Justice T.U.Mehta


Sankhya System

Sankhya is considered to be the earliest Indian attempt at systematic philosophy. It does not believe in the existence of any entity, such as God, as the creator of universe as also its sustainer. Since its metaphysics has many points in common with the Sramana-tradition it is generally recognised as advocating the Sramana-tradition of Indian philosophy.

It has two principal schools -- One atheistic and the other theistic. The Atheistic school is associated with the name of its supposed founder ‘Kapila' (over 6th century B.C.) while the Theistic school which has brought the concept of God, is associated with the name of great Patanjali (middle of 2nd century B.C.) The latter accepts the metaphysical analysis of the former but introduces the doctrine of Godhood and the practice of Yoga as a process to realize ‘Kaivalya' and final liberation. Both the systems are now clubbed together and known as Sankhya-Yoga. While the philosophical framework of Sankhya is greatly similar to Jaina metaphysics, the discipline of Yoga is largely accepted by all philosophical schools in India including Jainism.


Sage Kapila

Richard Garbe, the foreign scholar who has specialised in the Sankhya system, observes that Sankhya is the most significant system of philosophy that India has produced (vide his ‘Sankhya-pravacana-bhsaya', p.XIV). Sage Kapila who is the original thinker of this system flourished much before Mahavira or Buddha. His reference is found in Svetasvatara Upanisad. Even Gita lauds Kapila as the foremost among the ‘Siddhas', i.e., those who are totally liberated by referring to him as, ‘Siddhanam Kapilo Munih'.

That he belonged to Sramana-tradition is also clear by a reference to him in ‘Baudhyana Dharma Sutra' which says that Kapila was an Asura, Prahlada's son, who instituted the life of renunciation or Samnyasa. He is said to have converted a Brahmin named Asuri to renounce the traditional cult of sacrifices to become and ascetic. It is believed that Asuri was his first disciple. Jaina tradition says, without any support of historical data, that Kapila was one of the pupils of the grandson of the first Tirthankara Rsabha.

Prof. Zimmer, the well known German Indologist notes about Sankhya-Yoga as under :

"The two ideologies are of different origins. Sankhya and Yoga being related to the mechanical system of Jainas which can be traced back in a partly historical and party legendary way, through long series of Tirthankaras, to a remote, aboriginal non-Vedic antiquity. The fundamental ideas of Sankhya and Yoga must be therefore immensely old and yet they do not appear in any orthodox Indian texts until comparatively late-specifically in the younger stratifications of Upanisadas, and Bhagavad-gita where they are already blended and harmonized with the fundamental ideas of Vedic philosophy."

Thus, it can be safely concluded that Kapila the founder of Sankhya stands beyond the traditional assembly of Vedic saints and belonged to Sramana-tradition of Indian thought. It is believed that the village ‘Kapilavastu', where the Lord Buddha was born, bears its name due to its association with this sage of Sankhya.


Basic Conceptions


The main and basic conceptions of Sankhya-Yoga system can be stated as under:

(1) This universe is founded on the dichotomy of ‘Purusa', a purely conscious and sentient principle, and ‘Prakrti' a lifeless matter possessing an inherent power of evolution.

(2) The extra-ordinary physical and psychical phenomenal varieties found in the universe is the result of vibratory motion and interplay of the three ‘Gunas', i.e., Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, which are the three constituents of ‘Prakrti', though the fundamental and original nature of this ‘Prakrti' is to establish complete equilibrium of these three ‘Gunas'.

(3) ‘Purusa' and ‘Prakrti' are both without beginning or end and both are ever lasting.

(4) ‘Purusa' is all pervading, infinite, without activity and changeless. All the phenomenal changes are due to the interplay of the three Gunas of ‘Prakrti'. Though Prakrti, undergoes changes for the enjoyment of ‘Purusa', the ‘Purusa' remains uninvolved. It is ‘Kutastha' which literally means ‘at the top or summit'.

(5) By association with the changing aspects of ‘Prakrti', the ‘Purusa', which is immanent in every individual, thinks that he is involved in the changes. This thinking is its bondage. This is the result of ‘Avidya', i.e., ignorance, which results in endless round of transmigration.

(6) This ‘Avidya' is due to the turbulent and distracted condition of mind. But when this ignorance is removed by the training of mind by the process of Yoga, the ‘Purusa' becomes absolutely isolated and attains ‘Kaivalya'.

