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Watercolour painting on paper of Kapil, a Vedic sage
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Kapila (Hindi: कपिल ऋषि) was a Vedic sage credited as one of the founders of the Samkhya school of Hindu philosophy. He is prominent in the Bhagavata Purana, which features a theistic version of his Samkhya philosophy.[1] He is estimated to have lived in the 6th-century BCE.[2]

Rishi Kapila is credited with authoring the influential Samkhya-sutra, in which aphoristic sutras present the dualistic philosophy of Samkhya.[3] Kapila's influence on Buddha and Buddhism have long been the subject of scholarly studies.[4][5]

Hindu mythology describes Kapila as a descendant of Manu, or as the grandson of the Hindu god Brahma, or as an avatar of the god Vishnu.[2] The time at which this Kapila lived is dependent on the date of occurrence of the Kurukshetra war and the date of composition of Bhagavad Gita (traditionally 3139 BCE, but according to archaeological evidence closer to 950 BCE; and the text reached its final form in the 4th century CE), because Kapila Muni and Samkhya are mentioned in Bhagavad Gita (3.3 and 10.26). So the first conclusion is that Kapila Muni lived long before 950 BCE.

Secondly Sage Kapila is also mentioned in Svetasvatara Upanisad (5.2).[6] This upanisad is much before Bhagavad Gita and is part of the Black Yajurveda. But Sankaracharya (in introduction) equates Samkhya with konwledge and Kapila with Hiranyagarbha (first born of Vishnu) and not with the atheist Kapila, the author of Samkhya philosophy.

Next Swami Prabhupad mentions two Kapilas in his book.[7] According to him, Kapila in Bhagavad Gita (10.26) is not the atheist Kapila of Samkhya philosophy. Buddhists relate the atheist Kapila with the birthplace of Buddha named Kapilavastu. So we have two Kapilas: (1) Kapila Muni (vedic sage) the incarnation of Vishnu, son of Devhuti (much before 3139 BCE). (2) Atheist Sage Kapila, the founder of Samkhya Philosophy. (later than 3139 BCE but before Buddha).


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.[3][9] These sutras were explained in another well studied text of Hinduism called the Samkhyakarika.[8]

Legends about Kapila's life are mentioned in Book 3 of the Vishnu-focussed 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 Sankhya is also described through Krishna to Uddhava in Book 11 of the Bhagavata Purana, a passage also known as the "Uddhava Gita".[10] The Book 11 of Purana, gives the following words to Kapila:

Of all trees I am the banyan tree, and of the sages among the demigods I am Narada. Of the Gandharvas I am Citraratha, and among perfected beings I am the sage Kapila. (10.26)

Kapila is described within the Puranas as an incarnation of Vishnu, an avatar come to earth to restore the spiritual balance through his teachings. Buddhist sources present Kapila as a well-known philosopher whose students built the city of Kapilavastu.


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

  • "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

Some Buddhists textsTemplate:Which claim the Buddha was Kapila in a previous life.

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[4]

Max Muller states the link between the more ancient Kapila's teachings on Buddha can be overstated.[4] 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.[4] However, adds Muller, the teachings on how to achieve this, by Kapila and by Buddha, are very different.[4]

Asvaghosa in his Buddhacharita writes that Buddha had Sankhya 'pandits' or teachers, and which aspects of the Buddha's philosophy are Sankhya.[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]

Modern-day Homage by Hindus

There is historical town known as Kapilayat in past (Now Kalayat, around 70 km from Kurukshetra ), named after the mythological sage Kapil Muni. There is a beautiful Temple of Kapilmuni. There is a pond behind the temple. Many devotees takes bath in the pond on every Amavasya and Purnima. There is firm belief of the people of this city is that, all types of skins problem get over after having bath in pond .

As the ashram of Kapila was in Khulna (now in Bangladesh) there is still a place called Kapilmuni. In Gangasagar, situated in present-day West Bengal a state of India, the southern tip of the Ganges, bear the Bay of Bengal, there is still an ashram of Kapila where a big annual religious fair is still held in the middle of January.[12]

There is a popular temple close to the sacred cities of Tirupati and Tirumala, known as Kapila Theertham according to legend was an ashram of Sage Kapila and that he lived and worshiped Lord Shiva there.

Kapil Muni is worshipped as a prominent local deity in many villages of Uttaranchal such as Gundiyatgaon, Pora, Rama, Beshti, Aura, Kandiyalgaon, Dikalgaon, Raun, Anduni etc. in Rawain valley of Uttarkashi district. There is an ancient temple (Ashram) in the area dedicated to Lord Kapil Muni. The locality has an old tradition of celebrating week-long festivals every year in the Hindu month of Saawan (August) in commemoration of Lord Kapil Muni and other local deities. The legendary Kamleshwar Temple, 2 km uphill the Ashram is believed to be the place where the great sage practised yoga and worshipped Lord Shiva, the Mahadev. The legend goes that Lord Hanuman, while flying back to the south, carrying shiva lingam from the Himalaya for being installed at Rameswaram, happened to see very beautiful lotus flowers (kamal-pushpa)in the region. He landed down the area and placed the lingam there to collect flowers. But, the lingam stuck into the ground there at Kamleshwar and never could be lifted by Hanuman. Though, Lord Hanuman was already instructed by the sages to bring the lingam direct to the place of installation, but enchanted by the sublime beauty of the flowers he forgot the instruction. It is believed that Lord Hanuman flew back to Rameswaram without the lingam from Himalaya and later a small lingam was installed and consecrated at Rameswaram that Lord Rama and Ma Sita used to worship Lord Shiva. The original shiva lingam, brought by Lord Hanuman from the Himalayas, is since then worshiped at Kamleshwar Temple.

In the village of Sidhbari, near Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, lies what is commonly regarded as the meditation spot of Kapila. The sage who lived there is locally regarded as Sidh Baba due to his mystic powers, and hence the name of the village Sidhbari.

19th century Indian philosopher Swami Vivekananda considered Kapila "the greatest psychologist the world has ever known" and told, "there is no philosophy in the world that is not indebted to Kapila."[14]

See also


  1. Dasgupta, Surendranath (1949). A history of Indian philosophy. IV: Indian pluralism. Cambridge University Press. p. 30. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Kapila Encyclopedia Britannica (2014)
  3. 3.0 3.1 Kapila (James Robert Ballantyne, Translator, 1865), Template:Google books, pages 156-157
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 Max Muller et al (1999 Reprint), Studies in Buddhism, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 8-120612264, pages 9-10
  5. W. Woodhill Rockhill (2000 Reprint), The Life of the Buddha and the Early History of His Order, Routledge, ISBN 978-1136379376, pages 11-19
  6. "Svetasvatara Upanisad, tr. Swami Gambhirananda, Advaita Ashrama, Calcutta, p.167 and v, 1995, ISBN 8175051035". Retrieved 27 March 2016. 
  7. "Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Swami Prabhupad, Bhakti Vedanta Book Trust, 1971, LA, Mumbai, London,". Retrieved 27 March 2016. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 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. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 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. 12.0 12.1 P. 39 The Bengalles: Glimpses of History and Culture By Samaren Roy
  13. P. 237 A History of Gujarat: Mughal period, from 1573 to 1758 By Mānekshāh Sorābshāh Commissariat
  14. "Swami Vivekananda's quotes on Kapila". Retrieved 1 January 2014. 

External links