Doctrine: Sankhya and Yoga

Kapila, who founded the school of Sankya. Some Hindus claim there were two Kapilas, teaching theistic and atheistic versions of this doctrine.

Sankhya, derived from the word meaning “to count,” is a philosophical system of analysing matter established by Kapila. It aims to overcome suffering through cultivating discrimination and by releasing the soul (purusha) from its entanglement in matter (prakriti). Scholars say that it was originally a non-theistic system delineating 24 material truths (or elements), with the soul as the 25th.

As theistic schools evolved, they added a 26th element, the paramapurusha or God (purusha and paramapurusha are here synonymous with atman and paramatman). The later theistic notion of Shiva-Shakti is the equivalent of purusha prakriti. Shiva is the male, the energetic, and prakriti, the complementary female energy. The Vedanta schools accommodated many of the terms and concepts of Sankhya, which are also mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita.

Patanjali-yoga, also called raja– or astanga-yoga, is intimately linked with Sankhya, its “sister” darshan. The practice of yoga is based on the Patanjali Sutras, consisting of 194 aphorisms. They are divided into four sections – samadhi (trance), sadhana (the practice),vibhuti (mystic powers) and kaivalya (the ultimate aim). The process itself is divided into eight limbs (angas).

Although popular hatha-yoga is related to astanga-yoga, particularly the third stage, the exercises in Patanjali’s system are designed not for physical health but simply to facilitate meditation and self-realisation. The yogi must be able to sit comfortably, neither straining nor falling asleep, and have complete control over the breath. Patanjali also warns the yogi not to be allured by the mystic siddhis (perfections), but to keep in mind the goal of self-realisation. This involves discrimination (based on Sankhya), purging oneself of base qualities (lust, greed, illusion, etc.) and having complete control over the mind and senses. Patanjali also recommends scriptural study and surrender to the Lord, which bestow peace, illumination, and samadhi. Kaivalya refers to the realisation that one is not the body but the soul within. It is achieved when the yogi is fixed in meditation on the Lord residing within the heart and no longer influenced by the three gunas (qualities of matter).

The 24 Elements of Sankhya Philosophy

The pradhana is the unmanifest three modes of nature (goodness, passion and ignorance). The three subtle elements constitute the subtle (astral) body, and the five gross elements constitute the outward body. They are listed here in order from subtle to gross.The living being has five knowledge-acquiring senses and five working senses, each of which relates to one of the five elements and the corresponding sense object.


  • False-ego
  • Intelligence
  • Mind

Five gross elements

  • Ether
  • Air
  • Fire
  • Water
  • Earth

Five sense objects

  • Sound
  • Touch
  • Sight
  • Taste
  • Smell

Five knowledge-acquiring senses

  • Ear
  • Skin
  • Eye
  • Tongue
  • Nose

Five working senses

  • Voice
  • Legs
  • Arms
  • Reproductive organs
  • Evacuating organs

Scriptural Passage

“Yoga means control of the contents of the mind. When thoughts are stilled, then the eternal sou/ experiences its own nature.”

Yoga Sutras 1:2-3

The Eight Stages of Yoga

  1. yama – prohibitions and restraints
  2. niyama – developing virtues
  3. asana – physical postures
  4. pranayama – breathing exercises
  5. pratyahara – sense withdrawal
  6. dharana – concentration
  7. dhyana – meditation
  8. samadhi – trance (absorption of the mind on one point)