A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of an early school of samkhya: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “the kapila and the patanjala samkhya (yoga)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

It is important for the history of Sāṃkhya philosophy that Caraka’s treatment of it, which so far as I know has never been dealt with in any of the modern studies of Sāṃkhya, should be brought before the notice of the students of this philosophy. According to Caraka there are six elements (dhātus), viz. the five elements such as ākāśa, vāyu etc. and cetanā, called also puruṣa. From other points of view, the categories may be said to be twenty-four only, viz. the ten senses (five cognitive and five conative), manas, the five objects of senses and the eightfold prakṛti (prakṛti, mahat, ahaṃkāra and the five elements)[1]. The manas works through the senses. It is atomic and its existence is proved by the fact that in spite of the existence of the senses there cannot be any knowledge unless manas is in touch with them.

There are two movements of manas as indeterminate sensing (ūha) and conceiving (vicāra) before definite understanding (buddhi) arises. Each of the five senses is the product of the combination of five elements but the auditory sense is made with a preponderance of ākāśa, the sense of touch with a preponderance of air, the visual sense with a preponderance of light, the taste with a preponderance of water and the sense of smell with a preponderance of earth. Caraka does not mention the tanmātras at all[2]. The conglomeration of the sense-objects (indriyārthci) or gross matter, the ten senses, manas, the five subtle bhūtas and prakṛti, mahat and ahaṃkāra taking place through rajas make up what we call man. When the sattva is at its height this conglomeration ceases.

All karma, the fruit of karma, cognition, pleasure, pain, ignorance, life and death belongs to this conglomeration. But there is also the puruṣa, for had it not been so there would be no birth, death, bondage, or salvation. If the ātman were not regarded as cause, all illuminations of cognition would be without any reason. If a permanent self were not recognized, then for the work of one others would be responsible. This puruṣa, called also paramātman , is beginningless and it has no cause beyond itself. The self is in itself without consciousness. Consciousness can only come to it through its connection with the sense organs and manas. By ignorance, will,antipathy, and work, this conglomeration of puruṣa and the other elements takes place. Knowledge, feeling, or action, cannot be produced without this combination.

All positive effects are due to conglomerations of causes and not by a single cause, but all destruction comes naturally and without cause. That which is eternal is never the product of anything. Caraka identifies the avyakta part of prakṛti with puruṣa as forming one category. The vikāra or evolutionary products of prakṛti are called kṣetra, whereas the avyakta part of prakṛti is regarded as the kṣetrajña (avyaktamasya kṣetrasya kṣetrajñamṛṣayo viduh). This avyakta and cetanā are one and the same entity. From this unmanifested prakṛti or cetanā is derived the buddhi, and from the buddhi is derived the ego (ahaṃkāra) and from the ahaṃkāra the five elements and the senses are produced, and when this production is complete, we say that creation has taken place. At the time of pralaya (periodical cosmic dissolution) all the evolutes return back to prakṛti, and thus become unmanifest with it, whereas at the time of a new creation from the puruṣa the unmanifest (avyakta), all the manifested forms—the evolutes of buddhi, ahaṃkāra, etc.— appear[3].

This cycle of births or rebirths or of dissolution and new creation acts through the influence of rajas and tamas, and so those who can get rid of these two will never again suffer this revolution in a cycle. The manas can only become active in association with the self, which is the real agent. This self of itself takes rebirth in all kinds of lives according to its own wish, undetermined by anyone else. It works according to its own free will and reaps the fruits of its karma. Though all the souls are pervasive, yet they can only perceive in particular bodies where they are associated with their own specific senses. All pleasures and pains are felt by the conglomeration (rāśi), and not by the ātman presiding over it. From the enjoyment and suffering of pleasure and pain comes desire (trṣnā) consisting of wish and antipathy, and from desire again comes pleasure and pain. Mokṣa means complete cessation of pleasure and pain, arising through the association of the self with the manas, the sense, and sense-objects. If the manas is settled steadily in the self, it is the state of yoga when there is neither pleasure nor pain.

When true knowledge dawns that

“all are produced by causes, are transitory, rise of themselves, but are not produced by the self and are sorrow, and do not belong to me the self,”

the self transcends all. This is the last renunciation when all affections and knowledge become finally extinct. There remains no indication of any positive existence of the self at this time, and the self can no longer be perceived[4]. It is the state of Brahman. Those who know Brahman call this state the Brahman, which is eternal and absolutely devoid of any characteristic. This state is spoken of by the Sāṃkhyas as their goal, and also that of the Yogins.

