Samkhya – Yoga Hinduism

Samkhya - Yoga Hinduism

The Samkhya-Yoga system is one of the oldest Brahmanical traditions of India. Founded by Maharshi Kapil and Maharshi Patanjali, respec­tively, these two schools share a basic ontological structure, with some subtle differences in their treatments of time.

The Samkhya system rests on a dualistic meta­physics, tracing the whole course of the universe to an interplay of two ultimate principles—Purusa and Prakriti. The dichotomy of matter and con­sciousness is expressed by these two terms; Purusa is the unchanging principle of consciousness, whereas Prakriti is the ever-changing principle of matter. The Yoga system shares this metaphysical dualism of Samkhya but whereas the latter is athe­istic, the former is theistic. Both of them, however, deny the Nyaya-Vaisesika view of absolute time.

Time, Causation, and Change

The concept of time in the Samkhya-Yoga system can be grasped only in the framework of their metaphysical thought, along with their theory of causation termed as Satkaryavada. This theory explains the relation between Purusa and Prakriti in a unique way. Everything that is manifest is dependent on a cause. This causal depen­dence shows the contingent character of the objects. It is not possible to posit any entity without a cause. In the Samkhya system the understanding of the manifest as caused leads ultimately to the postulation of Prakiti as the unmanifest, uncaused principle. Prakriti is dynamic; it is matter that evolves ceaselessly. It is the formal, material, and instrumental cause of the world. This Prakriti consists of three qualities, or gunas: sattva, as something illuminating; rajas, as the active component; and tamas, as the restraining forces. These three gunas, through mutual cooperation, create this objective world.

The Samkhya-Karika of Isvarakrisna contains a detailed discussion regarding the change and origination of the 25 categories, but what is inter­esting is that nowhere is time recognized as a separate category of existence (tattva). In fact, time is taken as an aspect of concrete becoming. The Samkhya system does not recognize any con­ception of time as independent of change. Change is not understood in abstraction, but as a concrete becoming.

The Samkhya recognizes that the principle of change is ultimate, and so this principle cannot be derived from any fixed principle. The heteroge­neous categories of creation with all its varied aspects presuppose always a primordial move­ment that remains even in the state of cosmic dis­solution. It is because of the interplay of the gunas (qualities) that Prakriti is always in motion. In his Samkhya Karika, Vacaspati Mistra, the famous commentator, remarks on this ever-changing nature of Prakriti. There are two types of mani­festations of Prakriti, Sadrisaparinama (homoge­neous manifestation) and Visadrisaparinama (heterogeneous manifestation). Though no unique object arises from the homogeneous manifesta­tions of the gunas, as they do not mix with one another, yet the process of self-production that is sattva giving rise to sattva, raja giving rise to raja, and so on, continues. The gunas never remain unmodified, even for a moment, as the very char­acteristic of the gunas is dynamicity. Creation of varied objects is possible due to the heterogeneous movements of Prakriti. This unceasing, ever-active nature of Prakriti points to the principle of change. And this principle of change is nothing but time. Some scholars, such as Madhavacharya in his commentary on Parasara Samhita, have charac­terized Prakriti as the very personification of time.

Here it may be asked whether the process of change is enough to account for time-experience. The Samkhya replies in the positive. Time­experience is totally dependent on the duality of Purusa (consciousness) and Prakriti (matter).

This system rejects the idea of time as a recep­tacle, advocated by the Nyaya-Vaisesika philoso­phers. Here the process of becoming as a movement from the potential to the actual is identical with the causal process. The notion of empty time is rejected as merely a thought construction. In other words, the reality of change does not necessarily imply a conception of time apart from the chang­ing material.

In Samkhya Karika, Vacaspati Misra observes that it is not necessary to postulate an absolute time for the explanation of action, solar motion, and so on. The temporal phases can be explained with reference to the creative movements of Prakriti.

