The power of the hypothesis in sAnkhya is the invocation of the guNa triad in the functioning of the universe and their effect in all our perception and in our action. Though everyone is endowed with an unbounded reservoir of intellect, the application of it gets conditioned by the manas “mind” which is the principal organ controlling the human activity. manas is a part of the subtle body and is not a physical object like our head is. manas remains heavily conditioned by our resident guNa triad and drives the intellect towards its bias. purusha witnesses the bias but remains nonreactive. We live and present a personality based on our guNa.


In the gross body, manas produces ahamkAra and controls it. ahamkAra is the container of the particular guNa triad in operation and is the defining factor that determines the object’s structure and property. ahamkAra determines which organs to create and how powerful to make them. manas gives the functionality to the organs and stains them with the guNa. Through the effect of manas and ahamkAra we perceive the world through “our point of view” than what the world objectively could be. Influenced by misperception, we do misdeeds. The misdeeds lead us to pain in life. There is no escape to misperception as long as we are not born with a fully balanced guNa triad. In such case we would be akin to the original prakRti, called mUlaprakRti. We ease our pain in life by realizing the influence of prakRti in the creation of misperception. sAnkhya deals with such realization in theory, while the sister discipline of yoga provides methodology to accomplish the realization.


With the manas operating with the disproportioned gunA, the “soul” remains “bound” to the body. Though the purusha is ever free and intelligent, it has the binding by being in the affinity of prakRti, and they form a pair. prakRti is also independent, but cannot act by itself without the purusha. prakRti and purusha get “bound” to each other through their manifestation in the physical body. The body feels the pain through the desire of purusha and the pain is accomplished by the improper perception of the surrounding because of the disproportioned guNa triad. The discovery that the bodily perception is unreal and is caused by the prakRti is “knowledge,” vidyA.  Such discovery is only possible through the intellect buddhi, which itself remains biased. The cleaning up of the buddhi is a function of discrimination and is accomplished by contemplation. By realizing vidyA, one can “win”over the pain and struggle in life and such a person is called jIvanamukta, “released from the life’s bondage” in the sAnkhya vocabulary.


The interesting concept in the sAnkhya theory is to define an entity called “subtle body” which would not perish like the “gross body.” The subtle body comprises of seventeen sAnkhya components: five tanmAtrA, five sense organs, five action organs, manas and buddhi. In this analysis, the “organ” is not an object, but is a cognitive concept that provides functionality to an object. The concept exists even if the object may not, allowing the concept to help regenerate the object. When the gross body dies, ahamkAra

perishes with it, but not the subtle body. By design, the subtle body is a “shadow” of the living object and cannot exist independently. Mahat comes into play and creates a new ahamkAra. The new ahamkAra connects to the “available” subtle body and together they create a living entity when they get graced by a purusha. This has been extended to a possible theory of reincarnation by the Hindus in the later times.   Allowing for diverse possible structures in creation, sAnkhya tries to be as complete a cosmological theory as possible. The uniqueness is that it doesn’t need a “God” to create the universe, and the universe maintains itself in perpetuity through regeneration and recycling.


The sense organs in the subtle body operate in four levels. There is a physical construct, there is a sensory principle added to the construct such that the organ can perform, then there is an intent function added to it through the mind manas such that there is intake of information and finally buddhi discriminates on to the quality of the information. If the buddhi can free from the influence of the ahamkAra and get guided by purusha, we sense the object accurately and our information intake can become comprehensive. Such information is vidyA, as we have mentioned earlier. In normal situations, however, ahamkAra influences our perception. Our perception remains biased and can deviate from the “truth” of the nature of the object or the event we sense. How far we get deviated is a function of the amount of extra rajas and tamas in us creating in us either an anxiety to gain something or a dullness not to be bothered by the object or event. sattva gives us purity and gives us the correct insight, rajas gives us the passion to know and tamas is required to maintain our body. In the state of equal proportions of guNa, we don’t influence the intake of information by rajas and tamas though we maintain our curiosity and our body strength.


We used the word sat earlier in the sense of manifestation, either in nature or in our cognition. In sAnkhya theory, the state of the universe is always sat, real. The perception of it by us however is asat because of our own deficiency. Each of us can maintain a different degree of asat. In our state of asat, something that is real might appear unreal to us and something that is unreal might appear real to us. By acting on such incorrect information we can continue to migrate into a deeper state of asat, where we might live in a world of more unreal than real. From a scientific point of view, the initial instability has a tendency to grow than to correct itself. When we get the instability dominated by tamas, we lose our mobility and dynamism and we find it difficult to interact with the external world. When we get the instability dominated by rajas, we carry the thirst of dominating others through our strength, resources or words. We become greedy and self-centered. If indeed some of us would experience instability dominated by sattva, we would not be able to support ourselves on the ground, since we could lose our body weight and strength, or we may lose all cognitive ability to operate in the world.


Kapila is very careful such that the principles of his theory are in consonance with the principles in the Vedas. Hence the theory was eventually accepted as the foundation of Hindu cosmology of reincarnation. The lack of “God” was sorted out by adding a twenty sixth principle in the form of kAla, the “time,” by Ramanuja, the vishishtadvaita philosopher in the eleventh century. By bringing in kAla, the evolution and dissolution of the universe becomes a controlled operation and the path of “release” could be simplified by allowing good conduct, religiosity and trustfulness into the prescription. But the scientific rigor of Kapila shines even after two thousand and five hundred years. The sat defined by him became the sat of the modern day God. sAnkhya led to further research onto finding possible ways to discover the existence of purusha. This became the theory of yoga that we will discuss next.


Let Sai bless all.

Bijoy Misra