Samkhyan terminology (was Re: A text dealing with Ayurveda)

Vishal Agarwal vishalagarwal at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Apr 26 00:14:49 UTC 1999

Dear Sri Sundaresan,

Appropos your excellent post, I just want to make a small comment--you have doubted the authenticity of 'Pancikarana' of Adi Samkaracarya. In my opinion, the doubts are unfounded since this text even has a Varttika attributed to Suresvaracarya on it. (In addition to traditional commentaries by Anandajnana et al). This validates the authenticity of the text.

Secondly, I direct you to Sri Samkaracarya's commentary on the 18th Chapter  of BG (do not recall the exact verse), where he uses Samkhyan concepts to explain a particular verse. The Purvapaksin then raises an objection- "How come you now accept Kapila samkhya considering that you have censured it earlier?" The Acharya responds- "What we have censured earlier is the duality preached by Kapila Samkhya. Else, they are indeed an authority on the science of Gunas."



----Original Message Follows----
From: Vidyasankar Sundaresan
Subject: Samkhyan terminology (was Re: A text dealing with Ayurveda)
Date: Sun, 25 Apr 1999 15:23:56 PDT

Ferenc Ruzsa <f_ruzsa at ISIS.ELTE.HU> wrote:

>Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:
>>In the sAMkhya school, the
>>transformations of material nature are for the
>>sake of purusha (purushArtha), but never due to
>>the desire of the purusha (purushecchA). The
>>purusha is devoid of any agency, so that any
>>desire or will would be ascribed by sAMkhya to
>>a transformation of the internal organ.
>Though this is the standard view, I think it is true only for the later
>sAMkhya; it cannot be shown in the classical texts (the sAMkhya-kArikA and
>its earlier commentaries).

This, I think, will require a major
reinterpretation of the kArikAs and the earlier
commentaries. As already noted in another
response, that would not be a very valid

I am not denying that something like 'will' may
be attributed to the purusha, even in sAMkhyan
terms. However, to hold such a 'will' or 'desire'
to be responsible for the evolution of the
tanmAtras is plainly non-sAMkhyan. The minute
one does that, one moves from sAMkhya to
vedAnta. Even under heavy vedAnta influence in
post-Vacaspati times, it would be difficult to find
a sAMkhya author who attributes causal agency
to the purusha's will.


>>It is not right to ascribe a "sAMkhyan" origin to
>>every passage that uses terms like tanmAtra,
>>purusha, prakRti etc.
>I feel that for early texts it *is* right, and later it is the first guess.
>Though several sAMkhya _concepts_ proved to be very successful and were
>imported by practically everybody (guNa-theory), still the concentrated use
>of typical _terminology_ is suggestive of that tradition

This is precisely where I take exception. For
example, take the terms avyakta, mahat and
ahaMkAra, in their specific senses as serial
evolutes of prakRti. Very sAMkhyan sounding
terms, aren't they? Which is why their occurence
in the pancIkaraNa raises a doubt about its
attribution to Sankara, the advaita vedAntin. Both
Karl Potter and Sengaku Mayeda have doubted
the authenticity of this attribution to Sankara.

However, take a look at Sankara's commentary
on the bhagavad-gItA, an acknowledged authentic
text. In verse 7.4, the BhG only lists the five
(subtle) elements along with manas, buddhi and
ahaMkAra, as constituting the eight-fold lower
prakRti. It would have been quite easy for a
vedAntin to describe the last three as aspects of
the internal organ and be done with it. However,
Samkara seemingly goes out of his way, and
identifies them instead with avyakta, mahat and
ahaMkAra. In other words, although BhG itself,
along with its parent text, the Mahabharata, has
many affiliations to the Samkhyan school,
Samkara's commentary sounds more
"sAMkhyan" than the verse he is commenting
upon. This has not attracted much critical
attention, probably because Samkara's
commentaries are often taken to be authentic, by
default. In any case, there are various other
indications for the authenticity of this
commentary. However, an identical usage of
avyakta, mahat and ahaMkAra in an independent
text like the pancIkaraNa raises an issue of
"sAMkhyan" origin or influence, and leads to the
conclusion (a hasty one, in my opinion) that this
text has to be non-Sankaran. Meanwhile, the fact
that an authentic Sankaran text uses the same
terms, and in the same sense, is totally

I think the assumptions that go behind this are
extremely problematic, from a textual analysis
point of view. The primay assumption, of course,
is that the presence of terms like purusha,
prakRti, tanmatra, avyakta etc. is immediately
suggestive of the sAMkhya school, and this is the
scholarly dogma that I am willing to question.


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