Samkhya Yoga Darshan- The Classical Indian Philosophy


Dr. V.K.Maheshwari, M.A(Socio, Phil) B.Sc. M. Ed, Ph.D

Former Principal, K.L.D.A.V.(P.G) College, Roorkee, India


Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya (Sanskrit: सांख्य, : sāṃkhya – ‘enumeration’) is one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered as the founder of the Samkhya school, although no historical verification is possible. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India.This is the most significant system of philosophy that India has produced.”  Professor Garbe, who devoted a large part of his life to the study of the Sankhya, consoled himself with the thought that “in Kapila’s doctrine, for the first time in the history of the world, the complete independence and freedom of the human mind, its full confidence in its own powers, were exhibited.”

Its earliest extant literature, the Sankhya-karika of the commentator Ishvara Krishna,dates back only to the fifth century A.D., and the Sankbya-sutras once attributed to Kapila are not older than our fifteenth century; but the origins of the system apparently antedate Buddhism itself.  The Buddhist texts and the Mahabharata  repeatedly refer to it, and Winternitz finds its influence in Pythagoras.

Kapila is  once a realist and a scholastic. He begins almost medically by laying it down, in his first aphorism, that “the complete cessation of pain … is the complete goal of man.” He rejects as inadequate the at- tempt to elude suffering by physical means; he refutes, with much logical prestidigitation, the views of all and sundry on the matter, and then proceeds to construct, in one unintelligibly abbreviated sutra after another, his own metaphysical system. It derives its name from his enumeration of the twenty-five Realities (Tattivas, “Thatnesses”) which, in Kapila’s judgment, make up the world.

The Samkhya philosophy combines the basic doctrines of Samkhya and Yoga. However it should be remembered that the Samkhya represents the theory and Yoga  represents the application or the practical aspects.

The Sankhya system is based on Satkaryavada. According to Satkaryavada, the effect pre-exists in the cause. 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.

The Sankhya system is  an exponent of an evolutionary theory of matter beginning with primordial matter. In evolution, Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Evolution is followed by dissolution. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects mingle back into Prakriti, which now remains as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. This is how the cycles of evolution and dissolution follow each other.

Samkhya is dualistic realism. It is dualistic because it advocates two ultimate realities: Prakriti, matter and Purusha, self (spirit). Samkhya is realism as it considers that both matter and spirit are equally real.  According to Samkhya the cause is always subtler than the effect.

Prakriti is the non-self.  It is devoid of consciousness Prakriti is unintelligible and gets greatly influenced by the Purusha, the self.  It can only manifest itself as the various objects of experience of the Purusha

Prakriti is constituted of three gunas, namely sattvarajas and tamas. The term guna, in ordinary sense means quality or nature. But here, it is to be understood in the sense of constituent (component) in Samkhya. Sattva is concerned with happiness. While rajas is concerned with action, tamas is associated with ignorance and inaction.

Sattva is the guna whose essence is purity, fineness and subtlety. Rajas is concerned with the actions of objects.

Tamas is the constituent concerned with the inertia and inaction. In material objects, it resists motion and activity.

Samkhya maintains that the three gunas of Prakriti are also associated with all the world-objects. Prakriti is the primordial and ultimate cause of all physical existence. Naturally the three gunas which constitute Prakriti also constitute every object of the physical world. Prakriti is never static. Even before evolution, the gunas are relentlessly changing and balancing each other. As a result, Prakriti and all the physical objects that are effected or produced by Prakriti, are also in a state of constant change and transformation. This is further confirmed by the scientists today.( It is now proved beyond doubt that ultra-minute particles of objects – like electrons – are in a state of incessant motion and transformation.)

According to Samkhya, the efficient cause of the world is Purusha and the material cause is the Prakriti. Here Purusha stands for the ‘Supreme spirit’ and Prakriti stands for ‘matter’. Purusha (spirit) is the first principle of Samkhya. Prakriti is the second, the material principle of Samkhya.

