I have read a couple of articles written mostly in passing by western translators on the influence of Sage Kapila (i.e Samkhya) on the Buddha, but I'm yet to find a detailed inquiry on a similarity of these systems.

We read that Alara Kalama one of the teachers of the Gautama Buddha was a follower of the ancient Samkhya philosophy. it is also written that the Bodhisattva Gautama eventually equaled his teacher Alara, and went on inquiring further until he was fully awakened, Buddha. And after awakening, the first person he wished to teach was his former teacher Alara.

I'm only mentioning that above to highlight why I venture to inquire in this direction, my question is mainly on the similarity of the two systems /thought. I will list some:

  • For both systems, the main goal is to 'End Suffering' by removing ignorance.
  • Contrary to most religious thought in India, both systems, although they accept heavenly beings, they reject the idea of a creator God. The gods they accept are just like humans bound within the cycle of suffering. Samkhya satirically declares 'No one no-where Is happy'. The idea of 'Brahman' is also rejected.
  • Again both say that there is no-self on forms, sensations, perceptions, and all mental activities including the mind's reason [Buddhi].

Now, there is a 'Self' in the Samkhya system, but on critical reading, it's beyond any of the non-self listed in the Buddist thought. It's not a self that transmigrates and pile-up karma it's unbound ever free self. What is Bound and what is freed is the mind, not the Self.

Similarly, there are primordial matters in the Samkhya system. But Buddhism doesn't discuss or is not interested at the beginning of the matter, etc...

There is a lot to list here but in short, when one compares the two systems it seems that Buddhism is a reduced version of Samkhya with some of the ideas removed as non-essential. Was the Buddha a reformer?

Many Thanks

  • I found some helpful resources in this answer from Hinduism SE. But still there are doubts that if they were written after the death of Buddha or before. Only thing we can find in suttas that vedas are mentioned in pali canon, not sure about others. :)
    – threefold
    Aug 17, 2020 at 3:28
  • @rht .. that answer is marred with inaccuracy.. the Vedantist, I dare say the whole Hinduism, don't like Samkhya philosophy so you would expect them to be combative like that.. but tnx there are some interesting answers given by others in the same page.
    – Epic
    Aug 19, 2020 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


Last time I had the pleasure of speaking with the Buddha, he said that most of what he teaches he indeed had learned from Alara, but only after having completely realized and verified it in his own direct experience.

Before he realized it in his own experience, he could only "pay the lip-service" to the teaching - he could say the right words from memory - but he hasn't connected it with his own reality yet.

Words are cheap if you don't really know the truth.

Alara heard all the right words from his teacher and realized most of them in practice but did not attain Final Enlightenment and Liberation. The Buddha learned the theory that was passed from the previous Buddhas, an echo of previous Realizations - some parts still clear and some corrupted or lost. He got the gist and followed the tracks until he got to "the lost city".

The Dharma is a teaching about reality and about mind. It's like science it describes the laws of nature (just the different laws). It's no wonder that it has been rediscovered in some generations, then passed down, then lost, then rediscovered again. It's not an invention of the Buddha.

Why is it surprising that he learned much of it from his teacher and got the rest by himself?

  • None, it is not surprising at all... It is written that there were many saintly ascetics in Buddha's time, but there was a huge gap between the general public and these ascetics, Max Mueller, for example, says the Buddha was the one who invited the mass to the ascetic way away from the overbearing sacrificial religion of his time................BTW are you quoting a text when you say 'Last time I had the pleasure of speaking with the Buddha, ...' or claiming to have spoken to the Buddha? .....
    – Epic
    Aug 19, 2020 at 13:49
  • We spoke in a sort of dream. At this point I can direct my dreams to a degree.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Aug 19, 2020 at 15:35
  • Oh.. Okay... I didn't know one can direct dream to the Buddha...Anyways, although not registered, I have asked a lot of questions in this sub SE and received a response from you and may others... I also notice recently your response has become assertive. ..Peace!
    – Epic
    Aug 19, 2020 at 16:55
  • Thanks for paying attention. I guess I have few reasons left to doubt my realization.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Aug 19, 2020 at 18:53

According to the wikipedia page on Samkhya:

The earliest surviving authoritative text on classical Samkhya philosophy is the Samkhya Karika (c. 200 CE or 350–450 CE) of Īśvarakṛṣṇa. There were probably other texts in early centuries CE, however none of them are available today. Iśvarakṛṣṇa in his Kārikā describes a succession of the disciples from Kapila, through Āsuri and Pañcaśikha to himself.

