Sankhya darsana

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Shankara Bharadwaj Khandavalli & Sangeetha Rajah

Sāṃkhya is said to be one of the oldest metaphysical worldviews and philosophies of salvation. The word Sankhya means count, and Sāṃkhya is called so because it describes the world in an enumerative way. Twenty five principles are enlisted in Sāṃkhya. In an alternate and more elaborate version, these principles along with their attributes are enlisted as sixty principles. For this reason Sāṃkhya is also called Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra (meaning the philosophy of sixty principles).

Like the other darśanas, Sāṃkhya has a concept of bondage (bandha) and liberation (mokṣa). The lack of discriminative knowledge between Puruṣa (self or pure consciousness) and prakṛti (nature or primal principle underlying matter), is the source of binding (bandha). Gaining the discriminative knowledge and identification with Puruṣa is the source of liberation (mokṣa), which is the culmination of evolution. Binding and liberation are for prakṛti, and not really for Puruṣa. They are only superimposed on the Puruṣa, because of prakṛti-Puruṣa association. The world is not only apparent, but real.

Puruṣa is asaṃga-cidrūpa, the eternally conscious having no real association. He is the abode of knowledge, but in the liberated state the Puruṣa's attribute is neither jaḍa (insentient/inert) nor ānaṃda (bliss). Sāṃkhya affirms multiplicity of Self/Puruṣa.

Sāṃkhya upholds pariṇāma vāda, which explains the world as transformational manifestation of Prakṛti. Prakṛti, having the three primal attributes of Satva, Rajas and Tamas is the creator and basis of the constantly transforming world. These three primal attributes result in the three primal experiences of beings - sukha (happiness), dukha (grief and pain) and moha (illusion and attachment). For this reason, Sāṃkhya does not acknowledge an Īśvara who presides over the creation (for instance Kapila Sūtras 1.92 - Īśvarāsiddeḥ; 5.2 - Neśvārādhiṣṭhite phala niṣpattiḥ). Prakṛti is Herself the acting and substantive cause of the universe. Thus Sāṃkhya is a Nirīśvara darśana.


Sāṃkhya accepts three pramāṇās as the sources and verification of knowledge:

  • Pratyakṣa (perception): this is of two kinds: savikalpa (determinate) and nirvikalpa (indeterminate).
  • Anumāna or inference
  • Śabda, including Śṛti and Smṛti.

It is an Āstika Darśana, as it acknowledges Śabda pramāṇā.

The Twenty-five Cosmic Principles

The entire universe is composed of the three primal principles (Puruṣa, Pradhāna and Vyakta) and their manifestations. In the manifest world, there are twenty five principles in all. The enumeration of twenty five principles has Śṛti-sammata or acceptance of Śṛti, from Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (4.4.17).

The cosmic principles are explained in four groups. The primal nature, mahat (intelligence principle), ahaṃkāra (ego), five tanmātras (subtle attributes of the primal elements), eleven senses, five primal elements make twenty four principles. These are part of the world. Twenty fifth principle is Puruṣa, the eternal self. Including or excluding the Puruṣa, Sāṃkhya principles are usually mentioned as twenty four or twenty five.

  1. Mūla Prakṛti or primal nature: She is eternal, has no source and is the source of the world.
  2. Saptaka (mahat, ahaṃkāra and five tanmātras, making seven principles): Mahat is the intelligence principle. This is born from Prakṛti. Ahaṃkāra is the ego-sense. This emanates from Mahat. The five tanmātras emerge from Ahaṃkāra. Tanmātras are the subtle elements. These have source in the primal nature, and in turn are source for the primal elements.
  3. Ṣodaśaka (the sixteen principles): The five primal elements of nature (earth, water, fire, air and sky) and eleven senses make the ṣodaśaka. Six jnanendriyas and five karmendriyas make eleven senses. They emanate from the tanmātras in sequence. Jnanendriyas are the five senses and mind. Karmendriyas are vāk (mouth or speech organ), pāṇi (hands), pādam (legs), upastha (reproductive organ) and pāyu (excretary organ).
  4. Puruṣa/Cetana: All the twenty four principles are acetana or not eternally conscious. The eternal consciousness principle is the twenty fifth, the Puruṣa or the self.

In the sequence of transformation/evolution of the universe, Puruṣa is apariṇāmi or the one that never transforms. Primal nature is the primal transformation or manifestation that has no dissolution. She causes all the manifestation (abhivyakta) and transformation. The saptaka both have a source and dissolution, and are in turn source for the ṣodaśaka. Ṣodaśaka are the final transformations that are not source for anything.

