Samkhya is one of the oldest of six schools of Indian philosophy and one of the four theories upon which yoga is built. Understanding Samkhya is beneficial to developing both meditation and yoga practices. It provides a framework for the creation and manifestation of both the universe and the self. In simpler terms Samkhya deals with matter, consciousness, intelligence, I-am-ness, elements of stability, activity, lightness, the mind and cognitive and active senses as well as the five elements. I will provide a brief overview of Samkhya as well as examine its main features known as Purusha, Prakriti and The 3 Gunas. This will provide a brief understanding of this complex philosophy.
Samkhya is dualistic. The two parts which comprise Samkhya can be described as the mind and body or the real self (Purusha) and matter (Prakriti). Purusha also known as pure consciousness and Prakriti known as nature are the two fundamental factors or realities which create cause and effect within us and the universe. It should be noted that this theory suggests that the effect is always bigger than the cause. Like a drop of water into a pool, the first drop may not be that large however the ripples may travel for eons. Most importantly Samkhya states that both Purusha and Prakriti are equally real and important.
Purusha is the efficient cause of the world. It is the supreme spirit and the first principle of Samkhya. Purusha is neither produced nor does it produce, it just is. Purusha is everywhere and everything.
Prakriti or rather matter/nature is the none self and is known as the second principle of Samkhya. It lacks consciousness and is unintelligent. Prakriti is influenced by the Purusha and although it is not produced it still produces. Therefore, Prakriti is only able to manifest itself from the various objects of experience of the Purusha. Prakriti is the ultimate cause of all physical existence and is known as the material cause of the world. Prakriti is comprised of three different qualities or natures which are known as Gunas. These Gunas which cannot be separated possess different features and therefore at different times a different Guna will be more predominant than the others. The predominance of a particular Guna can be evident in persons’ thoughts and emotions. However it should be noted that the Guna’s effect can be experienced by all of the worlds objects not only humans but also material objects.
The three guna’s are:
Satva - Happiness, Knowledge, Clarity, Friendliness.
Rajas - Restlessness, Activity/Motion, Loss of desire, Pain.
Tamas - Inertia/Inaction, Delusion, Anger, Hatred, Negligence, Ignorance, Indifference.
(Gunas are also present in the Five Elements: Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether).
Changes in the Gunas take two forms:
1. HOMOGENOUS – Homogenous changes do not affect the state of equilibrium in Prakriti and as a result worldly objects are not produced.
2. HETEROGENOUS – Heterogenous changes involve radical interactions among the three Gunas. This disturbs the state of equilibrium and is the primary catalyst for evolution
It should be noted that the Gunas are not only influenced by Prakriti but by the world as a whole.
Finally, the most interesting aspect regarding Samkhya is that it is atheist. Samkhya does not discuss God because it is thought that Purusha is perfect. Therefore nothing influences Purusha and therefore there cannot be a god. This aspect of the philosophy is quite substantial as most of philosophical theories are based or encompass some religious ancestry.
Although it is a complex theory developing an understanding of Samkhya philosophy is very beneficial to the yoga or meditation practitioner. Samkhya provides the theory or framework for the manifestation of both the universe and the self. Yoga then provides a concrete way to apply this theory.