Complete works of Swami Abhedananda

by Swami Prajnanananda | 1967 | 318,120 words

Swami Abhedananda was one of the direct disciples of Sri Ramakrishna Paramhamsa and a spiritual brother of Swami Vivekananda. He deals with the subject of spiritual unfoldment purely from the yogic standpoint. These discourses represent a study of the Social, Religious, Cultural, Educational and Political aspects of India. Swami Abhedananda says t...

Chapter 2 - The Sankhya philosophy of Kapila

(Delivered on Tuesday, January 15 th, 1901)

The philosophy of Raja Yoga is based upon the Sankhya system of philosophy of Kapila. It is called the Sankhya system, because it describes twenty-five categories or principles of the whole universe. The word ‘Sankhya’ comes from the Sanskrit word, which means ‘number’, and sometimes it is called the ‘philosophy of numbers’. But there is a meaning to this word, and it means right discrimination between the true nature of things and the apparent nature as well as discrimination between the natural and the spiritual, and hence it is called the Sankhya system i.e. the system which describes the proper discrimination and right knowledge of things. It gives the names of twenty-five principles of the universe, and describes the methods, by which we can know and analyse these principles and their nature. This system of philosophy was discussed in ancient times in India, and it was systematically thought out by Kapila.

Kapila is known as the father of the doctrine of evolution, because he is first who gave the logical arguments for the support of the doctrine. It is believed that Kapila lived long before the Greek philosophers Plato and Pythagoras were born. Some of the Oriental scholars are of opinion that the Greek philosophy drew a great deal from the philosophy of Kapila, and Kapila’s psychology as well as the principle of cosmology are most ancient ones in the world. Though the idea of evolution existed long before Kapila and also before Plato and Pythagoras, yet Kapila was the first who taught by observation and experiment how to solve the mysteries of this universe. He scientifically studied the process of evolution of things, and tried to trace the real cause of the phenomenal universe. It was well-known in India that these material objects were made up of atoms and molecules: the difference which dwells in these atoms and molecules, is known as the system of sankhya or number. Kapila was a great supporter of the atomic theory. but was not satisfied with the dead and unconscious atoms, though he described the atoms to be the cause of the phenomenal universe. He said that mere dead matters (atoms) cannot be the cause of everything in the universe, and so he studied in his own way of tracing the cause of atoms, and he thought that atoms were not the primary cause of the universe, but there must be some cause behind the atoms, out of which the atoms are produced. So he studied the process of evolution in a scientific way, and discovered the real cause of the phenomenal universe, some of the laws which harmonize with those of the modern science. By scientific investigation, Kapila came to the conclusion that something can never come out of nothing. And so, though he discovered that Prakriti is the cause of evolution, yet he found that Purusha, the shinning intelligence is really the cause behind the dead and inert Prakriti, and finally concluded that the unintelligent Prakriti, coming in contact with the intelligent Purusha, becomes the cause of evolution of the phenomenal universe. In Herbert Spencer’s philosophy, you will also discover this fundamental principle of evolution.

In fact, Kapila discovered that when the unintelligent inert (jada) i.e. unconscious Prakriti comes in contact with the intelligent conscious Purusha, evolution of the phenomenal universe begins. He said that Prakriti and Purusha are conjoined together like lame and blind (pangu-andhavat) men, and when the insentient Prakriti comes in contact with the sentient Purusha, the universe evolves. The insentient Prakriti itself is inactive, and so action or vibration of evolution begins in Prakriti, when it is associated with the intelligent Purusha. It is true that in the Rig Veda and Upanishad (vide Taittiriya Upanishad), the gradual process of evolution of the phenomenal universe has been described, but Kapila’s method of investigation into the theory of evolution is more systematic and scientific.