The Primal Principles

The cosmic principles of Sāṃkhya are of three kinds, Puruṣa, Avyakta and Vyakta.

  1. Avyakta – the unmanifest, primal nature with the three primal attributes. This is jaḍa. Avyakta is also called Pradhāna, Māya.
  2. Puruṣa – the absolute consciousness principle, neither manifest nor unmanifest. This is the Self.
  3. Vyakta – the manifest. This emanates because of the association of Puruṣa and avyakta. This is the phenomenal world.

Vyakta has six features, in common with Avyakta, that the Puruṣa does not have:

  • Constituted of three primal attributes (satva, rajas and tamas)
  • Aviveka - lack of discriminative knowledge between emanating principles and the source
  • Viṣayatva - having substance
  • Sāmanyatva - commonality
  • Acetanatva - lack of vision of the eternal consciousness
  • Prasava dharmitva - the inspiration to action

Avyakta has eight additional features that are common to Avyakta and Puruṣa:

  • Ahetutva - having no causal reason
  • Nityatva - permanence
  • Vyāpitva - pervasiveness
  • Niṣkriyatva - inaction
  • Anāśritatva - not having an abode or base
  • Alingatva - not having gender
  • Niravayavatva - hot having limbs
  • Swātantrya - independence

The aspect that is common to Vyakta and Puruṣa is anekatva or multiplicity. Avyakta is single and pervasive, and has no multiplicity.


The primal nature, composed of the three primal qualities satva, rajas and tamas, is called Pradhāna, Avyakta (the unmanifest), Acetana (the insentient), Mūla Prakṛti (primal nature) or Māya (the inexplicable, the source of manifestation, ignorance and knowledge). Since She is the originating and first principle of creation, She is called Pradhāna or the first principle.

Mūla Prakṛti acts and manifests with the attributes of phenomenal world such as Mahat (intelligence principle) and Ahaṃkāra (ego sense). She does this for the two-fold experience of Puruṣa – bhoga (worldly) and apavarga (other-worldly). Thus Prakṛti is the creator of the world. There is no separate causal being that creates the world with the help of Prakṛti (Īśvara), but Prakṛti is Herself the creator.

As Prakṛti creates the phenomenal world, and the beings are veiled from the sentient and eternal consciousness principle Puruṣa and they realize the Puruṣa as they go through the various phases of evolution. Thus the ignorance of the beings and their experiences of the phenomenal world are all creations of Pradhāna. She is thus the veil of ignorance Herself and is therefore called Māya.


The twenty four principles of universe are qualitative, and cause the three kinds of experiences – sukha (happiness), dukha (grief) and moha (attachment and illusion). These are called sanghātas. Through direct experience, it is known that the varied giving of Mother Nature such as śayana (sleep), asana (seat/posture) and anna (food) are for the pleasure of the beings. There is thus a purpose, a being that experiences the sanghātas for whose purpose they exist. The purpose is the bhokta, the one who experiences or literally the one who consumes the experiences. However all the experiences of the phenomenal world are witnessed and experienced by the various faculties like senses, mind and intellect, which are also part of the phenomenal world. They are all endowed with different levels of consciousness, in as much they are manifest farther from the absolute and hence grosser.

Similarly there should be a witness that experiences the sanghātas like avyakta and the phenomenal creation itself. No element or principle or being that is part of the phenomenal world can be such bhokta or witness. Nor can be the insentient avyakta. Thus there must be a distinct, eternally conscious being that experiences these, whose consciousness goes beyond the faculties of experience of the phenomenal world. Puruṣa is that bhokta, the witness. The phenomena of the world are to be experienced through consciousness (cetana). Avyakta and the manifestations are as such insentient, and the consciousness of the various faculties of beings should but have a sentient source. Puruṣa is the sentient source. The source of consciousness of beings, the witness of every phenomenal, is the Puruṣa, the Self of beings. Intellect is only a faculty of experience and not the being that experiences. The being that experiences through the intellect should be distinct from intellect and other faculties. Without that being, these faculties serve no purpose. That being, is the Self.

Sāstras (the Śṛti and Smṛtis in this context) teach about the kaivalya, the state of eternal bliss, peace and liberation. Such liberation is not possible for the faculties like intellect, but only for the being that experiences through these faculties. Thus the one that attains liberation as explained by the Śāstras is the Atman, the Self, the Puruṣa. (Here Sāṃkhya goes by Śabda pramāṇās).

Multiplicity of Puruṣa

Beings are diverse, in their capabilities, in their upādhis (faculties of experience). This indeed, is the diversity of Puruṣas. If Puruṣa pervading beings is singular, then the birth, death and experiences of all the beings should happen once. A single sentient being cannot assume different sets of faculties with different capabilities and disabilities and undergo different experiences at the same time. Thus Puruṣas are multiple. Each Puruṣa experiences bhoga and apavarga, and takes births repeatedly until kaivalya.

