Sankhya And Buddhism; An Analytical Study

The world is full of riddles. Man can only try to solve these riddles gradually, step by step; yet lie will never know the world completely. Philosophy persuades a man to be engaged in a constant search in order to know the surrounding phenomena and himself.

The word ‘Philosophy’ consists of two Greek words, ‘Philos’ and ‘Sophia’. ‘Philos’ stands for ‘Love’ and ‘Sophia’ denotes Knowledge. Hence the etymological meaning of the term is the love of wisdom. ‘Darsana’ is the word which is generally used at the place of ‘Philosophy’ in Sanskrit language, but as one closely examines the word, ‘Darsana’ it is used in the wider sense in ‘Sanskrit’ than Greek. The word ‘Darsana’ is derived from the root, ‘Drs’ which means ‘to see’ or ‘to behold’. ‘The word, however, is not applied in general sense of looking or ‘watching rather it stands for direct, immediate and inductive vision of Reality what we see with our outer eyes is just to know the things or recognize their characteristics, while ‘Darsana’ signifies the meaning which explains the real nature or shape of the object around us, or in other words it can be said that the word; ‘Darsana’ unveils the real identify of the surrounding phenomena, the term, philosophy, while stresses on ‘Love of knowledge or on intellectual quest only. ‘Darsana’ unveils the truth of life and also leads the way to ‘Moksha’ (Liberation). It is well known that the aim of cognition is the achievement of truth and on its basis, fulfilling the new tasks facing humanity. The early thinkers tried to grapple with the whole of reality with their limited resources.

There are several philosophical concepts, which were pondered over by various schools of thought around 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. in eastern region of the world. The school of ‘Sankhya’ and Buddhism are one of those philosophical systems.

‘Sankhya’, one of the famous philosophical streams of thought, marks the shifting of idea from Vedic ‘monism’ to the concept of dualism as the primar cause of the universe. Here we ha the critical attitude in philosophy developed.

‘Sankliya’, the word is derived from the term ‘Sankhya’, which means right knowledge as well as the number ‘Bhagwat Gita’, the most popular philosophical scripture of ‘Hindu’, uses the word in the sense of knowledge’. Sankhya is also the philosophy of numbers, because it deals with twenty categories as the primary elements, which take part in the course of evolution o the universe. Like Sankhya, Pythagoras, the Greek philosopher (600-580 B.C.) also believes that whatever exists, exit in numbers.

Sankhya, the philosophy is known for its pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and an uncompromising dualism.

It is very hard to establish the exact period of the creation of Sankhya philosophy. Yet, with the help of several stray references, the modern scholars like Garbe establishes ‘Sankhya’ as the oldest school of thought among sutra literature regarding philosophies. But the ‘Sankhya’ did not become a well-coordinated system until after the rise of Buddhism.

‘Sankhya’ is the only philosophical school in Hinduism, which deals metaphysical aspects in a systematic manner. Philosophical tradition unanimously regards Kapil, as the founder of this system.

The Philosophy of Buddhism is directly related to misery and pain of human beings and the ultimate aim is to get rid of these sufferings. Barren metaphysical speculations are avoided in this system. In Buddhism also the ultimate truth is stressed upon, but that truth was discovered by Gautam Buddha offer rigorous practices. It was in the sixth century B.C. that the world saw the light of Asia. The four Noble truth, which was delivered by Gautam Buddha was not just a declaration of a new thought but was filly examined by the Lord himself. Verbal speculation is denied in Buddhism, as Buddha himself says ‘examine the truth and follow. And this notion is correctly applied to the term, Buddha, which means who has know truth. Thus having grasped the truth Siddarth Gautam delivered it to the people without discriminating them on the basis of caste, creed or colour.
Since the aim is to present a comparative analysis of the theories of ‘Sankhya’ and Buddhism, the brief introduction of the basic concepts of the both systems are needed to be focused and compared with each other. As it is known that dissatisfaction with other philosophy begins with intellectual deepening.

Concept of world Philosophy signifies a natural and necessary urge in human beings to know themselves and the world in which they live and move and have their beings. In this connection the concept of world in both of the schools is needed to he focused.
In Sankhya

This system emphasizes on dualism. There are two eternal realities the Prakriti’ and the ‘Purusa’, “Prakriti”. The world is supposed the root cause of the world, the world is the manifestation of Prakriti. The world is not the creation of the Gods but is evolution. Evolution is again said to be teleological and is not mechanical or blind. Evolution takes place to serve the Purusa, the soul. Purusa needs Prakriti for liberation and Prakriti wants Purusa for enjoyment.

