by Swami Krishnananda
The turmoil in the mind of Arjuna, described in the first chapter of the Bhagavadgita, is attributed by Bhagavan Sri Krishna to an absence of correct understanding. Every sorrow which sinks the heart is regarded, in the light of higher thinking, as a consequence of inadequate knowledge. Man is not born to suffer; it is joy that is his birthright. It is hammered into our minds again and again that our essential nature is not grief, and therefore to manifest grief cannot be the manifestation of our essential nature. Sorrow is not our birthright; it does not belong to our true substance. What we are really made of is not capable of being affected by sorrow of any kind. There is a deep quintessence in the heart of every person which defies contamination by sorrow of every type. Hence, the great point made out by Bhagavan Sri Krishna is that the sorrow of Arjuna is unbecoming of the knowledge that would be expected of a person of his kind. What is this knowledge that we are lacking, whose absence is the source of our sorrows? Whatever be the nature of sorrow, it is just sorrow—a kind of agony that the individual feels.
This sorrow is due to a lack of knowledge of samkhya, says the second chapter of the Gita. Samkhya is correct understanding. This Arjuna did not have; therefore he was grieving. There is a necessity for enlightening the buddhi or intellect with the wisdom of the Samkhya philosophy. In the ancient Indian system of thinking, samkhya has been considered as knowledge of reality. Knowledge of things as they are is called samkhya. What is this word samkhya? We may have heard words like samkhyatikari in governmental circles. The Auditor General or the chief of the statistics department is called samkhyatikari. Samkhya is a number, calculation, counting, categorising, etc. Perhaps the word samkhya has come from the fact of its having been based on the categories of the items involved in the process of the evolution of what they call prakriti.
The word prakriti occurs for the first time in the third chapter of the Bhagavadgita. To explain what this knowledge or samkhya could be, the Teacher of the Gita introduces us to the principle of what He calls prakriti. It would be worthwhile going into some detail as to what these categories which the samkhya hangs upon are, one of whose principal categories being prakriti itself. The Gita uses the term prakriti oftentimes, and the Samkhya philosophy has the term prakriti as its main principle of exposition. What is prakriti which is the forte of the Samkhya, what are these categorisations of samkhya, the ‘numberings’ from which it has assumed its name? According to the philosophy of the Samkhya, which the Bhagavadgita accepts, in one of its phases prakriti is the substance of the cosmos. The stuff out of which the world is made is called prakriti. It is a general term, designating the matrix of all things. The basic building bricks of the cosmos are variations of prakriti.
We are told by the Samkhya that prakriti is constituted of three sources into which it modifies itself. We do not know how to translate the word guna which appears in the Samkhya system. We can safely say they are powers, forces of nature which is prakriti. These forces or powers are conditions into which prakriti casts itself at the very inception of the process of evolution, and are known as sattva, rajas, and tamas. When there is an equilibration of all forces, these three aspects of prakriti do not reveal themselves independently. This condition where the three exist in harmony is called samyavastha, where one cannot say what is and what is not. Often philosophers compare this cosmic condition of equilibrium of the gunas of prakriti to the deep sleep of the individual. Though in many respects the two are different, in some way we can say they are like the sleep of the individual in the sense that there is an oblivion of everything. Yet a presence of everything is there in seed form. All the activities, all the impulses, all the powers of action of the individual are imbedded in a potential state in the condition of sleep.
Likewise, all that is going to be the universe to come is present in a potential form in the samyavastha, or the equilibrated condition of the cosmos—prakriti- mulaprakriti in its primordial state. Sattva, rajas and tamas in this cosmical sense are different from the ethical qualities to which we attribute these characteristics. We say a person is sattvic or rajasic or tamasic, by which we mean a person is manifesting goodness or distraction or inertia. But in this cosmic sense, sattva, rajas, and tamas are far beyond the human concept. They are not ethical principles. There is no morality in prakriti—it is an impersonal power and it becomes a characteristic of judgment only when it is individualised subsequently. No question of judgment is possible in a cosmic set-up. It is difficult to explain what sattva, rajas and tamas could be in a cosmic state. We can only say they are something like the powers or forces which physics envisage in the modern sense of the term. They are not individuals and cannot be characterised by individual terminology. A condition in which all the forces of nature collaborate into action in a harmonious manner is prakriti.