Also, if Puruṣa is singular, the whole creation should happen at once, as if there is a singular witness, all the various manifestations should happen in a sequence and should recoil at once after the singular witness withdraws from indulging in the phenomena. But these phenomena do not happen like that, they happen at different times, some in the pravṛitti and some in the nivṛitti form, at the same time, for different witnesses. This shows that there are multiple witnesses indulging in the play as if they are at different phases of the cycle of creation. This can be compared to different men watching stage shows at different places with different frequency at the same time. The multiplicity of the witness of phenomenal manifestations in the different stages of evolution establishes that Puruṣas are multiple.

The Association of Pradhāna and Puruṣa

Primal Nature has the quality of manifestation, She acts and manifests and transforms. She is insentient. Puruṣa is sentient but does not act. Therefore the question arises how both result in the experience of the world.

It is possible, and can be explained through the pangvāndha nyāya (the analogy of the association of blind and limping man). If there are two men, one blind man and the other limping, none of them can independently walk. But if the blind man carries the limping man, the blind can walk while the other can direct him on the road, and both can reach their destination.

There is another analogy where two men were riding their chariots, one lost his chariot and the other lost the horse. They both can still complete their journey, if the one who lost his chariot ties his horse to the other’s chariot and they both ride the chariot then. This is called naṣṭāśva-dagdha ratha nyāya.

The association of Puruṣa and Pradhāna in the cosmic game could similarly be explained, where Pradhāna manifests into mahat (intelligence principle), ahaṃkāra (ego), antaḥkaraṇa (mind) and indriyas (senses) whose material cause is Pradhāna and consciousness is because of the Puruṣa.

Consciousness descends into the faculties at different degrees, depending on the extent and the gross-subtle nature of their manifestation.


The first principle to emanate as a result of the association of Pradhāna and Puruṣa is mahat, the intelligence principle. Its nature is knowledge. It is the function of intellect. Intellect analyzes the impressions when senses perceive an object, and through sankalpa and vikalpa (possibilities and alternatives) arrives at the truth of the object.

Intellect acquires different qualities because of the three primal qualities of nature satva, rajas and tamas. The sātvik qualities of intellect are dharma (righteousness), jnāna (knowledge), aiśvarya (bliss, thought of the eternal, urge for and attainment of perfectoion) and vairāgya (disinterest and detachment from senses and outward indulgence). By rajas, intellect assumes qualities like iccha (like, passion), dveṣa (dislike) and prayatna (effort). The tāmasik qualities of intellect are adharma, ajnāna, anaiśvarya and avairāgya. These are the opposites of sātvik qualities.

For the evolution of being, sātvik qualities of intellect should be attained and tāmasik qualities should be given up. Rājasik qualities should be selectively used for this purpose. The righteous nature acquired through the performance of rituals is the means to heaven. Through yoga, meditation and dissolution of mind in the eternally conscious principle, discriminative knowledge between prakṛti and Puruṣa is attained. This discriminative knowledge is the means to liberation. Other qualities of intellect beget binding. The intelligence principle is thus instrumental in binding and liberation of beings.


Ahaṃkāra is the “I” or ego sense. This emanates from mahat. Tanmātras, panca bhutas and senses emanate from ahaṃkāra. Thus the entire three-fold phenomenal world consisting of mind, life and matter emanates from ahaṃkāra. The word ahaṃkāra is formed “a”, “ha” and “kāra”. The Sanskrit alphabet begins with “a” and ends with “ha”. “kāra” indicates doing, and the doer/creator. Alphabet is representative of the world. Ahaṃkāra is called so, because from it comes everything in the phenomenal world, from the beginning to the end.

Ahaṃkāra and mahat are together the knowledge principles. The veil of ignorance gets denser in the principles of creation, in the sequence in which they are created. Thus the mahat, ahaṃkāra, tanmātras, antaḥkaraṇa and senses are decreasingly capable of perceiving the truth. Tarka acknowledges ahaṃkāra as the knowledge principle.

Thus the knowledge of entire phenomenal world is possible through ahaṃkāra. However, the source of apavarga, the discriminative knowledge between prakṛti and Puruṣa is possible only through the mahat. In other words, the phenomenal nature of things can be known through ahaṃkāra, but their true nature can be known through mahat.

