Sankhya Yoga – Contemplating Mind and Matter [Assignment]

Sankhya is a philosophical understanding. Where other perspectives have a focus on the connection with and understanding of the Divine alongside the mind-body connection and awareness , Sankhya Yoga does not. Sankhya Yoga focuses on dualism between the conscious (Purusa) and the unconscious (physical matter – Prakriti).

Sankhya Yoga seeks to know ‘absolute reality’ – that is, things that are real and unchanging. It defines anything that can change (the unconscious, Prakriti – ‘primal nature’) as ‘unreal’, and anything that is stable and ‘true’ (consciousness, Purusa – ‘pure consciousness’) as ‘real’.

This knowledge of reality can be obtained through three  methods:

  1. Pratyaksa, or ‘direct sense of perception’. There are two dimensions to Pratyaksa – indeterminate perception and determinate perception. Indeterminate perception is taking in stimuli using the senses without being able to know it or recognise it’s ‘un-reality’. For example, indeterminate perception would be using your sense of sight to see an object or touch an object without ‘knowing’ it, or thinking about its other ‘qualities’. Determinate perception is taking in stimuli using the senses and being able to know, label or categorise it. Determinate perception would be using your senses of sight to see an apple, recognising that it is an apple, and relating it to other experienced perceptions – for example, seeing an apple, recognising “hey, that’s an apple” and remembering are previous experiences of taste or touch or smell, that you have had with apples.
  2. Anumana, or ‘inference’. This is making logical assumptions based on knowledge of perceptions.
  3. Sabda, or ‘verbal testimony’. This translates to ‘speech’ but traditionally refers to verbal testimony of the Vedas (scriptures).

The is only one ‘type’ of Purusa, however there are many Purusa’s. Purusa can be related to the understanding of a ‘soul’. The soul is unchanging; pure consciousness. There is only one ‘type’ of pure consciousness, but just like the idea of soul, there is not one single soul but many. This is what is meant but a ‘plurality’ of Purusa.

There are several ‘strands’ of Prakriti, which serves to explain the changing nature of matter. The three ‘strands’ are called ‘gunas’, and are ‘Sattva’, ‘Raja’ and ‘Tamas’. These gunas are qualities or tendancies of matter. Sattva refers to ‘light’, and is characterised by calm balance, clarity and knowledge. Tamas refers to ‘darkness’, and is characterised by inactivity, resistance and ignorance. Raja refers to ‘action’, and is characterised by energy, excitement and passion. Rajas are said to be the energy that gives rise to movement between creation (sattva) and destruction (tamas).

The joining of Purusa and Prakriti gives rise to Shristi – creation/evolution.  There are 24 principles of Shristi. As creation and evolution are a qualities of matter and not a qualities of consciousness (because consciousness cannot be created or produced), these principles align under Prakriti.

The 24 principles are:

  • Five Mahabhutas – the five great elements: space, air, fire, water, and earth.
  • Five Tanmatras – the five subtle elements/potentials: what is touched, what is tasted, what is smelled, what is heard, and what is seen.
  • The Five Karmendriyas – the five organs of action: tongue, hands, legs, reproductive organs, and excretory organs.
  • The Five Panchendiryas – the five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell.
  • Manas – the mind.
  • Ahamkara – the ego principle. This principle is associated with the sense of ‘self’. Not the ‘Self’ that is Purusa, but the self that brings about the ideas of separation, of ‘I’ and ‘mine’.
  • Buddhi – awakened intelligence. Often Mahat and Buddhi and grouped together as one principle, although they have subtle differences. Buddhi has a psychological aspect. Although it seems to mimic consciousness, it is not consciousness.
  • Mahat – the great principle; intuition and congition. This principle aligns most closely with sattva, and it’s important to note again that even though objects at this level seem to take on consciousness, they remain Prakriti, not Purusa.

The principles are like categories that group matter. Some describe it like a map, movement up towards Mahat – towards knowing reality.

Wow! Sankhya is d-e-e-p! It took a lot of reading for me to get my head around this topic! Reflecting on it – it is actually not at all as confusing as I initially thought. Breaking it down and seeing how it all fits together, and then writing it out in a way that others would understand it, really helped clarify a few things for me. 

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