Another important or essential point, which was arrived at by Kapila, is that cause lies in the effect, and effect also lies in the cause, and the manifestation of the subtle and material forms (effect) existed in the potential form in the cause. Therefore Kapila arrived at the conclusion that destruction of a thing in the sense of annihilation is impossible, as destruction of a thing means reversal to the causal state. We say that, effect is destroyed, when it goes back to its causal state (nasha karana layah). So anything in this universe is not destroyed, but matter and force which constitute the form, appear in another form. When the gross body is destroyed, it is not annihilated, but it goes back to its causal elements or causal state. Kapila discovered that the laws of nature are uniform throughout and if we study one thing of the universe, we are able to discover everything in this universe. In fact, Kapila came to the conclusion that evolution means the unfolding of the cause or Prakriti.

Now the word Prakriti is sometimes translated in English as Nature. But we use the word Nature in a variety of senses. Modern scientists may call it the eternal energy which is beginningless, endless, and eternal. The modern scientists have come to the conclusion that everything of the universe has come out from a primordial substance, and the forces are correlated to one another. By ‘energy’ they mean ‘the potential state of all things’ and potential means latent. A tree is potential or latent in a seed form. When we are handling a seed, we are handling the potential tree. The tree exists in the seed in a causal form, and all the peculiarities which will come out and make up any particular tree, are there already in the seed. If we call the seed cause, the cause will mean the unmanifested form of the tree, and when the seed is manifested in the form of a tree, we call it the effect. Therefore nothing comes from outside. Environments may bring out a certain thing, but the tree is already there in the seed, otherwise any seed may produce all kinds of tree; and, therefore, there would not be anything to control the nature and kind of the tree. As for example, an elm would produce a fig, or a fig seed would produce a mango, and there would be a great want of regularity.

It has been said before that according to Kapila, an effect lies in the cause, and so there ought to be no difficulty in understanding the nature of the manifold universe. We see today with our senses the outcome or effect of an unmanifested came, known as Prakriti or eternal Energy. The eternal Energy would be the sum-total of all the conditions, and everything that exists in the universe exists, in latent state. So if we try to trace the cause of the universe, we will have to conceive of that substance which includes everything, for nothing will come from outside of that substance. Everything of the universe comes out from Prakriti in the form of a gradual process, and it has already been said that Prakriti is eternal, beginningless, and endless. But it has no self-consciousness. It becomes one of the conditions of self-consciousness, when it comes in contact with the sentient and intelligent Purusha. If we can imagine that this whole universe is an ocean of ether and the vibration of ether produces waves, which are called the objects of senses, so we will find that everything which our senses perceive as odours, sounds, etc. all are the expressions of the waves of the etherial motion or vibration. Again if we can imagine that the etherial motion existed at a certain time in a motionless state, where there was no vibration, then all the phenomenal appearances will vanish in a moment and the whole universe would go back to its primordial state, and that would be called an ‘involution’. Involution is quite opposite to evolution. But it should be remembered that evolution (sristi) and involution (nasha or pralaya) are no other than the manifested (yyakta) and unmanifested (avyakta) forms of the same Prakriti.

Kapila said that the process of evolution and involution exists throughout eternity, and there is no beginning and no end of that state or condition. All thoughts come out of that state. The moment you ask that question: “where is the beginning?”, you are in that state of vibration, and your thought is included in that state. That is, it includes mind and ego and all other objects of sense powers, and everything which we can think of. All things are included in that one substance of Purusha-Prakriti combined. All these different forces are latent, and when they are called into action, there is manifestation. When the Prakriti is disturbed, then it begins to be set into motion, and produces a state which possesses all the potentialities of self-consciousness. That is, it (Prakriti) is illumined by a spiritual light, and when it is illumined by a spiritual light of the Purusha, it becomes conscious, and that state is described as Mahat, the first state before the evolution of the phenomenal objects. To make it more explicit, it can be said that the moment the Prakriti is illumined by the spiritual light of the Purusha, it is possessed of self-consciousness, and then begins the evolution. Kapila said that Prakriti is the combination of the three qualities, sattva, rajas and tamas, and when these qualities remain in a balancing state, the Prakriti remains in its own form, and there begins no evolution or creation; but as soon as that balance is disturbed (gunakshobha), evolution begins and the subtle and material things begin to manifest.

