Sankhya Darshana and Ayurveda: Relation and Similarities

By Dr. Regina Antony
Sankhya Darshana is one among the Asthika Darshanas (theist philosophies).
It was explained by Maharshi Kapila.
The word ‘Sankhya’ means ‘number’.
This Darshana aims at relief from discomfort and attaining salvation (Moksha).

2 types of Sankhya Darshana:

Sankhya Darshan is of two types –
Seshwara Sankhya (theist group)
Nireeshwara Sankhya (atheist group)

This philosophy regards the universe as consisting of two realities:
Purusha (consciousness) and
Prakriti (body constitution).

3 Pramanas – Means of valid knowledge:
According to Saankhya Darsan, all knowledge is possible through three means of valid knowledge (pramanas) –
1. Pratyaksha – perception by the senses
2. Anumana – inference
3. Shabda or Aptavachana – words of a credible or authoritative person.
Read related: Pramana: Definition, Types As Per Sushruta And Charaka

Two types of perceptions

Sankya mentions two kinds of perceptions:
Nirvikalpa – Indeterminate perceptions and
Savikalpa – determinate perceptions.
Indeterminate perception arises immediately after sense-object contact. It is the immediate knowledge of an object, without any determination of the name of the object or the class to which the object belongs. This type of perception is completely free from discrimination or analysis. It is the direct awareness of an object. For example, when we perceive a jug, the immediate thing our mind does is to identify the jug as a jug .We do not analyse its shape, colour etc.
But when we try to understand the jug in relation to its qualities, indeterminate perception transforms into determinate perception. In determinate perception, equal importance is given to the qualities of the jug like its shape, colour, the material it is made out of etc. Here we can clearly understand that indeterminate and determinate perceptions can be differentiated only in thought, they cannot be separated in reality, because they are two stages of the same process. 
Read related: Nyaya Darshana and Ayurveda: Relation and similarities

Satkarya Vada – Theory of relativity

Sankhya Darshan system is based on Satkaryavada. According to Satkaryavada, the effect exists in the cause. Cause and effect are seen as different aspects of the same thing; they are not two different entities.

Principles of Satkarya Vada (Theory of relativity) –
1. Asadakaranat – from one variety of object, a totally different variety cannot be produced.
Example – Humans cannot be produced from seeds.
2. Upadana grahanat – substances can be generated only from related substances.
Example – Pot from soil, coconut oil from coconut etc.
3. Sarva sambhava abhavat – one Karana never becomes the Karya for many different things.
4. Shaktasya Shakya Karanat – from one cause, related object can be produced.
Example – A wooden chair can be made only from wood.
5. Karana Bhavat – from one variety of object only the same variety can be produced.
Example – Wheat can be produced only from wheat.

Parinama Vada

Parinama Vada is explained by Sankhya Darshana. It states that objects can never be produced nor destructed, but can be transformed from one form to another.

Triguna concept – Qualities of the mind

Sankhya Darshana explains about Trigunas (Tri means three, guna means quality). These are the three qualities of the mind.
Satva – is enlightening (prakashaka), light (laghu) and is pleasant (sukhakaraka)
Rajas – is unstable (chala), stimulating (preraka) and is unpleasant (dukhakaraka)
Tamas – is heavy (guru), inactive (manda) and causes lassitude (jadatvakaraka).
Read related: Manasika Doshas – Satva, Rajas, Tamas As Per Ayurveda

Panchavimshati tatwa – 25 principles

Sankhya Darshana explains 25 principles that are responsible for creation. They are of four types –
Prakruti – that which gives birth to another
Vikruti – that which takes birth from another
Prakruti Vikruti – that which gives and takes birth
Neither Prakruti nor Vikruti – that neither gives nor takes birth).

Avyakta – considered as Prakruti – 1 in number.
Mahat – Ahamkara and Pancha Tanmatra – considered as both Prakruti and Vikruti – 7 in number.
Ekadasha Indriya, Panchamahabhuta – considered as Vikruti – 16 in number.
Purusha – considered as neither Prakruti nor Vikruti – 1 in number.

