Purusa: The Nature of Purusa According to the Samkhya Philosophy

Read this article to learn about the nature of Purusa according to the Samkhya philosophy!

Besides prakriti, another eternal reality of the Samkhya philosophy is purusa or self. Purusa is the self, subject and knower.

It is neither the body, nor the mind, neither ego more intellect. It is not the substance which has the quality of conscious­ness. It is itself pure consciousness. It is the basis of all knowledge and is the supreme knower.

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It cannot be the object of knowledge. It is the observer, eternally free, the impartial spectator and peaceful. It is beyond the space-time continuum, change and activity. It is self enlightened and self-proved. It is all pervading, formless and eternal. Its existence cannot be doubted because in its absence, all knowledge and even doubt is not possible. It has been described as, devoid of the three gunas, negative, inactive, solitary witness, observer, knower and of the nature of illumination.

Unlike the Vedanta philosophy, Samkhya does not believe the self to be of the nature of bliss or Anada. According to it, bliss and consciousness are different. The purusa is of the nature of pure consciousness and hence beyond the limits of Prakriti It is inactive and free from distortions. Its objects change but it itself never changes. It is above self-arrogance, aversion and attachment Action, result, pleasure, pain, etc., are the characteristics of prakrti and its distortions.

Proof of the existence of purusa:

The following arguments have been adduced m the Samkhya Karika to prove the existence of pursusa:

These may be explained as follows:

(1) Sanghata Pararthatvat:


All composed objects are meant for someone else. The unconscious prakriti cannot make use of them, hence all these substances are for purusa or self. The body, sense organs, mind and intellect are only the tools of the purusa. The three gunas, prakriti and the subtle body, all serve the purpose of the purusa. Evolution is teleological. Its purpose is to work for the purusa. It is only in order that the purusa may achieve its purpose that prakriti manifests itself in the form of the universe.

(2) Trigunadi Viparyayata:

All substances are composed of three gunas. Hence, it is necessary for the purusa also to coexist. Purusa is the witness of these gunas and is himself beyond them. The things composed of the three gunas prove the existence of the purusa who is not made of the three gunas and is beyond them.

(3) Adhisthanat:

There should be a pure consciousness, which is beyond experience and which is capable of synthesizing, of creating harmony among all the experiences. All knowledge depends upon the knower. Purusa is the substratum of all practical knowledge. He must be present in all kinds of affirmations and negations. There can be no experience without him.

(4) Bhoktribhavat:

Unconscious prakrti cannot make use of its own creations. A conscious element is needed to make use of them. Prakriti is the one to be enjoyed, hence there must be someone to enjoy it. All the objects of the world create either pain or pleasure or indifference, but there must be some conscious element to experience these three types of feelings. This establishes the existence of purusa or self.

(5) Kaivalyarth Pravritteh:


In the world there are many individuals who endeavour to gain freedom from the pains and displeasures of the world. For the desires of salvation to exist, persons are needed who may wish for salvation and make effort to attain it. For there to be any prayer, there must be someone to pray. Hence, it is necessary to accept the existence of the purusa.

Plurality of Selves:

In contradiction to Advaita Vedanta and in agreement with the Jaina and the Mimamsa philosophies, Samkhya philosophy accepts the plurality of selves. In their fundamental essence, these selves are identical but they are many in number. Their essence is consciousness which is the same in all souls.

Proof of the Plurality of Selves:

The following arguments are given by the Samkhya Karika to prove the pluralistic concept of selves:

(1) Janana-marana Karananam Pratiniyamat:

The birth, death and sensory activity of all individual beings is different. One is blind while another has two eyes. This difference is possible only when there is more than one should or purusa.

If there were no more than one purusa then all would have died when one died, and all would have been blinded when one became so. But such is not the experience of every life, hence there is a plurality of selves.

