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Samkhya, also Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya (Sanskrit: सांख्य, IAST: sāṃkhya), is one of the six (astika) schools of Hindu philosophy and classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally credited as a founder of the Samkhya school. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India.
Sāmkhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist. Sāmkhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities; Puruṣa (consciousness) and prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). Jiva is that state in which puruṣa is bonded to prakriti through the glue of desire, and the end of this bondage is moksha.
Sāṃkhya denies the final cause of Ishvara (God). Samkhya does not describe what happens after moksha and does not mention anything about Ishwara or God, because after liberation there is no essential distinction of individual and universal puruṣa.
- 1 Historical development
- 2 Texts
- 3 Philosophy
- 4 Atheism
- 5 Influence on other schools
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 Sources
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
The word samkhya means empirical or relating to numbers. Although the term had been used in the general sense of metaphysical knowledge before, in technical usage it refers to the Samkhya school of thought that evolved into a cohesive philosophical system in early centuries CE. The Samkhya system is called so because "it 'enumerates' twenty five Tattvas or true principles; and its chief object is to effect the final emancipation of the twenty-fifth Tattva, i.e. the Puruṣa or soul."
Both the agrarian theology of Śiva-Śakti/Sky-Earth and the tradition of yoga (meditation) do not appear to be rooted in the Vedas. Not surprisingly, classical Sāṅkhya is remarkably independent of orthodox Brahmanic traditions, including the Vedas. Sāṅkhya is silent about the Vedas, about their guardians (the Brahmins) and for that matter about the whole caste system, and about the Vedic gods; and it is slightly unfavorable towards the animal sacrifices that characterized the ancient Vedic religion. But all our early sources for the history of Sāṅkhya belong to the Vedic tradition, and it is thus reasonable to suppose that we do not see in them the full development of the Sāṅkhya system, but rather occasional glimpses of its development as it gained gradual acceptance in the Brahmanic fold.
Emergence as a distinct philosophy
Between 5th and 2nd century BCE, Samkhya thought from various sources started coalescing into a distinct philosophy. Philosophical texts from this era such as the Katha Upanishad, Shvetashvatara Upanishad and Bhagavad Gita have clear references to Samkhyan terminology and concepts. Katha Upanishad conceives the purusha as an individual soul which Ātman (Self) inhabits. Other verses of the Upanishad consider purusha to be smaller than the thumb.
Samkhya and Yoga are mentioned together for first time in the Shvetashvatra Upanishad. Bhagavad Gita identifies Samkhya with understanding or knowledge. The three gunas are also mentioned in the Gita, though they are not used in the same sense as in classical Samkhya. The Gita integrates Samkhya thought with the devotion (bhakti) of theistic schools and the impersonal Brahman of Vedanta.
The ideas that were developed and assimilated into the classical Samkhya text, Samkhyakarika, are visible in earlier Hindu scriptures such as Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita. Earliest mention of dualism in the Rig Veda, a Hindu text that was compiled in second millennium BCE, is in the Indra–Vritra myth. In this myth, Indra, leader of the gods, slays Vritra, a serpent demon, to unleash the creative forces held captive by him. Gerald James Larson, a scholar of religions and philosophies of India, believes that this myth contains twofold dualism. He writes
On one hand there is dualism of order and chaos. On the other hand, there is dualism of Indra's power over against both the chaos and the order.
The emphasis of duality between existence (sat) and non-existence (asat) in the Nasadiya sukta of the Rig Veda is similar to the vyakta–avyakta (manifest–unmanifest) polarity in Samkhya. The hymn of Purusha sukta may also have influenced Samkhya. It contains the earliest conception of Purusha, a cosmic being from whom the manifestation arises. Purusha also finds numerous mentions in the hymns of the Atharvaveda. The Samkhya notion of buddhi or mahat is similar to the notion of hiranyagarbha which appears in both the Rig Veda and the Shvetashvatara Upanishad.