Avyakta –
Vyakta means – that which can be perceived.
Avyakta means – that which cannot be perceived.
Unless with higher level of spirituality and intellect, with common tools of acquiring knowledge – through mind and sense organs, it is impossible to perceive Avyakta.
It is the most subtle element responsible for all creations of the physical universe.
Avyakta is also considered as nature – Prakriti.
Avyakta gives rise to the next form of minute expression called Mahat.

Mahat –
Mahat is the next level of expression. Mahat arises out of Avyakta. It is the principle responsible for intelligence (buddhi) in living beings.
Every creature of the universe has their own level of basic instincts and intelligence. A new born baby innately knows how to cry, how to consume milk, etc.
This innate intelligence arises out of Mahat.
Mahat gives rise to Ahamkara.

Ahamkara (individuality)
It is responsible for the self-sense in living beings. It creates the feeling of individuality.
If we try to kill a mosquito, the mosquito flies away. This is because of the feeling that “I need to survive. This body is mine, I need to protect it.”

These feelings arise due to the ego – Ahamkara.
Ego is required for all living beings to exist. Without ego, no creature will be interested to take care of itself.
(The over-expression of ego is egoism, where person becomes too self-centred so as to cause harm to others.)

Ego – Ahamkara is of three types

Satvika Ahamkara – Satvik Ego –
Satva is the prime quality. Knowledge, piousness, positivity, discipline, peace loving, wisdom, rationality – these can be few terms to describe Satva.

Rajasika Ahamkara – Rajasik Ego – Desire,money, attraction, greed, anger, arrogance, lust, and egotism can be few terms to describe Rajas. 

Tamasika Ahamkara – Tamasik Ego – Darkness, lethargy, sleep, ignorance, and jealousy can be few terms to describe Tamas.

If we analyse all human beings, we all are a combination of Satvika, Rajasika and Tamasika egos.
These types of egos are born out of intellect – Mahat.

Pancha Tanmatra is a product of Mahat Tatva, along with Ahamkara.

After having intellect (Mahat) and ego (Ahamkara) with three forms of expressions – Satvika, Rajasika and Tamasika, these – intellect and ego – together try to
1. Express themselves.
2. Survive and thrive.
For this, Mahat (intellect) and Ahamkara (Ego) give rise to five forms –
Shabda (sound).
Sparsha (touch),
Rupa (form),
Rasa (taste) and
Gandha (smell).

Out of the three types of Ahamkaras, Tamas and Rajas types of Ahamkaras lead to the formation of Pancha tanmatra (minute form).


These five factors can be told as atomic level factors. They, under the influence of intellect (Mahat) and ego (Ahamkara) give shape to the five Tanmatras in the form of five basic elements – Pancha Mahabhoota.
These five basic elements are –
Pruthvi – Earth element
Ap – Water element
Tejas – Fire element
Vayu – Air element
Akasha – Space / ether element
All the things in the universe, both living and non-living are made up of these five basic elements. Consider any substance, a stone or a tree or an animal – all the substances are a combination of these five basic elements – Pachamahabhutas.
Read related: Panchamahabhuta: Application, Areas of Utility in Ayurveda treatment

These five basic elements are inert and inactive. Hence, there is an influence of Tamas on them.
These five basic elements, when made into combination, they take various forms and shapes. This is under the influence of Rajas.

Hence, these five elements in minute form (Pancha Tanmatras) and in the macro form (Pancha Mahabhuta) are born out of Tamasika and Rajasika form of Ahamkara.

Out of the three types of Ahamkaras, Tamas and Rajas types of Ahamkaras lead to the formation of Pancha tanmatra (minute form) and Pancha mahabhoota.

Ekadasha Indriya (the 11 organs)

For living beings to exhibit, express themselves and to perceive the external world, they need organs.
To achieve this, the Ahankara (Ego) forms the organs of perception and expression.
They are 11 in number.

Mind (manas) – Mind is the connecting link between sense organs and the intellect. Without the presence of mind, we cannot perceive things.
For example, we may be watching a movie, but if we are thinking about something else, we cannot understand what we are watching.

Mind is a major tool in acquiring knowledge. Knowledge is related to Satvik quality. So, mind arises out of Satvika form of ego (Ahamkara).

