Samkhya Philosophy

27th August 2019 // By Dhyan Praveshika Team // HomeArticles

Samkhya philosophy is one of the first philosophical systems, or Darśana (‘view’ in Sanskrit) to be born out of Hindu Tradition. The word ‘Samkhya’ translates to ‘calculation’, which in this context means to take account of different elements of reality. It adopts the system of Dualism, unlike the Tantra school of thought which believes that matter and the soul, are the same in universal essence. Samkhya believes that Prakriti (matter) and Purusa (eternal soul) are originally two separate entities, but through evolution, the purusa has started to mistakenly identify itself with prakriti. According to this philosophy, the highest level of knowledge is being able to differentiate between prakriti and purusa.

Kapila, an ancient Vedic age, is credited as the founder of Samkhya, but not of the principal texts known as Samkhya-Karika. Samkhya-Karika was developed in the 3rd to 4th century and is considered to have given this school it’s philosophical definition. The first development of Samkhya philosophy can be found as early as the Rig Veda, in the Upanishads and the Mahabharata. Some believe that before the Samkhya Karika was written, the philosophies of Samkhya were already well developed and had its own influence. Samkhya is believed to be born out of explorations of rooted cosmic dualism and introspective practices such as Yoga and Meditation. Some modern scholars believe that the philosophy of Yoga (as formulated by Patanjali) is inspired by the Samkhya philosophy.

Samkhya philosophy believes in a permanent pain suffered by all that can only find temporary relief through medicines and fulfillment. This suffering, as a human reality, is the foundation and the beginning of the Samkhya philosophy. The method through which one may gain freedom from this suffering is through immense knowledge of the Vyakta (the Manifest/ unconsciousness), the avyakta (Prakriti / the Unmanifest), and Jna (Purusa /soul). Here we see dualism come in play, distinctively as Purusa and Prakriti. This school assumes the existence of two bodies, a temporal body, and body of subtle matter which perishes after death. The two are both eternal and independent of each other. Purusa is all-conscious, unchangeable, without desire, pervading within each individual, none superior to the other, in a physical world known as Prakriti. Prakriti is the subtle matter which is determined only by time and space.

Prakriti has 25 principles of reality, known as tattvas which are created and uncreated, unlike Purusa which just exists. According to Samkhya, all principles of reality can be explained through these tattvas, and the tattvas also justify the name Samkhya and it’s calculative nature. The methodology mentioned in the principal texts for the understanding of the Samkhya philosophy and more specifically Prakriti is through inference (meditation), perception and valid testimony, not through base physical senses i.e. sight. The philosophy explains that something cannot come from nothing, this theory of causation is called ‘Gunas’. It believes that a specific cause can only produce a specific affect. The Manifested (Prakriti) is active, dependent and non-pervasive and the Unmanifested (Purusu) is the opposite, meaning there has to be a cause for Prakriti. The distinctive nature of Prakriti is also because of the attached attributes of attva - lightness, illuminating, and enlightening knowledge, rajas - passion, energy and emotion, and tamas - dark, ignorant and sluggish. This system believes the cause of Prakriti (the Manifest) is the Purusa (Unmanifest) which conveys its power through the different gunas in the Prakriti world.

The existence of Purusa, completely separate from Prakriti, spikes the disruption of the gunas, leading to their interaction in the Manifest world. When Purusa which is pure consciousness, collides with Prakriti, it is evolved into Buddhi (spiritual awareness), then to Ahamkara (the individualized ego consciousness - I-conciousness), both imposing upon the Purusa a misunderstanding that the ego is the basis of its existence. The Purusa is considered a pure witness, inactive and neutral. It must exist because consciousness exists, and also exists as a separate entity because freedom from Prakriti exists, and if Purusa did not, then freedom and suffering would not be possible. The nature of Kaivalya (ultimate goal) is different in Samkhya than other Hindu philosophies, as it allows experience in the first place which also allows relief from suffering.

KAIVALYA (Liberation)
The way Samkhya decodes liberation from human suffering is by analyzing the foundations of the metaphysical world and finding the ultimate source of suffering. Creation, in this philosophy, is considered as a result of Purusa and Prakriti colliding, although intertwined, Purusa is not bound by Prakriti. Hence, liberation can be achieved by the recognition of Prakriti as a manifold creation which can be released. The realization of the difference between Purusa and Prakriti, whereby an individual loses interest in Prakriti is liberated from all bodies

Dhyan Praveshika Team