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Classical Samkhya


Samkhyan Metaphysics
Bondage and Liberation
Samkhya and Yoga
The Influence of Samkhya



Samkhyan Metaphysics

Classical Samkhya espouses an atheistic philosophical dualism , positing two fundamental principles as the source of all things.


The purusha ("person"), is pure consciousness, inactive, unchanging; a passive witness to the transformations going on around it.  It is ultimately identified with an individual's true and eternal Self. Although the purusha has pretty much most of the qualities of the Paramatman (Self) of Advaita Vedanta, it is conceived of as a multiplicity rather than a unity.  The justification is that one person can gain enlightenment while all the rest remain in bondage.


Prakrti , ("nature"), is pure objectivity, phenomenal reality, which is non-conscious.  Whereas there are an infinity of purushas there is only one prakriti.   Prakrti contains within it three different qualities (gunas):   These are:

internal link The Samkhyan and Yoga Gunas

In the primal Prakrti, called Mulaprakriti, these three forces are in perfect equilibrium.  This initial equilibrium is disturbed through the presence of the purusha.  It is this original disturbance that sets in motion a pattern of evolution which creates the manifest universe, first the universal psychological reality, then the universal physical reality

internal link The Samkhyan Theory of Evolution

internal link The Samkhyan Tattwas



Bondage and Liberation

In Samkhya the cause of bondage is the failure to discriminate between these two principles. Through this lack of discrimination the purusha appears as if it is an agent, and the evolutes of prakrti as if they are conscious.  As a result there comes about the (false) personality, which, as in Buddhism, is self-perepetuating through volitional actions (karma) and psychological, and emotional predispositions.

Because it is changeless purusha (the "I") which is to be liberated, salvation is epistemological (based on understanding), as it is in Advaita Vedanta, rather than ontological, or rooted in the nature of things themselves, as it is in. Western esoteric traditions and to some extent Tantra and Taoism.

Once purusha realises its distinction from prakriti, the evolution of prakrti goes in reverse, leaving the purusha again in its state of magnificent isolation (kaivalya).



Samkhya and Yoga

The Samkhya metaphysics were adopted by the Patanjali school of Raja Yoga, so that the two schools are usually mentioned together, Samkhya representing the theoretical aspect, and Yoga as the practical.  From another perspective both have a strong theoretical element, but from complementary points of view.  Samkhya is devoted to the analysis of phenomena (prakriti), in order to give understanding of one's situation and the way to attain liberation from karma and rebirth. Yoga adopts a similar stance, but through a profound psychological and medtatitive practical dimension that the more purely theoretical Samkhya lacks.



The Influence of Samkhya

Samkhyan cosmology - with it's the duality of purushas (souls) and phenomena, and the unfloding of the latter, exerted a strong influence on Vedanta, Tantra, Trika Shaivism, and even early Buddhism.   Samkhyan ideas also found their way into the Gurdjieff-Ouspensky teaching, although in veiled form.



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page by M.Alan Kazlev
page uploaded 10 November 1998, last modified 15 February 2005