(2) Ayugapat Pravritescha:

All Individuals are not possessed of the same tendencies. A different tendency is to be found in every different individual. Even in the same individual one may find a positive tendency at a particular moment and a negative tendency at another. In this way, the failure to find a concurrence of tendencies leads to the conclusion that there are many purposes. If there were only one purusa then all beings should have been possessed with the same single tendency at one time.

(3) Traigunyaviparyayat:

But every individual in the world is found to have different combinations of the three gunas. Every object in the world contains sattva, rajas and tamas, the three gunas. Still one individual is sattvic, another rajasic and yet another tamasic. Those who are sattvic have peace, light and pleasure.

Those who are rajasic or have a preponderance of rajas, have pain, attachment. If there were only one purusa then all would have been sattvic, rajasic or tamasic. But such does not appear to be the case. Hence, there are many selves.


Samkhya has time and again confused the worldly being with the unqualified witness or purusa. Samkhya has given ample evidence of the truly spiritual outlook in describing the soul as pure consciousness, as the basis of knowledge, as other than three gunas, as witness, as inactive, as self-evident, a invisible and absolute.

But the proofs it has adduced to prove the existence of the purusa are applied to the practical, psychological being and not to the spiritual soul. How can the spiritual self be many and the recipient of experience?

If the true existence of the universe as well as the eternally independent and free nature of the soul have to be postulated simultaneously, then actually, two types of purusas, the transcendental and the empirical, will have to be postulated.

Dualism of Samkhya:

The Samkhya philosophy is dualistic. According to it, prakriti and purusa are of entirely contradictory natures, as is also evident from the foregoing description of their nature. Prakriti and purusa are completely independent and absolute.

Evolution and distortion in the Constitution elements take place as soon as the Purusa comes into close proximity with Prakriti. But the purusa never gels tied down or attached to the universe because he is eternally free. In this way, although the Samkhya philosophy has made conceited efforts to establish some sort of relation between these two, it has failed to resolve their dualism.

By utilizing the classic example of the blind and the lame, the Samkhya has tried to establish some relation between Prakriti and Purusa, simultaneously maintaining their dualism intact. According to the Samkhya, just as the tree bears fruits, or water flows because of the slope of surface, or the pieces of iron are attracted by the magnet, or milk flows from the udders of the cow for nourishment of its young, similarly prakriti evolves for the purusa.

But the arguments put forward by the Samkhyas ar not logical. Not one of the examples given above suitably fits i with or illustrates the relation between prakriti and purusa. Samkhya has remarked correctly that purusa being inactive and prakriti being unconscious, no third element can bring about any conjunction between them.

Actually, both Prakriti and Purusa appear to be abstractions taken from the concrete reality. For purposes of intellectual consideration, it is permissible to separate Prakriti and Purusa, the conscious and the material elements. But in doing this, sight should not be lost of the fact that this division is merely for the purpose and facility of thought and in the real sense there is only one absolute and eternal reality. In this way, the dualism of Samkhya is merely imaginary and in philosophy it cannot be accepted as the ultimate truth.

The following objections have been levelled at the relation between prakriti and purusa as conceived by the Samkhya:

1. The purpose behind the relation between prakriti and purusa is inadequate. If this purpose is liberation, then there should be no creation after dissolution. For both liberation and experience to be the purpose simultaneously is contradictory. And if neither of the two is the purpose, then what is the purpose?

2. Not a single example adduced by the Samkhya philosophy clearly depicts the nature of the relation between prakriti and purusa. The example of the lame man and the blind man is inappropriate because in that case both the lame man and the blind man are conscious.

The example of iron and magnet is also wrong because if prakriti is attracted to the purusa by the mere fact of its nearness, then dissolution can never take place and so liberation will be impossible. For, in that case, who will separate prakriti from purusa?

The state of equilibrium at Prakriti will also not be attained. In this way, in Samkhya philosophy, neither is the relation between prakrti and purusa clarified nor does there appear to be any cause of this relation. Actually, any relation between the two can be established only-when the two are regarded as two forms of one ultimate element. The dualism of Samkhya can be appropriate only in a monistic background.

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