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

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed May 5 01:32:13 UTC 1999

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

> > in [GB] 7.4 ... Note the explicit reference to a samyoga between avidyA
> > and avyakta. So this is not classically sAMkhyan after all.
>To me it is not clear, why the equation ahaMkAra-vAsanA = avidyA or its
>connection with the avyakta would be specifically vedAntic; could it not be
>sAMkhyan (or even Buddhistic) as well?

It is neither, because the same passage proceeds to label this eight-fold
prakRti as 'aiSvarI mAyASakti'. I must also point out that Sankara gives
avidyA a crucially causal function here, as he labels ahaMkAra (which is
avidyAsaMyuktam avyaktam) as pravRtti-bIjam. Compare the sUtrabhAshya where
Sankara describes avyakta as avidyAtmaka, bIjaSakti, parameSvara-ASraya,
mAyAmaya etc.

>However it may be, zaGkara here seems to be clear about the purpose of his
>otherwise rather forced reinterpretation: "tanmAtram ucyate na sthUlA,
>'bhinnA prakRtir aSTadhA' iti vacanAt", i.e. he has to take the terms in an
>unusual sense, because they must be the eight prakRtis. And it is the SK 3
>and the commentarial tradition on it that defines the eight prakRtis as
>those tattvas that produce other tattvas according to the saMkhyan story of

Yes, the explanation seems forced, which is why Sankara seems to sound "more
sAMkhyan" than the gItA here. However, you have to understand Sankara's
comments on chapter 7 as an introduction to what he is going to say in
chapter 13. 'bhinnA prakRtir ashTadhA' is the phrase used in the gItA verse
7.4 itself. Now see gItA 13.5, where after the five elements, ahaMkAra,
buddhi and avyakta are listed, as parts of the 'field' or kshetra. Clearly,
buddhi here stands for mahat. And Sankara is right when he says that the
sthUla elements are referred to by the word indriyagocara (in gItA 13.5), so
that the specifically listed elements have to be the tanmAtras only. If I
remember right, in classical sAMkhya, the tanmAtras are not directly
perceived, but they are inferred. Sankara can live with, so to speak, such
an inference, but he gives it a non-sAMkhyan, non-buddhist color, by
simultaneously introducing ISvara. He proceeds to contast this 'lower
prakRti' (the nature of the kshetra) with the 'higher prakRti' of ISvara,
which is the nature of the kshetrajna.

Thus, Sankara is equating the list of eight in 7.4 with the list of eight in
13.5, and this is driven more by the internal logic of the text he is
commenting upon, rather than the sAMkhya kArikAs. Verses 7.4 and 13.5 give
different names for the items of the same list, and I see this as Sankara's
way of explaining what may be objected to as internally contradictory in the
text of the gItA. One must also take into account that according to
Sankara's commentary on the gItA, the word sAMkhya means different things in
different places. All in all, it seems to me that Sankara is giving his
readers new wine (advaita vedAnta) in an old bottle (sAMkhya terminology).

Now, leaving Sankara aside, the question is one of the relative date of the
kArikAs (i.e. ISvarakRshNa) vis-a-vis the bhagavad gItA. Which is earlier?
And here we step into the realm of opinion. After a lot of discussion, we
must conclude that we can't say which is the earlier text. Much can be said
on both sides, and there can be no real adhyavasAya. Also remember that the
sAMkhya kArikAs themselves presume a long prehistory of sAMkhya theorizing.
I daresay that some of this pre-classical sAMkhya was more akin to the
sAMkhya presumed in the gItA, than to what we know through the sAMkhya
kArikAs and commentaries.


Get Free Email and Do More On The Web. Visit

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list