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Saturday, May 4, 2019

Samkhya System for the 21st Century



I have always respected tradition. I have also learnt not to get stuck with tradition without updating. Our ancestors deserve our respect for the ideas they developed. At the same time, we need to check those ideas against current knowledge and reality. If they do not agree, we should be bold enough to let go of them or change them. That is what Buddha said, 2,500 years back. That is what Adi Sankara said 1,000 years back.

With that central idea in my mind, I wrote an essay on how to read ancient texts (www.timeforthought. net. June 2011). Now, I am trying to look at the Samkhya philosophy with a 21st century mind.

Samkhya philosophy is probably the first known attempt to answer fundamental questions of the human mind such as “How did this universe come about?” and “How did the one original source become many?” The author was Sage Kapila. His original was in the form of sutras or terse, short passages. When these simple sentences were interpreted differently by different people, a whole variety of philosophical schools came into existence.

I give you my version. I am not interpreting the old Samkhya. I am recreating it using the same line of thought as that of Sage Kapila.  But my outline is consistent with modern physics and biology, I hope. It is also consistent with both Hindu and Buddhist philosophies. 


1.       How did this Universe come about? What are the fundamentals of Nature?

2.       There seems to be 5 root elements – matter, energy, time, space and knowledge (Information or code)

3.       Modifications of these fundamentals are multitudinous.

4.       Aggregation and disaggregation of matter in space and time give rise to physical forms. We give names to those forms.

5.       Manifestations are due to unfolding of information/codes in the elements and their aggregates over time.

6.       When causes and conditions are ripe, “forms” manifest; when the causes and conditions are no more, they disaggregate and become part of Nature again.

7.       Life Force enters later.

8.       We do not know what Life is and why it appeared. It is the ultimate mystery.

9.       Human awareness is dependent on a body with life and a functioning brain.

10.   Memory followed by will and ownership (ego) impel action.

11.   All these are functions of the brain and known as the mind.

12.   A basic awareness is essential before all the other functions of the mind can manifest in that awareness.

13.   Life force is needed for awareness.

14.   Life tends to cling to life. It is driven by a need to preserve itself, escape danger and reproduce.

15.   Life’s realities are an end to life as an individual and loneliness.

16.   False hope is in clinging to this life.

17.   Forms appear, exist, grow, decay and disappear.

18.   There is transformation, all the time, but no death. Something cannot become nothing.

19.   Satisfaction is in realizing the impermanence of individual life and recognition of the similarities of needs of other lives.

20.   Humility is needed in the face of our ignorance of life and its impermanence.

21.   Compassion is needed in relating to the condition of all lives.

22.   Universe is a projection of matter and energy in space and time as experienced by human awareness.

23.   At the same time, they are real, not imaginary.

24.   Spiritual Ignorance and bondage are due to overemphasis on the individual existence and non-recognition of the universal realities.

25.   Peace and Wisdom can be had here and now with humility, compassion and detachment without disengagement.


I am sure you want to know what the original Samkhya text says. That will be summarized in the next post. 

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