Sāṃkhya and Tantra
In contemporary yoga and spirituality, many philosophical ideas are floating around, often creating a fair share of confusion in the Worldviews of the practitioners. One problem that People often bring up is the lack of discernment between ideas that originated in early ascetic traditions and classical yoga and beliefs that originated in tantric traditions.
Classical yoga (the yoga of Yoga Sūtra) is grounded in a philosophical school/system/view (darśana) called Sāṃkhya. Which took concrete form through Īśvarakṛṣṇā’s Sāṃkhya-Kārikā in the 3rd – 4th centuries CE and coincides with Buddhist theory (and other śramaṇa traditions) in that it is based on a suffering (duḥkha) that can only be escaped through the knowledge (jñāna) that is real discernment (Viveka).
Sāṃkhya is based on a dualism that sees the eternal and the changing as two incompatible principles. They are named Puruṣa (person) and Prakṛti (nature). Puruṣa is described as the Self, a pure consciousness, which is the witness of all activity that lies in the sphere of objectivity. Prakṛti is all that activity, whether thoughts, perceptions, or physical phenomena, and is described as real, but without self-perception and in constant change.
The puruṣa principle is illusorily bound to nature and experiences the changes in nature as its own but can, by separating itself from or discriminating between itself and nature attain a state of transcendental detachment, which is termed Kaivalya (absolute autonomy, separation), which is the same concepts that the Yoga Sūtra uses to describe yoga. Freedom in this system is thus founded in the ability to separate consciousness from nature, or subject from object.
Sāṃkhya means “numbering”, which refers to the division of reality or consciousness into 25 tattvas (principles/levels). 24 of these levels/principles are associated with Prakṛti, while the 25th; puruṣa stands metaphysically apart from the shifts and changes of nature.
Later philosophical systems, like Śaiva Tantra, would add tattvas, claiming that the highest principle of reality is not puruṣa, but Śiva and that the goal of sādhanā is not separation from prakṛti, but union with Śakti.
Difference between Sāṃkhya and Tantra
In the Sāṃkhya-Kārikā, Puruṣa is described as a lam, without action and creativity, and prakṛti as a blind, consciousness or awareness.
In relation to later Tantric interpretations, we could say that they are Śiva and Śakti in limited form. According to Sāṃkhya’s veṛṣion, Śakti/Prakṛti retains creative power but has lost its ability to self-reflect, while Śiva/Puruṣa retains its consciousness but has lost its potency, its creativity.
The tantric view allows, not only a more devotional approach to the world, the body, and the creativity of your own mind but an altogether different philosophical view.
Poem on Sāṃkhya and Tantra
The 13th-century poet-saint, Jnaneshwar, writes in his poem, Amrit Anubhava: The Nectar of Self-Awareness:
“I offer homage to the God and the Goddess
The infinite parents of the world
The lover out of boundless love has become the beloved
Out of love for each other they merge and part for the joy of being two
From endless time they have lived this way in union and in bliss
Without the goddess, he is not and because of him she exists
Embarrassed by his formlessness and her own graceful form
She adorned him with a universe of myriad names and forms…
It is God alone in every form, the male and the female, Shiva, and Shakti
From the union of these two the universe has come to be
Two lutes, one note
Two lamps, one light
Two eyes, one sight
Two lips, one word
Two hearts, one love
In this way, these two create one universe.
The lover out of boundless love has become the beloved”