Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Sankhya System’ 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 3.1 - The Sāṅkhya System

Tradition regards Kapila as the founder of Sāṅkhya Philosophy. Īsvarakṛsṇa’s Sāṅkhyakārikā seems to be the earliest available and the most popular work of this system. Besides this Gauḍapāda’s Sāṅkhyakārikābhāṣya, Vācaspati Miśra’s Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī and Vijñānabhikṣu’s Sāṅkhyapravacanabhāṣya is very much relevant in this system. The Sāṅkhya is an exponent of dualistic realism. It agrees with the Mīmāṃsā System in vehemently criticizing the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika theism and strongly advocating atheism. The Sāṅkhya of the Mahābhārata is theistic. The Classical Sāṅkhya System is atheistic. The Yoga System grafts theism on the Sāṅkhya metaphysics, and is therefore called ‘theistic Sāṅkhya’.

The word Sāṅkhya

The word Sāṅkhya is derived from the word ‘Saṅkhyā’. The word Saṅkhyā is used in the sense of thinking and counting “Carcā Saṅkhyāvicāraṇā.”[1] Thinking may be with reference to basic principles or knowledge of self. Counting refers to the twenty-four principles. The double implication of the word has been set forth by Vijñānabhikṣu in his preface to Sāṅkhyapravacanabhāṣya, by a quotation from the Mahābhārata:

"saṃkhyāṃ prakurvate caiva prakṛtiṃ ca pracakṣate tattvāni ca caturviṃśastena sāṃkhyaṃ prakīrtitam |"

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.[2] Sāṅkhya means the philosophy of right knowledge. Right knowledge is the knowledge of the separation of the Puruṣa from the Prakṛti.

Sāṅkhyakārikā, the basic text of Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī

The Sāṅkhyakārikā is hardly a “philosophical” text as that designation is understood in an Indian Intellectual environment. There is very little of the polemical give and take so typical of darśana or philosophical literature. Instead, the Sāṅkhyakārikā is a philosophical poem, laying out the contours of the Sāṅkhya System in a related and artful manner. It presents its content in serious and elegant ‘āryā’ verses that flow easily and make use of striking similes and metaphors throughout.[3] If the term ‘darśana’ is to be taken in its original sense as an “intuitive seeing” that nurtures a quiet wisdom and invites ongoing thoughtful meditations then surely the Sāṅkhyakārikā must stand as one of the most remarkable productions of its class. In any case, the seventy verses of Īśvarakṛṣṇa have been remarkably influential both as a summary of the Sāṅkhya’s contribution to India's philosophical and cultural heritage. Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra stands out as the oldest extant explication of Sāṅkhyakārikā

Place of Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī

Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra is a fairly simple and straight forward exposition of the Sāṅkhyakārikā The text has been historically very important, however, for it has inspired a long tradition of sub commentaries coming down to the present day. So this commentary became a milestone in the development of Sāṅkhya literature and philosophy. G.J. Larson opines that “According to Vācaspati Miśra, Sāṅkhya had the double effect of, on the one level, decisively destroying the old Sāṅkhya dualism, but, on another level, of reviving and refurbishing many of the old Sāṅkhya notions, this latter effect helps to explain, why an important thinker like Vācaspati Miśra, composed a major commentary on the Sāṅkhyakārikā in the ninth or tenth century. His work on Sāṅkhya actually inaugurated an independent tradition”.[4] Moreover, it is fair to say that it is by far the best-known text of Sāṅkhya all over India. It is noted that Vācaspati Miśra’s reading of Sāṅkhya is more than a little influence by the emerging and in the sense it should be distinguished from Pre-KārikāSāṅkhya and Pātañjala-Sāṅkhya. For convenience it can be designated simply as Kārikā-Kaumudī-Sāṅkhya, that’s to say, the Sāṅkhyakārikā as read through Vācaspati Miśra’s Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī Many of the Sāṅkhya texts after the tenth century are based on Vācaspati Miśra’s reading on Sāṅkhyakārikā The most important among them are Vaṃśīdhara’s Tattvavibhākara, Kavirāja Yati’s Tattvapradīpa, Śṛī Bhārati Yati’s Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudīvyākhyā, Pañcānana Tarkaratna’s Pūrṇimā etc. works ranging from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra starts with the salutation[5] of Prakṛti and Puruṣa, which are the eternal principles of Sāṅkhya System. This ‘maṅgalaśloka’ is more or less similar to the ‘mantra’ in Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad [6] Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī is the word by word interpretations of Sāṅkhyakārikā In it, he adopted the analytical method of interpretation. For the clarity he includes his own ideas where ever necessary. Pramāṇanirūpaṇa in Sāṅkhyakārikā is an example. Īśvarakṛṣṇa states that pramāṇas are three. There are no further explanations about that. But Vācaspati Miśra elaborately explained the definitions of the three pramāṇas and also he included the other pramāṇas in the three.[7] In his commentary he includes the views of other philosophers like Mīmāṃsakas, Cārvākas, Buddhas and Naiyyāyikas as pūrvapakṣa and refuted their concepts. Etymological explanations are widely used.

This is also very helpful to understand the deep philosophical concepts. For example:

"prakarotīti prakṛtiḥ, duḥkhānāṃ trayaṃ duḥkhatrayam |"etc.

The contribution of Vācaspati to Sāṅkhya philosophy made far reaching effects in the later development of Sāṅkhya System. That was at once multifaceted and multifarious. For the convenience of the study the same may be classified into five major topics such as Epistemology, Ontology, Psychology, Phenomenology and Ethics.

Footnotes and references:


cittābhogo manaskāraścarcā saṃkhyā vicāraṇā| "vimarśo bhāvanā caiva vāsanā ca nigadyate"|| Amarakośa, I.V.3


M.G.Jha: The Sāṃkhya-tattva-kaumudī (trans.), Introduction


āryā matiryasya so'yaṃ "āryamatiḥ" iti| Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī 71


Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. IV, p.301


ajāmekāṃ lohitaśuklakṛṣṇāṃ bahvīḥ prajāḥ sṛjamānāṃ namāmaḥ|
ajā ye tāṃ juṣamāṇāṃ bhajante jahatyenāṃ bhuktabhogāṃ numastān|


Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad.IV.5


"trividham" iti| tisro vidhā yasyapramāṇasāmānyasya tat trividham, na nyūnam, nāpyadhikamityarthaḥ| Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī4

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