Around 2-300 AD Samkhya emerged as various philosophical doctrines in discussions with the Buddhists (Collins 1998). One version of Samkhya later became recognised as a canon – Samkhya-karika. It was written by Ishvarakrishna (350-450AD). He formulated it as a systematic philosophy by compiling previous fragments of doctrines. Samkhya means the philosophy of enumerationâ as it put up lists of concepts, which were broken down into further new lists. Basically it was an ontological philosophy (like the first Greek philosophy) enquiring into the fundamentals of being. It answered the puzzle of what is pure existence behind multitude and forms?â It envisaged the universe evolving from a single principle called prakriti. Prakriti evolved into a number of fundamental principles, underlying and configuring the entire universe including the human mind. Having grasped this, according to Samkhya, the knowing subject – now understanding the configuration of his own mind – would achieve liberation.
In opposition to Vedanta, Samkhya is a dualist ontology stating that the world was fundamentally divided into two principles, which had nothing to do with each other. On one side was prakriti, which was the whole universe – all matter including mind. So prakriti should not be confused with Western matter’ – it is more than that.
As any colour can be broken down into a specific combination of Red, Yellow and Blue, so prakriti – mind and matter – combined three fundamental principles – the three gunas. In prakriti’s initial and undifferentiated state, the three gunas – or energy forms – were in absolute equilibrium.