Tag Archives: Upanishads

Bodhayana the Vrttikara – Part Three

Continued from Part Two

The Outlook of Bodhayana

1.1. In the earlier part, we talked about the fragments of Bodhayana Vrtti as quoted in Sri Ramanuja’s Sribhashya – his commentary on the Brahma Sutras. And as said, even though Bodhayana the Vrttikara is quoted only about seven times in Sribhashya, each of those fragments expresses an aspect of Bodhayana’s thought.

Based on those fragments, let’s try to reconstruct Bodhayana’s thoughts.

1.2. Both Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja frequently refer to a Vrttikara.  It is, somehow, presumed that both the Acharyas refer to one and the same Vrttikara, that is, Bodhayana.  But, the difference is that whenever Sri Sankara quotes the commentator (vrttikara) he does not mention his name, and he also does not quote him fully. He usually summarizes and adduces them as being the differing theories or the stand of the opponent (Purva-paksha). And, whenever Sri Sankara cites Upavarsha, he mentions the Vrttikara by his name addressing him with great respect as Bhagavan (the revered) and treats him as the elder of his own tradition.

In a similar manner, Sri Ramanuja does not mention   the Vrttikara Upavarsha. But, he treats Bodhayana with great respect addressing him as Bhagavad, the Divine. And, he quotes the views of Bodhayana from the fragments of Bodhayana Vrtti as the authority. He reckons Bodhayana as the foremost among his Purva-charyas the revered Masters of his tradition.

It is, therefore, presumed that Sri Sankara was closer to Upavarsha; and that Sri Ramanuja followed Bodhayana.

[Some critics have however pointed out that the arguments of the Vrttikara rejected by Sri Sankara are not exactly the same as the ones quoted by Sri Ramanuja. And, they wonder whether the Acharyas could be referring to different Vrttikaras..!.?

It is also said that, over a long period, since many scholars went by the name of Baudhayana or Bodhayana, the Vrttikara Bodhayana quoted by Sri Ramanuja could be quite different from the Bodhayana to whom Sri Sankara is presumed to have referred. ]


2.1. Since Bodhayana is often addressed as Vrttikara, the commentator (sometimes without mentioning his name), it is evident that his authority was accepted by the later generations of Vedanta Schools. Generally, the views of Bodhayana are believed to go along with that of Brahma sutra.. Based on that, it is said that Bodhayana was surely closer to Sri Ramanuja than to Sri Sankara.

 Following  Sri Ramanuja, all his descendents in his line (Parampara) and all the followers of his School regard Bodhayana as an authority, next only to Badarayana the author of Brahma Sutra.  Accordingly, the Sri Vaishnava tradition reveres the commentary of Bodhayana as almost the Scripture.

2.2. Bodhayana, no doubt, was a faithful commentator (Vrttikara) of the Sutras. He tried to stay close to the words of the Brahma Sutra; and, did not seem to come up with original or fresh theories of his own. His comments are cogent and stay close to the point. Bodhayana appears to have been essentially a theist; and, his views, generally, were closer to those of Sri Ramanuja and Sri Bhaskara.

2.3. Obviously, Bodhayana   held the scriptures in great esteem. He emphasized the absolute sacredness of the Vedas. According to him, the scriptures are not open to criticism of human speculation.”We can understand the meaning of what is handed down by the scriptures; but, we cannot question scriptures” (Fragment: 13)

 2.4. He stayed close to the   Mimamsa faith according to which, Sruti that which is heard or is of divine origin cannot be questioned. But, it is only in Smrti, that which is remembered or the works authored by humans, there is a possibility of offering varied interpretations.

2.5. To revere and explain the scriptures was, for him, the highest duty. He thought that each word and each phrase of the scripture merited study with complete attention. Accordingly, his special area was commenting on the scriptures. Since commenting necessarily involves taking a certain intellectual stand and adopting a certain philosophical view, there is a particular world-view running through his commentaries.

