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Classical Sāṃkhya Represented by Īśvarakṛṣṇa in the Sāṃkhyakārikā and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa Open Access


Other title
Bhāgavata Purāṇa
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Allaway - Brager, Jodi
Supervisor and department
Dalal, Neil (Religious Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Francis Landy (Religious Studies)
Dominik Wujastyk (History and Classics)
Religious Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
Drawing comparisons between the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhyakārikā, this thesis explores the relationship between the Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s theism and the dualistic metaphysics of the Sāṃkhyakārikā. Employing a textual and philosophical approach, this thesis compares how the Bhāgavata Purāṇa draws upon the metaphysics of Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhyakārikā while still maintaining its theistic framework. A dualistic treatise, Īśvarakṛṣṇa proposes that reality consists of two primordial principles, consciousness (puruṣa) and matter (prakṛti). In the metaphysics of the Sāṃkhyakārikā, the universe arises from a dynamic interchange between these principles. It is knowledge of this interchange that becomes the path to liberation from suffering. The Bhāgavata Purāṇa is also concerned with liberating knowledge. This poetic text, however, postulates the source of this knowledge is a god (Īśvara) who, rather than the relationship of two eternal principles, is the creator of the universe. As such, Īśvara is worthy of devotion. This devotion, which is an aesthetic experience (rasa) is a path to salvation and spiritual realization. While both texts are concerned with liberating knowledge, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa’s theistic postulate of a creator god as the source of this knowledge and the object of devotion is where the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s Sāṃkhyakārikā bear striking differences. The problem put forward within this discussion is a puzzling inconsistency in Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s metaphysics. Īśvarakṛṣṇa says that ultimate reality is composed of two impersonal, self-contained principles. He further proposes that one of these principles, unconscious prakṛti, somehow works for the deliverance of the consciousness, or spirit (puruṣa). In the Sāṃkhyakārikā, however, he argues that puruṣa has never been bound and, therefore, is never set free. Moreover, prakṛti in itself is unconscious and thus cannot exercise volition. The commentarial tradition suggests that the existence of Īśvara (god) solves the problem of how the unconscious prakṛti can provide for the salvation of puruṣa. The authors of the Bhāgavata Purāṇa go a step further and posit a Supreme deity worthy of worship. This deity is responsible for the saving knowledge necessary for liberation. Hence, within its aesthetic framework, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa reconciles Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s inconsistency. Despite these differences, the Bhāgavata Purāṇa and Īśvarakṛṣṇa share a similar soteriological position. Each agree that both puruṣa and prakṛti metaphysically undergird the whole of reality and must be accurately discriminated. Liberation from suffering is possible only when the ontological reality of the Knower (puruṣa) is seen as separate from matter (prakṛti). Īśvarakṛṣṇa says that knowledge of the two impersonal principles is the means of liberation (Jñāna –yoga). The Bhāgavata Purāṇa, by contrast, puts forward a path of aesthetic devotion (bhakti-yoga) as the means of liberation. Īśvarakṛṣṇa’s non-theist dualism of necessity makes no recognition of a path of devotion; nevertheless, the philosophical perspectives found within his ancient treatise profoundly frames the devotionalism found within the Bhāgavata Purāṇa.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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