‘Prakriti is the unity of three Gunas.’ These three gunas are always in state of movement. At the time of evolution heterogeneous change takes place. The state of equilibrium of three ‘Gunas’ (Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas) is disturbed and evolution takes place. In the time of dissolution, there is homogeneous change (Sarupa Parinama) in Prakriti, means the all three Gunas stay in the state of equilibrium. The cause of development follows a definite law of succession. Prakriti is eternal, who created the ‘Prakriti’ is the question, which will not reach the end or in other words the absence of conclusion will occur.

Buddhist scholars on the basis of logical arguments refute the above theory of evolution. In this connection, the passages of Bodhichary Vatara’ must be quoted. According to the author of ‘Bodhicharya-Vatara’, three separate Gunas cannot be the constituents of one (single) Prakriti and thus the ‘Prakriti’ is not ‘eternal’. Similarly, ‘Gunas’ are also not eternal because they consist three qualities. And if they themselves are not eternal how the products (the world) can be considered real.

Again one object cannot be subtle and gross both, because ‘Sankhya’ forwards its view that ‘Prakriti’ cannot be seen in its nature due to its subtleness.

Evolution theory in Buddhism

In early Buddhism (like in ‘Vaibhasika) school it has been attempted to elaborate the evolutional character of the world in its origin from subtle content, which gradually becomes manifest and complex in character. Physical and psychological compositions of world were dealt by the author of Abhidharma kosa. The most subtle elements are know as the ‘reals’ or ‘Dharmas’ existing for the three phases of time i.e. the past, the present and the future. Each element is known as parmanu or atom, which is momentary (Ksanika). The Parmanus’ are of four classes Viz, Ksiti (earth), Ap (water), Vayu (air), and Tejas (fire). These ‘Pramanus are always found is mobile groups or in a flowing but composite state. The constituted (Samskrita) picture of the world is made of the groups of those atoms. The phenomena of psychological composition is constituted by the five Skandhas.

(Rupa, vedna, Samjna, Vijnana, and Sanskars) i.e. matter, feeling, perception, consciousness and impression respectively. Ordinarily the creatures are free of impurities (Sasrva, Nivrta) and remain nutral (Avyakrta). They get entangled into suffering due to respective activity. Though both the system the sarvastivada Buddhism and Sankhya seem to be realistic, they differ each other on basic points. The products of Shankya are not momentary. Again all the evolutes arc the products of one Prakriti either matter (Physical elements) or conscious (Buddhi in Sankhya) because purusa in Sankhya remains aloof throughout the whole process of evolution. Again ‘Avidya’ (ignorance) is the root cause of whole evolution in Buddhism whereas in Sankhya it is ‘Purusa’ who is entangled in the world due to Avidya, not Prakriti. Moreover realistic approach of early Buddhism was itself refuted by its Mahayani adherents. The adherents of Mahayans, mainly Nagarjuna, on the basis of Dependent origination presents the world as illusory, because the elements depends on their preceding elements so if they themselves are interdependent how they can create the real world. Though Nagarjuna, on the basis of most convincing arguments establish the concept of world as dream or illusion; he acquires the middle way which paves the way towards two truths, the one practical truth and another Absolute truth. Both truths are justifies with strong arguments in arguments in later Buddhism.

Sankhya theory of soul

According to Sankhya philosophy soul or the ‘Purusa’ is the another co-present, co-eternal reality. The ‘Purusas’ are the soul, or the spirit and the subject and the knower. It is the principal of consciousness. Sankhya proves the existence of ‘Purusa’ with the help of five arguments. Unlike ‘Advait’ Vedanta and like Jainism and Mimansa Sankhya believes in the plurality of souls. It believes in qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism. Pluralities of souls are established by this system.

In Buddhism the existence of soul is negated out right It does not believe either plurality of souls or an absolute soul As far as Sankhya theory of pluralism of soul is concerned it contradicts its own theory. The process which are put forward not much convincing. It gives the reason for manyness of purusas. that if there were only one Purusa, the birth or death or bondage or liberation or experience of pleasure or pain or indifference of one should lead to the same result in the case of all, Sankhya, however itself sticks to the idea that Purusas are not the subject to birth, death, or bondage or liberation. In Bodhicharyavatara also the pluralily of ‘Purusa is refuted.

