Re: [INDOLOGY] query on Sāṃkhya

Andrea Acri andrea.acri at
Tue May 28 08:09:12 UTC 2019

Dear Matthew,
I’m not sure about why you regard this top-bottom emanatory/evolutionary system as ‘odd’ and ‘counter-intuitive’ (unless I misunderstood you, which is not impossible). If I’m not mistaken, Mūlaprakṛti is a subtle, invisible principle, not a ‘material’ one; it is the possibility of all materiality, not materiality itself. Emanation, evolution or manifestation usually follows the order of top-bottom, subtle to coarse, invisible to visible, etc.
Some scholars have (re)interpreted Sāṃkhya as an idealistic system, but unfortunately I can’t recall any specific names and sources right now.
Also, for what it’s worth, and if you allow me to jump to ‘our’ (modern, scientific) cosmological models: some recent theories of physics have questioned the big-bang model, and proposed instead a multi-verse, multi-dimensional model positing the ‘manifestation’ (and, ultimately, disappearance) of our visible/‘material’ universe from the ‘clash’ (and, ultimately, detachment), so to speak, of two different dimensions, which happens periodically. You may think about prakṛti and as the two ‘dimensions’.

Best regards,

Andrea Acri

Sent from my iPhone

On 27 May 2019, at 23:20, Matthew Kapstein via INDOLOGY <indology at<mailto:indology at>> wrote:

Dear Indological colleagues,

One of the peculiarities of Sāṃkhya thought is its unusual theory of "evolution" (though it might better be termed "emanation") which proceeds from the subtle modifications of the mūlaprakṛti to those that are increasingly coarse, namely the organs of sense and of action, and finally to their physical objects. This seems a very odd evolutionary path when we first encounter it and I am wondering if there has been any work that seeks to explain just why Sāṃkhya adopted what to us may seem a remarkably counter-intuitive framework. I do have my own theory about this, but I would not want to publish it if someone else has already come up with a similar idea. I would therefore be grateful for any suggestions you may have concerning scholarship that seeks to explain just why it is that Sāṃkhya proceeds from top to bottom, as it were, rather than the other way around.

with thanks in advance for your advice about this,


Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études,
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago
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