Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya (Sanskrit:
सांख्य, IAST: 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.
Samkhya was one of the six orthodox systems (astika,
those systems that recognize vedic authority) of Hindu
philosophy. The major text of this Vedic school is the
extant Samkhya Karika, circa 200 CE. This text (in
karika 70) identifies Sankhya as a Tantra and its
philosophy was one of the main influences both on the
rise of the Tantras as a body of literature, as well as
Tantra sadhana. There are no purely Sankhya schools
existing today in Hinduism, but its influence is felt in
the Yoga and Vedanta schools.
Samkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly
dualist. Samkhya philosophy regards the
universe as consisting of two realities: Purusha
(consciousness) and Prakriti (phenomenal realm of
matter). They are the experiencer and the experienced,
not unlike the res cogitans and res extensa of RenÚ
Descartes. Prakriti further bifurcates into animate and
inanimate realms. On the other hand, Purusha separates
out into countless Jivas or individual units of
consciousness as souls which fuse into the mind and body
of the animate branch of Prakriti.
There are differences between Sankhya and Western forms
of dualism. In the West, the fundamental distinction is
between mind and body. In Samkhya, however, it is
between the self (as Purusha) and matter (Prakriti).
Sage Kapila is considered as the founder of the Samkhya
school, but there is no evidence to prove that the texts
attributed to him, the Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra and the
Tattvasamāsa were actually composed by him. According to
a modern scholar Surendranath Dasgupta, the doctrine of
the earliest school of Samkhya is found in an ancient
Indian medical treatise, Charaka Samhita . Another early
extant text of this school is Sāṁkhya Kārikā of
Iśvarakṛṣṇa (3rd century). Iśvarakṛṣṇa in his Kārikā
described himself as being in the succession of the
disciples from Kapila, through Āsuri and Pa˝caśikha.
Gauḍapāda wrote a commentary on this Kārikā. The next
important work is Vācaspati’s Sāṁkhyatattvakaumudī (9th
century AD). Nārāyaṇa’s treatise Sāṁkhyacandrikā is
based on the Kārikā. The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra is
assigned to the 14th century, as Guṇaratna (14th
century) did not refer to this text but referred to the
Kārikā. This text consists of 6 chapters and 526 sūtras.
The most important commentary on the Sāṁkhyapravacana
Sūtra is Vij˝ānabhikṣu’s Sāṁkhyapravacanabhāṣya (16th
century). Anirruddha’s Kāpilasāṁkhyapravacanasūtravṛtti
(15th century) and Mahādeva’s
Sāṁkhyapravacanasūtravṛttisāra (c. 1600) and Nāgeśa’s
Laghusāṁkhyasūtravṛtti are the other important
commentaries on this text.
According to the Sankhya school, all knowledge is
possible through three pramanas (means of valid
1. Pratyaksha or Drishtam - direct sense perception,
2. Anumana - logical inference and
3. Sabda or Aptavacana - verbal testimony.
Sankhya cites two kinds of perceptions: Indeterminate (nirvikalpa)
perceptions and determinate (savikalpa) perceptions.
Indeterminate perceptions are merely impressions without
understanding or knowledge. They reveal no knowledge of
the form or the name of the object. There is only
external awareness about an object. There is cognition
of the object, but no discriminative recognition.
For example, a baby’s initial experience is full of
impression. There is a lot of data from sensory
perception, but there is little or no understanding of
the inputs. Hence they can be neither differentiated nor
labeled. Most of them are indeterminate perceptions.
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.
Broadly, the Samkhya system classifies all objects as
falling into one of the two categories: Purusha and
Prakriti. Metaphysically, Samkhya maintains an
intermingled duality between spirit/consciousness (Purusha)
and matter (Prakrti).
Purusha is the Transcendental Self or Pure
Consciousness. It is absolute, independent, free,
imperceptible, unknowable, above any experience and
beyond any words or explanation. It remains pure,
“nonattributive consciousness ”. Purusha is neither
produced nor does it produce. Unlike Advaita Vedanta and
like Purva-Mimamsa, Samkhya believes in plurality of the
Prakriti is the first cause of the universe—of
everything except the Purusha, which is uncaused, and
accounts for whatever is physical, both matter and
force. Since it is the first principle (tattva) of the
universe, it is called the Pradhana, but, as it is the
unconscious and unintelligent principle, it is also
called the Jada. It is composed of three essential
characteristics (trigunas). These are:
* sattva - fineness, lightness, illumination, and
* rajas - activity, excitation, and pain;
* tamas - coarseness, heavyness, obstruction, and
All physical events are considered to be manifestations
of the evolution of Prakriti, or primal nature (from
which all physical bodies are derived). Each sentient
being is a Purusha, and is limitless and unrestricted by
its physical body. Samsaara or bondage arises when the
Purusha does not have the discriminate knowledge and so
is misled as to its own identity, confusing itself with
the physical body, which is actually an evolute of
Prakriti. The spirit is liberated when the discriminate
knowledge of the difference between conscious Purusha
and unconscious Prakriti is realized.