Prakriti is the material cause of the world. Prakriti is dynamic. Its dynamism is attributed to its constituent gunas. The gunas are not only constituents, nor are they simply qualities. The gunas are the very essence of PrakritiGunas are constituents not only of Prakriti but also of all world-objects as they are produced by PrakritiPrakriti is considered homogeneous and its constituent gunas cannot be separated. The gunas are always changing, rendering a dynamic character to Prakriti. Still a balance among three gunas is maintained in Prakriti. The changes in the gunas and in thePrakriti may take two forms: Homogeneous and Heterogeneous. Homogeneous changes do not affect the state of equilibrium in the Prakriti. As a result, worldly objects are not produced.  Heterogeneous changes involve radical interaction among the three gunas. They disturb the state of equilibrium. This is the preliminary phase of the evolution. As the gunas undergo more and more changes, Prakriti goes on differentiating into numerous, various world-objects. Thus it becomes more and more determinate. This is what is termed as evolution.

In evolution, Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Evolution is followed by dissolution. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects mingle back into Prakriti, which now remains as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. This is how the cycles of evolution and dissolution follow each other.

The evolution  results in 23 different categories of objects. They comprise of three elements  of  Antahkaranas or the internal organs as well as the ten Bahyakaranas or the external organs

Among all these, the first to evolve is Mahat(the great one). Mahat evolves as a result of preponderance of sattva. Since it is an evolute of Prakriti, it is made of matter. But it has psychological, intellectual aspect known as buddhi or intellect. Mahat or intellect is a unique faculty of human beings. It helps man in judgment and discrimination. Buddhi can reflect  Purusha owing to these qualities.

The second evolute is ahamkara (ego). It arises out of the cosmic nature of MahatAhamkara is the self-sense. It is concerned with the self-identity and it brings about awareness of “I” and “mine”.

According to the Samkhya there emanates two sets of objects from ahamkara. The first set comprises of the manas (mind), the five sense-organs and the five motor organs. The second set consists of the five elements which may exist in two forms, subtle and gross.

The five subtle elements are also called tanmatras. These five subtle elements or tanmatras are:

  1. Shabda ( elemental sound)
  2. Sparsha (elemental touch)
  3. Rupa( elemental colour)
  4. Rasa( elemental taste)
  5. Gandha( elemental smell)

. The gross elements  arise as a result of combination of the subtle elements.

The five gross elements are space or ether (akasa), water, air, fire and earth.

It should be noted here that the manas or the mind is different from Mahat or the buddhiManas or the mind in co-ordination with the sense-organs, receives impressions from the external world, transforms them into determinate perceptions and conveys them to the experiencer or the ego. Thus manas is produced and is capable of producing also. But though Mahat is produced, it can not produce.

As we have seen ahamkara produces both the subtle and the gross elements. These gross elements are produced by various combinations of subtle elementsThe five gross elements combine in different ways to form all gross objects. All the gross elements and the gross objects in the world are perceivable.

The evolution obeys causality relationships, with primal Nature itself being the material cause of all physical creation. The cause and effect theory of Sankhya is called Satkaarya-vaada (theory of existent causes), and holds that nothing can really be created from or destroyed into nothingness – all evolution is simply the transformation of primal Nature from one form to another.

The evolution of matter occurs when the relative strengths of the attributes change. The evolution ceases when the spirit realizes that it is distinct from primal Nature and thus cannot evolve. This destroys the purpose of evolution, thus stopping Prakrti from evolving for Purusha.

Samkhya and the Theory of Knowledge

Samkhya accepts three sources of valid knowledge: Perception, inference and testimony.

According to Samkhya, the manas(mind), the Mahat (intellect = buddhi) and the purusha play a role in ‘producing’ knowledge. When the sense-organs come in contact with an object, the sensations and impressions reach the manas. The manas processes these impressions into proper forms and converts them into determinate percepts. These percepts are carried to the Mahat. By its own applications, Mahat gets modified. Mahat takes the form of the particular object. This transformation of Mahat is known as vritti or modification of buddhi. But still the process of knowledge is not completed.Mahat is a physical entity. It lacks consciousness so it can not generate knowledge on its own. However, it can reflect the consciousness of thePurusha(self). Illumined by the consciousness of the reflected self, the unconscious Mahat becomes conscious of the form into which it is modified (i.e. of the form of the object.

