Samkhya: see Hindu philosophy.
Sankhya, also Samkhya, (IAST: - 'enumeration') is one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered to be the founder of the Sankhya school, although no historical verification is possible. It is regarded as the oldest of the philosophical systems in India.

Sankhya was one of the six orthodox systems (astika, those systems that recognize vedic authority) of Hindu philosophy. Srila Prabupada has pointed out that the original theistic Sankhya philosophy was propounded by sage Kapila in the Srimad Bhagavatam long before another atheistic form of Samkhya-yoga was enunciated by an imposter Kapila. The major text of this Vedic school is the extant Samkhya Karika, written by Ishvara Krishna, circa 200 AD. There are no purely Sankhya schools existing today in Hinduism, but its influence is felt in the Yoga and Vedanta schools.

Sankhya is an enumerationist philosophy but many scholars have misunderstood it as strongly dualist. That is an inaccurate view. Sankhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). Purusha, the cosmic consciousness, is the basis of Prakriti, its material nature. They are the experiencer and the experienced, not unlike the res cogens and res extensa of 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. This was a dualistic philosophy. But there are differences between Sankhya and Western forms of dualism. In the West, the fundamental distinction is between mind and body. In Sankhya, however, it is between the self (as Purusha) and matter (Prakriti). The real Sankhya (as a theistic school of thought) can be thus seen as a type of dualist monism which is quite different from Western forms of dualism.


The original theistic Sankhya philosophy of Srimad Bhagavatam is attributed to sage Kapila. Then there was also another imposter atheistic Kapila of late who is ascribed the foundation of the Samkhya school to, but there is no evidence to prove that certain texts attributed to him, the and the were actually composed by him. The earliest extant text of this school is of (3rd century AD). in his described himself as being in the succession of the disciples from Kapila, through and . wrote a commentary on this . The next important work is ’s (9th century AD). ’s treatise is based on the . The is assigned to the 14th century, as (14th century) did not refer to this text but referred to the . This text consists of 6 chapters and 526 s. The most important commentary on the is ’s (16th century). Anirruddha’s (15th century) and ’s (c. 1600) and ’s are the other important commentaries on this text.


According to the Sankhya school, all knowledge is possible through three pramanas (means of valid knowledge) -

  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 Sankhya system classifies all objects as falling into one of the two categories: Purusha and Prakriti. Metaphysically, Sankhya maintains an intermingled duality between spirit/consciousness (Purusha) and matter (Prakrti).

  • Purusha

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.

  • Prakriti

Prakriti is matter. Matter is inert, temporary, and unconscious. It is composed of three qualities (trigunas) of the self. They are:

*sattva - goodness, knowledge, happiness, truth, light of intelligence
*rajas - passion, desire, thirst, unrest, longing, attachment, greed, activity
*tamas - ignorance, miscomprehension, indolence, indifference, darkness, inertness, delusion

All physical events are considered to be manifestations of the evolution of Prakrti, 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.

  • Ishwara (Creationist God)

The original school of Sankhya was founded by Sage Kapila which was a theistic philosophy and fully described in Srimad Bhagavatam. However, later on an imposter Kapila announced that there was no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. He argued that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. The imposter Kapila's school also argued that an unchanging Ishvara as the cause cannot be the source of a changing world as the effect. The fake atheistic Sankhya system did not garner much support. Later on, the original theistic Sankhya system was revived which included Ishvara. There is a common misunderstanding that the concept of Ishvara was incorporated into the Sankhya viewpoint only after it became associated with the theistic Yoga system of philosophy. This can be verified by studying the original theistic Sankhya philosophy described in Srimad Bhagavatam.

Nature of Duality

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

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. 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 action.

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 its content.
  • "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 Ahamkara.
  • 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 it.

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.

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.

The original Sankhya philosophy of Kapila states that by devotion and service one attains the clarity of mind to have this discrimination with the grace of God. 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.

See also



  • Eliade, Mircea (1969). Yoga: Immortality and Freedom. New York, New York: Bollingen Foundation, Inc.. Second Edition. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask.
  • Michaels, Axel (2004). Hinduism: Past and Present. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
  • Radhakrishnan, S.; Moore, C. A. (1957). A Source Book in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. Princeton paperback 12th printing, 1989.
  • Sen Gupta, Anima. The Evolution of the School of Thought. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.: New Delhi, 1986.
  • A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1972-77) (multiple volumes)

Further reading

  • Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984). An Introduction to Indian Philosophy. Eighth Reprint Edition, Calcutta: University of Calcutta.
  • Müeller, Max (1899). Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika. Calcutta: Susil Gupta (India) Ltd.. Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.
  • Radhakrishnan, S.; Moore, CA (1967). A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton.
  • R.A. Ramaswami Shastri, A Short History Of The Purva Mimamsa Shastra, Annamalai University Sanskrit Series No. 3 (1936).
  • Zimmer, Heinrich (1951). Philosophies of India. New York, New York: Princeton University Press. Bollingen Series XXVI; Edited by Joseph Cambell.
  • A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Bhagavad-Gītā As It Is (1968)
  • Kambhampati, Parvathi Kumar (1993). Sankya - The Sacred Doctrine. First Edition, Visakhapatnam: Dhanishta. .

External links

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