(7) Spontaneous activity of the mind can be stilled and put to rest by :

(a) Right notions derived from accurate valid knowledge (Pramana).

(b) Elimination of erroneous notions derived from misapprehensions (Viparyaya).

(c) Elimination of Fantasies (Vikalpa).

(d) Suppression of Sleep (Nidra).

(e) Suppression of Memory (Smrti).

If these five things are achieved, mental activities of emotional character disappear and mind becomes still.

(8) When mind becomes still and gains equilibrium, ‘Purusa' realizes its real nature and status just like a king's son who being unknown about the origin of his birth was believing himself to be a poor beggar, immediately gained self confidence the moment it was revealed that he was the son of a king and entitled to rule.


Ontology of Sankhya

We may shortly consider how Sankhya metaphysics works. Prakrti, the basis of unified universe - The first postulate of Sankhya philosophy is that all objects and experiences of the phenomenal world possess an element of continuity. No part of universe can exist independently of the other with the result that there is unbroken continuity from the lowest inorganic form to the highest organic form. This element of continuity can be inferred from certain common characteristics such as capacity to cause pleasure and pain, hopes and despair and such other effects from the enjoyment of the material objects of this universe. If all worldly objects are capable of producing these common effects, it would be easy to trace a common cause because every effect is the result of a prior cause. Cause if an unspecialized state of a specialized effect and inheres in every effect. The ‘causal reality' which we can trace from various specialized effects having common characteristics as stated above, is nothing but ‘Prakrti', which is the common cause of all effects. It is this ‘Prakrti' which eventually manifests in the phenomenal world. The reality of ‘Prakrti' can thus be established only by ‘Anumana', i.e., inference and that is why it is considered invisible and inexpressible, i.e., ‘Avyaktam'.

Two States of Prakrti - The Prakrti which is thus the original cause of all the activities of this universe has two states, namely - 1. Quiescent, i.e., dormant state which is the state of equilibrium called ‘Samya' and 2. Emergent state which is the state of instability, called ‘Vaisamya'. This is the state of clash as well as co-operation.


Cause of these States

Prakrti is constituted of three Gunas namely, ‘Sattva, Rajas and Tamas'. These are the three inherent constituents which make up ‘Prakrti'. ‘Prakrti' is described as ‘ a string of three strands'. These three strands are these three ‘Gunas'. These ‘Gunas' are continually changing but so long as there is equilibrium, this change does not produce any objective result. The state of this equilibrium is the first and original state of ‘Prakrti'.

However, if there is a disturbance in the equilibrium which is known as ‘Gunaksobha', the objective results are obtained as per preponderance of a particular Guna. None of the ‘Gunas' loses its power when one of them is predominant. As put by Tattva-kaumudi (13-16) - "All change relates to the position, order, grouping, mixing, separation of the eternally existing essentials which are always integrating and disintegrating."

Like ‘Pakrti' even its constituents, i.e., the Gunas can be inferred from their effects. They work like power which helps in the development of ‘Prakrti'.


Meaning of ‘Gunas'

Sattva Guna - The word ‘Sattva' has its etymological root in the word ‘Sat' which means ‘to be'. So ‘Sattva' means that which exists. In the secondary sense it means perfection which produces happiness. In the state of equilibrium ‘Sat' predominates. Rajas Guna - This Guna is the source of activity, feverish enjoyment and restless effort which eventually produces pain. When it predominates, equilibrium is disturbed and activity starts.

Tamas Guna - This Guna, brings in the state of darkness caused by ignorance and sloth which produces apathy and unawareness.

Prakrti in every individual expresses physical and mental changes in accordance with the preponderance of one of the three Gunas. But since other Gunas are never obliterated, they can be activated to achieve the desired change in the prevalent situation.



We have seen that ‘Prakrti' is the common and root cause of every evolution. In its pure form it is general, but by the process of evolution it becomes individualized. What is this process ?

Buddhi- We have seen that the interplay of Gunas is the starting point of evolution. The first and also the fundamental product of this evolution is the formation of ‘Mahat' or ‘Buddhi' (intellect). It is called ‘Mahat' (meaning great) because it is the mother of further evolution of ‘Ahankara', i.e., ego or self-sense which becomes the basis of individuation.

Like all products of ‘Prakrti' even the ‘Ahankara' has the same three Gunas. Its Sattvika aspect, in its ‘Vaikarika' state evolves mind or ‘Manas', five organs of perception and five of action. From its Tamasika aspect it evolves five ‘Tanmatras' such as sound, touch, colour, taste and smell which in their turn evolve into Akasa (ether), Vayu (wind), Tejas(fire), Apa (water) and Prthvi (earth), which are known as ‘Panca-mahabhuta'.

