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This article is about the Hindu sage Kapila. For other uses, see Kapila (disambiguation).
Watercolour painting on paper of Kapil, a Vedic sage
  • Kardama Muni (father)
  • Devahuti (mother)
Titles/honours Hindu sources describe him as a descendant of Manu
Philosophy Samkhya

Kapila (Hindi: कपिल ऋषि) was a Vedic sage, traditionally credited as the founder of the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy. He is revered sage in Hindu traditions, mentioned in the Upanishads and the Bhagavata Purana,.[1] He is estimated to have lived in the 6th-century BCE,[2] or the 7th-century BCE.[3]

Rishi Kapila is credited with authoring the influential Samkhya-sutra, in which aphoristic sutras present the dualistic philosophy of Samkhya.[4] Kapila's influence on Buddha and Buddhism have long been the subject of scholarly studies.[5][6]

Many historic personalities, mythical figures, pilgrimage sites in Indian religion, as well as an ancient variety of cow went by the name Kapila.[3][7]

King Amsuman and the yogic sage Kapila.


The name Kapila appears in many texts, and it is likely that these names refer to different people.[8] The most famous reference is to the Vedic sage Kapila with his student Āsuri, who in the Indian tradition, are considered as the first masters of Sāṅkhya school of Hindu philosophy. While he pre-dates Buddha, it is unclear which century he lived in, with some suggesting 6th-century BCE.[2] Others place him in the 7th century BCE.[8]

Kapila is credited with authoring an influential sutra, called Samkhya-sutra (also called Kapila-sutra), which aphoristically presents the dualistic philosophy of Samkhya.[4][9] These sutras were explained in another well studied text of Hinduism called the Samkhyakarika.[8]

Myths and hagiography[edit]

The Puranic mythology describes Kapila as a descendant of one of the Manus, alternatively as the grandson of the Hindu god Brahma, or yet in another version as an avatar of the god Vishnu.[2] Legends about Kapila's life are mentioned in Book 3 of the Vishnu-focused book Bhagavata Purana.[10] It states his parents were Kardama Muni and Devahuti. He was also the brother and teacher of Anusuya. Kapila is described, states Daniel Sheridan, by the redactor of the Purana, as an incarnation of the supreme being Vishnu, in order to reinforce the Purana teaching by linking it to the traditional respect to Kapila's Samkhya in Hinduism.[10] In the Bhagavata Purana, Kapila is the character who presents to his mother Devahuti, the philosophy of yoga and theistic dualism in Book 3.[10] Kapila's Samkhya is also described through Krishna to Uddhava in Book 11 of the Bhagavata Purana, a passage also known as the "Uddhava Gita".[10]


Kapila's Samkhya is taught in various Hindu texts:


  • "Kapila said, "Acts only cleanse the body. Knowledge, however, is the highest end (for which one strives). 5 When all faults of the heart are cured (by acts), and when the felicity of Brahma becomes established in knowledge, benevolence, forgiveness, tranquillity, compassion, truthfulness, and candour, abstention from injury, absence of pride, modesty, renunciation, and abstention from work are attained. These constitute the path that lead to Brahma. By those one attains to what is the Highest." (Book 12: Santi Parva: Mokshadharma Parva: Section CCLXX, p. 270–271).
  • "Bhishma said (to Yudhishthira), 'Listen, O slayer of foes! The Sankhyas or followers of Kapila, who are conversant with all paths and endued with wisdom, say that there are five faults, O puissant one, in the human body. They are Desire and Wrath and Fear and Sleep and Breath. These faults are seen in the bodies of all embodied creatures. Those that are endued with wisdom cut the root of wrath with the aid of Forgiveness. Desire is cut off by casting off all purposes. By cultivation of the quality of Goodness (Sattwa) sleep is conquered, and Fear is conquered by cultivating Heedfulness. Breath is conquered by abstemiousness of diet. (Book 12: Santi Parva: Part III, Section CCCII.) [11]

Bhagavata Purana[edit]

