The Enumerative Viewpoint

saamkhya darshana.


The Sanskrit word "saamkhya" has a variety of meanings related to the concepts of enumeration, calculation and discrimination. The name of the viewpoint could be derived from its emphasis on the need to discriminate between the spirit, purushha and matter (literally "nature" prakrti), or from the extensive use by saamkhya philosophers of lists which enumerate the stages of cosmic evolution and their products. It would be equally appropriate to designate the saamkhya the Evolutionist Viewpoint, since the concept of evolution plays a crucial role in saamkhya thought.

The traditional founder of the saamkhya viewpoint was Kapila, who is believed to have lived well before the rise of Buddhism. Unfortunately we do not possess any saamkhya texts which can, as they stand, be attributed to so early a period. The saamkhya pravacana suutra which bears Kapila’s name is a work of the mediaeval period, Professor Das Gupta, in his monumental "A History of Indian Philosophy" (Cambridge 1922 on, reprinted Motilal Banarsidas, Delhi, 1975, on) dates it "after the ninth century", Radhakrishnan to the C14. The antiquity of the viewpoint is easily established however, by the signs of saamkhya influence on other early philosophers, and by reference to saamkhya ideas in ancient texts of other schools.

[Das Gupta, however, points out that many of the earlier references, particularly in writings associated with the name of Caraka and in the Mahabharata, do not seem to describe the saamkhya philosophy as we presently know it. He argues that there once existed an older saamkhya school, we can call it Caraka saamkhya, similar in some ways to later saamkhya, but distinctly different in others. The most surprising difference is that Caraka saamkhya identifies Purushha with Prakrti in the unevolved (avyakta) state. The Caraka texts make no mention of the subtle elements or tanmatras. The Caraka saamkhya also seems to have taught the same astonishing doctrine of liberation as the ancient Nyaaya, that in the liberated state there is no consciousness.]

God plays no significant role in classic saamkhya. When historically an alliance emerged between saamkhya and the Yoga viewpoint, an adapted saamkhya emerged within the yoga tradition where God, iishvara, appears as the twenty-sixth of the twenty-five tattvas. Das Gupta points out that the discussion of saamkhya in Mahabharata Book XII mentions three saamkhya views, recognising twenty-four, twenty-five and twenty-six tattvas respectively. He speculates that these are the Caraka saamkhya, the saamkhya of the classic texts, and the saamkhya of the yoga tradition.

The living tradition of saamkhya survived to the edges of the modern period. Even then, while no major saamkhya school survived, saamkhya influence was still tangible in the thought and theorising of many other schools. The rise of an interest in the history of science has given a new impetus to the study of saamkhya, as also of the sharply contrasting Vaisheshika viewpoint.

We possess several important works which offer a synoptic view of saamkhya doctrine. Particularly useful are:

saamkhya kaarikaa of Ishvara Krishna (iishvara krshhNa) which Das Gupta assigns to about 200 CE;

saamkhya pravacana suutra "of Kapila" dated by Das Gupta as after the C9, and first commentated on in the late C15;

tattva samaasa. Max Müller argues that this is the most ancient saamkhya text still extant, and that its original form may go back to the very early days of the school. Das Gupta, however, sees it as a late mediaeval work.

Radhakrishnan and Moore in their "A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy" offer a complete translation of the kaarikaa and translated excerpts from the suutra. Max Müller’s "The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy" contains a very full summary of the tattva samaasa.

Principal doctrines of the saamkhya viewpoint:

The saamkhya pravacana suutra

Although the suutra is a late mediaeval document, it is a valuable saamkhya text, giving us an insight into the doctrine of the saamkhya school in its maturity, and the way in which it responded to the arguments and doctrines of other schools. The suutra is in six books: the first introduces the crucial concepts of saamkhya, the second outlines the pattern of the evolution of Nature, the third is about the acquisition of detachment, the fourth is a curious section supporting saamkhya theories by brief references to a number of familiar tales. Book five refutes the theories and arguments of opponents. The sixth and final book of the suutra summarises the spiritual doctrine content of the rest of the suutra.

The whole suutra contains 526 short aphorisms, the sixth book contains 70. As is common in suutras, the aphorisms are extremely terse and succinct, sometimes to the point of obscurity. As an introduction to the literature of saamkhya a translation of Book Six is presented here. It provides a useful brief outline of the saamkhya system as a spiritual discipline.

saamkhya pravacana suutra Book VI

1. Self (aatman) exists - from absence of evidence of non-existence.

2. From its utter transcendence of the body, it is distinct from it.

we speak of "I" "myself" &c: this is prima facie evidence that the self exists; in the absence of any contrary evidence the case is proven.

3. also from being designated by the possessive case.

"my body" implies a distinction between the possessor (I) and the possession (the body).

4. Not as in the case of a statue where our means of knowledge that it is of such a kind is controverted.

We can speak of "the statue’s body", but this does not make the same distinction as does "my body" or "her body" since we cannot identify a possessor distinct from the body - the possessive case here is used at best on the basis of a whole and part relationship.

