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Hinduism: Sankhya System & Guna Theory - Part V

By: Kishan Bhatia
Jan-01-2010
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Synopsis: Part V concludes the Introduction to Hinduism by describing scientific roots of Hinduism. The Hindu concepts of human behavior were adopted from the scientific Sankhya Systems and the Guna theory of evolution of human behavior.

In a nutshell, Hindu philosophers who developed Gita were contemporaries of Kapila, the author of the Sankhya System. The theist of the day, true to their Vedic faith and upbringing, dressed up the Sankhya system in religious clothes by incorporating the concept of paramattama (the paramapurusha or God) to give it a certain necessary religious flavoring described in the text.

The Sankhya System1

Darwin (1809-82), a scientist with a theory of evolution accounted for transformations of all species from lower to higher forms found in nature over ages. The Sankhya philosophy (literally, "enumeration" philosophy) is a theory of evolution of humans and it was proposed by Kapila in 7th-6th century BC, passed down for about a thousand year before it was recorded as Ishvarachandra"s Karika (3rd century AD).

There are two factors that offer modern western culture a unique perspective on the Sankhya (also spelled Samkhya) philosophy.
. Factor #1 is science and technology. We understand the world in a way that was not possible for ancient people. Engineering and sciences are applied logic and theoretical physics is scientific philosophy.
. The similarity of certain Sankhya concepts to modern sciences is striking. For example, the Sankhya doctrine of existent effects is similar to the law of physics: that matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Like modern methods, Kapila used evidence and reason in the acquisition of knowledge. These teachings stand in stark contrast to the reliance on the divine authority of the Vedas that was so prevalent in ancient India. The fact that Sankhya is so ancient, dating back to 2,700 years makes it all the more intriguing.
. Factor #2: Freedom from religious constraints is inhibited if we are bound by allegiance to the Vedic or any other religion. The keepers of Indian philosophical thought are the priests and Brahmins of the Vedic religion. They are bound by their belief in the supernatural origin and authority of the Vedas. They generally reject or in a suitably modified form incorporate it into the religion any philosophy (for example, the Sankhya system) that appeared to conflict with their beliefs.

Contrary to evidence otherwise, Vijnana-Bhiksu (16th century AD), in his commentary on the Sankhya-Pravachana-Sutram, took great pains to show that Sankhya does not conflict with the Veda. In certain instances, Kapila"s teaching appears to explicitly reject the Vedic teachings. Nevertheless, the religious interpretation permeates the Sankhya texts in a way that almost certainly distorts the original meaning.

The Sankhya system with scientific mooring originally explained life cycle events: sex, conception, birth, growth and death. It explained observed human behavior as a complex result of three gunas acting simultaneously during any actions from birth to end of life.

The Sankhya system was integrated into Hinduism - first in Gita and later in the Vedanta philosophy - by attributing certain necessary theological connotations identified below.

The system relates prakriti (matter) and purusha (mind), which are the basis for dualism in Hinduism. Technically, the duality represents operating mechanism for living. The body chemistry is influenced by gunas controlling behavior. The guna system, a theory of behavioral science clarifies how human mind and intellect are molded through interplay of three gunas always operating simultaneously, never in isolation (see, Guna Theory of Sankhya Doctrine, page 4).

Sankhya philosophy uses scientific logic; scholars say that Sankhya system originally was a non-theistic system delineating 24 material truths (elements or primordial principles), with the soul as the 25th element.

As theistic Vedanta evolved, they added 26th element, the paramapurusha or God (purusha and paramapurusha are here synonymous with atman, paramattama and purushottama). The later theistic notion of Shiva-Shakti is the equivalent of purusha-prakriti. Shiva is the male (purusha), the energetic, and prakriti, the complementary female energy. The Vedanta school accommodated many terms and concepts of Sankhya system and they are also mentioned in the Gita chapters 14 and 15.