The oldest of the major Upanishads (c. 900–600 BCE) also contain speculations along the lines of classical Samkhya philosophy. The concept of ahamkara in Samkhya can be traced back to the notion of ahamkara in Brihadaranyaka Upanishad and Chhandogya Upanishad. Satkaryavada, the theory of causation in Samkhya, can be traced to the verses in sixth chapter which emphasize the primacy of sat (being) and describe creation from it. The idea that the three gunas or attributes influence creation is found in both Chandogya and Svetashvatara Upanishads. Upanishadic sages Yajnavalkya and Uddalaka Aruni developed the idea that pure consciousness was the innermost essence of a human being. The purusha of Samkhya could have evolved from this idea. The enumeration of tattvas in Samkhya is also found in Taittiriya Upanishad, Aitareya Upanishad and Yajnavalkya–Maitri dialogue in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad.
Buddhist and Jainist influences
Buddhism and Jainism had developed in Northeastern India by the 5th century BCE. It is probable that these schools of thought and the earliest schools of Samkhya influenced each other. A prominent similarity between Buddhism and Samkhya is the emphasis on suffering (dukkha). However, suffering is not as central to Samkhya as it is to Buddhism. Therefore, it is likely that Samkhya imbibed this idea from Buddhism. Likewise, the Jain doctrine of plurality of individual souls (jiva) could have influenced the concept of multiple purushas in Samkhya. However Hermann Jacobi, an Indologist, thinks that there is little reason to assume that Samkhya notion of Purushas was solely dependent on the notion of jiva in Jainism. It is more likely, that Samkhya was moulded by many ancient theories of soul in various Vedic and non-Vedic schools.
The earliest surviving authoritative text on classical Samkhya philosophy is the Samkhya Karika (c. 200 CE or 350–450 CE) of Iśvarakṛṣṇa. There were probably other texts in early centuries CE, however none of them are available today. Iśvarakṛṣṇa in his Kārikā describes a succession of the disciples from Kapila, through Āsuri and Pañcaśikha to himself. The text also refers to an earlier work of Samkhya philosophy called Ṣaṣṭitantra (science of sixty topics) which is now lost.
The most popular commentary on the Samkhyakarikia was the Gauḍapāda Bhāșya attributed to Gauḍapāda, the proponent of Advaita Vedanta school of philosophy. Richard King, Professor of Religious Studies, thinks it is unlikely that Gauḍapāda could have authored both texts, given the differences between the two philosophies. Other important commentaries on the karika were Yuktidīpīka (c. 6th century CE) and Vācaspati’s Sāṁkhyatattvakaumudī (c. 10th century CE).
Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra (c. 14th century CE) renewed interest in Samkhya in the medieval era. It is considered the second most important work of Samkhya after the karika. Commentaries on this text were written by Anirruddha (Sāṁkhyasūtravṛtti, c. 15th century CE), Vijñānabhikṣu (Sāṁkhyapravacanabhāṣya, c. 16th century CE), Mahādeva (vṛttisāra, c. 17th century CE) and Nāgeśa (Laghusāṁkhyasūtravṛtti). According Surendranath Dasgupta, scholar of Indian philosophy, Charaka Samhita, an ancient Indian medical treatise, also contains thoughts from an early Samkhya school.
While Western philosophical traditions, as exemplified by Descartes, equate mind with the conscious self and theorize on consciousness on the basis of mind/body dualism; Samkhya provides an alternate viewpoint, intimately related to substance dualism, by drawing a metaphysical line between consciousness and matter — where matter includes both body and mind.
The Samkhya system espouses dualism between consciousness and matter by postulating two "irreducible, innate and independent realities: Purusha and Prakriti. While the Prakriti is a single entity, the Samkhya admits a plurality of the Puruṣas in this world. 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 Puruṣa is considered as the conscious principle, a passive enjoyer (bhokta) and the Prakriti is the enjoyed (bhogya). Samkhya believes that the Puruṣa cannot be regarded as the source of inanimate world, because an intelligent principle cannot transform itself into the unconscious world. It is a pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism.
Puruṣa is the transcendental self or pure consciousness. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable through other agencies, above any experience by mind or senses and beyond any words or explanations. It remains pure, “nonattributive consciousness”. Puruṣa is neither produced nor does it produce. It is held that unlike Advaita Vedanta and like Purva-Mimamsa, Samkhya believes in plurality of the Puruṣas.
Prakriti is the first cause of the manifest material universe — of everything except the Puruṣa. Prakriti accounts for whatever is physical, both mind and matter-cum-energy or force. Since it is the first principle (tattva) of the universe, it is called the Pradhāna, 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 – poise, fineness, lightness, illumination, and joy;
- Rajas – dynamism, activity, excitation, and pain;
- Tamas – inertia, coarseness, heaviness, obstruction, and sloth.
