The Samkhya Philosophy

The Samkhya Philosophy

Samkhya Evolution of Prakrti

The Samkhya Philosophy-The Sutras are built on a foundation of Samkhya philosophy. The division into the Eight Limbs (Sanskrit Ashtanga) of Yoga is reminiscent of Buddhas Noble Eightfold Path; inclusion of Brahmaviharas (Yoga Sutra 1:33) also shows Buddhisms influence on parts of the Sutras.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali prescribes adherence to eight “limbs” or steps (the sum of which constitute “Ashtanga Yoga”, the title of the second chapter) to quiet ones mind and achieve kaivalya. The Yoga Sutras form the theoretical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga, and are considered to be the most organized and complete definition of that discipline.

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a book of 195/6 separate phrases that are designed to be easy to memorize. Because it is a work that is every bit as much a part of modern yoga as it was a part of the birth of yoga, this particular book is held in very high esteem in the yoga world.

Philosophical Background

There are several philosophical concepts, which were pondered over by various schools of thought around 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. in eastern region of the world. The school of Samkhya is one of those philosophical systems. Samkhya, marks the shifting of idea from Vedic ‘monism’ to the concept of dualism as the primary cause of the universe.

In Samkhya philosophy it distinguishing between Self (Spirit/Consciousness Purusha) and Matter/Nature (Prakrti) is of central importance to Samkhya Philosophy. Samkhya Philosophy elaborates a fundamental dualism between such aware Selves and all the phenomena that is presented to such Selves by Matter/Nature. Such phenomena of Matter/Nature includes reflections of the intellect, the faculty that makes things personal  (theIMaker/Ahamkara), the instinctual mind (manas), the capacities to perceive sense data, the capacities to act, the principles of the elements of sense perception, and the gross elements. These arise when Prakriti is in the presence of a Purusha, and they become enmeshed and entangled when there is mis-identification between Prakriti and Purusha. False confusion between the Self and what is not the Self is considered the fundamental ignorance that perpetuates bondage in this world. Liberation is sought by becoming aware of such distinctions on a very deep level of personal knowledge, so that one may eventually use the great faculty of the mind — intellectual reflection (Buddhi/Mahat) — without mistakenly identifying it with the Purusha, and then the effects of such entanglement will unravel and one will no longer be bound by incarnations or confused by Prakriti.

In Samkhya philosophy a guna is one of Prakriti’s three “tendencies”: tamas, sattva, and rajas. Guna is the tendency of the mind and not the state. For instance, sattva guna is that force which tends to bring the mind to purity but is not purity itself. Similarly rajas guna is that force which tends to bring the mind to perform some action but is not action itself.

Sattva (originally “being, existence, entity”) has been translated to mean balance, order, or purity. This typically implies that a person with more of Sattva has a positive or even orderly state of mind. Such a person is psychologically kind, calm, alert and thoughtful.

Rajas leads one to activity. This type of activity is explained by the term Yogakshem. Yogakshem is composed of two words: Yoga and Kshem. Yoga in the present context is acquiring something that one does not have. Kshem means losing something that one already has. Rajas is the force that creates desires for acquiring new things and fears for losing something that one has. These desires and fears lead one to activity.

Tamas has been translated to mean “too inactive”, negative, lethargic, dull, or slow. It is the quality of inertia which provides coherence for all things. Mentally, it is associated with darkness, delusion, or ignorance. A tamas quality also can imply that a person has a self-destructive or entropic state of mind. That person is constantly pursuing destructive activities.

Vedanta maintains that Brahman is the only Immaterial Sentient Existence; and being non-material and simple, It has to be all pervading and the only One Reality.

Before everything there exists Reality as Absolute Consciousness. The ‘Will’ to become many is the beginning of manifest universe. The Will evolves as Illusion: the Maya. ‘Absolute Consciousness, Brahman, willed to become many’, this is Maya. Maya is the cosmic illusion that creates ignorance and veils the vision of the Only Reality. Due to the power of Maya, the Same Oneness is perceived as manifold universe. Absolute Consciousness was never modified, is not modified, and will not be modified. This is the basis of Advaita Vedanta. Based on their experiences the ‘seers’ or ‘rishis’ of ancient ages came to the conclusion that the entire manifest universe is the illusory expression of One Substance -the Absolute Universal Consciousness. Samkhya with it’s dual philosophy is said to be the foundation of The Yogasutras and Purusa and Prakriti are a fundamental part of the text.

The origin of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the topic of some debate among both historians and practitioners. For instance, there are some people who credit the writing of this set of sutras to a grammarian named Patanjali. Later, though, a timeline was constructed that showed that to be unlikely. Within the yoga community, though, many say that Patanjali was actually just a compiler and that before the work was written, the Sutras were simply memorized and passed down between teacher and student. Timelines do, though, suggest this text was constructed in about the second century B.C.

An objective study might well suggest that Patanjali lived within even a more tight range of 200 BC to 200 AD (or around the time of Jesus), than some common suppositions (as if he were the 2nd century BCE grammarian by the same name) or even the second or third centuries CE based on the dates of the first extant commentary (by Vyasa).


Independent Researcher.

1 Response

  1. sherry.putnam.73 says:

    “The whole secret of existence is to have no fear. Never fear what will become of you, depend on no one. Only the moment you reject all help are you freed. – Buddha No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.” – Gautama Buddha

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