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Saturday, September 19, 2020

On the Discussions of Samkhya in the Mahabharata

The Bhagavad-Gita and Mokshdharm sections of the Mahabharata contain several valuable passages explicating the principles of Samkhya which is described as the one system of liberation through knowledge. Even the approximate date of the Mahabharata is impossible to determine, but most modern scholars place the epic in the fourth or fifth century B.C. In his 1901 book The Great Epic of India, Edward Washburn Hopkins notes that Kapila, the legendary founder of Samkhya, is the only founder of a philosophical system known to the Mahabharata; Kapila is described a “supreme seer, identical with Agni, with Shiva also, and with Vishnu. Kapila is said to have received his wisdom from Shiva.” The Mahabharata accepts that Kapila’s Samkhya system is devoid of belief in a personal supreme god, but the epic uses his authority to uphold the systems founded by other gods and teachers—many of the teachers are described as Kapila’s disciples. There are several verses in the Bhagavad-Gita in which there is discussion of the difference between the Samkhya and the Yoga systems. In one of the verses, it is noted that there are three kinds of Yoga: samkhyayoga (liberation through knowledge and solitude), dhyanayoga (liberation through self-discipline and meditation), and karmayoga (liberation through righteous action).  From this verse, it might be inferred that Samkhya was once seen as the original form of Yoga—dhyanayoga and karmayoga are part of the Yoga System.

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