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 or Jiva is a fusion of Puruṣa and Prakriti, whose soul/Puruṣa is limitless and unrestricted by its physical body. Samsāra or bondage arises when the Puruṣa does not have the discriminate knowledge and so is misled as to its own identity, confusing itself with the Ego/ahamkāra, which is actually an attribute of Prakriti. The spirit is liberated when the discriminate knowledge of the difference between conscious Puruṣa and unconscious Prakriti is realized by the Puruṣa.
The unconscious primordial materiality, Prakriti, contains 23 components including intellect (buddhi,mahat), ego (ahamkara) and mind (manas); the intellect, mind and ego are all seen as forms of unconscious matter. Thought processes and mental events are conscious only to the extent they receive illumination from Purusha. In Samkhya, consciousness is compared to light which illuminates the material configurations or 'shapes' assumed by the mind. So intellect, after receiving cognitive structures form the mind and illumination from pure consciousness, creates thought structures that appear to be conscious. Ahamkara, the ego or the phenomenal self, appropriates all mental experiences to itself and thus, personalizes the objective activities of mind and intellect by assuming possession of them. But consciousness is itself independent of the thought structures it illuminates.
By including mind in the realm of matter, Samkhya avoids one of the most serious pitfalls of Cartesian dualism, the violation of physical conservation laws. Because mind is an evolute of matter, mental events are granted causal efficacy and are therefore able to initiate bodily motions.
The idea of evolution in Samkhya revolves around the interaction of Prakriti and Purusha. Prakriti remains unmanifested as long as the three gunas are in equilibrium. This equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed when Prakriti comes into proximity with consciousness or Purusha. The disequilibrium of the gunas triggers an evolution that leads to the manifestation of the world from an unmanifested Prakriti. The metaphor of movement of iron in the proximity of a magnet is used to describe this process.
Some evolutes of Prakriti can cause further evolution and are labelled evolvents. For example, intellect while itself created out of Prakriti causes the evolution of ego-sense or ahamkara and is therefore an evolvent. While, other evolutes like the five elements do not cause further evolution. It is important to note that an evolvent is defined as a principle which behaves as the material cause for the evolution of another principle. So, in definition, while the five elements are the material cause of all living beings, they cannot be called evolvents because living beings are not separate from the five elements in essence.
The intellect is the first evolute of prakriti and is called mahat or the great one. It causes the evolution of ego-sense or self-consciousness. Evolution from self-consciousness is affected by the dominance of gunas. So dominance of sattva causes the evolution of the five organs of perception, five organs of action and the mind. Dominance of tamas triggers the evolution of five subtle elements– sound, touch, sight, taste, smell from self-consciousness. These five subtle elements are themselves evolvents and cause the creation of the five gross elements space, air, fire, water and earth. Rajas is cause of action in the evolutes. Purusha is pure consciousness absolute, eternal and subject to no change. It is neither a product of evolution, nor the cause of any evolute.
Evolution in Samkhya is thought to be purposeful. The two primary purposes of evolution of Prakriti are the enjoyment and the liberation of Purusha. The 23 evolutes of prakriti are categorized as follows:
|Primordial matter||Prakriti||Root evolvent|
|Internal instruments||Intellect (Buddhi or Mahat), Ego-sense (Ahamkāra), Mind (Mana)||Evolvent|
|External instruments||Five Sense organs (Jnānendriyas), Five Organs of action (Karmendriyas)||Evolute|
|Subtle elements||Sound (Shabda), Touch (Sparsha), Form (Rupa), Taste (Rasa), Smell (Gandha)||Evolvent|
|Gross elements||Sky (Ākāsh), Air (Vāyu), Fire (Agni), Water (Jala), Earth (Prithvi)||Evolute|
Liberation or mokṣa
Like many other major schools of Indian philosophy, Samkhya regards human existence as seat of intense suffering. Ignorance (avidyā) is regarded as the root cause of this suffering and bondage (Samsara). Samkhya offers a way out of this suffering by means of discriminative knowledge (viveka). Such knowledge, that leads to mokṣa (liberation), involves the discrimination between Prakriti (avyakta-vyakta) and Puruṣa (jña).
