Evolution of Universe According to Samkhya Philosophy


Read this article to learn about the theory of evolution universe according to Samkhya philosophy!

Contact of Purusa and Prakriti:

According to Samkhya philosophy the universe just evolves. The evolution takes place because of the contact between prakriti and the purusa. The purusa alone cannot create because he is inactive, and in the same manner prakriti cannot create unassisted because it is material.

The contact of these two is necessary for the purpose of creation. Evolution can take place through the activity of prakriti only when the energy of prakriti is conjoined with purusa although their natures are so different. In explaining this contradiction, Samkhya employs the classic examples of the blind man and the lame man.


The blind man and the lame man co-operated with each other to escape a fire. The lame man cliambed on the shoulders of the blind man and directed him along the correct path. In this way both of them reached a safe and desired spot. In much the same manner, the inactive purusa and the unconscious prakriti cooperate in order to achieve the objective of creation.

This contact creates disturbance in the stability of the gunas of prakriti and evolution starts. Prakriti needs purusa so that it may be seen, known and utilized and the purusa stands in need of prakriti in order to experience and attain salvation by distinguishing between itself and the prakriti.

But how can there be any real contact of the two contrary and independent substances? Realizing this difficulty, Samkhya has stated that there is no real contact but only nearness between the prakriti and the purusa. The mere proximity of the purusa is enough to create disturbance and distortion in the state of equilibrium of the gunas of the prakriti and to start evolution.

Disturbance in the Gunas:

Gunas, the constituents of Prakriti, exist in a state of equilibrium before creation. This state of equilibrium is disturbed when there is nearness of the Prakriti with the purusa. This is known as the state of guna ksobha. In this, the first to change is the rajas, because it is active and dynamic by nature.


Because of rajas, the other gunas are also activated. In this way, a seismic upheaval disturbs and disrupts the stability of prakriti. One constituent element tries to gain control over the others. The three elements are constantly mixing and separating. This leads to the creation of many kinds of objects and beings, differing from each other because of the difference in the proportion of these three constituent elements which are to some extent found in every one of them.

The Order of Creation:

The points are explained below—

1. Mahat:

The first distortion in evolution is mahat or mahana. Along with intellect, ego and mind it is the cause of the entire creation. Mahat is the cosmic aspect of intellect, and intellect in the individuals is the psychological aspect of mahat. Mahat is both eternal and non-eternal. Vijnana Bhiksu has accepted samskaras in budhi or intellect.

The special function of buddhi or intellect are decision and memory, and it is a means of distinguishing between the knower and the known. It is by means of intellect that decision is given in any matter. Intellect has its origin in the abundance of the Sattva element.


Its natural function is to manifest itself and other objects. With an increase in the sattva element, intellect gains in virtue, knowledge, detachment and excellence. If the tamas element increases, it is marked by such attributes as vice (adharma), ignorance (ajnana) and attachment (asakti). The characteristics of sattva element are the proper qualities of the buddhi.

Purusa may understand the distinction that exists between himself and prakriti and may then contemplate and analyse its own real nature. In this way, buddhi differs from soul or atman.

The soul is above all physical substances and qualities. Intellect is the basis of the actions of the jivatma or the living being. When the element of sattva increases in the intellect, the image of the soul falls it and enlightens it. The actions of the sense organs and the mind are for helping the intellect while the activity of the intellect is for the benefit of the soul.

2. Ahamkara:

Ahamkara or the ego is the second product of evolution. The ‘I’ of the Buddhi or intellect and the pride of ‘mine’ is ego. Buddhi is an intellectual concept while ahamkara is a practical aspect. It is because of ego that purusa looks upon itself as an active agent, desiring and striving after ends, and as the possessor of characteristics. Ego is the basis of all worldly activities.


The object is first perceived through the senses. The mind then reflects on these perceptions and determines their nature. Following this, the attitude of ‘mine’ and ‘for me’ is attributed to these objects. Ahamkara or ego is just this sense of ‘I’. There are the following three distinctions of ahamkara.

