It is extremely common for ancient Indian AchArya-s to remain mere names, with little if anything else known about them. As a result their dates and biographies are subject to wild speculations and debates. Such debates, often spearheaded by White indologists and their oriental imitators, show a general tendency to mistrust Hindu sources, obfuscate matters and apply an ad hoc system of decisions to decide whether someone is early or late. It would seem that their general their rule of the thumb is to provide as late dates as possible for most Hindu sources, and try to make it appear that most philosophical development happened after the Buddhists or the contact with the Greeks.
One Acharya of considerable interest in the development of Hindu thought is vArShagaNya, the great proponent of the sAMkhya-yoga school. He could perhaps be credited with being the first to formulate a version of the law of conservation of mass (energy) and thus becomes an important individual in the history of Hindu science. He is cited as an ancient authority in the vyAsa-bhAShya on the sUtra-s of pata~njali. vAchaspati miShra suggests that he as the author an ancient sAMkhya text termed the ShaShThI-tantra from which the vyAsa-bhAshya draws its citations. In the least it is certain that in discussing sUtra-s of pata~njali the commentator vyAsa had access to a text by vArShagaNya. He is also mentioned in a commentary named yuktidIpikA on Ishvara-kR^iShNa’s kArika-s as a prior authority of sAMkhya.
Multiple Chinese sources also describe vArShagaNya as an authority of the sAMkhya school. One of these is the Indian Acharya paramArtha who settled in Nanjing, China (around 550 CE) and composed a biographical work on the philosopher vasubandhu of the kaushika gotra from school of puShpapura (modern Peshawar in the Islamic Terrorist state). In this work he states that the great sage of the sAMkhya school was vArShagaNya who was king of the nAga-s living at the base of the Vindhya mountains. His student vindhyavAsa reworked and revised the sAMkhya doctrine and composed a collection of shloka-s containing this revised version of sAMkhya. He participated in a philosophical debate with the bauddha AchArya buddhamitra in Ayodhya, presided over by the king vikramAditya. vindhyavAsa routed buddhamitra in this debate and as result won a great reward from king vikramAditya and thus brought the ascendancy of sAMkhya. It was in order to counter vindhyavAsa that the bauddha-s rallied under vasubandhu to compose the polemical work paramArtha-saptati against sAMkhya.
The chInAchArya Hsuen-Tsang’s student Kuei-chi considered the positions of the sAMkhya theorists as the pUrva-pakSha in defending the bauddha mata. Here, he mentions that the chief sAMkhya teacher was a certain ba-li-sha in chIna-bhAShA, which meant “rain” in deva-bhAShA. His followers were known as the “rain-host” (which would be a Chinese translation of varSha=rain; gaNa=host). Their chief work is supposed to have been some thing called the hiraNya-saptati, which was used in debating against Indian bauddha Acharya-s who were the teachers of the chIna-s.
Thus, the available Chinese and Hindu material clearly indicate that vArShagaNya was a major sAMkhya teacher who had influenced the course of its development.
paramArtha mentions that buddhamitra was vasubandhu’s teacher. Now the White Indologists and their fellow travelers concluded that since vArShagaNya was a teacher of vindhyavAsa, vArShagaNya should have in turn been a senior contemporary of vasubandhu and place him at around 350 CE. This claim has since accepted and used over and over again to date vyAsa bhAShya, the yoga-sUtra etc. However, this claim when examined closely has problematic issues and arises from the indological habit of accepting certain traditional presentations as facts over others, to suit the late dates typically favored by White Indologists.