So, Samkhya philosophy as known today, came almost 700 years after the Buddha (c. 563-483 BCE) based on the date of Samkhya Karika. But as stated above, it is attributed by Iśvarakṛṣṇa to Sage Kapila, who obviously predated the Buddha.

It is possible that the Samkhya Karika had experienced influence from Buddhism.

What about Alara Kalama?

Apparently, the only source stating Alara Kalama as following Samkhya is the Buddhacarita, composed in the second century CE by Aśvaghoṣa. This too was written at least 500 years after the Buddha.

There is no mention of the Samkhya philosophy by name in the Pali Canon. The Pali Canon also never explicitly attributed any teachings to Sage Kapila. The only mention of Kapila is in the Jataka Tales, dated at least a century after the Buddha.

In any case, whatever doctrine or teachings that was taught by Alara Kalama to the Buddha, did not bring him enlightenment, as we see in MN 26:

"In this way did Alara Kalama, my teacher, place me, his pupil, on the same level with himself and pay me great honor. But the thought occurred to me, 'This Dhamma leads not to disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to stilling, to direct knowledge, to Awakening, nor to Unbinding, but only to reappearance in the dimension of nothingness.' So, dissatisfied with that Dhamma, I left.

So, the question is - did the Buddha copy and reduce Samkhya, or did the Samkhya Karika copy the teachings of the Buddha and tried to reconcile Buddhism with the teachings of the Vedas and the Upanishads?

Based on the dates of the writings, I would say the latter is more likely. So, you've got it in reverse.

But did the Buddha copy Sage Kapila? Well, this is impossible to say, because we don't have any authenticated pre-Buddhist writings of Sage Kapila remaining, in which he taught Samkhya.

Based on the following statements from the Samkhya Karika, the definition of Spirit (Purusha) is in violation of sabbe dhamma anatta (all phenomena is not self). There is no single Self or Spirit that is the pure witness or controller in Buddhism.

The Spirit exists because (a) the aggregate is for another's sake; (b) of the absence of three guṇas and other properties; (c) there must be some controller; (d) there must be some experiencer; and (e) of the tendency of activities towards final beatitude. - Samkhya Karika 17

The multiplicity of the Spirit is verily established (1) from the individual allotment of birth, death and the instruments, (2) from the non-simultaneity of activities, and (3) from the diverse modifications due to the three guṇas. - Samkhya Karika 18

And from that contrast it is established that the Spirit is the pure witness. He is solitary, neutral, spectator, and non-agent. - Samkhya Karika 19

  • You may have to read a bit.. the Self in Samkhya doesn't control, it is not a witness and is not an agent as it doesn't act... it is not the knower, doesn't get born or die, etc.
    – Epic
    Aug 19, 2020 at 14:01
  • @Epic The verses I quoted from Samkhya Karika clearly states that the Spirit (Purusha) is the pure witness and the spectator.
    – ruben2020
    Aug 20, 2020 at 5:29
  • I did read your quote.. what I mean is that you have to look for authentic translation .. for example, 19. reads [The Self] which are, by nature, eternally pure, intelligent and free, does not stand in connection with this, when there is not connected with that. It does not say 'spectator' or 'witness' ... That which is free and pure doesn't need to see or witness Matter!... if you're interested, read also the ancient commentary by Aniruddha or Vijnanabhikshu....
    – Epic
    Aug 20, 2020 at 12:58
  • what is been discussed in 17 18 19... is "What is bound?" which in Buddhism is normally answered by the 'Parable of the poisoned arrow' or something similar... I think its an interesting read if you have the time.
    – Epic
    Aug 20, 2020 at 12:59
  • "Based on the dates of the writings, I would say the latter is more likely. So, you've got it in reverse";You are wrong as mahabharat was written before buddhist literature and it contains term "sankhya" As check bhagvad gita 18.13 from mahabharat :five factors that have been mentioned for the accomplishment of all actions in the doctrine of "Sānkhya, "which explains how to stop the reactions of karmas.
    – user25743
    Feb 18 at 12:35

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