Negation of the concept of soul in Buddhism

Almost all theistic philosophical schools establish the eternal existence of soul. Sonic accept it as the ‘one’ and the universe is either the transformation of soul or the unreal appearance of that one supreme soul. Lord Buddha was the one who denied the ultimate reality of soul.
The talk between venerable Nagasem and King Milind is the most remarkable explanation regarding the concept of soul: Just as the chariot on account of different parts, known as chariot, similarly ‘soul’ or ‘individuality’ or ‘being’ is only generally understood symbol for the five Skandhas. It is neither Skandha nor apart from Skandhas. No permanent ‘soul’ is involved in the matter. In early Buddhist texts such as ‘Abhidhamakosa’ the stream of personality is elaborated in following passage. Thus, this life being connected with the other and the Patisandhi conviousness having sunk down, the stream of Personality flows on, on that very object, like the current of a river, continuously being interrupted at intervals only by the courses of cognition till his death. This Row is called Bhavanga as it forms a part of the beings existence. It is arrested only when he gets a course of cognition in his consciousness. At the end when he is at the point of death, it functions at the ‘Cuti-Citta’ and then ceases. Thus the cycle of patisandhi, Bhavanga and so on turns round and round like the wheel of a chariot. The stream consciousness flows on from life to life in the circle of Patisandhi, Bhavavga, vitthi and cuti. In later Buddhism, (Mahayans) however, the real existence of Skandhas elements (matter) are denied. They assert that the Skandhas are the products of imagination. The so-called suffering beings, due to ignorance (Avidya) think Skandhas’ as real entities. So the truth according to Mahayanists is ‘Sunya.’ So the Mahayani are one step ahead who believe not only pudgal sunyata hut they establish the concept: ‘Dharmanairatmya’ (essencelessness of Dharmas). ‘The passion or desires arise on account of a belief in a ‘self’ so when one realizes the non existence of self the egoism is destroyed, and as a result his passions are eliminated.”

Law of Causation in Sankhya

Almost all theistic and atheistic philosophies of this region believe that there is always cause or causes behind an effect. This causal theory however, is interpreted by those of the schools in various ways.

The causal theory of ‘Sankhya’ is very much known to the scholars of Philosophy and at the same time it prepares the ground for establishing different opinions regarding law of causation. The theory advocated by the school of ‘Sankhya’ is known as ‘Satkarya vada’. According to this theory the effect per-exists in the bosom of its cause. Effect is the manifestation of the cause. There are found various arguments in the support of ‘Satkaryavada’ theory in Sankhya Karika.” Along with the plurality of souls and Prakriti as the root cause of the universe, the theory of Satkarya Vada is established as wrong perception in ‘Bodhicharyavara. The arguments in the favour of Satkaryavada are so vague that the author of Bodhicharya vanara says that this concept establishes the view that seed and cotton both are equally useful for wearing. Again the worldy people also must be able to grasp the existence of effect in the cause, but it is not so. If the beings are not considered authentic, how the producer will be authentic subsequently there will not remain difference between Sankhya and Buddhism.

Causal theory in Buddhism

Causal theory in almost all Philosophical Systems of the world is the subject of contemplation. The relation between cause and effect is pondered over and over. The philosophies belonging to Indian region also consist diverse ideas regarding the concept of causal status of existing phenomena. Some of the eastern philosophers have a conviction that effect primarily exists in the bosom of the cause, and only it turns into its being when suitable and favorable environment occurs. On the other hand some of the adherents of eastern schools ire stick to the idea that effect is a new creations, it does not pie-exists in the cause. Though the two above stream of thoughts are encountered in six theistic philosophies, Buddhism and to some extant Sankara /Vedanta establish the theories, which are not consistent with above thoughts.

The causal theory of Buddhism differs with other causal theories of various schools. The distinctive characteristic of Buddhism is its theory of Middle path (Madhama Pratipada). Almost every main doctrines of this school reflect the notion of Middle way. Law of causation can also be defined in accordance with this thinking.

Buddhism is an experience-oriented philosophy. Having been inspired by experiences of sufferings, Lord Buddha went out in the search of the cause of various worldly sufferings. And them comes the theory of Dependent origination, which starts on the point of ignorance (Avidya). He not only found the causes of suffering but the way to eradicate those suffering were also sought out by him. Dependent origination however is not only the causal theory, it is that corner where the entire Buddhist Philosophy is stored.

Lord Buddha realized that desire is the builder of human body and tracing back to its original source, he discovered what come to be s knon n as (lie twelve linked chain of causation (Dwadasa Nidanas).

“The term’ ‘Pratitya Samutpada is constituted of two words, ‘Pratitya and Samutpada. The word ‘Samutpada’ means appearance or arising and ‘Pratitya’ means after getting. The two words together means arising after getting. The elements after getting which some other elements arise are called the causes (hetu) and the grounds (Pratyaya). The term hetu and ‘pratyaya’ (Pratititya) are often used in the same sense although the term, ‘pratyaya’ at times, bears out a distinct sence. Hence when it is said that ‘avidya’ is the pratyaya of Sanskaras, it is the ground of their movement, of the instrument, through which these stand, of their conglomeration of their inter connection, of their intelligibility, of their conjoint arising of their function as cause and of their function as ground with reference to those that are determined by them.

The hetu’ aspect of the causal chain embraces only the fact of succession while the Pratyaya aspect the nature of cause as ground.

