Gita Life

Samkhya Yoga for Beginners: What Soul Knows, What Mind Does

Are you interested in the philosophy of Yoga? Or why Krishna spoke about the Samkhya Yoga in his first teaching in the Bhagavad Gita? Or Ayurveda? Here, we explain the basic principle of the ancient Samkhya Philosophy that is relevant even today.

What do Krishna from the Bhagavad Gita, Patanjali from the Yoga Sutras, and those ancient doctors that made Ayurveda popular have in common?

They all took references from one of the oldest philosophies – the Samkhya Philosophy. And as we read this ancient philosophy today, it is still relevant. So, let’s explore:

What is the Samkhya Philosophy?

It regards the universe as two independent realities

  1. Purusha, which is consciousness or Atman
  2. Prakriti, which is matter.

And how three distinct qualities or Gunas influence every aspect of the material manifestation, including our mind, ego, and intellect. These Gunas are  Sattva (purity), Rajas (passion or energy), and Tamas (darkness or ignorance).

What is the principal doctrine of the Samkhya Philosophy?

It has the same starting point as Buddhist teachings, i.e, life in this world is predominated by suffering. Like Buddhism, it ignores the question of God’s existence; and insists that

We create our world through our state of consciousness and our karma.

Isn’t that simple?

And yes, the world that we live in has a purpose too. It asserts that this world allows the Purusha or the individual soul to gain moksha or nirvana. It regards detachment from the world and the acquisition of realized knowledge as to how the soul can liberate itself.

So, what is this self-realization?

Let’s first understand how this concept of the soul works.

In each lifetime, this soul associates itself with a different combination of the elements, shaped by the Gunas, which makes up its gross body. In other words, the soul resides in our body, which these ancient scholars called – “gross body.”

There is also a subtle body, consisting of the buddhi (intellect), ahamkara (ego), and manas (mind). And this subtle body is closer to the soul than the gross body.

Now here is the best part!

This soul (Purusha), even though it exists with nature (Prakriti), it is not touched or affected by nature. It has nothing to do with life. It is on its own, it is pure, it is powerful, and it is eternal.

Isn’t it beautiful that we have something so pure and powerful within us?

BUT – there is a big but..!

External forces might not touch this Mighty Soul, but they have a significant influence over our mind.

Oh that mind – a beautiful friend or a dangerous enemy?

Let’s first go with the dangerous enemy. This mind is controlled by external elements. And it manipulates our ego. And ego plays a significant role in shaping our intelligence as the inflated ego results in ignorance. Remember all those negative emotions – anger, fear, hatred, prejudice, jealousy, loneliness, extreme desire – all those that make us so miserable come from this “dangerous enemy – our own mind.”

And there is a beautiful friend. This mind controls its temptation for materialistic aspects and remains detached. The ego, too, starts diminishing. And thus, intelligence or wisdom is increased. Remember all those positive emotions – love, happiness, joy, peace, smile, laughter – all those that make us so happy come from this “beautiful friend – our own mind.”

No wonder Buddha understood this philosophy when he said,

The mind is everything. What you think, you become

And that moment when we realize, “Gosh! This mind is everything. What I think, I become.” – that moment is called self-realization (though ancient yogis had a more robust definition than this).  

So self-realization seems easy. Yet, why is it so tough to implement?

The answer is – “That Wicked Mind.” As easy as it is easy to say, who has that ‘magic mantra’ to control the mind?

The founder of the Samkhya philosophy, Sage Kapila, understood this. And he created this sophisticated system explaining 24 elements that influence our mind. This chart from this academic paper very useful.

Introduction to Samkhya Philosophy
Introduction to Samkhya Philosophy
Graphic description of how cognition works according to Samkhya Yoga
Graphic description of how cognition works according to Samkhya Yoga

[And if you want to learn more, we love this infographic]

In some doctrines, you might hear of the 25th and 26th elements too. The inner self is sometimes referred to as the 25th (which is beyond the 24 elements of matter). And in the theistic Samkhya refers to a 26th element, which it identifies as the Supreme Deity.  

Samkhya philosophy says that this mighty Purusha is alone!

Which means, we are on our own!

And we suffer because we fail to recognize that our true identity is not with the elements that comprise our body but with the transcendent inner self.

Based on this illusion, we seek bodily pleasures. However, they never satisfy us because our true identity is not reached by material pleasure.

Oh! here is a fascinating concept of what happens to the soul when the body dies

The soul leaves the gross body, and the moment it happens so, the body starts decaying.

Guess what? The subtle body (mind, ego, intellect) does not change at the time of death. It is acquired by the Purusha when the new world is created and remains as a carrier of the Purusha as it transmigrates to a different gross body.

In short, it is suggesting, our body might die, but our karmas don’t. The soul takes karmas of our current life to the next life. And these karmic results that the soul acquires in this life will have a profound influence on the next life.

Finally, how can we apply this concept in our practical life?

Let’s not worry about rebirths for now. Let’s just focus on how we can be happy and find inner peace in this life.

Clearly, the mind is what is making us sad (or happy). And if we are to believe this concept of soul (or inner consciousness), at least, it is clear that, this soul that we have within us is pure, powerful and peaceful.

If we have something so peaceful within us, let us train our mind to discover it.

And finally,

Do not miss our podcast on the Samkhya Yoga/Philosophy. In this episode, we have focused on Krishna’s first teachings from the Bhagavad Gita, and discussed:

  • How does Krishna take references from the Upanishads and Samkhya Philosophy?
  • Are Upanishads part of the four Vedas that come under Shruti Hindu scripture?
  • What is Samkhya Philosophy? Why was it one of the most popular doctrines in ancient India?
  • A brief introduction to Vedanta philosophy, focusing on Advaita Vedanta philosophy. How is Advaita Vedanta philosophy different from Samkhya philosophy?

In the coming week, we will discuss Karma Yoga.

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Featured Picture Credit: Pixabay, Johnhain


  1. I read in one of Indian school book PURUSHA was added later…initially it focused only on PRAKIRITI.
    If Kapila was the earliest proponent then how can we attribute both elements to him?

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