[Advaita-l] Samkhya, Yoga and Kapila

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Thu Dec 25 11:21:52 CST 2003

On Wed, 24 Dec 2003, Raghavendra N Kalyan wrote:

> Namaste,
> I have some questions on sAmkhya, yoga and Kapila muni.
> 1. According to the mahAbhArata, Kapila muni, the founder of sAmkhya, is
>    an incarnation of viSNu. But sAmkhya is atheistic. How can there be
>    an incarnation who does not believe in himself?

It is not impossible.  According to the Puranas, Shakyamuni Buddha is also
an avatar of Vishnu Bhagavan.  He took that form in order to confound the
Asuras and weaken them by teaching heresy.  Unfortunately, it "leaked" out
to the Humans.  The Charvaka or materialist school is also supposed to
have been founded by Brhaspati the Guru of the Devas for similiar reasons
and with similiar consequences.

However in this case there is a different explanation.  The Vedic Rshis
like Kapila in the course of their speculations developed different
approaches to philosophy.  So in the early stages Samkhya and Yoga just
mean something like "theory" and "practice."  Later on they crystalized
into formal systems of doctrine possibly as the result of debates against
Buddhists and other rivals.  (One of the Buddhas early teachers Arada
Kamala was a Samkhya but the Buddha rejected his teachings in favor of his
middle path.)  It is this systematic Samkhya as expressed in e.g.
Samkhyakarikas which is atheistic.  Even in this tradition Kapila is said
to be of divine origin, either an avatar of Hiranyagarbha (Brahma) or
Hiranyagarbha Himself.  However it is his knowledge not divine status
which makes him important so the atheist label is apt.  other samkhya
variants (as in e.g. Vaishnava and Shaiva agamas.) were more explicitly
theistic.  The presentation of Samkhya in e.g. Mokshadharma portion of
Mahabharata also reflects this theistic Samkhya.  All these types
considered Kapila as their founder even if they didn't quite agree on what
he taught.

> 2.sAmkhya and yoga have Kapila as their founder, according to the
> mahAbhArata. How then, can the former be atheistic while the latter is
> not? Or, is there an atheistic thought in yoga also?

No, the chief philosophical difference between classical Samkhya and
classical Yoga (yogasutras, vyasabhashya etc.) is that Yoga accepts
Ishvara as the 26th tattva.

But this is all moot because the classical forms of Sankhya and Yoga were
absorbed and reinterpreted by Vedanta to the extent that people talk about
"Yogavedanta" without even being aware that they were once two different

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>
It's a girl! See the pictures - http://www.braincells.com/shailaja/

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