It has been said before that Prakriti creates everything of the universe through the process of evolution, when it comes in contact with the Purusha, but the moment that illuminated intelligent Purusha becomes conscious of itself, the subjectivity begins. That is, there must be a subject and an object. The moment the Purusha begins to be conscious of it, there comes the division between the subject and the object. But that subject and object are the combination of the spiritual life. If you study your own nature, you will find that there is something which is constantly changing, and something that does not change. In fact, our consciousness has been manifested as or related to the subject and the object which are changing, but the light of consciousness or the consciousness which underlies them and forms the background of them, is constant and not changing. That is, the primordial substance which forms the background of the universe, is not subject to change. But the relational knowledge or phenomenal consciousness is always changing. Now, when we say ‘I’, we mean not only that light of shining self-consciousness, but also the mind and the thinking principle. So we think generally of the mind of the sense powers, and of the physical forms which are known as the son or daughter of Mr. or Mrs. or So and so. Now, when you think of the body, you become one or identified with the body. If there be any heat or cold, you identify yourself with those feelings of heat or cold. You also always identify yourselves with hunger or thirst, pain or pleasure, etc., and you feel them, and take upon yourself all those changes, and, consequently, you cannot separate those changes from yourself.

So there are two things, the one is unchangeable Self, and the other is subject to changes. Kapila analyzed it scientifically, and discovered the secret that there is an unchangeable something behind the changing things, and it is the source of all changes, and that unchangeable something is the Purusha. He said that the Purusha contacts the Prakriti, the pure, consciousness of the Purusha is transformed into buddhitattva or the state of mind. Here you will find a little difference between the system of Kapila and that of the modem scientists, because the scientists of modern times do not differentiate between the unchangeable one and the changeable something. The atoms are on the subject side, and on the other side would be the mind as well as the power of hearing, seeing, smelling, etc. Kapila also analyzed the method of perception (pratyaksha-jnana). As for example, he said that we see some colours and the things and there must also be something which produces the sight. We are possessed of five senses, and we cannot perceive more objects than our five senses allow. We feel, see, hear, smell, and touch. As there are five senses for perception, so whatever we would perceive with any of these senses, would be the combination of these five. We can see hundreds of colours, but the sense of colour is in itself. It is called in Sanskrit the tanmatra. It is not differentiated and is not seen with our eyes. We also find that there may be great varieties of sound, but the essence of sound is one. We may have a high or low pitch of the sound of a flute or piano or any other instrument, but all these do not exist in the essence of sound, and that must be considered by itself. The sense of sight and the sense of colour and that which produces colour have also produced the power of seeing the colour, and it is some relation to the organ of the sight. In this way, we see the relation between the external objects and the subjective state and also the condition of the object through which sense objects are perceived or sensed. The power of seeing, the object of sight and the organ of vision, are only the different states of that something which possesses the sense of colour, or sight, or potentiality of perception, and the potentiality of perception exists in that primordial substance, known as the Prakriti. So the whole universe can be summed up in this way, and the manifestation of substance and the study of the universe become very simple.

There are twenty-four states of evolution. It has been said that there is a primordial state of evolution i.e. the state where the primordial substance is illumined by the spiritual light. Then comes the bifurcation of the subject and the object; then comes the essence of things; then come the mind, the sense organs, and the organs of action, such as moving power and power of speech, and, last of all come the gross forms of different things. But these twenty-four states or principles (tattvas) are changeable, and that which knows these twenty-four states or principles, is unchangeable, and that is called the Purusha, or the real Self. That is the source of consciousness as well as the source of all intelligence. We cannot think of its beginning, nor its end. It is not affected by any of the changes or conditions of the different stages of evolution, but it is above all these changes, and so it cannot die, and cannot be born, but it is free and above all relativity. It may be called immortal, and it gives the life to that which evolutes. It is the source of activity, but it is not our soul. Our body may move, but how can we say that our soul is moving? If we go from here to any other city, do we think that our soul is moving with us? If that spirit moves with us, where is the seat of that spirit? Is. it confined like an atom in our body, or is it out of all the conditions of space and time?

