Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Vacaspati Mishra—His life, date and works (introduction)’ of the research on the Sankhya [Samkhya] school of Indian philosophy with special reference to the contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra. The study includes concepts such as Epistemology (validity and worth of knowledge), Ontology (theory of being or reality), Psychology (science of behavior and mind), Phenomenology (the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness) and Ethics (the removal of errors), all forming an essential part of Samkhya philosophy.

Chapter 2 - Vācaspati Miśra—His life, date and works (introduction)

Vācaspatimiśra is considered to be one of the great literary geniuses that India has ever produced. He was a versatile genius with encyclopedic learning. He had a wonderful exposition skill and presentation of whatever subject or system he chose to handle. He had a lifelong passion for philosophic truth. A multisided philosophic genius as he was Vācaspatimiśra devoted himself to the task of setting forth authoritative expositions of all the Darśanas. He wrote on all the important system instancing his philosophic objectivity and width. His name is ever associated with the honorific title "sarvatantrasvatantraḥ" [sarvatantrasvatantra] which is a rare honour conferred only upon literary prodigies. He is also known as "dvādaśadarśanakānanapañcānanaḥ|" [dvādaśa-darśana-kānana-pañcānana] His literary productions bear ample testimony to the honour and dignity that are always associated with that little.


Vācaspati Miśra is a colossus among the Indian philosophers. One of the great Maithila scholars of the period, Vācaspati Miśra came from a family of Mīmāṃsakas and made his fame as an authority on that topic, on which he says himself. He was, the teacher of Smārta Vardhamāna, author of Danḍaviveka.

Vācaspati Miśra’s family appears to have lived in several different villages of Mithila. Bhattācārya provides some telling texting arguments providing that Vācaspati Miśra preceded most of the other early great Maithila Naiyyāyikas such as Yajñapati, Pakṣadhara and Jayadeva, the Ālokakāra. He agrees that it is likely that Vācaspati Miśra wrote his Nyāya works in his youth, suggesting that, when he found his own stature in his field eclipsed by that of Yajñapati and Jayadeva he retired from Nyāya and spent the rest of his life writing on Mīmāṃsā.[1]

The Nyāya works of Vācaspati Miśra appear to have been written in the north, where he must have spent some of his early days. A manuscript of one of his works, the Nyāyaratnaprakāśa indicates that the work was written at the behest of Padmāvati, Pratāparudra’s queen of Pāñcālabhūmi. However, Vācaspati Miśra spent the greater part of his days in his native land Mithila.

There is sufficient evidence in Bhāmatī that Vācaspati Miśra was under the patronage of Nṛga, who was a king of generous nature highly formed for his wonderful deeds. He was well established in the court of king Nrga.[2] He, for a great many years of his life, found aid and comfort under the kind patronage of king Nṛga.


A good deal of scholarly debate has centered on the question of Vācaspati Miśra’s date, which is of special interest since his works figure in the history of several schools. Thus, if his date would be firmly established, it would help greatly in determining the chronology of several traditions. Vācaspati Miśra actually gives the date 898, for one of his works, the Nyāyasūcīnibandha. The scholars have debated as to whether this date is to be understood as Śaka or Vikrama 898. If it is the later, then the work was written in Samvat 898, i.e., C.E 841. But there are several reasons why this date is unlikely. Since Vācaspati Miśra quotes and names the work Nyāyamañjarī, he cannot precede Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, thus the date must be Śaka 898 i.e., C.E 976. This argument is shaky, since it seems clear that in the Nyāyamañjari Vācaspati Miśra quotes not Jayanta’s but his teacher Trilocana’s work.[3] Dineshchandrabhattacharya [=Dinesh Chandra Bhattacharya] [Dineścandra-bhaṭṭa-ācārya][4] gives some additional arguments, the cumulative weight of which would seem to settle the question. His arguments are shown bellow;

1. Since Vācaspati Miśra refutes Bhāskara in his Bhāmatī, he must be 10th century at earliest.

2. Vācaspati Miśra quotes Dharmottara respectfully, so must have lived a century or so after him. Since Dharmottara is 9th century C.E, Vācaspati Miśra must be 10th century C.E.

3. Vācaspati Miśra refers to the Bhūṣaṇa, so must be after Bhāsarvajña.

4. According to Vardhamāna’s commentary on Kiraṇāvali, Vācaspati Miśra lived after Vyomaśiva.

5. Srīdhara seems not to know Vācaspati Miśra.

On the other hand, Narahari[5] argues that for Udayana comments on Vācaspati Miśra's work, and the Udayana lived around the end of the11th century C.E, the śaka date for Vācaspati Miśra must be wrong, and should opt for the earlier one. The basis for this is in Narahari’s opinion that it is extremely unusual for one man to comment on a contemporary's work.