When rajas and tamas are rooted out and the karma of the past whose fruits have to be enjoyed are exhausted, and there is no new karma and new birth, the state of mokṣa comes about. Various kinds of moral endeavours in the shape of association with good people, abandoning of desires, determined attempts at discovering the truth with fixed attention, are spoken of as indispensable means. Truth (tattva) thus discovered should be recalled again and again[5] and this will ultimately effect the disunion of the body with the self. As the self is avyakta (unmanifested) and has no specific nature or character, this state can only be described as absolute cessation (mokṣe nivṛttirnihśeṣā).

The main features of the Sāṃkhya doctrine as given by Caraka are thus:

  1. Puruṣa is the state of avyakta.
  2. By a conglomera-of this avyakta with its later products a conglomeration is formed which generates the so-called living being.
  3. The tanmātras are not mentioned.
  4. Rajas and tamas represent the bad states of the mind and sattva the good ones.
  5. The ultimate state of emancipation is either absolute annihilation or characterless absolute existence and it is spoken of as the Brahman state; there is no consciousness in this state, for consciousness is due to the conglomeration of the self with its evolutes, buddhi, ahaṃkāra etc.
  6. The senses are formed of matter (bhautika).

This account of Sāṃkhya agrees with the system of Sāṃkhya propounded by Pañcaśikha (who is said to be the direct pupil of Asuri the pupil of Kapila, the founder of the system) in the Mahābhārata XII. 219. Pañcaśikha of course does not describe the system as elaborately as Caraka does. But even from what little he says it may be supposed that the system of Sāṃkhya he sketches is the same as that of Caraka[6]. Pañcaśikha speaks of the ultimate truth as being avyakta (a term applied in all Sāṃkhya literature to prakṛti) in the state of puruṣa (puruṣāvasthainavyaktani).

If man is the product of a mere combination of the different elements, then one may assume that all ceases with death. Caraka in answer to such an objection introduces a discussion, in which he tries to establish the existence of a self as the postulate of all our duties and sense of moral responsibility. The same discussion occurs in Pañcaśikha also, and the proofs for the existence of the self are also the same. Like Caraka again Pañcaśikha also says that all consciousness is due to the conditions of the conglomeration of our physical body mind,—and the element of “cetas.” They are mutually independent, and by such independence carry on the process of life and work.

None of the phenomena produced by such a conglomeration are self. All our suffering comes in because we think these to be the self. Mokṣa is realized when we can practise absolute renunciation of these phenomena. The guṇas described by Pañcaśikha are the different kinds of good and bad qualities of the mind as Caraka has it. The state of the conglomeration is spoken of as the kṣetra, as Caraka says, and there is no annihilation or eternality; and the last state is described as being like that when all rivers lose themselves in the ocean and it is called aliṅga (without any characteristic)—a term reserved for prakṛti in later Sāṃkhya. This state is attainable by the doctrine of ultimate renunciation which is also called the doctrine of complete destruction (. samyagbadha).

Guṇaratna (fourteenth century A.D.), a commentator of Sad - darśanasamuccaya, mentions two schools of Sāṃkhya, the Maulikya (original) and the Uttara or (later)[7]. Of these the doctrine of the Maulikya Sāṃkhya is said to be that which believed that there was a separate pradhāna for each ātman (maulikyasāinkhyā hyātmānamātmānam prati prthak pradhānam vadanti). This seems to be a reference to the Sāṃkhya doctrine I have just sketched. I am therefore disposed to think that this represents the earliest systematic doctrine of Sāṃkhya.

In Mahābhārata XII. 318 three schools of Sāṃkhya are mentioned, viz. those who admitted twenty-four categories (the school I have sketched above), those who admitted twenty-five (the well-known orthodox Sāṃkhya system) and those who admitted twenty-six categories. This last school admitted a supreme being in addition to puruṣa and this was the twenty-sixth principle. This agrees with the orthodox Yoga system and the form of Sāṃkhya advocated in the Mahābhārata. The schools of Sāṃkhya of twenty-four and twenty-five categories are here denounced as unsatisfactory. Doctrines similar to the school of Sāṃkhya we have sketched above are referred to in some of the other chapters of the Mahābhārata (XII. 203, 204). The self apart from the body is described as the moon of the new moon day; it is said that as Rāhu (the shadow on the sun during an eclipse) cannot be seen apart from the sun, so the self cannot be seen apart from the body. The selfs (śarīrinah) are spoken of as manifesting from prakṛti.

