Samkhya
(Sankhya)
   Samkhya is one of the six orthodox systems of Hinduism that were first developed in ancient times. It is traditionally believed to have origi-nated with the sage KAPILA (c. 500 B.C.E.); its most authoritative text is the Samkhya Karika of Ishvarakrishna (c. 200 C.E.). Today the system has few adherents, and many of its ideas are preserved in YOGA traditions, including modern-day HATHA YOGA. (The word samkhya means “enumerate,” a reference to the precise categories within the philosophy.)
   Samkhya was dualist: the everyday world of matter and the world of the soul or self were con-sidered to be two completely separate and distinct realms. Early Samkhya was nontheistic; it did not include any divine being or god.
   In Samkhya PRAKRITI—nature or the manifest universe—was understood to be eternal. It had always existed and would always exist, though it might from time to time contract into an unmani-fest form, awaiting the next manifestation. The selves or souls, which were also eternal but shared nothing in common with nature, were called PURUSHAS. There was an infinite number of them, and they were all separate and distinct from one another.
   Each self or soul contained an inexplicable magnetism, which drew prakriti to collect or aggregate around it and give it life, a body, and birth. KARMA, the actions committed in the previ-ous birth, would determine each new aggregation. In spiritual terms, this was seen as a constantly renewed trap for the self; the purpose of Samkhya was to show a way to escape the trap.
   With the right state of mind, one could move one’s point of view above the whirl of nature so that one’s consciousness could focus on the soul itself and not be distracted by the pull of phenom-ena. The earthly realm of elements was considered to be characterized by inertia (tamas); the organs of action such as hands and feet were seen to con-stitute a realm of self-binding action (rajas); but the senses, mind, and intellect pointed toward the realm of purity (SATTVA). These three aspects of nature, the GUNAS, were experienced only in com-bination, with one or another mode predominat-ing at any one moment.
   MEDITATION could help one rise above the gunas or intertwined characteristics of nature. Intellect, or higher mind (BUDDHI), was the pur-est aspect of the human being and so was used as an instrument for the transcendence of matter. But even mind needed to be left behind for total release. Release occurred when the soul was freed from the body into its own self-reflective con-sciousness.
   Yoga soon emerged as the practical way to realize the ideals of Samkhya. PATANJALI’s YOGA SUTRA showed the practices that could be used and delineated the various stages of the process. By the first century C.E. the system was practically combined into one, and called Samkhya-Yoga.
   Further reading: S. N. Dasgupta, History of Indian Phi-losophy, Vol. 1 (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1975); Ger-ald Larson and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, Samkhya: A Dualist Tradition in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1987); Heinrich Zimmer, Philosophies of India (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univer-sity Press, 1974).

Encyclopedia of Hinduism. . 2007.

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