Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Vacaspati Mishra—Work on Sankhya’ 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 2.3 - Vācaspati Miśra—Work on Sāṅkhya

Of all the philosophical systems, Sāṅkhya has been considered by all to be most ancient. This occupies a prominent place in all the śastras, since this is either supported or not by every philosophical system. Therefore, the importance of this śāstra is recognized by all the systems. Though the use of the word ‘Sāṅkhya’ is found first of all in the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad[1] yet Sāṅkhya reflections are found even in the Ṛgveda and the other Upanisads. This proves the antiquity of this śāstra. Sāṅkhya is derived from the word Saṃkhyā. The word Saṅkya is used in the sense of thinking and counting. Thinking may be with reference to basic principles or knowledge of self. Counting refers to the twenty five principles and aśakti, atuṣṭi etc. The double implication of the word has been set forth by Vijñānabhikṣu in his preface to Sāṅkhyapravacanabhāṣya, by a quotation from the Mahābhārata.

So, Sāṅkhya means knowledge of self through right discrimination. Garbe is of opinion that the word Sāṅkhya was originally used in the sense of counting, and it was then applied to the system of Kapila which enumerates the twenty five principles. Of the standard works on Sāṅkhya, three of them are prominent. They are “Sāṅkhyasūtras”, “Tattvasamāsa” and “Sāṅkhyakārikā”. Sāṅkhya-pravacanasūtra which is attributed to Kapila is generally regarded by scholars as a work of 14th century C.E. Īsvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṅkhyakārikā seems to be the earliest available and the most popular work of this system. Besides this Gauḍapāda’s Sāṅkhyakārikābhāṣya and Vācaspati Miśra’s Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī are most important.


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī is the famous commentary written by Vācaspati Miśra on Īśvarakṛiṣṇa’s Sāṅkhyakārikā. It represents the very soul of the various concepts of the Sāṅkhya Philosophy. This text says that Prakṛti binds the Puruṣa and turns away from him when the purpose is accomplished. Hence, in the ultimate analysis what looks like the bondage of Puruṣa is really the bondage of Prakṛti and what looks like emancipation of Puruṣa is really the turning away of Prakṛti. Puruṣa is left to himself and remain in his ‘Kevala’ state. In such a state, Puruṣa looks at Prakṛti like a disinterested person. This is the state of Kaivalya. Puruṣa remains in the ‘Kūṭastha-nitya-mukta’ state. Vācaspati Miśra discusses many points in his elucidation of the concept of Apavarga in accordance with the Sāṅkhya System.

He raises significant objections and answers them with points derived from the Kārikas. He has given an illustration to show how Prakṛti once separated from a Puruṣa does not turn to the same Puruṣa again. A person who is desirous of food takes up the cooking of food. Once that desire is accomplished, the person turns away from it and does not proceed towards it. Similarly Prakrti proceeds to release the Puruṣa and does not turn to that emancipated Puruṣa again.

When it is said that Prakṛti acts for another's purpose, it implies that Prakṛti should be intelligent (cetana). This is a very significant objection anticipated by Vācaspati Miśra only to answer it in the light of the Sāṅkhya stand that the very pravṛtti of Prakṛti is for the emancipation of Puruṣa and this pravṛtti is innate in her. That is just as the insentient milk flows for the purpose of nourishing the calf, Prakṛti acts as natural for the emancipation of Puruṣa.

Footnotes and references:


nityo'nityānāṃ cetanaścetanānāmeko ba῾nāṃ yo vidadhāti kāmān|
tatkāraṇaṃ sāṃkhyayogābhipannaṃ jñātvādevaṃ mucyate sarvapāśaiḥ||
Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 6.13

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