2.6, Bodhayana was essentially a theist.  His views, generally, differ from that of Sri Sankara; but, are closer to that of Sri Ramanuja. And, Sri Ramanuja paid greater respect to his views; and, cited them as authorities.

3.1. Bodhayana, as reflected in his explanations quoted by Sri Ramanuja, laid equal importance of Jnana and Karma Kanda-s of the Mimamsa. According to him, the two segments – Purva and Uttara – of the Mimamsa together constituted the doctrinal system (Shastraikatva).  And, because of that, perhaps, he wrote commentaries on both the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa.  

3.2. He held the view that directly after completing the rituals one should take up the investigation into Brahman, which is the study of Vedanta. His position was coined by the later Vedanta Schools as jnana-karma-samucchaya-vada, the doctrine that synthesizes Jnana and Karma. Sri Ramanuja too was a votary of Samucchaya-vada.   Sri Sankara who did not accord much significance to rituals, naturally, tended to differ from Bodhayana.

Besides, Bodhayana does not discuss or even mention the concept of Maya. He strongly refuted the Vijnanavada theory which reduces the objects of the material world merely to the status of dream experiences.

4.1. As regards his views on the God, Bodhayana appears to have been a theist.  For him, the individual soul (Jiva) and God were not exactly identical. God for him is the infinity Bhuman for which the individual soul aspires.    And, the importance of Bhakthi as service and as absolute surrender to God was stressed by him.

4.2. According to Sri Ramanuja’s account, Bodhayana took Para Brahman, the Supreme Brahman, as the absolute principle. And, in Bodhayana’s view Brahman is identical with Lord (Isha), the Supreme Lord (Parameshwara).It is the source, the womb of all matter (bhuta yoni). Thus, Brahman, besides being the personified God, is also the cause (sarva-vikara-karana) from which everything evolves (parinama paksha). It is also the Atman of all things; the God that dwells within everything (sarva-bhutha-antaratman), controlling and directing them. Sri Ramanuja extended it further; and said that Brahman has all the spiritual and physical existence as his body.

Bodhayana, however, does not seem to attribute Brahman with a body (vigrahavat). But, somehow, he appeared to believe in the Upanishad description of Brahman with four feet (chatush paada).It is not clear in which sense he understood it.

5.1. As regards the individual self (Jiva) , Bodhayana thought that it has two aspects. One is the gross body (sthulam sariram) which we experience ordinarily, and which perishes at its death.  And the other is the subtle body (sukshmam sariram) composed of extremely fine elements, and which is not visible to naked eye. At the death of the physical body, the subtle body that was hitherto enwrapped in it moves and eventually sets up the next gross body. That is to say, sukshmam sariram is the seed of the body that manifests. Thus, subtle body is un-manifest (a-vyakta), while the gross body is manifest (vyakta).

5.2.According to Bodhayana, in state of deep sleep the individual self is united with Brahman as existence, Sat; and, on waking it gets separated. This seems nearer to the explanation offered by Uddalaka Aruni (Chandogya Upanishad: 6.8.1), and to the Brahma Sutra.

6.1. Bodhayana believed that the state of ‘bondage and final release (bandha –moksha) ’is more aptly related to the subtle body, and to its activities. And, therefore, the subtle body is superior (para) to the embodied self (sarira) which is ‘feeble in power’ (tanumahiman). This, in a way, is closer to the Samkhya view of Purusha; but, it markedly differed from the view taken by Brahma sutra.

6.2. As for the final release, Bodhayana believed that the individual self eventually unites with Brahman.  But, the release comes in stages. And, even after full release (Moksha), the individual self retains its identity but without the false sense of ego; and, does not entirely merge with Brahman. And, even after attaining Moksha, it does not acquire the power to create, to preserve and to withdraw the manifest world. Therefore, even in the state of final release, the individual self and the Supreme self are not entirely identical.

