Samkhya Karika

Samkhya Karika is the earliest surviving text of the Samkhya school of philosophy, which is one of the six orthodox schools of Indian philosophy.
The exact date of composition is not known, but because of earlier, traceable translations the date is said to be before 350 CE.


The authorship is attributed to Ishvara Krishna, who describes himself as a successor of the disciples of Kapila, who was the founder of Samkhya.
Samkhya itself forms the basis of many systems to follow, including Buddhism, Jainism and later Patanjalis Yoga.


Patanjals Yoga Sutras are now quite well known among yoga students and teachers. However, it is clear few understand that Patanjali was heavily influenced by Samkhya. Understanding Samkhya philosophy takes the knowledge of Yoga teachers to a new level of awareness.


The term Yoga today has moved a long way from its origins. Most classes revolve around a stylised form of Yoga Asana, which dilutes the power of Yoga and reduces it to an exercise program. Classes are led by teachers who don’t really understand Yoga, and so it is diminished to the level of the lowest common denominator.    

As Teachers we have a duty to deepen our knowledge of Yoga. Studying Samkhya reveals the essence of Yoga.  


Samkhya is an empirical system that delvers answers to life’s big questions. It is not a belief system but looks for verifiable proof, through Direct Perception, Valid Testimony and Inference.


Samkhya provides a model of existence which shows 25 elements, that evolve out of each other. Understanding this model helps make sense of our Yoga Practice. Just as the eight limbs of Yoga begins with the outer gross elements of life, and becoming progressively more subtle, so does Samkhya.      

Samkhya Karika
Samkhya Karika


The 25 elements begin with source of Purusha and Prakriti, from which everything else evolves. Purusha-consciousness or the unchanging truth, and Prakriti-nature or all potential. Prakriti is then divided into the three qualities of

  1. Rajas-momentum
  2. Tamas-inertia
  3. Satva-balance          

From Prakriti then evolves the three elements of the mind

  1. Buddhi-the discriminator
  2. Ahamkara-ego
  3. Manas-connects consciousness to the outer world through the senses  

Then follows 20 more elements of:

The Jnanendriyas (five sense organs)

  1. Ears
  2. Skin
  3. Eyes
  4. Tongue
  5. Nose

The karmendriyas (organs of action)

  1. Mouth
  2. Hands
  3. Legs
  4. Excretory Organs
  5. Reproductive Organs

The Tanmatras (subtle elements)

  1. Sound
  2. Touch
  3. Vision
  4. Taste
  5. Smell

Leading to the 5 gross elements or building blocks of nature

  1. Space
  2. Air
  3. Fire
  4. Water
  5. Earth


The practice of Yoga will develop a balance between the opposing forces of action and inertia, leading to equity. A body which is healthy and strong allows the practitioner to turn their attention inwards. Pranayama calms the nervous system and paves the way for training the mind for the deeper practice of meditation.

Martin Thompson.