Watercolour painting on paper of Kapila, a Vedic sage.
|Titles/honours||Hindu sources describe him as a descendant of Manu.|
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Kapila (Hindi: कपिल ऋषि) was a Vedic sage credited as one of the founders of the Samkhya school of philosophy. He is prominent in the Bhagavata Purana, which features a theistic version of his Samkhya philosophy. Traditional Hindu sources describe him as a descendant of Manu, a grandson of Brahma. The Bhagavad Gita depicts Kapila as a yogi hermit with highly developed siddhis, or spiritual powers.
Many of the details about sage Kapila's life are described in Book 3 of the Bhagavata Purana, where it is mentioned that his parents were Kardama Muni and Devahuti. Kapila is considered an incarnation of the supreme-being Vishnu and listed as such in the list of incarnations in Bhagavata Purana. After his father left home, Kapila instructed his mother, Devahuti in the philosophy of yoga and devotional worship of Lord Vishnu, enabling her to achieve liberation (moksha). Kapila's Sankhya is also given by Krishna to Uddhava in Book 11 of the Bhagavata Purana, a passage also known as the "Uddhava Gita".
Kapila is described within the Puranas as an incarnation of Vishnu, an avatar come to earth to restore the spiritual balance through his teachings. He is known for teaching a process of liberation known as bhakti yoga. Buddhist sources present Kapila as a well-known philosopher whose students built the city of Kapilavastu. Buddha lived and grew up in Kapilavastu for the first 29 years of his life! Kapila shared many similarities with Buddha, including an emphasis on meditation as a technique for removing suffering, belief that the Vedic gods were subject to limitations and conditions, and dislike for ritual and Brahmanic doctrines. Kapilavastu means the substance of Kapila.
Birth of the Ganges
Kapila is a major figure in the story associated with the descent of the Ganges (Goddess Ganga) river from heaven. King Sagar, an ancestor of Rama, had performed the Aswamedha yagna ninety-nine times. On the hundredth time the horse was sent around the earth Indra, the King of Swarga (Heaven), grew jealous and kidnapped the horse, hiding it in the hermitage of Kapila.
The 60,000 sons of Sagara found the horse, and believing Kapila to be the abductor assaulted him. Kapila turned his assailants to ashes. Anshuman, a grandson of King Sagara, came to Kapila begging him to redeem the souls of Sagara's 60,000 sons. Kapila replied that only if the Ganges descended from heaven and touched the ashes of the 60,000 would they be redeemed. The Ganges was eventually brought to earth, redeeming the sons of Sagara, through the tapasya of King Bhagiratha, a descendent of Sagara.
Scriptures claim the Kapila was a song of Pralada, who in mythology is a King of the Asuras (demons) although who surrendered himself to the worship of Vishnu.
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 Yudhisthira), '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.) 
- "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
Some Buddhists texts claim the Buddha was Kapila in a previous life.
The Buddha, before becoming a proponent of Buddhism was a pupil under his mentors Kamala and Arada.
Asvaghosa in his Buddhacharita writes that Buddha had Sankhya 'pandits' or teachers, and which aspects of the Buddha's philosophy are Sankhya.
Modern-day homage by Hindus
As the ashram of Kapila was in Khulna (now in Bangladesh) there is still a place called Kapilmuni. In Gangasagar, 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.
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.
See also↑Jump back a section
- Dasgupta, Surendranath (1949). A history of Indian philosophy. IV: Indian pluralism. Cambridge University Press. p. 30.
- Sheridan, Daniel (1986). The Advaitic Theism of the Bhagavata Purana. Columbia, Mo: South Asia Books. pp. 42–43. ISBN 81-208-0179-2.
- Ikshaku tribe The Mahabharata translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1883 -1896), Book 3: Vana Parva: Tirtha-yatra Parva: Section CVI, p. 228 'There was born in the family of the Ikshaku tribe, a ruler of the earth named Sagara, endued with beauty, and strength...".
- Sons of Sagara Vishnu Purana translated by Horace Hayman Wilson, 1840, Book IV, Chapter IV. p. 378 the gods repaired to the Muni Kapila, who was a portion of Vishńu, free from fault, and endowed with all true wisdom. Having approached him with respect, they said, "O lord, what will become of the world, if these sons of Sagara are permitted to go on in the evil ways which they have learned from Asamanjas! Do thou, then, assume a visible form, for the protection of the afflicted universe." "Be satisfied," replied the sage, "in a brief time the sons of Sagara shall be all destroyed.".
- Bhishma said... (The Mahabharata translated by Kisari Mohan Ganguli (1883 -1896), Book 12: Santi Parva: Part III, Section CCCII.
- P. 39 The Bengalles: Glimpses of History and Culture By Samaren Roy
- P. 39 The Bengalles: Glimpses of History and Culture By Samaren Roy
- The Sánkhya Aphorisms of Kapila, 1885 translation by James R. Ballantyne, edited by Fitzedward Hall.