Samkhya Shastra – The World first Philosophical System on Metaphysics

The Samkhya is the first and the oldest among the philosophical systems of India and the whole spiritual life of Hindus was strongly influenced by the Samkhya ideas. John Davies in his work Hindu Philosophy says that the Samkhya system is the first recorded system of philosophy in the world- the earliest attempt on record to give an answer from reason alone to the mysterious questions which arise in every thoughtful mind about the origin of the world, the nature and relations of man and his future destiny.

Philosophical background of Samkhya

Like the other Indian philosophical schools, the object of Samkhya’s philosophical enquiry is to alleviate human sufferings which are of three kinds, namely

  • Aadhyaatmika- Pain caused by disease of the body and mind
  • Aadhibautika- Pain due to extraneous causes like men or beasts and
  • Aadhidaivika- Pain caused by supernatural agencies like nature.

Meaning of Samkhya

Samkhya means number and hence enumeration. As Samkhya system enumerated 25 tattvas (categories) it is likely the philosophy came to be called Samkhya. In Amarakosha the sentence ‘charcha Samkhya vicharana’ means rational examination or discernment and the word Samkhya may be derived from it in the sense of ‘system of rational examination’. Samkhya in general sense means tattvajnana that is knowledge of ultimate reality or a person who know the ultimate reality.

Founder of Samkhya Philosophy

Sage Kapila, son of Prahlada is said to be the originator of Samkhya philosophy. He was a contemporary of king Sagara of Ikshawaku dynasty of Ayodhya and according to Baudhayana Dharma Sutras; it was Kapila who devised the scheme of the four ashramas, namely Brahmacharya, Gruhasta, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa. Two books, Tattwa Samaasa and Samkhya Pravachana Sutra are attributed to him. In Bhagavata Purana, Kapila is regarded as an avatar (incarnation) of Vishnu; the one who burnt the sons of Sagara to ashes and the author of Samkhya philosophy. His name also occurs in the Sveteshvara Upanishad.

Origin of Samkhya

Scholars are divided in their opinion regarding the origins of Samkhya. All agree that references to what appears as Samkhya-Yoga doctrines are found in the Upanishads, especially in the later ones among them. But while some are of the opinion that the Samkhya system is independent in origin and almost as old as the Upanishads, others maintain that it is an off shoot of the teachings of Upanishads. As the works of Kapila, his direct disciple Asuri and that of Panchashiksha are all lost, the tenets of this philosophical system is found only in Samkhya Karika of Ishvarakrishna whose work is dated around 4th century A.D. Reference to this system is also found in Vachaspati’s Samkhya-tattva-kaumudi and Vijnanabhiksu’s commentary on Samkhya Pravachana Sutra.

Antiquity of Samkhya Philosophy

References to Samkhya speculations in the Mahabharatha and the Bhagavad Gita show the great antiquity of this school of philosophy. It is further attested by the fact that the fundamental doctrines of Samkhya School have been elaborately criticized in the Nyaya-sutra and the Brahma-sutra and its thought reproduced in the Caraka-samhita. In Ashvaghosa’s Buddha-carita also similar Samkhya doctrines have been expounded.

Nature of Reality

Samkhya postulates two ultimate realities, Purusha and Prakriti; the interaction of which produces the activities of the universe including those of life.

Purusha

Purusha stands for ultimate selves or spirits which are eternally free, unchanging and absolutely independent entities whose nature consists of pure consciousness alone. Purusha as the self, the subject, the knower is intelligent and makes all knowledge possible. It is not to be confused with the mind, ego or intellect, since these evolutes of Prakriti are material. Purusha is beyond time and space, neutral and a non-agent.

Plurality of Purushas

The Samkhyas believed in the plurality of Purushas on the following grounds. Birth, death and mental and physical capabilities are different for each person. If the atman is the same for all, then birth, death and the endowments must be the same for all. If the atman is the same then when one sleeps, the others also must sleep and so on. There are different kinds of sentient beings, men, birds and beasts. If the atman is the same, these differences cannot be true. But they are true. If the atman is the same, when one atman is liberated, the others also must be liberated. But they are not liberated. If the atman is the same, when one man enjoys the fruits of his action, then other men also must enjoy them. As the Samkhya teaches the existence of many Purushas each living eternally separate from the rest, this system is also described as a school of individualism.

Prakriti

Prakriti (nature or matter) is one, real and is independent of Purusha. The word Prakriti means the original or original nature. All objects are present in Prakriti in a latent form and the world around us with its diversities is the product of Prakriti. In other words, the world is a manifest state of the unmanifest Prakriti (also known as Pradhana). Prakriti or the primordial substance or energy give rise to all material forms, from atom to man. Prakriti is of two forms, one homogeneous (avyakta) or noumenon and the other heterogeneous (vyakta) or phenomena.

The Three Gunas

The three gunas, sattva, rajas and tamas are the constituent elements of the Prakriti. These gunas will either be in the state of equilibrium or in the opposite state in which one or two gunas preponderate over the rest. If they are in the state of equilibrium, they constitute what the Samkhya call Pradhana or avyakta Prakriti. But as soon as their equilibrium ceases, the process of evolution (vyakta) commences. We can never know the real nature of the gunas and Pradhana in its avyakta (noumenon) form; but only in the vyakta or phenomena state.

