Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Apavarga (liberation) 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 3.3h - Apavarga (liberation) in Sāṅkhya

The earthly life is full of three kinds of pain.

1) The first kind, called ‘ādhyātmika’, is due to intra-organic psycho-physical causes and includes all mental and bodily sufferings.

2) The second, ‘ādhibhautika’ is due to extra-organic natural causes like men, beasts, birds, tamas etc.

3) The third ‘ādhidaivika’, is due to supernatural causes like the planets, elemental agencies, ghosts, demon etc.

Wherever there are guṇas there are pains. Even the so called pleasures lead to pain. Even the life in heaven is subject to the guṇas. The end of man is to get rid of these three kinds of pain and sufferings. Liberation [i.e., apavarga] means complete cessation of all sufferings which is the summum bonum, the highest end of life.[1]

Sāṅkhya believes that bondage and liberation [i.e., apavarga] alike are only phenomenal. The bondage of the Puruṣa is a fiction. It is only the ego, the product of Prakṛti, which is bound. And consequently it is only the ego, which is liberated. If Puruṣa were really bound, it could not have obtained liberation, for real bondage can never be destroyed. It is Prakṛti which is bound and Prakṛti which is liberated. Īśvarakṛṣṇa says: Puruṣa is neither bound nor liberated nor does it transmigrate. Bondage, liberation and transmigration belong to Prakṛti in its manifold forms. In reality the Puruṣa is not liberated or is migrated. There are many means of expression to make it possible for the Prakṛti to be liberated or migrated. It can be thus explained that the soldiers wage wars and succeed, but it is said that the King is victorious, though the soldier risked his life, so also the terms bondage, release and migration is burdened on the Puruṣa. The emancipation and experience are the qualities of the Prakṛti and these qualities are passed on to Puruṣa as if it were its qualities.[2] It has been said earlier that there is no discrimination between the Puruṣa and Prakṛti so there is no confusion about the attributes of these two. Curiosity springs up again as to what gain the Prakṛti gets by sharing her qualities with the Puruṣa.

Just as a dancing girl retires from the stage after entertaining the audience, Prakṛti also returns after exhibiting herself to the Puruṣa. Vācaspati Miśra compares the cessation of Prakṛti’s task of emancipating the Puruṣa with that of a dancer. The dancer when she, after showing off or exhibiting all her abilities, including that of the music and body, stops her dance and retires from the stage, the Prakṛti too after all her performances ceases to emancipate.[3] The Prakṛti favours the purpose of the Puruṣa or rather stands for the purpose of the Puruṣa, if so, will stands Prakṛti be paid for the pains she receives from the Puruṣa. The author compares this as the servant receiving a gift when she satisfies the needs of the master flawlessly. If the Prakṛti is rewarded then it cannot be said that it is for the purpose of Prakṛti that the creation takes place.

Apavarga in Sāṅkhya Philosophy is a state of freedom from pain. It is not a state of pleasure or even the state of Ānanda because it is the cessation of both pleasure and pain. If Ānanda is only the cessation of both pain and pleasure it can be considered as a state of bliss. It is Puruṣas freedom from Prakṛti because the cause of pain is avidyā by which Puruṣa falsely identifies himself with Prakṛti. Avidyā itself is a product of Prakarti. Puruṣa and Prakṛti will be perfectly discriminated from each other through the purification of buddhi. Puruṣa realizes that his relation with Prakṛti was based on ignorance. By the dissolution of that relation, Puruṣa attains isolation and realizes himself. From the standpoint of Prakṛti, realization is the merging of the evolutes in their cause and from the standpoint of Puruṣa it is the realization of his true nature.

According to the Sāṅkhya System bhoga and Apavarga are the aims of creation or evolution.[4] Without bhoga there is no Apavarga at all. Bhoga brings the experience of pleasure and pain. Prakṛti, which is constituted of the three guṇas, is the cause of this experience. There is no pleasure without pain. So to avoid pain completely one must avoid pleasure also. So Puruṣa must avoid Prakṛti completely and remain in his own nature of Pure Consciousness. The ultimate goal is the absolute cessation of pain which is the total extinction of all experience. This state is not a mere void, but is positive to the extent that it is Pure Consciousness and also total calmness.

The nature of Apavarga

In Sāṅkhyakārikā the nature of Apavarga is explained in Kārikas 55 to 68. According to Vācaspati Miśra, Puruṣa is akartā hence all the actions are done by Prakṛti. These actions are its evolution and involution. Through the course of evolution Prakṛti brings the experience of pleasure and pain to Puruṣa which is called ‘bhoga’. After the purpose of ‘bhoga’ is accomplished Prakṛti retires from further creation and then the involution takes place. Puruṣa is said to be the spectator. Prakṛti once aware of having been seen by Puruṣa disappears from the sight of that particular Puruṣa and never again comes into contact with him.[5]

Vācaspati Misra explains the Apavarga of Puruṣa in detail with suitable examples. The Prakṛti has been blessed with many qualities is the one responsible for bringing about bhoga and Apavarga for the Puruṣa. The Puruṣa is nirguṇa and so it is unable to reward the Prakṛti who does benevolence for it. This is explained by taking the example of a servant who has noble qualities, without expecting anything in return helps his master, without expecting any reward, so also the Prakṛti who is generous helps in emancipating the Puruṣa.[6] The pure, noble, and unselfish characteristics of Prakṛti are highlighted here.

