This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

NOTICE:
This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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8.5. Sankhya

Sankhya

Like Vaisheshika, we are here dealing with Universal Manifestation or nature, but this time from the point of view of principles. In a way, then, we can see Sankhya as the intermediate between Vaisheshika cosmology and metaphysics itself. The exposition of this point of view is attributed to Kapila, which as always in these cases should be taken symbolically, as representing an intellectual aggregate, the work of a collective, and not a single personality. The title of the darshana means ‘enumeration’ or ‘catalog,’ which is appropriate since its teachings are summarized in the twenty-four tattvas, which are the principles and elements, and these correspond to the various degrees of being in a hierarchical order.

Universal Substance, or Prakriti

Like Vaisheshika, we are here dealing with Universal Manifestation or nature, but this time from the point of view of principles. In a way, then, we can see Sankhya as the intermediate between Vaisheshika cosmology and metaphysics itself. The exposition of this point of view is attributed to Kapila, which as always in these cases should be taken symbolically, as representing an intellectual aggregate, the work of a collective, and not a single personality. The title of the darshana means ‘enumeration’ or ‘catalog,’ which is appropriate since its teachings are summarized in the twenty-four tattvas, which are the principles and elements, and these correspond to the various degrees of being in a hierarchical order.

Pure Intellect, or Buddhi

The first modification is Buddhi, also called Mahat or the Great Principle. Buddhi is the pure intellect. It should be kept in mind, however, that at this point, although we are in manifestation, we are not yet at the individual order, and so Buddhi should be seen as transcendent in relation to the individual who, as we shall see, partakes of it.

Individual consciousness, or ahamkara

Proceeding from Buddhi to the next stage, we enter the individual domain at the highest level, and arrive at individual consciousness or ahankara. Ahankara is therefore Buddhi as ‘particularized,’ and from which proceeds the remaining elements.

Subtle and gross elements

Next come the five tanmatras, which are elementary and incorporeal elements that act as the principles of the five bhutas or gross (corporeal) elements. We mention the gross elements here due to their connection with the tanmatras, but in the order of production they come last, and so they should be placed after the production of the eleven faculties we will mention immediately below. One may recall here that Vaisheshika cosmology had only to account for the bhutas, since these were proper to its point of view. Consideration of the tanmatras only become necessary when one wishes to connect the corporeal things to their non-corporeal principles.

Eleven faculties

After the elements we find the individual faculties, which may be considered as functions of individual consciousness. First we will mention manas, which is intimately bound up with individual consciousness, and is involved with the remaining ten faculties. Manas is called an ‘internal’ faculty, while the others are ‘external.’ Of these, five are faculties of knowledge which, in their bodily dimension, are faculties of sensation. Remaining are the five faculties of action.

Purusha

There is also a twenty-fifth tattva, which is called Purusha or Pumas, although it must be considered completely independent of the other twenty-four, which comprise Universal Substance and all of its modifications. Purusha, which we can call essence, acts as the opposite pole of manifestation, and acts as the complement of Prakriti. Even though all manifested things are produced by Prakriti, it is Purusha that lends to them a reality that they would otherwise lack.

Dualism

Due to the interdependence of the two poles of manifestation represented by Purusha and Prakriti, it is often said that Sankhya is a form of dualism. Here we should refer back to what was said earlier about the impossibility of dualism in itself. Dualism is never anything more than illusory, due to a limited point of view, and must be resolved by transcending that point of view. Because Sankhya limits itself to the point of view of Universal Manifestation, and does not rise to the consideration of pure Being, which is outside its domain, it does not transcend the duality of essence and substance, Purusha and Prakriti, but it does not on this account deny that they can and must be transcended. Only if Sankya is looked upon as a closed system can it be said to teach dualism. Since it is not a system, it admits all of the possibilities that come into view when its point of view is transcended.

The three gunas

We now come to a theory which has vast implications, and which we will return to occasionally. Prakriti is said to be endowed with three ‘qualities’ or gunas. In its state of primordial indifferentiation, these three are in perfect equilibrium. Every modification of Prakriti, and every manifestation that is a result, represents a rupture of this primordial equilibrium. All things, therefore, participate in these qualities to varying proportions. The first is sattva, or conformity to the essence of Being (Sat). Sattva is likened to knowledge and light, as an ascending tendency; second is rajas, which is the centripetal impulse, which represents the expansive, ‘outward’ tendency in beings and which causes them to develop themselves outward within a certain state or degree of existence; finally, tamas is ignorance or obscurity, and is represented as a downward tendency. It should be remarked here that these meanings should never be twisted into moral notions, as some have done, likening the sattva to ‘goodness’ and rajas to ‘passions,’ and so forth.

Atheism and materialism in Sankhya

Westerners, who understandably but unfortunately  try to apply their own categories to every idea they encounter, have called Sankhya an ‘atheistic’ and ‘materialistic’ philosophy. We will not again enter into a discussion of why ‘philosophy’ does not enter in, but we need to clarify why the two former terms also do not apply. First, we can see that it is Prakriti which gives Westerners the impression that they are dealing with materialism, but from what we have said above it is clear that Prakriti, which is Universal Substance, is an entirely different thing from the modern notion of matter. Even if we allow the some reality to the modern conception of matter, it is but a very specific and restricted determination of Prakriti, and not its equivalent. Moreover, taking into account Purusha, on which Prakriti depends, and the fact that Prakriti itself is never manifested in nature, it becomes very clear that we are a long way from materialism. As for atheism, this comes from the fact that Sankhya is ‘nirishwara,’ which is to say it does not introduce the conception of Ishwara, the Divine Personality. But absence does not imply denial, much less does it imply some sort of scientific ‘agnosticism.’ Again, the non-inclusion of Ishwara would only become a denial of it if we were dealing with a system, and not merely a point of view. Moreover, the fourth darshana (Yoga) is often considered side-by-side with Sankhya, even as a second branch of it. Placed in this context it is called Seshwara, because it completes Sankhya by introducing the concept of Ishwara. For this reason, we will deal with Yoga next.