The concept of concrete becoming is primary. In the state of cosmic dissolution, Prakriti is to be taken not only as a principle of unconscious matter but also as the principle of time itself in its tran­scendental aspect. In the conception of dynamic Prakriti, the Samkhya system combines both time and matter in the same principle.

Vijnanabhiksu, a noted Samkhya commentator of the 16th century, advocates a different view. In his Samkhya Pravacana Bhasya, he maintains that time is nothing apart from the ubiquitous ether or akasa, which is an evaluate of Prakriti. Limited space and time are ether or akasa itself perceived as space and time by limiting adjuncts. The same limiting adjuncts, which are said to account for time-divisions, can do so with reference to akasa, making it unnecessary to postulate time as a sepa­rate ubiquitous substance called time. Aniruddha, another noted Samkhya commentator, in his Samkhya-Sutra Vritti, also advocates that limited time and limited space are really ether (akasa) con­ditioned by upadhis (limiting adjuncts) and hence are included in the unified entity of the ether.

In fact, when Vijnanabhikshu consigns the sta­tus of space and time to the level of Prakriti itself, he is merely pushing the realistic dualism of the Samkhya to its logical limit. In the Samkhya sys­tem, Prakriti is taken as the rootless root of all, and this is the reason for including everything, even time, as part of Nature or Prakriti itself.

In the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, time is seen as instant. The Yoga school shares the basic onto­logical structure of the Samkhya. The Yoga sys­tem develops its specific stand on the reality of the instant (ksana) and the merely subjective con­struction of sequence (krama).

“Sequence” or krama is the temporal succes­sion of forms of the same object. This sequence is broken up into infinitely short instants (ksana). If the flow of time were absolutely continuous, no change could ever happen. But at each moment in time, a subtle, imperceptible change takes place; this imperceptible change is perceptible only to the Yogin, and it is the accumulated effect of these minute changes of which common people become aware. This theory has its modern parallel in the conception of time not only as objective and rela­tive but also as a continuous phenomenon.

The Yoga-Sutra focuses on the three modes of immanent change as the dharma parinama, lak- shana parinama, and avastha-parinama. The Yoga system, like Samkhya, holds that change is inces­sant in the dynamic Prakriti—the ultimate substance, or dharma. When the change is perceptible as a charge of guna (quality) in an object, it is called dharma-parinama. Laksana parinama directly involves the notion of temporal phases (past, pres­ent, and future). The potential is the future state, the manifested is the present, and what has hap­pened is the past phase of the thing. Avasta- parinama is that aspect of change that deals with the notion of new and old. This can be explained with an example. An earthen jug is made from a lump of clay. The change of quality through the different stages of the processing of the clay consti­tutes its dharma-parinama. When it is said that the clay that is at present transformed into a jug was in its past only a lump, it refers to the laksana-pari- nama. This jug, whether new or old, is known as avastha-parinama. The clay remains the same, though the shape changes. This theory of change of the yoga system coheres perfectly with the Samkhya Yoga metaphysical framework. The point that emerges here is that the main substance (dharmin) remains the same throughout the three stages of past, present, and future, and the temporal changes are ascribed to the external aspects or qualities of the substance. How does this change in time occur? This is answered by the third type of change, that of the avastha (condition) of a thing. Time is a suc­cession of individual moments that imperceptibly alter the condition of the jug; this is the well-known process of decay or aging.

If we substitute consciousness for clay in the above example, we find that emergence and restriction are the forms or dharma of conscious­ness, each being connected with the three seg­ments of time—past, present, and future—and experiencing its own growth and decay.

The concept of instant (ksana) plays a very important role in this system. As discussed earlier, the concept of time is explained as instant here. The Yoga Bhasya, a notable commentary on the Yoga-Sutra by Vyasa, holds that the whole uni­verse undergoes change in a single moment. It is said that just as the atom is the minimal position of matter, so the moment is the minimal duration taken by an atom to change its position.