Following that, Sri Ramanuja explained Moksha as a state of blessedness in the company of the Highest Being (Paramatman). Sri Ramanuja emphasized the importance of Bhakthi, absolute devotion, and Parapatti complete surrender to the will of the Supreme, making oneself worthy of His grace, as the best means to attain salvation.

7.1. Sri Sankara and Sri Ramanuja apart from their doctrinal differences on the question of Duality and Non-duality also seemed to differ in their approach to Brahma Sutra and in treatment of the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa of the Vedanta School.

7.2. At the outset, it seems   Sri Ramanuja treated the Brahma Sutra as the basic text and interpreted it in the light of the comments and explanations offered in the Vritti of Bodhayana, other Vrttikaras, Vakyakaras and the revered Masters of his tradition (Purva-charyas).  He also seemed to support the view that the Purva and Uttara Mimamsa together formed one text. And that he believed in the coordinated union of Jana and Karma. Sri Ramanuja is said to be   much closer to the Brahma Sutras in its literal interpretation.


The approach of Sri Sankara

Shankarar - Smarta Tradition Deities

The approach of Sri Sankara to the Upanishads in general and to the Brahma Sutra in particular presents a very interesting and a striking contrast.

8.1. Upanishads

(a) Sri Sankara regards himself as the votary of Upanishads (Aupanishada).He even calls his way of thinking or the doctrine as Aupanishadam Darshanam, the Upanishad System. He defines the Upanishads as the texts that lead the aspirants close to the highest reality. He said, the primary meaning of the word Upanishad was knowledge, while the secondary meaning was the text itself.

He insists Upanishads constitute the final purpose and the import of the Vedic lore; and that is the reason he chose to write commentaries on the Upanishads and on the other two texts that depend almost entirely on the Upanishads – Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra and the Bhagavad Gita. While doing so, he isolates Upanishad portion of the Vedic lore from the rest and narrows down the scriptural authority to ten or twelve ancient Upanishads.

(b) According to him, the goal held out by the Upanishad tradition is liberation (Moksha) from worldly involvements. Sri Sankara described himself as Moksha-vadin (Sarvesham Mokshavadi – nama-abhyupagam- VSB: 2.1.11; and, Sarve Mokshavadi abhirbhyupa gamyate: VSB: 1.1.4)

(c) Sri Sankara strongly advocated study of Upanishads; and at the same time cautioned that study of Upanishad alone would not lead to Moksha. He also recognized that the study of Upanishads is not absolutely necessary or is it a pre-condition for attainment of Moksha. The function of knowledge as expounded in the Upanishads, he said, is the removal of obstacles; but, it has its own limitations.

As regards the limitations of textual knowledge, he explained: Moksha is not the fruit or the effect of knowledge (jnana). Liberation being identical with Brahman is ever present, eternal and is beyond the subject-object relations. So long as such distinctions  of subject –object, the knower and the known  are maintained there can be no experience of non-distinction or oneness of Reality. The texts can only contribute to causing the discovery of truth; leaving the truth to assert itself (svapramanya).

Sri Sankara declares the supremacy of direct experience, the final proof (antya-pramanam) which he calls – anubhava, avagati or Brahmavagati. Regarded in its true essence and as it is, Atmaikatva, Brahmatvatva, or Sarvatmata is a self-conscious, self-radiant experience which cannot be taken as object (vishaya). He also says that Vedic authority is not binding after one attains the goal

(d)  He pointed out; even those who were outside the Upanishad fold were as eligible to Moksha as those within the fold were. He declared that all beings are Brahman, and therefore the question of discrimination did not arise. All that one was required to do was to get rid of Avidya (duality).

8.2. Mimamsa

(a) As regards the Mimamsa, Sri Sankara’s basic position was that the Mimamsa Sutra which commences with the statement Atato Dhrama jijnasa is quite separate from the Brahma Sutra commencing with Atato Brahmajijnasa.  Sri Sankara’s Shatra-aramba refers to the beginning of the Brahma sutra; and not to Mimamsa that covered both Purva and Uttara. He does not use the terms Purva Mimamsa or Uttara -Mimamsa.  He preferred to present his commentary as Vedanta-mimamsa.