Vācaspati Miśra wrote two works in the Nyāya tradition. One, the Nyāyasūcīnibandha, is merely a sūtrapāṭha and table of contents to the Nyāyasūtras. The other is an extensive commentary on Udyotakāra’s Nyāyavārttika. But there are other scholars like Mahāmahopādhyāya Ganganāthjha[6] , S.Subrahmaṇyaśāstri and V. Subrahmaṇyaśāstri were disagreeing with Das Gupta and J.H.Woods. They point out that Nṛga, the real king of Midhila[7] was the predecessor of the king Nanyādeva, who reigned about 963 C.E or 1019 Vikram era S.S.Śāstri and V.S.Śāstri opine that Nṛga was a real king and not a mythological figure.

This may almost be taken as correct, for Amalānanda, in Vedānta kalpataru says the following;

"ācāryaṃ yo mahīpatirmahayāñcakāra tasya nāma nṛga iti"|[8]

Coming to the third factor, from the chronological reference of; (a) Udayana (984.C.E) who has commented upon Vācaspāti’s Nyāyavārtikatātparyaṭīkā under the name Nyāyavārtikatātparyaṭīkā-pariśuddhi. (b) Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, the author of Nyāyamañjari, says that it can be very well discerned that there must have been a good interval of time between Vācaspati Miśra and Udayana and needless to add, Vācaspati Miśra was earlier to Udayana.[9]

Vācaspati Miśra clearly states that the source of his novel interpretations is his teacher Trilocana. Hence it is quite just possible that Jayanta and Vācaspati Miśra were contemporaries, not knowing each other’s view. This may be due to geographical distance. Jayanta Bhaṭṭa the author of Nyāyamañjarī, spent most of his life time in Kāśmīr where as Vācaspati Miśra was a native of Mithila. This Jayanta also may be placed in the 9th century C.E[10] , and for Vācaspati Miśra the limits 840-900 are all that can be fixed. He cannot have flourished either in the 10th or after the century.

Thus to fix the date of Vācaspati Miśra there is no need to be merely confined to the direction of some scholars like Prof. Cowell,[11] Barth[12] , Macdonell[13] at whose hands much of evidence is left untouched.

These dates are unconvincing when compared to Vācaspati Miśra’s own statements. So these dates prove a failure. So reference in Bhāmatī which gets strengthened thorough prevents one to place Vācaspati Miśra in the 10th century C.E. Further the priority of Vācaspati Miśra to Udayana prevents one from placing him later than 10th century C.E. All these go to show that Vācaspati Miśra lived in all approximate certainty not earlier or later than the period 841- 900 C.E. However, it should be remembered that there existed a later Vācaspati Miśra in Bengal (1350.C.E) who is supposed to have written a commentary on Śrīharṣa’s Khaṇḍanakhaṇḍakhādya called Khaṇḍanoddhāra, who has nothing to do with Bhāmatī.[14]


Vācaspati Miśra has to his credit nine valuable treatises contributed to different orthodox systems of philosophy. On the basis of the internal evidences provided by these works, modern scholars arrange them in the following chronological order.[15]

1) Nyāyakaṇikā: This is a commentary on Vidhiviveka, a Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā work of Maṇḍanamiśra.

2) Nyāyasūtroddhāra: This is a compilation of the Nyāyasūtra fixing the readings of the text of the sūtras.

3) Nyāyasūcīnibandha: This arranges the same Nyāyasūtra.

4) Nyāyavārtikatātparyaṭīkā: This work also known by its shorter and more popular name, ‘tātparyaṭīkā’, is an extensive commentary on the Nyāyavārtikā of Uddyotakara Bhāradvāja.

5) Tattvasamīkṣā: It is generally believed to be a commentary on the Brahmasiddhi of Maṇḍanamiśra. But it has been recently suggested that this is also an independent Mīmāṃsa treatise of Vācaspati Miśra. This work is lost.

6) Tattvabindu: This is also an independent Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsa treatise of Vācaspati Miśra.

7) Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī: This work, known briefly as Tattvakaumudī, is a brilliant commentary on the famous Sāṅkhyakārikā of Īśvarakṛṣṇa.

8) Yogatattvavaiśāradī known also by its shorter title Tattvavaiśāradī: This work is a commentary on the Pātañjalayogasūtrabhāṣya of Vyāsa.

9) Bhāmatī: The full title of this work is perhaps Śārīrakabhāṣya bhāmatī. This is the earliest known exhaustive and complete commentary on the Brahmasūtraśāṅkara-bhāṣya.