The verse of ‘Mahavugga’ reveals the causation aspect of ‘Pratitya samutpada “Ye dhamma hetuppabhava tesam hetum thagato; aha tesam ca yo nirodho evam vadi mahasamano . The verse means, the transcendent one has revealed the origin as welt as the end of all those things that are produced by cause, this is the teaching of the great sage.
The theory of causation of Buddhism neither admits the Satkarya vada nor accepts the theory of Nyaya vaisesika (new creation of effect, Arambhavada). In Buddhist die effect is produced depending oil the cause and disappears with the appearance of the cause.

This causal theory of Buddhism if will be view from another angle, it will be clear that this theory leads towards the concept of sunyata which in its turn is identified with Nihshvabhava and also with Madhyama Pratitada. Consequently the entire Buddhist thought appear as one systematic and harmonious Philosophical activity.

So the Sankhya causal theory where only justify the causal aspect of Prakriti, Buddhism covers the whole metaphysical approach of this school and proves that the whole creation is interlinked and ultimately is essence less.

Concept of God

Concept of the creator of the universe, the supreme entity or the Brahma is found right from veda to Nyaya Vaisesika. Though this highest power is accepted by various philosophies, the concept varies with one another.


The school of Sankhya denies the existence of God. According to Sankhya system Prakriti and ‘Purusa’ are sufficient to explain this universe Sankhya presents many arguments against the existence of God.

In Buddhism

The Buddhist thinkers equally used logics in proving the existence and no-existence (Mahayans) of surrounding Phenomena. Hut both the Buddhist stream deny the existence of God as a creator of the world. The theory of Dependent origination and Karma’ are sufficient to prove the existence and non existence of the world.

Sankhya and Buddhism both of the systems put arguments in the favour of non existence of God, but where in Buddhism Avidya is the root cause of the emergence of world, Sankhya presents ‘Avidya as secondary cause for whole worldly activities. Why ‘Prakriti’ manifested itself in non-eternal phenomena, is unanswered in Sankhya. As the example of lame and blind is not satisfactory iii the context of world evolution.

Concept of Liberation

Worldly pleasure as well as ultimate liberation is the main aim of eastern philosophies. These philosophical schools always have emphasized the need of practical realization of the truth.

In Sankhya

Sankhya stresses on the complete cessation of all sufferings and considers it as the highest end of life. Among Purusa’ and ‘Prakriti ‘Purusa’ is free from all follies and is pure consciousness. It is completely away from bondage and liberation. But when it mistakes its reflection in the Buddhi and identifies itself wrongly with the intellect the ego, the mind, it thinks it is bound. Through right knowledge it identifies its true nature and realizes himself above all the bondages and liberation. This state is called liberation of ‘Purusa’. In Sankhya liberation is the state of complete isolation, freedom from all pain and return of the ‘Purusa to its nature of consciousness. No pleasure no bliss, as pleasure arid bliss are the result of Sattva Guna.

In Buddhism

Siddhartha Gautam found the pleasure and ambitions of the world unsatisfying and left his home in the search of ultimate satisfaction. His search ended at Saranath in Deer park. He visualized the truth in the form of four noble truths and ”eight fold paths Apart from first two truths the deals third ‘Noble truth’ deals the nature of Nirvana, the liberation. The world is full of sufferings and the Nirvana is the end of those sufferings. The concept and explanation regarding Nirvana “as interpreted by early and later Buddhists in their own way. The elaboration of the meaning of the single word ‘Nirvana’ Presented various concepts of this very state of annihilation of miseries.

The etymological meaning of Nirvana is cessation of desire. In the word Nirvana, nit’ the prefix, stands for the term Nirodha (cessation) and the Suffix Van’ represents desire so collectively the meaning of the word is ‘cessation of desire’. In early Buddhism the cessation of desire and freedom from the cycle of death and 6irth is thought as emancipation. The state of Nirvana is compared with the state of extinguished lamp. But in later Buddhism it was put for warded that the realization of Pudgalsunyta’ and cessation of miseries are not sufficient to know the complete truth. Thus the realization ‘Dharma Nairatmya’ was emphasize in developed Buddhist thoughts. It exceeded to that extant that there remained no difference between Sansara’ and ‘Nirvana.

The concept of liberation in Sankhya and Buddhism thus present different views. In Sankhya the annihilation of miseries and the knowledge of self is emancipation. Where as in Buddhism the reality must he encountered, which is beyond expression.

To sum up it can be said that both of the philosophical system tried to put metaphysical speculation on the basis of logical arguments, Sankhya could not forward much authentic logics in the l of its concepts, as Buddhism did.

Nivedita K. Mishra

One Comment on “Sankhya And Buddhism; An Analytical Study”

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