Prakriti: Brief Details about Prakriti (According to Samkhya Philosophers)

Prakriti: Brief Details about  Prakriti (according to Samkhya philosophers)!

It is on their theory of causation that the Samkhya philosophers deduced Prakriti as the ultimate cause of the universe.

Everything except Prakriti has a cause. Prakriti is the first cause. It precedes creation. All the effects of the universe are based and depend upon it.

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It is the first element of the universe, and is therefore called ‘pradhana’. Lokacharya writes that it is called Prakriti because it causes all the distortions. It is called ‘avidya’ because it contradicts knowledge. It is called ‘Maya’ because it evolves the varied creation.

Prakriti is very subtle and invisible. It may be inferred only from its creations. For this reason, prakriti is also known as ‘anuma’. In the form of the unconscious element, it is called jada; in the form of unlimited but always active force it is called ‘Shakti’; while in the form of the unmanifested objects it is called ‘avyakta’ or unexpressed.

The First Cause:

According to Samkhya philosophy, the entire universe is composed of objects which are effects and have their origin in material causes. Universe is a flow of causes and effects. Hence, it also must have a first cause. This fundamental cause cannot be the self because the self is neither a cause nor an effect.

Besides, the nature of self contradicts the nature of objects found in the universe. According to the Charvaka, Buddhist, Jaina and Nyaya Vaisesika philosophers, the universe is composed of the atoms of earth, water, fire and air. It is the contention of the Samkhya that subtle elements such as mind, intelligence and ahamkara or ego cannot have their origin in these physical elements. The cause of the universe should be such that, even though it is physical, it should be as subtle and in­finitesimal as possible.


It should have no beginning and no end. It .should be able to give rise to all the entities. All these characteristics may be found only in Prakriti. Hence, Prakriti is the fundamental or first cause of all the objects of the world. It is eternal and absolute, because a relative and non-eternal element cannot be the fundamental cause of the world. It is a profound, inexhaustible and microscopic power or energy.

Distinctions between Prakriti and objects:

Objects which have their origin in Prakriti are effect—dependent, relative, many and non-eternal, because they are born and they die, are created and destroyed. Prakriti, on the other hand, is unborn, independent, absolute, one, eternal, and beyond creation and destruction. Objects are limited within the space-time continuum, but Prakriti has no beginning and no end. Being extremely microscopic, Prakriti is imperceptible and unmanifest.

It is inferred from the Objects which originate in it. Motion is present in it in the form of rajas. Objects are manifest while Prakriti is unmanifest. Objects are composite, Prakriti has no parts. Since no effects can result without a cause that which is the cause of all the objects of the universe is Prakriti or pradhana. Being very subtle it is not perceptible.

Iswara Krisna greets Prakriti by saying that we ador E Prakriti which is unborn, red, white and black, the mother of all, the benefactor or nourisher of all, and that which sustains the entire multitude. According to Vyasa, Prakriti is that which is both is and is not, which does not have existence, in which there is no non-existence, which is unmanifest, partless and pradhana.


Prakriti is not so much existence as it is energy. We are not acquainted with Prakriti and the real nature of its qualities since our knowledge is limited only to the objective existence of the universe. It has neither touch nor sound. From the practical viewpoint, it is no more than a name. Nevertheless, the fact of its existence is the absolute truth and it is known by inference on the basis of objects of the universe.

Proofs for the existence of Prakriti:

In order to establish the existence of Prakriti, proofs have been adduced in the following verse in Samkhya Karika:

They are explained below—

1. Bhedanam Parimanat:

All the objects of the world are limited, dependent, relative and have an end. Hence the cause which creates them should be unlimited, independent, absolute and unending. Such a cause is the Prakriti.

2. Bhedanam Samanvayat:

The objects of the world possess sonic common qualities in spite of being different and due to this homogeneity they arouse pleasure, pain or indifference. Hence, there should be a general cause which, being possessed of all the three qualities and being the sole cause in which all the objects of the world originate, may tie them in a common string and which may synthesize or which itself is possessed of one uniform nature. Such a cause is Prakriti.

