Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Ethics 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 4.3 - Ethics In Sāṅkhya

In every system of thought the object of ethical training is to overcome evils and errors. Sāṅkhya also suggests the ethical practice as the means to attain the discriminative knowledge, on the road to Apavarga. Among the four dispositions viparyaya, aśakti, tusṭi and siddhi, the first three are considered as evils and errors because they are hindrances to Apavarga. The removal of these errors implies the ethics in this system. Vācaspati Miśra says "error, contentment and disability are impediments to success. So these three are over to be abandoned.[1] The five kleśas are the products of ajñāna and avairāgya. Avidyā and asmitā can be considered as the product of ignorance, and rāga, dveṣa and abhiniveśa as the products of attachment. Adharma or vices are the causes of the inability of the organs, and of the other aśaktis.

To avoid aśaktis one should abandon the vices and must do virtuous actions. Attachment and adharma are the causes of these aśaktis. The injuries of the eleven organs also cause the injuries of the buddhi (indriyavadhasya grāho buddhivadhahetutvena). These injuries of the buddhi cause the inability to attain the eight kinds of siddhi which leads to Apavarga.

Through the divisions of buddhi, Sāṅkhya covers all the fields of ethics. But it does not stop there and says that dharma, vairāgya and aiśvarya are, also to be abandoned because they cannot lead to apavarga. Tusṭi arises from the false notion that they are enough to attain the ultimate aim. Sāṅkhya emphatically says that knowledge alone can save one from bondage. Hence, it advises the practice of the eight kinds of siddhi’s, study, etc. But the knowledge itself is a modification of buddhi as it is the sāttvic form of buddhi.[2] The final discrimination implies the complete overcoming of rajas and tamas, although a small amount of pure sattva remains. That is to say, all ordinary activity ceases.[3]

Vācaspati Miśra closely follows the presentation of KārikāSāṅkhya, but throughout he appears to be casting Sāṅkhya notions into a Vedānta idiom. Vācaspati Miśra begins his commentary with a clear illustration to the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, indicating thereby that the Sāṅkhya concern for overcoming frustration has a firm Upaniṣadic base. Moreover, in his interpretation of the Sāṅkhya rejection of Vedic means for the alleviation of frustration.[4] Vācaspati Miśra is quick to point out that only the ritual portion of the Veda is intended, and in his discussion of the perfections he correlated Sāṅkhya meditational techniques with the Vedānta triad śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana.

Vācaspati Miśra states that, ānuśrāvika is that which is related to ānuśrava or Veda that which is derived or known there from. The host of religious rites lucid down in the Veda is equal to the obvious remedies mentioned: both being equally inefficient in the absolute and final removal of the three kinds of pain.[5]

Though the text uses the generic term “ānuśrāvika” (Vedic), yet, it out to be taken as implying only the ritualistic section of it, because discriminative knowledge also forms part of the Vedas. Śruti says that “The spirit should be known and discriminated from primordial matter”[6] by doing so, “the agent does not return yet, he does not return into this world”.[7]

The role of ethics in Sāṅkhya

The impurity lies in the fact of the ‘soma’ and other sacrifices being accompanied by the killing of animals and the destruction of grains and seeds. According to Mīmaṃsakā this sin is removable by certain expiatory rites. But if somehow these are neglected, then at the time of the fruition of the principal karma (merit) the evil element also bears its fruits. Experts in rituals dangling in the nectar-tanks of heaven attained by a mass of righteous deeds, have to bear the spark of the fire of pain brought about by the element of sin.[8]

In the above mentioned instance, there is a contradiction of two generic laws ‘kill not any animal’ and ‘kill the animal’ dedicated to ‘agnisoma’. When two laws are mutually contradictory the stronger sets aside the weaker. In the case of the first law killing is productive of sin or evil and the second one declares that the killing of animals helps in the performance of sacrifice. The explanation offered here is that there is no any contradiction between the ‘productivity of the sin’ and the capability of ‘helping the performance’ of a sacrifice. Animal-slaughter can produce sin in the man, and at the same time quite consistently help the performance of the sacrifice. Anyhow, it shows that the ethical acumen of the Sāṅkhya System is high as they discard indirectly the killing of animals, even in the name of the sacred purpose of sacrifice.

The study of Vācaspati Miśra on Sāṃkhya has led one to manyconclusions and observations.

Footnotes and references:


Sāṃkhya-Tattva-Kaumudī (trans.), P.75


"pravartate triguṇataḥ" iti| pratisargāvasthāyāṃ sattvaṃ rajastamaśca sadṛśapariṇāmāni bhavanti|"
Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī on Sāṅkhyakārikā 16


Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya, 1.76


Jayamaṅgalā on Sāṅkhyakārikā 12


Gauḍapādabhāṣya on Sāṅkhyakārikā 13


Sāṅkhyakārikā 12


Mukta Biswas: SāṃkhyaYoga Epistemology, p.23


K.P.Kesavan Nampoothiri: The concept of Apavarga in Sāṃkhya Philosophy, p.63

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