Samkhya (सांख्य), also referred to as Sankhya, Sāṃkhya, or Sāṅkhya, is a Sanskrit word that, depending on the context, means “to reckon, count, enumerate, calculate, deliberate, reason, reasoning by numeric enumeration, relating to number, rational.”
In the context of ancient Indian philosophies, Samkhya refers to the philosophical school in Hinduism based on systematic enumeration and rational examination.
Samkhya is a way of understanding the universe through the principles of subtle energies
and their interactions defined in ancient text called “Bhagavad Purana”, which is related to the
understanding of shakti (power) and shaktiman (powerful).
The most notable proponent of Sankhya or Samkhya philosophy was Kapila, one of the
greatest enlightened rishis.
The word Sankhya comes from san and khya. San means truth. Khya means to realize, to
know, to understand. Sankhya is a philosophy to discover and understand the Truth of Life.
Kapila discerned 24 principles in the manifestation of the Universe.
It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India
Based on the Upanishads, two schools of philosophy developed in India: (1) The realistic
(e.g. Samkhya) (2) The idealistic (e.g.Vedanta).
The Samkhya philosophy combines the basic doctrines of Samkhya and Yoga. However
it should be remembered that the Samkhya represents the theory and Yoga represents the
application or the practical aspects.
The word Samkhya is based upon the Sanskrit word samkhya which means ‘number’.
The school specifies the number and nature of the ultimate constituents of the universe and
thereby imparts knowledge of reality. In fact, the term Samkhya also means perfect knowledge.
Hence it is a system of perfect knowledge.
The Samkhya philosophy systematically deciphers every part of our being, from the
lowest level of mortal existence to the highest level of eternal consciousness and spirit. The
journey through Samkhya unfolds through three processes: reading (comprehending terminology
and philosophy), contemplation and meditation (understanding and feeling the philosophy), and
yoga practice (applying the philosophy so that our understanding results in authentic
Originally written in Sanskrit, Samkhya describes the full spectrum of human existence
by revealing the basic elements that make up the macrocosm and the microcosm. Samkhya
teaches us about the components of the body, mind, and spirit, from the gross elements that make
up the physical body to the more subtle elements of the mind and consciousness. Samkhya
names each element, teaches us its function, and shows us the relationship each element has to
all others. It is effectively a map of the human being.
Yoga takes the Samkhya philosophy into the realm of experience, through gradual and
Samkhya is dualistic realism. It is dualistic because it advocates two ultimate realities:
Prakruti, matter and Purusha, self (spirit). Samkhya is realism as it considers that both matter
and spirit are equally real.
Pur means city. Sheta means dwelling, living, existing. Purusha is that purce
Consciousness that exists, lives, dewells in the city of the senses. The body is a city of
senses.Prusha is energy, and this energy is choiceless, passive awareness.
Prakruti cannot exist without Purusha. However, there can be Purusha without Prakruti.
Purusha is the energetic, the wielder of power. And, Prakrati is ENERGY.
The Samkhya proposes that some finest and subtlest stuff or principle underlies all
physical existence. Samkhya names it as Prakruti. Prakruti is the primordial substance behind
the world. It is the material cause of the world. Prakruti is the first and ultimate cause of all gross
and subtle objects.
Prakruti is constituted of three gunas, namely sattva, rajas and tamas. The term guna, in
ordinary sense means quality or nature. But here, it is to be understood in the sense of constituent
(component) in Samkhya. Sattva is concerned with happiness. While rajas is concerned with
action, tamas is associated with ignorance and inaction.
Ayurveda defines 3 types of prakruti (Dosas) based on the 5 basic elements: Kapha, Pitta,
Vata. We are born with a combination of these 3 elements and our constitution (prakruti) is
determined by the dominant element (s).
Purusha (spirit) is the first principle of Samkhya. Prakruti is the second, the material
principle of Samkhya.
The relation between Purusha and Prakruti may be compared to that between a magnet
and a piece of iron. Purusha itself does not come into contact with Prakruti. But it influences
Prakruti. Thus, the Prakruti is prompted to produce. As the gunas undergo more and more
changes, Prakruti goes on differentiating into numerous, various world-objects. Thus it becomes
more and more determinate. This is what is termed as evolution.
According to the Samkhya there emanates two sets of objects from ahamkara. The first
set comprises of the manas (mind), the five sense-organs and the five motor organs. The second
set consists of the five elements which may exist in two forms, subtle and gross.
The five subtle elements are also called tanmatras. These five subtle elements or
tanmatras are: elemental sound, elemental touch, elemental colour, elemental taste and elemental
smell. They are shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa and gandha respectively. The gross elements arise
as a result of combination of the subtle elements.
The five gross elements are space or ether (akasa), water, air, fire and earth.
Kapila, the proponent of the Samkhya School, rules out the existence of God. He asserts that the
existence of God can not be proved and that God does not exist. Samkhya argues that if God
exists and if God is eternal and unchanging as is widely claimed, then he can not be the cause of
the world. A cause has to be active and changing. However some of the later commentators of
Samkhya seem to bend towards theistic interpretation.
Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Samkhya regards ignorance as the root
cause of bondage and suffering. According to Samkhya, the self is eternal, pure consciousness.
Due to ignorance, the self identifies itself with the physical body and its constituents – Manas,
ahamkara and Mahat, which are products of Prakruti. Once the self becomes free of this false
identification and the material bonds, the salvation is possible.
1. Sankhya Karika with Vacaspati Mishra’s commentary Tattva Kaumudi (published by
Ramakrishna Mission Publications)
2. Sankhya Sutras with commentary of Vijnanabhikshu and Aniruddha translated by Dr Nandalal
3. History of Indian Philosophy Vol. 1 by Prof S.N. Dasgupta
4. Yoga Philosophy in relation to other systems of Indian Thought by Prof S.N. Dasgupta. (Both
the above works of Prof Dasgupta)
5. Textbook of Ayurveda. Dr. Vasant Lad