Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Viveka-khyati (discriminative knowledge) 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 3.3g - Viveka-khyāti (discriminative knowledge) in Sāṅkhya

In Sāṅkhya the discriminative wisdom [i.e., viveka] which will result in liberation, the eternal release from the material life. Sāṅkhya recognizes two ultimate realities namely Prakṛti and Puruṣa. Apavarga can be attained by the viveka between the evolved, uninvolved and the knower. The knowledge of Avyakta can be attained through knowledge of the vyakta and through that the existence of the spirit is inferred i.e., the discriminative knowledge [i.e., vivekakhyātiviveka-khyāti] arises ultimately from the cognition of the nature of the spirit.

According to Vācaspati Miśra:

“The knowledge of the discrimination of spirit from matter arises from right cognition consisting in meditation and contemplation uninterruptedly and patiently carried on for a long time, of the manifested, etc.”[1]

Again he says:

“Doubt and error are the two impurities of wisdom and as the above wisdom is free from these, it is called pure. This is what is meant by the term "aviparyayāt |".[2]

The practice pertaining to truth results in the direct perception of the reality. So this knowledge is called pure knowledge. It is also said that this knowledge is complete. There is nothing left unknown after the attainment of such knowledge and the want of that knowledge leads to bondage.

In Yoga, Vācaspati Miśra holds that the validity of knowledge consists in certainty (undoubtedness), correspondence to the object and novelty. He defines pramā as the cittavṛtti which apprehends an object that is undoubted, real and unknown.

"tacca asandigdhāviparītānadhigata- viṣayā cittavṛttiḥ |"[3]

Vijñānabhikṣu holds that the pure self is the knower (pramātṛ), that the mental mode (buddhivṛttiḥ [buddhivṛtti]) apprehending on an object is the means of valid knowledge (pramāṇam [pramāṇa]), that the reflections of the mental mode assuming the form of the object in the self is valid knowledge (pramā), and that the object apprehend by the reflected mental mode is the object of valid knowledge (prameyam [prameya]).

Vācaspati Miśra further says that the self is reflected in the mental mode and identifies itself with it which is modified into the form of an object. The reflection of the self in the apprehending mental mode is valid knowledge. The mental mode is not reflected in the self. The knowledge is not generated in the self. The self is the knower, that the mental mode is the means of valid knowledge, and that the object apprehended by the mental mode is the object of valid knowledge.[4]

Vācaspati Miśra defines valid knowledge as knowledge of an object which was not known previously (anadhigata) leading to fruitful action (vyavahārahetuḥ [vyavahārahetu]).[5] Novelty excludes recollection from valid knowledge. Workability is the pragmatic test of truth. It consists in attainment of good (hitaprāptiḥ [hitaprāpti]) and avoidance of evil (ahitaparihāra).[6] Vyāsa points out that error is contradicted by valid knowledge.[7] This implies that valid knowledge is not contradicted.

Means to Discriminative knowledge [i.e., viveka-khyāti]

In Sāṅkhya System the discriminative knowledge is the realization of self which is identical with Apavarga. It cannot be attained all of a sudden. There are several steps to attain this knowledge. The attainment of the discriminative knowledge is called ‘siddhi’ in Sāṅkhya. Describing the intellectual creation 46th Kārikā says that virtue, wisdom, dispassion and power and the reverse of these four are the forms of the buddhi and that they can be grouped again into four i.e., viparyaya, aśakti, tusṭi and siddhi.Among these, viparyaya, āsakti and tusṭi are hindrances to siddhi.[8]

Vācaspati Miśra says:

“It is well-known that siddhi is the most desired by all and, as the other three are checked to this siddhi, they are over to be abandoned”.[9]

It is said that there are eight steps to this attainment. They are through:

  1. study or adhyayana,
  2. oral instruction or śabda,
  3. proper reasoning or ‘ūha’,
  4. friendly discussion or ‘suhṛtprāpti’,
  5. purity of discriminative knowledge or ‘dāna’,
  6. the suppression of the intrinsic pain or ‘ādhyātmikaduhkhavighāta’ and lastly
  7. the suppression of the super human pain or ‘ādhidaivikadukhavighāta’.

Vācaspati elaborates these eight steps as follows.

