As I discuss in this question, by far the most popular school of Hindu philosophy is the Vedanta school. But there are five other Astika or orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy: Purva Mimamsa, Samkhya, Yoga, Vaisheshika, and Nyaya. My question is about Samkhya school, which believed that there were two kinds of entities in the Universe, Purushas or souls and Prakriti or matter/energy, and that Prakriti takes on a variety of forms in the presence of Purushas. And they rejected the existence of a supreme being.

In any case, the Samkhya school was founded by someone named Kapila. This name is highly significant, because Hindu scripture speaks of a Rishi named Kapila, who was an incarnation of Vishnu and the son of Brahma's son Kardama and his wife Devahuti. This Kapila taught his mother Devahuti about philosophy, and he burnt the sons of king Sagara to ashes, which ultimately led to the descent of the Ganga river as I discuss here. Yet when we examine the teachings of Kapila to his mother Devahuti, in the third Skandha of the Srimad Bhagavatam, we see that they're very different from the doctrines of the Samkhya school; not only does Kapila acknowledge the existence of a supreme being, he also teaches his mother about the importance of Bhakti Yoga or devotional service to Vishnu.

Now I wrote this fictional dialogue to try to reconcile how the Samkhya school could reject the existence of a supreme being despite being founded by an incarnation of Vishnu. But others reconcile things in a different way, namely by arguing that there are two Kapilas, one Kapila who was an incarnation of Vishnu and burnt the sons of Sagaras to ashes, and another Kapila who founded the atheistic Samkhya school. There's evidence on both sides:

  1. One piece of evidence for the one-Kapila theory is this verse of the Srimad Bhagavatam, which says that Vishnu's incarnation Kapila had a shishya named Asuri:

    The fifth incarnation, named Lord Kapila, is foremost among perfected beings. He gave an exposition of the creative elements and metaphysics to Āsuri Brāhmaṇa, for in course of time this knowledge had been lost.

    This is significant because verse 70 of Ishwara Krishna's Samkhya Karika, the defining text of the Samkhya school, says that Kapila the founder of the Samkhya school had a shishya named Asuri:

    This sacred and supreme (Knowledge), the sage (Kapila) gave to Āsuri out of compassion. Āsuri (gave it) to Pañcaśikha, who elaborated the doctrine.

  2. One piece of evidence for the two-Kapilas theory this chapter, which lists Kapila founder of the Samkhya school as one of the fire gods descended from the sage Angiras:

    That divine spirit whose course is marked with black and white stains, who is the supporter of fire, and who, though free from sin, is the accomplisher of desired karma, whom the wise regard as a great Rishi, is the fire Kapila, the propounder of the Yoga system called Sankhya.

    Vishnu's incarnation Kapila, on the other hand, is not a descendant of Brahma's son Angiras, rather he's the son of Brahma's son Kardama.

But my question is, which Acharyas believe in the two-Kapilas theory, and which Acharyas believe in the one-Kapila? So far I've found two supporters of the two-Kapilas theory: the Advaita philosopher Adi Shankaracharya, who in this section of his Brahma Sutra Bhashya that the two Kapilas are different; and the Gaudiya Vaishnava commentator Baladeva Vidyabhushana, who says in this section of his Govinda Bhashya that Kapila the founder of the Samkhya school is the descendant of Angiras I mentioned above, rather than Vishnu's incarnation Kapila.

But are there any Acharyas who are neither Advaitins nor Gaudiya Vaishnavas who support the two-Kapilas theory? What about Acharyas who support the one-Kapila theory?

  • I'm sure that Madhva said the same, but currently I don't have time to post the answer. If and when I find some time I'll try to give you the answer. Jun 21, 2017 at 5:51
  • @brahmajijnasa Well, at least Madhvacharya doesn't discuss the 1 Kapila vs. 2 Kapilas issue in his commentary on Adhyaya 2 Pada 1 Sutra 1 of the Brahma Sutras: ia601606.us.archive.org/BookReader/BookReaderImages.php?zip=/9/… That's the part of the Brahma Sutras where Adi Shankaracharya and Baladeva Vidyabhushana discuss the notion of two Kapilas. Jun 21, 2017 at 16:42
  • Yep, he doesn't. But why are you so much interested to know who among the acaryas discuss that issue? I mean, didn't you notice that at the link that you posted above to the Baladeva's commentary he quoted a verse from the Padma Purana: "One Kapila Muni, who was named Vasudeva, spoke to Brahma and the other demigods, asuri Muni, Bhrigu Muni, and the other sages, a sankhya philosophy in perfect harmony with the Vedas. Another person, also named Kapila, spoke a different sankhya philosophy contradicting the teachings of all the Vedas. He spoke his illogical theories to a different asuri Muni." Jun 21, 2017 at 18:16
  • So, it seems that there were two different Kapilas and their two different teachings both called with the same name "sankhya". However, one Kapila was a teacher of the sankhya which is in harmony with the Vedas, and the other Kapila was a teacher of the atheistic sankhya which is opposed to the Vedas. And that Kapila who was a teacher of the sankhya which is in harmony with the Vedas was well known incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He and his sankhya were described in the 3rd canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. Jun 21, 2017 at 18:16
  • I mean, you have something better than some acarya's personal opinions on the issue, namely you even have a quotation from the Purana. And a quotation from the scripture is usually considered to be of greater authority than some acarya's personal opinions on the issue. At least I always thought those things work that way, ... ... just saying. :) Btw, I think there were no acaryas who believed in just one Kapila who composed both sankhyas. Jun 21, 2017 at 18:16

