Ayurvedic Philosophy

Ayurvedic Philosophy

Classical Ayurveda and Yoga are both based upon the Sankhya (or Samkhya) school of Vedic Philosophy originally taught by the sage Kapila. Sankhya is one of the six classical schools of Indian philosophy called the Shad Darshan. San means truth and Khya means to know; it is a philosophy to understand the truth of life.

Sankhya’s theory of evolution is based on 24 cosmic principles (or Tattvas) to explain all processes in the universe – manifest and unmanifest.

24 Principles of Creation


Purusha is the ultimate truth, pure consciousness, supreme intelligence, the witness of creation. It forms the foundation for the 24 principles of creation and transcends them all. It is beyond time and space with no qualities, form, beginning or end. Within us, it is our higher self (Atman); it is our silent observer.  The goal of Ayurveda is to connect our body and mind with Purusha, the true source of happiness and well-being.

Purusha has a desire to experience itself which it does through prakruti,the creative force behind everything in the universe.

1.    Prakruti – primordial will, matter and energy; creative potential and force behind the universe. The first power of action causes the manifestation of Prakruti.

2.    Mahad (Mahat) and Buddhi – Mahad is universal Intelligence, the great laws and principles that govern life; and Buddhi is individual intelligence, our inner wisdom that enables us to know right from wrong, real from unreal and eternal from transient.

3.   Ahamkarathe ego, the feeling of “I am”. Our Ahamkara is a series of
thoughts, not a separate identity.  It creates the illusion that we are separate from
pure consciousness (Purusha). The attachment caused by ego is the
main cause of suffering in the world.

4.    Manas (Mind) – conditional mind. Mana is the formulating principle of emotion,
sensation and imagination. Manas arises from the sattvic and rajasic qualities of Ahamkara. It possesses sattva (the power of illumination) which works through the sense organs, but also rajas (the capacity for action) which works through the motor organs.

These four principles – Prakruti, Mahad and Buddhi, Ahamkara and Manas – make up the subjective aspect of creation. Every person has an individual nature, an intelligence, ego and a sense of mind.

The Gunas (Qualities)

Prakruti has three main, universal qualities, or gunas, which pervade all of creation. They are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas.

  • Sattva – pure essence of light, right action and, spiritual purpose
  • Rajas –  principle of movement that initiates change; stimulating or positive force
  • Tamas – inertia, darkness, confusion; the passive, negative force that sustains previous activity

From the Gunas come the:

  • five sense faculties – hearing, touch, vision, taste, smell
  • five faculties of action – speech, grasping, walking, procreation, elimination
  • mind (manas) – faculty of cognition and action
  • five objects of sensory perception (Tanmatras) – sound, touch, form, taste, ordor
  • five elements  – ether, air, fire, water, earth

The Interaction of Sattva and Rajas forms the manas, the five sense faculties and the five faculties of action. While the interacion of Tamas and Rajas forms the five objects of sensory perception and the five elements.

Five Sense Faculties (Jnanendriya)

From Sattva arise the five sense organs which are receptive, not expressive. Their activity occurs through the corresponding organs of action.

5.    Hearing – ears, sense organ of sound, connected to ether
6.    Touch – skin, sense organ of touch, connected to air
7.    Vision – eyes, sense organ of sight, connected to fire
8.    Taste – tongue, sense organ of taste, connected to water
9.    Smell – nose, sense organ of smell, connected to earth

Five Faculties of Action (Karmendriya)

From Rajas arise the five motor faculties.

10.   Speech – mouth (expression), corresponds to hearing and ether
11.   Grasping – hands (grasping), corresponds to touch and air
12.   Walking – feet (motion), corresponds to vision and fire
13.   Procreation – penis/vagina, corresponds to taste and water
14.   Elimination – anus, corresponds to smell and earth

Five Objects of Sensory Perception (Tanmatras)

They are the five senses that allow us to connect the five sense organs with objects of experience. They are the subtle forms of the five elements of ether, air, fire, water and earth.

15.   Sound (Shabda)  – ether
16.   Touch (Sparsha) – air
17.    Form (Rupa) –  fire
Taste (Rasa) – water
19  Smell (Gandha) – earth

The Five Elements (Maha Bhutas)

From Tamas arise the five elements which are the basis of all matter.

20.   Ether (Akasha) – space
21.   Air (Vayu) – motion
22.   Fire (Agni) – radiant energy
23.   Water (Apas) cohesive factor


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