Samkhya Philosophy

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Based on: Worthington V (1982) 
A History of Yoga
; Arkana

The first definitive statement of the Samkhya* philosophy** is attributed to Kapila and the first definitive extant text is the Samkhya-kapila of circa 4th century CE. 

The philosophy is 'dualistic'. On the one hand there is Prakriti (nature or matter) and on the other is Purusha (soul or consciousness). 

*The word Samkhya means a collection of numbered lists. This reflects its origins in preliterate systematic theory.

**Tradition recognises six traditional schools of philosophy (Darshanas) in India.

Prakriti is comprised of three qualities (Gunas) which interact in the make up of physical things in a manner not unlike the relationship between atoms and molecules. The characteristics of the three gunas are illustrated in the following table:




Dullness  Passion  Virtue
Dark, stupid, ugly Active, fierce  Beautiful,  good, wise
Sloth  Energy  Intelligence & self consciousness


Evolution takes place within Prakriti (nature or matter).

  • Sattva is the highest manifestation, and the quality to be aimed at and realised. 
  • Tamas provides obstacles to this realisation. 
  • Rajas is the force by which the obstacles may be overcome.
But, having unfolded, Sattva can again be enfolded - the good, wise, beautiful and virtuous have the impermanence of all created things! 

Cause and effect are seen as different temporal aspects of the same thing - the effect lies latent in the cause which in turn seeds the next effect.

Personality and intellect are attributes of matter (Prakriti) not of spirit (Purusha).

Words cannot do justice to Purusha - it is the Self, the Absolute, pure consciousness.

Purusha is a conscious witness which neither acts nor refrains from action. There is a relationship like that between a lame man (Purusha) and a blind man (Prakriti). 

Through association with Prakriti, Purusha gains experience of material existence and Prakriti has the possibility, through rajas and sattva, of knowing that which lies beyond material existence.

lame Purusha and blind Prakriti

Each person is composed of Prakriti (gross body) and is simultaneously Purusha (subtle body). But most people cannot see the difference. 

Because they are obviously Prakriti in substance people have the illusion of being Prakriti also in essence. Thus is soul bound to matter. But the soul can know its true nature and find release. Meditation is the key. 

the soul can know its true nature and find release

When attempting meditation for the first time you will be amazed at how busy your mind is and how easily it slides from sloth to passion to intelligence and back again. 

If up-front consciousness is a motor car then different characters can be thought of as being in the driver's seat at different times. You are all those characters. But there is an old granny in the back seat watching the young ones taking turns behind the wheel. You are also that granny. 

  In time and with practice (the Darshana known as Yoga explains how) you will come to know that granny and what lies behind her. Thus is release from matter and realisation of soul achieved.

Samkhya and Yoga agree on ends:

  • The object of existence is to realise moksha, release or liberation.
  • This means release from the obscurations caused by mind stuff and sense objects.
  • When we can see through the fog created by the mind and by the senses we can experience our true Self in all its pristine purity.
  • When this happens the world and all our activities appear as a picture show, having no permanent reality.
  • Although we continue to live and act we are no longer involved in it as we were formerly.
  • We are detached because we now understand it.

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