Samkhya Philosophy in Yoga

Rudra Shivananda

Samkhya is one of the oldest knowledge systems in the world and has had profound influence on the philosophy of Yoga itself. The practices and insights of Yoga predate by thousands of years the organization of its philosophy which became necessary with the approach of the minor Kali Yuga around 600 BCE.

KapilaSamkhya was founded by Kapila, probably around 800 BCE, although it is not clear whether some texts ascribed to him were of that time-frame. Samkhya is described in the Bhagavadgita and is fundamental to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

It is not my intention to give a full treatment of Samkhya here, as that would require a whole book, but just to introduce you to one of the revolutionary concepts developed by Kapila which is a key to understanding our spiritual practice. It is the concept of the tattvas or material principles through which material evolution has occurred.

Samkhya introduced 24 principles or tattvas, from the primordial mother called Prakriti to the five great element or Mahabhutas which form the physical universe and in particular our physical bodies. From Prakriti arise Mahat (responsible for the higher consciousness called Buddhi), then Ahamkara or Ego, followed by Manas or the sense-bound mind, the 5 subtle senses (sound, touch, sight, taste and smell), the corresponding 5 sense-organs, the 5 organs of action (hands, legs, speech organ, organs of elimination and excretion) and finally the 5 great elements (space, air, fire, water and earth.)

We can learn from this elegant model that the normal mind or manas is controlled by the Ego while the higher consciousness of Mahat or Buddhi is beyond the Ego. It is through the Buddhi that inspiration comes to us and only by transcending the Ego can we connect with the Buddhi. Much of yoga psychology is a development of the interaction between Buddhi, Ahamkara, Manas and the Indryas or 5 subtle senses.

This model also gives us the path for spiritual evolution which is the reversing of the path of the material evolution and so we must master the 5 great elements, the 5 organs of action, the 5 sense organs and the 5 subtle senses. Then we need to master the mind or
manas and transcend the Ahamkara, returning to the first evolute or Mahat. At this stage we have achieved super or higher consciousness but not Self- Realization, because from Mahat, we must liberate ourselves from Prakriti altogether in order to identify ourselves
with Atma (Purusha) or Spirit, our True Self. Identification with Atma is Self-Realization or Yoga, in which state, mental fluctuations are restrained, and we abide in our true nature.

The theory of tattvas is fundamental to all forms of Yoga although some later philosophies have added to the 24 tattvas. Rishi Patanjali added Ishwara or a superior Atma that is not available to guide us through spiritual evolution. Others have developed more complex models but the basis is still the 24 tattvas proposed by Kapila.

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