Philosophy of Samkhya

Philosophy of Samkhya

Samkhya, also spelled Sankhya, one of the six systems (darshans) of Indian philosophy. Samkhya adopts a consistent dualism of matter (prakriti) and the eternal spirit (purusha). The two are originally separate, but in the course of evolution purusha mistakenly identifies itself with aspects of prakriti. Right knowledge consists of the ability of purusha to distinguish itself from prakriti.

Although many references to the system are given in earlier texts, Samkhya received its classical form and expression in the Samkhya-karikas (“Stanzas of Samkhya”) by the philosopher Ishvarakrishna (c. 3rd century CE). Vijnanabhikshu wrote an important treatise on the system in the 16th century.

The Samkhya school assumes the existence of two bodies, a temporal body and a body of “subtle” matter that persists after biological death. When the former body has perished, the latter migrates to another temporal body. The body of subtle matter consists of the higher functions of buddhi (“consciousness”), ahamkara (“I-consciousness”), manas (“mind as coordinator of sense impressions”), and prana (“breath,” the principle of vitality).

Samkhya posits the existence of an infinite number of similar but separate purushas, none superior to any other. Because purusha and prakriti are sufficient to explain the universe, the existence of a god is not hypothesized. The purusha is ubiquitous, all-conscious, all-pervasive, motionless, unchangeable, immaterial, and without desire. Prakriti is the universal and subtle nature that is determined only by time and space.

The chain of evolution begins when purusha impinges on prakriti, much as a magnet draws iron shavings to itself. The purusha, which before was pure consciousness without an object, becomes focused on prakriti, and out of this is evolved buddhi (“spiritual awareness”). Next to evolve is the individualized ego consciousness (ahamkara, “I-consciousness”), which imposes upon the purusha the misapprehension that the ego is the basis of the purusha’s objective existence.

The ahamkara further divides into the five gross elements (space, air, fire, water, earth), the five fine elements (sound, touch, sight, taste, smell), the five organs of perception (with which to hear, touch, see, taste, smell), the five organs of activity (with which to speak, grasp, move, procreate, evacuate), and mind (as coordinator of sense impressions; manas). The universe is the result of the combinations and permutations of these various principles, to which the purusha is added.

Largely outside the above system stands that of the three primal qualities of matter that are called gunas (“qualities”). They make up the prakriti but are further important principally as physiopsychological factors. The first is is tamas (“darkness”), which is obscurity, ignorance, and inertia; the second is rajas (“passion”), which is energy, emotion, and expansiveness; and the highest is sattva (“goodness”), which is illumination, enlightening knowledge, and lightness. To these correspond personality types: to tamas, that of the ignorant and lazy person; to rajas, that of the impulsive and passionate person; to sattva, that of the enlightened and serene person.

Satkaryavada

Satkaryavada is a hypothesis according to which the effect pre-exists in a potential state. The causal process involves a modification of a stable underlying reality. The effect is not produced as a reality that is distinct from its underlying cause. It is a specific rearrangement of that causal substrate.  The Samkhya system is based on the principle of Satkaryavada. The effect pre-exists in the cause here. Cause and effect are seen as temporal aspects of the same thing. It is considered as theory of existent causes. The effect lies latent in the cause which in turn seeds the next effect. It maintains that effect is real. Before its manifestation it is present cause in a potential form.

According to Satkaryavada principle the cause is hidden inside the effect. This effect exists due to several reasons:

  • what is nonexistent cannot be produced;
  • for producing a specific material cause is resorted to;
  • everything cannot be produced;
  • A specific material cause is capable of producing a specific product alone that effect;
  • There is a particular cause for a particular effect.

Nature of Prakriti and Purusha

Prakriti, in the Samkhya system (darshan) of Indian philosophy, material nature in its germinal state, eternal and beyond perception. When prakriti (female) comes into contact with the spirit, purusha (male), it starts on a process of evolution that leads through several stages to the creation of the existing material world. Prakriti is made up of three gunas (“qualities” of matter), which are the constituent cosmic factors that characterize all nature. In the Samkhya view, only prakriti is active, while the spirit is confined within it and only observes and experiences. Release (moksha) consists in the spirit’s extrication from prakriti by its own recognition of its total difference from it and noninvolvement in it. In early Indian philosophical texts the term svabhava (“own being”) was used in a sense similar to prakriti to mean material nature.

Purusha, (Sanskrit: “spirit,” “person,” “self,” or “consciousness”) in Indian philosophy, and particularly in the dualistic system (darshan) of Samkhya, the eternal, authentic spirit.  In Samkhya and also in Yoga, purusha (male) is opposed to prakriti (female), the basic matter constituting the phenomenal universe, as the two ontological realities. All animate and inanimate objects and all psychomental experiences are emanations of prakriti. It is confusion of purusha with prakriti that keeps the spirit in bondage; disassociation of purusha from prakriti is its liberation.  In one of the early creation myths related in the Rigveda, India’s oldest text, purusha is also the primal man from whose body the universe was created. He was both sacrificer and victim, and his rite was the imagined prototype for later Vedic and Hindu sacrifices.

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