The Sankhya is the first of the six principal systems of philosophy, and is said to have been composed by the celebrated ascetic Kapila. The word Sankhya means "relating to numbers", as well as "rational, discriminative"; and this system partakes of both these characteristics, for it enumerates certain topics or categories of ideas, and at the same time is essentially rational in its outlook, maintaining that we can attain to freedom from the sorrows of life by means of pure knowledge or discrimination.
Six Chapters and sixty topics: It is divided into six chapters and, as the author of the Sankhya-karika has observed, deals with sixty topics, twenty-seven in the first, nine in the second, six in the third, four in the fourth, twelve in the fifth, and two in the last. There is little repetition of thought in the first two chapters, and only a few points are re-emphasized in the following three; but the whole idea is summed up again in the last chapter, and so it contains only two new topics. It would be convenient to give a summary of the whole.
The problem of life: The object of a man's life is to put an end to all pain, for freedom from pain alone is real freedom. The soul is kept in bondage by Prakrti, but it cannot be so forever.
Life is governed by a number of laws, of change, of cause and effect, of death, and of action and actionlessness, all of which require knowledge to understand. But the knowledge of things not visible to the eye is acquired by means of inference. All knowledge has a bearing on Prak.rti or Nature; and we can know by means of inference that it is originally in a state of rest, and then evolves into its various forms of life, intellect, ahankara or the I-as-an-actor, mind, the senses of knowledge and action, and the "elements" and their properties.
Prakrti is the first cause of things, including intellect, ahankara and the mind; and the first cause can neither be the atom, nor action, nor the soul.
It is necessary to have knowledge to understand all this; and, in order to have knowledge, we must know the means of acquiring it. There are three such means, pratyaksha or sense-perception, anumana or inference, and sabda or the testimony of the true and the wise; and it is necessary to understand their scope and character.
In this connection we must remember that the soul is not an actor, but only an experiencer of the result of action. It is something real, for the unreal cannot exist.
In order to understand the problem of life, we must know the real significance of destruction and creation, the character of substances and the three Gunas, and the function of the intellect and the soul; and this will enable us to understand the meaning of freedom and bondage.
The object of human life: The whole object of a man's life is to put an end to all kinds of pain; but the remedy for this is not physical.
Freedom and its importance: Freedom means freedom from pain; and it implies that a person should know what it is, and it should be possible for him to attain it.
The soul and its bondage: The soul is eternal, that is, it is not subject to time or place. But it is kept in bondage by Prakrti or Nature; and it is not an actor, though it is associated with Prakrti. But it cannot be kept in bondage forever. The association of the soul with Prakrti or Nature is its bondage; but it does not arise from ignorance, for ignorance is not inherent in the soul.
The law of change: All things, except the soul, are subject to change.
The law of cause and effect: It is necessary to understand the relation of cause and effect, and have knowledge of the laws of Nature.
The law of death: There is also the law of Death; but knowledge of it cannot put an end to pain.
The law of action and actionlessness: The object of life, namely, cessation of pain, cannot be achieved by means of any course of action; and so we may conclude that we can succeed only by means of actionlessness or renunciation of all action.
Prakrti and its creation: The knowledge of things not visible to the eye is obtained by means of inference; and it is by its means that we understand that there is at first a state of equilibrium of the three Gunas; and it is this that is called Prakrti. Then, when the course of life begins, we can understand that Prakrti evolves into intellect, ahankara (the I-as-an-actor, which includes the mind), the five subtle properties of the five great "elements", the ten senses, and the five great "elements". All these, together with the soul, make a total of twenty-five.
We cannot understand the idea of action without reference to a state of rest. Indeed, there has to be a state of rest, however brief, before there can be action. The evolution of Prakrti or Nature into different forms of life is a form of action; and so it must be preceded by a state of rest or equilibrium. As, however, we cannot know the original state of the substance out of which all life evolves, we come to the conclusion that it must be one of rest before it begins to act; and we do so by means of inference.
The Sankhya does not explain the idea of the Gunas in any detail; and that is done by the following systems. The Sankhya tells us that the mind arises out of ahankara, but does not explain how. That is done by Nyaya, which tells us that its origin lies in its connection with the result of previous action. The Sankhya does not describe the "elements" or their attributes, or the ten senses or their connection with the "elements" and their attributes. That is done by the following systems. It may be explained as follows:-
|Senses of knowledge||Ear||Skin||Eye|
|Sense of action||Legs||Arms||Tongue (for speech)||Organ of creation||Organ of excretion|
The ancient idea of an "element" was different from that of the present day science. It was conceived as a great "elemental" substance, or a great and fundamental object of Nature.
The total of twenty-five is made up of Prakrti in a state of rest or unmanifest form; intellect, ahankara, and mind; the five great "elements"; the five attributes of the "elements"; the five senses of knowledge; the five senses of action; and purusha or the individual soul.
This is the idea of purusha (individual soul) and Prakrti in the Sankhya; and it has no place for God as a creator in its scheme.
