Samkhya School of Philosophy Simplified

Samkhya is commonly regarded as one of the six classical philosophies based on the Upanishads of Hindu religious thoughts. It is derived from root: sam (reckoning) and prefix: khya (together). Literally, Samkhya meant to be summed up, enumeration, calculation, etc.

Several scholars like Rishi Kapila have illuminated their views on the evolution of the Samkhya school of thought. The Svetasvatara Upanishad (4 to 6 B.C.) refers to the concept of Samkhya as Prakriti, Purusha, and three Gunas assimilates with the idea of supreme God. Samkhya is also found to be in early legal compendiums of Mahabharata, Puranas, and Manusmriti.


Samkhya has been a school of dualism philosophy which regards theistic and atheistic philosophy. The Samkhya School of philosophy embraces two innate and independent theories: Purusha and Prakriti. These two theories involve consciousness and matter in the world.

Purusha is considered as a transformation of the unconscious state into an enlightened, pure consciousness state. It is natural and believed to be pluralistic spiritualism and atheistic manifested realism. On the other hand, Prakriti is regarded as unconscious, a primal cause of the materialistic universe, physical and intellectual. Purusa is a single entity, and Prakriti is dual.

The theory of the “Samkhya School of philosophy” is concerned with the transformation (Parinama) of the unmanifested (Prakriti) state into a phenomenal world. This process is made possible by three qualities (Gunas) of primitive nature. The three Gunas or attributes of Prakriti of Samkhya School of Philosophy are as follows:

  • The existence(Sattva) is associated with purity, truthfulness, essence, stability, goodness, pleasure, thoughts, fineness, and illumination.
  • Change (Rajas) is associated with stimulation, passion, prick, hate, anger, fear, and kinetic energy.
  • Resistance (Tamas) is associated with potential energy, inertia, mental weakness, heaviness, darkness, indifference, and obstruction.


The proximity of being conscious and unconscious leads to the emergence of self-awareness (Ahamkara). Thus, by means of evolute knowledge (Buddhi), Prakriti and Purusa mutually interact to bring evolution by creation and enlightenment.

Samkhya philosophy brings mutual interaction between Purusha and Prakriti. As long as the three gunas are in equilibrium, the Prakriti of an individual remains unmanifested. While the equilibrium state of three gunas is disturbed, Prakriti comes approximately into Purusha, leading to the manifested state from the unmanifested state.

Some evolutes of prakriti can cause. More evolution in nature. It can be possible that a person is more egoistic, which is called Ahamkara. The intellect or knowledge is a major cause of consciousness. The dominance of any three gunas causes the evolution of an individual’s perception, thoughts, etc.

E.g., When Sattva is dominant, it causes the evolution of thoughts of the mind. In the same way, the enhanced Tamas triggers off the evolution of sensation, and the Rajas affect other actions of evolutes. Such an evolution of Prakriti spearheads the pleasure and manifestation of Purusha. There are 23 distinct evolutes of Prakriti, which are as follows:

  • Intellect (Buddhi), ego (Ahamkara), and Mind (Manas)
  • Five sensory organs (Gyanendriya): Nose (Grahnu), Tongue (Jivha), Eye (Chakshu), Skin (Twacha), and Ear (Shotra)
  • Five working organs of action (Karmendriya): Hands (Hasta), Feet (Panda), Mouth (Mukha), Genital (Upastha), and Excretory (Pauya)
  • Five specific properties related to sense (visista gunas): Sight (Rupa), Sound (Sabda), Smell (Gandha), Taste (Rasa), and Touch (Sparsa)
  • Five Great Elements (Panchmahabhut): Earthty (Prithivi), Watery (Jala), Firy (Agni), Air (Vayu), and Ethereal (Aakash)


Samkhya philosophy credits three types of suffering that leads to pain as follows:

  • Adhyatmik – It is thought to be self-caused which lies on one’s physical and subtle body.
  • Adhibhautik – It is engendered by a general human as well as others.
  • Adhidaivik – It is believed to be the deeds of Gods.

Such sufferings of human beings are unshackled with a school of Samkhya philosophy which enlightens a soul called to an emancipated state as Moksha. The Samkhya philosophy is concerned with the way of redeeming pain through knowledge and Moksha.

Puruṣha, the eternal, pure consciousness, due to ignorance, identifies itself with products of Prakriti such as intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara). This results in endless transmigration and suffering. However, once the realization arises that puruṣa is distinct from Prakriti, it is more than empirical ego. That puruṣa is the deepest conscious self within, the Self-gained isolation and freedom. The purpose of Samkhya is the exclusion of sufferings that can’t be detached by drugs or discovered means; only gained through the knowledge. To Samkhya, three forms of knowledge are suitable. i.e., Perception (Drista), Inference (Anumana), and Reliable authority (Aptavacana).

Samkhya: Atheist Philosophy?

According to Garbe, Samkhya is atheistic and remarkable. There is no concrete evidence of the existence of God. While, on the other hand, Joseph Dahlmann mentioned that Samkhya is originally theistic, and some are found in passages of Mahabharata. In contrast, according to K.C. Bhattacharya, Samkhya philosophy arises from spiritual reflection. Considerable literature of Samkhya seems to be adrift to conclude whether the Samkhya school of philosophy is atheist or theist. This requires further detailed study.

Influences of Samkhya school of philosophy

Yoga school of philosophy is believed to be deriving from the epistemology of Samkhya. However, yoga and Samkhya have distinct relationships with each other. Another influence of Samkhya is found to be on the development of Tantras as body literature. Thus, there is a significant influence of the Samkhya school of philosophy in Hinduism.