Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Purusha (the self) in 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 3.3f - Puruṣa (the self) in Sāṅkhya

The term Puruṣa is used to denote the self in Sāṅkhya. The object of this system of philosophy is to attain the discriminative knowledge between Prakṛti and Puruṣa. It is said in the Kārikā that liberation is possible only by this discriminative knowledge.[1] The reason for suffering due to the three kinds of sorrow is said to be avidyā. Avidyā is identical with the want of the discriminative knowledge between the unconscious Prakṛti and conscious Puruṣa. The knowledge of Puruṣa means to know that he is not any other principle except consciousness.

Existence of Puruṣa

Puruṣa is not the cause of this universe, the experience that this universe exists arises from the existence of Puruṣa. The subject -object relation results from the apparent contact between Puruṣa and Prakṛti. This apparent contact is the cause of the empirical self. The combined effect of the intellect and individuation (mahat ahaṅkāraḥ ca) can be considered as the empirical self. Puruṣa falsely identifies this empirical self with the pure self. Puruṣa is the pure self or the pure consciousness. Īśvarakṛṣṇa in the Sāṅkhyakārikā puts forward four arguments to establish the existence of Puruṣa.[2]

Vācaspati Miśra explains these arguments as follows.

1. Vācaspati Miśra shows that prakṛti and its evolutes are the composite objects because they are made up of triguṇas and as such possess the three natures of sukha, dukha and moha. These composite objects are for the use of another. Hence it is necessary to accept Puruṣa as the one for whom the prakṛti and its evolutes are meant.[3]

2. Secondly, there must be one, as the reverse of what is composed of the three constituents. Here it is treated as an independent reason with reference to the statement of the Sāṅkhyakārikā [4] , that the spirit is different from the uninvolved.

3. Puruṣa must be accepted as the controller of matter, i.e., prakṛti and its evolutes. The objects coming under the category of matter are constituted by triguṇas and characterized by dukha and moha. These cannot function without some other control since these objects are to be controlled. Vācaspati Miśra gives the example of the chariot and the charioteer to highlight the fact that all evolutes are controlled by some controlling power. This controlling power is Puruṣa, the Ātman, who is free from guṇas and their consequent characteristics.[5]

4. The existence of Puruṣa must be accepted, because of the fact that ‘there should be someone as the enjoyer of sukha, dukha and moha’ which are to be enjoyed (puruṣo'sti bhoktrṛbhāvāt). Prakṛti and its evolutes are characterized by sukha, dukha and moha. Whether the objects bring pleasure, sorrow or delusion is known only with reference to the response of the enjoyer. Hence, it is necessary to accept Puruṣa.

5. The fifth argument is Prakṛti acts for the liberation of somebody that is Puruṣa. (kaivalyārthaṃ pravṛtteśca |) Prakṛti which is non-intelligent cannot experience or enjoy its evolutes. There must be an intelligent experience and enjoyed of the evolutes of prakṛti: that is Puruṣa. There is the striving for release. This implies the existence of Puruṣa which strives for and obtains release.[6] There must be a transcendental synthetic unity of pure consciousness to coordinate all the experiences. Vācaspati Miśra interpreted the bhoktṛbhāva in the sense of draṣtṛbhāva (passive observation).[7] But both bhoktṛbhāva and drastṛbhāva are not contradictory terms as some scholars consider and can go together with bondage.

The first three arguments seek to prove the existence of the soul as the controller and the enjoyer of the world of composite things. The last argument is based on the observed facts of the world which is striving for freedom and that it is the supreme goal.

