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Sankhya/Samkhya Philosophy

Sanskrit word Sankhya or Samkhya means enumeration. According to samkhya philosophy, God is the seed of the universe & knowledge. He created pursha, the soul & prakriti the nature. Purusha is the eternal, all-knowing and absolute reality without any attributes. 

Prakriti also is absolute and eternal reality, but it is non sentient. The Shristi (creative process) begins when pursha joins prakriti & becomes established in it. Out of this process evolves 24 principles. These principles of nature mould & blend with its three gunas or qualities namely Sattva (purity, light, harmony), Rajas (passion, activity, motion) and Tamas (inertia, darkness, inertness, inactivity). The hub of life is interdependent upon these three gunas wherein all the twenty-four tattvas or principles of nature of man revolve around them.


According to Sankhya, there are an infinite number of purushas, each of which is existent, eternal and sentient. When Purusha comes into contact with prakriti, purusha throws its reflection on prakriti and the power of purusha (maya) infuses prakriti, disturbing the equilibrium of its three gunas. The three gunas (elements) of prakriti, when agitated by maya, which is the power of purusha, enter into different permutations and combinations making the unmanifest prakriti undergo an evolution into different manifest forms. In this process Purusha remains an unattached viewer of these changes, while Prakriti becomes the insentient doer and enjoyer of the changes. Sattva, Rajas & Tamas Gunas (or qualities) give rise to the creations which are called the 24 tattvas (categories of existence).These are:-

Sattva Gives Rise To:
Buddhi = intelligence, discrimination, analysis
Ahamkara = the ego
Manas = the mind or the mental functions, builds perceptions, images, concepts
Chitta = the unconscious, memory bank

Rajas Gives Rise To Five Sense Organs (Jnanendriyas):
The ears and hearing
The skin and feeling
The eyes and seeing
The tongue and tasting
The nose and smelling
The Five Action Organs (Karmendriyas):
The mouth and speaking
The hands and handling
The bowels and excretion
The genitals and sexual activity
The feet and movement of the body

Tamas Gives Rise To Five Subtle Elements (Tanmatras):
Energy of vibration or sound (Sabda)
Energy of impact or touch (Sparsha)
Energy of light and form or form (Rupa)
Energy of viscous attraction or taste (Rasha)
Energy of cohesive attraction or smell (Gandha)
The Five Gross Elements (Bhutas)
Ether, Air, Fire, Water, Earth


The Gunas are the objects. Purusha is the witness-subject. Prakriti evolves under the influence of Purusha. When Purusha activates Prakriti, the first thing to emerge in this process of evolution of Prakriti is mahat(the great principle). From the mahat evolves buddhi & manas. Buddhi is the principle of intelligence or the discriminating awareness & manas is mind which consists of pure consciousness. From buddhi evolves ahmkara (the feeling of individuality and separation) & the five tanmatras. The rest of the principles arise from mind, which are the five senses, the five organs of actions and the five gross elements. These are the 24 evolutes & together with the Purusha (individual soul) who joins with Prakriti to initiate this process, the number becomes 25. In this process of evolution, the individual-self (jeevatma) gets bonded to the manifest world by ignorance (avidya). For this reason alone, our way of looking at things such as our bodies, our senses & our habits are all different. Observation can only occur when the Purusha has the energy & inclination to go out within & come back with impressions of the outer world.

According to the Yoga Vasistha, people who are of a satvic nature and whose activities are mainly based on satva will tend to seek answers regarding the origin and truth of material life. With proper support they are likely to reach liberation. Rajas is associated with concepts of energy, activity, ambition, and passion; so that, depending on how it is used, it can either have a supportive or hindering effect on the evolution of the soul. Tamas is commonly associated with inertia, darkness, insensitivity. Souls who are more tamasic are considered imbued in darkness and take the longest to reach liberation. Prakriti is closely associated with the concept of Maya within Vedic scripture.


According to Sankhya, the mind plays a significant role in the process of the evolution of Prakriti. For that, there are many paths of yoga for attaining clarity of mind. Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga acts as an instrument for attaining clarity of mind. Patanjali begins the sadhana pada, of the Yoga Sutras, with a discussion on the five great obstacles (klesas) to the practice of Yoga, namely, avidya (ignorance), asmita (egoism), raga (attachment), dvesha (anger) and abhinivesa (will to live). A yogi has to eliminate these obstacles for the success of his practice of yoga. 

This is done step by step, by putting restraints on his social behavior through yamas and his personal inner behavior through niyamas and by regulating the activities of his gross and subtle bodies through the practice of asanas, pranayama and pratyahara, in the light of the Vedic concepts of human physiology, psychology and cosmology. If real clarity of mind is present, we experience quietness & peace within us. We will be able to recognize our duhkha or suffering that arises out of the incorrect understanding of avidya & we must know that we can avoid it. This is the real awareness & freedom from all bondage.


Recognizing the major role of the mind in the process of evolution, Patanjali makes use of mind and its activities for the counter movement of involution in the process of meditation. The attention of the mind is systematically used to encounter, examine and to transcend every level of the manifestation of reality for moving inward to the core of being, which is pure consciousness. Meditation starts with the concentration of the mind on the external world, with the awareness of the gross objects composed of five elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth. 

The mind then proceeds to explore the cognitive senses (jnanendriyas), active senses (karmendriyas) and then to mind (manas) itself, which is the source of the other 15 evolutes through the process of withdrawal (pratyahara). The process reaches the last stage when ego (ahamkara), which is an agent of attachment and aversion and which provides the individual with false identities, is encountered. When the yogi transcends this I-ness (ahamkara), he transcends all levels of attachment and false identities and reaches the stage of Intelligence (Budhi). 

This is the stage where the individual consciousness is freed from the entanglement of the manifest world. But even Budhi is a construct or one of the evolutes of Prakriti. The goal of meditation is reached only when the individual self (atman) is completely separated from all relationship with Prakriti and comes to the realization of its reaching pure consciousness. This stage of the atman becoming completely separated from Prakriti to the self-realization of pure consciousness is called Kaivalya/Mukti in Sankhya-Yoga.


The world as we see it is a combination of these aspects constantly interacting with one another. Everything that happens in the external world influences us and what happens within us in its turn has an influence on our relationship with the external world. In death Purusha vanishes. The body, the brain & the sense organs are still present but they are lifeless because the Purusha is gone. 

Yet for the Purusha, there is no death because it is imperishable. The weapons cannot cut nor fire can burn it, water cannot wet it nor can wind dry it. Our mind cannot see the Purusha. But it is the constant witness to all our actions. Because the Purusha works through the mind, it can only see when the mind is clear. Finally Purusha, pure consciousness, rests in itself, alone, separate from all evolutes of Prakriti. The seeker on the path of self-realization seeks even a minute or a moment of this highest glimpse of realization, after which he or she continues to purify the remaining samskaras and karmas.

Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna
Aum Shanti