Chapter 2 is a summary of the whole book of Bhagavad Gita. Similar to how you cannot understand the content of the book by reading the Table of Content, just reading Chapter 2 – Sankhya Yoga is akin to skimming over the Table of Content. I intend to summarize this chapter after I’ve read the whole book.
It is however relevant to summarize the foundational framework of Sankhya Philosophy (one of the six schools of Indian Philosophy) proposed by sage Kapila sometime in the 1500 BCE – 400 BCE timeframe. Bhagavad Gita refers to this Philosophy in many chapters and understanding the foundational concepts of Sankhya Yoga helps understand Gita in a better light.
What is Sankhya Philosophy trying to explain?
At its core every human quest, be it in form of philosophical inquiry, search of truth, meditation for deeper meaning revolves around only four questions –
- Questions on Jiva / Self – Who am I? (with all its variations such as where did I come from, where am I going to, what is my purpose, etc.)
- Questions on Jaggath / World – How did everything I see around me came about? (with all its variations such as nature good, nature of evil, purpose of world, nature of external reality / illusion, etc.)
- Questions on Ishwara / Supreme Power – Is there someone as God? (with all its variations such as creation and creator arguments, nature of God, Power over humans, etc.)
- Interactions of Jiva, Jaggath and Ishwara i.e. how am I connected to this world and how am I connected to the supreme power.
Foundational Concepts of Sankhya Philosophy
Sankhya philosophy belongs to the realistic school of Indian Philosophy (v/s idealistic). The arguments of this philosophy can be tested by ones experience, contemplation and observation.
This philosophy argues that everything we see around us including Jiva / Self is made up of only two realities –
Prakriti (Matter) – This is the primordial substance with physical characteristics that everything that can be seen are made up of. Prakriti / Matter always existed, will continue to exist and can take different forms. One cannot destroy Prakriti in its essence. In the modern science this is nothing but Matter and the laws of conservation of mass applies i.e. matter cannot be created or destroyed.
Purusha (Energy / Spirit) – This is the energy that permeates through Prakriti / Matter to give life. Prakriti without Purusha is unintelligible and ineffective. Purusha is pure consciousness and has no physical existance. Any entity, humans, animals, plants, that grow, feel, interact, know of their existence is because of Purusha / Energy which is all pervasive. Purusha cannot be seen, has no physical qualities and hence is beyond any experience. This can be understood only through inference. In simple terms, this is the difference (A-B) between a living person (A) and that persons dead body (B). In modern science, this is nothing but Energy and the law of conservation of energy applies i.e. energy cannot be created of destroyed.
Three Gunas / Qualities
Prakriti / Matter manifested in different forms due to interaction with Purusha has three Gunas / Qualities. Only Prakriti has qualities and not Purusha which has no physical existence.
- Sattva – This quality is characterized by purity, fineness, subtlety. You identify Sattva by its brightness, lightness and ability to emanate joy. In humans, think of Buddha to be of Sattva Guna. In food these would be fruit, vegetables and fresh milk.
- Rajas – This quality is characterized by activity and motion. You identify Rajas by its restlessness, hyperactivity, passion, desire, change etc. In humans think of Alexander The Great to be Rajas Guna. In food these would be chili, caffeine, spicy food, high calorie sugary deserts.
- Tamas – This quality is characterized by inertia and inaction. You identify Tamas by negligence, indifference, inactivity, ignorance, insensitivity, gives pain, negative outlook etc. In humans think of Hitler to be of Tamas Guna.In food these would be meat, alcohol, stale / rotten food.
This philosophy argues that we all have some combination of all these three Gunas and our personalities are fundamentally shaped by the constituents of these three Gunas. You can see this in infants and toddlers. With limited external influences, they already show distinct traits or characteristics such as love for specific foods, colors, activities, and in some rare cases, prodigies with advanced skills for maths, music, arts, etc. Sankhya Philosophy believes that these traits are innate in the Prakriti / Matter that formed that person. Similar to how Prakriti constantly changes form (i.e. growth from infant to adult), the Gunas / Qualities also change along with the constitution of Prakriti.
The interaction of two Realities and three Gunas create 23 different categories / manifestations (will not go into the details of how these are formed)
Antahkarana / Internal tools
- Buddhi / Intellect – Makes the decisions, is a judge, discriminates, stores memories of past cause and effect.
- Ahamkara / Ego – This is the awareness about ‘I’ and ‘Mine’.
- Manas / Mind – Makes sense of the external world perceived through the five senses. Mind is an input processor. These inputs are sent to Buddhi for making decisions.
- Chakshu / Eyes – To see
- Srotri / Ears – To hear
- Rasa / Tongue – To taste
- Ghrana / Nose – To smell
- Tvak / Skin – To touch / feel
Karmendriya / Five Motor Organs
- Vak / Power of speech
- Pani / Power of handling
- Pada / Power of movement
- Paya / Power of excretion
- Upastha / Power of procreation
Pancha Tanmatra / Five Subtle Elements (i.e. subtle elements of perception in the external world)
- Shabda / Elements of sound – (e.g. Music)
- Sparsha / Elements of touch – (e.g. Sand)
- Rupa / Elements of color – (e.g. Rainbow)
- Rasa / Elements of taste – (e.g. Mango)
- Gandha / Elements of smell – (e.g. Fragrance of Rose)
Pancha Mahabhuta / Five Gross Elements (i.e. gross elements the external world is made up of)
- Akasha / Space
- Aap / Water
- Teja / Fire
- Vayu / Air
- Bhumi / Earth
Sources of Valid Knowledge
Sankhya Philosophy accepts three sources of Knowledge (Jnana)
- Pratyaksha / Perception – is achieved when ‘Five Subtle Elements’ are captured by ‘Five Sense Organs’ through the power of ‘Five Motor Organs’ and processed by ‘Anthakarana / Internal Tools’. For example to know if its raining, the Elements of Touch (i.e. water) is captured by Skin powered through Power of Handling and processed by Mind which makes sense of the external stimuli and sends the signal to Intellect. The knowledge of raining cannot be completed without the sense of the experiencer i.e. Ego.
- Anumana / Inference – Is achieved mainly using the ‘Antahkarana / Internal Tools’ through reasoning and observing one or more external elements. For example, in the morning if you see the fields wet, you can infer it may have rained overnight. This approach of reasoning involves three parts – forming Hypothesis (Pratijna), finding the cause or reason (Hetu) and making inferences based on past proven examples (Drshtanta). This aligns very well with the current scientific approach.
- Sabdha / Testimony – Obtained through reliable expert testimony. The sources can be spoken or written. Again something that can be accomplished with the 23 manifestations above.
God in Sankhya Philosophy
This philosophy does not find a need to believe in God to explain the existence of Jiva/ Self and Jaggat / External World. It asserts that existence of God cannot be proven using the three sources of knowledge explained above. It further argues that if God exists and if God is eternal and unchanging as is widely claimed, then God cannot be the cause of the world. A cause has to be active and changing. e.g. if the effect of wet fields mean the cause of rain, then rain cannot be eternal and unchanging… one cannot imagine a world where it rains all the time… For anything to have an effect, the cause should be active and changing.
What is the ultimate goal of Sankhya Philosophy?
Attain liberation / salvation from bondage / suffering. Sankhya Philosophy regards ignorance as the root cause of bondage /suffering. It argues ignorance causes identification of self with physical body and its constituents (13 internal manifestations explained above) which are the products of Prakriti. Once the self becomes free of the false identifications, salvation is possible.
My Notes Chapter 2