Samkhya, also Sankhya, (Sanskrit for "Enumeration") is one of the orthodox or astika schools of Indian philosophy that recognizes the authority of the Vedic scriptures. It is regarded as the oldest of the orthodox philosophical systems in Hinduism, predating Buddhism. Samkhya postulates that the universe consists of two eternal realities: Purusha (souls) and Prakriti (matter or nature). The Purushas are many and conscious but are devoid of all qualities—they are the silent spectators of prakriti. Prakriti is composed of three gunas (dispositions): sattvas, rajas, and tamas (steadiness, activity, and dullness). As a result of the intertwined relationship of purusha and prakriti, when the equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed the world order must evolve. Liberation (kaivalya) consists of the realization that purusha and prakriti are indeed different. Sankhya deeply influenced the Hindu Raja Yoga school of philosophy, and they are sometimes referred together as Samkhya-Yoga school. The philosopher Kapila is traditionally considered to be the founder of the Sankhya school, although no historical verification is possible. The definitive text of classical Sankhya is the extant Sankhya Karika, written by Ishvara Krishna, circa 200 C.E.
Since its philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two eternal realities: Purusha and Prakrti, it is therefore a strongly dualist philosophy. However, there are differences between the Samkhya and other forms of dualism. In the West the fundamental discussion is about mind/body dualism, whereas in Samkhya it is between the self and matter (the latter incorporates most of what Westerners would normally refer to as "mind"). Samkhya was originally not theistic but, in confluence with its offshoot Yoga, it developed a theistic variant.
The original founder of the Samkhya system of philosophy is Maharishi Kapila but none of his writings have survived. Indeed, very little historical data is known about Kapila's life. He is said to have lived around 500 B.C.E., and tradition has it that Gautama Buddha studied the Samkhya system before his "awakening," putting Kapila's birth at least before that time. Kapila is also mentioned by Krishna in the Bhagavadgita as the greatest of all perfected beings, which could possibly move the date back further still:
Kapila's teachings are quoted extensively within the Srimad Bhagavatam especially:
The Sankhya school accepts three pramanas (valid means of knowledge) in its system of epistemology. These pramanas are:
Sankhya also has a strong cognitive theory built into it; curiously, while consciousness/spirit is considered to be radically different from any physical entities, the mind (manas), ego (ahamkara) and intellect (buddhi) are all considered to be manifestations of Prakrti (physical entity).
Samkhya maintains a radical duality between spirit (Purusha) and matter (Prakrti). 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. Samsara 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 (viveka) of the difference between conscious Purusha and unconscious Prakriti is realized.
The most notable feature of Sankhya is its unique theory of Cosmic evolution (not connected with Darwin's evolution). Samkhyan cosmology describes how life emerges in the universe. 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 known as gunas (Sattva (lightness or purity), Rajas (passion or activity), and Tamas (inertia or heaviness). 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. 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, Purusha misidentifies with Prakrti.
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 changes. 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.
The twenty-four principles that evolve are:
The Samkhya school of Indian Philosophy had a significant impact on Hindu thought for a variety of reasons:
It should be noted that even though Samkhya is a dualistic philosophy, there are differences between the Samkhya and other forms of dualism. In Western philosophy, dualism usually refers to the distinction between the mind and the body. In Samkhya, however, it is between the self (purusha) and matter (prakriti), and the latter incorporates much of what Western thought would normally refer to as "mind." This means that the Self, in Samkhya, is more transcendent than "mind." It is sometimes defined as 'that which observes' and the mind is the instrument through which this observation occurs.
All links retrieved August 31, 2019.
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