Adhyayana (study)

According to Vācaspati Miśra adhyayana or a thorough study of the philosophical texts is the first step to acquire the discriminative knowledge. The study consists of reading in due form, with the preceptor of the philosophical texts. This is the cause of other attainments. This attainment is known as tāra.[10]

Śabda (oral instruction)

Śabda is the next stage in the path of the realization of the truth. The term implies the comprehension of the meaning of the texts by hearing the explanations of the teacher. This is called Sutāra.[11] Vācaspati Miśra says that this attainment also includes ‘śravaṇa’ which, along with ‘manana’ and ‘nididhyāsana’, is the means of realizing the higher truth.Śravaṇa means the study and hearing of the explanations of the preceptor of the philosophical texts. This ‘śravaṇa’ leads to ‘manana’. So this explanation of Vācaspati Miśra is very apt.

Ūha (proper reasoning)

This is the investigation of the meaning of the scriptures itself. This investigation consists in establishing the ultimate truth setting aside all doubts and objections with regard to it. This attainment is known as tāratāra.[12] This is the second stage in the realization of the ultimate truth. This process is also called ‘manana’.

Suhṛtprāpti (friendly discussion)

After the process of reasoning one must test the validity of his attainment by friendly discussion. Then only he becomes confident in his conclusions. First of all he must win the agreement of his teacher. Then he must discuss the matter with his fellow-students and win their agreement, also.[13]

Kālidāsa also says

"āparitoṣādviduṣāṃ na sādhu manye prayogavijñānaṃ, balavadapi śikṣitānāṃ ātmanyapratyayaṃ cetaḥ |".

This attainment is called ‘ramyaka’.[14]

This can be considered as the second step of manana. To attain self-confidence in the course of manana, it is necessary to have a friendly discussion about the very difficult points in philosophy with the preceptor and the fellow students. It is very useful to attain the purity of the discriminative wisdom [i.e., viveka] which is the next attainment in the course of tattvābhyāsa.

Dāna (purity of discriminative knowledge)

This is the aim of the previous attainments. Vācaspati Miśra says that dāna means purity of the discriminative knowledge [i.e., viveka-khyāti].

"dānaṃ" ca śuddhirvivekajñānasya, "dvaip śodhane" ityasmāddhātordānapadavyutpatteḥ | seyampañcamī siddhissadāmuditamucyate ||[15]

But Gauḍapāda says that dāna is the generosity because true wisdom is imparted by the teacher duly propitiated with such gifts as tridaṇḍa, kuṇḍi, grāma etc.[16] The first explanation of Vācaspati Miśra seems to be more correct because the word ‘purity’ is seen along with the word ‘wisdom’ in the Sāṅkhyakārikā

Vācaspati Miśra identifies the first two attainments with śravaṇa and the third with manana. But he does not identify any of the other attainments with nididhyāsana.[17] But one can infer that dāna can be identified with nididhyāsana because continuous practice of concentration of buddhi is necessary for the purification of the mind. The above five attainments are recognized by Vācaspati Miśra as the preliminary ones and the next three of the principal ones. The five preliminaries are also divided into two, as causes and effects. The first, ‘study’ is only a cause and those of the most important kinds are only effects, while the rest of the middle class, and are both cause and effect.

Three attainments

The three suppressions of pain are the last three attainments. The three kinds of pain are described in the first Kārikā and they are minutely elaborated by Vācaspati Miśra in his Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī [18] Duhkhavighāta is the aim of other siddhīs and it is to attain the discriminative knowledge or to attain Apavarga. Hence, these attainments are very important to the final goal of liberation.

Vācaspati Miśra himself gives another explanation for the first five attainments. The perception of truth, without the instruction of others, brought out purely by means of practices during past lives, is the first attainment called ‘ūha’. The knowledge got by listening to another person reading the texts is called ‘śabda’, which is the second attainment. The third attainment adhyayana is the learning of the Sāṅkhya texts with the help of a teacher. The fourth attainment called suhṛtprāpti is that of wisdom through contact with a friend who has already got it. Fifthly, dāna is the wisdom obtained from gifts to the teacher. He also leaves the propriety of either interpretation to the learned reader to judge.

The above interpretation is given by Jayamaṅgalā. But Vācaspati Miśra’s first interpretation seems to be more correct because it is more logical. In the second explanation dāna is only a means of adhyayana. Then it has not the status of a siddhi. S.S. Sūryanārāyaṇa Śāstri rightly observes, “If we remember that we are reading with a digest of a highly rational science, we cannot help in feeling of partiality for Vācaspati Miśra’s view”.[19]


All over the above said means of discriminative knowledge [i.e., viveka-khyāti] , Sāṅkhya System firmly suggests that tattvābhyāsa is the means of attaining pure knowledge. Tattvābhyāsa means not the more learning of the Sāṅkhyatattvas, but ‘the abhyāsa of the eight attainments.’ Gauḍapāda does not explain the word abhyāsa, but simply says that abhyāsa is necessary for realizing the nature of Puruṣa by attaining the knowledge of the twenty five principles in Sāṅkhya.[20] Vācaspati Miśra explains the word ‘abhyāsa’ as a long course of repeated and devoted exercise. Then only the discriminative knowledge between sattva and Puruṣa arises.[21] Not only the ontological acumen, but also the psychology of Sāṅkhya System aptly deserves an in depth study.