The Prakṛti is the most modest than anything, says Vācaspati Misra. So once she is aware that she has been seen, she hides herself and never exposes herself again to the Puruṣa. The term modesty here is used in the sense that the Prakṛti is very delicate and also very shy to be exposed in front of Puruṣa. She covers herself from the Puruṣa as it is unbearable for her to be seen by Puruṣa. The author compares Prakṛti to a modest lady who never comes before the Sun or casts her eyes down when she sees the Sun out of modesty, if by chance happens to be seen naked covers herself with what all things she gets and hides herself from the sight of the viewer, so also the Prakṛti who is the modest thing, once seen by Puruṣa never lets a chance to see her.[7] In reality, the changes are taking place in Prakṛti itself. Puruṣa in Sāṅkhya is Pure Consciousness devoid of attributes and modifications. Hence, no Puruṣa is bound or released, nor does he migrate. It is Prakṛti alone that is bound or released or migrates.

The Puruṣa after gaining the Absolute knowledge becomes pure and observes the Prakṛti which has retired from the action of creativity. The Prakṛti has reversed from different varieties of evolution that is seven forms of evolution, which are virtue, vice, error, dispassion, passion, power, and weakness, being influenced by the objective of the Puruṣa.[8] The Prakṛti puts an end to her productivity because she had determined to be in action in the areas of ‘experience’ and ‘perception of truth’. As these two creations are completed the Prakṛti is free and so it is said that Prakṛti stops the process of creation. By saying that the Prakṛti is influenced by the purpose of the Puruṣa one means that it comes under the influence of the discriminatory knowledge that is the Wisdom. The seven forms of evolution mentioned above occur due to ajñana. Even dispassion occurs through the mistaken knowledge, even though some find contentment by acquiring it. This mistaken knowledge can be cleansed off by the gaining of the true knowledge. By doing so, the cause and effects of this flawed knowledge are erased off. So it is said that the Prakṛti ceases from the seven forms of evolution.

Here the word at ease is used to denote inactiveness which in turn means pure. The Puruṣa not blended with the impurities of the Buddha, which is caused by the attributes of the rajas and tamas, till the last minute with the help of sattva attribute is able to flourish in the buddhi which helps it have the vision of the Prakṛti which is otherwise impossible. The doubt the scholars point out here is that evolution is possible only when the Puruṣa and Prakṛti are blended together and this is the potential of these two. The potentiality of experience is said to make up the Puruṣa’s sentience as it is the ability of it as an object of experience and this also comprises the insentience and objectivity of the nature. These two potentials can never be terminated.[9]

Vācaspati Miśra says that the word ‘pure’ means that Puruṣa is unmixed with the impurities of the buddhi due to rajas and tamas. Buddhi is, then, abounding in the Sattva attribute.

It is said that Puruṣa beholds Prakṛti.

"prakṛtiṃ paśyati puruṣaḥ|"[10]

Hence in this stage Puruṣa is in slight touch with Prakṛti abounding in the sattvaguṇa.[11] Thus this is only a stage in the course of attaining the final release.

Sāṅkhyakārikā says,

“Puruṣa is indifferent, thinking that Prakṛti has been seen by him, and Prakṛti desists from evolution, thinking that she has been seen by Puruṣa. Hence, though their connection is still there, there is no motive for further evolution.”

Following Sāṅkhyakārikā Vācaspati makes it clear thus; the Puruṣa feels that the Prakṛti has seen him and so he is not interested anymore. The Prakṛti also feels that she has been seen stops her action. Even though their bond continues, there is no scope for evolution. The Prakṛti when make happen the discriminative knowledge of wisdom stops the creation of experience or rather enjoyment as the enjoyment belongs to the erroneous knowledge. This can be compared to the sprouts. If there is a seed only then sprout can appear so also only if erroneous knowledge is there then only the wisdom can be attained.[12] The need of discriminative knowledge makes the Puruṣa thinks it as his possession and immerses in the comforts and displeasures, being misled by the changes in the Prakṛti, the sense objects and so on. This very wisdom or rather the discriminative knowledge is also considered by the Puruṣa as his possession. At the time of right discrimination the bond between the Puruṣa and Prakṛti stops. This is the moment when all the enjoyments of the Puruṣa ends and the Puruṣa is not capable of causing the discriminative knowledge of wisdom by itself because it is the adaptation of the Prakṛti as wisdom originates from Prakṛti.

After attaining wisdom Puruṣa does not have any purpose of its own. The motives of the Prakṛti like experience and emancipation are supplied by the Puruṣa and when the purpose of the Puruṣa is stopped then the motivation of the Prakṛti is stopped automatically. This leads to the saying that there is no motive for evolution. Here motive, means that one which pushes forward the Prakṛti to carry on the process of evolution. This motive ceases when the purpose of the Puruṣa dies.

