Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Observations and Conclusion’ 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 5 - Observations and Conclusion


1. Vācaspati Miśra at the outset of his commentary on the first two Kārikas provides a new orientation and purpose to the whole Sāṃkhya System by explicating and elaborating the suggestive hints of the kārikas. His mastery of scholarship is more vivid here, especially in delineating the different modes of sorrows and the efficacy of Sāṅkhya-śāstra alone for removing them. And it is done in a clear pūrvapakṣasiddhānta mode.

2. In the course of discussion on the number of pramāṇas Vācaspati’s stance is exemplary. He assertively says that there are only three pramāṇas ‘na nyūnam nāpyadhikam’. And refuting lokāyata and establishing the validity of anumāna pramāṇa he opines that the nonexistence of certain things cannot be inferred merely from the fact of its being not perceived as the super sensuous things like Prakṛti and Puruṣa which are obtained only through inference.

3. Out and out Vācaspati Miśra is an ardent advocate of svataprāmāṇya of Vedas. As the Vedas are independent of human authorship, according to him, they are free from all shortcomings. As a commentator Vācaspati Miśra excels in the commentary on the ninth Kārikā which puts forth the satkāryavāda, the principle of causation in Sāṃkhya System. The examples and arguments brought in the commentary are superb.

For example, while elucidating the argument ‘asadakaraṇāt’ he comments that:

“if the effect were, nonexistent before the operation of the cause, it could never be brought into existence by anybody; by even a thousand artists blue can never be made yellow”.

Vācaspati Miśra exhibits his unparalleled scholarship in the elucidation of the other four arguments too.

4. Vācaspati’s keenness of observation is vivid in the whole body of the text. For example, in enucleating the function of vyakta he shows the doctrinal propriety of the word ‘Prasavadharmi’. The form of the word to be used would have been ‘prasavadharma’, but the author has used the particular possessive affix of ‘nini’ in order to indicate the constancy of productiveness in the Manifest.

5. Moreover the examples used to explicate the existence of Puruṣa, and the cooperations of the sattva, rajas and tamas, though they are mutually contradictory for the single purpose of emancipation of Puruṣa as well as the example of a girl to elucidate the mutually exclusive nature of sukhādi, etc. show the argumentative capacity of Vācaspati Miśra as a commentator.

6. Creation is due to the saṃyoga between the Prakṛti and Puruṣa. Prakṛti and Puruṣa are absolutes. It is rather difficult to describe the nature of saṃyoga between the two absolutes. This is a vexed problem and it seems that there is no satisfactory answer in the Sāṃkhya System. But Vācaspati Miśra explicates the rationale behind the relation between Puruṣa and Prakṛti and also the inevitability of it in a convincing manner. To enunciate the points which were just suggestively mentioned in the Sāṅkhyakārikā Vācaspati borrows from other philosophical systems. For example to elucidate the four stages of virāga and the aiśvarya, aṇima etc, he is taking materials from the Yogasūtras of Patañjali.

7. Vācaspati in the course of discussion on triguṇas, in a pūrvapakṣa mode, questions the relevancy of rajoguṇa which seems to serve no purpose. Then he answers this objection by interpreting the phrase ‘taijasādubhayam’. He says that even though there is no separate product from rajas exclusively, it plays a significant role in the process of evolution by activating sattva and tamas which are otherwise absolutely inert and incapable of performing their functions.

8. Vācaspati often exhibits the keenness of observation while interpreting the subtle points which were indirectly suggested in the Kārikas. While dealing with the question whether the mind is a sense organ or not that becomes vivid. Vācaspati answers this problem in an inimitable way. He provides a subtle interpretation to the term ‘Sādharmyāt’ in the Kārikā and arrives at the conclusion that mind is a sense organ because it has properties common to sense organs.

9. The real nature of emancipation in Sāṅkhya is a long standing matter of dispute among the commentators on the Kārikas. Anticipating some objections in the context of emancipation Vācaspati attempts to answer them. The moot question is creation is done by whom? If it is done by Prakṛti it is difficult to say how creation can be withdrawn? Prakṛti is ever tending towards pravṛtti. Then, how can there be emancipation at all? Vācaspati’s answer to this question is that the function of Prakṛti is as much for the emancipation of Puruṣa as for the bondage of Puruṣa. Vācaspati elucidates the point by taking the example of cooking of food by a person who is desirous of food.

Another objection raised in this context is the function of Prakṛti which is inert. When it is said that the Prakṛti acts for another one’s purpose as if it for her own purpose, it implies that Prakṛti should have intelligence. But Prakṛti in the system is originally ‘jaḍa’, i.e. the one which has no intelligence. While answering the objection Vācaspati does not adduce any additional corroborative evidence to substantiate his point, but just follows the example given in the Kārikā. In the commentary Vācaspati assertively opines that bondage, transmigration and emancipation are superimposed on the Puruṣa and this is like attributing the success and failures of the servant to the master.