Binding and Liberation

Puruṣa is unattached and eternally conscious. Binding happens through association of Puruṣa with prakṛti due to which the qualities of prakṛti are attributed to the Puruṣa. The first manifestation of prakṛti-Puruṣa association is buddhi or intellect. The consciousness of Puruṣa and the three primal qualities of prakṛti reflect in the buddhi. Buddhi has several qualities, and knowledge is one of them. Through this quality vivecana or discriminative knowledge between prakṛti and Puruṣa is possible. This causes liberation, and other qualities of buddhi such as ignorance cause binding.

Sukha, dukha and moha and the consequent experiences are caused by prakṛti to the various upādhis mind, intellect, senses. Because of lack of discriminative knowledge, they appear to be happening to the Puruṣa. This appearance, is binding. In reality, none of these phenomenal experiences actually happen to Puruṣa. There is no binding or liberation to the Puruṣa, nor is the phenomenal world. Puruṣa does not have, and is not affected by the three primal qualities. Puruṣa is nirguṇa. Prakṛti has these qualities, She is guṇavati. Prakṛti and Her manifestations are the puruṣārthās, meant for the Puruṣa.

By gaining the knowledge of Śāstras and inquiry into the nature of world and oneself, the being overcomes viparyaya jnāna (such as “I am there”, “I am this”, “I am that” and “this is mine”) and attains kevala jnāna (na-asti, na-aham-me – the knowledge of “there is no phenomenal ‘me’”). From this knowledge the intellect can see the emergence and dissolution of all the seven sātvik and tāmasik qualities (ajnāna, dharma, adharma, vairāgya, avairāgya, aiśvarya and anaiśvarya, with the exclusion of jnāna, the eighth quality) as the manifestations of prakṛti. Through such knowledge the being realizes its true nature to be the true knowledge-consciousness, the truth-consciousness. The manifestations of prakṛti are then seen only as appearances over the true nature, and not because of the inherent nature of the being, the self, the Puruṣa. When the intellect when shines with this discriminative knowledge, the being no more craves for the experiences caused by such appearances, and remains unaffected by those (tatastha). This from the Puruṣa’s perspective is the “Māyaa drishtaa”.

When the discriminative knowledge arises, when the intellect sees through the veil between the phenomenal and the eternal, the manifestations of Prakṛti cease to impress upon the Puruṣa. Then She too, knowing the Puruṣa’s non-indulgance in the manifestations of the creation, stops creating further manifestations and impressions. This from the Prakṛti’s perspective is “aham drishtaa”.

At this stage, though there is Prakṛti-Puruṣa association, there is no purpose of the world, its manifestations and phenomena. The cause for Prakṛti’s pravṛitti or transformational manifestations is the Puruṣārtha, the Puruṣa witnessing the whole bhoga-apavarga. Once that purpose is served, Prakṛti will herself recoil the manifestations. This recoil is called nivṛitti.

There is a famous example given to explain this. When a dancer performs an act on a stage, she returns after the dance is complete. Similarly, Prakṛti, after She conducts the cosmic game before the Puruṣa, with Her several phenomenal manifestations for the bhoga of the Puruṣa in the ajnāna-avastha (the pravṛitti phase or the phase of phenomenal experiences) and exhibiting Her true nature for apavarga in the jnāna-avastha (the nivṛitti phase or the phase of realization and recoil), stops and returns from the play. She appears in different kinds of “dresses” to the Puruṣa in the phases of veiled vision, and She recoils when She is seen without those veils, undressed. In reality the veil in which the Puruṣa (through the upādhis) sees the Prakṛti as, appears as Her robe, the apparent, manifest or vyakta form. When the veil is gone, when the unveiled, true form of the nature (nija rupa or the avyakta state) is seen by viveka or the discriminative knowledge, no more does She appear, in the veil.

Through this nivṛitti, the original nature of Puruṣa, the eternal consciousness, singular knowledge, the liberated state, is achieved. Thus the Puruṣa sees nature in her various veils in the bound state, and in her true un-manifest form in the liberated state. The Puruṣa when the intellect acquires tatva-jnāna, is liberated. When the discriminative knowledge is not there, the Puruṣa appears to be bound.

Instruments for Liberation

Tatva-sākṣātkāra or knowledge of the true nature of world is the source of liberation. This can be gained through tatva-abhyāsa or learning and meditation. Sāṃkhya does not emphasize on the exact method since it is by nature a philosophy. Contemplative state with the intent to know the tatva, is the source of knowledge, which is possible in yoga through meditation and in the jnāna mārga through śravaṇa, manana and nididhyāsana.

Causation in Sāṃkhya

Pariṇāma vāda is the transformation/manifestation model of creation/world. Sāṃkhya holds pariṇāma vāda. It is also called sat-kārya vāda. According to this, the effect is pre-existent in the cause in the seed-form. Therefore, the effect is substantively non-different from the cause. Effect ensues or becomes apparent when an active cause comes into play.

