A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of pralaya and the disturbance of the prakriti equilibrium: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the twelfth part in the series called the “the kapila and the patanjala samkhya (yoga)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 12 - Pralaya and the disturbance of the Prakṛti Equilibrium

But how or rather why prakṛti should be disturbed is the most knotty point in Sāṃkhya. It is postulated that the prakṛti or the sum-total of the guṇas is so connected with the puruṣas, and there is such an inherent teleology or blind purpose in the lifeless prakṛti, that all its evolution and transformations take place for the sake of the diverse puruṣas, to serve the enjoyment of pleasures and sufferance of pain through experiences, and finally leading them to absolute freedom or mukti. A return of this manifold world into the quiescent state (pralaya) of prakṛti takes place when the karmas of all puruṣas collectively require that there should be such a temporary cessation of all experience. At such a moment the guṇa compounds are gradually broken,and there is a backward movement (pratisañcara) till everything is reduced to the guṇas in their elementary disintegrated state when their mutual opposition brings about their equilibrium.

This equilibrium however is not a mere passive state, but one of utmost tension; there is intense activity, but the activity here does not lead to the generation of new things and qualities (visadṛśa-pariṇāma); this course of new production being suspended, the activity here repeats the same state (sadṛśa-pariṇāma of equilibrium, so that there is no change or new production. The state of pralaya thus is not a suspension of the teleology or purpose of the guṇas, or an absolute break of the course of guṇa evolution; for the state of pralaya, since it has been generated to fulfil the demands of the accumulated karmas of puruṣas, and since there is still the activity of the guṇas in keeping themselves in a state of suspended production, is also a stage of the saṃsāra cycle. The state of mukti (liberation) is of course quite different, for in that stage the movement of the guṇas ceases for ever with reference to the liberated soul.

But still the question remains, what breaksthe state of equilibrium? The Sāṃkhya answer is that it is due to the transcendental (nonmechanical) influence of the puruṣa[1]. This influence of the puruṣa again, if it means anything, means that there is inherent in the guṇas a teleology that all their movements or modifications should take place in such a way that these may serve the purposes of the puruṣas. Thus when the karmas of the puruṣas had demanded that there should be a suspension of all experience, for a period there was a pralaya. At the end of it, it is the same inherent purpose of the prakṛti that wakes it up for the formation of a suitable world for the experiences of the puruṣas by which its quiescent state is disturbed. This is but another way of looking at the inherent teleology of the prakṛti, which demands that a state of pralaya should cease and a state of world-framing activity should begin. Since there is a purpose in the guṇas which brought them to a state of equilibrium, the state of equilibrium also presupposes that it also may be broken up again when the purpose so demands. Thus the inherent purpose of the prakṛti brought about the state of pralaya and then broke it up for the creative work again, and it is this natural change in the prakṛti that may be regarded from another point of view as the transcendental influence of the puruṣas.

Footnotes and references:


The Yoga answer is of course different. It believes that the disturbance of the equilibrium of the prakṛti for new creation takes place by the will of Iśvara (God).

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