Contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra to Samkhya System

by Sasikumar. B | 2017 | 35,637 words

This page relates ‘Gunas (sattva, rajas and tamas) in Sankhya’ of the research on the Sankhya [Samkhya] school of Indian philosophy with special reference to the contribution of Vachaspati-Mishra. The study includes concepts such as Epistemology (validity and worth of knowledge), Ontology (theory of being or reality), Psychology (science of behavior and mind), Phenomenology (the philosophical study of the structures of experience and consciousness) and Ethics (the removal of errors), all forming an essential part of Samkhya philosophy.

Chapter 3.3b - Guṇas (sattva, rajas and tamas) in Sāṅkhya

Sāṅkhya postulates Prakṛti as the ultimate cause of all worldly existence.[1] It is the equilibrium of three guṇas, i.e. sattva, rajas and tamas. The term ‘guṇa’ does not stand for quality or characteristic. The guṇas are to be understood in the sense of the constituents or components of Prakṛti. These three constituents, though essentially distinct in their nature, are conceived as interdependent, so that they can never be separated from one another. It means that they are not mechanically placed together, but reciprocally involves one another and form a unity in trinity. That is, they not only coexist, but also cohere.

One important point to be noted here is that Sāṅkhya conceives of Prakṛti as ever active. The reason behind it is that if the movement of Prakṛti be stopped in the state of dissolution, there would be no further evolution. There is no other outward agency which can move it into action. The only other reality apart from Prakṛti is Puruṣa, which is supposed to be completely inactive and indifferent. Sāṅkhya does not postulate any third principle of God. Hence, Sāṅkhya conceives of motion as inherent in Prakṛti. The fact that Prakṛti is always in motion implies that every object of the world, being an effect of Prakṛti, is also in a state of constant motion.

Each of the guṇas stands for a distinct aspect of physical reality. Sattva signifies whatever is pure and fine: rajas, whatever is active: and tamas, whatever is solid and offers resistance. The existence of Prakṛti and Puruṣa has been reached through reason on the principle, i.e., Prakṛti is postulated effects. The guṇas are not perceived, but are inferred from their effects or modifications. They are super sensible.[2] They are of the nature of pleasure, pain and delusion. They are feeling substances. Sattva has the function of manifestation. Rajas has the function of activity. Tamas has the function of restraint. Sattva manifests an object of consciousness. Rajas makes an object move and act. It is the principle of activity. Tamas is the inertia, resistance, or restraint.[3] Sattva rajas and tamas have the functions of manifestation, activity and restraint respectively, and which produce pleasure, pain and delusion respectively.[4] Sattva is light and illumining; it is buoyant and ended with power of manifestation. Rajas urges sattva and tamas to act. It is an incentive to action. It is the principle of motion. Sattva is the essence to be realized or manifested; tamas is the obstacle to its realization or manifestation; rajas is the energy which overcomes the obstacle and realizes the essence. They coalesce with one another, and function in cooperation with one another.

As guṇas are the ultimate elements in the constitution of Prakṛti. Prakṛti is regarded as essentially dynamic. Even in dissolution there is a homogeneous change in Prakṛti when all the three guṇas are in the state of equilibrium. It is only when heterogeneous change takes place and rajas vibrates and makes sattva and tamas vibrate then the equilibrium is disturbed and evolution takes place.

Sattva, the principle of manifestation and rajas, the principle of activity were formerly held in check by tamas, the principle of nonmanifestation and non-activity. But when rajas, the principle of activity vibrates and makes the other two vibrate, the process of creation begins, and creation is not the new creation of the worldly objects, but only their manifestation. It is only made explicit that which was formerly implicit. There is no continuous progress in one direction, but alternating periods of evolution and dissolution in a cyclic order.

Evolution is again said to be teleological and not mechanical or blind, Evolution takes place for serving the purpose of the Puruṣa. Prakṛti, the guṇas, the senses, the mind, the ego, the intellect, the subtle body all are constantly serving the end of the Puruṣa. This end is either worldly experience or liberation.[5] Sattva is responsible for the lightness in things; the upward movement of the burning fires the downward flowing of the water or the blowing across of the wind. Tamas weighs down things and renders them inactive. Neither of these would have the energy to have its proper functions, but from the stimulative activity of the rajas.[6]

Sattva, rajas, and tamas are infinite in number. An infinite number of individual sattva, rajas and tamas bring about the diversity of effects and diminution. If they were single and ubiquitous, they could not bring about the diversity of effects, which is due to the conflict of the guṇas. If they were single individuals, they could not bring about an increase and diminution.[7] They cannot be created or destroyed. They cannot be changed into one another. All changes are due to the combination and separation of the guṇas, which are always integrating and disintegrating. All effects are due to particular arrangements and collocations of the guṇas which are indestructible and eternal.[8] In fact, the evolution and envelopment of the guṇas themselves called the āvirbhāva and thirobhāva of Mūlaprakṛti.

Footnotes and references:


Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya, 1.76


Gauḍapādabhāṣya on Sāṅkhyakārikā 13


Sāṅkhyakārikā 12


Mukta Biswas: SāṃkhyaYoga Epistemology, p.23


K.P.Kesavan Nampoothiri: The concept of Apavarga in Sāṃkhya Philosophy, p.63


Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya, I.127


Yogabhāṣya, IV.13

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