When a pot is made out of clay, its material cause is the clay. Thus the upādāna kāraṇa or substantive cause of the pot ever existed even before the pot came into existence. The clay only manifests as pot, as a transformation. That happens when there is a nimitta kāraṇa, an active or nominal cause because of which such transformation happens.

Similarly, the substantive cause of the phenomenal world is present in the Avyakta, in the form of satva, rajas and tamas. In fact Avyakta is called so, because it is the substantive cause of the world. The avyakta only manifests and transforms as the phenomenal world, sukha dukha and moha being the manifest experiences of the same. Thus, the essential material of the world is ever existent in the true or sat-form even before the active cause sought to manifest it. This is called sat-kārya vāda. In asat-kārya vāda or ārambha vāda, the material and active cause both come into existence at the time of creation, none of them existed eternally. Here both the causes of creation are in the asat-form before creation. Sāṃkhya refutes the asat-kārya vāda or ārambha vāda, by asserting that the Avyakta is eternal and has no destruction or creation.

Within the broader ambit of satkārvavāda, Sāṃkhya considers the world to be a pariṇāma or manifestation of the primal prakṛti. Hence Sāṃkhya is said to uphold Pariṇāmavāda, which refers to a real transformation or evolution (such as milk turning into curd), as distinct from vivartavāda which is an apparent transformation (such as gold appearing as rings as well as bangles).

Since experience of world is in terms of sukha, sukha and moha, there should be a material cause for the world that causes these. Sukha, dukha and moha are manifestations of satva, rajas and tamas. So the cause of the world should be composed of these qualities. Therefore Pradhāna should be composed of satva, rajas and tamas. Prakṛti is jaḍa, insentient. The principles of phenomenal world exist in the seed or un-manifest form in the Prakṛti, and they manifest as transformations of primal nature, in the play of creation-sustenance-dissolution. The play is conducted by Prakṛti for the bhoga and apavarga of Puruṣa.

Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra

Sāṃkhya is also called Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra, since it explains sixty elements. When the twenty five principles are explained, it is called Sāṃkhya. If they are expanded further into the sixty principles, it is called Ṣaṣṭhi tantra. Tantra in this context is used as a synonym of Śāstra.

The sixty principles consist of ten maulikārtha-s (fundamental principles), five viparyayas (forms of ignorance), nine tuṣṭis (forms of happiness), twenty eight indriya-asāmarthyas (disability of senses/limbs) and eight siddhis (accomplishments).


These are the fundamental principles, the other principles emanate from these. There are ten maulikārtha-s or cūlikārtha-s.

  • Pradhāna-astitva: Existence of pradhāna/avyakta
  • Pradhāna-ekatva: Singularness of pradhāna
  • Pradhāna-ardhavatva: Pradhāna being the cause of phenomenal world
  • Pradhāna-Puruṣa bheda: Distinction between pradhāna and Puruṣa
  • Puruṣa-parārthatva: Parārthatva means “meant for someone else”. This is the basis on which multiplicity of Puruṣa is established
  • Puruṣa-bahutva: Multiplicity of Puruṣa
  • Pradhāna-Puruṣa samyoga: Association of prakṛti and Puruṣa
  • Pradhāna-Puruṣa viyoga: Disassociation of prakṛti and Puruṣa
  • Puruṣa-Śeṣatva for Pradhāna: Non-independence of Pradhāna, Her being a Puruṣa-artha subordinated to the will of Puruṣa
  • Akartṛtva for Puruṣa: Non-active witness nature of Puruṣa

These are not only important in the sense that they explain the nature of the world, but these are the distinct and unique premises of Sāṃkhya.


These are the forms of avidya (ignorance) and difficulties of beings. There are five kinds of viparyayas:

  • Tamas – gross consciousness or lack of knowledge
  • Moha – illusion and sense of possession
  • Maha moha – craving and indulgence in senses
  • Tāmisra – impatience and anger
  • Andhatāmisra – fear of privation or death

In turn each of these is of different kinds. There are 8 types of tamas, 8 kinds of moha, 10 types of maha moha, 18 kinds of tāmisra and 18 forms of andhatāmisra. They sum up to sixty two kinds of avidya.