(a) Vaikarika or attvika:

In this, there is preponderance of the clement of sattva. In its cosmic form, it gives rise to mind, the five senses and five organs of action. In its psychological form, it gives rise to meritorious actions.

(b) Taijas or rajas:


In this, the dominant element is rajas. In its cosmic aspect, it supplies energy to both sattva and tamas to change into their products. In its psychological form, it is responsible for bad activities.

(c) Bhutadi or tamas:

In this, it is the element of lamas which is dominant In its universal form, it constitutes the origin of five subtle elements (tan- matras). In its psychological form, it causes lethargy, indifference and disturbance.

The order of evolution originating in ahamkara is given in the Samkhya Karika. It is accepted by Vachaspati Misra. But in Samkhya Pravachan Bhasva, Vijnan Bhiksu has accepted mind or manas as the only sense organ in which the sattva ahamkara originates, while the five tanmatras or subtle elements have their origin in the tamas ahamkara.

3. Manas:

The cooperation of the manas or mind is necessary for both activity and knowledge. This is the internal organ which stimulates the other senses to attend to their respective objects. It is composite even though subtle and can be enjoined to all the tenses simultaneously.

The organs of perception (jnanendriyas) and the organs of actions (karmendriyas) are external tools. Mind, ego and intellect are the three internal organs. The vital processes are the functions of the internal organs. These internal organs are influenced by the external organs. Perception by the sense organs is of an indiscriminate or indeterminate nature, and it is given a determinate form by the mind after it has determined the nature of the perception.

The ego or ahamkara takes command of the perceptions and likes or dislikes them, according as they are useful or not useful to the achievement of its purpose, while the intellect decides whether these objects are to be adopted or rejected. The three internal organs along with the ten external organs are called the thirteen karana organs. The external organs maintain contact only with objects that are present. But the internal organs can be aware of objects belonging to the past, the present and the future.

4. Jnanendriyas:

The five senses or jnanendriyas are skin, nose, eyes, ears and tongue. In fact, sense is an imperceptible energy or force which exists in the perceived organs and apprehends the object. In this way then, the sense is not the eye but its power of visual perception. The senses are not perceptible.

They are inferred from the functions that they perform. The five organs procure and produce knowledge of touch, smell, colour, sound and taste. All these are born because of the purusa and are the result of the ego or ahamkara.

5. Karniendriyas:

The cause of the creation of objects and the organs of action and perception is the desire of purusa for experience. The five organs of action (karmendriyas) reside in mouth, ears, feet, anus and the sex organ. They perform the following functions respectively— speech, hearing, movement, excretion and reproduction.

6. Tanmutras:

The subtle elements of the objects are called tanmatras. There are five tanmatras in the five types of objects viz., sabda or sound, sparsa or touch, rupa or form, rasa or taste and gandha of smell.

The tanmatras are very subtle and cannot be perceived. They are known by inference. But yogis or saints may perceive them. According to Nyaya Vaisesika, the tanmatras originate in the five physical elements, but contrary to this, the Samkhya holds-that it is the five elements that have their origin in the five tanmatras.

7. Mahabhutas:

The five mahabhutas or physical elements originate in the five subtle elements in the following manner:

(1) Akasha:

Akasha or ether and the quality of sound originate in the speech tanmatra. Sound is the quality of ether or akasha, and it can be perceived by the ear.

(2) Vayu or Air:

The mixing of the sound and touch tanmatra results in the creation of air whose qualities are sound and touch. These qualities are born along with air.

(3) Fire or Agni:

The further mixing of the colour tanmatra with the sound touch tanmatra creates the element of fire or Agni and its qualities of sound touch and colour.

(4) Jala or water:

Tlie further addition of the rasa or taste tanmatra to the previous tanmatras results in water.

(5) Prithvi or earth:

When the smell tanmatra is added to those of sound, touch, colour and taste, the element of prithvi or earth comes into exist­ence. In this way, each new element ‘hat appears in this order possesses, besides its own qualities, the qualities of the elements that have appeared before it. Accordingly, the characteristic qualities of earth, water, fire, air and ether are smell, taste, colour, touch and sound respectively.