This process of evolution shows that the first evolute Buddhi is of the most generalized character and it has everything as its possible object. But when other Gunas show more prominence, the second evolute of ego is generated. Thus Prakrti descends from general to individual having its individual mind and sense-organs. Further development of every individual thereafter depends upon the development of a particular Guna. Pleasures and pains which ego experiences thus depend upon the development of Gunas.


‘Purusa' and proof of its existence.

But the question is, where is the place of ‘Purusa' in all this evolution of ‘Prakrti' and what role it plays. Other question is what is what the proof of its existence.

All organic things have life in them, which is known as ‘soul'. It is pure consciousness. According to Sankhya, the evolution of Prakrti is the self evolution caused by the interplay of its three Gunas, though Prakrti has no consciousness of its own. But one thing must be noted that this evolution can not take place without the presence of Purusa.

Sankhya philosophers attribute this consciousness to ‘Purusa' which is known as ‘Atman' or ‘Jiva' in other systems. According to Sankhya, the existence of this ‘Purusa' can be established as under :

(1) This aggregate of physical objects evolved by Prakrti must exist for the sake of something else just as a bed which is the assemblage of different parts is meant for the use of some one else to sleep.

(2) If three Gunas exist in all objects of Prakrti, there must be an observer who can evaluate the Gunas.

(3) If Gunas have their interplay there must be some coordinator of this play.

(4) Human life has a longing for liberation from pains of existence and so there must be some conscious principle which longs for liberation.

It is apparent that these arguments are teleological in as much as they seek to establish the doctrine of final cause by trying to show that developments are due to the purpose or design that is sought to be fulfilled by them.


Bondage and Liberation

‘Purusa' as the ‘self' is a pure soul quite different from body which is an evolute of ‘Prakrti'. As the real character of ‘Purusa' is consciousness, it helps to bring the products of evolutionary chain into self-consciousness. It illuminates the whole sphere of thought and feeling. ‘Purusa' is self-luminous by nature. It is therefore called ‘Sadaprakasa Svarupa'.Prakrti and its products are not self-manifested but depend for their manifestation on the light of Purusa. Pleasure and pain which we experience really belong to Buddhi. ‘Purusa' is unrelated to Prakrti. It is a mere witness, a passive spectator. All this is consistent with the Sankhya view that ‘Purusa' is ‘Kutastha'.

Then the problem is how this mere witness and a passive spectator which the Purusa is, comes to be bounded by karmas. This is a paradoxical situation the solution of which, as offered by Sankhya, has not satisfied many philosophers.

Shri S.Radhakrishnan explains this problem as under :

"Vijnanabhiksu says that ‘Purusa' with Ahankara is the ‘Jiva', and not ‘Purusa' in itself. While the pure self remains beyond Buddhi, the reflection of Purusa in Buddhi appears as the ego, the cogniser of all our states, pleasures and pains included. We have the notion of self in Buddhi when we do not know that the self is beyond Buddhi and different from it in character and knowledge." The learned author further writes:

"Activity belongs to the Buddhi, one of the products of Prakrti, nevertheless, on account of its union with Purusa, the indifferent Purusa appears as an actor. Actual agency belongs to ‘Antah-karana' or the inner organ, which is lighted up by Purusa. The unconscious ‘Antah-karana' cannot by itself be an agent, but is invested with consciousness....Prakrti acts and Purusa enjoys the fruit of action. Happiness and misery belong to the modes of Prakrti and Purusa is said to be experiencing them through its ignorance... ...Purusa passively observing the working of Prakrti, forgets its true nature, and is deluded into belief that it thinks, feels and acts. It identifies itself with a particular finite form of existence, animal body, and is thus shut out from the true life...When Prakrti acts, the Purusa experiences the fruits, since the activity of Prakrti is intended for the experience of Purusa. Strictly speaking, even this experiencing is due to ‘Abhimana' (sense of self-hood), born of ‘Aviveka' (non-discrimination). When the truth, is known, there is neither pleasure nor pain neither agency nor enjoyment.

It is clear from these observations which are based on different texts on Sankhya, that the ‘Kutastha' Purusa which is all knowledge and consciousness, forgets its own nature and is deluded into the belief that it is he who thinks, feels and acts. Purusa thus becomes bound due to its ignorance and once it is removed it attain its true and original character. However it is not clear why a ‘Kutastha' Purusa who is all knowledge and consciousness becomes deluded and ignorant and thus becomes bound by karmas.

