Viveka is to exercise restraint, self control and remain pure (Viveka -prayaschitta) by shunning over indulgence with seven types of allurements that hinder ones composure: food drinks and so on. It is essentially intended for purification or release from the flaws that infect all mortals.


    According to the Pratyabhijna School of Kashmiri Shaiva monism, the Viveka consists in self-awareness (parämarsa), in recognizing your identity (Pratyabhijna) with Shiva , the Ultimate Reality; and, that the individual and Shiva are essentially one. This doctrine asserts that the state of Shiva-consciousness is already there; you have to realize that; and, nothing else.

    In the Vedanta, Viveka is the intellectual power or discriminating inquiry to distinguish between the Absolute (Brahman) and the relative (Vyvaharika); real and apparent; reality and illusion; the self and the non-self (Atman and Anatman); between the permanent and the impermanent (Nitya and Anithya); between the real and the unreal (Satya and Asatya); and, between the truth and untruth (Satya and Mitya).

    The absence of discrimination (Vivekagraha or Vivekakhyati); and the failure to differentiate the real from the apparent; not recognizing their real nature, but being just led by their seeming appearance, is said to be an error (Avidya) that causes illusion (Maya).

    Sri Shankar’s Viveka Chudamani is of course the classic text on the virtues of the faculty of Viveka-True knowledge.

    In the recent times, Sri Ramana Maharishi was the greatest exponent of Viveka as the method for investigation, inquiry of the Self (Vichara)

    OK Maa

    Lot could be said about Viveka ; but, I presume this would do for now.

    Stay safe, healthy and happy

    Please keep talking

    Cheers and Regards

    P; S;
    This comment may not quite suit this page
    I will later transfer it to Samkhya

    Lets continue form there on this issue, if any

    Thank you


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