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Samkhya: Part Two: Samkhya Teachers

Continued from Part One

C. Samkhya Teachers

7.1. Sage Kapila is generally revered as the founder of the Samkhya system.  He is first mentioned in the Svetasvatara Upanishad considered as a text with Samkhya inclination (kapilaṃ yas tam agre jñānair bibharti jāyamānaṃ ca paśyet // 5.2//). 

Here, Kapila is regarded as the foremost among the enlightened (agre jñānair bibharti) .

But, again, scholars argue whether Kapila was a historical person or a mythical figure. To worsen the confusion, as many as three sages by name of Kapila are mentioned in the texts. In any case, all the Samkhya traditions trace their origin to Kapila.

7.2. According to Samkhya traditions, it appears, there were as many as twenty-six Samkhya teachers. The more important of them are: Kapila, Asuri, Panchashikha, Vindyavasa, Varsaganya, Jaigisavya and Isvarakrishna. Some of the other Samkhya teachers mentioned are  : Sanaka, Sananda, Sanatana and Vodhu. They appear to be figures from mythology; and no historic details of them are known.

The Samkhya tradition ascribes its first formulation to Sage Kapila who imparted Samkhya doctrines to his disciple Asuri. Not much is known about either Kapila or Asuri. The name of Asuri appears in all the three generations of  the lists of teachers and pupils mentioned in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad . The first two of the lists mention Asuri as a disciple of Bharadwaja, while the third mentions him as a successor of Yajnavalkhya.

āsurir bhāradvājāt | bhāradvāja ātreyāt | ātreyo māṇṭe |

prāśnīputrād āsurivāsina | prāśnīputra āsurāyaāt | āsurāyaa āsure |
| BrhUp_6,5.2 ||

There is also a tradition which ascribes to Asuri , the Purusha -vidha- Brahmana , commencing with the words : ātmaivedam agra āsīt puruṣavidhaḥ (in the  fourth Section of the First Chapter of the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, which gives a  description of the nature of Reality; and,  of the process of creation down to the lowest level of  manifestation) . It is not clear whether all these references pertain to one and the same person.

7.3. As regards Kapila, he  is described as a parama-rishi the greatest sage, an incarnation:  “The primeval Seer, incarnated through the medium of an artificial mind as the mighty divine sage Kapila, out of compassion, revealed the Samkhya doctrine, in a systematic way, to Asuri, who desired to know it.”(Srimad Bhagavata SB 3.24.33).

paraṃ pradhānaṃ puruṣaṃ mahāntaṃ kālaṃ kaviṃ tri-vṛtaṃ loka-pālam, ātmā anubhūtyā anugata-prapañcaṃ svacchanda-śaktiṃ kapilaṃ prapadye –

Sage Kapila in his hermitage, Illustration from Ramayana, Kangra or Garhwal

Kapila is also described as the son born out of the will  (manasa putra) of Brahma; and, variously identified with Prajapathi, with Vasudeva, and with Hiranyagarbha. Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-Gita “Among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila” (BG: 10.26) – Siddhanaam Kapilo munih.

7.4. There are several references to Kapila in Mahabharata (12.327.64-66) , where he is described as Parama Rishi (the Supreme seer – sāṃkhyasya vaktā kapilaḥ paramarṣiḥ); Yogavid (well versed in Yoga); and, ācāryā mokṣaśāstre ca mokṣadharma pravartakāḥ  (Master in the science of liberation).  Yoga–Shastra, the science and practice of liberation is otherwise called as Kaapila, the path of Sage Kapila.