10. Vācaspati explains all the Kārikas in pāṭhakrama. But he explains fourth Kārikā in arthakrama.

"seyamāryā'rthakramānurodhena pāṭhakramamanādṛtyaiva vyākhyātā ||"


“The explanation of the Kārikā follows the sense, not the order of words.”


Indian philosophy which has spread all over the world as the one filled with the fragrance of exotic culture and glorious tradition. The system of philosophy which is the landmark of India is divided into six streams. These systems agree on certain essential ideas. Philosophy is such an arena where, without a thorough insight and realization one cannot dare to enter into it.

Many scholars and seers have tried their hands in coordinating these systems. There are numerous writings, commentaries, interpretations, etc. in this field. These systems are also named as Brāḥmanical systems as they have their footage on the authority of the Vedas. All these systems have a blend of logic, psychology, metaphysics and religion. The Sāṅkhya philosophy is the one which explains the experience of bold speculative ventures.

The Sāṅkhya system expounded by Kapila is the oldest of these systems. The authoritative book on this system is the Sāṅkhyakārikā of Īśvarakṛṣṇa. Many scholars have delved deep into this subject and brought out many commentaries and interpretations. To mention some of them are Vācaspati Miśra, Gauḍapāda, Vijñānabhikṣu etc.

As said earlier, numerous philosophers, scholars and seers have written many books on the Sāṅkhya System. Among all these Vācaspati Miśra’s work stands on a high pedestal. He is the ever glowing light in the lineage of Indian philosophy. Nothing much is revealed about his past. He was a native of Mithila and has been accepted by many that he belonged to 9th century C.E. This agreement has been reached on the date that has been seen in his works. Vācaspati has to his credit nine treatises belong to six systems of Indian philosophy. The realm of philosophy has been enriched by his scholarly works.

The scholarliness and skill of diction of Vācaspati Miśra can be clearly understood by the manner in which he has clubbed the compound expressions and terminology in his works. This falls into three phases. The first phase is related to the Bhāṭṭa Mīmaṃsā treatise, the second to the Nyāya, Sāṅkhya and Yoga and the third to Vedānta. Being a man of impartial temperament, he gave due importance to all the systems of philosophy. A peculiarity of Vācaspati Miśra is that while writing on a particular system, he adheres to its pros and cons, strictly. He never beats about the bush to stress his points on any system, instead sticks only to the doctrinal standards of that system. But he is always prompt to stamp his personal seal in all the systems which he has commented on. His study of Sāṅkhya has shown the depth of his knowledge, narrative skill and scholastic ability.

The Contribution of Vācaspati Miśra to Sāṅkhya philosophy has made far reaching effects in the later development of Sāṅkhya System. The impact was multifaceted and multifarious. For a rational understanding of his essential contribution to Sāṅkhya System, the major topics are classified under five heads as Epistemology, Ontology, Psychology, Phenomenology and Ethics.

The validity and worth of knowledge is the main concern of Epistemology. The three main steps of the foundation on which Sāṅkhya holds strong are cognition, conclusion and conclusive evidence. If knowledge is to be considered as authentic, it should be perceived and cognized. This, says Vācaspati, is the primary and basic need to acquire knowledge. Among the pramāṇas, this stands out because this gives the knowledge pertained to the reality of an object. The sense organs, merely helps in sensing the objects, but there is no cognition or characterization. The mind on the other hand takes up the responsibility arraying the sensed object according to its verbal orders. Vācaspati views inference into vīta and avīta. Vīta has its footage on the affirmative accompaniment or overall agreement in the presence. On the other hand avīta is the negative accompaniment and absence of agreement.

The positive vīta is divided into pūrvavat which is uniform happening and sāmānyatodṛsṭa which does not have any uniformity. The avīta inference of śeṣavat or pariśeṣa, that is, it is inference by exclusion or elimination. On the pramāṇa of Vedic testimony Vācaspati views, that is free from the clutches of doubts and discrepancy. This is not pertained to any personal origin. Vācaspati is so broad minded as to accept the three pramāṇas of Sāṅkhyakārikā viz. cognition, conclusion and conclusive evidence and also the five pramāṇas put forward by other philosophers as upamāna, arthāpatti, abhāva, sambhava and aitiḥya. He attaches or tags these five pramāṇas to the already stated three pramāṇas.

The dualism of Prakṛti and Puruṣa can also be explicated on the ontological perspective of the Sāṅkhya philosophy. According to Sāṅkhya, Prakṛti is pre-supposed to be the final worldly existence. It maintains a balance between the three guṇas: sattva, rajas and tamas. They dress up to perform the majestic act of manifestation, activity and restraint. The result of this act is pleasure, pain and delusion. Sattva which is light is urged by rajas and its action is restraining the force of tamas. The three guṇas are a far cry from each other, but at the time of need they unite together to cause the effects.One peculiarity of the philosophy of Sāṅkhya is that the effect is inherent in the cause. This particular specialty is called satkāryavāda or pariṇāmavāda, stressing on cause and effect. All the other theories based on causation are dismissed by Vācaspati.

