Talk:Sankhya Darsana

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Sāñkhya Darśana


Significance of Sāṅkhya Darśana System

After stating his views and defending them with the help of appropriate quotations from the Upaniṣads, Bādarāyaṇa in his Brahmasutras starts his criticisms of other schools with the Sāṅkhya philosophy.[1] While commenting upon the Sāṅkhya philosophy sutra 1.4.28, Śaṅkara[2] has given the reason as to why the Sāṅkhya system was chosen first. The word he has used very significant. They are:
‘Pradhāna-malla-nibarhaṇa-nyāyena,’ which means ‘by the maxim of overcoming the chief wrestler’.
is very significant. If a well-known wrestler overcomes the chief wrestler of the opponents’ group first, it is as good as all the others also being vanquished, even without fighting them. This shows how important a system Sāṅkhya Darśana is.

Foundation of Sāṅkhya Darśana

As per the orthodox accounts, this system was founded by the sage Kapila.[3] The work that has come down to us is the Sāñkhyasutras. It is obviously a late work. It is in six chapters and contains 526 sutras in all. Vijñānabhikṣu[4] has written a commentary on the same, known as Sāñkhya-pravacanabhāsya.

Philosophy of Sāṅkhya Darśana

The Sāṅkhyan tradition of philosophy was nourished and propagated by Kapila’s disciple Āsuri and his disciple Pañcaśikha. Some sutras of Pañcaśikha are found quoted in the Vyāsabhāsya[5] on the Yogasutras of Patañjali.[6] The complete work as such has not yet been found. By far, the earliest available (and reliable) work on the Sāñkhya is the Sāñkhyakārikās of Iśvarakṛṣṇa.[7] It has 70 stanzas in the āryā metre and hence, sometimes, designated as Sāñkhya-saptati also.

Eminent Commentaries on Sāṅkhya Darśana

It contains a brief but brilliant and lucid exposition of the doctrines. This work has two well-known com-mentaries: Sāñkhyakārikā-bhāsya of Gauḍapāda (A. D. 700) and the Sāñkhya-tattva-kaumudl of Vācaspati.[8] The Sāñkhyasāra of Vijñānabhikṣu and the Sāñkhyapravacanasutravrtti of Aniruddha[9] are the other works of importance.

Significance of the Name

The origin of the word ‘Sāñkhya’ seems to have been an enigma. Some thinkers derive it from saṅkhyā[10] and opine that it might have got this name since it enumerates the ultimate principles in creation as 25. Others however think that since it stresses jñāna or knowledge as the only means of liberation and since ‘saṅkhyā’ means jñāna,[11] the word fits in very well with the system.

The Pramānas or Methods of Knowledge

Unlike many other systems, the Sāṅkhya accepts only three pramāṇas or valid sources of knowledge. They are:

  1. Pratyakṣa - Pratyakṣa means direct perception.
  2. Anumāna - Anumāna means inference.
  3. Śabda - Śabda means testimony.


Pratyakṣa is the direct cognition of an object through its contact with a sense-organ, like the eyes seeing a table or the ears hearing the chirping of birds. The first contact may give a general knowledge. This is called ‘nirvikalpaka’.[12] When, on closer observation and thinking, the perception gives a clearer idea, it is called ‘Savikalpa’.[13] On seeing a table, the first reaction is, ‘I am seeing some object.’ Then comes a clearer idea, ‘This is a wooden table with a red cloth spread over it.’ The first is nirvikalpaka-pratyakṣa and the second, savikalpaka-pratyakṣa.


Anumāna or inference is the second source of knowledge. It is gained by seeing some sign first and then inferring the reality behind it. The stock example given by most of the philosophers is, coming to the conclusion that there is fire on a distant hill, by seeing smoke rising out of it. Since our previous experience through direct perception has shown that wherever there is smoke, there is fire, here also we conclude that there is fire, even though we do not see it directly. There is an invariable concomitance between the object seen and the unseen object inferred here, the smoke and the fire is a necessary precondition.


Śabda or testimony is the third and the last of the pramāṇas. It is the testimony of a reliable person. This is called laukika-śabda or āptavākya. The Sāñkhya, however, does not recognize this as a separate pramāṇa since it depends upon the perception and inference of the reliable person. It is the testimony of the Śruti or the Vedas that the Sāṅkhya philosophy admits as the independent and the last pramāṇa. The Vedas give us true knowledge about the super-sensuous realities, which cannot otherwise be known, by pratyakṣa or anumāna. The Vedas being apauruṣeya,[14] are infallible. They embody the intuitions of the great ṛṣis, the enlightened sages.

The Prameyas or the Objects to be Known

Fundamental Substances

Adopting the principle of “from the seen to the unseen or from the known to the unknown,” Sāṅkhyan metaphysics has reduced all the realities in our experience to two fundamental and eternal substances:

  1. The prakṛti - It is also called pradhāna and avyakta. It is the insentient nature, the matrix of all lifeless and unconscious objects.
  2. The puruṣa - It is called the being, the conscious self or the soul.

Principle of Satkāryavāda

The basic argument behind this conclusion is called ‘Satkāryavāda,’ the principle that the effect[15] pre-existed[16] in the cause[17] before manifestation. For instance, when a pot is prepared out of clay, the pot already existed in the clay, though in a potential form. The main logic behind this is that something can never be produced out of nothing.

