Kapila and Sankhya - I

We touched upon two concepts sat and asat in the last essay. sat is an adjective formed from the verb as meaning “to be”. In the older vedas sat has taken the meaning of objects that are existent. The vedic poets did coin a negative word asat speculating the objects whose “existence” cannot be physically determined. The vedas do not speculate how the universe might have begun, but do suggest that there is a considerable amount of asat in the universe alluding to our sense limitation to perceive all objects in the universe. This concept allowed them to create powers who can affect us but who would remain “unsensed” by us only to be perceived through meditation or via the rigor of the rituals.


The asat escape our physical senses. We can neither see them, nor hear them. Our senses of touch, taste, or smell do not apply to them. One such object is our “mind.” Though “mind” controls our senses, we have little physical control on it. It moves randomly and has a much larger span than our physical life. Another object close to us and again having no physical location is our “intellect.” Though the physical location of both “mind” and “intellect,” cannot be determined, their reality cannot be denied. We are endowed with different amounts of “intellect” and our “mind” may not always cooperate in the performance of our tasks. Unfortunately we have little physical control on the conduct of “mind” and “intellect.” All religions, groups and cults are created by belief systems and faiths created through our “mind,” rationalized by our “intellect.” Through “mind” and “intellect” we can create many imaginary powers that we can believe to control our lives, fate and family.


Objects like sunshine, water, air and food are real and hence can be accepted as sat. How do we account for pleasure and for pain? Pleasure and pain are relative and they disappear when relationship ceases, so they must not be considered as sat as objects mentioned earlier. Particularly pain can affect our mind and lead to other mental effects, which have a variety of time scales of healing. Some of us may have occasional pain through cold and fever, but some could go through perpetual pain of hunger and oppression. Depression and mental problems are a part of human life, rarely anyone escapes from these. A brilliant individual called Kapila handled the issue of analyzing pain sometime in the fourth century BC. He is considered as the first analytic philosopher of the Indian subcontinent as evidenced through the vedic literature. The great man’s birth location is not traceable through the literature and the only information that can be gathered is that his father’s name was Kardama and his mother’s name was Devahuti. It’s believed that he was very bright (to be the Lord’s incarnation in Hindu faith!) and spoke his analysis as a sermon to his mother. The doctrine that he preached goes by the name of Sankhya philosophy. Kapila shines when he theorizes on “mind” and “intellect” and prescribes his way of liberating human beings from pain.


The doctrine commences with the enunciation of three categories of pain that affect the humans. The first category is supernatural, whose origin can’t be traced in natural resources. The principal of these are the rain and winds which cause havoc on earth. Floods, earthquakes, volcanoes also would be in this category. Escaping pain from these is possible through avoiding being in the areas affected or performing prescribed rituals to “please’ the supernatural forces. Kapila would contest the rituals and would fault the human being for being affected by the disaster. He would suggest that it’s the misguided mind that drives us to be in the wrong places such that we suffer from the wrath of the supernatural. The second category of pain is caused by interacting with the physical elements which may be considered as accidents. Slipping, drowning, injury through interacting with animals or plants, ingestion of improper food and water, breathing toxic air, and hurting through weapons or by body strength could fall in this category. The escape from this category of pain would be to exercise more personal care in interacting with other objects and be extremely alert in performing the tasks. The philosopher abhors the performance of rituals to help remove pain and would emphasize that the root of all pain is indeed one’s own mind. He reaches high excellence while he comes to the third category of pain which is purely internally caused. Here he would point to another group of asat which is composed of misrepresentations and misperceptions. He would declare that the mind has the capacity to present a view of sat that we have the internal bias to see or hear; and in this process we deliberately create asat in our local field of perception leading to confusion and conflicts, hence the pain.


In Kapila’s sAnkhya, God as an entity has no place. There is no external controller of human actions. There is a quantity called prakRti which creates different sensations in different human beings. prakRti is the doer of human activities by giving them a flavor, but the intelligence and the direction to act are provided by another quantity called purusha which stays as a passive witness in each human being. In sAnkhya metaphor prakRti acts like a dancer dancing to the tune of purusha. purusha is pure untainted intelligence and is inert. It carries a desire to hear, touch, see, taste and smell; as well as a desire to act, to speak, reproduce and remove waste from the body. prakRti is the active agent. It senses the desire and gets into action by adding the personality that had been endowed to the body. This personality that prakRti creates in each of us is our “ego” which can get extremely unbalanced through the improper compounding of the attributes. prakRti chooses the personality for us at our “birth” and it may appear that it “remembered” the personality we had in another birth. Thus our “personality” recycles and when it envelopes the inert purusha, we have the jIvAtmA for our life. It appears as though the jIvAtmA itself recycles. prakRti creates the body and the personality of the individual to fulfill the desire of purusha for its enjoyment though purusha remains unaffected with whatever play prakRti creates. purusha desires and prakRti delivers what it can with its local limitations. purusha has no choice than to accept the delivery and can give up in case the delivery becomes totally unsatisfactory. When prakRti gets balanced through these iterative processes, purusha might enjoy living or give up itself as a pure whim. When a person operates with completely balanced prakRti, his/her cognition of the objects in the universe is expected to be absolute and he or she enters a state called jIvanamukta in Kapila’s theory.


We will discuss the creation of “ego” and the sAnkhya cosmology in part II.


Let Sai bless all.


Bijoy Misra

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