Samkhya Philosophy

Meaning of Samkhya Philosophy:

The Smakhya system derives its name from the word Samkhya, meaning “number” since it enumerates the metaphysical principles of reality. Or, the word Samkhya may mean perfect knowledge. The system is called Samkhya, since it gives perfect knowledge of the self (purusa) as quite distinct from Prakrit and its evolutes, body, sense organs, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi), and egoism (ahamkara), which annihilates all kinds of suffering. Originally Samkhya philosophy is not theistic. It is realistic in epistemology, but dualistic in metaphysics. According to Samkhya’s philosophy spirit and matter are eternal and uncaused and spirit cannot be transformed into matter. Prakrit is constituted by sattva, rajas, and tamas which are called the gunas. They are the ultimate elements of Prakrit and are subordinate to the souls realizing their ends. The Samkhya advocates the dualism of Prakrit and individual souls (purusa), so the Samkhya advocates neither materialism nor spiritualism. It holds that Prakrit evolves for the sake of souls.

Basic Postulates of Samkhya Philosophy:

(1) According to Samkhya philosophy deliverance (Nivritti) from the miseries of this world is possible only after a true knowledge of the secrets of 25 elements. Samkhya does not accept the necessity of God in the existence of the process of creation (Srishthi-Prakriya). Samkhya asserts that the existence of God cannot be proved. Hence Samkhya is regarded as atheistic (Nirishwarvadi).

(2) The Samkhya recognizes two kinds of causes, material cause, and efficient cause. The material cause enters into the constitution of the effect and contains the potentiality of being reproduced in the form of the effect. The efficient cause exerts an extraneous influence on the effect, co-operates with the causal power inherent in the material cause, and liberates it.

(3) Prakrti is the triad of gunas- sattva, rajas, and tamas and not a different entity which is their substratum. They are not its attributes, but its very form. These are the ultimate elements of Prakrit. These gunas are subordinate to the souls, realizing their ends. Prakriti is eternal though mutable but its modifications are always changing.

(4) The Samkhya clearly enunciated the doctrine of evolution. The manifold world is not created by God out of nothing, but it evolved from Prakrti or of sattva, rajas, and tamas. Prakriti and its evolutes (vikriti) are subject to transformation. They can never be deprived of their essential nature of modifiability evolution and dissolution.

(5) The Samkhya does not advocate the mechanical evolution of Prakrti. It believes in unconscious teleology in its evolution. Prakrti is the matrix of all things in the world, physical and mental.

(6) The Samkhya recognizes twenty-five principles of reality. Of these, an individual soul is neither a cause nor an effect. Causation is the transformation of the gunas sattva, rajas, and tamas. The soul is not composed of them and is therefore neither a cause nor an effect. Prakrti is a cause but not an effect.

(7) Cosmic intellect (Mahat, Buddhi), Cosmic egoism (ahamkara), and the five subtle essences of sound, touch, color, taste, and smell are both cause and effect. They are effects of some causes and causes of some other effects. Comsic intellect is an effect of Prakrit and the cause of Comsic egoism. Comsic egoism is the effect of cosmic intellect and the cause of five subtle essences.

(8) The five senses- organs of knowledge, the five sense organs of actions, the internal organ (manas), and the five gross elements are only effects. They are not causes of any other principles.

(9) The Samkhya advocates the dualism of Prakrit and souls. They are entirely different from each other because they have opposite characteristics. Prakrit is composed of Sattva, rajas, and tamas, while souls are not composed of them. Prakrit is non-discriminating while souls are discriminating.

(10) The Samkhya recognizes the plurality of souls and the spiritual unity of each soul. The soul is distinct from its material vestment, the body, mind, intellect, and egoism. It is distinct from Prakrit and its effects and devoid of sattva, rajas, and tamas. It is beyond time, space, and causality. It is the conscious knower.

(11) Buddhi is unconscious. But it appears to be conscious owing to its connection with the self. Thus, the self is conscious but inactive. Consciousness is not a mode of the self, since it is devoid of gunas, and therefore unmodifiable. It is distinct from matter, because it is the seer of knower, while matter is an object of knowledge.

(12) The self is essentially pure and does not acquire moral qualities. It is free from merit and demerit which are the modes of the mind or egoism. It is free from dispositions and is devoid of gunas. It is devoid of pleasure, pain, desire, and aversion which are mental modes.

(13) The Samkhya draws a distinction between the transcendental self and the empirical self and calls the former purusa and the latter Jiva. The transcendental self is an eternal, immaterial, inactive, immobile eternally pure, conscious, and free spirit. It is non-temporal, non-spatial, non-causal, unchangeable, and devoid of gunas. But the empirical self (Jiva) is an agent and enjoyer.

(14) Virtue and vice are the causes of empirical life. Virtue is the cause of transmigration to a higher sphere and vice to a lower sphere. Greater and greater moral excellence leads to births in higher and higher spheres of empirical existence. But transmigration ought to be avoided because it is full of suffering.

(15) The Samkhya believes in a future life, but it does not believe in the existence of God. According to it, God is not the creator of the world, Prakrti is its material cause, and merits and demerits of the soul are its efficient causes.

(16) Samkhya contends that Vedas are impersonal because their personal author does not exist. The Vedas are impersonal, and embodiments of eternal truths, which are revealed to the seers. God is neither perceived, nor inferred, nor proved by Vedic testimony.

The Mahabharata describes the Samkhya as the highest knowledge. Its superiority to all other systems is only in respect of discrimination between the self and the not-self but not in respect of the exclusion of God.

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