These questions do not bother many minds, but these are the problems of the philosophers. The philosophers try to trace relation between the soul and the external object and its condition. But the Sankhya system says that the Purusha has no relation to space. It is absolute, and yet it is many. Because each individual has a true spirit which is beyond space, time, and changes of body and mind. It is beyond thought and word. In truth, the word Purusha cannot be translated into English with its equivalent term. The word ‘soul’ does not convey the proper meaning of the Purusha. There is no other way of expressing the idea. The ego is subject to evolution, but that which is the Soul of souls, is the Purusha, who is not subject to evolution or it can be said that evolution cannot touch the Purusha. These two eternal things are admitted by the Sankhya. These two are separate, and that which is subject to evolution, produces all these changes and varieties of phenomena so long the Purusha or knower does not realize the nature of the Prakriti.

How long does this world exist in relation to you? This question disturbed the minds of the Hindu philosophers in ancient times. The answer was that as long as we are thinking of the world, so long this question exists. This answer may appear mysterious to us. But if we think of the answer for some time, we will see that it is true. As long as we are looking at the world, it exists for us. But if we go beyond thought, then the world will not exist in relation to us. There is a beautiful illustration given in the Sankhya philosophy. The eternal Energy (Prakriti) is compared to a dancing girl in a theatre, and the observer is the Purusha. The girl dances as long as the observer is there, but the moment the observer ceases to look, at her and understands the dance perfectly, it fails to amuse him. Similarly at the opera, if there were no observer, of what use would it be? As long as the audience is there, there will be dancing and all performances. There would not be any manifestation, if the people did not go to see it. Such is the case with the evolution or manifestation of the universe. This evolution is for the pleasure of the Prakriti and also for let the Prakriti know what powers she possesses.

In studying this universe, we are astonished to see how many things are there. If everything exists in a primordial state, we would not know that there could be such variety of colour, or so many beautiful flowers, and at the same time, we know nothing of ourselves, and we do not know how we have got this body. We do not think of it; we do not know what this thought is, or where it came from. We are working constantly to get something, but we do not know what that thing is. This is the result of the charm and fascination of the powers of the Prakriti. Prakriti is fascinated and charmed, when it is reflected by the Purusha.

As long as that state continues, so long the world exists, and we will be bound to see and talk about these things. But the moment we go beyond thought, all pain vanishes, and all suffering ceases, and we enjoy a state which cannot be described by anything of the world, because anything of the world cannot reach it, and we are in a state of perfect peace and rest. By knowing ourselves, we will know the nature of that which deluded ourselves for a long time. That which made us unhappy, does not belong to us, and we say: “Now we are above feeling, and anything cannot delude us”. In fact, all feelings exist in relation to us, but when we feel that we are above feeling and emotion, nothing can affect us.

The power of seeing may exist in relation to me, but I am not the power of seeing. I never had any eyesight, and never have had, but, for the time being, I have come in contact with the instrument which is the power of eyesight. If it changes. I call myself blind, because something has happened in the instrument, and I think that I am blind. If the body grows, I say that I am stout, and if I do not grow stout, I say that I am thin, but the knower is beyond all space relations. Such is the difference, when we have the perception of our true nature. We have hypnotized ourselves, taking upon our shoulders all the changes and thinking that they are our properties. All sufferings proceed from this lack of discrimination and right knowledge. To know ourselves and our true nature as well as the true nature of that which is changing, is the right knowledge, and this right knowledge destroys all suffering, misery, and sorrow.

