Classical Samkhya and Yoga by Burley

Mikel Burley. Classical Samkhya and Yoga: An Indian Metaphysics of Experience. London and New York: Routledge, 2007. Hardcover, xiv + 226 pp.

Burley, who also wrote Hatha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory and Practice, teaches in the School of Philosophy at the University of Leeds, England. The present monograph represents a detailed inquiry into the classical expressions of Sāmkhya and Yoga philosophy.

In particular, the author is concerned with what he proposes are false assumptions about both philosophical systems in the existing scholarly literature. His major criticism is that scholarship has treated the metaphysical statements of Sāmkhya and Yoga as offering a realist (cosmological/mythological) account of the world. He also objects to those interpretations that treat their statements as relating to both psychological and cosmological matters.

In contrast, Burley favors a Kantian-based phenomenological orientation, though he admits that the Sāmkhya and Yoga models do not quite fit the bill. It would appear that while his phenomenological approach raises interesting questions, it does not really add anything that would require us to dismiss previous scholarly efforts in understanding either system’s metaphysics. One cannot help gain the impression from his monograph that his phenomenological excursion is perhaps overly reliant on Western philosophical concepts.

Where Burley’s arguments seem to deserve closer attention is in regard to his questioning the oft-made claim that the methodologies of Sāmkhya and Yoga are radically distinct—a claim I have pushed myself in The Philosophy of Classical Yoga. He feels that any “rationalist” interpretation of Sāmkhya is based on “insufficient evidence.” This, however, ignores the fact that the Sāmkhya-Kārikā, the classical articulation of the Sāmkhya system, makes absolutely no mention of any contemplative discipline, which is of course the alpha and omega of Yoga.

It is true that the absence of any mention of dhyāna does not necessarily mean that contemplative introspection is not an integral part of Classical Sāmkhya. But it could mean just that. If the latter is true, then Yoga with its elaborate psychotechnology does indeed recommend itself as the superior approach, as has been claimed by many interpreters.

Even if I cannot agree with all of Burley’s conclusions, his well-researched book provides a stimulus for re-examining one’s presuppositions.

For Mikel Burley’s article “The Relevance of Samkhya Metaphysics to Yoga Meditation,” click here.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

This entry was posted in Hinduism – General. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.