Among the six philosophical systems propounded by the sages of India – Samkhya, Yoga, Nyaya, Vaisesika, Purva Mimamsa (or Mimamsa) and Uttara Mimamsa (or Vedanta) – Samkhya is the oldest. It is also the first in the world to identify the ultimate goal of all living beings viz. Liberation i.e. liberation from all sorrow for all time to come.
The great rsi Kapila , the first enlightened being on earth, moved by compassion assumed a created mind to expound the doctrine of Samkhya philosophy to Asuri his only disciple. Asuri in turn imparted this knowledge to Pancasikha. The great sage Pancasikha embodied it in aphorisms in “Sastitantra”, the first treatise on Samkhya. Per Samkhya-karika (70), “This sacrosanct and highest knowledge was imparted out of compassion by the great sage (Kapila) to Asuri. Asuri passed it to Pancasikha from whom it received the full exposition.” There is no correlation, however, between Kapila, the founder of Samkhya-yoga and the various Kapilas mentioned in Bhagavatam etc.
Both Svetasvatara Upanisad (5.2) and Gita agree that Kapila was the propounder of the science of liberation. In Gita Lord Krsna says, “I am Kapila among the liberated” (10.26), which in effect says that Kapila was foremost among the liberated as he was the first to attain liberation. Gita has clearly stated (5.4 and 5.5) that Samkhya and Yoga are one and the same. Devotees have a predilection for one or the other of the two depending on their mindset. Those more inclined to Samkhya are called Jnana-yogins.
Only a tiny fragment of the aphorisms composed by the great sage Pancasikha has survived. Those that have survived are the ones cited by Vyasa in his commentary (Yogabhasya) on Yoga aphorisms of Patanjali. But fragmentary as they are, these citations from Pancasikha convey a coherent picture of the entire Samkhya philosophy because Samkhya is logical and systematic all through.
Samkhya came to be accepted as the philosophy of India and the way to achieve lasting peace. It was then elaborated and logically developed in Yoga its inseparable adjunct. Among Samkhya texts which have survived are Isvarkrishna’s Samkhya-karika, Kapila’s (another Samkhya Acharya by the same name) Samkhya-sutras and Tattva-samasa-sutras.
Samkhya and Yoga are not mutually exclusive systems of philosophy inasmuch as both the systems accept the twenty-five principles or Tattvas. While Samkhya represents the theoretical basis of the psychology of liberation, Yoga concerns itself with the practices for attaining that objective. There is, therefore, no fundamental difference between the two. The Gita also says (5.7): the state which is attained by the Samkhyas is also attainable by the Yogis and the one who regards Samkhya and Yoga to be the same is correct. “The ignorant differentiate between Samkhya and Yoga; not the wise. He who considers the two as integrated has the right insight” – Gita (5.4) This is why the study of practice of Yoga invariably attracts Samkhya and one has to conclude that the original exponent of both the systems was one and the same person, viz. the great seer Kapila.
In course of time, Samkhya gradually lost its place as the prime philosophy of India. One reason of its decline was the absence of a worthy acarya (spiritual teacher) matching the stature of the early Masters. In recent times Samkhya-yogacarya Swami Hariharananda Aranya with his lifelong ardent practice and brilliance was able to revive Samkhya with the aid of his own spiritual realization.