3. Karyatah pravrtescha:

All effects arise out of cause in which they were present in umnanifest form. Evolution means the manifestation of that which is involved. The energy which cause evolution in the universe should be involved in the cause of the universe. The cause is Prakriti.

4. Karana-karya vibhagata:

Cause and effect are distinct from each other. The elements or objects are distinguished -on the basis of cause and effect e.g., mahat is the cause and ahamkara is its effect. Effect is the explicit cause and cause is the implicit effect. Every cause has its effect. Thus, the universe must also have a cause in which the entire universe lies unmanifest. This is the unmanifest Prakriti.

5. Avibhagat Vaishvarupasya:

Samkhya philosophers have accepted an identity between cause and effect. While going from the present into the past, the effect loses its identity in the cause. In this process every effect proceeds backward and is dissolved in its cause. In this way, in order that complete identity or homogeneity may be maintained in the universe, the mahata should also be dissolved in its cause. Hence, the unmanifest is that in which all the effects dissolve and the universe appears undifferentiated.

Gunas of Prakriti:

According to Samkhya, the state of equilibrium of saliva, rajas and tamas is called prakriti. Thus saliva, rajas and tamas are the three gunas in prakirti. The word guna has three meanings in Sanskrit viz., quality, strand of rope, and secondary. The gunas of prakriti are not qualities but substances. On analysis, prakriti is found to contain three kinds of substances.

These are the three constituent elements. These fundamental substances are the material elements of prakriti. They are called gunas also because they bind the purusa by intertwining together like the strands of a rope. Besides, their name derives also from the fact that they are of secondary help to the purusa in his effort to achieve his end, liberation.

Relationship of the Gunas:

Sattva is believed to be white, rajas or rajoguna to be red and tamoguna or tamas to be black. These three gunas both contradict each other as well as co-operate with each other. None of them exists alone or is capable of existing alone. These three constituent elements are present in all the objects of the world in the same way in which fire and oil, though of mutually destructive or contradic­tory natures, help in giving light.

Among them each guna tries to dominate the other two, and in any object, its nature corresponds to the guna which is the most dominant of the three in the object. The other two constituent elements also continue to exist in the object but they now assume secondary importance.

It is due to these three qualities that all the objects of the world are divided into desirable, undesirable and indifferent. These three constituent elements are continually changing. They cannot remain pure for a single moment because of distortion which is their nature.

Svarupa and virupa transformation:

There are two kinds of transformations that occur in the gunas—svarupa and virupa. In the state of dissolution, every element is drawn into itself, away from its other counterparts, and becomes stable. It is changed into the homogeneous. In this way, sattva changes into sattva, rajas into rajas and tamas into tamas. This transformation is called svarupa transformation.

Being each by itself, none of the gunas can do anything. This state of equilibrium exists before creation. In the stale of equilibrium, the gunas exist in the form of unmanifest groups in which there is no transformation, no object and none of the qualities such as sound, touch, form, taste and smell.

This is the Prakriti of Samkhya. In creation, and till the stage of dissolution sets in, the gunas are in a state of constant flux and each tries to dominate the others. It is this flux of gunas that results in the formation of various objects. This kind of transformation is called virupa transformation and is changed into the heterogeneous. This causes creation.


(1) Samkhya philosophers have described Prakriti as independent and ab­solute but it does not appear to be so from the account given of it in the Samkhya texts. It has three attributes and hence the attributeless self is distinct from it. Prakriti is dependent upon the self or purusa.

Without the influence of the purusa, Prakriti cannot evolve the universe, even though that influence may consist in mere proximity. The Prakriti creates and evolves only for the purusa. When the purusa comes to know it, the Prakriti vanishes. In this way, it is better to rename Prakriti as ignorance or absence of knowledge. It cannot be absolute and independent.

(2) Prakriti has been characterized as personal by Samkhya. There are a number of sentences strewn about in texts of Samkhya philosophy showing Prakriti to be personal. She is like a dancer. She is like a woman. She has superlative qualities. She is benevolent and serves the purusa with detachment.

Thus, she is completely selfless. She is very delicate and withdrawing and cannot stand the stare of the purusa. She has the colours of the rainbow and tries to attract the purusa. In this way, prakriti reflects the personality of a woman, and therefore cannot be the first cause of the universe.

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