Both purusha and prakriti by itself are inert and unmanifested; however, once they unite prakriti becomes manifested by acquiring mind, intellect or will (buddhi), conscious (chitta) and ego (ahamkara). The physical body without life force (purusha) is inert and it is made up of the twenty-four elements identified in a table below and Atma (soul or spirit) is life force or Purusha, the 25th element. Atma is the essential to activate Prakriti (body) to come alive with mind, intellect, conscious and ego; without atma body is devoid of four subtle organs. With death four subtle organs, five objects of action as well as organs of 5 senses and 5 objects disintegrate to 5 basic elements.

5 basic elements earth water fire air Ether
5 sense objects smell taste sight touch sound
5 sense organs nose tongue eye skin ear
5 organs of action mouth hand leg anus urethra
4 subtle organs mind intellect conscious ego

According to Sankhya doctrine (Bhagavad Purana 3.26.10-18 and11.22.10-16) atma (spirit, purusha - 25th element) undergoes basic transformations of total energy and the twenty-four transformations (of prakriti). Four subtle organs are mind, intellect, consciousness and ego (or the conception of individuality); the five basic elements (or raw ingredients in subtle and gross form) are ether (a subtle substance), air, fire, water, and earth; the five sense objects are sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell; the five sense organs are ear, skin, eye, tongue, and nose; and the five organs of action are mouth, hand, leg, anus, and urethra. The 24 elements make up torso without life force called atma or soul.

Gita"s Krishna (presumably poet Vyasa"s composite, an imagination), most likely a contemporary of Kapila, may have learned the Sankhya system from Kapila (Gita 10.26); Mahadev Desai maintains that Krishna was first to offer a unified Sankhya system, which was available in a fragmented form until then.

Theistically, Vedanta and Gita make the Sankhya system a consistent whole. The Gita adopted it and supplies the supreme - the concept of paramattama or paramapurusha, meaning God - to the purusha activated torso by explaining the relationship of unmanifested into manifested world. The idea of gunas is completely worked out in Gita chapter 14. The 14th chapter describes the laws governing gunas to which every person is subject to and the 15th chapter describes Purushottama or God, the perfection transcending Kshara (perishable) and Akshara (imperishable).

The duality - prakriti and purusha - of original Sankhya system is denied any independent existence in the Vedanta and Gita. Gita"s Absolute Brahmin is the same as modern science"s Absolute singularity (energy; Einstein"s, e = mc2)). Gita cuts at the root of the dualism by making Absolute Brahman the prime source of all that exists. The Absolute Brahman is an All-pervading Spirit, which is the source of all matter, both prakriti and purusha. The Absolute is thus described as having two aspects or natures - the higher and lower. The higher aspect of Absolute consists of the essence or atma (soul, purusha, spirit) that visualizes and sustains life. The lower aspect of the same is the universe consisting of nature or matter - prakriti and cosmos.

Thus everything begins with matter (Prakriti) but this matter in itself is inert, it is activated by the stimulus provided by the motive power of spirit (Purusha) and the result is the active universe with its twinkling stars and rotating planets with all of us - the living world riding on it.

According to the Kapila"s Sankhya, matter exists without any creator having created it, but is inert unless activated by the motive power. Kapila"s system does not reconcile the modern fact that matter and motive powers are products of absolute energy (e=mc2). The Kapila"s Sankhya is thus not theistic as it assumes independent existence of both matter and motive power to begin with. The universe in the Kapila system is not looked upon as the creation of a Supreme creator. The Gita linked mind and matter to Absolute Brahman reducing duality to Absolute singularity responsible for cosmic creation.

The Sankhya system uses certain self-evident truths:
1. Soul or purusha is eternal and never dies.
2. Life without soul is inert matter that disintegrates to return to earth - ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
3. A dead person is body without soul; as soul departs body is rendered inactive or inert.

Mind operates on two eternal principles. One is conscious, unconditioned and passive called prakriti and the other is unconscious but active and manifesting purusha to operate by or in three mechanisms:
1. The mechanism of inertia applies to a stage before
2. the mechanism of struggle for life is activated. Lastly with a motivation to attain moksha
3. The principle of the struggle for life of others or sacrifice dominates a life of action working for attaining moksha through self-realization.

Theory of reincarnation simply means life is recycled until one attains moksha by reuniting atma or soul with Absolute Brahmana. Each life constitutes purusha (soul or atma) and prakriti (matter, mass or body), two energy forms (Einstein e = mc2). The ultimate goal of life according to Hindu beliefs is to attain moksha or union with the Absolute Brahmin.