We do not know anything about Asuri the direct disciple of Kapila[8]. But it seems probable that the system of Sāṃkhya we have sketched here which appears in fundamentally the same form in the Mahābhārata and has been attributed there to Pañcaśikha is probably the earliest form of Sāṃkhya available to us in a systematic form. Not only does Guṇaratna’s reference to the school of Maulikya Sāṃkhya justify it, but the fact that Caraka (78 A.D.) does not refer to the Sāṃkhya as described by īśvarakṛṣṇa and referred to in other parts of Mahābhārata is a definite proof that īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhya is a later modification, which was either non-existent in Caraka’s time or was not regarded as an authoritative old Sāṃkhya view.

Wassilief says quoting Tibetan sources that Vindhyavāsin altered the Sāṃkhya according to his own views[9]. Takakusu thinks that Vindhyavāsin was a title of īśvarakṛṣṇa[10] and Garbe holds that the date of īśvarakṛṣṇa was about 100 A.D. It seems to be a very plausible view that īśvarakṛṣṇa was indebted for his kārikās to another work, which was probably written in a style different from what he employs. The seventh verse of his Kārikā seems to be in purport the same as a passage which is found quoted in the Mahābhāṣya of Patañjali the grammarian (147 B.C.)[11]. The subject of the two passages are the enumeration of reasons which frustrate visual perception. This however is not a doctrine concerned with the strictly technical part of Sāṃkhya, and it is just possible that the book from which Patañjali quoted the passage, and which was probably paraphrased in the Aryā metre by īśvarakṛṣṇa was not a Sāṃkhya book at all. But though the subject of the verse is not one of the strictly technical parts of Sāṃkhya, yet since such an enumeration is not seen in any other system of Indian philosophy, and as it has some special bearing as a safeguard against certain objections against the Sāṃkhya doctrine of prakṛti, the natural and plausible supposition is that it was the verse of a Sāṃkhya book which was paraphrased by īśvarakṛṣṇa.

The earliest descriptions of a Sāṃkhya which agrees with īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhya (but with an addition of Iśvara) are to be found in Patañjali’s Yoga sūtras and in the Mahābhārata; but we are pretty certain that the Sāṃkhya of Caraka we have sketched here was known to Patañjali, for in Yoga sūtra I. 19 a reference is made to a view of Sāṃkhya similar to this.

From the point of view of history of philosophy the Sāṃkhya of Caraka and Pañcaśikha is very important; for it shows a transitional stage of thought between the Upaniṣad ideas and the orthodox Sāṃkhya doctrine as represented by īśvarakṛṣṇa. On the one hand its doctrine that the senses are material, and that effects are produced only as a result of collocations, and that the puruṣa is unconscious, brings it in close relation with Nyāya, and on the other its connections with Buddhism seem to be nearer than the orthodox Sāṃkhya.

We hear of a Ṣaṣṭitantraśāstra as being one of the oldest Sāṃkhya works. This is described in the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā as containing two books of thirty-two and twenty-eight chapters[12]. A quotation from Rājavārttika (a work about which there is no definite information) in Vācaspati Miśra’s commentary on the Sāinkhya kārika(72) says that it was called the Sastitantra because it dealt with the existence of prakṛti, its oneness, its difference from puruṣas, its purposefulness for puruṣas, the multiplicity of puruṣas, connection and separation from puruṣas, the evolution of the categories, the inactivity of the puruṣas and the fi veviparyyayas, nine tiiṣṭis, the defects of organs of twenty-eight kinds, and the eight siddhis[13].

But the content of the Ṣaṣṭitantra as given in Ahirbudhnya Samhitāis different from it,and itappearsfrom it that the Sāṃkhya of the Ṣaṣṭitantra referred to in the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā was of a theistic character resembling the doctrine of the Pañcarātra Vaiṣṇavas and the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā says that Kapila’s theory of Sāṃkhya was a Vaiṣṇava one. Vijñāna Bhikṣu, the greatest expounder of Sāṃkhya, says in many places of his work VijñānāmṛtaBhāṣya that Sāṃkhya was originally theistic, and that the atheistic Sāṃkhya is only a praudhivāda (an exaggerated attempt to show that no supposition of īśvara is necessary to explain the world process) though the Mahābhārata points out that the difference between Sāṃkhya and Yoga is this, that the former is atheistic, while the latter is theistic. The discrepancy between the two accounts of Ṣaṣṭitantra suggests that the original Ṣaṣṭitantra as referred to in the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā was subsequently revised and considerably changed. This supposition is corroborated by the fact that Guṇaratna does not mention among the important Sāṃkhya works Ṣaṣṭitantra but Ṣaṣṭitantroddhāra (revised edition of Ṣaṣṭitantra)[14] Probably the earlier Ṣaṣṭitantra was lost even before Vācaspati’s time.