1) The Chinese work of paramArtha is clearly mythologizing vArShagaNya- it calls him the king of the nAga-s. 2) It calls buddhamitra as the teacher of vasubandhu during vikramAditya’s reign. But this is contradicted by the accounts of Hsuen-Tsang and Kuei-chi who state that vasubandhu was brAhmaNa manoratha’s student and do not establish a direct connection between the bauddha Acharya defeated by the sAMkhya-s and vasubandhu. 3) paramArtha skips from vikramAditya to bAlAditya in his narrative (around 470 CE) suggesting his account of gupta chronology was contrived. 4) The Chinese sources also conflate the hiraNya-saptati with the kArika of Ishvara-kR^iShNa – something for which we have no evidence from any Indian source. In conclusion we see 1) the general sketchiness of paramArtha’s narrative from the historical viewpoint, 2) its variance from other chIna sources, and 3) the tendency of both paramArtha and Kuei-chi to mythologize vArShagaNya, though to different degrees. Thus they can hardly be used to conclusively anchor the date of vArShagaNya to the exclusion of evidence from all other Indian textual sources.
In the Hindu sources vArShagaNya is associated with the tradition of the sAmaveda. There was a major sAmavedic redactor of that name who is mentioned in the jaiminIya gR^ihya sUtra, and there might have even been a shAkha of the sAmaveda (or sub-school of jaiminIya) by that name. The vaMsha brAhmaNa of the sAmavedic tradition provides his full name as sushravas vArShagaNya and places him as a student of prAtarAhna kauhala. A certain vArShagaNya is also referred to in bharata’s nATya shAstra as the founder of a technique of discharging a weapon. The most important mention of vArShagaNya is in the mahAbharata (vulgate/Ganguli edition 12[shAnti parvan].319). The specific context of his mention is notable: Chapters 12.302-12.316 (vulgate) contain an elaboration of different forms of sAMkhya thought – including some of the high points of Hindu thought, namely early formulations of the evolutionary theory of life. This is followed by chapters 12.317-13.320 that delve into yoga. The yoga presented here (12.317), while brief, is definitely related to the presentation in pata~njali’s sUtra-s. It mentions the prANAyama, the eight limbs of yoga, the attainment of siddhi-s and the state of samAdhi. However, it is important to note that there is no mention what so ever of pata~njali. Instead in the subsequent chapter (12.319) in a brahmodaya between yAj~navalkya and the gandharva vishvAvasu we are given a list of yoga-sAMkhya teachers, which includes the name vArShagaNya, along with other sAMkhya teachers like kapila, jaigishavya and pa~nchashikha but not pata~njali. This, together with the general indication of the epic sAMkhya preceding the classical sAMkhya, suggests that pata~njali, unlike kapila, was a later figure and was systematizing in his sUtra-s the yoga already presented in the epic. It also shows that vArShagaNya was an early pre-pata~njali teacher of the sAMkhya-yoga school rather than a senior contemporary of vasubandhu of the abhidharma.
In all likelihood given vArShagaNya’s mention in the Mbh, he was a pre-bauddha teacher of an atomic sAMkhya theory. Perhaps this also explains why the vyAsa bhAShya is termed so. It was probably based on a sAMkhya text of vArShagaNya associated with the mahAbhArata and thereby vyAsa. Hence, it could have inherited that name, although it is entirely possible that the author was simply named vyAsa and conflated with the Epic author (e.g. vAchaspati in his commentary calls the yoga-bhAShya’s author veda-vyAsa). Ultimately, in all accounts it was the followers of his school who revised the original teachings of vArShagaNya that the bauddha-s debated, rather than vArShagaNya, consistent with him being earlier than the dates of those debates.
We may reconstruct the following from the prior discussions the following relative temporal series:
vedic brAhmaNa authors->(yAj~navalkya and his school)-> kapila-> pa~nchashikha-> jaigishavya and vArShagaNya-> pata~njali-> vyAsa of bhAShya + other members who follow vArShagaNya school-> Ishvara-kR^iShNa (classical sAMkhya)-> gauDapAda-> sha~Nkara-> vAchaspati mishra
The four following the vedic brAhmaNa authors, along with the parallel tradition of the bhR^igu smR^iti, constitute the saMkhya of the mahAbhArata. We would place all AchArya-s prior to Ishvara-kR^iShNa as being before 400 CE.