Of the principal concepts, one among them is Puruṣa in Sāṅkhya System. The Puruṣa is static, stable and eternal. Puruṣa is bound at times and is caused by aviveka between Prkaṛti and its evolutes and to Puruṣa itself. At the stage of Kaivalya Puruṣa is let free from Prakṛti and is relieved from all sorrows. Vācaspati favours two types of liberation i.e., the Jīvanmukti and the Videhamukti.

The acquiring of discriminative knowledge is a must for liberation. This knowledge is called the siddhi in Sāṅkhya. In the Tattvakaumudī, the creation is described in its fullest form and it is of opinion that buddhi takes along with it the virtue, wisdom, dispassion and power and also the reverse of these qualities. These are categorized again as viparyaya, aśakti, tuṣṭi and siddhi. The success is hindered by viparyaya, aśakti and tuṣṭi. With regard to siddhi, it has eight phases like adhyayana, śabda, ūha, suhṛtprāpti, dāna etc.

The origin, according to Sāṅkhya is of two stages viz. buddhisarga and bhautikasarga. The buddhisarga is accompanied with buddhi, ahaṃkāra and eleven organs. The bhautikasarga, on the other hand has five tanmātras, the five mahābhūtas and their products.

Buddhi is the receiver of discriminative knowledge and so it has the power to decide. It can be explained thus: when it is entirely dark, a ray of light which enters through a small hole brightens up the dark room, so also the ignorant or dark mind is lighted up by the ray of knowledge. This knowledge makes its entry into the mind through the sense organs. The knowledge is enhanced by the conjoining of the known and unknown. The first to the origin is the buddhi from the mother principle, Mūlaprakṛti. The effect of buddhi is knowledge, Vācaspati proclaims that buddhi is the determiner of the things and it identifies the things, bearing in mind, the action is similar to that of the active agent.

Vācaspati has given a deep insight into the misapprehension of five subjects, namely tamas, moha, mahāmoha, tāmiśra and andhatāmiśra. These subjects can also be seen in Patañjali’s Yogsūtra as five afflictions viz. avidyā, asmitā, rāga, dveṣa and abiniveśa. Avidyā or tamas is the natural qualities of buddhi, a bi-product of Mūlaprakṛti. The tamas belong to eight types and this is on the basis of identifying the self with intellect, individuation, the mind and five subtle elements.

Asmitā is the mixing of power of consciousness and cognition. Asmitā has with it eight additions which is characterized by love, such as aṇimā, laghimā, garimā, mahimā, prāpti, prākāmya, vaśitva and kāmāvasāyitā. The attachment to the object of senses is rāga and this is of ten kinds, five divyā and five adivyā. This leads to dveṣa called tāmiśra. This tāmiśra in turn has eighteen tags containing ten objects and eight attainments. The infirmity is the second subjective evolution; it injures eleven organs by hurting the intellect too. The impairment of buddhi is numbered as seventeen due to the failure of nine contentment and eight attainments.

The object of ethics is to overcome evils or errors. The ethics in the Sāṅkhya philosophy are to attain discriminative knowledge which is the stepping stone to Apavarga. The viparyaya, aśakti and tuṣṭi are the objects which urge the evils and wrong doings. These are obstacles to Apavarga. The erasing of these evils and wrong doings is the ethical side of this system. Finally, the ethical goal of Sāṅkhya is to discriminate the presence of a transcendent consciousness distinct from primordial materiality and its three guṇas, and thereby to attain a radical isolation (Kaivalya) from experience of frustration. While dealing with the ethics of Sāṅkhya System Vācaspati attempts to correlate Sāṅkhya meditational techniques with the Vedānta triad viz. śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana.

Sāṅkhya has its footage on the duality of Puruṣa and Prakṛti and goes to the extent of upholding the duality of Puruṣa silencing the God. The Sāṅkhya opines that the material world sprouts out from the heart of Prakṛti at the time of creation and at the time of dissolution it goes back to Prakṛti. So nothing new is produced nor destructed. Here production takes the meaning of development and evolution and destruction is envelopment and involution.

The deep study of Vācaspati Miśra on Sāṅkhya is the supreme one, in the long array of interpretations and commentaries. The theoretical Sāṅkhya if it is followed sincerely, and strictly will lead the aspirant to the highest goal of life i.e., self realization or liberation. The work of Vācaspati Miśra has opened up new avenues for the better understanding of this philosophy. Here the proverb “All roads lead to Rome” is very apt because whatever be the system of philosophy, the end is self realization. This is made clear by the quill driving of the great scholastic personality Vācaspati Miśra.

In fact, the Sāṅkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra is an eye opener into the philosophy of Kārikā Sāṅkhya. Vācaspati Miśra has elaborated and detailed every minute concept with the crystalline clarity. It is so simple and lucid in style and diction which is acceptable by one and all.

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