1 Answer 1


I finally found a proponent of the one-Kapila theory: the 15th or 16th century philosopher Vijnanabhikshu, who subscribed to a Vedantic philosophy called Avibhagadvaita. But Vijnanabhikshu didn't just believe in Vedanta; he was an early proponent what would later be called Hindu Universalism, and he had significant influences on the Neo-Vedanta movement. He thought all the Astika schools were true in some sense, including the Samkhya school in particular. In any case, here is what he says in the end of his commentary on Kapila's Samkhya Sutras:

This the same Samkhya Shastra was promulgated by the Lord Vishnu, in r form of Kapila, for the benefit of the world. In regard to this, what a certain so-called Vedantin says, namely, that Kapila, the author of the Samkhya, is not Vishnu, but is a different Kapila who was an incarnation of Agni; since there is the Smriti: "He is Agni, by name Kapila, who is the promulgator of the Samkhya system," that is merely an illusion caused to mankind, inasmuch as we learn from such Smritis as "This my birth in the world is for the sake of a complete exhibition of Tattvas or Principles, as approved in the Philosophy of the Self, to those who crave for release from a painful state," that it is the son of Devahuti, the incarnation of Vishnu, that is the teacher of the Samkhya, and also because the supposition of two Kapilas is redundant. And in the above passage of the Mahabhatatam, the word, Agni, has been used simply because of the appearance or influence of the power called Agni; just as, e.g., in the saying of Sri Krishna, "I am Kala, the destroyer of worlds, aroused," has been employed the word, Kala, simply because of the appearance of the power of Kala; since otherwise there will be entailed the difference between Krishna, s the Manifestor of the Universal Form, from Krishna, as the incarnation of Vishnu. Such is the hint.

Now you may be wondering, if Vijnanabhikshu thinks that Vishnu's incarnation Kapila is the same as the founder of the Samkhya school, then why would an incarnation of Vishnu found a school that rejects the existence of Ishwara or the supreme being? Vijnanabhikshu has an explanation for that, namely that Kapila just pretended to reject the existence of Ishwara in order to deceive people. But this isn't like the case of Vishnu's incarnation Buddha, who deceived the Asuras in order to hurt them. Rather, Vijnanabhikshu argues that Kapila deceived people for their own benefit. The idea is that if people believe in Ishwara, they will seek to have the Aishwarya or lordliness, i.e. the same powers that Ishwara has, and the pursuit of such powers will distract them from attaining Jnana. Whereas if people think there's no such thing as Ishwara, they won't be attracted to such powers. Here is what Vijnana Bhikshu says near the beginning of his commentary on the Samkhya Sutras:

[I]t is in this [i.e. Samkhya] Shastra that the exclusion of Ishvara has been made for practical purposes only, and it is, therefore, proper to translate it as designed to produce indifference towards the lordliness of Ishvara. The idea of Samkhya teachers is that should eternal lordliness be not contravened in the manner of the Lokayatika or sensualist doctrines [i.e. Charvaka], then Chitta or the inner sense being drawn away towards it by the vision of perfect, pure and eternal lordliness, there would arise an obstacle to the formation of the habit of Viveka or discrimination between the Self and the Not-Self.

So to sum up, in Vijnanabhikshu's view, atheism is false but is useful for attaining Jnana!

  • Is this existence of Ishwara explicitly rejected in Kapila's Samkhya Sutras?
    – user9969
    Mar 20, 2018 at 20:48
  • 1
    @SuryaKantaBoseChowdhury Yes, it is. Mar 20, 2018 at 20:50
  • In this video youtu.be/gQMxiKqhQmY at 48 min swami Shankracharya says that VijnyanBhikshu was opposed to concept of incarnation(in his comments on yoga sutra) and that Dayanand swami used His points to reject incarnation in his satyarth prakash. Apr 23, 2020 at 2:28

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