Sāṁkhya Karika with Vācaspati Miṣra Commentaries |Part 1


Propitiatory Verse:

Our reverential salutations to the One Unborn, Red, White and Black,
that produces many offsprings.
We also bow to those Unborn Ones who, having recourse to Her,
renounce Her after having enjoyed the pleasures bestowed by Her.
We salute the Great Muni Kapila, his disciple, the Muni Āsuri,
as also Pañcaśikhā and Īśvara Kṛṣṇa.

In this world, the exposition (of a doctrine) by an expounder is listened to only by those, who desire knowledge of that doctrine.

But one who expounds doctrines not desired is disregarded by men of critical wisdom like a mad man, as neither a man of the world nor a critical examiner expounds a doctrine which is neither related to secular things nor is worthy of critical study.

People desire to listen to an exposition of only that doctrine which, when understood, leads to the attainment of the supreme aim of man.

Since the knowledge of the subject matter to be expounded (hereafter) serves as a means to the realization of the supreme goal of man, the Author introduces the inquiry into the subject-matter:

Duḥkhatrayābhighātāt, jijñāsā tadapaghātake hetau |
dṛṣṭe sāpārthā cen, naikāntātyaṅtato abhāvāt  |1.|

Duhkhatrayābhighātāt:  From the torment by the three-fold (causes of) pain (there arises); jijñāsā: a desire for inquiry; tadapaghātake hetau: into the means of terminating it; dṛṣṭe: (there existing) visible means;
: it (ie the inquiry); apārthā: superfluous; cet: if it be said; na: (we reply) not so; ekānta- atyaṅtataḥ-abhāvāt: (since in them) there is the absence of certainty and permanency.

From the torment caused by the three kinds of pain, proceeds a desire for inquiry into the means of terminating them;

if it be said that (the inquiry) is superfluous since visible means exist, (we reply), not so; because (in the visible means) there is the absence of certainty (in the case of the means) and permanency (of pain). |1|

The subject matter of this study would not be inquired into if there existed no pain in this world; or, if existent, its removal were not desired; or, if desired, its removal were impossible. Impossibility of removal of pain is of two kinds: (a) from eternality of pain; and (b) from the ignorance of the means of removing it. Even if there existed the possibility of its removal, the non-adequacy of the means afforded by the knowledge of the subject- matter of the śastra; or, because of the existence of some other easier means (than the one explained in the subject-matter).

It cannot be said that there is no pain or that its removal is not desired (as these are opposed to experienced facts); so it is said: From the torment, i.e. by the impact of the three-fold pain. The three kinds of pain constitute ‘duḥkatraya - the triad of pain.’ These are Ādhyātmika - intra-organic, Ādhibhautika, caused by external influences, and, Ādhidaivika - caused by supernatural agencies. Here, the intra-organic is two-fold; bodily and mental. Bodily pain is caused by the disorder of wind, bile and phlegm, and mental misery is caused by lust, anger, greed, infatuation, fear, envy, grief and non-perception of particular objects. All these are called ‘intra-organic’ as they are amenable to internal remedies. Pains that are responsive to external remedies are of two-varieties; they are (a) Ādhibhautika, i.e. caused by external influences, and (b) Ādhidaivika, i.e. caused by supernatural influences. Ādhibhautika misery is caused by man, beasts, birds, reptiles and plants and inanimate things, and Ādhidaivika misery is caused by the evil influence of Yakṣa (a class of demi-gods who are described as the attendants of Kubera), Rākṣasa (goblin, evil spirit), Vināyaka (Ganeśa) and (superhuman beings that cause obstacles) and planets etc. Thus, this pain which is a particular modification of the attribute of Rajas, is experienced by every soul individually and, as such, its existence cannot be denied. Abhighāta (torment, assault) is the contact of the ‘Sentient Principle’ with the three-fold pain subsisting in the mind (internal faculty) in a disagreeable manner. Thus, the disagreeable nature of the sensation is said to be the cause of the desire for alleviating it (ie the three-fold pain, as explained above).

Though pain cannot be absolutely rooted out, yet it can be overpowered, as will be explained subsequently. Quite appropriately, therefore, it is said: Tadapaghātake hetau. Removal of these three kinds of pain is Tadapaghātake. Though ‘the triad of pain’(duḥkhatraya) forms the subordinate factor (in the compound duhkhatrayābhighātāt)’ yet, it is to be considered as proximate to Buddhi and so it is referred to by ‘tat’ in ‘tadapaghātaka.’

