Samkhya means ‘right knowledge’; it also means ‘numbers’. Samkhya is one of the oldest systems of Indian philosophy. It occupies a unique place among the six systems of Indian philosophy. Almost all branches of Indian literature reflect the influence of Samkhya Philosophy. This system is sometimes, described as the ‘atheistic Yoga’ as distinguished from Yoga Philosophy, which is also referred as ‘Theistic Samkhya. This system is accepted as the main opponent of Vedanta Philosophy which is a non-dualistic philosophy; whereas, Samkhya maintains a clear-cut dualism between Purusha (Pure Consciousness, soul) and Prakriti (nature, manifested being, mind-body complex); further maintains the plurality of Purusha, and is silent on God. It is often also referred as pluralistic spiritualism, an atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism.
Samkhya divides existence and individual being into two aspects: Purusha and Prakriti. Purusha also implies the Seer and Prakriti also imply the Seen. Adopting the principle of ‘from the seen to the unseen’ or ‘from the known to the unknown’, Samkhya metaphysics has reduced all the realities in our experience to these two (Purusha & Prakriti) fundamental and eternal substances.
The basic argument behind the conclusion is the principle that the effect pre-existed in the cause before manifestation. Example, when a pot is prepared out of clay, the pot already existed in the clay, though in a potential form. The main logic behind this is that something can never be produced out of nothing. Applying this argument to the world of our experience where every object is seen to possess three characters – pleasure, pain and indifference. The Samkhya comes to the conclusion that there must be three basic subtle substances from which these three characters are derived. It calls them as Gunas (attributes) – Each of these Gunas stand for a distinct aspect of physical reality. These three Gunas are:
- Sattva (producing pleasure or happiness) – Sattava signifies whatever is pure and fine, and conduces to the production of knowledge as also happiness
- Rajas (producing pain and suffering) – Rajas is ever active. It is also responsible for desires and ambitions, to fulfill which, one has to actively work.
- Tamas (producing neither) – Tamas is stolid and offers resistance. It tends to sleep and inactivity.
The system of Samkhya accepts prakriti as the root cause of world of objects. Prakriti is said to be the unity of these three gunas held in equilibrium. Evolution of worldly objects does not take place at this state. These gunas are said to be ever changing, they cannot remain static even for a moment. Change is said to be of two kinds homogeneous and heterogeneous. During the state of dissolution of the world, the gunas change homogeneously i.e. sattva changes into sattva, rajas into rajas and tamas into tamas. This change does not disturb the equilibrium of the gunas and unless the equilibrium is disturbed and one guna predominates over the other two gunas, evolution cannot take place. Evolution starts when there is heterogeneous change in the gunas and one predominates over the other two and brings about terrific commotion in the bosom of prakriti.
Bondage and liberation – Samkhya philosophy reveals that the main cause of bondage of every being and his consequent suffering in the world is ignorance i.e. nondiscrimination between him as purusha (pure consciousness) and prakrti (the unconscious mind-body complex). It is this that is leading him from birth to death or from life to life as infinitum. The question as to how and when he got into this mess can never be answered, except by stating that it is beginning-less BUT ‘has an END’.
The purpose of Yoga i.e. kaivalya or liberation can come only from right knowledge i.e. being able to separate awareness from the mind-body complex. This can be attained by following one of the many solutions provided under Yoga Philosophy – example following the eight limbs of Yoga wherein the purusha or the soul is the object of meditation.
Important to Note – It needs to be understood that Yoga is a practical discipline. This separation and difference between awareness and the mind-body complex can only be understood by personal experience. No amount of reading or talking will convince one of the Truth and Reality of this difference – ONLY personal practice leads to experiences that ultimately transform one’s life.