Buddha-nature (as Depicted in the Lankavatara-sutra)

by Nguyen Dac Sy | 2012 | 70,344 words

This page relates ‘Hindu Philosophical Systems (a) Samkhya’ of the study on (the thought of) Buddha-nature as it is presented in the Lankavatara-sutra (in English). The text represents an ancient Mahayana teaching from the 3rd century CE in the form of a dialogue between the Buddha and Bodhisattva Mahamati, while discussing topics such as Yogacara, Buddha-nature, Alayavijnana (the primacy of consciousness) and the Atman (Self).

2. Hindu Philosophical Systems (a) Sāṃkhya

Sāṃkhya (shulun), literally “philosophy of enumeration”, is considered as the oldest school among six Hindu philosophical systems in India, and Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as one of founders of this school though there is no historical authentication.[1] The earliest available now and most popular text of this school is the Sāṃkhya Karika which was composed in the third century CE by Iśvarakṛṣṇa.[2] Sāṃkhya exposes an extreme dualist doctrine of mind and material and denies the existence of God.[3] The Sāṃkhya philosophy advocates the reality of puruṣa and prakṛti from the fact of knowledge with its distinction between the knowing self or knower as puruṣa and the known object as prakṛti:

Puruṣa (bulusha/ zuigaojingshen) is the supreme spirit, transcendental self or pure consciousness which pervades the universe. It is pure, absolute, silent, independent and imperceptible over other agencies, beyond all mental experiences, words, senses and explanations. Puruṣa is neither produced nor does it produce. Radhakrishnan says that Puruṣa is identical the concept of ātman in the Upaniṣads which is the supreme, omnipresent and eternal self beyond the experience of senses and intellectuality.[4] Puruṣa is also multiplicity, although it does not clearly mention that individual souls (jīvas) are separate entities after liberation. In Sanskrit, jīva comes from the root jiv meaning “to live”. In Sāṃkhya, jīva or “soul” is the self (puruṣa) distinguished by the conjunction of the senses and limited by the body.[5]

Prakṛti (heyuanzhi/ yuanchuwuzhi): primitive matter or original material world which contains all our organs, senses, and intellectual faculties. From the principle of causality it is deduced that the ultimate basis of the empirical universe is the un-manifested prakṛti. The prakrti is neither a material substance nor a conscious entity; but it produces not only the basic elements of the material universe, but also to the psychical. It is the basis of all objective existence.[6] Prakṛti relates to its three qualities called guṇa. Guṇa means “string” or in more abstract may means “quality or tendency”.

In Sāṃkhya philosophy, there are three kinds of guṇas that serve as the essential operating qualities or constituents of prakṛti, as heat is to fire because one cannot exist without the other. They are:

- Sattva guṇa: the power of nature that illuminates and reveals all manifestations. So it is associated with the preservation.

- Rajas guṇa: the power of nature which affects and moves the other two constituents. So it is associated with the creation.

- Tamas guṇa: the power of nature that restrains, obstructs, and envelops the other two constituents by counter-acting the tendency of rajas to do work and sattva to reveal. So it is associated with the destruction.[7]

Thus, Sāṃkhya philosophy advocates two primitive principles of the universe: puruṣa as the essence of individual souls and prakṛti as the essence of objective phenomena. So this school is dualism. The ultimate goal of Sāṃkhya‘s practice is to attain the state of jīvanmukti which is the liberation of soul from the attachment to desires.[8] Samkhya neither describes what will happen after freedom from the rebirth nor mentions anything about Iśvara or God, because after liberation there is no essential distinction of individual soul (jīva) and universal self (puruṣa).

Footnotes and references:


Chandradhar Sharma, Aṅguttaranikāya Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p. 149.


Saṃyuttanikāya. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 254.


Surendranath Dasgupta, op. cit., p. 258.


Saṃyuttanikāya. Radhakrishnan, op. cit., p. 283.




Saṃyuttanikāya. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p. 262.


Hindu Philosophy, pp. 74–76.


Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, tr. Willard R. Trask, p. 30.

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