If we believe the Ṣaṣṭitantra referred to in the Ahirbudhnya Samhitā to be in all essential parts the same work which was composed by Kapila and based faithfully on his teachings, then it has to be assumed that Kapila’s Sāṃkhya was theistic[15]. It seems probable that his disciple Asuri tried to popularise it. But it seems that a great change occurred when Pañcaśikha the disciple of Asuri came to deal with it. For we know that his doctrine differed from the traditional one in many important respects. It is said in Sāṃkhya kārikā (70) that the literature was divided by him into many parts (tena bahudhākṛtam tantram). The exact meaning of this reference is difficult to guess. It might mean that the original Ṣaṣṭitantra was rewritten by him in various treatises. It is a well-known fact that most of the schools of Vaiṣṇavas accepted the form of cosmology which is the same in most essential parts as the Sāṃkhya cosmology. This justifies the assumption that Kapila’s doctrine was probably theistic. But there are a few other points of difference between the Kapila and the Pātañjala Sāṃkhya (Yoga). The only supposition that may be ventured is that Pañcaśikha probably modified Kapila’s work in an atheistic way and passed it as Kapila’s work. If this supposition is held reasonable, then we have three strata of Sāṃkhya, first a theistic one, the details of which are lost, but which is kept in a modified form by the Pātañjala school of Sāṃkhya, second an atheistic one as represented by Pañcaśikha, and a third atheistic modification as the orthodox Sāṃkhya system. An important change in the Sāṃkhya doctrine seems to have been introduced by Vijñāna Bhikṣu (sixteenth century A.D.) by his treatment of guṇas as types of reals.

I have myself accepted this interpretation of Sāṃkhya as the most rational and philosophical one, and have therefore followed it in giving a connected system of the accepted Kapila and the Pātañjala school of Sāṃkhya. But it must be pointed out that originally the notion of guṇas was applied to different types of good and bad mental states, and then they were supposed in some mysterious way by mutual increase and decrease to form the objective world on the one hand and the totality of human psychosis on the other. A systematic explana-nation of the guṇas was attempted in two different lines by Vijñāna Bhikṣu and the Vaiṣṇava writer Venkata[16]. As the Yoga philosophy compiled by Patañjali and commented on by Vyāsa, Vācaspati and Vijñāna Bhikṣu, agree with the Sāṃkhya doctrine as explained by Vācaspati and Vijñāna Bhikṣu in most points I have preferred to call them the Kapila and the Pātañjala schools of Sāṃkhya and have treated them together—a principle which was followed by Haribhadra in his Ṣaḍdarśanasamuccaya.

The other important Sāṃkhya teachers mentioned by Gauda-pāda are Sanaka, Sananda, Sanātana and Vodhu. Nothing is Known about their historicity or doctrines.

Footnotes and references:


Puruṣa is here excluded from the list. Cakrapāni, the commentator, says that the prakṛti and purusa both being unmanifested, the two together have been counted as one. Prakṛtivyatiriktañcodāsīnaṃ puruṣamavyaktatvasādharmyāt avyaktāyām prakṛtāveva prakṣipya avyaktaśabdenaiva gṛhṇāti. Harinātha Viśārada’s edition of Caraka, Sārīra, p. 4.


But some sort of subtle matter, different from gross matter, is referred to as forming part of prakṛti which is regarded as having eight elements in it (prakṛtiicā-ṣṭadhātuki), viz. avyakta, mahat, ahaṃkāra, and five other elements. In addition to these elements forming part of the prakṛti we hear of indriyārthā, the five sense objects which have evolved out of the prakṛti.


This passage has been differently explained in a commentary previous to Cakra-pāni as meaning that at the time of death these resolve back into the prakṛti—the purusa—and at the time of rebirth they become manifest again. See Cakrapāni on śārīra, I. 46.


Though this state is called brahmabhūta, it is not in any sense like the Brahman of Vedānta which is of the nature of pure being, pure intelligence and pure bliss. This indescribable state is more like absolute annihilation without any sign of existence (alakṣaṇam), resembling Nāgārjuna’s Nirvāṇa.

Thus Caraka writes:—

tasmiṃścaramasannyāse samūlāḥsarvavedanāḥ asaṃjñājñānavijñānā nivṛttiṃ yāntyaśeṣataḥ. ataḥparaṃ brahmabhūto bhūtātmā nopalabhyate niḥsṛtaḥ sarvabhāvebhyaḥ cihnaṃ yasya na vidyate. gatirbrahmavidāṃ brahma taccākṣaramalakṣaṇam.

     Caraka, Śārīra I. q8-ioo.


