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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 the Samkhya school, founded by the sage Kapila. Now in Adhyaya 4 of Kapila's Samkhya Sutras, one of the defining texts of the Samkhya school, Kapila discusses various scriptural stories which illustrate different Samkhya teachings. In particular, here's what he says in Adhyaya 4 Sutra 2:

viraktasya heyahānamupādeyopāvānaṃ haṃsacāravat

In the case of the dispassionate, there is the avoidance of what is to be avoided and acceptance of what is fit to be acquired, - as in the case of the swan and milk.

Here is how Vijnanabhikshu interprets this Sutra in his commentary on the Samkhya Sutras:

Perfect development of knowledge takes place in the case only of the dispassionate. In regard to this the author mentions an illustration. Of the dispassionate only, there is avoidance of things to be avoided, such as Prakriti, etc., and the acceptance of that which is to be accepted, i.e. the Self. Just as, out of milk and water, formed into a mixture, by giving up the inessential water, the taking of the essential milk is possible for the swan only, but not for the crow, etc. Such is the meaning.

I'm interested in the part in bold. My question is, what scriptures describe swans separating milk from water? It must be in some scripture or it presumably wouldn't be in Adhyaya 4 of the Samkhya Sutras.

I've come across lots of claims that the term "Paramahansa" used for certain saints comes from this property of swans. For instance here is what Srila Prabhupada says in his commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam:

A paramahaṁsa accepts only the active principle of everything. Just as a swan accepts only the milk from a mixture of water and milk, a paramahaṁsa accepts only the Supreme Personality of Godhead as his life and soul, neglecting all external, material things.

But does this notion have a scriptural basis?

  • there are many references in different scriptures to swans separating milk and water. It is a common example. btw, do you understand one of the translation of Paramahamsa? – Swami Vishwananda Sep 19 '17 at 8:54
  • @SwamiVishwananda What other scriptures mention it other than the Ramayana and the Garuda Purana? Regarding Paramahansa, in my question I gave a quote by Prabhupada: "A paramahaṁsa accepts only the active principle of everything. Just as a swan accepts only the milk from a mixture of water and milk, a paramahaṁsa accepts only the Supreme Personality of Godhead as his life and soul, neglecting all external, material things." – Keshav Srinivasan Sep 20 '17 at 5:58
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    Its in some Upanishads also. Sorry, not interested in spending time on finding exact references. – Swami Vishwananda Sep 23 '17 at 10:47
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I found multiple scriptural references to this phenomenon. First of all, in this chapter of the Aranya Kanda of the Ramayana, when Surpanakha's brother Khara promises to kill whoever cut off Surpanakha's nose:

adya aham mārgaṇaiḥ prāṇān ādāsye jīvitāṃtagaiḥ | salile kṣīram āsaktam niṣpiban iva sārasaḥ ||

Now, I will take away the lives of that miscreant with my arrows that are terminators of lives, as a swan would drink milk to dregs even if it is mingled in water, duly separating milk from water.

Second of all, in this chapter of the Garuda Purana:

"'This is known; this must be known,"--he wishes to hear everything. If one lives for a thousand celestial years he cannot reach the end of the Śāstras. The Śāstras are numerous; life is brief; and there are tens of millions of obstacles; therefore the essence should be understood, - like the swan taking the milk in the water.

  • Since the queries raised by you are after detailed and deep research - the answer too would probably be upcoming from yourself. Your queries are very informative, but a good number of them have remained unanswered. – Suresh Ramaswamy Sep 17 '17 at 8:28
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    swans don't drink milk. whatever it can do separate milk and water is metaphorical. – S K Feb 1 '18 at 15:36
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Swans separating Milk from water is mentioned in Shukla Yajurveda Samhita - Madhyandin Shakha -Chapter 19 - Mantra 73

अद्भ्यः क्षीरं व्यपिबत् क्रुड.डांअङ्गिरसो धिया।
ऋतेन सत्यमिन्द्रियं विपानं शुक्रमन्धसs इन्द्रस्यन्द्रि यमिदं पयोमृतं मधु ।।73।।

The Prana which drinks the essence (Rasa) of the body is similar to that of the Hamsa (crane) ,who seprates the milk from water by churning. This prana gives us the truth by Rita. This prana provide us the ways to drink. It also gives us the vigor ,food , (Teja ,Virya) , bodily power , milk ,ananda (happyness)equal to amrita and sweet things.


Hamsa and milk


Here Prana is said to similar like a crane who seprates Milk from water.

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    Swan really separates milk from water? – Tat Tvam Asi May 14 '18 at 9:36
  • At least seer of Yajurveda thinks so :-) – SwiftPushkar Jul 17 '18 at 10:10

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