Puruṣa, the eternal pure consciousness, due to ignorance, identifies itself with products of Prakriti such as intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara). This results in endless transmigration and suffering. However, once the realization arises that Puruṣa is distinct from Prakriti, the Self is no longer subject to transmigration and absolute freedom (kaivalya) arises. Other forms of Samkhya teach that Mokṣa 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.
Samkhya considered Pratyakṣa or Dṛṣṭam (direct sense perception), Anumāna (inference), and Śabda or Āptavacana (verbal testimony of the sages or shāstras) to be the only valid sources of knowledge or pramana.
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The Samkhya system is based on Sat-kārya-vāda or the theory of causation. According to Satkāryavāda, the effect is pre-existent in the cause. There is only an apparent or illusory change in the makeup of the cause and not a material one, when it becomes effect. Since, effects cannot come from nothing, the original cause or ground of everything is seen as Prakriti.
More specifically, Samkhya system follows the Prakriti-Parināma Vāda. Parināma denotes that the effect is a real transformation of the cause. The cause under consideration here is Prakriti or more precisely Moola-Prakriti (Primordial Matter). The Samkhya 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. But this theory is very different from the modern theories of science in the sense that Prakriti evolves for each Jeeva separately, giving individual bodies and minds to each and after liberation these elements of Prakriti merges into the Moola Prakriti. Another uniqueness of Sāmkhya is that not only physical entities but even mind, ego and intelligence are regarded as forms of Unconsciousness, quite distinct from pure consciousness.
Samkhya theorizes that Prakriti is the source of the perceived 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 or gunas – Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. In a state of equilibrium of three gunas, when the three together are one, "unmanifest" Prakriti which is unknowable. A guna is an entity that can change, either increase or decrease, therefore, pure consciousness is called nirguna or without any modification.
The evolution obeys causality relationships, with primal Nature itself being the material cause of all physical creation. The cause and effect theory of Samkhya is called Satkārya-vāda (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.
Samkhya cosmology describes how life emerges in the universe; the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti is crucial to Patanjali's yoga system. The strands of Samkhya thought can be traced back to the Vedic speculation of creation. It is also frequently mentioned in the Mahabharata and Yogavasishta.
Samkhya accepts the notion of higher selves or perfected beings but rejects the notion of God. Classical Samkhya argues against the existence of God on metaphysical grounds. Samkhya theorists argue that an unchanging God cannot be the source of an ever changing world and that God was only a necessary metaphysical assumption demanded by circumstances. The Sutras of Samkhya have no explicit role for a separate God distinct from the Puruṣa. Such a distinct God is inconceivable and self-contradictory and some commentaries speak plainly on this subject.
Arguments against Ishvara's existence
According to Sinha, the following arguments were given by the Samkhya philosophers against the idea of an eternal, self-caused, creator God:
- If the existence of karma is assumed, the proposition of God as a moral governor of the universe is unnecessary. For, if God enforces the consequences of actions then he can do so without karma. If however, he is assumed to be within the law of karma, then karma itself would be the giver of consequences and there would be no need of a God.
- Even if karma is denied, God still cannot be the enforcer of consequences. Because the motives of an enforcer God would be either egoistic or altruistic. Now, God's motives cannot be assumed to be altruistic because an altruistic God would not create a world so full of suffering. If his motives are assumed to be egoistic, then God must be thought to have desire, as agency or authority cannot be established in the absence of desire. However, assuming that God has desire would contradict God's eternal freedom which necessitates no compulsion in actions. Moreover, desire, according to Samkhya, is an attribute of prakriti and cannot be thought to grow in God. The testimony of the Vedas, according to Samkhya, also confirms this notion.
- Despite arguments to the contrary, if God is still assumed to contain unfulfilled desires, this would cause him to suffer pain and other similar human experiences. Such a worldly God would be no better than Samkhya's notion of higher self.
- Furthermore, there is no proof of the existence of God. He is not the object of perception, there exists no general proposition that can prove him by inference and the testimony of the Vedas speak of prakriti as the origin of the world, not God.
Therefore, Samkhya maintained that the various cosmological, ontological and teleological arguments could not prove God.
The Sankhya-tattva-kaumudi commenting on Karika 57 argues that a perfect God can have no need to create a world (for Himself) and if God's motive is kindness (for others), Samkhya questions whether it is reasonable to call into existence beings who while non-existent had no suffering.