Causes for Evolution

Evolution begins when the equilibrium of the three gunas are disturbed due to the interference of Purusha which is not through volition as Purusha is devoid of any agency or capacity for action. Hence as the mere contiguity of the cow and the calf is enough to set the milk flowing from the cow; so the mere contiguity of Purusha and Prakriti causes the movement of the latter. The relation between the two is much like the one existing between a magnet and a piece of iron: the influence of Purusha acts like a magnet, setting Prakriti in motion. The cooperation between Purusha and Prakriti is similar to the necessary cooperation between a lame person and a blind person- the blind person carrying the lame person on the shoulders and following the directions given by the latter until they reach their common destination. Prakriti is blind and Purusha like the lame person is unable to move; and hence only their cooperation makes the world-objects possible.

Denied the role of a Creator

The Samkhyas do not believe in a creator or God as according to them God who can have no desires unfulfilled can desire to gain nothing from the creation of the world. The atmans are all perfect originally and are eternal; there is no need of God to create them. Nor can his engaging himself in creation be due to benevolence for before creation jivas have no sense organs, bodies, objects and hence cannot experience pain. In the absence of pain how can there be a benevolent desire to remove it? Hence the Samkhya system is called ‘Nirishvara’ or atheistic system.

The 24 Categories of the Evolution

The first product of evolution is Mahat which is the cosmic intelligence not to be confused with pure intelligence, the Purusha. Next comes Buddhi, its function is to discriminate; to distinguish objects enabling Purusha to experience them. Its intelligence is the reflected intelligence of the Purusha. The next product is Ahankara or self-sense (ego). Ahamkara is said to have three aspects; sattvika ahamkara which contains a high degree of sattva guna and produces the manas (mind), the five jnanendriyas (sense organs- namely sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch) and the five karmendriyas (motor organs- namely tongue, the feet, the hands, the organs of excretion and of generation). The tamasika ahamkara which contains a high degree of tamas produces the five tanmatras (subtle elements- namely sound, touch, form, flavor and odour) and the five Bhutadi (gross elements- namely ether, air, fire, water and earth). The rajasika ahamkara does not directly produce anything but helps the other two gunas in their function to produce the evolutes.

Purpose of Evolution

The purpose of evolution is for the Purusha to enjoy and suffer, to experience and interpret and thereby become capable of distinguishing between himself and Prakriti so that he could dissociate himself from the binding Prakriti. Prakriti therefore functions for the enjoyment and liberation of Purusha and their association is thus temporary.

Bondage and Emancipation

According to Samkhya the cause of misery is wrong knowledge, by which one identifies Purusha with Prakriti. There is bondage and misery as long as a Purusha mistakenly identifies itself with buddhi, ahamkara and manas in which it is reflected. As soon as the Purusha realizes that it is not the intellect or ego or mind, that it is not Prakriti- it is liberated. The discriminatory knowledge which makes liberation possible is obtained through right knowledge, reflection and spiritual discipline. As for spiritual discipline, Samkhya relies on the practical steps developed fully in Yoga, which is referred as the practical aspect of Samkhya.

Significance of Samkhya Philosophy

  • Several millennium before Darwin, the Samkhya School of philosophy propounded the theory of evolution. But unlike Darwin theory which believed in the linear growth of organism from primitive to refined, Samkhya propounded the cyclic theory of evolution followed by dissolution.
  • The giant among European philosophers, Immanuel Kant spoke about ‘a thing in itself’ called noumenon which cannot be known and only the attributes of its opposite, phenomenon can be known. This view was articulated centuries earlier by the Samkhyas who called noumenon as avyakta or the real nature of Prakriti and its traits can never be known.
  • Reference to the three gunas and the practice of meditation as enunciated by Samkhya-Yoga school are also found in the Bhagavad Gita.
  • The Jains believe in the plurality of souls as enunciated by the Samkhyas and along with Buddhists accept meditation, a kind of yogic practice for attaining Nirvana or salvation.
  • Today Yoga has been acclaimed worldwide as a practice for the wellbeing of body and mind. And the philosophical basis of Yoga is provided by Samkhya.
  • Bibhu Padhi and Minakshi Padhi in their work Indian Philosophy and Religion say that Samkhya contains the seeds of the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta.
  • The Tantra system was also influenced by the Samkhya philosophy.
  • Finally regarding the significance of Samkhya philosophy the Mahabharatha (Shanthiparva) say that whatever knowledge is found in the Vedas, Yoga, in the various Puranas, in Ithihasa and Arthashastra and whatever knowledge exists in the world, all are derived from the Samkhya.

Reference

  1. Bibhu Padhi and Minakshi Padhi – Indian Philosophy and Religion
  2. T.Raju- The Philosophical Traditions of India
  3. Shantaram Anant Desai- A Study of the Indian Philosophy
  4. Radhakrishnan- Indian Philosophy
  5. T.Srinivasa Iyengar- Outlines of Indian Philosophy
  6. Swami Prabhavananda- The Spiritual Heritage of India
  7. Yogi Ramachakra- The Inner Teachings of the Philosophies and Religions of India
  8. Brian Carr and Indira Mahalingam, Edited- Companion Encyclopedia of Asian Philosophy
  9. P.V.Kane- History of Dharmashastra, Vol- 2, part-I and Vol-5, part-II
  10. Erich Frauwallner- History of Indian Philosophy, Vol-I, Translated from original German into English by V.M.Bedekar

 

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