 Sri Sankara did not seem to regard Brahma Sutra as a latter part of the same text. He regards Brahma Sutra as a separate shastra (prathak-shastra), distinct  from Purva Mimamsa.  He maintained that the two systems are addressed to different class of persons.

Purva Mimamsa which deals with Karma-kanda consists injunctions to act in order to achieve certain results. But, he argues, liberation is not a product or a thing to be achieved.

And, Jnana-kanda, in contrast, is about Brahman that already exists; it pertains to the ultimate purpose which is true knowledge of Self, and it is addressed to one who is intent on liberation.  

 Each section of Veda is valid in its own sphere; but, the two sections cannot logically be bound together.

(c) He said The two texts are distinguishable in four ways: Vishaya (subject); Adhikara (qualifications for the aspirant); Phala (end result or the objective) ; and, Sambhanda ( related-ness) .

: – Vishaya: the subject matter of  Karma-kanda is Dharma which is understood by it as ritual-action. Mimasakas hold the view that the real purport of the scriptures was to provide injunctions (vidhi) and prohibitions (nishedha) . The scriptural injunctions regarding rituals  are treated as mandatory;  while  the texts that relate to wisdom as  spill – over (sesha).

Sri Sankara said, the subject of Jnana-kanda is Brahman. And, knowing Brahman, he asserted , is the real purpose of all  scriptures.  Sri Sankara averred the true intent of the scriptures was to describe the Reality as it is. Sri Sankara rejected the Mimamsa view and argued that scripture were not mandatory in character, at least where it concerned pursuit of wisdom. Upanishads, he remarked, dealt with Brahman and that Brahman could not be a subject matter (Vishaya) of injunction and prohibitions.

 : – Adhikara: Aspirant in the Karma-kanda has limited ambitions; and, is yet to understand the limitations of the results achieved by Karman.  The aspirant of the Jnana-kanda, however, is well aware of the limits of the results achieved by Karman; and, there about fore , seeks the limitless Brahman.

Sri Sankara mentions fourfold Adhikara or qualifications of  an ardent student of Vedanta : Nitya-anitya-vastu- viveka (capacity to discriminate the real from the transitory); Vairagya (Dispassion); Samadi Shatka Sampatti (Six virtues of the mind : Sama-equanimity; Dama-control over senses including mind; Uparama -observing one’s Svadharma; Titiksha – patience, forbearance; Samadhanam– profound absorption or contemplation;  and , Shraddha – absolute  faith or devotion).

: – Phala: Karma-kanda aspires for worldly prosperity and heavenly pleasures. The aim of Jnana-kanda, he said, is liberation (Moksha). Further, he pointed out that Brahma Sutra says (3.5.36-37) even those who do not perform rituals are qualified to gain knowledge.

In Sri Sankara’s view the passages in the Karma –kanda informs us of the approved means for attaining desirable and yet unaccomplished ends. The Upanishads (jnana-kanda), on the other hand, reveal to us knowledge of the ever present entity – Brahman.

He pointed out that rituals could in no way bring about wisdom, much less Moksha.. He asserted, while the rewards (phala) of the rituals were not matter of direct experience, wisdom which is the fruit of Vedanta is based on immediate and personal experience; one need not have to wait for the reward nor one be in doubt whether the reward would or would not come.

This was in sharp contrast to the position taken by Mimamsakas who believed that rituals alone would lead one to higher levels of attainment. Further, the deities would reward only those entitled to perform the rituals alone. The entitlement involved the caste, creed and other parameters.

: – Sambandha: Karma-kanda informs of the ends not yet in existence; but is yet to be achieved. The realization of such ends depends upon following the appropriate action as prescribed. 