In the Yoga metaphysical structure, a discrete view of time is advocated, over against the con­cept of time as unitary and as an independent category of existence. This system holds that the idea of time as instant is objectively real, but the idea of time as duration, (e.g., day, month, year) is a mental construct. These are ideal representa­tions. In the Yoga-Bhasya, the idea of the reality of instant is recognized. In fact, the idea of time as a continuum or as a substance is unreal for yoga. Time is vastu-sunya (unreal) as a substance but time as instant is real (vastu-patita). According to the Yoga system, the idea of sequence can be formed only when two moments exist simultane­ously. But in reality, two moments cannot and do not occur other than successively. What we expe­rience is always the present, because the past (ear­lier) and the future (later) moments have no objective reality. In the Yoga-Sutra, Vyasa clearly states that the moment is real, and that the idea of a unitary objective time, whether as a collection of moments or as an objective series, is a subjective representation.

Being and Becoming

The idea of time as instant does not hold true of being. In this system, being is not instantaneous. As it was remarked earlier, the substance or being remains the same, persisting through the changes. In the Yoga system, the concept of becoming pre­supposes the substratum of Prakriti that continues and supports the process of evolution. Not only that, in the Yoga system, the root nature of con­sciousness is unchanging and unchangeable. The Yoga system recognizes the self as timeless.


From the perspective of philosophy of language, the concept of time plays a distinctive role in the Yoga system. Patanjali in his Mahabhasya points out that time is the basis for the tense distinctions of verbs. Here a very pertinent question arises: What accounts for the tense distinctions of verbs? Despite the same verbal root, a word may be used in various ways in the sense of past, present, and future. An analysis of the nature of verbs is always associated with the concept of time. In the Mahabhasya of Patanjali one comes across the idea of time as that in association with which bod­ies grow and decay. Furthermore, the concepts of day and night are described as possible due to the movement of the sun in connection with time.

From the above discussion, it becomes clear that though the Samkhya-Yoga systems share a basic common metaphysical structure, their treatments of the concept of time are not similar. Both of them reject the concept of absolute time, yet in dealing with time, the Samkhya system accepts Prakriti as time personified, whereas the yoga philosophy explicitly advocates a discrete view of time.

Following Professor K. C. Bhattacharya, an eminent Indian philosopher, an explanation of the above fact may be given. It is true that in both the systems time is not admitted as a separate tattva, or category. Time in both is concrete becoming, and this becoming is not an event in time. Here becoming, or Parinama, may be understood as the cause turning up its own limitation or as the lim­ited effect having got manifested. In the former view, the real objective fact is the act of the cause, its act of production, the succession of cause and effect being only a retrospective construction. In the latter view, the real fact is the antecedence of the cause to the effect, the prior becoming of the effect, but the causal act as the initial moment of this becoming is but an abstraction. Therefore to Yoga that presents the former conception, time is real as the causal act, the initial moment of this becoming. To Samkhya, the effect being preexis­tent in the cause is never turned up, so that the time relation of sequence alone is real time.

In conclusion, it may be said in the Samkhya- Yoga system the notion of time is beautifully illus­trated through Nature, or Prakriti, in its undifferentiated, transcendental state and its dif­ferentiated, multiform condition. The reality of time is the reality of the ever self-modifying pri­mary substance.

Debika Saha

See also Becoming and Being; Causality; Change; Consciousness; Duration; Hinduism, Mimamsa- Vedanta; Hinduism, Nyaya-Vaisesika; Materialism; Metaphysics; Ontology

Further Readings

Bhattacharya, K. C. (1956). Studies in philosophy

(Vol. 1). Calcutta: Motilal Books.

Dasgupta S. N. (1974). Yoga philosophy. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarasidas.

Feuerstein, G. (1989). The yoga-sutra of Patanjali: A new translation and commentary. Rochester, VT: Inner Traditions.

Sinha, B. M. (1983). Time and temporality in Samkhya- yoga and Abhidharma Buddhism. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal.

What do you think?

Nyaya - Vaisesika Hinduism

Nyaya – Vaisesika Hinduism

Alternative Histories

Alternative Histories