There are certain difficulties in conceptions of the Kapila"s Sankhya system and the readers are directed to page"s 26 to 31 of Mr. Desai"s book for a discussion to help the reader make personal determinations.

Every human being - prakriti activated by purusha - experiences pains, misery, etc. Such experiences are a part of living. A conflict is to reconcile the unconscious nature of purusha, which being purest perfection theoretically can not experience pain, misery, etc. The conflict was resolved by introducing the concept of "distortion by mind" of purusha as a result of cumulative simultaneous actions of three gunas. The distorted purusha that is able to experience individual"s pain, misery, etc is called "jiva".

The Kapila"s Sankhya system insists on purusha, not transformed into jiva, to amount to nothing more than the recognition of pure and perfect presence that is not divided by the division of things, not affected by stress and struggle of cosmic manifestation, within it all, while to it all. This Supreme personality combines within himself the peace and the bliss, the calm and the silence of purusha on one hand, and the jarring multiplicity, the strife and suffering of prakriti with jiva on the other hand.

To make the Sankhya philosophy more consistent, the presumption is that the Supreme (the Permanent Unmanifest), Gita (8.20-21)) contains within itself all lives and all bodies, and each individual in nothing more than a wave of bondage surge, a fragment of world-soul. The Permanent Unmanifest is the Imperishable or the Absolute (8.20), which informs and sustains the world (15.17).

Guna Theory of Sankhya Doctrine2

Prakriti has three Gunas that are simultaneously influenced by corresponding templates or modes of behavior. Think of templates as three coordinates of a cube. Each point in the cube has three co-ordinates representing factorial contribution of each of three gunas to any decision an individual takes.

Three Gunas Goodness (Sattva) is a template of balance or equilibrium Action (Rajas) is a template of expansion or activity Ignorance (Tamas) is a template of inertia or resistance to action

Conceptually an individual"s horizon is of the size of cube s/he creates during a lifetime. Size or relative density of cube signifies intellectual reach; the broader reach is associated with a larger size or a high relative density.

The three gunas are the rope that binds both purusha and prakriti. One can cut this rope with the sword of self-knowledge and devotion.

Essentially, three gunas exercise opposing influences on development of individual character. First influence is to release (or freedom) from ego (ahamkara) and second is bondage to feed ego. The state (clear or maligned) of the subtle organ consciousness or chitta influences which of three gunas will dominate in responding to any received perception.

Gunas are directed by behavioral impulses originating as a response to messages conveyed by the sense organs - smell, taste, sight, touch and sound. Visual images and other sense perceptions received by the brain (buddhi) invoke a variety of responses according the state of templates of goodness (sattva), action (rajas) and inertia or ignorance (tamas) coupled with a discriminatory state of mind governed by chitta or consciousness. Any sattvic response releases or frees mind of bondages that feed ego. Responses of rajas and tamas result in varying degrees of bondages that reinforce ego. Since all three gunas act simultaneously on any received perception, the mind sends out a complex signal to 15 sense organs (5 sense organs, 5 sense objects and 5 organs of action - see page 18) proportional to degree of influence by sattva, rajas and tamas.

