Sankhya (साङ्ख्य, Sāṅkhya)
The word Sankhya refers to one of the six prinicipal systems of Hindu Philosophy, attributed to the sage Kapila (कपिल, Kapila); This philosophy is so called because it 'enumerates' twenty five true principles or Tatva-s (तत्त्व, Tattva) (1). The twenty five principles can be broadly grouped in to two major principles, one being the primordial matter or Prakriti (प्रकृति, Prakṛti) and the other being the Soul or Purusha (पुरुष, Puruṣa). The Prakriti encompasses the first twenty four principles as they are mere evolutes of itself and Purusha is the twenty-fifth principle and is completely different from the Prakriti. The attainment of the correct knowledge of the twetny four other tatva-s leads to the liberation of the twenty-fifth tatva, the Purusha from Prakriti without which he is bound by it.
The Sankhya system is perhaps the most important one, as it has exercised tremendous influence over practically all the different systems (2). Even Buddhism, which does not believe in the authority of the Veda-s (Nastika (नास्तिक, Nāstika)), has been greatly influenced by the doctrines of Sankhya (3).
Origin and History:
The Sankhya system is one of the oldest and its doctrines have their origin in some passages of the Katopanishad (कठोपनिषद्, Katopaniṣad), Chandogya-upanishad (छान्दोग्य-उपनिषद्, Chandogya-upaniṣad) and Svetasvatara-upanishad (श्वेताश्वतर-उपनिषद्, Śvetāśvatara-upaniṣad) and they have been beatifully expounded in the Bhagavad-Gita (4). The Sankhya philosophy was formulated at an age when the performances of the Vedic sacrifices were in full swing (5). The Sage Kapila is said to be the founder of Sankhya who lived earlier to Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. According to ancient traditon, Kapila is the son of Brahma, the creator god in Hinduism. Kapila's work is not extant now and the Sankhya Sutra-s that are available now are of later origin. Even the works composed by Kapila's disciple Asuri (आसुरि, Āsuri) or his disciple Panchashikhi (पञ्चशिखिः, Pancaśikhiḥ) are no longer available (6). The vast literature of this system with its numerous schools is almost lost to us and what has survived in the verses or karika-s (कारिका, kārikā) of Isvarakrishna (ईश्वरकृष्ण, Īśvarakṛṣṇa) is only a skeleton of it (7).
Sankhya philosophy has been vastly commented upon by scholars of other philosophical schools. Gaudapadachayra (गौडपादाचार्य, Gaudapādācārya), the spiritual preceptor of the Govinda Bhagavadpada (गोविन्दभगवद्पाद, Govindabhagavadpāda) who was inturn the spiritual preceptor of the legendary Sankaracharya or Adishankara (आदिशंकर,Ādiśankara), has written a commentary to the Sankhya karika-s of Isvarakrishna. Infact, the Sankhya karika-s were translated in to the chinese in sixth century A.D (8).
The Sankhya Principles:
The teaching of the Sankhya school is dualistic unlike the Advaita-Vedanta (अद्वैत-वेदान्त, Advaita-vedānta). Kapila was the first to demarcate between the domains of matter or Prakriti and Soul or Purusha. The Prakriti and Purusha are both without beginning and an end but they are essentially different. The evolution and diversity of the world are explained by the three constituents of matter called the three guna-s (गुण, guṇa) (9). This system states that all mental operations such as perception, willing and thinking are not performed by the Purusha or soul but are merely mechanical processes of the internal organs - the intelligent principle or Buddhi (बुद्धि, Buddhi), the ego principle or Ahankara (अहङ्कार, Ahaṅkāra) and the mind or manas (मनस्, manas)(10). While the Prakriti is possessed of the three guna-s and is the one that acts, the Purusha is not possessed of the guna-s and he is only a witness to the entire happenings. Then how is he bound? and what is meant by Liberation in the Sankhya school? Just a like a pure crystal when juxtaposed to a red hibiscus flower, reflects the redness of the flower as against its original nature, the Purusha when he comes in contact with the Prakriti, mistakes himself to be one with it and falsely believes that he is the one who is acting and hence he experiences pain. When he realises his real self as distinct from the Prakriti, he goes back to his original nature of being a mere witness and thus gets rid of all his pain and gets liberated.
The theory of causation and evolution:
The Prakriti is the agent of creation and is the source of all manifestations. It evolves and from it subsidiary principles like mahat (महत्, Mahat) or the great principle, the intellect evolve which inturn generate other subsidiary principles that are the causes for the five great elements and so on. The Sankhya school advocates the Satkaryavada (सत्कार्यवाद, Satkāravāda) or the argument that an effect pre-exists in its cause in a subtle form and the effect is only a manifestation of the cause. Just like a butter is latent in milk and a tree is latent in its seed and so on as against the Asatkaryavada (असत्कार्यवाद, Asatkāryavāda) or the argument that an effect does not pre-exist in its cause (as in the schools of Nyaya and Vaiseshika).
Is there a God or not?
A thorough study of the original Sankhya philosophy would reveal that the systems does not deal with the concept of God. The Prakriti is endowed with the task of creation and it is the reason for all activities. Infact the Prakriti even assists the Purusha to attain liberation even when the Purusha remains a mere witness. There is no scope for God as such in this school. But according to what is being explained in the scriptures like Bhagavad-Gita, Bhagavatam and so on, Sankhya does believe in God and the Purusha-s are considered to be manifestations of God. The Sankhya that Isvarakrishna propogated is without the concept of God but tradition states that even Buddha studied the Sankhya system that did contain the concept of God. Thus Sankhya is both with and without God accordingly (11).
Sankhya and Yoga, the twin systems:
The Yoga school of philosophy is considered as a twin system of Sankhya Philosophy as it accepts most of the metaphysics of Sankhya. Infact Yoga is called as Seshvara-Sankhya (सेश्वर-सांख्य, Seṣvara-sānkhya, , Sankhya with an additional concept of God, as Sankhya does not believe in the existence of God) and Sankhya is called as Nirishvara-yoga (निरीश्वर-योग, Nirīśvara-yoga, Yoga barring the concept of God).
Footnotes & References:
(1) The Practical Sanskrit-English Dictionary, by Vaman Shivram Apte, page 978.
(2) Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha of Madavacarya, compiled, Edited and Transliterated by Prof.Madan Mohan Agrawal, page xxxv.
(3) A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, by T.K.Ramachandra Aiyar, page 198.
(4) A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, by T.K.Ramachandra Aiyar, page 199.
(5) Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha of Madavacarya, compiled, Edited and Transliterated by Prof.Madan Mohan Agrawal, page xxxv.
(6) A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, by T.K.Ramachandra Aiyar, page 198.
(7) Sarva-Darsana-Samgraha of Madavacarya, compiled, Edited and Transliterated by Prof.Madan Mohan Agrawal, page xxxv.
(8) A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, by T.K.Ramachandra Aiyar, page 198.
(9) The word Guna means an ingredient or constituent of nature, any one of the three properties belonging to all created things, namely the satva (सत्त्व, sattva) or purity of mind, rajas (रजस्, rajas) or passion of mind and tamas (तमस्, tamas) or inertness of mind.
(10) A Short History of Sanskrit Literature, by T.K.Ramachandra Aiyar, page 199.
(11) Sankhyakarika with Goudapad Commentary, Chowkamba, page 9 of Introduction.