5. Attainment of the goal - the absolute termination of suffering. (duHkha)

6. When the spirit (purushha) is tormented by suffering, then there is no desire for pleasure (sukha).

this suutra is answering the objection that defining the goal simply in terms of extinction of suffering is inadequate if no mention is made of the presence of pleasure. The astika philosophers frequently take steps to avoid accepting that sukha and duHkha, pleasure and pain are parallel and co-equal. the translation of "duHkha" in this text as "suffering" serves the same end. The next suutra contrasts the pervasive presence of suffering with the scattering of people who experience pleasure, or happiness.

7. Just someone, somewhere is happy (sukhi).

8. and even that is mingled with suffering; so the discriminating locate it on the side of suffering.

9. Without the acquisition of pleasure, the essence of the spiritual goal is lacking.

‘Kapila’ is not proposing this view; it is the view of an opponent which he rejects. The phrase translated "spiritual goal" is "purushha artha" a familiar expression in Indian thought to designate the ends or goals of human life. The following suutras will make it clear why it is translated differently here.

10. The self (aatman) is devoid of qualities (nirguNa): Scripture speaks of its freedom from connections.

‘Kapila’ would accept that this statement is true. But if it is, how can he accept the cessation of suffering as a goal? the next suutra explains how.

11. Though being an attribute of something other, it succeeds because of non-discrimination.

Pain is experienced by Buddhii, not by purushha: failure to discriminate the one from the other leads to the mistaken apprehension that it is the self that is indeed experiencing pain.

12. Non-discrimination has no beginning, otherwise two flaws would follow.

The two flaws are probably the following: (1) Since bondage would arise at some point, before it arose a state of liberation would exist, and so an explanation would have to be given as to how the liberated should become the victim of bondage, (which is absurd). (2) an account would also be required of the origin of non-discrimination; but why should discrimination be abandoned in favour of non-discrimination, clear awareness in favour of fuddled consciousness?

13. it cannot be eternal as the self (aatman) is otherwise it would be unimpeded.

i.e. if non-discrimination is eternal, then nothing can prevail to bring about release from bondage. Non-discrimination is then beginningless, (anaadiH) but not in the full sense eternal (nityaH).

14. Bondage is destroyed by a specific cause, just like darkness.

there is a single specific cause that destroys darkness - light; just so there is a single specific cause which destroys bondage - discrimination.

15. Here too the rule for the specific case is inferred by positive and negative reasoning.

The term translated "positive and negative reasoning" is "anvayavyatireka" a term familiar from discussions of the nature of inference in the Nyaaya darshana.

16. Since no other way exists, bondage is non-discrimination.

17. There is no means whereby the liberated should undergo bondage once more, likewise Scripture says it does not recur,

18. otherwise it would not be the spiritual goal,

19. there would be no distinction between the two.

i.e. between the liberated and those in bondage.

20. Release (mukti) is the falling away of the obstacle, nothing more.

21. Nor does that involve a contradiction.

22. Since the eligible are of three kinds, there is no limitation.

This probably refers to three different dispositions which carry with them three different degrees of preparedness. All three can hear the truth and understand it, but more may be needed to bring about the liberating discrimination.

23. More is required to establish it.

24. If posture is firm and pleasant, there is no limitation.

a reference to the posture to be used in meditation - or more precisely to the fact that saamkhya prescribes no specific meditation posture.

25. Contemplation - the mind-organ (manas) free from any object.

26. If it is asserted there is no difference between the two cases, that would imply no difference even when the stain is destroyed.

27. Even without adherence a stain exists because of lack of discrimination.

The spirit does not actually merge with nature, but it appears to be stained with the coloration of the natural world so long as we fail to discriminate between spirit and matter.

28. As happens with the China-rose and the crystal there is no stain only the false assumption of one.

A familiar image: when a clear crystal is laid on red China-rose blossoms, the crystal appears red; remove it from the blossoms and the red colouring is gone.

29. The removal of this is attained by practise of contemplation and concentration, by detachment and so forth.

30. The destruction of inattention is deliverance, so say the teachers.

31. No limitation as to location – from clearness of consciousness.

Liberation consists in the realisation that I am spirit, not the body, not the intellect or ego or mind. The attainment of this realisation does not occur by sitting in a special yogic posture or in staying in any specific place. What is required is crystalline purity of consciousness.

32. Nature is the primal material cause; according to Scripture the rest are products.

33. Despite its eternity, the self is not [material cause], since it lacks the means.

Nature evolves, spirit does not. Nature evolves because the balance of the strands is disturbed. The spirit is pure consciousness; these are no strands in the spirit. It is utterly simple, devoid of parts, elements or constituents. Evolution can only occur where there is a degree of complexity.

34. Since it contradicts Scripture, the worst sophistry cannot grasp the soul.

35. Nature is mediately inferred – just like the atoms.

36. The all-pervading presence of Nature is known from its effects being everywhere.

37. From motion being linked to it, does it cease to be primal cause?! – just like the atoms. [i.e. no!]

38.There is no limit to the remarkable superabundance of Nature.

39. Sattva &c are not attributes of Nature since they are its constituents.

40. Nature itself does not enjoy: its creativity is altruistic – like a camel carrying saffron.

Of course the camel isn’t altruistic, any more than Nature is; but both act as if they were, both act to the benefit of another. It is the absence of intention that distinguishes this from true altruism.