Samkhya cites out two types of perceptions:

Indeterminate (nirvikalpa) perceptions and determinate  (savikalpa) perceptions.

Indeterminate perceptions are sort of pure sensations or crude impressions. They reveal no knowledge of the form or the name of the object. There is vague awareness about an object. There is cognition, but no recognition.

Determinate perceptions are the mature state of perceptions which have been processed and differentiated appropriately. Once the sensations have been processed, categorized and interpreted properly, they become determinate perceptions. They can lead to identification and also generate knowledge.

Samkhya and God

Kapila, the proponent of the Samkhya School, rules out the existence of God. He asserts that the existence of God can not be proved and that God does not exist. Samkhya argues that if God exists and if God is eternal and unchanging as is widely claimed, then he can not be the cause of the world. A cause has to be active and changing.

Bondage and Salvation

Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Samkhya regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and suffering.  According to Samkhya, the self is eternal, pure consciousness.  Due to ignorance, the self identifies itself with the physical body and its constituents. Once the self becomes free of this false identification and the material bonds, the salvation is possible.

Yoga system of Indian philosophy

The Yoga system of philosophy was founded by Patanjali. He authored the Yoga Sutras or the aphorisms of Yoga. What is Yoga? Literally, a yoke: not so much a yoking or union of the soul with the Supreme Being,  as the yoke of ascetic discipline and abstinence which the aspirant puts upon himself in order to cleanse his spirit of all material limitations, and achieve supernatural intelligence and powers.

Samkhya  system is based on atheism but Yoga believes in God.

The Yoga system of philosophy accepts three fundamental realities, namely, Ishwara, Purusha and Prakriti or the primordial matter. Patanjali says that scriptures are the sources of the existence of Ishwara. Ishwara is omniscient and is free from the qualities inherent in Prakriti. Patanjali defines Yoga as ‘Chittavriitinirodha’. Yoga is the restraint of the mental operations.

Patanjali names some obstacles to the path of Yoga. They are called ‘Antarayas’ and they include:

  • Vyadhi (illness),
  • styana (apathy),
  • Samsaya (doubt),
  • Pramada (inadvertence),
  • Alasya (laziness),
  • Avirati (incontinence),
  • Bhrantidarshana (wrong understanding),
  • Alabdha Bhumikatva (non-attainment of mental plane)
  • Anavasthitatva (instability).

In addition to the obstacles mentioned above, Patanjali accepts five more obstacles called

  • Dukha (pain),
  • Daurmanasya (frustration,
  • Angamejayatva (fickle limbs)
  • , Svasa (spasmodic breathing in)
  • Prasvasa (spasmodic breathing out).

Patanjali speaks about Jatyantara Parinama or the phenomenon of the evolution of one species or genus into another species or genus.

Matter is the root of ignorance and suffering; therefore Yoga seeks to free the soul from all sense phenomena and all bodily attachment; it is an attempt to attain supreme enlightenment and salvation in one life by atoning in one existence for all the sins of the soul’s past incarnations.

Such enlightenment cannot be won at a stroke; the aspirant must move towards it step by step, and no stage of the process can be understood by anyone who has not passed through the stages before it; one comes to Yoga only by long and patient study and self-discipline.

The stages of Yoga are eight:

I. Yama, or the death of desire; here the soul accepts the restraints of ahmsa and Brahmacharia, abandons all self-seeking, emancipates itself from all material interests and pursuits, and wishes well to all things. Yama means restraint. One must turn to ethics by refraining himself from immoral activities. This is the first step towards self–discipline. Niyamameans observance. It refers to the cultivation of values and virtues in life. These two angaYama and Niyama – protects the aspirant from irresistible temptations and desires and offer a protection from the distractions.

