Samkhya and Yoga – Knowledge and Practice

Antoinettes Yoga Garden The Vedas are expressed in a symbolic language of Mantra, expressing the direct spiritual experiences of the sages. The later Upanishads are profound poems, an outpouring of spiritual revelation, illumination and knowledge where philosophy, religion and poetic expression are one. These revelations are not a dry intellectual enquiry. They are the light of India’s spiritual discoveries.

Later, six evolved philosophies came into being, derived from the Vedas and Upanishads, the first of these being the Samkhya philosophy taught by the sage Kapila. In fact, all later philosophies of India were influenced by it. Philosophy at this time was not a purely intellectual pursuit. It was oriented towards the spiritual life and the practice of Yoga. Samkhya and Yoga represent the two wings of knowledge and practice that together give flight to the bird of spiritual experience.

Sam means truth and khya means to realise, so truth realisation is the goal of Samkhya. Samkhya also means number and it enumerates the 25 cosmic principles that make up the universe.

Samkhya guides the seeker towards truth and Yoga gives the practical means to realise and experience ultimate truth. According to Samkhya, belief alone is not sufficient. If truth is knowable, then a means must be available.

The universe that we perceive with the senses is only the surface beneath which the subtle cause remains hidden. The subtle cause can only be seen by the insight attained through meditation. So Yoga teaches us how to meditate and gives us the tool to enquire.

The 25 cosmic principles enumerated by Samkha consist of Prakriti, cosmic existence which has 24 principles and Purusha, pure consciousness, making 25. The Seen is Prakriti and the Seer is Purusha.

Yoga practice moves us from identification with the Seen to our true identity with the Seer, a state of infinite peace, bliss and freedom.

The 24 principles of nature are 1) Purusha; 2) Prakriti; 3) Mahat – cosmic mind; 4) ahamkara – ego; 6-10) five tanmatras –subtle sound, touch, sight, taste and hearing: 11-15) Five sense organs – ear, skin, eye, nose, tongue; 16-20) Five organs of action – mouth, hands, feet, sexual organ, anus; 21-25) five great elements – ether, air, fire, water, earth.

This Samkhya system is adopted completely by Yoga, to which it adds ashtanga yoga as its practical method of truth realisation.
Prakriti consists of three gunas or energy states and all the 24 principles are combinations of these. The three gunas are the factors of bondage.

Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, the qualities born of material nature, bind fast in the body, O Arjuna, The Imperishable One (Soul). Bhagavad Gita 14:5

The mind is satva, the life-force rajas and the body tamas. But rajas (distraction and desire) and tamas (inertia and ignorance) enter into the mind. Yoga removes the rajas and tamas from the mind so restoring the natural state of satva. A satvic mind can discern the truth, reflect and then realise the Purusha, pure spirit.

The Yoga Sutra gives three steps to attain the goal of truth-realisation: Kriya Yoga (ritual and devotion), Ashtanga Yoga(Yoga practice), Samyama (focussed awareness in meditation).

Meditation takes us through 4 stages corresponding to the 24 principles of Nature moving from the gross to the subtle. We begin with our senses and end with unmanifest Nature. Having known the whole of creation, the last step is the realisation of the independent, transcendent nature of Purusha. This is called viveka – khyati, knowledge of the difference between Nature and Spirit.

So, Samkhya provides the guiding knowledge, Yoga the tool, Samyama.

“Without the Samyama no yoga is possible.” Sri Aurobindo

 (c) Steve Brandon

(Image courtesy of Robert Bejil on Flikr Creative Commons)

We’re delighted that Srivatsa Ramaswami will be teaching a 3 day workshop on the Samkhya Karika from 6th – 8th June, here in Wells, Somerset. As far as we’re aware, this is a unique opportunity to learn this important philosophy – the basis of both Buddhism and Yoga – direct from a Yoga master. There are still places available. To check availability and to book, please contact Steve.

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