User Tools

Site Tools


Sankhya - A major school of Indian philosophy founded by the sage (more like saint) Kapila; it gives Ayurveda the theory of cause and effect (karma) and a systematic account of cosmic evolution according to 25 categories (25 Objects in the Descent of Consciousness): Purusha (The Unmanifest, Dharma Kaya, Dharma Dhatu, Tathagata Kaya), Cosmic Spirit; Prakruti (The Manifest, Sambhoga Kaya), Creative energy; Mahad, Cosmic Intelligence; Ahamkara, individuating principle or “I-maker”; Manas, mind; Indriya, the 10 sense (jnana indrya or buddhindrya) and motor facilities (motor organs or karmendriya); Tanmatras, the five subtle elements; and Maha Bhutas, the five gross elements. The word Sankhya is related to Sat, meaning Truth, and Khya, meaning knowledge.

Fair Use Source: Vaidya Vasant Lad, BAMS, MAsc, Textbook of Ayurveda Volume 1, 2001: p. 309

Sankhya, also Samkhya, (


- 'enumeration') is one of the six schools of classical Indian philosophy. Sage Kapila is traditionally considered to be the founder of the Sankhya school, although no historical verification is possible. It is regarded as one of the oldest philosophical systems in India.<ref>Sharma, C. (1997). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0365-5, p.149</ref>

Sankhya was one of the six orthodox systems (astika, those systems that recognize vedic authority) of Hindu philosophy. The major text of this Vedic school is the extant Samkhya Karika, written by Ishvara Krishna, circa 200 AD. This text (in karika 70) identifies Sankhya as a Tantra<ref>P.C. Bagchi, Evolution of the Tantras, Studies on the Tantras, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, 1989, ISBN 81-85843-36-8, pp.6</ref> and its philosophy was one of the main influences both on the rise of the Tantras as a body of literature, as well as Tantra sadhana<ref>P.C. Bagchi, Evolution of the Tantras, Studies on the Tantras, Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, Kolkata, 1989, ISBN 81-85843-36-8, pp.10</ref>. There are no purely Sankhya schools existing today in Hinduism, but its influence is felt in the Yoga and Vedanta schools.

Sankhya is an enumerationist philosophy that is strongly dualist.<ref>For the basis of Sankhya as dualist Purusha and Prakriti, see: Michaels, p. 264.</ref><ref>For the separation between Purusha and Prakriti as the “cardinal doctrine” of Sankhya philosophy, see: Sen Gupta, p. 6.</ref><ref>For Sankhya as a dualist school, see: Radhakrishnan and Moore, p. 89.</ref> Sankhya philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities: Purusha (consciousness) and Prakriti (phenomenal realm of matter). They are the experiencer and the experienced, not unlike the res cogens and res extensa of Descartes. Prakriti further bifurcates into animate and inanimate realms. On the other hand, Purusha separates out into countless Jivas or individual units of consciousness as souls which fuse into the mind and body of the animate branch of Prakriti.

There are differences between Sankhya and Western forms of dualism. In the West, the fundamental distinction is between mind and body. In Sankhya, however, it is between the self (as Purusha) and matter (Prakriti).


Sage Kapila is considered as the founder of the Samkhya school, but there is no evidence to prove that the texts attributed to him, the

and the

were actually composed by him. The earliest extant text of this school is


(3rd century).

in his

described himself as being in the succession of the disciples from Kapila, through



wrote a commentary on this

. The next important work is


(9th century AD).

’s treatise

is based on the

. The

is assigned to the 14th century, as

(14th century) did not refer to this text but referred to the

. This text consists of 6 chapters and 526

s. The most important commentary on the



(16th century). Anirruddha’s

(15th century) and


(c. 1600) and


are the other important commentaries on this text.<ref>Radhakrishnan, S. Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, ISBN 0-19-563820-4, pp.253-56</ref>


According to the Sankhya school, all knowledge is possible through three pramanas (means of valid knowledge)<ref>Samkhya Karika, śloka4</ref> -

  1. Pratyaksha or Drishtam - direct sense perception,
  2. Anumana - logical inference and
  3. Sabda or Aptavacana - verbal testimony.