Now, these cosmic aspects of prakriti—sattva, rajas, and tamas—further evolve themselves into subsidiary categories. The Vedanta and the Samkhya vary a little bit in their description of this process. However, there is not much of a difference; there is a little difference in their way of interpretation. The very purpose of the segmentation of prakriti into the characteristics of sattva, rajas, and tamas is the separating of the cosmos into the subjective side and the objective side. Creation cannot be meaningful unless there is an experience of an object. Creation begins the moment there is a consciousness of an object in front of the experiencer. When the object is absent, only the subject exists—there is no creation. The very inception of creation is the beginning of the consciousness of an object. The purpose of this categorisation of prakriti into these segmentations of forces is therefore the division in the cosmos into the subjective side and the objective side. The rajas, in its cosmical activity, catalyses the whole substance of prakriti into individualities. These are what are called the jivas. They are of various gradations and they are said to belong to almost an infinite variety of species. It is said there are eighty-four lakhs (8,400,000) of yonis or species of creation of individualities. These individuals are the experiences of the objective universe. The objective universe is also, in substance, the prakriti itself.
It is said that, to speak in the language of the Samkhya, the sattva of prakriti enables the reflection of purusha, or the universal consciousness, through itself. When this universal consciousness of the purusha reflects itself through the cosmic sattva of prakriti, it becomes what the Samkhya calls mahat—mahatattva. It is the cosmic intellect. We may compare it with the hiranyagarbha of the Vedanta; we may compare it to Brahma, the Creator, in the language of the Puranas. This cosmic intellect or mahatattva concretises itself further into a cosmic individuality, and that is called ahamkara. It is not the ahamkara that I have or you have. It is a cosmic principle of self-consciousness. It is not the individual self-sense that we are speaking of here. It is an unintelligible cosmic situation where the cosmic intelligence is said to become self-aware—’I am’ or ‘I am that I am’—’aham asmi’. This is the cosmic ahamkara, comparable with the virat of the Vedanta.
Then there is a division. The prakriti, in its tamasic aspect, becomes the cause of what are known as tanmatras—shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa, ghanda—which means the intangible powers that are behind the sensations of hearing, touching, seeing, tasting and smelling. These are the subtle powers which are behind objects, which elicit reactions from our sense organs in these manners. These tanmatras, by a kind of permutation and combination, become the cause of the five gross elements—earth, water, fire, air, and ether. This process of permutation and combination is called panchikarana, a peculiar term which implies a quintuplication of these tanmatras to constitute five elements.
Now, this objective universe is not completely severed from the subjective experiences, on account of the two being the limbs of prakriti herself. The perception of the objective universe by an individual is made possible by the presence of an intermediary link that is called the presiding deity or the adhidaivata of the mind, intellect, sense organs, etc. Thus, there does not appear that there is a real gulf between the seer and the seen. They are somehow made to appear as if one is different from the other, but the fact of their being children of the same mother, the cosmic prakriti, precludes any idea of their total isolation, one from the other. Not merely that; there is a connecting link between the seer and the seen. The sense organs and the mind also are constituted of these tanmatras, the very same substance of which the physical cosmos is made. These tanmatras again are subdivided into secondary sattva, rajas, and tamas. The sattvic portions of each of the five tanmatras become the causes or substances behind the five senses of knowledge—hearing, seeing, etc. The five put together become the substance of the mind or the antakarana. The rajasic secondary principles of the tanmatras become independently the cause of the five organs of action—grasping, locomotion, etc. Put together they become the pranas—prana, apana, vyana, udana, and samana. And in the tamasic aspect they become this body.
So what is there, in this personality, which is not in the outer world? Whatever the world is made of outwardly is also the substance of this individuality. The gunas, which are the substances of prakriti, are present in the individual experiencer and also in the objects of perception. So the Bhagavadgita says: guna gunesu vartanta—the gunas operate upon the gunas. The eyes see, the ears hear, the tongue tastes, the skin touches, and the nose smells. How it is possible for these senses to function in this manner? The possibility is on account of the fact of the collaboration that already exists basically between the senses and the objects outside, on account of the fact that both are evolutes of the same tanmatras—shabda, sparsha, rupa, rasa and ghanda.