Sankhya is undoubtedly one of the oldest systems of Indian Philosophy. We find references to the Sankhya-Yoga doctrines in some of the Upanisads, in the Chhandogya, the Prashna, the Katha and particularly in the Shvetashvatara ; in the Mahabharata ; in the Gita ; and in the Smrti  and the Purnas. Badarayana ,

the author of the Vedanta sutra, repeatedly refers to the view whether the Sankhya can be regarded as the teaching of the Upanisads and rejects it, besides undertaking refutation of the Sankhya in the Tarka pada on rational grounds. Shankaracharya regards it as the ‘main opponent’ (pradhana-malla) of Vedanta and says that though Sankhya and Yoga are generally accepted by the wise as conducive to the Highest Good, yet these systems advocate dualism and cannot be supported by the Shruti. These words are used in the Shruti and the Smrti in the sense of knowledge and  action respectively and words like Mahat, Avyakta etc. are used in the sense of names and forms.


The fact that Badarayana and Shankara are keen to reject the view that Sankhya, though accepted by the wise, is not based on the Upanisads because it advocates dualism, suggests that there must have been some thinkers belonging to the Sankhya who claimed it to be the teaching of the Upanisads.

Though nothing can be said with absolute certainty, it seems highly probable that the Sankhya in the beginning was based on the Upanisads and had accepted the theistic Absolute, but later on, under the influence of the Jaina and the Buddhist thought, it rejected theistic monism and was content with spiritualistic pluralism and atheistic realism.

And it is this Sankhya to which Badarayana and Shankara are opposed. This also explains why some of the later Sankhya, Vijnanabhiksu in the sixteenth century, tried to revive the earlier theism in Sankhya.


                    Tradition regards Kapila as the founder of this system. But Sankhya – pravachana -sutra which is attributed to him is generally regarded by scholars as a work of the fourteenth century a .d ., because it has not been referred to by the earlier writers of the other schools, because it criticizes the rival systems and because it wants to revive theism. So far as theism is concerned, we maintain that the original Sankhya was theistic.

But the fact that this work has been ignored and Ishvara Krishna’s Karika has been referred to instead by the other earlier writers, as well as the fact that it criticizes other systems go against this work being regarded as that of Kapila himself. As Ishvarakrsna himself speaks of Kapila, Asuri, and Panchashikha, it seems probable that these were historical personages whose works have been lost.


Kapila certainly flourished before Buddha and he must have composed Sankhya-sutra which work was unfortunately lost long ago. Ishvarakrsna’s Sankhya-Karika seems to be the earliest available and the most popular work of this system. Besides this we have Gaudapada’s Sankhya – Karika – bhasya , Vachaspati  Mishra’s Tattva-Kaumudi  and Vijnana – bhiksu’s Sankhya – pravachana – bhasya.

                    The word ‘Sankhya’ is derived from the word ‘Sankhya’ which means right knowledge as well as number. The Gita uses this word in the sense of knowledge, so does the Mahabharata at other places also. Sankhya means the philosophy of right knowledge (samyak khyati or jnana).


The system is predominantly intellectual and theoretical. Right knowledge is the knowledge of the separation of the Purusa from the Prakrti. Yoga, as the counterpart of Sankhya, means action or practice and tells us how the theoretical metaphysical teachings of Sankhya might be realized in actual practice.

Thus Sankhya-Yoga forms one complete system, the former being the theoretical while the latter being the practical aspect of the same teaching. Sankhya is also the philosophy of numbers, because it deals with twenty-five categories. As a philosophy of numbers, it might have influenced the Pythagorean philosophy.

                    Ishvarakrsna is the representative of the classical Sankhya which had divorced itself from the Upanisads under the influence of Jainism and Buddhism, yet the Vedantic teaching of absolutism with which the original Sankhya was associated, asserts itself implicitly in Ishvarakrsna. We have seen that absolutism is implicit in Jainism and explicit in Mahayana Buddhism and we shall see how it is implicit in Ishvarakrsna also.

                    Sankhya maintains a clear-cut dualism between Purusa and Prakrti and further maintains the plurality of the Purusa, and is silent on God. It is a pluralistic spiritualism and an atheistic realism and an uncompromising dualism.

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Updated: 05/03/2019 — 12:42 am