Samkhya in Gita and Mahabharata

The Mahabharata was written not too long after the time of the great sage Pancasikha. Therefore Samkhya’s true influence was still strong. Besides, since the Mahabharata is not a work of the Samkhya school we get in it an objective and impartial account of the Samkhya system in its historical perspective.

The viewpoint of Gita is basically the same as that of Samkhya and Yoga. Devotion to Isvara – to both the all knowing  all-powerful Lord of the universe, Hiranyagarbha of Samkhya (Samkhya-sutra 3.56) and eternally liberated Isvara of Yoga – is a prominent theme that is found everywhere in Gita, it keeps recurring right through. Yoga aphorisms (1.23 and 2.45) mention devotion to Isvara as an accessory of Yoga for stabilising the mind leading ultimately to attainment of liberation. All through, Gita seeks to bring about a harmonious blending of the ultimate constituent principles of Samkhya with the authority and lordship of Isvara. For true devotion one needs to have correct and complete knowledge of Isvara. It is adequately provided in Gita in various ways, e.g. the universe itself serving as a part of his all-pervasive form. This has led  some to conclude that Gita propagates theism more than other religious texts. But what Gita says of Isvara is nothing more than  what is given in the terse Samkhya aphorism (3.56): His knowledge and authority are all-embracing. Gita has merely dealt with these aspects in greater detail. (… more in “An Analysis of the Views expressed in Gita” article in Progressive and Practical Samkhya-Yoga)

Some of the quotes from Mahabharata on Samkhya are as follows:

Bhisma telling Yudhisthira –

“The lofty wisdom that is to be found in the Vedas, among great men and in the schools of the Samkhyas and the Yogins, and the variety of knowledge  that is obtained from the Puranas and other works have come, O King , in their entirety from Samkhya. Whatever is of outstanding worth in history and political science, the cherished code of conduct of disciplined minds and what all is great and useful in everyday life have all come, O noble-hearted, from Samkhya. Again (shining) examples of peace, superior power and absolute knowledge that one comes across are all correctly explained in Samkhya which also delineates the highest norms of both asceticism and sensorial pleasure.”

“There is no delusion or confusion in the Samkhya system. It has many virtues and no disadvantages” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/4)

“The conduct of the Samkhya follower is such that if someone speaks offensively to him or hurts him physically, he does not think ill of his adversary but continues  to exercise his goodwill towards him.” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/35)

“Samkhya-yogins are free of attachment and hatred. They are impartial towards their fellow-beings and are inclined towards  Brahman or Atman or Purusha. They neither desire anything nor are they averse to anything. They are content with whatever little is essential for their existence” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/36)

“They are not troubled by common afflictions such as greed and distress. Their minds are tranquil and undisturbed.” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/37)

“The path of worldliness leads to death. They contemplate the path of liberation which terminates rebirth and pain resulting therefrom.” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/78)

“They are free from inner conflict, that is, they are not troubled by attachment, hatred, cold or heat.” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/79)

“The Samkhya system is described as aksara because its authenticity has been acknowledged by all and at all times, that it is immutable” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/101)

“The Samkhya system is vast, because the followers of other systems who have become  enlightened have followed the path of Samkhya, propounded by Kapila, whether they acknowledge it or not. Samkhya is beautiful, beneficial and worthy to be adopted, the eternally liberated Isvara is attired in the knowledge of Samkhya” – (Mahabharata, Santiparva 301/114)