Samkhya philosophy comes from ancient India and it describes how the universe was created. From these beginnings developed the energies that inform the healing system of Ayurveda.
The basic essentials of Samkhya philosophy are not that much different from the creation stories of many other spiritual and religious traditions, such as Taoism or Christianity.
For example, in Taoism, we have that original state of “nothingness” (or everything, depending on your perspective) known as “Wuji.” This is “Tao-in-stillness.” From Wuji we get Taiji (or Tai Chi), known as “Tao-in-movement,” which is the spark that creates the contrasting forces of yin and yang, or earth and heaven. From the interplay of yin and yang, we then get the “10,000 things.” (In ancient Taoist cosmology, 10,000 is a number that is a way to represent a very large number or “infinite.”)
In the Genesis chapter of the Bible, God creates “the heavens and the earth” - the yin and the yang. From this foundational contrast, trees, plants, animals, and humans are created.
Samkhya philosophy, like Taoism, posits the existence of an originating “nothingness” or “somethingness,” which in Samkhya is known as “Purusha.” This pure, undifferentiated consciousness is beyond time, beyond space, and simply is. The creative force of Prakriti (sometimes spelled Prakruti) is the source of matter and the material world.
As Prakriti becomes more differentiated and refined, the three major forces or “gunas” manifest in nature. Unlike the more dualistic descriptions of yin vs. yang and heaven vs. earth in Taoism and Christianity, the three gunas interact in a slightly different way. The energies of rajas and tamas are perhaps closest to yang and yin, with rajas the energy of activity and tamas as the energy of inertia, with sattva as the energy of peace and harmony.
Out of tamas we get the five senses that correspond to the five elements: Sound/Ether, Touch/Air, Sight/Fire, Taste/Water, and Smell/Earth. These five elements, Ether (Space), Air, Fire, Water, and Earth, are not literal substances (though they correspond to their namesakes). They are energies or forces that are constantly at play in our lives.
For example, the Water element exemplifies its qualities, such as being moist, cool, heavy, and flowing. Air is of course light and full of movement. Fire is the energy of transformation.
In Ayurveda, these elements combine to form dominant forces that determine a person’s individual constitution or “dosha.” These combinations are:
Air + Ether = Vata
Fire + Water = Pitta
Water + Earth = Kapha
The energies of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha are sometimes described as the cohesive energies that maintain the connections between two elements that might not otherwise be able to maintain connection with each other. This is most obviously seen in Pitta, where it is not immediately obvious how “Fire” and “Water” might combine together.
By understanding the Ayurvedic constitutions (“doshas”) of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha, we can learn practical ways to help support a person’s health and well-being. For example, someone with a Vata constitution will demonstrate a lot of qualities of Air and Ether. This may be expressed through a creative mind, a flighty or variable emotional state, and a tendency towards being “up in the clouds” instead of practical and down to earth.
Using this understanding, we can balance out someone who is expressing too much of a particular energy by cultivating its opposite. For example, for someone who is too “spaced out,” they might need more earthy qualities of heaviness and stability.
Thus, Samkhya philosophy, which at first might seem quite abstract, has very practical applications for health and well-being.