Yogasutras of Patanjali Web Series – Video 3

The Sāṃkhya philosophy

The Sāṃkhya philosophy was founded by sage Kapila and the Sāṃkhya Sūtras was the original text. This text was regrettably lost in time. The most authentic available text on Sāṃkhya today is Sāṃkhya Kārikā by Īśvarakṛṣṇa (350AD)

Sāṃkhya is a dualistic realism with two primordial realities independent of each other:

  • Puruṣa (the Principle of Consciousness) and
  • Prakṛti (the Principle of Matter).

According to Sāṃkhya the cause has to be subtler than the effect and it proposes that this subtlest principle underlies all physical existence.  Sāṃkhya calls this as Prakṛti which is the ultimate cause of all gross and subtle objects and hence it is the material cause of the world. Prakṛti is the non-self and has no consciousness. Prakṛti gets greatly influenced by the Puruṣa/the Self leading to the evolution of the universe.

As per Sāṃkhya philosophy Prakṛti is made up of three Guṇas, namely Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. Sattva is associated with illumination, purity and right knowledge, Rajas with activity and Tamas with ignorance and inaction. The three Guṇas are inherent while only their modifications manifest and unmanifest. They co-operate with one another to yield the various effects.

These Guṇas:

  • Are permanent,
  • They cannot change into one another
  • Cannot be created or destroyed

Sāṃkhya accepts Satkāryavāda. This maintains that effect is present in the cause in a dormant form. According to Sāṃkhya, the efficient cause of the objective world is Puruṣa, and Prakṛti is the material cause. Prakṛti undergoes real transformation for the universe to come into being and therefore the three Guṇas, constitute every object of the material world.

The relation between Puruṣa and Prakṛti may be compared to that between a magnet and a piece of iron. Puruṣa itself does not come into contact with Prakṛti. But it influences Prakṛti. Thus, Prakṛti is prompted to produce. This is evolution. The first to evolve is Mahat/intellect and it is a unique faculty of human beings which helps man in judgment and discrimination. Mahat helps to distinguish between the self and the non-self, the experiencer and the experienced.

The second evolute is Ahaṅkāra (ego). It deals with self-identity and brings about awareness of “I”, me and “mine”. There emanates two sets of objects from Ahaṅkāra.

  1. The Sātvika-Ahaṅkāraproduces:
  • The Manas(mind),
  • The five sense-organs/Jñānendriya (Caksu (to see), Śrotra(to hear), Rasa (to taste), Ghrāṇa (to smell) and Tvak (to feel).
  • The five motor organs/Karmendriyas {powers of speech (Vāka), handling (Pāṇi), movement (Pāda), excretion (Pāyu) and procreation (Upastha)}.
  1. The Tāmasika-Ahaṅkāraproduces the five elements which may exist in two forms, subtle and gross.

The five subtle elements are also called as Tanmātrās:

  • Sound (Śabda),
  • Touch (Sparśa),
  • Form (Rūpa),
  • Taste (Rasa) and
  • Smell (Gandha).

The five gross elements are

  • Space / Ether (Ākāśa)
  • Water (Jala)
  • Air (Vāyu)
  • Fire (Agni) and
  • Earth (Pṛthvī)

Thus the 25 Elements are:

  • Puruṣa (Consciousness)
  • Prakṛti (Primal nature of matter)
  • Mahat (Buddhi / Intellect)
  • Ahaṅkāra (Ego)
  • Manas (Mind)
  • 5 Jñānendriya / Buddhindriyas (Sensory capabilities)
  • 5 Karmendriyas (Action capabilities)
  • 5 Tanmātrās (Subtle elements)
  • 5 Mahābhūtas (Gross elements)


Samkhya Evolution Chart
Samkhya Evolution Chart

Sāṃkhya regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and suffering.  According to Sāṃkhya, the Self is eternal, pure consciousness.  Due to ignorance, the self identifies itself with the physical body and its constituents (Manas, Ahaṅkāra and Buddhi). Once the self becomes free of this false identification, then salvation is possible. In dissolution, the physical existence and all the worldly objects merge back into Prakṛti and Puruṣa reinstates to its own nature.

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