Sankhya cites two kinds of perceptions: Indeterminate (nirvikalpa) perceptions and determinate (savikalpa) perceptions.

Indeterminate perceptions are merely impressions without understanding or knowledge. They reveal no knowledge of the form or the name of the object. There is only external awareness about an object. There is cognition of the object, but no discriminative recognition.

For example, a baby’s initial experience is full of impression. There is a lot of data from sensory perception, but there is little or no understanding of the inputs. Hence they can be neither differentiated nor labeled. Most of them are indeterminate perceptions.

Determinate perceptions are the mature state of perceptions which have been processed and differentiated appropriately. Once the sensations have been processed, categorized, and interpreted properly, they become determinate perceptions. They can lead to identification and also generate knowledge.



Broadly, the Samkhya system classifies all objects as falling into one of the two categories: Purusha and Prakriti. Metaphysically, Samkhya maintains an intermingled duality between spirit/consciousness (Purusha) and matter (Prakrti).


Purusha is the Transcendental Self or Pure Consciousness. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable, above any experience and beyond any words or explanation. It remains pure, “nonattributive consciousness ”. Purusha is neither produced nor does it produce. Unlike Advaita Vedanta and like Purva-Mimamsa, Samkhya believes in plurality of the Purushas.<ref>Sharma, C. (1997). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0365-5, pp.155-7</ref>


Prakriti is the first cause of the universe–of everything except the Purusha, which is uncaused, and accounts for whatever is physical, both matter and force. Since it is the first principle (tattva) of the universe, it is called the Pradhana, but, as it is the unconscious and unintelligent principle, it is also called the Jada. It is composed of three essential characteristics (trigunas). These are:

  • sattva - fineness, lightness, illumination, and joy;
  • rajas - activity, excitation, and pain;
  • tamas - coarseness, heavyness, obstruction, and sloth.<ref>Hiriyanna, M. (1993, reprint 2000). Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-1099-6, pp.270-2</ref><ref>Chattopadhyaya, D. (1986). Indian Philosophy: A popular Introduction, New Delhi: People's Publishing House, ISBN 81-7007-023-6, pp.109-110</ref><ref name=s>Sharma, C. (1997). A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0365-5, pp.149-68</ref>

All physical events are considered to be manifestations of the evolution of Prakriti, 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. Samsaara 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 of the difference between conscious Purusha and unconscious Prakriti is realized.

Ishvara (''Creationist God'')


states that there is no philosophical place for a creationist God in this system. It is also argued in this text that the existence of Ishvara cannot be proved and hence cannot be admitted to exist<ref>

, I.92</ref> and an unchanging Ishvara as the cause cannot be the source of a changing world as the effect. Almost all modern scholars are of view that the concept of Ishvara was incorporated into the nirishvara (atheistic) Samkhya viewpoint only after it became associated with the Yoga, the Pasupata and the Bhagavata schools of philosophy. This theistic Samkhya philosophy is described in the Mahabharata, the Puranas and the Bhagavad Gita<ref>Karmarkar, A.P. (1962). Religion and Philosophy of Epics in S. Radhakrishnan ed. The Cultural Heritage of India, Vol.II, Calcutta: The Ramakrishna Mission Institute of Culture, ISBN 81-85843-03-1, pp.90-1</ref>

Nature of Duality

The Samkhya recognizes only two ultimate entities, Prakriti and Purusha. While the Prakriti is a single entity, the Samkhya admits a plurality of the Purushas. Unintelligent, unmanifest, uncaused, ever-active, imperceptible and eternal Prakriti is alone the final source of the world of objects which is implicitly and potentially contained in its bosom. The Purusha is considered as the intelligent principle, a passive enjoyer (bhokta) and the Prakriti is the enjoyed (bhogya). Samkhya believes that the Purusha cannot be regarded as the source of inanimate world, because an intelligent principle cannot transform itself into the unintelligent world. It is a pluralistic spiritualism, atheistic realism and uncompromising dualism.<ref name=s/>

Theory of Existence

The Sankhya system is based on Satkaryavada. According to Satkaryavada, the effect pre-exists in the cause. Cause and effect are seen as different temporal aspects of the same thing - the effect lies latent in the cause which in turn seeds the next effect.

