views updated Jun 11 2018


SĀNKHYA The enumeration of categories as they arise in the space of the mind is the concern of the Sānkhya. It addresses evolution at the cosmic and the psychological levels.

The legendary systemizer of the Sānkhya is the sage Kapila, who lived in the beginning of the first millennium b.c., if not earlier. According to the Sānkhya, reality is composed of a number of basic principles (tattva), which are taken to be twenty-five in the classical system.

The first principle is prakriti, which is taken to be the cause of evolution. From prakriti develops intelligence (buddhi, also called mahat), and thereafter, self-consciousness (ahamkāra). From self-consciousness emerge the five subtle elements (tanmātra): ether (ākāsha), air, light, water, and earth. From the subtle elements emerge the five material elements (mahābhūta). Next emerge the five organs of sense ( jnānendriya): hearing, touch, sight, taste, and smell, and five organs of action (karmendriya): speech, grasping, walking, evacuation, and procreation. Finally, self-consciousness produces the twenty-fourth of the basic elements: mind (manas), which, as a sixth sense, mediates between the ten organs and the outside world. The last, the twenty-fifth tattva, is self (purusha).

The emergence from prakriti of intelligence and, later, of subtle and gross elements, mind and consciousness, appears to mirror the stages through which a newly conceived individual will pass. Here intelligence, as the second tattva, is what endows the newly fertilized cell the ability to organize and grow; self-consciousness represents the stage that allows the organism to sense the environment, and so on.

The doctrine of the three constituent qualities, or gunas—transparence (sattva), activity (rajas), and inertia (tamas)—plays a very important role in the system. In its undeveloped state, cosmic matter has these gunas in equilibrium. The gunas may be viewed at the physical and the psychological levels.

The Sānkhya system presupposes a universe that comes into being and then is absorbed back in the substance of reality. This is what we see in the Purāṇic cyclic universe also. Within each cycle, a gradual development of intelligent life is assumed. It is postulated that the plants arose first, followed by animals of various kinds, and finally by man.

There is no ex nihilo creation in the Sānkhya but only a progressive manifestation. The gunas provide the necessary ingredient for the universe (be it physical or psychological) to evolve.

Cognition cannot be taken to arise out of the sensory organs. The cognitive organs, namely, ahamkāra, manas and the ten senses, which are different from one another and which are distinct specifications of the gunas, present the whole to the buddhi, illuminating it for the purusha like a lamp.

Purusha is neither creative nor created. Purusha is discriminating, subjective, specific, conscious, and nonproductive. It is the witness—free, indifferent, watchful, and inactive. The purusha, in this characterization, does not interfere with prakriti and its manifestations. It is transcendent and completely free (kaivalya).

The mind is taken to operate in a causal fashion, just as the physical world does. The Sānkhya is a sophisticated materialist framework for the laws of nature. There is also a recognition that new enumerative categories are needed in the characterization of empirical world. Thus in Sānkhya, we have for the mind eight fundamental predispositions (bhāva); eight resultant life trajectories; a set of five breaths that support the embodied condition; and five sources of action. Likewise, the description of the physical world requires categories that go beyond the twenty-five of the basic system.

Subhash Kak

See alsoVedic Aryan India


Dasgupta, Surendranath. A History of Indian Philosophy. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1922–1955.

Mohanty, Jitendranath N. Classical Indian Philosophy. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.


views updated May 29 2018

Sāṃkhya. One of the six orthodox schools of interpretation (darśana) in Hinduism. Its founder is said to have been Kapila. Sāṃkhya posits a fundamental contrast between puruṣa and prakṛti. Puruṣa is the conscious, intelligent self or essence, prakṛti the eternal, unconscious potentiality of all being or appearance. In itself, prakṛti rests in a state of perfect equilibrium, composed of three strands (guṇas), sattva (the subtle principle of potential consciousness), rajas (the principle of activity), and tamas (the principle of passivity). The unfolding or evolution of prakṛti from its state of equilibrium occurs when puruṣa becomes present to it, creating the duality of subject and object. By the light of the consciousness of puruṣa, humans are able to become aware of prakṛti. If puruṣa forgets its true nature and regards the body or mind as the true self, then it remains attached to prakṛti. Freedom is obtained by discriminatory knowledge (sāṃkhya), which is practical as well as theoretical; and that is why yoga became attached to Sāṃkhya, producing the so-called Sāṃkhya-yoga of Patañjali. Potentially, and often actually, Sāṃkhya is a non-theistic system. However, gods are easily incorporated as products of prakṛti; or God as Puruṣa.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Sankhya (philosophical school in Hinduism): see SĀṂKHYA.