Again , The Mahabharata (Shanti Parva 349.65) states : Kapila, the teacher of Samkhya, is said to be the supreme Rishi. Hiranyagarbha is the original knower of Yoga. There is no one else more ancient

sárhkhyasya vaktā kapilah paramarsih Sa u Cyatehiranyagarbho yogasya vettà nányah purātanah

Thus ,  it appears that according to these versions, Sage Kapila who is equated with Hiranyagarbha, an Avatara of Vishnu, is the originator of both Samkhya and the Yoga


Kapila is distinguished from the other learned ones in Vedas (Vedavid) whose Dharma is that of Pravritti, the one that binds. Kapila,  on the other hand, is revered as the Master of Nivrtti Dharma, the Dharma that liberates – ācāryā mokṣaśāstre ca mokṣa-dharma-pravartakāḥ

12,327.064a sanaḥ sanatsujātaś ca sanakaḥ sasanandanaḥ
12,327.064c sanatkumāraḥ kapilaḥ saptamaś ca sanātanaḥ
12,327.065a saptaite mānasāḥ proktā ṛṣayo brahmaṇaḥ sutāḥ
12,327.065c svayamāgatavijñānā nivṛttaṃ dharmam āsthitāḥ
12,327.066a ete yogavido mukhyāḥ sāṃkhyadharmavidas tathā
12,327.066c ācāryā mokṣaśāstre ca mokṣadharmapravartakāḥ

Kapila is said to have taught the ‘fourth-Upanishadic-Dharma’– (chaturtha aupanisado dharmah) which asserts that apavarga (liberation) is the essential duty of an ascetic (yati-dharma).

Chandogya Upanishad (2.23.1) explains this ‘fourth Dharma’ as the way of a Brahma-nista (the one rooted in Brahman), an ascetic in search of true knowledge having renounced all ties and affiliations.  And, such a Brahma-nista is freed from the endless cycle of rebirths (Brahmanah padam anvicchinna samsaran muchyate suich).  

The teachings of Sage Kapila, in essence, emphasizes that the highest path to liberation is characterized by renunciation and thirst for true knowledge.

7.5. Asvaghosha in his Buddha- charita (Sarga 12.16) mentions that Alara Kalama while teaching Samkhya to his pupil Gautama (the future Buddha) explains that Kapila‘s path to final liberation (nivrtti marga) was through knowledge (saṃsāro yathā caiva nivartate). He contrasts the Vedic way (Pravrtti) which aims to attain heaven (savarga) with Kapila’s way (Nivrtti) which leads to liberation (Nirvana).

The Buddhist sources mention that the city of Kapilavastu was built in the honor of Kapila. It was in Kapilavastu that the Buddha was born; and, it was here he spent the first twenty-nine years of his life.

7.6. Baudhayana Grihya Sutra (4.16) which describes the rules for becoming a Sanyasin makes a mention of Kapila’s association with renunciation; and names the rule as ‘Kapila-sanyaya-vidhi’

[The Baudhayana Dharma Sutra mentions Kapila as the son of Prahlada, the King of Asuras – prāhlādir ha vai kapilo nāma asura āsa – Baudh And, at times, addresses Kapila as Asura.  Some, explain the name of his disciple  Asuri  as being  the son or the disciple of Asura.]

It is apparent that Kapila, whoever he was, was held in the highest esteem, and revered as Parama-rishi.


8.1. As regards Jaigisavya, he is revered as Yogacharya, the Yoga teacher of great merit. Mahabharata (Shanthi Parva: 229) refers to him as the great Muni Jaigishavya   “Possessed of great splendor, that great ascetic, ever devoted to Yoga; and rapt in meditation and leading the life of a mendicant”; and the epic carries an interesting episode narrating Sage Jaigisavya’s discourse imparted to king – rishi  Asita Devala preaching virtues of equanimity and renunciation .

Jaigisavya is mentioned as a renowned Yoga teacher also in Vyasabhashya on Yoga sutra (2.55); as also in Buddhacharita (12.67) of Asvaghosa (first century). References to Jaigisavya are often made by scholars to confirm that Samkhya and Yoga were at onetime welded together.


8.2. Panchashikha is a great name in Samkhya – Yoga traditions, as also in the field of music ( gandharva ) . Panchashikha sometimes addressed as Panchashikha Kapileya, that is to say he came from the linage of Kapila, was a great teacher and honoured in many philosophical schools. Panchashikha, a disciple of Asuri, it is said, was a brilliant scholar who gave Samkhya its characteristic outlook.