II. Niyama, a faithful observance of certain preliminary rules for Yoga: cleanliness, content, purification, study, and piety.

The next two steps, asana and pranayama, prepares the physical body for the Yogic practice.

III. Asana, posture; the aim here is to still all movement as well as all sensation; the best asana for this purpose is to place the right foot upon the left thigh and the left foot upon the right thigh, to cross the hands and grasp the two great toes, to bend the chin upon the chest, and direct the eyes to the tip of the nose.

IV. Pranayama, or regulation of the breath: by these exercises one may forget everything but breathing, and in this way clear his mind for the passive emptiness that must precede absorption; at the same time one may learn to live on a minimum of air, and may let himself, with impunity, be buried in the earth for many days.

V. Pratyahara, abstraction; now the mind controls all the senses, and with- draws itself from all sense objects. Pratyahara is concerned with the withdrawal of the senses. The senses, by their inherent nature, remain focused on the external world. Pratyaharahelps to detach the sense organs from the objects of the world. The isolation from the world objects facilitates the concentration of the mind on any particular object.

VI. Dharana, or concentration the identification or filling of the mind and the senses with one idea or object to the exclusion of everything else. The fixation of any one object long enough will free the soul of all sensation, all specific thought, and all selfish desire; then the mind, abstracted fromthings, will be left free to feel the immaterial essence of reality .

VII. Dhyana, or meditation: this is an almost hypnotic condition, resulting from Dharana; it may be produced, says Patanjali, by the persistent repetition of the sacred syllable Om.

VIII. Samadhi, or trance contemplation; even the last thought now disappears from the mind; empty, the mind loses consciousness of itself as a separate being;  it is merged with totality, and achieves a blissful and god- like comprehension of all things in One. Samadhi is the ultimate stage of Yogic practice. Now all self-awareness of the mind disappearsThe illusion is gone. This is the ultimate, nirbeej Samadhi. There is the unification of the subject and the object. Now there is no object at all.  The duo, the subject and the object, mingles into unity. They are no separate entities. There is only one, but it is not an object.  There is oneness devoid of material existence; it is pure Consciousness.

Nevertheless it is not God, or union with God, that the yogi seeks; in the Yoga philosophy God (Ishvara) is not the creator or preserver of the universe, or the rewarder and punisher of men, but merely one of several objects on which the soul may meditate as a means of achieving concentration and enlightenment. The aim, frankly, is that dissociation of the mind from the body, that removal of all material obstruction from the spirit, which brings with it, in Yoga theory, supernatural understanding and capacity.

Eliot compares, for the illumination of this stage, a passage from Schopenhauer, obviously inspired by his study of Hindu philosophy: “When some sudden cause or inward disposition lifts us out of the endless stream of willing, the attention is no longer directed to the motives of willing, but comprehends things free from their relation to the will, and thus observes them without subjectivity, purely objectively, gives itself entirely up to them so far as they are ideas, but not in so far as they are motives. Then all at once the peace that we were always seeking, but which always fled from us on the former path of die desires, comes to us of its own accord, and it is well with us.” which remains when all sense attachments have been exercised away. To the extent to which the soul can free itself from its physical environment and prison it becomes Brahman, and exercises Brahman’s intelligence and power. Here the magical basis of religion reappears, and almost threatens the essence of religion itself the worship of powers superior to man.

In the days of the Upanishads, Yoga was pure mysticism an attempt to realize the identity of the soul with God. In Hindu legend it is said that in ancient days seven Wise Men, or Rishis, acquired, by penance and medi- tation, complete knowledge of all things. In the later history of India Yoga became corrupted with magic, and thought more of the power of miracles than of the peace of understanding. The Yogi trusts that by Yoga he will be able to anesthetize and control any part of his body by concentrating upon it;  he will be able at will to make himself invisible, or to prevent his body from being moved, or to pass in a moment from any part of the earth, or to live as long as he desires, or to know the past and the future, and the most distant stars.


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