The subject of Jnana-kanda is that which is eternal without a beginning or end. The knowledge of Brahman is end itself, where there is an identity of the revealed object (Sadhya) and the means of revelation (Sadhana) . Jnana-kanda is fulfillment; Karma –kanda is impetus to act more and more.

8.3. the Brahma Sutras,

Sri Sankara held the Brahma Sutra in very high regard; and yet, he does not take them as the original or independent texts equal in authority to the Upanishads. He takes the Brahma Sutras as expository or highly abridged indicators to the crucial passages from Upanishads. He claims that Badarayana’s text is in fact a summary of the philosophy of Upanishads. The philosophy of Brahma Sutra is indeed the philosophy of the Upanishads.

Sri Sankara undertakes to interpret Badarayana’s Brahma Sutra not as in end by itself, but in order to expound through it what he understood as the philosophy of Upanishads. He asserts they are not his own; but, are the true and proper import of the Vedic texts as   held and nurtured by the tradition to which he belongs. It is only that he is re-stating them and putting forth a little more clearly.

The Sutras of Badarayana according to Sri Sankara have one purpose; that is to string together the flowers (cardinal themes) of Vedanta Akyas (sentences) – Vedanta –akya-kusumagratanat vat sutranam (BB .1.1.2)

It was the words and the ideas of the Upanishad texts that, primarily, guided Sri Sankara and not the Sutras per se. This did not mean an encroachment upon the authority of Badarayana whom he revered as Bhagavan; but, it was only to bring out his intentions more clearly. 

For Sri Sankara, the Brahma Sutras derive their authority from the original Upanishads; and, therefore the meaning of the Sutras will have to be understood and interpreted in the light of the Upanishad texts. And at places , Sankara’s interpretations seem to be far-fetched This is in contrast to Sri Ramanuja’s approach that followed the Vrttis of Bodhayana and other Acharyas, the Masters of his tradition. Sri Ramanuja was much closer to Brahma Sutras in its literal interpretation.


9.1. The overview seems to be that the Brahma Sutras are open to multiple interpretations; and, each interpretation is valid in its own context.




Sources and References

  1. A History of Early Vedanta Philosophy, Part 2 by Prof. Hajime Nakamura
  2. Sri Sankara and Adhyasa-Bhashya by Prof. S. K. Ramachandra Rao (2002)
  3. Brahma Sutras According to Sri Sankara by Swami Vireswarananda

  1. Spiritual Freedom in the Brahma Sutras by Carol Pitts, Les Morgan
  2. The Vedanta Philosophy of Sankaracharya: Crest-Jewel of Wisdom, Atma BodhaBy Charles Johnston
  3. The Vedanta-sutras with the Sri-bhashya of Ramanujacharya;translated into English by M. Rangacharya, andM. B. Varadaraja Aiyangar; Volume I; published by the Brahmavidin Press.; 1899

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Posted by on October 6, 2015 in Bodhayana-Upavarsha


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Samkhya: Part One: The Beginnings

[I am posting a series of about four articles on the Samkhya School of thought with particular reference to Samkhya Karika, a text dated around the second century. These articles are in honor of my friend Shri DSampath, a teacher well versed in Samkhya; as a token of friendship and appreciation of a good person. I trust he will find these readable .

I have written as I have understood the Samkhya. I am aware there are various versions and traditions of the Samkhya; and my rendering may not please all. And therefore, it is open to attacks. I accept that position.]

A. The Early stages

The Origins

1.1. Samkhya is regarded the most ancient of the Indian Schools of thought. Many scholars believe the beginnings of the Samkhya pre-date the Vedas and Upanishads. That might be so; but it is rather difficult to pinpoint its origin. The Samkhya concepts might have emerged over a long period of time and been in circulation as streams of speculative intuitions. The origins of certain terms which later played a significant role in the unfolding of the Samkhya traditions, according to some, can even be traced back to an ancient group of wandering or itinerant ascetics, known as Vratyas who perhaps were pre-Vedic and chose to disassociate from the ritualistic aspects of the Vedic tradition.