The above mentioned process of evolution according to the Samkhya philosophy may be illustrated by the following chart:

Four kinds of evolutes:

In this way, there are four kinds of evolutes in the entire sequence of evolu­tion— prakriti or equilibrium, vikriti or distortion or flux, prakriti-vikriti and neither prakriti nor vikriti. Purusa is neither prakriti nor vikriti. In the above mentioned twenty-five elements. Prakriti is only prakriti; Mahat, ahamkara or ego, and the five tanmatras elements are both prakrti and vikrti. The other sixteen elements viz., five organs of perception, five organs of action, and five physical elements and the mind or manas are only distortions or vikriti.

Two forms of evolution:

The order of evolution, according to Samkhya, has two stages: (1) psychical (pratyayasarga or buddhisarga), and (2) physical (tanmatrasarga or bhautikasarga).

In the first stage appear buddhi or intellect, ego or ahamkara, and the eleven organs. In the second stage appear five subtle elements (tanmatras), the five gross physical elements (mahabhuta) and their products. The five subtle elements are impercep­tible to the ordinary individuals and hence called ‘avisesa’ or those devoid of perceptible peculiar qualities. In the physical elements and their products are the qualities such as pain, pleasure and attachment.

Hence, they are called ‘vishesa’ or particular. These particular or vishesa substances are of three kinds: (1) Gross physical elements, (2) Gross body made up of the five elements, (3) Subtle body, the name given to the group of buddhi, ego, eleven organs and the five subtle elements. The gross body is the residence of the subtle body.

The intellect, ego and the organs cannot function without physical substratum. Vachaspati Misra has accepted the existence of these two bodies, the subtle and the gross, but Vijnana- Bhikshu has postulated a third kind of body called the adhisthan sharira, which serves as a medium for the transfer of the subtle body from one gross body to another gross body.

Purpose of evolution:

The evolution of Samkhya is not the mere combination of atoms. It is a teleological evolution. In an indirect manner, every object in the world gives credence to the purpose of the soul or self.

Just as a tree bears fruit, or water flows because of the slope in the earth’s surface, or the pieces of iron are attracted towards the magnet, or milk flows from the udders of the cow for the nourishment of its calf, in the same manner every object indirectly fulfills the purpose of the Purusa, be it liberation or be it experience.

Prakriti assists the purusa. Although purusa is inactive, indifferent and unqualified the benevolent prakriti, maintaining detach­ment, works unceasingly towards the objective of the purusa. Prakriti works for the liberation of the purusa. Although Samkhya has postulated prakriti as the material as well as the efficient cause while the Purusa is neither a cause nor an effect, yet instead of prakriti, it is purusa that should be considered the efficient and final cause of evolution.

Despite their being of contradictory natures, the two co-operative like the oil, wick and flame of the lamp to manifest the purpose of the purusa and present it to the intellect. All organs are for the purpose of the Purusa. The subtle body also is for the use of the purusa. In this way, the entire process of evolution, from mahat, the first distortion, to the physical elements, the last distortion, aims at the liberation of the Purusa. This evolution shall continue till all the purusas attain their liberation.


The following main arguments have been advanced by different critics against the Samkhya theory of evolution:

(1) There is no logical basis for the order of distortions of Prakriti. Appearance of their distortions of prakriti in the specific order name in Samkhya does not appear to be supported either by logical or metaphysical necessity. Realizing this fact, Vijnanabhikshu said shastra is the only evidence in support of this order of evolution. But this implies acceptance of the fact that this order of evolution cannot be proved by argument.

(2) According to Dr. Radhakrishnan, Samkhya has mixed up its spiritual or intellectual metaphysics with psychological facts. It has mixed up its own assump­tions with the thoughts borrowed from the Upanishads. Hence, the evolutionism of Samkhya is not adequate and logical.

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