Here a doubt is raised: Dṛṣṭe sā apārthā cet - since visible means of remedy exist, such an inquiry is superfluous. This is the meaning: well, let there be the three kinds of pain, the desirability of their removal, and also the possibility of their removal; also granted that the means set forth in the scriptures are adequate to the removal of pain. Even then, the inquiry (into the subject matter) by men is not worthy of pursuing inasmuch as easier visible means capable of removing pain are available. Also because this knowledge of the Tattvas is attainable only with great difficulties after undergoing long and arduous course of traditional study through many generations. Says a popular maxim: ‘When honey is available in a nearby place, wherefore should one go to the mountains?’ When easier means for the attainment of the object of desire exist, which wise man will exert himself further?

Hundreds of easy remedies for physical pain are prescribed by eminent physicians. For removal of mental sufferings also we have easy remedies in the form of attainment of objects of enjoyment like charming women, pleasing drinks, food, cosmetics, dress, ornaments and the like. Likewise, we have also easy remedies for the removal of extra-organic miseries such as proficiency in the science of ethics and politics, residence in safe places etc. In the same way, we have easy remedies to get rid of troubles caused by supernatural agencies, in the shape of gems, charms etc.

Rejects the aforesaid view: Not so; why?

'Because of the absence of certainty and permanency. ’

Ekāṅta is the certainty of the cessation of pain; Atyaṅta is the non-recurrence of the pain that has been removed. The absence of the above two is denoted by the expression ekāṅtātyaṅtato abhāva. Here, the Universal affix Tasi has a genitive force. This is the purport: since the cessation of (the threefold) pain like intraorganic etc. is not seen even after employing in prescribed manner, curatives such as medicinal herbs, charming women, study of ethics and political science and use of incantations etc. there is the absence of certainty (of the removal of pain); also since we see the recurrence of pain that was once cured, (we infer that) there is also the absence of permanency (of the cure affected). Thus, though easily available, the obvious means do not bring about absolute and permanent cure. Therefore, the inquiry (into the doctrine) is certainly not superfluous.

Though the mention of the word duḥkham (in the very beginning) is inauspicious, yet the means that lead to its termination are auspicious; as such, it is quite appropriate at the commencement of a treatise.

Accepted that there is no visible means (by which the triad of pain could be removed absolutely and finally). But we have means prescribed in the Vedas such as Jyotiṣṭoma etc. lasting for a whole year, and host of other ritualistic rites which will certainly and permanently remove the three kinds of pain. The Śruti also declares: ‘One desiring heavenly enjoyments should perform sacrifices.’ Svarga is explained (in Tantra Vārtika) thus: ‘Svarga (svaḥ) is that happiness which is endless and continuous and unmixed with unhappiness, and is attained by intense longing for it;’ ‘Heaven is a special kind of happiness that counteracts unhappiness and is thus capable of extirpating misery by its own inherent power. Nor is this happiness perishable, for, the Śruti declares: ‘We drank the Soma juice and became immortal’ (Atharva-Siras-3). If it (happiness) were liable to destruction, where then is the possibility of immortality? Hence the Vedic means which are capable of removing the three-fold pain in a moment, in a few hours, in a day and night, in a month or in a year, are much easier than the Discriminative Knowledge which can be achieved only with great exertion extending over many lives. Thus, we say, the proposed enquiry (into the doctrine) is superfluous. The next Karika provides the answer to this doubt:

Dṛṣṭavad ānuśravikaḥ, sa hi aviśuddhaḥ kṣayātishayayuktaḥ |
tadviparītaḥ śreyān, vyaktāvyaktajñavijñānāt  |2|

ānuśravikaḥ: the revealed, Vedic; dṛṣṭavat: (is) like the obvious means; hi: because; saḥ: it is (i.e. the Vedic means); aviśuddhi- kṣaya-atiśaya yuktaḥ: attended with impurity, decay and excess;
tadviparītaḥ: (the means) opposite to both (the visible and the Vedic means); (and proceeding from) vyakta-avyakta- jña-vijñānāt, the Discriminative Knowledge of the Manifest, the Unmanifest and the Cogniser (Spirit); śreyān: is preferable.

The scriptural means is like the obvious means since it is linked with impurity, decay and excess.

