Re: [INDOLOGY] query on Sāṃkhya

dermot at dermot at
Tue May 28 11:30:40 UTC 2019

Dear colleagues,

I was interested in Matthew's question, and I agree with Victoria's point abour "our" 
terminology -- that is to say, the terminology with which we English-using indologists are 
familiar, both in our indological work and in our thinking about other things. Some terms have 
a different meaning in indology from what they have elsewhere, and "evolution" is one of 
them. We shouldn't be surprised at these differences of meaning, but we have to beware of 
letting the meaning a word has in one context interfere with the way we understand it in 

I also agree with Dan's warning that "matter" and "spirit" are a deceptive pair in an indological 
context -- until we come to study people like Vivekananda, for whom the great difference 
between "Western" and Indian ideas of evolution is that one is material and the other 

Following another point of Dan's, I'd say that the Samkhyakarika introduced two points that 
distinguish it from pre-classical Samkhya: the placing of prakrti alongside purusa rather than 
subordinate to it, and the multiplicity of purusas.

Coming back to the word "evolution": though it was used occasionally in its indological
sense by H. H. Wilson, it was first used systematically by Fitzedward Hall in his expanded 
edition of Wilson's Visnu Purana translation. "Involution" was introduced, as far as I can see, 
by Vivekananda, and was used much more systematically by Aurobindo. This use was 
independent of the meanings the word already had in biology and in mathematics. (I've 
studied this matter in more detail in a forthcoming chapter on Darwin and neo-Hinduism in a 
book edited by Mackenzie Brown).

I hope that helps.

With best wishes,


On 28 May 2019 at 11:03, Viktoria Lysenko via INDOLOGY wrote:

Dear Matthew,
In my opinion, the problem arises from our terminilogy. The term "evolution" suggests that 
there is a process of development from primitive state to more complex one, it entails an 
evaluative sense that is characteristic of our culture, and is associated with our positive 
attitude towards the idea of progress. In fact, the term "involution" would be closer, but I 
would prefer more neutral "emanation" to exclude any allusion to our too culturally 
determined terminology.
With best regards,
Victoria Lysenko, dr.hab.philos.
Head, Department for Oriental philosophy studies
Institute of Philosophy, Russian Academy of Sciences
Moscow, Goncharnaya, 12/1, Moscow 109240
28.05.2019, 01:20, "Matthew Kapstein via INDOLOGY" <indology at>:
    Dear Indological colleagues,
    One of the peculiarities of Sakhya thought is its unusual theory of "evolution" (though it 
    might better be termed "emanation") which proceeds from the subtle modifications of the mu 
    laprakti 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 
    Sakhya 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 Sakhya 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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