The Mokshadharma Parvan of Mahabharata (12.211-212) has passages ascribed to one Panchashikha who instructs King Janaka. One of these passages is the Panchashikha-vakyawhich talks about the highest form of Freedom. Panchashikha is referred to here with much respect. He is discribed as: ‘mahamuni‘ (great sage); ‘ rishinam… ekam‘ one among the seers; ‘parama rishi‘ (supreme seer); and a seer who performed a Satra of a thousand years (yah satram aaste varsha-sahasrikam).

The Panchashikha-vakya carries many terms that have the Samkhya flavour; such as : the triple Bhava – Sattva , Rajas and Tamas ; Kshetrajan; Buddhi ; and, Mahat . There are also terms that are not strictly Samkhya but are often used there : jnanendriya ( faculties of knowledge) with Manas  as the sixth (mana-sthana) followed by faculties of action (karmendriya) . However, there is no mention of Purusha, the key component of the Samkhya ideology. Its absence is conscicuous.

Strange as it may seem, Panchashikha-vakya, the teaching of Panchashika, has shades of the Charuvaka atheist belief (nasthika) denying existence after death of the body; na pratya samjnasti (there is no consciousness after death).


Pancasikha also appears as the divine minstrel in the Buddhist lore. According to the Bilarikosiya Jataka, Pancasikha, like his father Matali, was a divine musician par excellence; and, Pancasikha along with another musician Timbaru constantly waits on Sakka (Indra), the king of the Devas. It is said; Pancasikha married Suriyavaccasa, Timbaru’s daughter.

Dr. C Sivaramamurti, identifies a figure, among the sculptures from Amaravati, playing a Veena in presence of the Buddha as Pancasikha. He is described as the divine minstrel par excellence (Figure 22 ; Plate IV; Page 402)


And, in the Nispanna-yogavali a Vajrayana Buddhist text of 9-10th century credited to Mahapandita Abhayankara Gupta of the Vikramasila monastery, Panchashikha is described as a Gandharva king of golden complexion, playing on the Veena- Panchashiko Gandharva-rajendrah pita vinam vadayati.

And, again, a certain Panchashikha is believed to have lived in or around the sixth century BCE. According to the Buddhist text Pancasikha -sutta he visits the Buddha at Gijjhakuta (vulture peak) and questions why some men are emancipated in this birth while the others are not?

8.3. Charaka (c. third century BCE) the celebrated surgeon of ancient India and the author of the Ayurveda text Charaka Samhitha relied on the analysis and explanations offered by Panchashikha.

Ayurveda, as a doctrine and as a practical discipline, benefited by adopting the Samkhya ideologies of Panchashikha. It accepted the Samkhya view of human body as psycho-physical unity, a body-mind complex; and did not see the need for a soul or divine spirit that controls the body. It does not talk about Karma or its ill effects; or about appeasing Vayu who supposedly frees one from deceases. Instead, it ascribes the causes of disease to individual characteristics of the patient, which are fundamentally rooted in his/her  Guna or Dosha composition.

It followed the  deha-tattva, body principle, a Samkhya concept of subtle-body (sukshma sarira or linga-deha) comprising consciousness, ego, eleven senses and five subtle elements; with the ever changing stream of consciousness flowing through the body-mind complex. Ayurveda, which followed the Samkhya ideal of eliminating suffering, formulated methods and curative procedures for lessening pain-provoking conditions (hanam) .It, is said; the basic theories of Ayurveda –Tridosha and panchabauthika – can be better understood if one is familiar with the Samkhya.

[The University of Vienna, Austria, has undertaken a very exhaustive critical study of the Charaka-samhita.  It is said; the project will lead to the publication of numerous original research articles on topics in Ayurveda and Indian philosophy as well as to major critical editions and translations of two philosophically-important parts of the Caraka-samhita. They will also explicitly exemplify the highest professional standards of work in Indology. Please check here for the Project-aims. ]



8.4. Charaka Samhitha adopted the philosophical principles of Panchashikha School . The atheistic line of thinking which appear in the teachings of Pancasikha finds a fuller and more systematic development in the Samhita of Caraka. The first chapter of Sarira Sthanam in the Caraka-Samhita opens with an interpretation of Purusha that is quite different from the others.  In fact, the concept of Purusha finds no place in Caraka’s medical science; and, human organism- the body mind complex- alone is the subject of his study.  The Purusha , in the sense of soul does not figure here. His Samhita says – pleasure, pain, disease, death, old age, etc. can happen to a mind-body complex and not to pure transcendental Purusha (soul).

