Samkhya and Vedanta

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Fri Dec 17 12:33:48 CST 1999

>If Vijnanbhikshu doesn't believe in Maya how does he explain this
>ignorance.  The classical Samkhya reasoning is that the Purush has somehow
>gotten embedded in Prakrti and taken on some of its (local)
>characteristics including ignorance.

>Please post on this if you could.  Without Maya how can this
>superimposition occur?  Is it just the delusive power of God?

For all schools of ethical philosophy prior to the bhakti movement
the goal was only cessation of suffering. The SAmkhya/Yoga and
NyAya/Vaishesika fundemental ideals are very similar to the Buddha's
four noble truths. There's suffering - it is caused by desire -
for cessation of suffering desire is to be suppressed - desire is to
be suppressed in a particular way.

The "way" usually depended on each school's vision of reality. For
the Bauddhas who had no concept of a Self, their philosophical
problems were on a totally different plane from the Astikas for
whom reality was the Self. And apart from the JainAs all the schools
(excepting KumArilla Bhatta who seems to incline towards the JainA
view of an evolving Self) believed that the Self was already liberated
and it's only due to ignorance that bondage existed. The JainAs
believed in an evolving Self which when purified would be liberated.

But if we're already liberated - how can there be suffering?

So all the schools say that it is only due to ignorance as to the
true nature of things that there's bondage. And each school tries
to alienate suffering to something other than the Self - the SAmkhya
to prAkriti - Advaitam to mAyam.

According to the SAmkhya, prAkriti is primal matter with the three
qualites or gunams - sattvam, rajas and tamas - which starts off
evolution due to the mere presence of the Purushas (the question as
to what it was doing before, since both the Purushas and PrAkriti
are eternal and would have always been in the presence of each other
is raised by our AchArya - so the question of prAkriti *starting* to
evolve is meaningless - but again as the Bauddhas do, it could have
been explained away as anAdi - beginningless). Even our body and mind
are considered to be only prAkriti, while our true Self is the Purusha. The
Purusha watching the evolution of PrAkriti (body and mind) is deluded into
believing that it is that which evolves and thus falls into bondage.

But the fundamental problem is that as long as we define the Atman/Purusha
to be the "Self" - we have to identify the Atman with some part of
ourselves. And as we've seen in our discussions even on this list, to
identify the Atman with some part of ourselves and still try to prove that
the Atman/we are unaffected by empirical experience is logically impossible.

So both SAmkhya/Advaitam runs into the problem of having to handle the
ignorance. If the ignorance were a part of the Purusha - being eternal
it would always be ignorant and no liberation would be possible. But
then without ignorance how could we have fallen into bondage?

Even the classical SAmkhya texts, though they say that ignorance is the
cause of bondage, they also try to assert that ignorance only belongs to
prAkriti. But again if the ignorance belongs only to prAkriti, how could the
Purusha have fallen into bondage?

Reconciliation is impossible.

It is my opinion that if the Astika schools had not been so stuck on the
concept of a "Self" - giving it individuality and personality -
reconciliation would not have been that hard. (The other extreme end
of this view is the theory of anatta of the early Buddhist schools
who tried to totally do away with the Self and hence had to deal with
a totally different set of problems. But NAgArjuna is smarter).

If the Purusha were an impersonal entity - consciousness without
any individuality - without the "I" sense - one could just say that
it "lights" up the prAkriti into action and gives it consciousness.
Inshort PrAkriti is lifeless - jadam - and it's the Purusha without
individuality - which is the underlying truth and is unaffected by
all the actions of prAkriti.

An apt example would be a light bulb. It's electricity which gives
life to the bulb and is the truth behind it. So whether the bulb burns
or dies out, the electricity is unaffected by this. Similarly we as
our individual personality is the bulb as a whole including the
electricity. But the Atman is the impersonal electricity alone, which
is unaffected by all empirical experience ie the functions of the

So, though the Purusha is the essence of the "I" consciousness, it's
still without individuality - impersonal. Infact Ishvara Krishna says
as much - he says that when one knows that "I'm not" ie the Ego doesn't
exist - it leads to liberation - implying that individuality doesn't belong
to the Purusha. But still he didn't extend it to the Purusha and make it

One of the reasons for this may have been that since the SAmkhya advocates a
plurality of Selves, it had to distinguish each Purusha from the other and
hence the touch of individuality.
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