Plurality of Puruṣa

An important feature of the Sāṅkhya Philosophy is that it accepts the ‘plurality of the self. Dr.S.Radhakrishnan says: “Throughout the Sāṅkhya there is confusion between the Puruṣa and the jīva”.[8] The Puruṣa, according to Sāṅkhya is not one; rather there is the multiplicity of Puruṣa and all of them are infinite, unchangeable, all-pervasive and eternal. Though there is the numerical plurality, there is also the qualitative identity with the self. But qualitative identity cannot go with numerical plurality. Multiplicity without some kind of distinction is unthinkable. “Plurality would involve limitations, and an absolute, immortal, eternal and unconditional Puruṣa, cannot be more than one”[9] . Sāṅkhyakārikā tries to prove that the plurality of Puruṣa certainly follows from the distributive nature of the incidence of birth, death and of the endowment of the organs of cognition and action, from engaging in action, not all at the same time, and also from differences in the proportion of the guṇas.[10]

In fact, the Sāṅkhya arguments for the existence of Puruṣa turn out to be proof for the existence of the empirical individuals and not on the transcendental subjects. Sāṅkhya System recognizes plurality of Puruṣa agreeing with Advaita view. The Sāṅkhya argues the ātman, the spirit, the subject; the knower is neither body nor the mind, nor ahaṃkāra nor buddhi. It is not a substance which possesses the quality of consciousness as is held by the system of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika. It is consciousness which is pure and innumerable.

Vedānta says that this plurality of the self is by upādhi. Vācaspati Miśra raises the objection and argues as follows: to explain this nānātva by upādhi, then you will land yourself in another absurdity. For, as a body is the upādhi of Atman, so the limbs are the upādhis of the body. When we see the appearance and disappearance of the limbs in a body, will the Vedāntin call these phenomena births and deaths of the same body. In other words, one Puruṣa cannot be divided into many by more adjuncts, then hands and feet will also represent separate Puruṣas. The distinction between the released and the bound will disappear because the portion of space that falls vacant with the rain of a pot can be filled in by procuring another pot.[11] Though there is the numerical plurality, there is also the qualitative identity with the self.

The Puruṣa have different sense organs and motor organs and they undergo death and birth separately. If the soul were just one, the knowledge gained by one would mean the knowledge gained by all i.e., the liberation of all. The above argument, strictly speaking, is not helping to prove the plurality of the Puruṣa which is explained in the Kārikā.[12] It is applicable only to the Puruṣa who has a body complex since birth and death are related only to the body complex.

Diversity in activities in the universe is because of the multiplicity of Puruṣa. If it were only one, the activities of men will be the same and simultaneous and the characterizations of human beings as sāttvika, rājasa and tāmasa, will not occur. Here the varieties of qualities and characters are the proof for the multiplicity of the Puruṣa.[13]

The evidence in favour of the multiplicity of the Puruṣa is that from the time of birth, some are happy with goodness sattva, dominant in them, e.g. superhuman beings and saints: some are with rajas dominating e.g. ordinary men and yet others with the tamas aspect prominent in them, e.g. beasts etc. This is because of the difference in guṇas which remain in their subtle forms as liṅga sārīra at the time of transmigration.

Footnotes and references:


‘jñānenacāpavargaḥ|’ Sāṅkhyakārikā 44


puruṣaḥ asti, avyaktādervyatiriktaḥ| kutaḥ? "saṃghātaparārthatvāt"| sukhaduḥkhamohātmakatayā avyaktādayaḥ sarve saṃghātāḥ|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 17


‘yadyatsukhaduḥkhamohātmakaṃ tatsarvaṃ pareṇādhiṣṭhīyamānaṃ dṛṣṭam, yathā rathādiryantrādibhiḥ|’
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 17


triguṇādi viparyayāt| Sāṅkhyakārikā 17


Contribution of Vācaspati Misra to Indian philosophy, p.173


Invitation to Indian philosophy, p.218


bhoktṛbhāvāt draṣṭṛbhāvāt, dṛśyena draṣṭuranumānādityarthaḥ|
dṛśyatvaṃ ca buddhyādīnāṃ sukhādyātmakatayā pṛthivyādivadanumitam||
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 17


S.Radhakrishnan: Indian Philosophy, Vol.II, p.323


Ibid, p.422


"puruṣabahutvaṃ siddham" | kasmāt? "jananamaraṇakaraṇānāṃ pratiniyamāt"|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 18




Indian Philosophy, Vol.II, p.321


The Sāṃkhya System, P.88. Sāṅkhyakārikā .V.13

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