1.2. It is generally accepted that Samkhya and Yoga sprang from a common nucleus. Both had their origins outside the Vedic fold. But, in terms of chronology, it is likely Samkhya as a collection of concepts was older than Yoga as a set of disciplines. It is often said that Yoga is indebted to Samkhya; because, Yoga in its early phase represented the ascetic practices (karma) of the ancient Vratyas; and, had its theoretical foundations in Samkhya (jnana). The two systems were fused together for a very long period. Mahabharata described the two as ’ancient twins’ (sanatane dve).

Bhagavad-Gita (5.4-5) declares: “The ignorant differentiate between Samkhya and Yoga; not the wise. He who considers the two as integrated has the right insight. He who applies himself well to one will reap the fruits of both.” But, in the context of the Bhagavad-Gita, Samkhya stands for renunciation (samnyasa) which has its roots in knowledge (jnana) and is basically withdrawal from action (nivrtti).Yoga, here stands for performance (pravrtti) of actions (karma).

Even after they were segregated and systematized into two distinct streams of thought (darshana) they continued to be mentioned in one breath as Samkhya-Yoga; and treated virtually as one. For instance, as late as in the fourteenth century, Madhava in his Sarva-darshana-sangraha described Yoga as Patanjala-Samkhya (the Samkhya of Patanjali) and also as Sesvara-Samkhya (theistic Samkhya). The philosophical Yoga is at times called Samkhya-pravachana an explanation of the Samkhya.

1.3. An attempt to trace the origin of Samkhya – Yoga to any one group or to any one tradition would be rather naive or simplistic. These two systems emerged from a churning of variety of traditions, speculations, concepts and practices. They later evolved, modified and were absorbed into various other traditions. After they were synthesized or absorbed, they acquired the hues, textures and cantors of the host traditions. As a result of that, it is very difficult now to specify and pinpoint an origin or a pristine form of Samkhya or Yoga. The true form of these systems is shrouded in a mist of myths, speculations and varied practices.

The Beginnings

2.1. Samkhya sprang out from a variety of traditions, both orthodox and heterodox. And, all those traditions attempted to find the ultimate or the inner-most essence of man. There might have been a number of tentative beginnings to classify and put together those diffusive, speculative streams of thought. It was only at a much later period that the many motifs, trends and ideas from a variety of contexts got assimilated into a composite system, which came to be known as Samkhya traditions or the Samkhya School of thought.

3.1. One may come across mention of Samkhya-like terms such as Pradhana (RV: 10.82.06) and Tamas (RV 10.129.03)    in Rig Veda.  Among the Upanishads: the Chandogya mentions the Gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) which perhaps originated as Samkhya concepts; the Katha Upanishad refers to categories of matter as they would appear in Samkhya; and, Svetasvatara refers to term  Samkhya and its principal figure Kapila by name (6.13). It also mentions number of Samkhya terms, such as: vyakta, a-vyakta, and Jna (1.8) as also Pradhana, Prakrti and Guna (1-10; 4-10; and 1-13).

3.2. Srimad-Bhagavata-purana (11.22) as also Mahabharata (12: 203-204; 219) discusses certain Samkhya concepts, but with significant variations (we shall come to those variations later). Bhagavad-Gita too picks up some basic aspects of Samkhya, and discusses those at various places, but, again, with its own variations and connotations. Mahabharata in fact remarks there is no knowledge like Samkhya; and no power like the Yoga (MB-Shanthiparva: 316-02).

4.1. However, what is significant is that all those references to Samkhya-like terms in the Vedas, the Bhagavad-Gita, the epics and other texts,  including the Svetasvatara Upanishad,  were meant largely as metaphysical idioms or spiritual methodologies, but not as philosophical positions of a system titled Samkhya. Such terms were employed by the texts in their own context, carrying their own undertones. It is also likely that such terms or trends of thought or concepts later got assimilated into what came to be known as Samkhya system. Such processes perhaps suggest that monistic trends in Vedic thought and dualistic concepts of Samkhya had common origins.