The Sāṁkhyapravacana Sūtra in verse no. 1.92 directly states that existence of "Ishvara (God) is unproved". Hence there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. It is also argued by commentators of this text that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist.
These commentaries of Samkhya postulate that a benevolent deity ought to create only happy creatures, not a mixed world like the real world. A majority of modern academic 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
Influence on other schools
The Yoga school derives its ontology and epistemology from Samkhya and adds to it the concept of Isvara. However, scholarly opinion on the actual relationship between Yoga and Samkhya is divided. While, Jakob Wilhelm Hauer and Georg Feuerstein believe that Yoga was tradition common to many Indian schools and its association with Samkhya was artificially foisted upon by commentators such as Vyasa. Johannes Bronkhorst and Eric Frauwallner think that Yoga never had a philosophical system separate from Samkhya. Bronkhorst further adds that the first mention of Yoga as a separate school of thought is no earlier than Śankara's (c. 788–820 CE) Brahmasūtrabhaśya.
The dualistic metaphysics of various Tantric traditions illustrates the strong influence of Samkhya on Tantra. Shaiva Siddhanta was identical to Samkhya in its philosophical approach, barring the addition of a transcendent theistic reality. Knut A. Jacobsen, Professor of Religious Studies, notes the influence of Samkhya on Srivaishnavism. According to him, this Tantric system borrows the abstract dualism of Samkhya and modifies it into a personified male–female dualism of Vishnu and Sri Lakshmi. Dasgupta speculates that the Tantric image of a wild Kali standing on a slumbering Shiva was inspired from the Samkhyan conception of Prakriti as a dynamic agent and Purusha as a passive witness. However, Samkhya and Tantra differed in their view on liberation. While Tantra sought to unite the male and female ontological realities, Samkhya held a withdrawal of consciousness from matter as the ultimate goal.
According to Bagchi, the Samkhya Karika (in karika 70) identifies Sāmkhya 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.
- Zimmer: "[Jainism] does not derive from Brahman-Aryan sources, but reflects the cosmology and anthropology of a much older pre-Aryan upper class of northeastern India - being rooted in the same subsoil of archaic metaphysical speculation as Yoga, Sankhya, and Buddhism, the other non-Vedic Indian systems."
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- Sharma, C. (1997), A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass Publ, ISBN 81-208-0365-5
- Singh, Upinder (2008), A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India: From the Stone Age to the 12th Century, Pearson Education India, ISBN 978-81-317-1120-0
- Sinha, Nandlal (2012), The Samkhya Philosophy, New Delhi: Hard Press, ISBN 1407698915
- Zimmer, Heinrich (1951), Philosophies of India (reprint 1989), Princeton University Press
- Chatterjee, Satischandra; Datta, Dhirendramohan (1984), An Introduction to Indian Philosophy (Eighth Reprint Edition ed.), Calcutta: University of Calcutta, ISBN 81-291-1195-0
- Eliade, Mircea (1969), Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, Bollingen Series LVI (second ed.), New York: Bollingen Foundation, Inc, ISBN 0-691-01764-6
- Müeller, Max (1899), Six Systems of Indian Philosophy; Samkhya and Yoga, Naya and Vaiseshika, Calcutta: Susil Gupta (India) Ltd, ISBN 0-7661-4296-5
- Zimmer, Heinrich (1951), Joseph, Cambell, ed., Philosophies of India, Bollingen Series XXVI, New York: Princeton University Press, ISBN 0-691-01758-1
- Weerasinghe, S.G (1993), The Sankhya Philosophy; A Critical Evaluation of Its Origins and Development, New Delhi: South Asia Books, ISBN 81-703-0361-3
- Kambhampati, Parvathi Kumar (1993), Sankya – The Sacred Doctrine (First Edition ed.), Visakhapatnam: Dhanishta, ISBN 81-900-3323-9
- Samkhya entry in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- Origin and Development of the Samkhya System of Thought by Pulinbihari Chakravarti M.A., Curator of Manuscripts, The Asiatic Society, Calcutta.
- Sankhya philosophy (archive)
- Kak, Subhash (2003) Greek and Indian Cosmology: Review of Early History
- PDF file of Ishwarkrishna's sankhyakarikaa – 200BC (in Sanskrit) available for research purposes only
- Complete Lectures on Sankya Shastra of Kapila maharishi at ShastraNethralaya