Purusa: The other of the two co-present co-eternal realities of Sankhya is the Purusa, the principal of pure Consciousness. Purusa is the soul, the self, the spirit, the subject, the knower.

It is neither body nor senses nor Brain nor mind (manas) nor ego (ahankara) nor intellect (buddhi). It is not a substance which possesses the quality of Consciousness. Consciousness is its essence. It is itself pure and transcendental Consciousness. It is the ultimate knower which is the foundation of all knowledge. It is the pure subject and as such can never become an object of knowledge. It is the silent witness, the emancipated alone, the neutral seer, the peaceful eternal. It is beyond time and space, beyond change and activity. It is self-luminous and self-proved. It is uncaused, eternal and all-pervading. It is the indubitable real, the postulate of knowledge, and all doubts and denials pre-suppose its existence. It is called nistraigunya, udasina, akarta, Kevala, madhyastha, saksi, drasta, sadaprakashasvarupa, and jnata.

                    Sankhya gives the following five proofs for the existence of the Purusa:

  • All compound objects exist for the sake of the Purusa. The body, the senses, the mind and the intellect are all means to realize the end of the Purusa. The three Gunas, the Prakrti, the subtle body— all are said to serve the purpose of the self. Evolution is teleological or purposive. Prakrti evolves itself in order to serve the Purusa’s end. This proof is teleological (sanghatapararthatvat).
  • All objects are composed of the three Gunas and therefore logically presuppose the existence of the Purusa who is the witness of these Gunas and is himself beyond them. The three Gunas imply the conception of a nistraigunya— that which is beyond them. This proof is logical (trigunadivi-paryayat).
  • There must be a transcendental synthetic unity of pure Consciousness to co-ordinate all experiences. All knowledge necessarily presupposes the existence of the self. The self is the foundation (adhisthana), the fundamental postulate of all empirical knowledge. All affirmations and all negations equally presuppose it. Without it, experience would not become experience. This proof is ontological (adhisthanat).
  • Non-intelligent Prakrti cannot experience its products. So there must be an intelligent principle to experience the worldly products of Prakrti. Prakrti is the enjoyed (bhogya) and so there must be an enjoyer (bhokta). All objects of the world have the characteristics of producing pleasure, pain and bewilderment. But pleasure, pain and bewilderment have meaning only when there is a conscious principle to experience them. Hence Purusa must exist. This argument is ethical (bhoktrbhavat).
  • There are persons who try to attain release from the sufferings of the world. The desire for liberation and emancipation implies the existence of a person who can try for and obtain liberation. Aspiration presupposes the aspirant. This proof is mystical or religious (kaivalyartham pravrtteh).

                    Unlike Advaita Vedanta and like Jainism and Mimamsa, Sankhya believes in the plurality of the Purusa. Like the Jivas of the Jainas, the souls of Ramanuja and the monads of Leibnitz, the Sankhya Purusas are subject to qualitative monism and quantitative pluralism. The selves are all essentially alike; only numerically are they different. Their essence is consciousness. Bliss is regarded as different from consciousness and is the product of the sattvaguna. Sankhya gives the following three arguments for proving the plurality of the Purusas:

(1) The souls have different sensory and motor organs and undergo separate births and deaths. Had there been only one Purusa, the birth or death of one should have meant the birth or death of all and any particular experience of pleasure, pain or indifference by one should have been equally shared by all. Hence the souls must be many.

(2) If the self were one, bondange of one should have meant bondage of all and liberation of one should have meant liberation of all. The activity of one should have made all persons active and the sleep of one should have lulled into sleep all other persons.

(3) Though the emancipated souls are all alike and differ only in number as they are all beyond the three Gunas, yet the bound souls relatively differ in qualities also, since in some Sattva predominates, while in others rajas, and in still others tamas. Hence their difference.