Charaka’s logic relied on Anveshiki , the method  of listing things into similar and dissimilar categories. It adopted Panchshikha’s  principles  by accepting twenty-four category of tattvas (principles or basic components) combining the a-vyakta and the Purusha into one tattva; by accepting that human experiences arise out of the combination of body, mind and consciousness; by subscribing to the view that human suffering is caused by error in identifying the self with that which is not-conscious; by treating the Gunas as psychic states of man rather than as qualities; by adopting the concepts of kshetra (field) and kshetrajna (field-knower , the foundation for the field) as representing notions of Prakrti and Purusha; and by adopting the monistic view that the ultimate truth of a person is his un-manifest state which is a combination of the a-vyakta (un manifest Prakrti) and Purusha (consciousness).

8.5. The last mentioned, that is, treating the a-vyakta and the Purusha (consciousness) as a unity (perhaps suggesting that Purusha is just the state of a-vyakta) is a departure from the older Samkhya traditions; and it also differs from the later classical Samkhya (which holds the view that a-vyakta and Purusha are entirely different).

The Panchashikha-Charaka concept of a unified a-vyakta and Purusha, however, is closer to the ideal of the Tantra School. In the Sri Vidya tradition, Bindu the dimension-less ultimate source of all existence represents the absolute harmony (saamarasya) or union of Shiva (consciousness) and Devi the Mother-principle (as Prakrti).

The Prakrti of Sri Vidya is also said to comprise three Gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) the fundamental fabric of all existence. According to Sri Vidya, the process of creation (shristi) is nothing but the expansion or the evolution of the Bindu. And, at the time of dissolution, all existence dissolves back into the source, the Bindu. Thus, the concepts of Panchashikha School of Samkhya are very similar to that of the Tantra, if not identical. These, again, suggest that Samkhya and Tantra had common origins.

8.6.. The Buddhist poet-scholar Asvaghosa (first century) too, in his Buddhacharita, largely, adopted Panchashikha’s doctrine of Samkhya, but with variations.  Panchashikha’s version is more monistic, while Asvaghosa’s rendering is dualistic (with twenty-five tattvas) brining in the Upanishad notions of self. Yet, Asvaghosa’s is considered, basically, as a later rendering of the Charaka-Panchashikha version.

8.7. From the point of view of tracing the historical development of the Samkhya traditions, the Panchashikha-Charaka version of Samkhya occupies an important position. It represents the stage of transition from the Samkhya-like Upanishad ideas to the doctrines of what came to be known as the classical Samkhya.

But, it needless to mention that all the versions of Samkhya are inspired by and within the broader framework of the common Samkhya tradition.

[There are too many references to Panchashikha in: mythology, music, Mahabharata, Buddhism, Jainism besides those in Samkhya and Yoga lore. Another text refers to Panchashikha as an expert in Dahara-vidya, an esoteric knowledge. Panchashikha also figures in conversations with philosopher-king Janaka.  It is therefore apparent that the name Panchashikha refers to not one but to many persons.

Some scholars also opine that Panchashikha was not only the name of a person/s; it was also the name of an office (like Sakka). For instance, in the Bijarakosiya Jataka, Ananda is said to have reborn as Pancasikha; and in Sudhabhojana Jataka, Anirudda is identified with Pancasikha.]


8.8. After Panchashikha the name that comes up in the Samkhya tradition is Varsaganya (Ca. first century) who is said to have lived in the foothills of Vindhya Mountains. He was popularly known as the king of the Nagas; and also as a teacher of ‘five-fold ignorance’ (pancha-parva avidya or viparyaya): tamas (darkness), moha (delusion), maha-moha (deep –confusion), tamisra (gloom) and andha- tamisra (dark gloom).  This perhaps was a system comparable to the five-fold klesha (afflictions) named by the Yoga system [avidya (ignorance), asmita (ego), raga (clinging), dvesha (hate), and abhinivesha (attachment to your own conceptions)].All these errors of perception and cognition lead to wrong understanding, false identification and to clinging to the false.