Tuṣṭi means satisfaction or happiness. A different level of happiness is experienced by beings at different stages in their evolution. Broadly there are two kinds of tuṣṭi, bāhya (for external reasons) and ādhyātmika (inner/spiritual). Ādhyātmika tuṣṭi is four kinds - prakṛti (by nature), upādāna (by the happiness brought by detachment through renounciation), kāla (when time is ripe, when the being is evolved enough to experience the bliss and knowledge) and bhāgya (by divine grace, luck). Bāhya tuṣṭi is achieved by withdrawing from outward indulgence. Since there are five kinds of sense experiences, withdrawal is also five kinds. Thus there are five kinds of bāhya tuṣṭi. With four ādhyātmika tuṣṭis, there are nine forms of satisfaction.


There are twenty eight kinds of disabilities/handicaps. Eleven of them are indriya doṣas (of senses), seventeen are buddhi doṣas (of the intellect). There are eight siddhis and nine tuṣṭis. The lack of any of these is a buddhi dosha, a disability of the intellect in the sense that its capability in their presence is lost when they are not there. Thus there are seventeen capabilities the buddhi can gain or get disability of. These are the seventeen possible buddhi doṣas.


There are eight kinds of siddhis. They are further classified into gauṇa and mukhya. Five are gauṇa siddhis - ooha (knowledge of previous births), Śabda (knowledge of the meaning of Vedic word), adhyayana (learning and urge to enlightenment), suhrutprapti (attainment of ardent relationships), dana (having generous and non-accumūlative nature). Overcoming suffering and obstacles in ādhyātmika, adhi daivika and adhi bhautika spheres are the three mukhya siddhis.

Īśvara Kṛṣṇa's Sāṃkhya Kārikas explain each of the sixty principles of the Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra.

Assertion of the Basic Principles of Sāṃkhya

Sāṃkhya uses three pramāṇās, perception, inference and Śabda to establish its premises. It applies analogy also, but uses it as part of analysis and inference and does not explicitly mention analogy as a separate pramāṇā.

  1. Existence of Puruṣa: Inference and Śabda both are applied to assert the existence of Puruṣa. The need for a purpose and the being to experience the avyakta is the inferential argument following from an analogy with something of direct experience (pratyakṣa) – that any experience has a purpose, has someone to experience it. Quoting Śabda to establish the quality of the one that is bound and liberated is verbal testimony. There is no refutation of this done by other Āstika Darśanas.
  2. Existence of Pradhāna: This is inferential argument. Vivarta vāda does not accept a separate pradhāna to be eternally existent. Māya is always associated with Brahman.
  3. Singularity of Avyakta, Sanyoga, Viyoga and Śeṣatva with Puruṣa: This is inferential argument, has no explicit refutation by any other darśana. However the acceptance depends on the acceptance of the existence of Avyakta itself.
  4. Multiplicity of Puruṣa: This is inferential argument. This is accepted by the Dvaitists (Madhva darśana). The support offered by Dvaita to the argument was by quoting the Bhagavad Gīta (2.12 for instance). Advaita refutes this assertion.
  5. Non-acceptance of Īśvara: This argument is based more on the premise of Sāṃkhya that Prakṛti Herself creates the universe and conducts the cosmic play. While Mīmāṃsa does not contest it, Nyāya, Yoga, Advaita and Dvaita have all rejected this premise. They affirm Īśvara, a single causal being who pervades all the beings who is associated with prakṛti.
  6. Binding and Liberation: It is explained through inference and verbal testimony. That binding and liberation happen, is something all Āstika Darśanas agree to. However the difference is in the precise definition they give to liberation. The jnāna mārga philosophies like Sāṃkhya and Advaita affirm that realization is by itself liberation.
  7. The Twenty-five Principles: This is established through pratyakṣa, anumāna and Śabda. There is no refutation done on these principles, and is enumeration not only accepted but taken as a valid basis by various other darśanasYoga, Mīmāṃsa and Vedānta. However they all take the count as twenty four excluding Puruṣa. They do not accept the Sāṃkhya notion of multiplicity of Puruṣa and non-existence of Īśvara.
  8. The three guṇas: The theory of the 3 guṇa-s - satva, rajas and tamas - is one of the biggest contributions of Sāṃkhya. The three guṇas comprise prakṛti, and the triguṇa concept is widespread not only in spiritual philosophies but the entire realm of para and apara vidyas including traditional theories on food, diet, medicine, etc. The 3 guṇa-s are the primal attributes or qualities of prakṛti from which all the principles of phenomenal world manifest. In the context of consciousness/psychology, the guṇa-s are often presented as the basis for individual temperaments, with sattva being associated with contemplation and inquiry, rajas with activity and passion, and tamas with inertia and dullness. However, the triguṇa concept as such is more general and is used in various other contexts. For example, in a physical context, sattva is associated with mind, information and sentience, rajas with energy and tamas with mass. In a dietary context, foods which are said to encourage a keen but unagitated mind are classified as sattvika, those which are said to encourage activity, ambition and passion are classified as rājasika and those which lead to laziness or dullness are classified as tāmasika.