We have seen that Prakrti is regarded as essentially dynamic. If motion were not inherent in Prakrti, it could not be given to it by any outside agency; and if motion once ceased in Prakrti, it could not reappear. Hence Prakrti is always changing. Even in dissolution, there is homogeneous change (sarupa or sajatiya parinama) in Prakrti when all the three gunas are in the state of equilibrium. It is only when heterogeneous change takes place and rajas vibrates and makes Sattva and tamas vibrate that the equilibrium is disturbed and evolution takes place. Sattva, the principle of manifestation and rajas, the principle of activity were formerly held in check by tamas, the principle of non – manifestation and non-activity. But when rajas, the principle of activity vibrates and makes the other two vibrate, the process of creation begins. And creation is not the new creation of the worldly objects, but only their manifestation. It is only making explicit of that which was formerly implicit. Evolution is regarded as cyclic and not linear. There is no continuous progress in one direction, but alternating periods of evolution (sarga) and dissolution (pralaya) in a cyclic order. Evolution is again said to be teleological and not mechanical or blind. Evolution takes place for serving the purpose of the Purusa. Prakrti, the gunas, the senses, the mind, the ego, the intellect, the subtle body— all are constantly serving the end of the Purusa. This end is either worldly experience (bhoga) or liberation (apavarga). Purusa needs Prakrti for enjoyment as well as for liberation, for Samsara as well as for Kaivalya. Evolution supplies objects to be enjoyed to the Purusa and also works for his liberation by enabling him to discriminate between himself and Prakrti.

                    Now the question is: How does evolution take place? Evidently when heterogeneous motion arises and rajas disturbs the equilibrium of the gunas. But how is the equilibrium disturbed? Sankhya fails to answer this question satisfactorily. The fundamental blunder of Sankhya has been to separate Prakrti and Purusa as absolute and independent entities. As a matter of fact, the subject and the object are two aspects of the same reality which holds them together and yet transcends them. All realistic pluralism, of whatever brand it may be, has failed to answer this question satisfactorily. If Prakrti and Purusa are absolutely separate and independent entities, then they can never unite together, nor can there be any tertium quid to unite them. And if they cannot unite evolution cannot take place. Sankhya says that the disturbance of the equilibrium of the gunas which starts evolution is made possible by the contact of Purusa and Prakrti. Purusa without Prakrti is lame and Prakrti without Purusa is blind. ‘Theory without practice is empty and practice without theory is blind’.  ‘Concepts without percepts arc empty and percepts without concepts are blind’. Prakrti needs Purusa in order to be known, to be seen, to be enjoyed (darshanartham); and Purusa needs Prakrti in order to enjoy (bhoga) and also in order to obtain liberation (apavarga), in order to discriminate between himself and Prakrti and thereby obtain emancipation (kaivalyartham). If Prakrti and Purusa remain separate, there is dissolution. For creation they must unite. Just as a lame man and a blind man can co-operate and the lame may sit on the shoulders of the blind and point to him the way, while the blind may walk and thus both can reach the destination, though neither of them could have done that separately, similarly the inactive Purusa and the non-intelligent Prakrti co- operate to serve the end, and this union disturbs the equilibrium of the gunas and leads to evolution. But how can the two opposed and independent entities really come into contact? Sankhya realizes this difficulty and in order to avoid it says that there is no real contact between Purusa and Prakrti and that only the proximity of the Purusa, only the fact that Purusa is near to Prakrti (purusa-sannidhi-matra), is sufficient to disturb the equilibrium of the gunas and thus lead to evolution. But here Sankhya falls into another difficulty. The Purusa being always near to Prakrti (for the inactive Purusa cannot move), evolution should never stop and dissolution would become impossible. Evolution, then, would be beginningless and the very conception of Prakrti as the state of equilibrium of the three gunas would be impossible. Sankhya finds itself between these two horns of a dilemma— either no contact and hence no evolution or else no equilibrium and hence no Prakrti and no dissolution. In order to avoid these difficulties, Sankhya now posits the theory of the semblance of a contact (samyogabhasa). Of course, there is no real contact (samvoga) between Purusa and Prakrti; there is the semblance of a contact and it is this semblance which leads to evolution. Purusa is reflected in the intellect (buddhi) and wrongly identifies himself with his own reflection in the buddhi. It is this reflection of the Purusa which comes into contact with Prakrti and not the Purusa himself. But buddhi or mahat is regarded as the first evolute of Prakrti and how can it arise before evolution to receive the reflection of the Purusa? To avoid this difficulty it is said that the Purusa is reflected in the Prakrti itself. If so, then liberation and dissolution would become impossible because Prakrti being always there and it being the essential nature of the Purusa to identify himself with his reflection in the Prakrti, he would never get liberation and the very purpose for which evolution starts would get defeated. Moreover, the reflection being always there, there would be no dissolution and so no equilibrium of the gunas and hence no Prakrti. Again, if semblance of a contact is sufficient to disturb the equilibrium, then evolution itself becomes a semblance of evolution, an appearance only (vivarta) and no real transformation (parinama) of  Prakrti. Thus we see that in order to defend the initial blunder of regarding Purusa and Prakrti as absolute and independent entities, Sankhya commits blunders after blunders.

Updated: 05/03/2019 — 12:56 am