  • "My appearance in this world is especially to explain the philosophy of Sankhya, which is highly esteemed for self-realization by those desiring freedom from the entanglement of unnecessary material desires. This path of self-realization, which is difficult to understand, has now been lost in the course of time. Please know that I have assumed this body of Kapila to introduce and explain this philosophy to human society again." (3.24.36–37)
  • "When one is completely cleansed of the impurities of lust and greed produced from the false identification of the body as "I" and bodily possessions as "mine," one's mind becomes purified. In that pure state he transcends the stage of so-called material happiness and distress." (3.25.16)

Influence on Buddhism and Jainism[edit]


Some Buddhists texts[which?] claim the Buddha was Kapila in a previous life.[citation needed]

Scholars have long compared and associated the teachings of Kapila and Buddha. For example, Max Muller wrote (abridged),

There are no doubt certain notions which Buddha shares in common, not only with Kapila, but with every Hindu philosopher. (...) It has been said that Buddha and Kapila were both atheists, and that Buddha borrowed his atheism from Kapila. But atheism is an indefinite term, and may mean very different things. In one sense, every Indian philosopher was an atheist, for they all perceived that the gods of the populace could not claim the attributes that belong to a Supreme Being (Absolute, the source of all that exists or seems to exist, Brahman). (...) Kapila, when accused of atheism, is not accused of denying the existence of an Absolute Being. He is accused of denying the existence of an Ishvara.

— Max Muller et al, Studies in Buddhism[5]

Max Muller states the link between the more ancient Kapila's teachings on Buddha can be overstated.[5] This confusion is easy, states Muller, because Kapila's first sutra in his classic Samkhya-sutra, "the complete cessation of pain, which is of three kings, is the highest aim of man", sounds like the natural inspiration for Buddha.[5] However, adds Muller, the teachings on how to achieve this, by Kapila and by Buddha, are very different.[5]

As Buddhist art often depicts Vedic deities, one can find art of both Narayana and Kapila as kings within a Buddhist temple, along with statues of Buddhist figures such as Amitabha, Maitreya, and Vairocana.[12]


Renowned Jain philosopher, Vijayasena Suri in the court of Akbar when accused of preaching atheism declared that Jainism's belief is not atheistic and is similar to the Samkhya.[13]

According to Jnatadharmakatha, Kapila was a contemporary of Krishna and the Vasudeva of Dhatakikhanda. The text further mentions that both of them blew their shankha (counch) together.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Dasgupta, Surendranath (1949). A history of Indian philosophy. IV: Indian pluralism. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. 
  2. ^ a b c Kapila Encyclopedia Britannica (2014)
  3. ^ a b James G. Lochtefeld (2002). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism: A-M. The Rosen Publishing Group. p. 350. ISBN 978-0-8239-3179-8. 
  4. ^ a b Kapila (James Robert Ballantyne, Translator, 1865), The Sāmkhya aphorisms of Kapila at Google Books, pages 156-157
  5. ^ a b c d e Max Muller et al (1999 Reprint), Studies in Buddhism, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 8-120612264, pages 9-10
  6. ^ W. Woodhill Rockhill (2000 Reprint), The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order, Routledge, ISBN 978-1136379376, pages 11-19
  7. ^ Knut A. Jacobsen (2013). Pilgrimage in the Hindu Tradition: Salvific Space. Routledge. pp. 114–115. ISBN 978-0-415-59038-9. 
  8. ^ a b c PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0887061394, page 304
  9. ^ Max Muller et al (1999 Reprint), Studies in Buddhism, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 8-120612264, page 10 with footnote
  10. ^ a b c d Sheridan, Daniel (1986). The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana. Columbia, Mo: South Asia Books. pp. 42–43. ISBN 81-208-0179-2. 
  11. ^ Bhishma said... (The Mahabharata translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1883 -1896), Book 12: Santi Parva: Part III, Section CCCII.
  12. ^ P. 269 Introduction to Buddhist art By Chikyō Yamamoto
  13. ^ P. 237 A History of Gujarat: Mughal period, from 1573 to 1758 By Mānekshāh Sorābshāh Commissariat
  14. ^ von Glasenapp 1999, p. 287.


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