Sāṁkhya philosophy is one of the familiar philosophies, which is said to be related to Buddhism. However, this theory was not accepted by many philosophers. Sāṁkhya philosophy was formulated by sage Kapila and is considered as one of the oldest philosophies, as reference to this is found in Bhagavad Gītā, Chāndogya Upaniṣad, Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, etc. The entire philosophy is revealed in the form of Sāṁkhya Sūtra-s. Sāṁkhya means discriminative or knowledge relating to numbers which could be probably referring to 25 tattva-s revealed by Sāṁkhya philosophy.

The basic principle on which this philosophy is based is on two realities dealing with subject and object that exist in the form of Puruṣa and Prakṛti. Puruṣa is the soul or the spirit or jīvātaman and Prakṛti is nature or primordial matter. Puruṣa and Prakṛti can also be explained as the positive and negative forces and their interaction is the cause of the universe. Once, the concept of Puruṣa and Prakṛti are understood, understanding this philosophy is much easier. Advaita philosophy call Puruṣa and Prakṛti as a single concept known as Brahman and this will be dealt with while analysing Advaita philosophy.


This is known as an individual soul and not the Brahman as advocated in Advaita philosophy. Puruṣa is not one, but many representing innumerable souls that exist as catalysts in the form of innumerable beings. Each being has a soul or puruṣa without which the existence of a being is not possible. They are passive in nature and have no other function except to act as a causal agency. Yoga system in general says that all these individual souls known as Puruṣa-s originate from God or Īśvara. However, this theory of Īśvara is not found in Sāṁkhya philosophy. Puruṣa is the principle of pure Consciousness and exists only as a witness and never gets involved in any of the activities of the beings. Puruṣa is eternal and transcends time and space, hence, the question of its cessation does not arise. The most important fact to remember in Sāṁkhya philosophy is the multitudinousness of puruṣa-s, not just one as in the case of Brahman.

Each soul or puruṣa undergoes transmigration based on the karmic imprints that get attached to it, confirming the theory of many philosophies. Sensory organs or organs of action, three guṇa-s (discussed under Prakṛti), mind, etc serve the purpose of the soul and this purpose is achieved through evolution or growth. Though various actions happen in a body, there should be someone to enjoy the actions of the body, otherwise, no purpose is served by these bodily parts, including both gross and subtle (mind). Therefore, though the soul or puruṣa is not causing any individual acts in a body, still it enjoys all the actions of the body. Without an enjoyer in the form of consciousness (soul or puruṣa), no purpose would be served by the organs of perception and action. Since the soul is the enjoyer, it is also known as bhoktṛ (the one who enjoys). Liberation as per Sāṁkhya philosophy is liberation of the soul from the effects of prakṛti. Though there are contrary views to the fact that the soul is only a witness to all the actions, some are of the view that the soul identifies itself with pleasure and pain out ignorance and illusion.


This is also known as Nature and is the material cause for the objective world that is susceptible to births and deaths. Apart from this, as against puruṣa being a passive or witnessing principle, prakṛti is involved in evolution of the objects and as a result, the objects undergo constant changes, ultimately leading to decay and destruction. Though the objects get destroyed and annihilated, prakṛti does not undergo any changes or modifications. It is only the underlying principle of prakṛti that causes evolutionary changes. Therefore, prakṛti is also eternal like puruṣa, which is significantly different from the principles of Vedānta. It is also subtle like puruṣa and only its manifestation is visible to us in the form of the material world. At the time of evolution, the objective world originates from prakṛti and at the time of annihilation, the reverse process happens and theobjective world is absorbed into prakṛti. But for the existence of prakṛti, puruṣa has no role to play. The worldly process is accomplished by prakṛti, through various principles called tattva-s, which will be dealt with later in this article. The main component of prakṛti is the three guṇa-s – sattva, rajas and tamas. These three guṇa-s lie equally distributed in the unmanifested universe, the first of several manifestations of prakṛti. This state is also known as avyakta, meaning unmanifested, imperceptible. When there is disturbance in the equilibrium of the guṇa-s, evolution in prakṛti takes place through 23 tattva-s. The equilibrium in prakṛti is disturbed only if a soul, also known as puruṣa interacts with it. Sāṁkhya Sūtra (61) says, “Prakṛti is the state of equipoise of sattva, rajas and tamas; from prakṛti, judging principle (knowledge of discrimination); from judging principle, egoism, the five rudiments, two senses (external organs and inner psychic organs), five gross elements evolve. This (prakṛti) together with soul form the series of twenty five principles (Sāṁkhya philosophy).” This verse talks about the manifestation of prakṛti through 25 tattva-s. At the individual level, formation of causal, subtle and gross bodies happen when an individual soul interacts with prakṛti and this interaction can be explained broadly as an act of conjugation of puruṣa and prakṛti. This is based on the principle that for any creation two energies are required to interact, masculine and feminine energies. What is the purpose of static energy without kinetic energy? Therefore, unless this conjugation takes place, the existence of a being is not possible at the microcosmic level.

