Samkhya Philosophy - The Wisdom of Ayurveda

Samkhya Wisdom of Ayurveda

Samkhya Wisdom of Ayurveda

Image: Samkhya Wisdom of Ayurveda

. As the foundation of both Yoga and Ayurveda, Samkhya Philosophy is one of the most notable of the six orthodox schools. It explains how a Universal Spirit evolved into the material reality we see around us, and offers an explanation why Spirit requires the existence of Matter in the form of a basic dualism. Though it has virtually ceased to be a doctrine of faith in its own right, the explanation it provides of the creation of the physical world has formed the basis of other philosophical systems, and remains a strong presence in Shaivite and Tantric philosophy.

Samkhya - The Indian Philosophy of Dualism.

Samkhya establishes a basic dualism between Consciousness or Self(Purusa) and Matter (Prakriti). Prakriti might be likened to the creative power of Maya of the Vedanta school – it manifests a material world in order that pure Consciousness may have something to experience or witness. As in Vedanta, the Knower requires a Known in order to realize itself, and it is often said that there is an inherent need of Soul to rediscover its true identity. This, in many spiritual texts, is the reason for the formation of body and sense organs, so that the Soul may fulfill its desire to be the Experiencer.

Prakriti, the creative power of the universe and first cause of creation, evolves by the vehicle of the three gunas, Sattva(light, translucent matter), Rajas (the catalyst of creation) and Tamas(heavy, obscuring matter). The products of evolution on the Sattva path include the subtler objects of mind and sense organs, and the products on the path of Tamas lead to the five gross elements: ether, air, fire, water and earth. The relevance to Indian spiritual practice is clear; Hatha Yoga is concerned with working with the three gunas to achieve a Realization of Consciousness; Tantric practices work with the five elements on their subtle and esoteric levels; and Ayurveda works with the five elements on their grossest level, in the form of the three Ayurvedic doshas. Though Samkhya philosophy may have lost its status as a doctrine or religion in its own right, it remains absolutely fundamental to the spiritual and health practices that form the highest achievements of the Vedic tradition.

Samkhya Philosophy – The Basis of Ayurveda.

The Tamasice volutes of Prakriti form the gross elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth – but are also present in the subtler objects of the mind – the sense organs. All manifestations in material reality include matter drawn from both Sattvaand Tamas,therefore the five elements are always present in their grossest forms as well as in subtle forms with a higher predominance of Sattva:

Ether/space element = sense of sound,

Air element = sense of touch

Fire element = sense of sight

Water element = sense of taste

Earth element = sense of smell

In working with the three doshas; Vata, air and ether; Pitta, fire and water; and Kapha, water and earth, Ayurveda addresses the evolutes of Prakriti in both their subtle and gross forms. This is the reason that it offers a holistic approach to health, without distinguishing between ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ aspects.

Additionally, Ayurveda stays true to Samkhya’s Theory of Causation, Karykaranavada, which states that the effect is always inherent in the cause. A sound, materialist doctrine perfectly acceptable to materialist science, this is taken very literally in the practice of Ayurveda. For example, bitter food will be prescribed to promote Pitta in the body, as Pitta too has the quality of bitterness. This is no minor example, as the Ayurvedic approach to diet is central to its practice, and recommendations made largely on the basis of taste.

The Legacy of Samkhya Philosophy.

Though Samkhya failed to survive as a doctrine in its own right, the success of the systems it has produced prove that it was the product of incredible intuition about the nature of Reality. It remains the best explanation of how Matter evolved from Spirit, despite the fact that later theological systems expand the idea of Spirit to encompass all matter, without duality. As the mother of the highest spiritual practices known to man, there is truth to be found in Samkhya, and its method of approaching reality has given us the incredible spiritual sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda.


For more on the relationship of Yoga, Ayurveda and Samkhya Philosophy click here.

Kairali Yoga’s resident Philosophy Teacher  Emily Yates  organizes scheduled retreats and tailor-made courses at The Ayurvedic Healing Village in Kerala.