8.9. Varsaganya was one of the principal exponents of Samkhya as also of Yoga, thus confirming that Samkhya and Yoga were two facets of the same school; and indicating that pure metaphysics was Samkhya while the practice was Yoga. The followers of Varsaganya (Varsaganah) included Vidhyavasin (or Vindhyavasa).

A statement that is commonly associated with Varsaganya is; “there is neither production of something new nor extinction of something existent. What exists is always existent; what does not exist will never be existent” (Abhidhamma Kosa -5). It is said; the Samkhya theory that the effect resides in the cause (satkarya-vada) stemmed from this idea. But, again ,  this  idea is traced back to Uddalaka Aruni’s assertion ‘there must have been a Being at the beginning’.

[At a much later time, the idea that existence implies always existing or being eternal became a point of departure for the Buddhist thought which firmly believed that nothing is eternal and everything is subject to change and is ever changing.]

[The name Varsaganya is also associated with Jaiminiya Grihya sutra of Sama Veda; He is mentioned there as Sushravas Varsaganya. A certain Varsaganya is also referred to in Bharata’s Natya Shastra, as the founder of a technique of discharging a weapon. Varsaganya is also mentioned in Mahabharata (shanthi parva: 319) as a great teacher of Yoga. This Varsaganya it is believed is the pre-Buddhist teacher of Yoga and he preceded Patanjali. There were thus, number of Varsaganyas in the ancient traditions.]


8.10. Vindhyavasa, it is said, learnt Samkhya from Varsaganya, but then re-worked or revised the system by re-interpreting the traditional Samkhya concepts. That he did, perhaps because of his encounters with Buddhism and the influences that Buddhism exerted on him. He is even credited with pithy couplets summarizing the revised doctrine. According to the Buddhist scholar Paramartha who travelled to China and settled in Nanking (around 550 CE), Vidhyavasin entered into a fierce intellectual debate, at Ayodhya, with the Buddhist scholar Buddhamitra, the teacher of Vasubandhu (an exponent of Yogachara and Madhyamika School of Buddhism); and Vindhyavasin won that debate. Some say that Vindhyavasin’s re-interpretations and use of Buddhist terminologies won the debate for him.

An immediate outcome of that win was that it enraged Vasubandhu disciple of Buddhamitra (the one who lost the debate).  And, the embittered Vasubandhu wrote in anger paramartha-saptati, a scathing critique on Samkhya. [The Chinese version of the story, according to Hsuan-tsang is slightly different.] In any case, the Chinese and Indian traditions accept Varsaganya and Vindhyavasa as great teachers who influenced the course of Samkhya development.


8.11. Isvarakrishna (first or second century) is a very important name in the Samkhya tradition. According to the well known philosopher Dr SN Dasgupta, Isvarakrishna‘s period may be around 200 CE. But, again, as in the case of his predecessors, it is difficult to determine his period. Further, very little is known about Isvarakrishna .It is said he belonged to Kaushika gotra; and he was perhaps a contemporary of Vindhyavasa and Vasubhandhu. (The text Jayamangalä mentions that he was a parivräjaka (?), an itinerant monk – īśvarakṛṣṇa-nāmānaṃ parivrājakamityanayā śiṣya-paramparayā) . His Samkhya-Karika is the oldest Samkhya text available on which we have commentaries by later writers; and it is a definitive work as it systematized the Samkhya view point. It is hailed as the standard reference text of what came to be known as the Classical Samkhya. It was a text the Vedic Schools could accept though rather reluctantly. Paramartha the Buddhist scholar translated Isvarakrishna’s work Samkhya-Karika into Chinese sometime around 560 AD.

[Let’s talk about Samkhya karika and its concepts in an another article]

kapila (1)

Continued à Next: Part Three

— Samkhya Texts and Traditions-


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

Pictures are from Internet


Posted by on October 3, 2012 in Samkhya


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