The means contrary to both and proceeding from the Discriminative Knowledge of the Manifest, the Unmanifest and the Spirit, is superior.|2|

Ānuśrava is Veda because it is heard by the disciple following the Guru’s utterance; that is to say, it is only memorised (by the disciple) and not written down (ie created) by any one (like the Mahabharata). Thus Ānuśravika is that which is known (from the Guru in the class). Though it is Vedic, the host of ritualistic means prescribed therein are similar to the obvious remedies as both the means are equally incapable of removing the three-fold pain absolutely or permanently. Though Ānuśravika is the common denotation (for both the Karma kāṇda and the Jñāna kāṇda), it ought to be taken here as implying only the ritualistic section of the Vedas. The Śruti also declares: Atman ought to be known, realised and discriminated from the Prakṛti (Br. Up.) He (the Ātmavit) does not return, he does not return (to this world). (Ch.Up.8-15).

Reasons for the above declaration are given: It (the scriptural means) is attended with impurity, decay and excess. It is impure because sacrifices like soma yajña etc. are performed by the sacrifice of animals and destruction of corn etc. Bhagavān Pañcaśikhācārya says: It (the sacrifice of animals etc.) is slightly mixed (with impurity), remediable and bearable. Svalpaḥ- saṅkaraḥ means the admixture of the slight sin, productive of evil, caused by the slaughter of animals etc. with the principal merit born of the performance of sacrifices like Jyotiṣṭoma etc. By Saparihāra is meant that the evil is removable by certain expiatory rites. But, if due to inadvertance, expiatory rites are not observed, then, it (ie the demerit caused by the slaughter of animals) also bears fruit at the time of the fruition of the principal karma (i.e. merit). As long as these evil effects are produced so long they are borne with patience; hence it is qualified as sapratyavamarṣa. Adepts who are immersed in the huge lakes of heavenly nectar obtained by the performance of virtuous deeds bear patiently the spark of the fire of misery brought about by sin (caused by animal slaughter, etc.).

It cannot be said that the general injunction, ‘One should not injure any living being,’ sets aside the specific injunction, ‘one should kill the animal dedicated to the Agni-soma sacrifice,’ because of the absence of mutual contradiction. It is only when there is mutual contradiction, the weaker gets superseded by the stronger. Here there is no such contradiction because they deal with two quite different subjects. For, the prohibitory injunction ‘do not kill’ only declares that killing produces sin (and causes pain); but it does not do away with the fact of its being necessary for the completion of the sacrifice. The sentence: ‘kill the animal meant for Agni-soma’ only declares the necessity of animal slaughter in the performance of sacrifice; it does not suggest the absence of evil consequences arising from killing of animals. If it did so, there will be a split in the sentence to the effect that (a) killing is helpful in performing sacrifice and (b) it does not produce sin. Nor is there any contradiction between its being the cause of sin (arising from the slaughter of the animal in the sacrifice) and its (of animal slaughter) being helpful in the performance of sacrifice. Animal slaughter causes sin in man while at the same time it also helps man in the performance of the sacrifice.

Though the terms decay and excess (used in the above Kārikā) really relate to the effect, here they are attributed to the means. This quality of decay in heaven is inferred as it is a positive entity and a product. Further, it is said that sacrifices like Jyotiṣṭoma are the means of attaining mere heaven, whereas sacrifices like Vājapeya etc. lead one to self-sovereignty. This inequality in the result is what constitutes excess spoken of (in the Kārikā). Verily, the superior prosperity of one man makes another of lesser prosperity sad!

Immortality denoted in the passage ‘We drank soma and became immortal’ indicates long durability. It is said elsewhere: ‘Verily, immortality is the durability extending till the final dissolution of all the elements (i.e. of the entire universe).’ Hence, the Śruti declares: ‘Neither by deeds nor by progeny nor by wealth but by renunciation alone they attained immortality; that which the hermits enter is laid beyond the heavens and yet it shines brilliantly in the heart’ (M.N.Up.12-14); and also, ‘Sages with children and desiring wealth got only death (as reward) by actions while those other sages who were wise attained immortality which is beyond all actions.’