It is interesting to note that in a verse in the epilogue of the Bhāmatī Vācaspati Miśra gives a full list of his own works arranged exactly in the above order suggested by the modern researchers. In the Indian tradition Vācaspati Miśra is again perhaps the first writer to give a complete list of his works, that too in a chronological order. The manner in which these works are clubbed together by compound expressions and common terminology in the verse seems to indicate that the scholarly career of Vācaspati Miśra consisted roughly of three phases. The first phase saw the author’s contribution of the first three works, all being Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsā treatises. The middle phase witnessed Vācaspati Miśra’s multi-sided contributions, i.e., the next five treaties to the Nyāya, Sāṅkhya, and Yoga Systems. The last phase was devoted solely to the ‘Vedāntānāṃ nibandhana’,[16] i.e., the Bhāmatī. From the above it would appear that ever in the beginning of his scholarly career, this great philosopher commentator had set up the Advaita Vedānta treatise, Bhāmatī on the Śāṅkarabhāṣya, as his life’s mission.

[1 - Works on Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika]

[2 - Works on Mīmāṃsā]

[3 - Work on Sāṅkhya]

[4 - Work on Yoga]

[5 - Works on Advaita Vedānta]


Vācaspati Miśra was a great luminary in the history of Indian philosophy. But a little is known about his life. He was a native of Mithila and the generally accepted date of Vācaspati Miśra is 9th century C.E. This date is based on the references of his own works. He has written important treatises in all the āsthika Schools of Indian philosophy. Among his works the most important one is Nyāyavārtikatātparyaṭīkā, a commentary on the nyāyavārtikā of Udyodakara and Nyāyasūcīnibandha. He has restored the Nyāyasūtras as well as the Nyāyavārtika from the mud of wrong reasoning of the Buddhists through the above two works. So he is well-known as tātparyācārya. His work in Advaita is Bhāmatī, a commentary on Brahmasūtraśāṅkarabhāṣya. It started the Bhāmatī School of Advaita.

Bhāmatī reflects the splendor of the critical analysis of the Śārīrakabhāṣya. His Sāṅkhya work is Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī, the most important commentary of Sāṅkhyakārikā It represents the very soul of the various concepts of the Sāṅkhya philosophy. In Yoga philosophy, he has written Yogatattvavaiśāradī, a commentary on the Vyāsabhāṣya of Yogasūtra In it, he restored the tradition of Patañjali and Vyāsa. Vācaspati Miśra’s works on Mīmāṃsā are Nyāyakaṇikā and Tattvabindu. Nyāyakaṇikā is a commentary on the Vidhiviveka of Maṇḍana Miśra and Tattvabindu is an independent treatise on vākyārtha.

From the study of his works on the different systems of Indian philosophy, it becomes clear how he adheres to the demands and the propriety of the particular system on which he is writing. He elucidates the views expressed in the text of a particular system and contributes his points only in accordance with the doctrinal standards of that particular system. This is the greatness of Vācaspati Miśra as a commentator. This does not mean that he is simply satisfied with the interpretation and elucidation of the text of the different systems. He goes further and enriches the field of each system with his original views. It is to be noted that he introduces his original views by way of interpreting the original texts in such a way to find culmination in new doctrinal points.

Footnotes and references:


K.H. Potter and S. Bhaṭṭacharya: Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol.VI, p.454


"na cādyāpi na dṛśyante līlāmātravinirmitāni mahāprāsādapramadavanāni
śrīmannṛganarendrāṇāmanyeṣāṃ manasāpi duṣkarāṇi nareśvarāṇām|"
"tasminmahīpe mahanīyakīrtau śrīmannṛge'kāri mayā nibandhaḥ||"
Bhāmatī, Vol. 2, p.481


Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol.VI H.G Narahari, B.2487: 22. 1-2, P.78


Ibid, Bhaṭṭacharya, D.C: B. 2587


Ibid, Narahari, B. 2487


M.G. Jha: Sāṃkyatattvakaumudī (trans.), Introduction


Umesh Miśra: History of Indian philosophy, Vol.2, 1965 pp. 97-103


"ācāryaṃ yo mahīpatirmahayāṃcakāra tasya nāma nṛga iti|" Bhāmatī, 2.1.33


V.N. Sheshagiri Rao: Vācaspati Miśra's Contribution to Advaita Vedanta, P.83


M.M. Gopinathkaviraj: Prince of Wales, Saraswathy Bhavan studies, Vol.III, pp.103, 110


J.H. Woods: The Yoga System of Patañjali, Vol.17, introduction




History of Sanskrit Literature, P.393


Vācaspati Miśra’s Contribution to Advaita Vedānta, p.7


Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. II, p.p. 453-54


Bhāmatī, Last verse

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