Samkhya Philosophy

Samkhya-yoga, the oldest cogent philosophy in the world is basically the science of liberation. While Samkhya represents the theoretical basis, Yoga concerns itself with the practices to achieve the objective.

One may query: Why liberation?

The answer: Not to speak of man, no living being wants to suffer misery and everybody wants happiness. Instincts, nevertheless, make people perform deeds for some apparent pleasure which ultimately result in untold misery. This is how the cycle of births is kept rotating.

Liberation is end of all misery for all time to come. Samkhya-yoga shows the way how to attain that state, step-by-step. The great rsi Kapila was the first to attain it and propound this science of liberation. Both Svetasvatara Upanisad (5.2) and Gita agree that Kapila was the propounder of the science of liberation. In Gita Lord Krsna says, “I am Kapila among the liberated” (10.26), which in effect says that Kapila was foremost among the liberated as he was the first to attain liberation. There is no correlation, however, between Kapila, the founder of Samkhya-yoga and the various Kapilas mentioned in Bhagavatam etc. Gita has clearly stated (5.4 and 5.5) that Samkhya and Yoga are one and the same. Depending on their mental make-up devotees have a predilection for one or the other of the two. Those more inclined to Samkhya are called Jnana-yogins.

Karma-yogins have greater affinity for Yoga. While both have to follow the eight-fold yogic practice laid down in Yoga-sutra (2.29), Jnana-yogin directs himself to his inner Self by maintaining constant vigil over his body and mind, Karma-yogins concentrate on practice of austerity, study of scriptures or repetition of mantras and complete surrender to God.

  • What the ancients thought and felt about Samkhya-yoga.
  • The root cause (Brahman) is to be apprehended by Samkhya-yoga – Svetasvatara Upanisad (6.13)
  • There is no wisdom like Samkhya, no power like Yoga – Mahabharata

I have said before that two paths are available in this world – Yoga of knowledge as followed by the Samkhyas and Yoga of action as practiced by the Yogins – Gita (3.3)

The ignorant differentiate between Samkhya and Yoga; not the wise. He who considers the two as integrated has the right insight – Gita (5.4)

Tattvas At A Glance

Samkhya is generally accepted as the oldest philosophical system in the whole world. Mahabharata say that as the philosophy has maintained its principles to a numerical frame, and as it explains these principles successfully, it is called Samkhya (derived from the word Samkhya, meaning number). The diagrammatic presentation of tattvas brings out their evolution and interaction with one another and with the gunas.

Samkhya holds that everything that exists, which one can either perceive through one’s sense-organs or conceive of, whether sentinent beings or inert objects, is constituted by twenty-five basic principles of tattvas. These are not mere abstract objects but are real entities which can be directly apprehended, of course only by yogins or serious aspirants with proper knowledge, discipline and training.

Tattvas are 25 in number:

5 Gross elements or Bhutas, apprehended by our sense-organs, viz.

  1. Ksiti
  2. Ap
  3. Tejas
  4. Vayu
  5. Akasa

5 Subtle monads or tanmatras (lit. meaning ‘only that’), subtlest sensations of the five gross elements which can be perceived by the sense-organs, viz.

  1. gandha (smell)
  2. rasa (taste)
  3. rupa (light)
  4. sparsa (thermal)
  5. sabda (sound)

5 Sense-organs, our instruments for receiving the bhutas and the tanmatras, viz

  1. karna (the auditory sense)
  2. tvak (the thermal sense)
  3. chaksu (the visual sense)
  4. jihva (the gustatory sense)
  5. nasa (the olfactory sense)

5 organs of action, viz.

  1. vak (vocal organ)
  2. pani (manual organ)
  3. pada (organ of locomotion)
  4. payu (excretory organ)
  5. upastha (genital organ)

3 Internal organs

  1. manas (mind, the internal store-house of latent impressions)
  2. ahamkara, also called abhimana or asmita (mutative ego or I-sense)
  3. buddhi-tattva or mahat (pure I-sense)

The mutable material cause of the 23 principles listed above viz. Prakriti or pradhana, comprising the three gunas which are always conjoint together and are never separated viz sentinent sattva, mutative rajas and retentive tamas; and finally, the immutable efficient cause of the 23 principles, viz Purusa, variously called the Seer or the Knower. Both Prakriti and Purusa are entities beyond space and time.

The 3 internal organs are jointly called chitta (mind or mind-stuff). All modifications of chitta exhibit the basic traits of sentience, mutativeness and retentiveness corresponding to the three gunas. 5 pranas (vital energies) need to be mentioned although they do not figure as tattvas, because they sustain all the functions of the body and organs of living beings.

While bhutas and tanmatras are knowables of living beings, mahat, sense-organs, organs of action and pranas are the instruments of reception. Mahat and the Seer Purusa are both recipients, the former as the empirical knower or receiver, and Purusa, the ultimate recipient, although only as immutable witness.

Objects of everyday use are made up of the 5 gross elements or bhutas. Tanmatras and bhutas are derived from the bhutadi abhimana of Hiranyagarbha, Lord of the universe.

Tattvas are useful to yogins or aspirants for liberation which consists in discriminating one’s real Self i.e. Purusa progressively from the other 24 tattvas and ultimately be established in Him (i.e. Self in itself).

Wheel Of Wordliness

The six-spoked samsara-chakra (Wheel of Worldliness or Cycle of Birth) described in Yoga-Sutra (4.11) is the quintessence of Upanisadic teachings on the creed of liberation.

Samsara means perpetuation of existence through alternating births and deaths. Stated simply: A being is born, and in the course of life performs deeds of piety and impiety, experiences part of its results in that life in the form of pleasure and pain, and dies only to come back with the burden of latent impressions of karma which were not exhausted, i.e. not experienced in the same life.

This is not difficult to comprehend. For rebirth is not an article of blind faith or ideal theological speculation but is a perfectly rational system accepted even by some western thinkers like Hume, Schelling, Schopenhauer and T.H. Huxley. Two points in the diagram deserve special attention: viz.
a) deeds of piety are grouped together with deeds of impiety etc. and
b) nescience or wrong knowledge is in the driver’s seat of the wheel.

The explanation in brief : Deeds of piety here are those of worldly virtues, like religious rites and building of hospitals or schools with a view to gaining name and fame or a time bound sojourn in heaven after death. For Samkhya-yogins virtuous acts are mainly internal.

Jnana Yoga

यच्छेद् वाङ्मनसी प्राज्ञस्तद् यच्छेज् ज्ज्ञान आत्मनि ।
ज्ञानमात्मनि महति नियच्छेत् तद् यच्छेच्छान्त आत्मनि ॥

– from Kathopanishad

“The wise man, by inhibiting speech or ideation by language, should retreat to and stay speechless at the speech center of the brain or mind. Then by inhibiting the conative impulses he should stay by thus quieting the involuntary and voluntary activities of the mind in the remaining cognitive element – the knowing Self or I-know feeling. Quieting next by practice the effort involved in knowing he should merge in the Great Self or pure I-sense which is knowing par excellence. After that by abolishing all phenomenal knowing he should realize the metempiric Self.” – translated by Swami Hariharananda Aranya

(This suffers from the imperfections that result from the absence of exact equivalents of Sanskrit terms)

Attainment of Self through practice of Jnana-Yoga.