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

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vsundaresan at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed May 5 22:52:42 UTC 1999

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

>I think that it is a very interesting theoretical problem; can it be
>meaningful at all to say that something in a classical upaniSad is sAMkhya,
>i.e. not vedAnta? But it seems that it is not absolutely hopeless to answer
>in the affirmative. When we find the typical sAMkhyan terminology (as known
>first of all from the kArikAs) mainly in clusters only, it is
>methodologically plausible to label those passages as sAMkhyan. - But of
>course any later tradition that takes the upaniSads as zruti may
>legititimately forget about their sAMkhyan legacy.

Any school of classical vedAnta presumes and subsumes a lot of what is
called sAMkhya. It is not useful to set the terms of a theoretical
discussion in terms of "sAMKhya, not vedAnta". In any case, by the time of
Sankara, the question was not one of the sAMkhyan legacy of upanishads, but
one of the upanishadic legacy of classical sAMkhya. One major argument of
Sankara's brahmasUtra bhAshya is that attempts by sAMkhyan thinkers to find
a mention of kapila in the upanishads were baseless. So also for finding
upanishadic sanction for pradhAna-kAraNa-vAda. This argument could not have
been directed against purely imaginary opponents. We may safely conclude
that there were post-ISvarakRshNa sAMkhya philosophers, who claimed an
upanishadic legacy for sAMkhya thought. It was not until the time of
vijnAnabhikshu, some three or four centuries ago, that a different kind of
argument was offered regarding the relationship of the upanishads to
sAMkhya. Why?

Let us leave aside the notion of the upanishads as Sruti. After all, we must
remember that classical sAMkhya and classical advaita vedAnta were preceded
by a period of mImAMsA, which granted only arthavAda status to the
upanishads. For modern analytical scholarly purposes, when talking of the
occurrence of sAMkhyan terminology in clusters in the upanishads, the
question is one of relative dates.

We find what may be called "sAMkhyan terminology" in early texts like kaTha
and SvetASvatara, and for that matter, even in some portions of the
bRhadAraNyaka. To say that sAMkhyan terms are known first of all from the
kArikAs, one has to show that the kArikAs precede these upanishads in time.
This is plainly not so.

It is therefore useful, as done by Larson and Bhattacharya (Enc. of Indian
Philosophies), to distinguish between pre-kArikA sAMkhya and kArikA-kaumudi
sAMkhya. It is even more useful to remember that different texts say
different things about tanmAtras, manas, buddhi, avyakta etc., so that it is
not good to view these terms as solely sAMkhyan in origin. Rather, these are
"universal" terms, much like "element", "clone" etc. The IBM PC-clone is a
very different creature from the clone of Dolly, the sheep. When a physicist
talks of an elementary particle, he is not referring to atoms, but when a
chemist says element, he is talking of atoms. The physicist and the chemist
understand each other; it is all confusing only to a non-scientist outsider
listening in. And neither science excludes the other completely. A similar
situation obtains in old Indian philosophical schools.

As regards the sAMkhya found in bhagavad gItA and elsewhere in the
mahAbhArata, the introduction given by van Buitenen in his gItA translation
is essential reading. van Buitenen's translation of the book of the bhagavad
gItA was scheduled to be part of the fourth volume of his mahAbhArata
translation, but it was published separately as a paperback, twenty years
ago. He makes excellent points, in his usual, exemplary way.

By the way, van Buitenen has made a mistake in verse 13.5, when he refers
only to "ten senses" in his translation and corresponding footnote. The
original is clear - daSaikam, meaning eleven, the extra one being manas,
i.e. antaHkaraNa. Note also that there was a difference of opinion within
sAMkhya schools whether the total number should be eleven or thirteen. The
kArikAs opt for thirteen, but vindhyavAsin, a pre-ISvarakRshNa thinker, is
said to have opted for eleven. The brahmasUtras also mention only eleven. In
this context, Sankara takes care to say about manas, citta, buddhi and
ahaMkAra - etat sarvam mana eva.


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