The distorted purusha (unconscious) is called jiva (conscious). Purusha at conception (fertilization of egg) is unconscious and considered in a state of perfection. The fertilized egg grows to be fetus and with progressive completion of development process the purusha starts evolving into jiva. By the time baby is delivered purusha"s transformation to jiva is completed. Purusha starts evolving as it receives stimulations from buddhi under influences of three guna to set in motion the process of distortions of purusha - unconscious becoming conscious. Briefly,
. Purusha is the perfect spirit (unconscious), not to be confused with the particular human spirit called jiva (conscious). At the conception purusha activates every human being; it is the very core and substance of each human. The individual purusha is subjected to living with irrational caprice and selfish aims leading to distortions that mutates it to jiva.
. Mechanistically, the mind senses, forms a perception, aligns it with self and passes it on to buddhi. Buddhi acts on information from mind, takes a decision and sends it back to the mind for execution using five organs.
. As baby grows evolution of buddhi stimulates and mutates purusha to jiva, the particular human spirit. Individual character is build by actions of buddhi. The actions of buddhi are a composite result or product of three gunas acting simultaneously. Buddhi colored in sattvika (goodness or template of equilibrium) mode releases. The binding or tightening the bondage to ego of purusha results as buddhi operates in other two modes - colored with tamas (ignorance or inertia template) and rajas (template of activity or expansion). All psychic experiences - desires, hate, likes and dislikes, pleasure, pain, etc are modifications of buddhi that purusha acquires to become jiva.
. When affected by the sattva guna the buddhi is stimulated with virtue (dharma) and with proper discrimination (behavioral processes) it undertakes dispossession to begin the process of releases. The distinction of purusha/jiva and prakriti/purusha becomes apparent to buddhi. The emancipation of jiva is a process of the re-equilibration so that the purusha or perfect soul can return to prakriti.
. The emancipation of jiva to perfection - the purusha state - paves the way for moksha.

Sansara or Sansar is the cycle of birth and death that induces suffering and the only means of ending the suffering permanently is this knowledge of discrimination process, also called virtuous (dharmic) living. The lower self of the individual continues to struggle to realize its identity with higher self. As soon as the identity is realized, the discriminative knowledge arises. The discriminative knowledge consists of the realization that "I am not" (or I am not prakriti but purusha), that "nothing is mine", and that "I am not going to allow ego to rule my actions" (I am not the doer or experiencer). This knowledge leads to permanent release from the "dreaded machinery of sin and sorrow" to let jiva mutate back to purusha, the perfect state needed for attaining moksha.

Countering the process of evolution is the process of dissolution. At death the dissolution starts; all that is reduced to five gross or basic elements is returned to nature and the subtle life impressions (genetic codes of modern science are Hindu sanskaras) of deeds, both mental and physical are recycled with sexual organs/activity (called linga-sharira) to a new habitation (human body, deity, animal, plant or any organism with a life) until
. Either the ultimate dissolution of the world
. Or through successful personal-efforts for self-realization (yoga or path of actions) the jiva emancipates to soul (purusha) to be free to attain moksha (unity with Absolute Brahmana).
The unanswered question is if spirit or atma retains its integrity after death. If it combines with other souls then its original integrity is likely to be compromised. Theory of reincarnation does not address the issue. As far as we know that is why there was only one Vyasa, only one Moses, only one Jesus, only one Mohammed, only one Einstein and only one Gandhi. Similarly there is only one of us at any given time.

If we think of soul as quanta of Quantum Mechanic, then we have an answer rooted in science.


Kishan Bhatia

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References & Notes:

This article is Part V of a five Part (22 page) document, which updates with references and revises some errors in a previously published articles in the www.ivarta.com pages. The five part document is available upon request. References in each of five parts are indicated where relevant information is documented.

