Basics of Samkhya

 Indian philosophy is primarily interested in search of truth. That truth after knowing which nothing else remains to be known. That truth lifts one from the mess of misery to the realm of pure joy. This quest has led six main schools in Indian philosophy, which are remarkably differently from each other in form and conception. However, their goal being one and same, they tend to complement each other in some aspects. Among them, the philosophy of Samkhya occupies a very important position in so far as it enumerates the basic constituents of creation. All texts make liberal use of majority of these terms. Accordingly, it becomes important to understand them. It is my endeavor to put across salient features of Samkhya philosophy here for keeping a record and reference of my understanding.

Lord Krishna uses the concepts of Samkhya philosophy very often in Gita. He stresses in verses 5.4 and 5.5 that Samkhya and Yoga are one and same and only ignorant believe them to be different. Essentially, Krishna holds Samkhya in very high esteem. However, pure Samkhya, as propounded in Ishvar Krishna’s Samkhya Karika, which is THE text for Samkhya does pose prima facie contradictions vis-a-vis traditional understanding of Vedanta.

Samkhya postulates two eternal entities, Prakriti and Purusha. Prakriti is basically a name which is given for the equilibrium state of three gunas. These gunas are not attributes (as the name suggests), rather material substances. In their equilibrium states, they are collectively known as Prakriti. When they get disturbed from this state because of the presence of Purusha, creation happens. Prakriti is therefore known as trigunatmika. It is also known as Pradhana. Everything is creation of Prakriti, and three gunas are the creator thereof just as the strands are the creators of rope.

Purusha is pure consciousness, inactive and beyond these three gunas. Its relationship with Prakriti is like the combination of blind and lame. Prakriti unconscious element and cannot act on its own. It is therefore equated to blind. Purusha cannot act under any circumstances for it is pure consciousness and ever inactive. That’s why it is equated to lame person. Thus, the exercise of mutual benefit occurs and creation follows wherein Purusha somehow imparts the consciousness to the Prakriti and thereby the equilibrium of gunas is disturbed.

It appears to me that there are several points in Samkhya which may not stand the rigor of logic. Nevertheless, the enumeration of constituents of creation and definitions thereof are dealt with in a very meticulous fashion in Samkhya. And that is where it appears useful to me.

The disturbed Prakriti (like an iron in presence of magnet, without magnet having any motive to attract) gives rise to Mahat which is another name for Buddhi. Mahat is conditioned reflection of Purusha. It is also called Hiranyagarbha. From Mahat follows Ahamkara, which is the sense of I-ness. This is of three types, Sattwic, Rajsik and Tamsik Ahamkara. Sattwic Ahamkara gives rise to Manas. Manas gives rise to five senses of knowledge and five senses of action. Tamsik Ahamkara gives rise to five tanmatras, which are subtle essence of the mahabhutas. Tanmatras are sound, touch, form, taste and smell. From tanmatras, mahabhutas originate. From sound, space originates. From sound and touch, air emanates. From sound, touch and form, fire emanates. From sound, touch, form and taste, water originates and so on. This entire structure from Mahat to mahabhutas is insentient and unconscious and is nothing but matter.

A technical explanation of terms given by Samkhya is as follows:-

Subtle body is composed of Mahat, Ahamkara, Manas, Karmendriyas, Jnanendriyas and Tanmatras.

Gross body is composed of Mahabhootas. It is to be noted that Karmendriyas are not the organs but the power present in the organs to do the respective work. Therefore, neither Karmendriyas nor Jnanendriyas are composed of Mahabhootas. They are the product of Manas.

There is no concept of Causal body in Samkhya which is incongruous to Vedanta. Further, the analytical approach of Koshas is not found here. In Vedanta, Mahabhootas as well as Indriyas are posited as product of mind. In Samkhya, it is not so.

Antahkarana is explained in Samkhya as the set of Manas, Ahamkara and Mahat.

Samkhya accepts the plurality of Purushas. It does not distinguish at all between a Super Purusha and all individual Purushas. Lord Krishna takes up this matter in Chapter 15 of Gita and incorporates the staggering concept of Uttam Purusha.

Thus, we see that though Samkhya takes us to a realm which is quite close to the heights of Vedanta, it stops short. It doesn’t give us a Super Purusha. It leaves us with the concept that the Purusha can appear to be bound by Prakriti. It leaves us with the plurality of Purushas. It doesn’t answer all our questions. It leaves us asking for more.

But still, it makes the groundwork for Vedanta.

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