What is Samkhya Philosophy?

In India, philosophy originated as an exploration of the mystery of life and existence. Indian Philosophy refers to a number of philosophical traditions that arose on the Indian subcontinent. Six philosophical systems have evolved to embody India’s intellectual quest for truth throughout the ages, these are Vaishesika, Nyaya, Samkhya, Yoga, Purva Mimansa, and Vedanta or Uttara Mimansa. Almost all Indian schools of thought recognized the principle of karma and reincarnation, and the goal of moksha is viewed as an escape from the cycle of births and deaths. Moksha/liberation is regarded as the greatest aim of human effort. 

Samkhya is the oldest of the orthodox philosophical schools, and it holds that everything, in reality, is derived from Purusha (self, soul, or intellect) and Prakriti (matter, creative agency, energy). In this article, we will go through the aspects of Samkhya School in-depth, which would be useful for UPSC IAS Exam aspirants, preparing for the exam.

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Important Features of Samkhya Philosophy for UPSC Exam

  • The name ‘Samkhya’ or ‘Sankhya’ literally means ‘Enumeration’.
  • Sage Kapila, who is credited with creating the Samkhya Sutra, developed this earliest philosophical school.
  • This school is well-known for its system of scientific inquiry.
  • This school of thought adhered to Dvaitavada, or Dualism, which holds that the soul and matter are two different beings.
  • This concept serves as the cornerstone for all meaningful knowledge, as man’s misery is thought to be caused mostly by a lack of information.
  • To get this information, three fundamental concepts can be applied:
    • Pratyaksha is Sanskrit for perception.
    • Anumana means inference.
    • Shabda means hearing.
  • According to the ultimate philosophy, Prakriti and Purusha are the absolute and autonomous foundations of reality.
  • Prakriti consists of three fundamental characteristics: 
    • Thought movement,
    • Transformation
    • Manifestation. 

These traits put it closer to the physiognomy of a lady.

  • Purusha is associated with awareness and cannot be altered or modified since it reflects male attributes.

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About Samkhya Philosophy

Samkhya often written as Sankhya is one of India’s six philosophical schools (darshans). Samkhya maintains a coherent dualism between matter (Prakriti) and the eternal spirit (Purusha). Purusha and Prakriti are initially distinct, but over time, Purusha mistakenly connects themselves with parts of Prakriti. Purusha’s ability to distinguish itself from Prakriti is defined as the right knowledge. Despite several allusions to the philosophy in earlier writings, Samkhya got its canonical shape and expression, in the 3rd century CE, in Samkhya-karikas (“Stanzas of Samkhya”) by Ishvarakrishna, a philosopher. In the 16th century, Vijnanabhikshu authored an important book on the system.

The Samkhya school of thought holds that there are two bodies: a temporal body and a body of subtle substance that survives biological death. When the former body dies, the latter migrates to a different temporal body. The higher functions of buddhi (“awareness”), ahamkara (“I-consciousness”), manas (“mind as the organiser of sensory impressions”), and prana (“breath,” the basis of vitality) comprise the body of subtle matter.

According to Samkhya, there are an unlimited number of comparable but distinct Purushas, none of which is superior to the others. The presence of a God is not theorised since Purusha and Prakriti are adequate to explain the cosmos. The Purusha is all-pervasive, all-conscious, unmoving, immutable, immaterial, and devoid of desire. Prakriti is the ubiquitous and delicate nature governed solely by time and space.

Phases of Development

According to this school, Purusha impinges on Prakriti, much like a magnet attracts iron shavings to itself, and the process of development starts. Purusha, which was previously pure consciousness without an object, gets focused on Prakriti, from which buddhi (“spiritual awareness”) emerges. The next stage of evolution is individualistic ego consciousness (ahamkara, “I-consciousness”), which instils in the Purusha the mistaken belief that the ego is the source of the Purusha’s objective existence.

The ahamkara is further subdivided into five gross elements (space, air, fire, water, earth), five fine elements (sound, touch, sight, taste, smell), five organs of perception (to hear, touch, see, taste, smell), five organs of activity (to talk, grip, move, procreate, expel), and consciousness (as coordinator of sense impressions). The whole universe is the outcome of all these principles, in different combinations, to which the Purusha is added.

Prakriti stands is made of three primal qualities called Gunas

  • Tamas (“darkness”) is obscurity, ignorance, and inertia; 
  • Rajas (“passion”) is energy, emotion, and expansiveness; and 
  • Sattva (“goodness”) is enlightenment, enlightened knowledge, and lightness.

This school’s development was categorised into two: Original Samkhya View and New Samkhya View. Both schools of thought argued that knowledge may lead to salvation.

New Samkhya View Original Samkhya View
They advocated for a spiritual interpretation of the Universe’s creation. They advocated for a reasonable and scientific perspective of the universe’s genesis.
Purusha, or spirit, they claimed, was required for the formation of the Universe, together with the element of nature. They thought that the presence of a divine agent was not required for the Universe’s formation.
This point of view is associated with a more spiritual school of thought. This viewpoint is seen as belonging to the materialistic school of thought.
During the 4th century AD, modern features blended with the older Samkhya paradigm, resulting in this view. This viewpoint is regarded as early Samkhya philosophy, and it dates from the 1st century AD.
They asserted that the universe was created by the clash of natural and spiritual elements. They also held that nature, or Prakriti, was responsible for the existence of the world.

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Sankhya Philosophy believes that self-knowledge, rather than any external influence or agent, leads to freedom. Samkhya is the philosophical basis of Yoga Philosophy, given by Patanjali. The requirement of God is not perceived in Samkhya for epistemic clarity concerning the interaction between the greater self, the individual self, and the surrounding universe. Rather, Samkhya is a dualistic astika school of Indian philosophy that views reality and human experience as being made up of two separate ultimate principles, Purusha and Prakriti.

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