The Sankhya philosophy tries to show to the world that everything that exists in the world, produces some kind of suffering and sorrow. We cannot have absolute happiness in this world of change. This is only the transitory relation to certain things which produces a favourable condition in our mind. The same thing will produce a different feeling in some other person. The heat, which is very desirable in winter, is unbearable in the summer. We cannot expect a constant pleasure in an external gross object, and if we expect that, we will delude ourselves. We may go on and on, and that expectation will not be realized. The philosopher knows this, so he stops all such foolish expectations. He goes to the extreme, and expects that which he is sure to get. The philosopher goes below the surface of things, and sees the true nature of things, and does not delude himself. But an ordinary man will have to go through all these experiences and different states of evolution. By gaining all these experiences, we know that this is a changeable condition.

The ultimate object of this process of evolution is to make the Purusha realize his true nature and glory, and this Purusha is the real spirit and the true nature of every individual. We should know that all these do not exist in Purusha, but exist in Prakriti, and when that is done, the Purusha or the Soul begins to manifest its true nature and glory, and that is emancipation where all senses cease and all sense objects are transformed.

The Sankhya system does not believe in any God, the Creator. In the Sankhya, it is not necessary to think of a creator, as everything is explained by the process of evolution of one substance, who is going to be the Creator. So this idea of a creator was thrown overboard one thousand years before the birth of Christ. However the Sankhya, being a system was based entirely upon the doctrine of evolution, rejected the idea of a creator of the universe. This philosophy again includes all stages of suffering in the Purusha.

There are places, where we feel as though we had come to heaven. But all these are included in the different stages of evolution, and so we need not think of any heaven as a place outside the universe. This idea is considered to be a very simple one which comes to ordinary persons who do not understand the real nature of things.

As the Sankhya system did not believe in any such creator, it accepted the Purusha as an immortal and all-knowing shining principle. Out of this system grew different sects in India. The Jaina is one of them. This philosophy (Jaina) is most intimately connected with the Sankhya philosophy. The fundamental principles of the Buddhist philosophy also depend upon the Sankhya theory. In fact, all systems of Indian philosophy believe in the doctrine of evolution. Even the Buddhists do not believe in the existence of the phenomenal universe, and still they believe in the doctrine of evolution. All those who believe in God, also believe in the theory of evolution. The word ‘creation’ which is generally used in the sense of bringing something out of nothing, does not find a place in any of the philosophies of India. We do not find a single exception which conveys this meaning. The Yoga philosophy accepts all these descriptions of the twenty-five categories (chaturvimshati-tattvas) of the Sankhya system, and at the same time it has a conception of God. The fact is this that Kapila rejected the utility and existence of God, but Patanjali, the propagator of the Yoga system admitted for many reasons the utility and existence of God, the Creator, and he said: “Purusha-vishesah Isvarah” i.e. the Purusha, described by the Sankhya, is known as Isvara, the Creator in the Yoga system, and for this reason Patanjali’s Yoga system is known as the Seshvara-Sankhya i.e. the Sankhya philosophy, which admits the existence of God. Patanjali’s system of Yoga is a new, or rather an original addition to the domain of Indian philosophy.

FAQ (frequently asked questions):

Which keywords occur in this article of Volume 2?

The most relevant definitions are: Purusha, Prakriti, Kapila, Sankhya, soul, Yoga; since these occur the most in “the sankhya philosophy of kapila” of volume 2. There are a total of 33 unique keywords found in this section mentioned 157 times.

Can I buy a print edition of this article as contained in Volume 2?

Yes! The print edition of the Complete works of Swami Abhedananda contains the English discourse “The Sankhya philosophy of Kapila” of Volume 2 and can be bought on the main page. The author is Swami Prajnanananda and the latest edition is from 1994.

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