The five sense organs (Pancha jnana indriyas) – Ear, skin, eyes, tongue and nose.
Knowledge is related to Satva quality.
These five sense organs are the tools to gain knowledge. Hence, these Jnana Indriyas evolve from the ‘Satva’ aspect of Ahamkara (Satvika Ahamkara).
Read related: Improper Use Of Sense Organs: A Neglected Cause For Diseases

The five organs of action (Pancha karma indriya) – The organs of action are hands, legs, vocal apparatus, uro-genital organs and anus.
These Karma Indriyas are related to action. Action and expression are related with Rajas. Hence, they evolve from ‘Rajas’ aspect of Ahamkara (Rajasika Ahamkara).

Pancha mahabhuta
‘Pancha’ means five, ‘Mahabhuta’ means basic elements. The five basic substances – ether, air, fire, water and earth, evolve from ‘Tamas’ aspect of ‘Ahamkara’.

The above factors –
Avyakta (inexpressible), Mahat, Ahamkara,
11 organs (5 sense organs, 5 motor organs and 1 mind),
5 Tanmatras,
5 Mahabhutas (basic elements)

These 24 factors are explained as the cause of creation of all living beings and the whole universe, by Samkhya Darshana.

Purusha (soul)

It is the 25th extra principle. It possesses the following qualities –
Nirguna – does not possess Satva, Raja or Tama qualities
Nirvikara – does not undergo change
Nirlepa – does not have any connections
Niranjan – does not contain any impurities
Saakshi – it observes the creation (Karya)

The concept of Moksha – Salvation:
Like other major systems of Indian philosophy, Sankhya regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage and suffering. Once it becomes free of this false identification and the material bonds, Moksha ensues.
Read related: Moksha – The Ultimate Spiritual Liberation

Ayurveda and Sankhya Darshana

Similarities between Ayurveda and the philosophies explained in Sankhya Darshana indicate that they are mutually influenced systems of knowledge. Both these systems have similarities regarding the below mentioned theories which confirm the relationship between both these sciences.

Description of Pramana (means of true knowledge) –
Pratyaksha (knowledge through direct perception),
Anumana (knowledge through inference) and
Aptopadesha (knowledge from ancient teachings and treatises) are the testimonials of knowledge. They are means to acquire real knowledge of an object. These concepts have been explained in a similar way in both these sciences.

The types of miseries (Trividha Dukha) –
Sankhya Darshana has explained 3 types of miseries namely
Adhidaivika and
Even in Ayurveda we can find these terms (Sushruta’s classification of diseases). The diseases have grossly been classified under these 3 categories and have explained in similarity with Sankhya Darshana.

Purusha Vivechana (composition and formation of purusha, the human being or inner self) –
Purusha was discriminated in Ayurveda as well as in Sankhya philosophy. Acharya Sushruta has stated ‘Bahavastu Purusha’ while Sankhya Darshana also mentioned ‘Purusha Bahutwam Siddham’.

Parinama Vada (Theory of transformation) –
Parinama Vada or the ‘transformation theory of evolution’ is mentioned in Sankhya philosophy. Similarly, in Ayurveda we can find the explanation of ‘Dhatu Parinama Siddhanta’ theory (theory of tissue conversion and flow of nourishment) corresponding to and in the same lines of Parinama Vada (theory of conversion) of Sankhya Darshana.

Satkarya Vada (Cause and effect relationship in the creation) – 
Ayurveda adopted the theory of Satkarya Vada from Sankhya Darshana. Sankhya Vada means the relationship between Karya (effect) and Karana (cause). According to this theory, the effect is manifested from related cause. Ex, Sesame oil already existed in the sesame seeds; therefore we could extract the oil from the seeds.

Description of Trigunas – three mental qualities –
The Trigunas or 3 vital qualities of cosmic nature, responsible for the creation of the universe are also responsible for the creation of human beings and all life. We have components of the Trigunas (micro-nature) within us. They are Satwa, Rajas and Tamo Gunas. They are explained in Ayurveda on the same lines as explained in Sankhya Darshana.
Read related: Influence Of Ayurveda in Darshanas: Analysis, Explanation

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