Prof.Satkari Mookerjee of Calcutta University makes a more pertinent point in his article on ‘Sankhya-Yoga', when he observes as under on the question of bondage and emancipation :

"The bondage of the self is reflected by its identification with the Buddhi and the ego. And this identification is due to the reflection of the pure spirit in the Buddhi and the consequent failure on the part of the spirit to distinguish itself from the former. This non-discrimination results in the identification of the two which further and further leads to the identification of the pure self with the successive series of evolutes.. ..The emancipation is achieved by the discriminative knowledge that the self is entirely different from and unaffected by the not-self.. ..For this, a long course of ethical discipline is necessary. The first essential condition is the abandonment of attachment to the attractive things of the world - honour, wealth, position an power. The practice of Yogic discipline is recommended for this purpose. It enables the spirit to however its sense of freedom."

These observations come very much near the Jaina belief that though the real nature of ‘Jiva' (Atman) is pure knowledge and indifference it does not remain ‘Kutastha' (indifferent) and is found to be in association with ‘Ajiva' (‘Prakrti' in terms of Sankhya). is bound by karmic Pudgalas from time immermorial, and attains its own ‘Svarupa' by the process of ‘Samvara' and ‘Nirjara'.

It should be noted here that even according to Sankhya-Yoga there are five types of impairments or hindrances called ‘Klesa' which restrict the manifestation of one's true nature. Patanjali's Yoga shows a technique to get rid of these impairments, which are as under --

Avidya - Nescience or ignorance

Asmita - Ego-centric attitude

Raga - Attachment

Dvesa - Hatred

Abhinivesa - Clinging to life.

The only thing which is required to be done, according to Sankhya-Yoga, is the removal of these impairments.

This comes very near to the Jaina belief that Jiva is clouded by different karmas and if we are able to remove them by the process of ‘Samvara' and ‘Nirjara', Jiva gets its original pristine purity which is ‘Kaivalya'.

The above summary of the Sankhya philosophy reveals fundamental points in common with the Jaina philosophic thinking. These common points can be shortly stated as under :

(1) The whole universe can be mainly classified into self (Jiva : Purusa) and non-self (Ajiva : Prakrti).

(2) Characteristics of ‘Jiva' of Jainism and the ‘Purusa' of Sankhya are exactly the same and most of the characteristics of ‘Ajiva' and ‘Prakrti' are also the same. Sankhya's ‘Gunas' which result in Prakrti evolution are the ‘Karmas' of Jainism.

(3) The theory of cause and effect is practically the same in the thinking of both.

(4) Belief in the plurality of Souls is also the same in both.

(5) Both reject the idea of some supreme power outside one self as creative, regulatory and deciding our destiny.

(6) Unlike the ‘Advaitins' both treat Prakrti or Ajiva as real and not a mere production of Maya.

(7) We have already noted how the Yoga-system comes very near to Jaina system when it talks about the removal of impairments which do not allow the Purusa to gain its original self.

The only difference between Sankhya and the Jaina thinking is about the part played by Atman in his play with Prakrti (Ajiva of the Jainas). While the Jainas believe that Jiva and Ajiva are combined from time immemorial and the Jiva is ‘Karta' (Doer) as well as ‘Bhokta' (Enjoyer) of the karmas and their fruits, the Sankhya believes that Purusa is ‘Kutastha' and remains totally unaffected by the play of Prakrti. However, being in company of the various evolutes of Prakrti, it begins to identify itself with them out of sheer ignorance. If this is so, one would find little or no difference between the two systems even on the question of the part played by Jiva of Jainas and Purusa of Sankhya in their relationship with Ajiva or Prakrti.

Jainas almost recognise the ‘Kutastha' nature of Jiva when they say that the intrinsic nature of Jiva is pure consciousness (Jnata : knowership) and (Drasta : seership) and applying their system of Nayavada, they say that from the view point of ‘Niscaya' (Real point of view) the Jivas character remains untouched by the karmas which cloud Jiva's luminosity just as the clouds in the sky conceal the luminosity of the sun. However from the practical stand point ‘Vyavahara', the Jiva is ‘Karta' (Doer) as well as ‘Bhokta' (Enjoyer).

It seems that both the systems want to convey the same principle by different methods.