Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Friday, July 13, 2018

Samkhya Philosophy - Maha Bharatha Series 84


In Book 12, Section 304, Samkhya system is explained in detail. Samkhya system is one of the oldest and basic systems of Vedic philosophy. In this section, Prakriti is also called adhishtatri, the basic unit from which everything evolves (vikriti). In contrast and in addition to Prakriti, there is a vyapaka, one that pervades everything. This is formless and is also called akshara, which means indestructible. This second principle which energizes Prakriti and makes its evolved elements active is called Purusha.

 It is interesting to note that this akshara/purusha is also called Brahma and Vishnu in other places within this text. But, we know that in the original Samkhya system, which is basically atheistic, no names of Gods are used. Therefore, we must conclude that the names of Gods were superimposed on concepts of matter (prakriti) and energizing principle (purusha) later in history.

This kind of creative renaming of philosophical principles as Gods is common when theology takes over. This happened in the Christian theology also. In his book on “Philosophy as a way of life”, Pierre Hadot tells us that the Trinity was a re-naming of the old ideas of Logos, Physics and Ethics of Greek philosophers.

We are told that prakriti, which is one of the two original indestructible principles, dwells in all creatures as chit, or consciousness. The first “evolute” of Prakriti is Mahat, which is also called Buddhi or Knowledge. There is then mention of chetana, which is said to be eternal consciousness which has no form and no attributes. If so, this is also the same as Purusha. This has to be the jivan, in its individualized aspect and atman in its general aspect. In addition to energizing Prakriti, purusha gets caught by and identifies with the form, forgets its pure Nature and misidentifies with perishable things.

Samkhya system had two flaws. First, this system suggests two principles from which everything came. Most of us will think that there can be only One from which everything came.  Indeed, Nyaya and Vaiseshika systems which came later came to that conclusion through logic.  Later thinkers called Purusha, as Nirguna Brahman from which Saguna Brahman came.  In this interpretation, Saguna brahman is Prakriti, one with a form, Ishvara. This Ishvara can be Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva.

And, the other flaw is the complicated explanation that the final five gross elements to come out of prakriti perish at death but, the energizing element survives by attaching itself to another body. This is the basis of the concepts of karma and re-birth.

This is my understanding. If someone has understood these concepts better or differently, please send a comment.


3 comments:

Kadayam Krishnan said...

I presume that philosophy evolves and different words and methods are used to convey. But basically there is the Abstract element (Godliness) and the embodied effect (Material). This probably is a bit easier to understand and relate to.

Kadayam Krishnan said...

I Understand this write up, as Purusha (abstract)condensing to Consiousness, which then manifests into forms (Material). Thus there really are two aspects, one abstract and the other Material. It may be termed as "thought" and "Energy".
The philosophy evolves to explain this basic concept with different terminology in the various systems of thought that has arisen in these ages.

Balu said...

Thanks for the comment. To my understanding, Purusha is an entity that stands aloof - untouched, unattached. However, Purusha is essential to energize all the products of Prakriti which are called Vikriti's. Mahat is a product of Prakriti and it becomes Buddhi and I have read passages where these two terms are used interchangeably. I can see how Purusha can be viewed as consciousness which illuminates everything else. That is the limit of my understanding of the Samkhya philosophy.