More specifically, Sankhya system follows the Prakriti-Parinama Vada. Parinama denotes that the effect is a real transformation of the cause. The cause under consideration here is Prakriti or more precisely Mula-Prakriti (Primordial Matter). The Sankhya system is therefore an exponent of an evolutionary theory of matter beginning with primordial matter. In evolution, Prakriti is transformed and differentiated into multiplicity of objects. Evolution is followed by dissolution. In dissolution the physical existence, all the worldly objects mingle back into Prakriti, which now remains as the undifferentiated, primordial substance. This is how the cycles of evolution and dissolution follow each other.

The twenty-four principles

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 -

  • Sattva - a template of balance or equilibrium;
  • Rajas - a template of expansion or activity;
  • Tamas - a template of inertia or resistance to action.

All macrocosmic and microcosmic creation uses these templates. The twenty four principles that evolve are -

  • Prakriti - The most subtle potentiality that is behind whatever is created in the physical universe, also called “primordial Matter”. It is also a state of equilibrium amongst the Three Gunas.
  • Mahat - first product of evolution from Prakriti, pure potentiality. Mahat is also considered to be the principle responsible for the rise of buddhi or intelligence in living beings.
  • Ahamkara or ego-sense - second product of evolution. It is responsible for the self-sense in living beings. It is also one's identification with the outer world and its content.
  • “Panch Tanmatras” are a simultaneous product from Mahat Tattva, along with the Ahamkara. They are the subtle form of Panch Mahabhutas which result from grossification or Panchikaran of the Tanmatras. Each of these Tanmatras are made of all three Gunas.
  • Manas or “Antahkaran” evolves from the total sum of the sattva aspect of Panch Tanmatras or the “Ahamkara”
  • Panch jnana indriyas or five sense organs - also evolves from the sattva aspect of Ahamkara.
  • Pancha karma indriya or five organs of action - The organs of action are hands, legs, vocal apparatus, urino-genital organ and anus. They evolve from the rajas aspect of Ahamkara.
  • Pancha mahabhuta or five great substances - ether, air, fire, water and earth. They evolve from the “tamas” aspect of the “Ahamkara”. This is the revealed aspect of the physical universe.

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, he misidentifies himself with it.

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 change. 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.

Sankhyan cosmology describes how life emerges in the universe; the relationship between Purusha and Prakriti is crucial to Patanjali's yoga system. The evolution of forms at the basis of Sankhya is quite remarkable. 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.


Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Sankhya regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and suffering (Samsara). According to Sankhya, the Purusha is eternal, pure consciousness. Due to ignorance, it identifies itself with the physical body and its constituents - Manas, Ahamkara and Mahat, which are products of Prakriti. Once it becomes free of this false identification and the material bonds, Moksha ensues. Other forms of Sankhya teach that Moksha is attained by one's own development of the higher faculties of discrimination achieved by meditation and other yogic practices as prescribed through the Hindu Vedas.

Views of what happens to the soul after liberation vary tremendously, as the Sankhya view is used by many different Hindu sects and is rarely practiced alone.

See also



  • Second Edition. Translated from the French by Willard R. Trask.

  • Princeton paperback 12th printing, 1989.

  • Sen Gupta, Anima. The Evolution of the

    School of Thought. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd.: New Delhi, 1986.

Further reading

  • Reprint edition; Originally published under the title of The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy.

  • R.A. Ramaswami Shastri, A Short History Of The Purva Mimamsa Shastra, Annamalai University Sanskrit Series No. 3 (1936).
  • Bollingen Series XXVI; Edited by Joseph Cambell.

