Samkhya - the Upanishads?

Vidyasankar Sundaresan vidya at CCO.CALTECH.EDU
Tue Dec 2 17:00:45 CST 1997

On Tue, 2 Dec 1997, Chandran, Nanda (NBC) wrote:

> I'm reading S.Radhakrishnan's translation of the Bhagavat Gita and in
> the second chapter dealing with the Samkhya thought, he says it's not
> the school of thought as taught by Kapila, but the Upanishads. I
> remember Vidyashankar, in a previous post, saying that the Gita borrows
> the varna concept from the Samkhya 'school' of thought, which led me to
> think he referred to one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy.
> Though it's condisdered as one of the the orthodox schools, how would
> 'Samkhya thought' refer to the Upanishads? Can the knowledgable explain?

Authors in the Samkhya school contend that the origins lie in the
upanishads, while Vedantins contend that this is not so.

And, although Kapila is the legendary founder of Samkhya, the oldest text
in this school is the Samkhyakarika of Isvarakrishna. However, various
sub-traditions in Samkhya are referred to, in the Mahabharata and other
Puranic texts. The dominant tradition among these, that has come to be
identified as Samkhya, is a non-theistic school, in which purusha and
prakriti are eternal, separate realities, and there is a multitude of
purushas. Clearly, this is not supported fully in the Upanishads.

What complicates this nomenclature is that the Gita itself often refers to
Samkhya, but what it describes there as Samkhya is nothing but Vedanta.
That is the reason for Radhakrishnan's statement. Sankara's bhashya says
so too. What is called Samkhya in the Gita and what is called Samkhya in
the scheme of the six traditional schools are not identical.


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