4.2. Similarly, references to Yoga-like terms in those texts do not imply existence of a classical Yoga system as of Patanjali. But, those references were meant to suggest a cluster of practices and attitudes which emphasize importance of self-discipline, meditation and concentration in order to attain salvation.

4.3. In addition, there are no references in Vedas to the typical Samkhya concept of Dukkha being the nature of life, or to reliance on karma; as also to the doctrines of cause and effect (satkarya-vada), un-manifest matter (mula-prakrti) and the evolution or transformation of matter (tattva-vikara).More importantly, the notions of treating the Man as the focal interest of the world, or to examine the world from the point of view of Man’s consciousness do not find place in the orthodox texts. It is therefore apparent that during the Vedic and Upanishad times, Samkhya had not yet emerged as an independent cognizable system of thought. And, it is also likely that an independent tradition of non-theism was taking shape during the Mahabharata era.

It seems likely that the basic Samkhya doctrines crystallized during the period between the late Upanishads and the emergence of Buddhism (6th century BC).


B. Vedas and Samkhya

5.1. Among the systems that took shape in the Indian traditions, Samkhya was perhaps the first to be systematized; and, that marked an important watershed in history of Indian thought. Samkhya was perhaps the first attempt to present a philosophical position in a cohesive and a persuasive manner.

Kautilya refers to Samkhya as one of the forms of anviksiki. The concept of anviksiki in the ancient context refers to an analytical method of explaining or delineating a subject by a systematic enumeration and reasoning. The practice of anviksiki may not strictly be called a ‘philosophy’; but, it is a sort of enquiry through systematic enumeration of the basic principles. Such enumeration was employed in various field of study such as phonology, grammar, state-craft, medicine, law, iconography etc. Sometimes, such enumerations also came to be called as Tantra, meaning a systematic method (or a shastra or Vidya). The method employed certain devices (Yukthi) in order to elaborate on the subject. For instance; a brief statement of purpose (uddeshya) was followed by a lengthy exposition of the position (nirdesha), an etymological explanation (nirvachana), the proper order or sequence in enumerating the subject (vidhana) and so forth. Arthashatra   as also the Samhitas of Charaka and Sushruta provide a list of such methods and devices. (Perhaps it is because Samkhya followed the anviksiki , its texts  came to be known as Tantra)

The Samkhya depiction is characterized by its concern for the means of knowing (pramana); care to define its technical terms; putting forward an argument cogently; and to  project a consistent system of thought. In contrast to that, one can describe the philosophical gleanings that one comes across in the earlier texts — Vedas and Upanishads – as speculative intuitions having the sanction of authority; they are not well structured into arguments putting forward coherent systems of philosophies.

5.2. There are other distinguishing factors as well between the Vedas and the Samkhya. Vedas are expansive in their attitude, picturesque in depiction; and speculate on the nature of god, the human spirit; relation between the human and the universe; and, oneness of human spirit with the all-compassing cosmic principle. It aimed to communicate with the natural forces symbolized into deities through the medium of elaborate rituals; and to find long lasting happiness in heavens in the company of gods and ancestors. The Vedic poets were highly dexterous users of the words; gifted with the superb ability to express human ideals and aspirations in pristine poetry truly remarkable for its literary virtuosity.

5.3. 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.

Samkhya attention was confined to human situation, particularly to the elimination of human suffering. Samkhya view of human existence marked a departure from the Vedic view. It gave credence to distinguishing characteristics of each individual; and recognized that each person is unique and operates within his or her own sphere of action, influenced by one’s own tendencies and urges. Samkhya was the first system to focus on the nature of Dukkha and on the study of consciousness.