1. Mr. Desai"s explanations (Part II notes) were primarily used to elaborate the Sankhya philosophy; it links three gunas to individuality of every person.
. The Gospel of Selfless Action or The Gita According to Gandhi by Mahadev Desai, Navajivan Publishing House, Ahmedabad 380 014 (12th reprint, April 2007) ISBN 81-7229-126-4. Gandhiji translated Gita from Sanskrit to Gujarati Gandhiji wrote it for layman Gujaratis and did not link it to the source materials, the Upanishad.
. Sankhya system is attributed to sage Kapila, who may have lived in the Upanishad period. Kapila may be a composite figure as the Sankhya theory appears to have evolved over an extended period. Its development was completed and documented as Ishvarachandra"s karika (2nd or 3rd century).
. The terms prakriti and purusha acquired additional meanings as the system evolved over thousands of years. Inactive or in absence of coupling with purusha, prakriti is chemical matter in nature and it is governed by laws of chemistry and physics, including Einstein"s theory of relativity.
. Genetic codes are called sanskaras by Hindus and it is a part of prakriti that was converted to genes in living bodies though biochemistry. Sexual encounter may lead to fertilization of egg. Conception takes place in mother"s body and it can be duplicated in labs as a result of coupling of genes. A human fertilized egg is a living cell with purusha.
. Female womb provides necessary chemical conditions for fertilization and growth of egg to fetus and a baby before it is delivered. Given optimum chemical conditions in the womb for genetic reactions the fertilized one cell in the egg follows the genetic code inherited from parents during a multiplication process to transform itself to a healthy fetus and baby. In the test tube baby process fertilization of egg taken from a womb and seamen"s from a male are brought together in laboratory conditions and then the fertilized egg transplanted into a womb of a host mother for growth into to a healthy fetus and baby until delivery.
. Purusha and Jiva (see, S. Radhakrishnan, "Indian Philosophy, Volume II):
. Purusha is the perfect spirit, not to be confused with the particular human spirit called jiva. At the conception purusha is certainly in every human being as a very core and substance of each human. The individual purusha is called jiva as living with irrational caprice and selfish aims leads to distortion of purusha and the distorted purusha is called jiva.
. Every jiva is potentially divine and through yoga, at least in theory, self-realization is possible for returning to Absolute energy or moksha.
. The universal spirit or the Absolute energy is the driving force for the tendencies of purusha and prakriti and the later two do not stand confronting each other.
. The Supreme Intellect is known by various names, based on functions performed within the body. It is called mind when it feels and thinks, intellect when it reasons, thought waves when it does the act of remembering and wandering from one thought to another, and ego when it has the feeling of action and individuality.
. The subtle senses consist of all four - mind, intellect, thought waves, and ego. It is the Karmic footprints that actually make the final decision with the help of mind and intellect. When the cosmic power does the functions of the body, it is called the bio-impulse (Vital life forces). The Supreme Spirit (pure perfection, unconsciousness) manifests self as both energy and matter. Matter (prakriti) and mind (purusha) are nothing but condensed forms of energy. According to Einstein, mind and matter are both energies.
. Sankhya philosophy and Patanjali-yoga, also called raja- or astanga-yoga, are intimately linked. The practice of yoga or Patanjali Sutras is divided into four sections: samadhi (trance), sadhana (the practice), vibhuti (mystic powers) and kaivalya (the ultimate aim). Kaivalya is moksha.
. See also: A discussion of the Sankhya Philosophy, THE SANKHYA DOCTRINE IN NUTSHELL at http://www.hinduwebsite.com/hinduism/philo/samkhyavrg.asp by Mr. V. R. Gandhi.
. Word Knowledge (Gyan) Yoga and Sankhya Yoga are used as synonyms in the Gita. One can obtain knowledge by attending school, self-study or listening to saint and sages in spiritual camp.
. Sannyasa is renunciation of action and ownership while living in isolation. Karma Sannyasa is renunciation of action and ownership while living in the society. This is synonyms of Karma Yoga. Knowledge is not absolutely necessary in Karma yoga. Lord provides knowledge to a Karma Yogi (Gita 4.31). At the perfection point there is no difference between a Karma Yogi, Karma Sannyasi and Sannyasi. They all reach the same goal. But Karma is needed for the knowledge Yoga. Therefore Lord says that Karma Yoga is better than knowledge yoga (Gita 5.02)
2. The gunas are not separate from prakriti and as they are born of prakriti they are the very stuff of prakriti. Man"s sense"s, mind, intellect, etc are his prakriti or his gunas.
. Every person identifies self with body and body parts (feet walking = I walk, body sleeps = I sleep, etc), and similarly every person identifies the mind, the will, the intellects, and arrogates to self various activities of brain.
. Internal activities of brain constitute gunas.
. Gunas influence ethics and moral senses along with a set of personal beliefs that s/he acquires and uses as boundaries or personal operating principles for growth until death.
. Hindus appear to be chronologically first to use a three gunas or modes of behaviors system. Thinkers and philosophers of West starting with Plato (428/427 BC - 348/347 BC), Aristotle (384 BC - 322 BC), Francis Bacon (1561-1626AD), Baruch Spinoza (1632-77 D), Henry Drummond (1786-1860 AD) and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903 AD) also have used a concept of three main sources to describe human behavioral modes; see Mr. Desai"s book on pages 31 and 32.




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