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Samkhya Philosophy- Oldest Indian Philosophical School

Samkhya Philosophy Kapila

Samkhya is often credited to a Vedic sage named Kapila, whose dates are unknown. His philosophy had a major influence on other Indian darshanas, but disappeared as it was subsumed into Vedanta and Yoga.Of the astika (Vedic) views, Samkhya appears to be the oldest. It was a dualist view based on two fundamentally different types of being: purusha (soul) and prakriti(matter, energy, and agency).  Prakriti was the cause of the material world, but purusha had no cause.  The soul did not change, but observed and enjoyed the ever-changing objects of prakriti.

Purusha and Prakriti


  • Supreme self
  • Pure consciousness
  • Inactive
  • Unchanging
  • A passive witness
  • Multiple


  • Pure objectivity
  • Phenomenal reality
  • Non-conscious
  • One mulprakriti in equilibrium


Like a rope woven from three cords, the material world was woven of three gunas. They were inferred from the three ways we may react to things: with pleasure, displeasure, or indifference.  Thus, the three constituents of  prakriti were sattva (illumination, joy), rajas (excitation, pain), and tamas (roughness, obstruction, sloth).

Sattva is the quality of balance, harmony, goodness, purity, universalizing, holistic, constructive, creative, building, positive, peaceful, and virtuous.

Rajas is the quality of passion, activity, neither good nor bad and sometimes either, self-centeredness, egoistic, individualizing, driven, moving, dynamic.

Tamas is the quality of imbalance, disorder, chaos, anxiety, impure, destructive, delusion, negative, dull or inactive, apathy, inertia or lethargy, violent, vicious, and ignorant.

                According to Samkhya, a soul often confuses itself with its body. We feel pain upon the body as if it was pain upon the self, but this is a confusion. Once we realize the separateness of the soul, we cannot be affected by the joys and sorrows of the material world. However, liberation does not result from propositional knowledge alone, but through spiritual training and deep meditation upon the truth that the soul is beyond the causes and effects of space and time.

Samkhya provide knowledge which remove the cause of misery and release of soul.

Misery is

Adhyatmika – intrinsic cause disorder of body and mind

Adhibhautika – Extrinsic cause, men, beast, birds, or inanimate objects

Adhidevika – Supernatural cause, atmosphere or planets

Cause of Misery

Soul is free from suffering .Body is the seat of suffering .Soul suffer due to intimate association of soul and body. Bondage is illusion due to lack of true nature of soul – Ignorance  .Knowledge of true nature of soul removes bondage and suffering

Samkhya: Epistemology

Prataykshya –Indeterminate (Nirvikalp), Determinate (Savikalpa)

Anumana -Logical inference

Shabda -Verbal testimony

Theory of Existence

Satkaryavada -The effect pre-exists in the cause. Cause and effect are seen as different temporal aspects of the same thing. Nothing can really be created from or destroyed into nothingness

Prakriti Pariman Vada- Parinama denotes that the effect is a real transformation of the cause. Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects

Elements : There are five elements in Samkhya Philosophy

Akaskh – Ether

Vayu – air

Tejas – fire

Apas – water

Prithvi – earth

Existence of God

The original school of Samkhya as founded by Sage Kapila has no philosophical place for a creationist God. Sankhya had no need of God, for the material universe was sufficient to explain itself.  The Samkhyan’s argue that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist. The school also argues that an unchanging Ishvara as the cause cannot be the source of a changing world as the effect.

      Later on followers of Samkhya adopted theism and included Ishvara within the system.  The concept of Ishvara was incorporated into the Sankhya viewpoint only after it became associated with the theistic Yoga system of philosophy.

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