Here only Yoga, Mīmāṃsa and Vedānta based Darśanas are contrasted with Sāṃkhya. Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika are not included, because Sāṃkhya itself seeks to refute their Ārambha/Asat-kārya vāda.


There are two seers with the name Kapila who are said to author the Sāṃkhya Sūtras. Nārāyaṇāvatāra Kapila gave twenty five Sūtras. Vaiśvānaravatara Kapila gave the elaborate version with six chapters. Vijnāna Bhikṣu gave the Bhāṣya/commentary on these.

There are several commentaries/interpretations on the twenty five sūtras of Kapila:

  1. Sāṃkhya Tatva Vivecana by Kṣemendra (he is also called Shimānaṃda)
  2. Tatva Yādārthya dīpana by Bhāvāganesha
  3. Sarvopakāriṇi – this does not mention the author. However this is the text that mentions that the twenty five Sāṃkhya Sūtras are written by Nārāyaṇāvatāra (metaphorical, it means the incarnation of Nārāyaṇa) Kapila and the 6-chapter Sūtra text is authored by Vaiśvānaravatara (metaphorical, it means the incarnation of Agni) Kapila.
  4. Sāṃkhya Sūtra Vivaraṇa – author anonymous
  5. Tatva Samāsa Sūtravṛitti – author anonymous
  6. Sāṃkhya Tatva Dīpika by Kesava
  7. Sāṃkhya Tatva Pradīpa by Kavi Rāja Yati
  8. Tatva Mīmāṃsa by Kṛṣṇa Mitra. This does not directly quote the sūtras but speaks of their essence.
  9. Sāṃkhya Paribhāṣa – author anonymous. This too, does not directly quote the sūtras but speaks of their essence.

The Sūtras text given by Vaiśvānarāvatāra Kapila has 527 Sūtras. They are organized in six chapters or adhyayas: Viṣaya (164 sūtras), Pradhāna kārya (47 sūtras), Vairāgya (84 sūtras), Ākhyāyika (32 sūtras), Para mata khandana (130 sūtras) and Tantra (70 sūtras).

Īśvara Kṛṣṇa, the third level disciple of Kapila commented Sāṃkhya in 76 Kārikas (refer Principles of Pedagogy/Bodhana Śāstra for what Bhāṣya/Kārika/Vārtika are), these are called Sāṃkhya Kārikas. This is considered the most standard text on Sāṃkhya after Kāpila Sūtras, and is actually more popular than the Sūtras themselves. Even Adi Sankara in his references to Sāṃkhya does not quote the sūtras, but refers to the Kārikas. Gauḍapāda gave bhāṣya on the Sāṃkhya Kārikas. Vijnāna Bhikshu wrote Sāṃkhya Sāra, a Vārtika (secondary commentary) on Gauḍapāda's bhāṣya.

Sāṃkhya in Indian Spirituality

Sāṃkhya has a very special place in Indian spiritual philosophies and traditions. It is one of the oldest schools, and arguably the basis for all the jnāna-mārga traditions. Almost all of the schools that came after Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Vedānta, Mīmāṃsa and Tantra base themselves on some of the most significant contribution of Sāṃkhya – such as the enumeration of the world, the phenomenal and absolute nature of the world. The classification of eight siddhis, the gauṇa and mukhya aspects of Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra for instance, along with the other major principles are quoted and taken as bases throughout the Indian traditions, not just the philosophical and ritual traditions but the Purāṇic literature, Bhakti traditions as well as Tantra.

It was given the central place in the philosophical schools, before the varied schools of Vedānta. Śri Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad Gīta takes up Sāṃkhya as the first school. Dvaitists quote the same Sāṃkhya exposition done by Śri Kṛṣṇa, to uphold the multiplicity of Self.


On many of the premises Sāṃkhya quotes Śṛti and it establishes the cosmic principles based on the Śṛti. Gāyatri, said to be the essence of Veda, is said to be a Sāṃkhya Vidya. The twenty-four letters of Gāyatri are said to enumerate the twenty four principles of Sāṃkhya. By the exclusion and understanding of the nature of these twenty four, it is said, the realization of the twenty-fifth principle, the Puruṣa, the Self, the absolute is realized (by the “neti” or exclusion law). The Maha Nārāyaṇa Upanishad says “Sāṃkhyāyana sa gotra” while describing Gāyatri.

The very fact that Gāyatri mantras are in “vidmahe-dhīmahi-pracodayāt” form indicates the jnāna or knowledge approach of Sāṃkhya and Gāyatri. They all mean meditation for enlightenment of intellect (to gain the discriminatory intelligence or vivecana).