Prakṛti binds itself with its seven forms.[22] They are dharma, adharma, ajñāna, vairāgya, avairāgya, aiśvarya and anaiśvarya.[23] The remarkable thing is that it is Prakṛti herself who succumbs to these forms. She uses one of the forms, to bring about benevolence for the Puruṣa. The seven forms are the virtue along with the properties of the buddhi excluding Wisdom. Prakṛti with the help of knowledge and liberation provides benefit for the Puruṣa. The one form she uses is that of wisdom which means the discriminatory powers. One thing to be noted is that she does not impart knowledge or liberate the same Puruṣa again and again.

The practice of truth leads to wisdom which is in the form, “I am not, naught is mine and not I”.[24] This wisdom is absolute as it is free from the doubt and error. The truth here means the comprehending the real truth which leads to wisdom which is the one that helps to discriminate the Puruṣa from the Master. Whatever be the practice it will lead to the acquisition of the knowledge of the particular object to which the practice is related. Here the practice is related to the truth and the outcome is the direct discernment of the truth. The wisdom which leads to this goal is named as pure. This is called pure as it is free from the evils of doubts and error.

This is what is meant by the term ‘aviparyayāt’.

"niyatamaniyatatayā gṛhṇansaṃśayopi viparyayaḥ, tena 'aviparyayāt' iti saṃśayaviparyayābhāvo darśitaḥ|"[25]

The doubt is such a thing which makes one thinks that what is certain is uncertain and so this is included in the forms of error. When it is said the absence of error it means that there is an absence of both doubt and error. Here the word error gives the connotation of mistake. The absence of error is due to the action of wisdom which is intertwined with truth.

It is agreed that the practice of knowledge leads to the truth, but it is not specified which kind of knowledge is achieved. If the knowledge one acquires is the false knowledge, then the result will be sorrows and miseries which will lead to the cycle of births and deaths. The knowledge which is gained by practice is absolute which is free from the traces of error. It should not be forgotten that there is always a tendency for the human mind to be attracted to the error but this can be overcome by gaining the knowledge of truth. The gaining of such a pool of knowledge of truth is also encouraged by the Buddha, which is the characteristic of a Will or buddhi. It is said that, “No amount of contradiction can set aside the flawless knowledge of the true character of objects, for such is the partiality of the buddhi.”[26]

The knowledge so gained has a form which is, as said earlier, “I am not, naught is mine and Not-I.” Here the “I am not” is the one which disqualifies all the exploits of the Puruṣa. Consequently the external as well as internal actions like the strength of mind, self-consciousness, surveillance, and anxiety are disqualified by the Puruṣa. When all the actions of the Puruṣa are disqualified then the notion of ‘Not-I’ springs up. In this circumstance the ‘I’ is used as the agent of activeness like that is ‘I eat.’ When there is no action there is no active agent and so it is said ‘Not-I.’ This leads to the brainchild of “Naught is mine”. This is merely an agent of activeness and so is the possessor. The disqualifying of the exploits or action leads to the disqualification of possession too. These three forms can be described in another manner as thus: “I am not” is the one which means that, “I am the Puruṣa, which is unproductive and so the “I” has no action which leads to “Not-I” which without action has no possession which in turn leads to “Naught is mine”.

The wisdom is the superior one which places one on the highest summit. If the acquired knowledge is not proper or to the right extent, then the result will be repressed. Once the discriminative wisdom [i.e., viveka] is acquired or caused the experience of the Puruṣa occurs. When the Prakṛti is contended with the work it shares with the Puruṣa and when the work is completed it will retire from the activity in which it was involved.

It is said that:

“The operations of Prakṛti continue only till the attainment of discriminative knowledge [i.e., viveka-khyāti]”.[27]

According to Vācaspati Miśra bondage or repression is of three kinds. They are:

  1. natural (prākṛtikaṃ [prākṛtika]),
  2. evolutional (vaikṛtikaṃ [vaikṛtika]) and
  3. the personal (dākṣiṇakaṃ [dākṣiṇaka]).[28]

The people who revere the Prakṛti as the Spirit is called the natural bondage. Those who worship the elements of Prakṛti like the sense organs, the principle of I and the buddhi of the Puruṣa is known as the evolutional bondage. They are also called ‘videhas’. Those who are engaged in the work of charities with selfish motives are said to be in the personal bondage.

