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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Samkhya), one of the six ancient Indian orthodox (Brahman) schools of philosophy recognizing the authority of the Vedas. Sankhya is based not directly on the Vedic text, however, but on independent experience and speculation. In this regard it is related to Nyaya, Vaisheshika, and Yoga and opposed to Vedanta and Mimansa.

According to tradition, the founder of Sankhya was Kapila (seventh century B.C.), but neither his works nor those of his disciples have come down to us. The surviving sources of Sankhya date to the first millennium A.D., the oldest being Isvarakrsna’s Samkhyakarika. Of the other texts, the most authoritative are Gaudapada’s Samkhyakarikabhasya, Vacaspati’s Tattvakaumudi, and Vijnana Bhiksu’s Samkhyasara. The point of departure for Sankhya metaphysics is the doctrine of the presence of effect in cause: cause and effect are understood as two states, manifested and unmanifested, of one and the same substance. This leads Sankhya to a search for the original cause, one not necessarily connected with a demiurge, and to a theory of evolution and involution in order to explain the world.

On the whole, Sankhya philosophy is dualistic. It recognizes two primordial realities: prakriti, the material original cause, and purusha, the self, spirit, and consciousness. Prakriti is eternal, omnipresent, independent, and active, but it is devoid of consciousness. The unity of opposites and the basis of existence of all objects, it consists of three gunas (substantive forces) that are in equilibrium. Purusha is passive but possesses consciousness. When purusha comes into contact with prakriti, the original equilibrium of the gunas is destroyed: deep within prakriti, a disturbance begins and the gunas become differentiated, later joining in different combinations and proportions to form the entire world of objects.

The first product of evolution is mahat-”the great unity,” the basis of everything material. This basis is also called buddhi—the fine substance of all mental processes, intellect conscious of the difference between subject and object. Mahat gives rise to the second product of evolution, ahankara—self-sense, the principle of the individual and the self-conscious. Depending on the predominance of one or another guna, ahankara gives rise to the five organs of perception, the five organs of action, manas (mind as the organ of consciousness and action), and the five fine elements (the potentialities of sound, touch, color, taste, and smell). From the five fine elements are produced the five gross elements: akasa (ether), air, fire, water, and earth.

Sankhya is close to Buddhism in its doctrine of suffering as the essence of all physical existence and in its doctrine of liberation from suffering through a return to the self; this return to the self is brought about by knowledge of the differences between the self and the nonself (body, feelings, mind), between purusha (that which understands) and prakriti (that which is understood). The separation of these pairs leads to a cessation of evolution (involution) and an escape from the recurring cycle of births and deaths (sansara).

Sankhya influenced other systems of Indian thought and formed the philosophic basis of Yoga.


Lunnyisvet sankh’ia—istiny. Moscow, 1900. (Translated from Sanskrit.)
Samkhya-pravacana-bhasya. Edited by R. Garbe. Cambridge, Mass., 1895.


Chatterjee, S., and D. Datta. Drevniaia indiiskaia filosofiia. Moscow, 1954. (Translated from English.)
Radhakrishnan, S. Indiiskaia filosofiia, vol. 2. Moscow, 1957. (Translated from English.)
Garbe, R. Die Samkhya-Philosophie, 2nd ed. Leipzig, 1917.
Keith, A. B. The Samkhya System. Calcutta, 1918.
Dasgupta, S. A History of Indian Philosophy, vol. 1. Cambridge, 1922.
Johnston, E. H. Early Samkhya. London, 1937.
Frauwallner, E. “Zur Erkenntnislehre des klassischen Samkhya-Systems.” Wiener Zeitschrift für die Kunde Süd-Ostasiens, 1958, vol. 2.
Buitenen, J. A. B. “Studies in Samkhya, I—III.” Journal of the American Oriental Society, 1956–57, vols. 76–77.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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