Applying this argument to our experience where every object is seen to possess three characters:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Pain and indifference

It is the Sāṅkhya comes to the conclusion that there must be three basic subtle substances from which these three characters are derived. It calls them as guṇas:

  1. Sattvaguṇa - producing pleasure or happiness
  2. Rajoguṇa - producing pain and suffering
  3. Tamoguṇa - producing neither

Three Guṇas

Each of these guṇas stands for a distinct aspect of physical reality. It can be denoted as:

  • Sattva signifies whatever is pure and fine, and, conduces to the production of knowledge as also happiness.
  • Rajas is ever active. It is also responsible for desires and ambitions, to fulfill which one has to actively work.
  • Tamas is stolid and offers resistance. It tends to sleep and inactivity.

These three guṇas always exist together and can never get separated. When these three, which are ever in turmoil as it were, are in a perfectly balanced state, not interfering with one another, though ever active or in perpetual motion within themselves, constitute the prakṛti or pradhāna. In other words, prakṛti is none other than these three guṇas in a state of perfect balance.

This prakṛti is the basic material, primal matter, from which the universe evolves. It is ‘jaḍa,’ i.e., it has no consciousness. The puruṣa[18] on the other hand is a conscious entity; consciousness is his very essence. He is eternal, ever pure, ever detached[19] and all-pervading. There are innumerable puruṣas or souls, as many as the living beings.

Evolution of the World

The creation or evolution of the world has its starting point in the sanyoga or effective contact between the puruṣa and the prakṛti. The totality of the karmas[20] of the puruṣas disturbs the balance of the guṇas in prakṛti and sets in motion the process of evolution. Since prakṛti is jaḍa[21] and the puruṣa is asaṅga,[22] how can they ever co-operate in this process of creation. Such co-operation is possible even as a blind man and a lame man can team together to come out of a forest, the blind one carrying the lame person who can now direct him on the right road. Another example given by the Sāñkhyas is that of the spontaneous flow of milk from the udder of the mother cow when its calf is nearby.

The process of evolution from prakṛti is as follows:

  • As a result of the guṇas mixing with one another, the first evolute coming out of the prakṛti is the mahat or the buddhi.[23]
  • From that emerges ahaṅkāra.[24]
  • From the sāttvik part of ahaṅkāra evolve manas,[25] the five jñānendriyas[26] and the five karmendriyas.[27]
  • From the tāmasik part of ahaṅkāra are produced the five tanmātras[28] and from them further evolve the five mahābhutas or gross elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether.

In all, including the prakṛti, there will now be 24 cosmic principles or elements. The rest of creation takes place by their permutation and combination, each puruṣa getting involved with a psycho-physical complex[29] as per his karma.

Bondage and Liberation

It is interesting to note here that according to the Sāṅkhyan metaphysics the very purpose of the evolution of the prakṛti into this world is to give the puruṣa one more chance for liberation. Again, it is the same prakṛti and its evolute, the world, that binds him once more. The main cause of bondage of the puruṣa and his consequent suffering in the world is aviveka[30] It is this that is leading him from birth to death or from life to life ad infinitum.

The question as to how and when he got into this mess can never be answered, except by stating that it is a anādi[31] but sānta.[32] Since aviveka or ignorance is responsible for this bondage, kaivalya or liberation can come only from vivekakhyāti or right knowledge. ‘Khyāti’ means knowledge,ref>It is in the sense of direct experience.</ref> and ‘viveka’ means separating himself as the puruṣa, the pure conscious entity, from the prakṛti, the insentient matter. This can be attained by following the eight steps of yoga wherein the puruṣa or the soul is the object of meditation.

Kinds of Liberation

The Sāṅkhya Darśana accepts two kinds of liberation:

  1. Jīvanmukti - It is attained even while living here, the body continuing to live for some more time, till the prārabdha- karma[33] is exhausted. In this state, the perfect man continues to live in the world, though not of the world.
  2. Videhamukti - The final liberation comes after the death of the body that is why it is called ‘videhamukti’ and the person will never come back to this mundane world. He will attain the state perfectly free from all pain and suffering, though there is no experience of bliss. However, since caitanya or consciousness is his essence, he will ever remain in his own state.


  1. Sāṅkhya philosophy 2.2.1
  2. He lived in A. D. 788-820.
  3. Bhāgavata 3.25-33
  4. He lived in 16th century A. D.
  5. He lived in A. D. 600
  6. He lived in 200 B. C.
  7. He lived in 5th century A. D.
  8. He lived in A. D. 840.
  9. He lived in 15th cent. A. D.
  10. Saṅkhyā means number.
  11. It means samyak khyāyate.
  12. It means indeterminate.
  13. Savikalpa means determinate.
  14. Apauruṣeya means not man-made but divine.
  15. It is called kārya.
  16. It is sat.
  17. It is called kāraṇa.
  18. Puruṣa means the soul.
  19. Asaṅga means detached.
  20. Karmas means unseen deserts.
  21. Jaḍa means lifeless and devoid of consciousness.
  22. Asaṅga means absolutely unattached.
  23. Buddhi means the cosmic intellect.
  24. Ahaṅkāra means cosmic ego, the principle of individuation.
  25. manas means cosmic mind.
  26. Jñānendriyas means cosmic organs of knowledge like the eyes and the ears.
  27. Karmendriyas means cosmic organs of action like the hands and the feet.
  28. Tanmātras means subtle elements of earth, water etc.
  29. This complex is the body.
  30. Aviveka means ignorance non-discrimination between himself as pure consciousness and prakṛti which is jaḍa, the unconscious entity..
  31. Anādi means beginningless.
  32. Sānta means it has an end.
  33. Prārabdha- karma means the karma that was responsible for starting this life.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore