Kapila and sAnkhya II

In Kapila’s theory, the universe is a play of the prakRti, the eternal warehouse of Nature. The play is performed as a “desire”of the self-regenerating purusha, the consciousness which is housed in every human being. There are as many manifestations of prakRti as there are human beings, but each is endowed with a purusha that makes prakRti do her play. All versions of prakRti stem from one original prakRti that gets remodeled through the living body’s activity. purusha does not undergo any modification and is always pristine. prakRti causes birth and death to the body, purusha never dies and is eternal. In our vocabulary something that’s eternal is sat and so purusha is sat. prakRti causes changes in itself and the environment every second, hence perceptually it is asat, though in principle it’s an eternal principle existing to bring changes in the universe in order to keep it functioning.


prakRti helps perception of time as an entity by creating differentiations, purusha remains independent of time. Because prakRti causes changes, the knowledge deduced from prakRti would remain flawed and biased, so we connect prakRti to misrepresentations and falsehoods. True knowledge sat can be achieved if one can “see” through the prakRti. This can be a struggle for generations by constantly making efforts in regenerating ourselves and sharpening our intellect. In literature, the knowledge created by sat is called vidyA and that is caused by prakRti has been called avidyA. The upanisad prays: asato mA sadgamaya “take me from the falsehood to truth.” The rational interpretation would be “clear me from the perceptions caused by prakRti and help me get the true knowledge.” We have to understand that prakRti by itself is not biased; our application of it brings bias to our perception. This bias is our individuality.


While a concept of purusha was borrowed from the vedAnta theory we discussed in the early essays, the invocation of prakRti as the engineer of the universe is the intuitive deduction formulated by Kapila. Its novelty and powerfulness have attracted generations of Indian philosophers and the theory has become the corner stone of the Hindu faith practiced by a billion people on earth. Kapila’s brilliance comes in through a scientific perception of dividing the universe into three distinct categories which are separate and independent, almost like the vedic triad we discussed earlier. The category that sustains the righteousness in the universe comes from sat and he labeled it sattva. The category that sustains the desires of the human beings is labeled as rajas, a Sankrit term meaning “dust.” The “dust” is the primitive created particle and its bodily protection is its “desire.” Such “desire” can lead to passion and can cause dust aggregates which eventually break up through the instability of “high passion.” The third category is labeled tamas “darkness” to signify the group of activities that are neither righteous from the universal point of view, nor self-righteous from a personal desire point of view. tamas is simply dull.


In Kaplia’s theory, all objects and activities in the universe are a mix of sattva, rajas and tamas. The original primitive prakRti is an equi-proportioned mix of all three, but its follow up modifications can make different mixes depending on the body’s activities during its life. The body can try to bypass the trappings of modifications and relish the brilliant shine of the purusha. That’s only possible when prakRti is neutral meaning it takes the modification of equi-proportion. In normal situations our true knowledge is the amount of sattva in us which can be quickly overrun by the rajas and tamas that principally help create the selfish nature in our ego.


In the cosmology of Kapila, purusha and prakRti are co-equals in a living entity, one cannot “exist” without the other, but both are independent of the other in origin. purusha is the intelligent entity and prakRti is the active agent. The interpreted script would metaphorically describe purusha as “lame” and prakRti as “blind.” purusha cannot go anywhere without prakRti, and prakRti needs purusha for directions to move. purusha in all beings is same, prakRti is different. The latter determines the gross body type the purusha may manifest in. prakRti creates an entity called mahat “the Great one” which becomes the manifested storehouse of all memories and knowledge, and helps create the understanding and discrimination in the gross body.   mahat gives rise to an entity called ahamkAra, which is the signature of the object in creation. Since the universe is created first, the original ahamkAra is that of the universe. ahamkAra denotes the ego of the object and is composed of the three guNa “qualities” sattva, rajas and tamas, that we discussed earlier.


In the beginning, the three qualities are compounded in equal proportions. ahamkAra gives rise to five tanmAtrA , the signature of life signified by the five senses: hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell. Then it gives rise to two sets of organs, one set for sensing and the other for action. The sense organs are ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose; the action organs are hands, feet, mouth (for speech), organ for reproduction and organ for excretion. A sixth sense organ manas “mind” forms and becomes the “ruler” of all other organs. mahat helps create buddhi, the local intellect, unique to the object being created. Once the sense and action principles get in place, ahamkAra adds five gross elements: space, air, fire, water and earth to make the bone and flesh of the object. With purusha now encased in, the object comes to life. Each of the terms in the above hierarchy makes a sAnkhya principle and including purusha they make twenty five: prakRti, mahat (buddhi), ahamkAra, five tanmAtrA, five sense organs, five action organs, mind, five gross elements and purusha.


sAnkhya postulates that the living being is composed of two distinct bodies. The gross body is made up of the physical elements like space, air, fire, water and earth. And there is a subtle body that is presided over by the manas and consists of five tanmAtrA, five sense organs, five action organs and buddhi. The subtle body envelopes the gross body and creates the feelings and sensations as desired by the internal purusha. The subtle body receives constant modifications due to the interaction of various guNa on other objects and environment. The gross body dies and perishes in time, but the subtle body remains active until the three guNa get balanced through iterations through many incarnations and the “soul” gets the “release.”


The theory discards any concept of “evil” and treats all actions as the product of the in-built guNa triad, which affects every move except breathing. “Good” or “bad” becomes relative to the circumstance, but the postulate of equi-proportion triad remains the goal for life. Any pain or pleasure is only a perception and the real knowledge is reached by discovering and discriminating through the purusha in our daily duties. We will discuss further in part III next.


Let Sai bless all.


Bijoy Misra

Back to top