Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Vacaspati Mishra—Works on Advaita Vedanta’ 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 2.5 - Vācaspati Miśra—Works on Advaita Vedānta

The term Vedānta is applied to the Upaniṣads since they form the concluding portions of the Vedas. The system of Indian philosophy which is based on the Upaniṣads is also called Vedānta. The first available work which made an attempt of organizing and understanding by the Upaniṣadic doctrine with a logical approach has been the Vedāntasūtras of Bādarāyaṇa. The opinions of three Ācāryas Āśmarathya, Auḍulomi and Kāśakṛtsna as regards the relation between jīva and Brahman are recorded in the Vedāntasūtras. It goes to the credit of Śrī Śaṅkara that his commentary on Vedāntasūtras, has been the first available Vedāntabhāṣya. The doctrine of Vedānta established by Śrī Śaṅkara through this bhāṣya and the bhāṣyas on the Bhagavat Gītā and the Upaniṣads is called Advita Vedanta. It is well known that Gauḍapāda had formulated some of the tenets of Advaita in his Māṇḍūkyakārikā.

The credit of being the founder of Advaita as a system should go to Śrī Śaṅkara. The most important doctrine in Advaita is that of adhyāsa. This adhyāsa is called as avidyā. Parabrahman is one and without a second. It is the supreme reality. Everything else is superimposed on Brahman. The superimposition of Ātman on the nonself is adhyāsa. It is this adhyāsa that has been the basis of all the process, of pramāṇa and prameya. In order to elucidate the nature of adhyāsa, the Ācārya has thoroughly examined the nature of the three stages (avasthātraya) i.e., jāgrat, svapna and suṣupti. The conclusion drawn through this illustration is that Ātman is Brahman and everything is Brahman.

The Advaita view propounded by Śrī Śaṅkara is that knowledge alone is the means to Mokṣa. Brahmātmaikattva-jñāna is the only means to Mokṣa. Karma and Upāsanā are not totally rejected by Śrī Śaṅkara. But in his opinion they come under the purview of adhyāsa. The rites of worship are considered relevant as far as they purify the mind. Further, in Advaita two kinds of Mukti are accepted. After the realization of Brahman i.e., the jīva is Brahman, there is no further saṃsāra at all. This is called Videhamukti. But more emphasis is laid on Jīvanmukti or Sadyomukti which is attained in this very life through the realization of Brahman.

These basic doctrines of Advaita propounded by Śrī Śaṅkara have found great elucidation and expansion in the hands of later thinkers on Advaita such as Maṇḍana Miśra, the author of Brahmasiddhi, Sureśvarācārya, the author of Naiṣkarmyasiddhi and Vārtikas, Padmapāda, the author of Pañcapādikā, etc. On all the basic doctrine of Advaita, Vācaspati Miśra, the author of Bhāmatī and Tattvasamīkṣa has contributed profusely.


Bhāmatī written by Vācaspati Miśra, is the most ancient, complete and elaborate available commentary on Śrī Śaṅkara’s Brahmasūtrabhāṣya. It started the Bhāmatī School of Advaita, though some of the features of this School can be traced back to Maṇḍana Miśra, an elder contemporary of Śrī Śaṅkara, traditionally identified with Śrī Śaṅkara’s pupil Sureśvara. The other school of Advaita, called the Vivaraṇa School, is associated with Prakāśātman’s Pañcapādikā commentary on the bhāṣya, now available only for the catussūtrī portion. Many of the features of this school can be traced back to Sureśvara.

Prof. S. Kuppuswāmi Śāstri has pointed out[1] that ‘Most of the distinctive features of Vācaspati Miśra’s School have their roots in Maṇḍana’s views as set forth in the Brahmasiddhi, and most of the distinctive features of the Vivaraṇa school are derived from Sureśvara’s views as set forth in the Vārttikas and the Naiṣkarmyasiddhi. If the Bhāmatī School and the Vivaraṇa School ultimately originate from Maṇḍana and Sureśvara, the tradition about the identity of Maṇḍana and Sureśvara becomes ridiculous. This is the point of view taken by Prof. Hiriyaṇṇa and Prof. Kuppuswāmi Śāstri. Of course, a convert need not necessarily be consistent with his pre-conversion views.

In the beginning of the Bhāmatī Vācaspati Miśra refers to two kinds of avidyā. Maṇḍana has also recognized two kinds of avidyā non apprehension (agrahaṇam [agrahaṇa]) and misapprehension (anyathāgrahaṇam [anyathāgrahaṇa]). According to Maṇḍana meditation or upāsanā is necessary for completely removing the second variety of avidyā, and for converting the first indirect knowledge of Brahman (parokṣajñānam [parokṣajñāna]) into the direct Brahman realization (aparokṣajñānam [aparokṣajñāna]).

Regarding the locus of avidyā there is a difference of opinion between the Bhāmatī and the Vivaraṇa Schools. According to Vācaspati Miśra and Maṇḍana, the individual soul is the locus of avidyā, while Brahman is the object of avidyā. According to the Vivaraṇa School and also Sureśvara, Brahman itself is both the locus (āśraya) and the object (viṣaya) of avidyā. According to the Bhāmatī avidyas are as many as the jīvas, but the Vivaraṇa School accepts only one avidyā, with different modes.

Regarding the nature of jīva and Īśvara, Bhāmatī School accepts the avacchedavāda, while the Vivaraṇa School follows the pratibimbavāda. Vācaspati Miśra considers that Brahman conditioned by māyā or avidyā is jīva, while Brahman that transcends māyā is Īśvara. According to the Vivaraṇa School Brahman reflected in māyā and its product mind, is jīva, while Brahman which serves as the original is ‘Īśvara’, Brahman undergoes reflection in avidyā or māyā and mind. The Suresvara’s view is slightly different. The reflection of Brahman in māyā is Īśvara, and the reflection of Brahman in mind is jīva. Īsvara and jīva being reflected images are indeterminable. This is the ābhāsavāda.

There are many differences between the Bhāmatī School and the Vivaraṇa School, but on one fundamental point they agree, i.e.

"brahma satyaṃ jagatmithyā jīvo brahmaiva nāparaḥ |"[2]

The main tenets of the Bhāmatī School are, Karmas are useful for giving rise to the desire to know the self. The relation of Brahman arises through the instrument of the mind. The locus and content of ‘ajñāna’ is different. The primal nescience is manifold. The omniscience of Brahman is derived from the essential nature of Brahman. The mind is a sense organ. ‘avidyā’ is located in ‘jīva’. The nature of jīva and Īśvara is explained by the theory of ‘avacchedavāda’


Tattvasamīkṣā is a commentary on Maṇḍana’s Braḥmasiddhi.[3] It is considered to have been lost now, was an authoritative commentary. Besides these works, Vācaspati is supposed to have written some other works also. Nyāyatattvālokā, Nyāyaratnatīkā, Braḥmatattvasamhitoddīpinī and Vedāntatattvakaumudī are written by Vācaspati Miśra. His scholastic genius can be found in the interpretation of Sāṅkhya philosophy. This is really a precious treasure to the entire world to understand the oldest system of Indian philosophy unlike other exponents of this system, Vācaspati Miśra’s study on Sāṅkhya can be divided under the heads of Epistemology, Ontology, Psychology, Phenomenology and Ethics.

Footnotes and references:


Kuppuswāmi Śāstri: Ācārya Maṇḍanamiśra, Brahmasiddhi, Introduction


Brahmajñānāvalīmālā, 20


S.N.Dasgupta: A History of Indan Philosophy, Vol. II, 2003, p.107

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