41. Since karma is wondrously varied, creation is wondrously varied.

42. A duality of effects comes from equality and inequality.

When the three kinds of strands exercise an equal effect, are equally balanced, then Nature is in the state of pralaya, Primal Nature in its original condition; when an inbalance of the strands occurs, change occurs.

43. After the liberated one’s realisation, Nature does not create – like the king’s servant.

Creation becomes redundant; once liberation has been attained, creation ceases, just as once the king’s purposes are realised, his servant need do no more.

44. Since there is no cause to bring it about, even at the approach to another the liberated one does not experience enjoyment.

The liberated spirit remains free and undisturbed; the shy maiden may still dance for another; the liberated spirit is untouched, unmoved.

45. Spirits are many, since they differ from one another.

Otherwise one attaining liberation all would be liberated.

46. If different conditions are acknowledged, once more there is duality!

This refers to a Vedantin theory that sees different conditions, upadhis, explaining the apparent differences in state of the (illusorily) different persons, who are all actually illusory appearances of the one Aatman. But, says saamkhya, if the upadhis explain the apparent differences, the upadhis must be other than Aatman – and we have duality.

47. From the duality the evidence is controverted.

The arguments and ‘proofs’ of the non-dualists are refuted by the existence of the duality of spirit and Nature.

48. from the duality not being controverted, it is not a matter of a prior and a later state – since there is no proof.

I think this means that nothing refutes the existence of the Two – spirit and Nature – and this is not simply a matter of an earlier and a later state of one reality, there is no evidence for that.

49. Its luminosity demonstrates it! But that produces a contradiction between cause and effect.

Vedanta generally argues that Aatman is self-luminous. Preposterous, replies the saamkhya: one thing illumines another; if there is indeed illumination, there is duality.

50. In the form of consciousness, something definitely not lacking awareness illuminates that which lacks awareness.

Spirit illuminates Nature, not vice versa.

51. There is no contradiction with Scripture, it produces detachment on the part of the passionate.

A clever move! Some scriptural texts seem to be non-dualist. The saamkhya suutra argues they are merely subtle means of inducing an improved spiritual state in the hearer – so we do not have to take them literally.

52. The world is real. It comes to be from faultless causes, and there is no impediment to it.

53. Production is of the real – any other kind is impossible!

What does not exist does not come to exist – there is no way of producing the non-existent.

54. Ego is the agent, not spirit.

The spirit is aware; it does not act. What seem to me in the state of bondage to be my actions are actually the effects of Ego, and ego is one of the products of the evolution of Nature. I am not ego.

55. Awareness is empty of enjoyment, since it is procured by the karma of it.

Karma is never a property of spirit: the karmic influences that are associated with my attainment of liberation exist in the world of Nature; when liberation occurs, that karma is exhausted.

56. There is return even from the realm of the Moon when the cause exists.

57. Attainment does not come from instruction from Heaven, just as of old.

All beings that are involved in the Cosmic process are in bondage, whether gods, demons or cucumbers: heavenly beings have no special access to the means of liberation.

58. According to Scripture, attainment is by what is handed on.

59. In accordance with Scriptural accounts of its going, although it is all-pervading, by association with conditions (upaadhi) it acquires an enjoyment body in time – like the sky.

60. If there is no controller it will decay, but that is not the case.

61. If the unseen be identified as the means, that does not occur, since there is no connection – just as water as origin.

The aphorism points out that there must be a connection between cause and effect for causality to operate. The reference to water is probably to the fact that water used in the right situation and brought into contact with seeds and shoots makes plants grow, without the contact it does not.

62. Since it lacks the strands it is impossible – it is ego that has the qualities.

63. Positive and negative reasoning establishes that vitality (lit. ‘soul-ness’) belongs to that which has determinate attributes (lit. ‘has ditinction’).

Spirit, purushha, is different from soul, jiva. Spirit is eternal, pure consciousness, devoid of attributes; soul is the principle of vitality and therefore has attributes, and consequently belongs to the world of Nature.

64. The bringing about of effects depends on the agency of Ego, not the agency of God – of which there is no evidence.

65. There is a parallel with the arising of the unseen.

Thinkers who introduce the Unseen to explain whatever other causes do not explain cannot explain how the Unseen comes to exist; exactly the same happens with those who bring in God to explain things – how do they explain God?

66. All else comes from Mahat.

Whatever in the world cannot be explained by the agency of ego comes directly from Mahat. No other cause need be postulated.

67. The karma-caused relation of owner and owned in the case of Nature is without beginning, as in the case of seed and shoot.

68. Or – as Pancashikha holds – non-discrimination is the cause.

69. The teacher Sanandana says the subtle body is the cause.

The subtle body is a very fine body associated with the spirit. Spirit is all-pervasive, but in the state of bondage is associated with a subtle body and a gross body.

70. Whatever the case, the spirit’s goal is to annihilate it, the spirit’s goal is to annihilate it!

The repetition of the last phrase is a conventional way of marking the end of a section or a book, of marking the end of a section or a book.


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