With all this in view, it is said: the means contrary to them (to both and proceeding from the Discriminative Knowledge of the Manifest, the Unmanifest, and the Spirit) is preferable. Therefore, that which is contrary to the Vedic means of alleviating pain, such as drinking of soma etc. which are impure and which bring about results that lack permanency and equality, is the pure means which, unmixed with evil (on account of animal slaughter) etc. brings about permanent and most superior (unsurpassed) results. (This is clear from) the often repeated declarations of the Śruti that a person of Discriminative Knowledge never returns to metempsychosis. Now, it is not proper to say that this result (of knowledge) is impermanent inasmuch as it is a caused entity; because, such arguments hold good only if the effect is a positive entity; in the present case, however, removal of pain which though an effect, is a negative entity and is therefore otherwise. Nor can it produce some other pain, because, no effect can take place when the cause itself becomes defunct, for, causal activity lasts only till such time as the attainment of Discriminative Knowledge. And this will be explained later on (in Kārikā No.66).

The literal meaning of the words of the Kārikā is this: The means of destroying pain in the form of immediate Discriminative Knowledge of the Spirit as different from Matter, is contrary to the Vedic means that are capable of removing pain, and hence it is preferable. The Vedic means also are good inasmuch as they are prescribed by the Veda and as such capable of alleviating pain to a certain extent. The Discriminative Knowledge of the Spirit as distinct from Matter is also good; of these two excellent means, the Discriminative Knowledge of the Spirit that is quite distinct from Matter, is superior.

Question: When indeed does this (knowledge) arise?

Answer: From the right knowledge of the Manifested, the Unmanifested and the Cogniser. The knowledge of the Manifested precedes the knowledge of the Unmanifested which is the cause of the former; and from the fact of these existing for another’s purpose, the knowledge of Puruṣa is gained. Thus it is seen that these three are mentioned in the order of precedence of the knowledge thereof. The meaning of all this is that the knowledge of the Spirit as distinct from Matter is gained first by having heard with discrimination the real nature of the Manifested etc. from the Śruti (Vedas), Smṛti (Canonical texts), Itihāsa (historical accounts) and Puranas (mythology); then, by duly having established the same through scientific reasoning, and finally by absorbing that knowledge into oneself by earnest and uninterrupted contemplation for a long time. It is explained thus (in Karika-64): ‘Thus, from the practice of Truth, is produced the wisdom in the form: ‘I am not, naught is mine, and not ‘I’, which is complete and pure on account of the absence of error and which is absolute.’

Having thus first established the fact of the usefulness of the scientific enquiry to the enquirer, the author, with a view to commence the work, sets down briefly the import of the system with a view to focusing the attention of the enquirer:

Mūlaprakṛtir avikṛtir, mahadādyāḥ prakṛtivikṛtayah sapta |
shodashakas tu vikāro, na prakṛtir na vikṛtih puruṣah  |3.|

Mūlaprakṛtiḥ: The root evolvent (or Primal Nature); Avikṛtiḥ: is non-evolute; Mahadādyāḥ: Mahat etc; Prakṛtivikṛtayaḥ: evolvent and evolutes; Sapta: are Seven; ṣoḍaśakaḥ: sixteen; tu: are merely; vikārāḥ: evolutes; Puruṣaḥ: the Spirit; na: is neither; Prakṛtiḥ: the evolvent; na: not; Vikṛtiḥ: the evolute.

The Primal Nature is non-evolute.
The group of seven beginning with the Great Principle (Buddhi) and the rest are both evolvents and evolutes.
But the sixteen (five organs of sense, five of action, the mind and the five gross elements) are only evolutes.
The Spirit is neither the evolvent nor the evolute.|3|

Briefly, the objects treated in the Scripture are of four varieties. Some objects are merely evolvents; some objects are merely evolutes; some are both evolvents and evolutes. Some others are neither the evolvent nor the evolute.

Question: What is the Primal evolvent?

Answer: The Primal Nature is non-evolute. That which procreates or evolves (i.e. brings into existence other Tattvas) is Prakṛti, it is also called Pradhāna, the Primordial, representing the state of equipoise of (the attributes) of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas and is non-evolute, that is to say, it is only an Evolvent. It is explained: Mūla. It is the Root-evolvent (Mūla Prakṛti) because it is the root (of all other evolutes) while also being at the same time the Primal Matter. It is the root of the aggregate of all products (ie the universe), while it has no root of its own (i.e. it is uncaused). (If a cause to Prakṛti also is posited) it would land us in unwarranted regressus ad infinitum, because, a further cause of that cause would also have to be postulated and this would lead to an endless series of causes which is irrational and not consistent with valid reason.

Question: How many are the objects which are both evolvents and evolutes? And which are those?