Four causes are spoken of here as being causes of memory:

  1. Thinking of the cause leads to the remembering of the effect,
  2. by similarity,
  3. by opposite things, and
  4. by acute attempt to remember.


Some European scholars have experienced great difficulty in accepting Pafi-caśikha’s doctrine as a genuine Sāṃkhya doctrine. This may probably be due to the fact that the Sāṃkhya doctrines sketched in Caraka did not attract their notice.


Guṇaratna’s Tarkarahasyadīpikā, p. 99


A verse attributed to Asuri is quoted by Guṇaratna (Tarkarahasyadīpikā, p. 104). The purport of this verse is that when buddhi is transformed in a particular manner, it (purusa) has experience. It is like the reflection of the moon in transparent water.


Vassilief’s Buddhismus, p. 240.


Takakusu’s “A study of Paramārtha’s life of Vasubandhu,” J. R.A.S. , 1905. This identification by Takakusu, however, appears to be extremely doubtful, for Guṇaratna mentions īśvarakrsna and Vindhyavāsin as two different authorities (Tarkarahasyadīpikā , pp. 102 and 104). The verse quoted from Vindhyavāsin (p. 104) in anustubh metre cannot be traced as belonging to īśvarakrsna.

It appears that īśvarakrsna wrote two books; one is the Sāṃkhya kārikā and another an independent work on Sāṃkhya, a line from which, quoted by Guṇaratna, stands as follows:

Pratuiiyatādhyavasāyaḥ śrotrādisamuttha adhyaksani

(p. 108).

If Vācaspati’s interpretation of the classification of anumāna in his Tattvakautnudī be considered to be a correct explanation of Sāṃkhya kārikā then īśvarakrsna must be a different person from Vindhyavāsin whose views on anumāna as referred to in Ślokavārttika , p. 393, are altogether different. But Vācaspati’s own statement in the Tātparyyaṭīkā (pp. 109 and 131) shows that his treatment there was not faithful.


Patañjali’s Mahābhāsya, iv. i. 3. Atisannikarṣādativiprakarṣāt mūrttyantaravyavadhānāt tamasāvṛtatvāt indriyadaurvalyādatipramādāt , etc. (Benares edition.)


Ahirbudhnya Saṃhitā , pp. 108, 110.


The doctrine of the viparyyaya, tuṣṭi, defects of organs, and the siddhi are mentioned in the Kārikā of īśvarakṛṣṇa, but I have omitted them in my account of Sāṃkhya as these have little philosophical importance.

The viparyyaya (false knowledge) are five, viz.

  1. avidyā (ignorance),
  2. asmitā (egoism),
  3. rāga (attachment),
  4. dvesa (antipathy),
  5. abhiniveśa (self-love),

which are also called

  1. tamo,
  2. moha,
  3. mahāmoha,
  4. tamisrā,
  5. and andhatāmisra.

These are of nine kinds of tusti, such as the idea that no exertion is necessary,
since prakṛti will herself bring our salvation (ambhas),
that it is not necessary to meditate, for it is enough if we renounce the householder’s life (salila),
that there is no hurry, salvation will come in time (megha),
that salvation will be worked out by fate (bhāgya),
and the contentment leading to renunciation proceeding from five kinds of causes, e.g. the troubles of earning (para),
the troubles of protecting the earned money (supara), the natural waste of things earned by enjoyment (parā-para),
increase of desires leading to greater disappointments (anuttamāmbhas),
all gain leads to the injury of others (uttamāmbkas).

This renunciation proceeds from external considerations with those who consider prakṛti and its evolutes as the self. The siddhis or ways of success are eight in number, viz.

  1. reading of scriptures (tāra),
  2. enquiry into their meaning (sutāra),
  3. proper reasoning (tāratāra),
  4. corroborating one’s own ideas with the ideas of the teachers and other workers of the same field (ramyaka),
  5. clearance of the mind by long-continued practice (sadāmudita).

The three other siddhis called pramoda, mudita, and modamāna lead directly to the separation of the prakṛti from the puruṣa. The twenty-eight sense defects are the eleven defects of the eleven senses and seventeen kinds of defects of the understanding corresponding to the absence of siddhis and the presence of tustis. The viparyyayas, tustis and the defects of the organs are hindrances in the way of the achievement of the Sāṃkhya goal.


Tarkarahasyadīpikā , p. 109.


evaṃ ṣaḍvimśakaṃ prāhuḥ śarīratnih mānavāh sāṃkkyam saṃkkyātmakatvācca kapilādibhirucyate. Matsyapurāṇa, iv. 28


Venkata’s philosophy will be dealt with in the second volume of the present work.

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