When wisdom is attained the body becomes null and it is doubted that how the body less Puruṣa observe the Prakṛti. If the answer to this is that salvation cannot be attained as soon as wisdom is attained due to the past deeds then how can these deeds be erased off. The implicit saying that “emancipation follows from the knowledge of the distinction between the manifest, the unmanifest, and the Puruṣa,”[13] is meaningless when this theory is applied. Even the saying that “emancipation would be obtained on the destruction of the residual of Karma by means of experience extending to an uncertain period of time” is too optimistic to be fulfilled. The answer to these doubts is given in the next Kārikā.

The achievement of flawless wisdom, virtue, and so on by the Puruṣa makes it lack fundamental vigor and for a short time it will stay back in the body. This is compared by the author to a potter’s wheel which revolves even after the work is done due to the momentum given to it previously.[14] The spark of true knowledge destroys the kārmic residuum which has no beginning and the result of it cannot be calculated too. The fruits of experience, the birth, life and experience will be unable to be produced. If watered by kleśas, the seeds of karma sprout up and then these kleśas will be drained off by the heat of the true knowledge which ceases the sprouting up of the kārmic seeds.

It can be said that even after attaining the discriminative knowledge of wisdom the body clings for some time as mentioned earlier and it becomes exhausted and thus become inactive. When in the body the force is applied by the virtue and vice whose end result starts to function. It has been already underlined that the experience which is attained by any means leads to heavenly happiness.

In the Chāndogya Upaniṣad [15] it is stated thus,

“The delay is only so long as beatitude is not attained.”

After all these sayings there arises a question that if the Puruṣa remains in the body by some force then how can the final liberation [i.e., apavarga] take place.

Answering this question the 68th Kārikā states that

“When the separation from the body has at length been attained, and by reason of the purpose having been fulfilled, Prakṛti ceases to act, then he attains eternal and absolute isolation.”

From the above, we may conclude that a motive is that which moves Prakṛti to act towards evolution. Before attaining discriminative knowledge, Puruṣa also is in apparent connection with the body, but having attained the discriminative knowledge the motive for creation ceases. The ‘saṃyoga’ of Prakṛti and Puruṣa with motive is the cause of creation. But saṃyoga without motive does not produce anything. This stage leads to Jīvanmukti. Jīvanmukta has experienced alone to the saṃskāra which remains as the rest of ‘prārabdhakarma’. When this ‘saṃskāra’ also perishes, he attains ‘Videhamukti’.

Footnotes and references:


Sāṅkhya Yoga Epistemology, P. 25


na kaścit puruṣo badhyate, na kścit saṃsarati, na kaścit mucyate | prakṛtireva tu nānāśrayā satī badhyate saṃsarati mucyate ceti| bandhamokṣasaṃsārāḥ puruṣeṣūpacaryante| yathā jayaparājayau bhṛtyagatāvapi svāminyupacaryete|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī 62


raṅgasya darśayitvā nivartate nartakī yathā nṛtyāt| puruṣasya tathā''tmānaṃ prakāśya vinivartate prakṛtiḥ||
Sāṅkhyakārikā 59


bhogāpavargalakṣaṇaḥ puruṣārtha evānāgatāvasthaḥ pravartayati karaṇāni, kṛtamatra tatsvarūpābhijñena kartrā| etaśca "vatsavivṛddhinimittam" ityatropapādayiṣyate||
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 31


Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 60 and 61


"yathā guṇavānupakāryapi bhṛtyo nirguṇe'ta evānupakāriṇi svāmini niṣphalārādhanā, evamiyamprakṛtistapasvinī guṇavatyupakāriṇi puruṣe vyarthapariśrameti puruṣārthameva yatate na svārthamiti siddham|"


"evamprakṛtirapi kulavadhūto'pyadhikā dṛṣṭā vivekena na punardrakṣyata ityarthaḥ|"


kāraṇanivṛtyā ca saptarūpāṇi nivartanta iti "saptarūpavinivṛttā prakṛtiḥ" "avasthita" iti niṣkriyaḥ, "svacchaḥ" iti rajastamovṛttikaluṣayabudhyā'sambhinnaḥ|


Sāṃkhya-Tattva-Kaumudī (trans.), p.166


Sāṅkhyakārikā 65


sāttvikyā tu buddhyā tadāpyasya manāk sambhedostyeva, anyathaivambhūtaprakṛtidarśanānupapatteriti|
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 65


"avivekakhyātinibandhano hi tadupabhogo, nibandhanābhāve na tadbhavitumarhati, aṃkura iva bījābhāve|"


Sāṃkhya-Tattva-Kaumudī (trans.), p.169


"utpannatattvajñāno'pi ca saṃskāravaśāt tiṣṭhati, yathoparate'pi kulālavyāpāre cakraṃ vegākhyasaṃskāravaśāt bhramat tiṣṭhati|"
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 65


Chāndogya Upaniṣad V1.1.2

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: