Sample Material of UPSC Mains Philosophy (Optional) Study Kit
Topic: Indian Philosophy (Samkhya)
Samkhya is one of the most prominent and one of the oldest of Indian
philosophies. An eminent, great sage Kapila was the founder of the Samkhya
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
Samkhya is dualistic realism. It is dualistic because it
advocates two ultimate realities: Prakriti, matter and Purusha, self (spirit).
Samkhya is realism as it considers that both matter and spirit are equally real.
Samkhya is pluralistic also because of its teaching that Purusha is not one but
Samkhya, to some extent, differs from Nyaya -Vaisheshika and
Jainism. While Nyaya-Vaisheshika and Jainism contend that the atoms are the
ultimate constituents of the physical world, Samkhya differs on the issue.
According to Samkhya the cause is always subtler than the effect. The Samkhya
theory argues: How can so gross atoms of matter can be the cause of such subtle
and fine objects as mind and intellect? The Samkhya proposes that some finest
and subtlest stuff or principle underlies all physical existence. Samkhya names
it as Prakriti. Prakriti is the primordial substance behind the world. It is the
material cause of the world. Prakriti is the first and ultimate cause of all
gross and subtle objects.
Prakriti is the non-self. It is devoid of consciousness Prakriti is
unintelligible and gets greatly influenced by the Purusha, the self. It can only
manifest itself as the various objects of experience of the Purusha
Prakriti 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.
Sattva is the guna whose essence is purity, fineness and
subtlety. Sattva is the component concerned with lightness, brightness and
pleasure. Sattva is associated with ego, mind and intelligence. Its association
with the consciousness is the strongest. Though sattva is an essential condition
for consciousness, it is not sufficient. It should be remembered that
consciousness is exclusively the Purusha.
Rajas is concerned with the actions of objects. It is
associated with activity and motion. In material objects, motion and action are
the results of rajas. In living beings not only activity and restlessness, but
pain also are caused by rajas.
Tamas is the constituent concerned with the inertia and
inaction. In material objects, it resists motion and activity. In living beings,
it is associated with coarseness, negligence, indifference and inactivity. In
man, it manifests itself as ignorance, insensitivity and inaction.
There are two views on the theory of causation in the Indian philosophy:
(1) Satkaryavada (pre-existence of the effect in the cause): It maintains
that karya (effect) is sat or real. It is present in the karana (cause) in a
potential form, even before its manifestation.
(2) Asatkaryavada (non-existence of the effect in the cause):
It maintains that karya (effect) isasat or unreal until it comes into being.
Every effect, then, is a new beginning and is not born out of cause. Charvakism
and Nyaya -Vaisheshika systems favour asatkaryavada.
The Samkhya as well as the Vedanta uphold the satkaryavada but their
interpretations are different.
There are two different interpretations of satkaryavada – Prakriti -parinamavada
The Parinamavada suggests that the effect is the real
parinama (or transformation) of the cause. On the other hand, the Brahma-vivartavada
suggests that the effect is an apparent or distorted appearance of the cause.
The Advaita Vedanta supports the Brahma-vivartavada. It defendsvivartavada and
holds that transformation is only apparent, as the Brahman is the only true
cause and the world is a distorted appearance of the cause. The
Samkhya favours Prakriti-parinamavada.
In accordance with the satkaryavada, the Samkhya maintains
that the three gunas of Prakriti are also associated with all the world-objects.
Prakriti is the primordial and ultimate cause of all physical existence.
Naturally the three gunas which constitute Prakriti also constitute every object
of the physical world. Prakriti is never static. Even before evolution, the
gunas are relentlessly changing and balancing each other. As a result, Prakriti
and all the physical objects that are effected or produced by Prakriti, are also
in a state of constant change and transformation. This is further confirmed by
the scientists today. It is now proved beyond doubt that ultra-minute particles
of objects – like electrons – are in a state of incessant motion and
According to Samkhya, the efficient cause of the world is
Purusha and the material cause is thePrakriti. Here Purusha stands for the
‘Supreme spirit’ and Prakriti stands for ‘matter’. Purusha(spirit) is the first
principle of Samkhya. Prakriti is the second, the material principle of Samkhya.
Purusha is neither produced nor does it produce. Prakriti is not produced but
Prakriti is uncaused. It is eternal. It itself is not produced but it has
inherent potential or tendency to produce.
Purusha(like the Brahmanof Vedanta) is the Transcendental
Self. It is absolute, independent, free, imperceptible, unknowable, above any
experience and beyond any words or explanation. It remains pure, “nonattributive
Prakriti is the material cause of the world. Prakriti is
dynamic. Its dynamism is attributed to its constituent gunas. The gunas are not
only constituents, nor are they simply qualities. The gunasare the very essence
of Prakriti. Gunas are constituents not only of Prakriti but also of all
world-objects as they are produced by Prakriti. Prakriti is considered
homogeneous and its constituentgunas cannot be separated. The gunas are always
changing, rendering a dynamic character toPrakriti. Still a balance among three
gunas is maintained in Prakriti. The changes in the gunas and in the Prakriti
may take two forms: Homogeneous and Heterogeneous. Homogeneous changes do not
affect the state of equilibrium in the Prakriti. As a result, worldly objects
are not produced. Heterogeneous changes involve radical interaction among the
three gunas. They disturb the state of equilibrium. This is the preliminary
phase of the evolution. The evolutionary process is initiated by the rajas,
which activates sattva and then the two gunas overpower the inertia of the tamas.
An important factor behind the disturbance is Purusha . The relation between
Purusha and Prakriti may be compared to that between a magnet and a piece of
iron. Purusha itself does not come into contact with Prakriti. But it influences
Prakriti. Thus, the Prakriti is prompted to produce. As thegunas undergo more
and more changes, Prakriti goes on differentiating into numerous, various
world-objects. Thus it becomes more and more determinate. This is what is termed
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.
According to Samkhya the radical interactions among the three
gunas disturb the state of equilibrium in Prakriti. Then there may be dominance
of one or the other guna. This disequilibrium, with certain other influencing
factors, prompts Prakriti to differentiate into world-objects.
The evolution results in 23 different categories of objects.
They comprise of three elements of Antahkaranas or the internal organs as well
as the ten Bahyakaranas or the external organs. Among all these, the first to
evolve is Mahat(the great one). Mahat evolves as a result of preponderance of
sattva. Since it is an evolute of Prakriti, it is made of matter. But it has
psychological, intellectual aspect known as buddhi or intellect. Mahat or
intellect is a unique faculty of human beings. It helps man in judgment and
discrimination. Mahat helps to distinguish between the subject and the object.
Man comes to understand the self and the non-self, the experiencer and the
experienced as distinct entities with Mahat. Mahat, by its inherent association
with sattva, possesses qualities like luminosity and reflectivity. Buddhi can
reflect Purusha owing to these qualities.
The second evolute is ahamkara (ego). It arises out of the cosmic nature of
Mahat. Ahamkara is the self-sense. It is concerned with the self-identity and it
brings about awareness of “I” and “mine”.
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 areshabda, 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.
Let us elaborate on the above. Ahamkara has three aspects
that differ according to the preponderance of the three gunas- sattva, rajas and
tamas. With the dominant sattva-guna, theSattvika-ahamkara produces manas
(mind), the five sense organs and the five motor organs. The five sense organs
are chakshu (to see), sroto (to hear), rasna (to taste), ghrana (to smell) and
tvak (to feel). The five motor organs are concerned with the powers of speech,
handling, movement, excretion and procreation. These organs, in Sanskrit, are
referred to as vak, pani, pada, paya andupastha respectively. All these ten
organs together form external organs (bahyakaranas). Mahat,ahamkara and manas
form internal organs (antahkaranas.)
It should be noted here that the manas or the mind is
different from Mahat or the buddhi.Manas or the mind in co-ordination with the
sense-organs, receives impressions from the external world, transforms them into
determinate perceptions and conveys them to the experiencer or the ego. Thus
manas is produced and is capable of producing also. But though Mahat is
produced, it can not produce.
As we have seen ahamkara produces both the subtle and the
gross elements. These gross elements are produced by various combinations of
subtle elements. For example shabda producesakasha (space) while shabdazand
sparsha together produce marut (air). Rupa produces teja (fire).Shabda, sparsha,
rupa and rasa together form ap (water). All five elements combine to produce
kshiti(the earth). The five gross elements combine in different ways to form all
gross objects. All the gross elements and the gross objects in the world are
Samkhya and the Theory of Knowledge
Samkhya accepts three sources of valid knowledge: Perception, inference and
According to Samkhya, the manas(mind), the Mahat (intellect =
buddhi) and the purusha play a role in ‘producing’ knowledge. When the
sense-organs come in contact with an object, the sensations and impressions
reach the manas. The manas processes these impressions into proper forms and
converts them into determinate percepts. These percepts are carried to the Mahat.
By its own applications, Mahat gets modified. Mahat takes the form of the
particular object. This transformation of Mahat is known as vritti or
modification of buddhi. But still the process of knowledge is not completed.
Mahat is a physical entity. It lacks consciousness so it can not generate
knowledge on its own. However, it can reflect the consciousness of the
Purusha(self). Illumined by the consciousness of the reflected self, the
unconscious Mahat becomes conscious of the form into which it is modified (i.e.
of the form of the object). This is better explained by an illustration. The
mirror cannot produce an image on its own. The mirror needs light to reflect and
produce the image and thereby reveal the object. Similarly, Mahat needs the
‘light’ of the consciousness of the Purusha to produce knowledge.
Samkhya cites out two types of perceptions:
Indeterminate (nirvikalpa) perceptions and determinate (savikalpa)
Indeterminate perceptions are sort of pure sensations or
crude impressions. They reveal no knowledge of the form or the name of the
object. There is vague awareness about an object. There is cognition, but no
recognition. An infant’s initial experiences are full of confusion. There is a
lot of sense-data, but there are improper or inadequate means to process them.
Hence they can neither be differentiated nor be labeled. Most of them are
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
Samkhya and God
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.
Bondage and Salvation
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 Prakriti. Once the self becomes free of this
false identification and the material bonds, the salvation is possible.