Prakrti is the first cause of things: When we trace the origin of things through an uninterrupted series of objects, we find that the only conclusion at which we can arrive is that Prakrti is the original cause of things.
Creation of intellect, ahankara and mind: From Prakrti arises Mahat or the intellect, the first activity of which is the mind, and the last ahankara; and the latter acts by means of the senses of knowledge and action.
The special characteristic of the intellect is decision; of the mind desire; and of ahankara action. This statement of the Sankhya means that decision and desire are closely connected together, and are followed by action. We have already been told that ahankara arises from the intellect; and the Sankhya tells us more clearly in the following chapter that the mind is produced from ahankara. The present statement needs therefore to be understood in its proper light. How the mind arises from ahankara is explained by Nyaya.
The atom is not the original cause of things: When we trace the original cause of things through an uninterrupted series of objects, we come at last to the atom. But it cannot be regarded as the original cause of things, because it is derived from something else.
Action is not the original cause: Action cannot be regarded as the original cause, for it has an origin itself (namely, the actor).
The individual soul is not the original cause: Nor can we regard the individual soul as the original cause, because it is subject to birth, and it is only the perfect one that is not born again. Again, things give birth to their likes; and so, if the soul had been the original cause, it would have created only souls, and not the objects we see.
The means of acquiring knowledge: It is necessary to have a correct notion of things, which requires proper means of acquiring definite knowledge. There are three such means, pratyaksha or the evidence of the senses, anumana or inference, and sabda or the testimony of the true and the wise. We can prove anything by means of these.
Pratyaksha: Is the knowledge of a real substance with a real form, acquired by means of impressions that it makes on us. However, it cannot prove the existence of God.
The existence of God cannot be proved: It is impossible to prove the existence of God, for we can conceive of Him only as free or not free, and in either case. He cannot be regarded as the original creator of life. But His idea can correspond to that of a liberated soul; but that will only be a magnified conception of such a soul, which is itself not an actor, and can only be regarded as an onlooker of things.
Anumana: Anumana or inference consists in an uninterrupted appearance of certain things, which are known to be always connected with or dependent on one another.
Sabda: Or oral authority is the teaching of a true and trustworthy person, and is a valid means of acquiring knowledge like anumana.
The soul is not an actor: Pleasure abides in the mind and not the soul; and the soul is not an actor, but only an experiencer of the result of action. Hence it cannot be an actor, for it cannot be both an actor and experiencer at the same time.
The unreal cannot exist: If an object is out of reach of the senses or is minute, we can know of it by means of the effect it produces; but an unreal thing cannot be proved to exist like a man with horns. Nor can we say that there is action when there is apparently none.
The meaning of destruction: Destruction is really dissolution or absorption into the original cause or principle from which a thing emanates, and not annihilation or reduction to nothingness.
The law of birth: Things give birth to things like their own.
Character of substances: A thing that is produced out of something else cannot be eternal or all-pervading. It is subject to action or change, is distinct from and dependent on other things, and has its own characteristics and form; but it is not altogether different from all other things.
The three Gunas: All created things are characterized by the three Gunas and a state of unconsciousness, all of which belong to Prakrti, which is accordingly the original cause of all. Love, hate, and insensibility are the different characteristics of the three Gunas, which affect all creatures, though they may have different or opposite qualities in respect of one another.
The function of the intellect: There is a difference between cause and effect, though they have something in common too; and it is the function of the intellect to point out all this. But intellect has its own limitations too; and it is for this reason that we have to think of Prakrti or the soul as superior to it. It is the function of the intellect to infer cause from effect; and we cannot deny its existence, or that of Dharma or the moral law of life.
The character of the soul: The soul is different from the body, which is dependent on it. It is different from the body because it is without any Gunas; and, as it is the latter that make for action, the soul cannot act. It can only be an experiencer or onlooker of things. It is different from the body, because a thing is said to be lifeless and is cast away when the soul ceases to abide in it. It is different from the intellect and the mind, for the latter partakes of the Gunas, whereas the soul does not. We cannot deny the existence of the soul, for it is the soul that feels pain, the removal of which is the chief object of a man's life. The state of sound sleep also proves the existence of the soul and its difference from the body.
There are an infinite number of souls, each different from the other, for the birth of each is different; but the same soul may occupy different bodies in different births, for it is born again and again. The form of the body can be changed, but not of the soul dwelling in it. In any case we must agree that it is the same soul that dwells in the same body during a life-time. The sacred books all agree that the same soul is born again and again; and that is so because of its attachment to the world; and the body in which it is born is the visible form of its bondage.
Freedom and bondage: The two states of existence, life in this world and freedom from bondage are inconsistent with each other. We cannot deny that there is bondage; and the very idea of indifference to the world is a proof of its reality. But the soul is not an actor, and only believes that it is so under the influence of the intellect, to which it is closely allied, and which darkens its light of pure knowledge.