Answer: Evolvent-evolutes are seven beginning with Mahat, ie they are both evolvent and evolutes. The Great Principle (Mahat or Buddhi) is the cause of Ahaṅkāra. (I-Principle), while it is itself {being) the product of the Root evolvent. Similarly, the Principle of Ahaṅkāra is the cause of the five Primary elements (Tanmātras) and (eleven) sense-organs (Iṅdriyas), itself being the effect of Buddhi. In the same way, the five Primary elements are the causes of gross elements like the ether (ākāśa) etc. while they are themselves the evolutes of Ahaṅkāra, the I-Principle.

Question: How many are the evolutes and what are they?

Answer: Evolutes are ‘sixteen’ in number; ‘Sixteen’ because they are limited by that number; they are: five gross elements and eleven sense organs; these are merely evolutes (modifications) and not evolvent. The particle tu (in the text) is used to emphasise this. (Though tu is placed before vikārāḥ in the text) it should be taken as coming after vikārāḥ. Cow, jar, tree, etc. are the modifications of ‘earth’ element; similarly, curd and sprout are of milk and seed respectively, milk and seed being modification of cow and tree. This difference does not affect (the above position) because tree etc. are not different from earth in their essence. It is the productiveness of something different in essence for which the term Prakṛti stands and cow, tree, etc. do not differ from each other in essence. This is proved by the fact that they all have the common property of being gross and are perceptible by the senses.

Now, that which is neither of the above two, is described thus: ‘The Spirit is neither an evolute nor an evolvent.’ All this will be explained later on.

In order to establish the above proposition, the different kinds of proof (valid means of cognition) ought to be described.

A special definition cannot be framed without first framing the general definition. Therefore, common definitions of the means of right cognition follow:

Dṛṣṭam anumānam āptavacanam ca sarvapramāṇasiddhatvāt |
trividham pramāṇam ishtam, prameyasiddhiḥ pramānād dhi  |4.|

Dṛṣṭam: perception; anumānam: inference; ca: and; āptavacanaṁ: statement of trust-worthy persons ;. sarvapramāṇa- siddhatvāt: because (by these three) all (other) proofs are (also) established; trividhaṁ: three fold; pramāṇaṁ: proof; iṣṭam: intended; pramāṇāt hi: through the means of cognition alone; prameyasiddhiḥ: establishment of things to be proved.

Perception, Inference and Valid Testimony are the means; (by these) all other means of right cognition too are established (as they are included in the above three); proof is intended to be of three kinds. It is through the proofs that the provables are established. |4|

Here, the term pramāṇa (means of cognition) indicates the things to be defined; the explanation of the term is definition; pramāṇa is that by which things are rightly cognised; because of this (explanation) pramāṇa comes to be recognised as the instrument of right cognition. And this is a modification of the mind (cittavṛtti) in relation to an object, which is free from (such defects as) ambiguity, perversion, and non-apprehension. Right cognition is the result brought about by this instrument in the form of apprehension by a human agent, and its means is pramāṇa. By this the definition of pramāṇa does not apply to all other means which lead to doubt, wrong apprehension and recollection.

The author rejects conflicting views with regard to the- number of pramāṇas by declaring that they are of three kinds, that is to say, of the common means of Right Cognition there are only three kinds, neither more nor less. This we shall explain after first explaining special definitions (of the means of Right Cognition).

Question: Which are the three kinds of proofs?

Answer: Perception, Inference and Valid Testimony are the three kinds of proofs. These three are the generally accepted popular forms of proofs. A philosophical system is expounded for the benefit of common mass of people because they alone benefit from it. The intuitive knowledge of yogins who have transcended earthly things, is not in any way helpful to the understanding of ordinary man; hence it is not treated here though it truly exits.

Objection: Let it be so. The number of proofs may not be less than three; but why should it not be more than three? Others (like Gautama) indeed speak of more pramāṇas such as Analogy (upamāna) and the rest.

Reply: Because in these three, all other proofs are included, ie all other forms of proofs are included in these three, viz, Perception, Inference and Valid Testimony. This will be explained later on.

Question: The express purpose of the Scripture is to establish the provables. Then, why should the scripture define the proofs as common and Special?

Answer. ‘Because apprehension of provables is possible only through proofs.’ Here siddhiḥ (in the text) means apprehension.

The explanation of the Kārikā follows the order of sense ignoring the sequence of words (following the practise by respectable elders).

Now, while defining the special proof, the author first of all defines Perception because, a) it is superior among proofs; b) other proofs like inference etc. are dependent on it; and c) all parties are agreed with regard to its primacy.