  • .

Hindu philosophical concepts Hindu philosophy Samkhya Indian philosophy Sanskrit words and phrases

Sánkhja Samkhya Samkhya Sāṃkhya Sâmkhya सांख्य Samkhya Sāṃkhya ಸಾಂಖ್ಯ Samkhja സാംഖ്യം Samkhya サーンキヤ学派 Sankhja Sankhya Санкхья सांख्य Sánkhja Samkhya Samkhya సాంఖ్య దర్శనము

Fair Use Source:

Return to AYR220 Course Readings

Adapted from Fair Use Source: Michael Dick, Ayurvedic Practitioner Handouts, 2001

Adapted from Fair Use Source: Vaidya Vasant Lad, BAMS, MAsc - Anisha Durve, L.Ac, DOM - Ayurvedic Institute Seminars 1995 through 2002

Fair Use

Click here for a list of Buddhist Distance Learning Programs without Ayurveda included.

For affordable donation-only extensive Buddhist Ayurveda Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Distance Learning Program Certification, call Medicine Buddha Healing Center at 1-510-292-6696.

The non-profit Ayurveda Healing Arts Institute (part of the Medicine Buddha Healing Center) offers affordable yet comprehensive distance learning (online correspondence course with regular phone support) and in-person apprenticeship formats leading to specialized Indian and Tibetan Ayur-Vedic Herbal Certifications and Ayur-Veda Diplomas.

• Taught by highly experienced degreed faculty clinicians and scholars. Our main teacher has served over 5800 patients since 1996, 1900 patients with Dr. Vasant Lad during his formal six-year, 1800 hour clinical apprenticeship.

• The most comprehensive Clinical multimedia audio and HDTV video-based Ayurvedic distance learning program on the Planet.

MP3 recordings of over 1000 Patient Consultations for Clinical Experience. Searchable database of photographs of tongue diagnosis and iPod - iPhone compatible audio files of our main Berkeley Ayurvedic Practitioner's client visits.

• The Ayurveda Healing Arts Institute is currently the only educational program in the world to offer such an extensive collection of organized Ayurvedic clinical research of patient case studies (over 1500 hours worth of consultation audio recordings).

To enroll as an Apprenticeship Intern Student, please see - 9 minute Indo-Tibetan Medicine Video Clips – Do please Subscribe to our Ayurved Channel on YouTube!

Dedication of Merit Contents | Main Page - Ayurvedic Distance Learning Programs - Ayurveda Correspondence Courses | |

The Dharma is a Priceless Jewel, thus these research compilations of Ayurveda Dharma and audio and video teaching materials are offered free-of-charge by this anonymous practitioner for the Bodhi Resolve benefit of All Sentient Beings in the Universe under a Creative Commons License.

The rights to textual segments (“quoted, paraphrased, or excerpted”) of the are owned by the author-publisher indicated in the brackets next to each segment and are make available and commented on (under the “shastra tradition”) under Fair Use. For rights regarding the Buddhist Encyclopaedia - Glossary - Dictionary compilation as a whole, please know that it is offered under this Creative Commons License: Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States: —-

Ayurveda Dharma is distributed via this GNU Free Documentation License (FDL) and/or under Creative Commons License Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States: Since words create our reality (see prajna), there are certain words to avoid: Please see also: Words to Avoid

Medicine Buddha Mantra: Om Namo Bhagavate Bhaisajya Guru Vaidurya Prabaha Rajaya Tathagataya Arhate Samyamsambodhi Tadyata Om Bhaisajye Bhaisajye Bhaisajya Samudgate Svaha!

Medicine King Bodhisattva Jeweled Ax Mantra 16 (Line 64 of the Great Compassion Mantra of Avalokiteshvara):

Syi lu seng e mu chywe ye Nan Wei la ye Wei la ye Sa wa he.

sankhya.txt · Last modified: 2018/02/26 18:13 (external edit)