Vedānta accepts the basic Sāṃkhya premise that atma-anātma vivecana or the discriminatory knowledge between Self and non-self is the source of liberation. The anātma or non-self is called in Sāṃkhya as the prakṛti, and in a more general way in Vedānta by just calling it anything other than Self.


More than any other Darśana, Yoga Darśana is close to Sāṃkhya. So much so, that they are together called Sāṃkhya-Yoga and treated as the philosophy-method duo. Yoga provides methods to gain the discriminative knowledge of puruṣa and prakṛti using the underlying Sāṃkhya philosophy.

Most of the Sāṃkhya principles, right from the pramāṇās, enumeration of the world, the cause of binding and source of liberation, the state in which knowledge arises and the Pariṇāma Vāda, are accepted by Yoga. For instance, Pātanjala yoga defines five kinds of kleśas or difficulties that are similar to, and correspond to the viparyayas of Ṣaṣṭhi Tantra. They are avidya (ignorance), asmita (I-ness and sense of possession), rāga (attachment), dveṣa (hatred or negative attachment) and abhiniveśa (fear of suffering). It can be seen that while yoga takes the methodical approach while Sāṃkhya takes the philosophical approach while describing these. Similarly the buddhi-guṇas of Sāṃkhya are all taken as they are in Yoga.

The most important assertion where Yoga disagrees with Sāṃkhya is on Īśvara. Yoga affirms Īśvara. For this reason, Yoga is also called Seśvara Sāṃkhya (the Sāṃkhya with Īśvara) and Sāṃkhya Pravacana (the one that teaches Sāṃkhya). From a philosophical perspective, Yoga is not even treated as a separate Darśana from Sāṃkhya in many cases. For instance Bādarāyaṇa after refutation of Sāṃkhya (Brahma Sūtras 2.1.3) just says “etena yogaḥ pratyuktaḥ”, implying that the same refutation applies to Yoga also.

Role of Sannyāsa

Being a jnāna-mārga philosophy, Sāṃkhya prescribes detachment from experiences of phenomenal world and realization of Self. And Sannyāsa or renunciation thus becomes a corollary to it, for bringing about the detachment. Yoga takes a different approach of cultivating the detachment through regulated practice. Sāṃkhya and Uttara Mīmāṃsa based traditions lean more towards the Sannyāsa model. However it should be understood that in the context of Hindu society Sannyāsa is not a norm, but a stage of life that comes after a full-fledged family and social life for the fulfillment of the fourth Puruṣārtha, Mokṣa. In all the traditions it is usually understood that someone who seeks sannyāsa had undergone the necessary training in Śāstras, Rituals, had fulfilled his responsibilities in life and then come to seek Apavarga.


The influence of Sāṃkhya is not limited to the philosophical schools but reflects in many devotional and poetic works in the Indian literature. For instance Rāmāyaṇa is said to symbolize Gāyatri and Sāṃkhya. The twenty four letters of Gāyatri and twenty four thousand verses of Rāmāyana indicate the twenty four principles of Sāṃkhya. Rāma is the Puruṣa, Sīta the Prakṛti. The samyoga, viyoga and seṣatva of Rama and Sīta are explained through the story of Rāma and Sīta. The Vedāntic jiva-Para symbolism is explained through Hanumān-Rāma association. Sundara kānda, the story of Sundara (Hanumān) explains how, having realized one’s true nature one jumps across the sea of happenings (bhava sāgara).


Sāṃkhya also has major influence on the Tantra that developed subsequently. For example, the Śaiva Āgamas enumerate thirty six principles that are based on the twenty five Sāṃkhya principles.

Present Day

There are several traditions that developed after Sāṃkhya, such as the Tāntrika, Paurāṇika, Vedānta and Yoga. All these owe to Sāṃkhya for the principles they took from it. However, Sāṃkhya itself remained a philosophy that is studied. While the traditional learning continues to include Sāṃkhya as one of the darśanas, there is no Sāṃkhya based sampradaya today. The only major 20th century proponent of Samkhya proper was Swāmi Hariharānaṃda Saraswati, a Daśanāmi sannyāsi with Sāṃkhyan leanings. It is only indirectly applied through the above traditions. However it is not just a historic interest that makes it part of the philosophies studied. As one of the consistent and comprehensive worldviews it always enjoys place in the canonical Darśanas.


  1. Sarva Darśana Sangraha of Vidyāraṇya Swamy
  2. Ṣaḍ-darśanamulu of Śri Peri Surya Nārāyaṇa Śāstry (Telugu)