Interaction between Puruṣa and Prakṛti:

When interaction takes place between these two, prakṛti attains material potency and binds the soul within. But for the presence of the soul, prakṛti cannot attain material potency on its own. Immediately after the conjugation between the two, a causal body is formed, then the subtle body and finally the gross body is formed. A puruṣa, after its conjugation with prakṛti forgets its essential nature self-existence and self-illumination. Making a puruṣa to understand its essential nature is Self-realization as far as Sāṁkhya philosophy is concerned. At the same time, realization is not possible without prakṛti, which acts as the medium of experience for the soul. Unless there is experience, an individual soul (puruṣa) cannot be realized by the mind and emancipated.

A soul always floats in the cosmos along with karmic impressions attached to the soul in the form of sub-conscious mind. When the karma embedded in the soul becomes ripe enough to form another body, the soul descends from higher planes and enters a uterus along with prāṇa. This prāṇa becomes the causal body which is formed around the soul. Prāṇa cannot sustain itself without the soul. When the soul leaves the body, prāṇa also leaves the body. In fact, it is only the prāṇa that generates necessary force for the soul to exit from the body at the time of death, as the soul always remains only as a witness and cannot become active without the aid of prāṇa and prakṛti. It is only the prāṇa that is responsible for the formation of a foetus as it pushes the soul, which got into a spermatozoan, into the uterus to interact with a particular egg. It is only the karma embedded in the soul that decides which spermatozoan has to interact with a particular egg. This egg later develops into a foetus and then to a gross body and is pushed to the material world and from that point onwards, the karma begins to unfold and entire karma is experienced by the gross body. Main purpose of the gross body, particularly a human body which is considered as the gift of God, is to spend away the remnant of karmic account. But, due to desire, attachment and ego, the purpose of this birth is not attained and transmigration continues, which is always a painful process.

Evolution of Prakṛti:

There are 25 tattva-s (principles) as per Sāṁkhya philosophy and out of this 25, two tattva-s are puruṣa and prakṛti and therefore, prakṛti evolves through the balance of 23 tattva-s and these are as under.

1 – 3: mind, intellect and ego the three components of antaḥkaraṇa, also known as inner psychic organs.

4 – 9: Five cognitive faculties (also known as tanmātra-s, the foundational principles of five great elements) – hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch and these five act through:

10 – 14: Five cognitive organs or jñānendriya-s viz. ears, eyes, nose, mouth and skin.

15 – 19: Five action faculties - speech, holding, moving, excretion and reproduction and these five act through:

19 – 23: Five organs of action or karmendriya – mouth, hands, legs, excretory organ and reproductive organ.

Five cognitive faculties and five action faculties together known as bāhyakaraṇa or external tools as opposed to antaḥkaraṇa, which is also known as the internal tool. Both bāhyakaraṇa and antaḥkaraṇa interact with each other and the interaction between the two is the process of evolution of prakṛti.

The prāṇa that enters along with the soul forms causal body, antaḥkaraṇa forms the subtle body and bāhyakaraṇa forms the organs of cognition and action and the soul continues to remain within the causal body. Thus the process of forming a body is complete. As soon as the formation of the body is complete, Law of Karma takes over.

(Sāṁkhya philosophy to be continued)