It set its objective as release of Man from Dukkha suffering. It considered human being as a psycho-physical unity.  It examined the human body-mind complex from the point of view of consciousness. The question framed by Samkhya is: How to understand the various forms of experience, including that of the objective world, with reference to the consciousness of man?  Samkhya kept away from idealism; its approach was rather unemotional, clinical and analytical. Its account was pragmatic and terse, rather too terse. The stringent economy in use of words sadly lent scope to multiple interpretations, a result not surely intended by the Samkhya teachers.

5.4. The early Samkhya was uniquely human. Yoga and Samkhya each in its early phase: emphasized reliance on human effort; treated Man as the focal interest of the world; kept gods out of the scheme of things; did not even mention divine grace; believed that the man’s place in this world depends upon his inclinations and the becoming of a man is determined by his fundamental strivings which reside in him; stressed human striving as vital to eliminate suffering; and, asserted that it is possible to attain that goal within one’s lifetime, within human framework and experience. Samkhya said, the means of release from suffering is ‘effective discrimination’ which enables to understand the distinction between the seer (drastr) and the seen; and separates consciousness from everything else; and Yoga attempted to provide techniques that help attaining the objective.

That is to say; while sämkhya is the intellectual or reasoning method, Yoga is the method of spiritual discipline and ascetic practices. The follower of sämkhya is one who reasons or discriminates properly, one whose spiritual discipline is meditative reasoning (sämkhya-yoga-adhigamya).

As John Davies said (Sankhya Karika of Isvarakrisna; 1881) :

Kapila, or his expounder, contends: Our senses are limited in their own nature, and their action is imperfect from many opposing circumstances. Hence many things exist which they cannot reveal, and they give imperfect information of things which lie within their range. The intellect (Buddhi) must arrange and present our sense- conceptions, that there may be a true cognition. In this way we rise from the knowledge of the manifold to the conception of the one, in which all things were contained and from which they have issued. Kapila, however, confines this notion of oneness to the primordial matter, the Prakriti.

He does not refer to the existence of one Supreme Spiritual Being, as do the theistic schools. Further, Kapila asserted that the cause and effect are, indeed, so far identical that an effect is only a developed cause. Herein too, he differs from the Vedantists who maintain that all things indeed are, the One ; and,  that the visible things of the outer world are only Maya (illusion), the deceptive form with which the Invisible is veiled; and that, therefore, there is neither cause nor effect.

The system of Kapila is essentially a philosophy. He had no theology. He admitted, indeed, the existence of gods; but, they were only emanations from Prakriti; and, are to be absorbed hereafter into this all-comprehending source, as all other forms of material life.

As the system of Kapila ignored a Supreme Being, it sought only to guide and strengthens man by his own unaided power

Sankhya is the earliest attempt on record to give an answer, from reason alone, to the mysterious questions which arise in every thoughtful mind about the origin of the world, the nature and relations of man, and his future destiny

Kapila established no society and no hierarchy; he addressed himself to thinkers like himself. Hence his system remained only as a philosophical theory; not  attaining to a practical supremacy over large masses of men.

 It was never embodied and crystallized in a concrete form, and as a complete system it has been preserved only as an intellectual product, or as an esoteric doctrine, understood and accepted by a small inner circle of free-thinking men.


6.1. Every School of philosophy reacted with Samkhya. Almost all the Schools employed the terms and concepts generated by Samkhya (e.g. guna, vyakta, avyakta etc), but in their own context, with their own variations; and not necessarily as references to the Samkhya system. Almost all the major Schools discussed the Samkhya streams of thought; some agreed with Samkhya, but a lot others found fault with its assumptions and carried on fierce intellectual battles attacking Samkhya. But, none ignored the Samkhya.


Lotus young and old

Continued– Next: Samkhya Teachers–

References and Sources

Early Indian Thought by Prof.SK Ramachandra Rao

Classical Samkhya by Gerald James Larson

Samkhya Karika by Swami Virupakshananada

The Samkhya Karika


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Samkhya


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