Ishvara (Creationist God)
The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra states that there is no
philosophical place for a creationist God in this
system. It is also argued in this text that the
existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot
be admitted to exist and an unchanging Ishvara as
the cause cannot be the source of a changing world as
the effect. Almost all modern scholars are of view that
the concept of Ishvara was incorporated into the
nirishvara (atheistic) Samkhya viewpoint only after it
became associated with the Yoga, the Pasupata and the
Bhagavata schools of philosophy. This theistic Samkhya
philosophy is described in the Mahabharata, the Puranas
and the Bhagavad Gita.
Nature of Duality
The Samkhya recognizes only two ultimate entities,
Prakriti and Purusha. While the Prakriti is a single
entity, the Samkhya admits a plurality of the Purushas.
Unintelligent, unmanifest, uncaused, ever-active,
imperceptible and eternal Prakriti is alone the final
source of the world of objects which is implicitly and
potentially contained in its bosom. The Purusha is
considered as the intelligent principle, a passive
enjoyer (bhokta) and the Prakriti is the enjoyed (bhogya).
Samkhya believes that the Purusha cannot be regarded as
the source of inanimate world, because an intelligent
principle cannot transform itself into the unintelligent
world. It is a pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic
realism and uncompromising dualism. See
Theory of Existence
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.
More specifically, Sankhya system follows the
Prakriti-Parinama Vada. Parinama denotes that the effect
is a real transformation of the cause. The cause under
consideration here is Prakriti or more precisely
Mula-Prakriti (Primordial Matter). The Sankhya system is
therefore 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.
 The twenty-four principles
Sankhya theorizes that Prakriti is the source of the
world of becoming. It is pure potentiality that evolves
itself successively into twenty four tattvas or
principles. The evolution itself is possible because
Prakriti is always in a state of tension among its
constituent strands -
* Sattva - a template of balance or equilibrium;
* Rajas - a template of expansion or activity;
* Tamas - a template of inertia or resistance to
All macrocosmic and microcosmic creation uses these
templates. The twenty four principles that evolve are -
* Prakriti - The most subtle potentiality that is
behind whatever is created in the physical universe,
also called "primordial Matter". It is also a state of
equilibrium amongst the Three Gunas.
* Mahat - first product of evolution from
Prakriti, pure potentiality. Mahat is also considered to
be the principle responsible for the rise of buddhi or
intelligence in living beings.
* Ahamkara or ego-sense - second product of evolution.
It is responsible for the self-sense in living beings.
It is also one's identification with the outer world and
* "Panch Tanmatras" are a simultaneous product from
Mahat Tattva, along with the Ahamkara. They are the
subtle form of Panch Mahabhutas which result from
grossification or Panchikaran of the Tanmatras. Each of
these Tanmatras are made of all three Gunas.
* Manas or "Antahkaran" evolves from the total sum of
the sattva aspect of Panch Tanmatras or the "Ahamkara"
* Panch jnana indriyas or five sense organs - also
evolves from the sattva aspect of Ahamkara.
* Pancha karma indriya or five organs of action - The
organs of action are hands, legs, vocal apparatus, urino-genital
organ and anus. They evolve from the rajas aspect of
* Pancha mahabhuta or five great substances - ether,
air, fire, water and earth. They evolve from the "tamas"
aspect of the "Ahamkara". This is the revealed aspect of
the physical universe.
The evolution of primal nature is also considered to be
purposeful - Prakrti evolves for the spirit in bondage.
The spirit who is always free is only a witness to the
evolution, even though due to the absence of
discriminate knowledge, he misidentifies himself with
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
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
Sankhyan cosmology describes how life emerges in the
universe; the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti
is crucial to Patanjali's yoga system. The evolution of
forms at the basis of Sankhya is quite remarkable. The
strands of Sankhyan thought can be traced back to the
Vedic speculation of creation. It is also frequently
mentioned in the Mahabharata and Yogavasishta.
Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Sankhya
regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and
suffering (Samsara). According to Sankhya, the Purusha
is eternal, pure consciousness. Due to ignorance, it
identifies itself with the physical body and its
constituents - Manas, Ahamkara and Mahat, which are
products of Prakriti. Once it becomes free of this false
identification and the material bonds, Moksha ensues.
Other forms of Sankhya teach that Moksha is attained by
one's own development of the higher faculties of
discrimination achieved by meditation and other yogic
practices as prescribed through the Hindu Vedas.
Views of what happens to the soul after liberation vary
tremendously, as the Sankhya view is used by many
different Hindu sects and is rarely practiced alone.