The nature of the discriminative knowledge [i.e., viveka-khyāti] in Sāṅkhyakārikā and Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī can be clearly understood from the Yogatattvavaiśāradī of Yogasūtra IV.22-30. The realization of consciousness can be attained by concentrating our mind on our consciousness until the mind in its sublest form is transcended and the reality hidden beneath it is revealed. It is quite free from the limiting and obscuring action of citta and it is only then that its true nature is realized.[29] The mind coloured by the knower and the known is all apprehending. Citta becomes co-extensive with Prakṛti and both are transcended simultaneously. In this stage Citta does not stand as a medium through which the human intellect finds expression, but it stands for the all inclusive medium through which phenomena of every kind are perceived. This is called “sarvajñatva”.[30] The discriminative knowledge is said to be the states of being i.e. Who was I? How was I? What is this? How shall we become?[31] This shows that the nature of the discriminative knowledge in Sāṅkhya is not very different from that in Yoga.

Footnotes and references:


"vyaktāvyaktajñavijñānāt" iti| vyaktaṃ ca avyaktaṃ ca jñaśca vyaktāvyaktajñāḥ, teṣāṃ vijñānaṃ vivekena jñānam, vyaktāvyaktajñavijñānam|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 2


"aviparyayāt" iti| saṃśayaviparyau hi jñānasyāviśuddhī, tadrahitam viśuddhantadidamuktam- "aviparyayāt" iti|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 64


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 5


"na hi puruṣagato bodho jāyate'pi tu caitanyameva buddhirdarpaṇapratibimbitaṃ buddhivṛtyā'rthākārayā tadākāratāmāpadyamānaṃ phalam|"
Yogatattvavaiśāradī on Yogasūtra , I.7


anadhigatatatvabodhaḥ pauruṣeyo vyavahārahetuḥ pramā| Ibid


śrotṛhitāhitaprāptiparihāropāyatayā prajñāpyate| Ibid




siddheḥ pūrvoṅkuśastrividhaḥ| Sāṅkhyakārikā 51


"ūha" iti| vihanyamānasya duḥkhasya trittvāttadvighātāśraya itīmā mukhyāstisraḥ siddhayaḥ, tadupāyatayātvitarā gauṇyaḥ pañca siddhayaḥ, tāḥ api hetuhetumattayāvyavasthitāḥ|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 51




"śabda" iti padaṃ śabdajanitamarthajñānamupalakṣayati, kārye kāraṇopacārāt| sā dvitīyā siddhiḥ sutāramucyate|


"ūhaḥ" tarkaḥ āgamāvirodhinyāyenāgamārthaparīkṣaṇam| parīkṣaṇañca saṃśayapūrvapakṣanirākaraṇṝnottarapakṣavyavasthāpanam| tadidaṃ mananamācakṣate āgaminaḥ| sā tritīyā siddhistāratāramucyate|


suhṛdāṃ guruśiṣyasabrahmacāriṇāṃ saṃvādakānāṃ prāptiḥ suhṛtprāptiḥ sā siddhiścaturthā ‘ramya’ ucyate|


Śākuntalam, I.2


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 51


Gauḍapādabhāṣya on Sāṅkhyakārikā 51


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 51


"duḥkhatrayābhighātāt" iti| dukhānāṃ trayam| tatkhalu ādhyātmikaṃ, ādhibhautikaṃ, ādhidaivikaṃ ca|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 1


Sāṃkhykārikā with an introduction, Translation and notes, p.96


Gauḍapādabhāṣya on Sāṅkhyakārikā 64


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 64


rūpaiḥ saptabhireva tu badhnātyātmānamātmanā prakṛtiḥ| saiva ca puruṣārthaṃ prati vimocayatyekarūpeṇa|| Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 63


"badhnāti dharmādibhiḥ saptabhī rūpairbhāvairiti|" Ibid


Sāṃkhya-Tattva-Kaumudī (trans.), p.162


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 64


Sāṃkhya-Tattva-Kaumudī (trans.), p.16


"vivekakhyātiparyantaṃ jñeyam prakṛticeṣṭitam" iti| "viparyayāt" atattvajñānāt "iṣyate bandhaḥ"||
Ibid, p.130


"sa ca trividhaḥ- prākṛtiko vaikṛtiko dākṣiṇakaśceti|" Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 44


Yogatattvavaiśāradī on Yogasūtra , IV.22





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