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Samkhya – Spirit & Matter (3 Gunas)


Cosmic Spirit (Purusa)

This is the animating principle of nature, that which breathes life into matter; the source of consciousness. It is the ultimate principle of intelligence that regulates, guides and directs the process of cosmic evolution. It accounts for the intelligent order of things – why there is a cosmos and not chaos. It is a background that gives us the feeling of persistence. It is the silent witness of nature.

Cosmic Matter (Prakrti)

Prakrti:  “pra” = before/first, “kr” = make/produce. Cosmic Matter is that which existed before anything was produced.  The primary source of all things, the original substance out of which all things have come and into which all things will eventually return.

The central argument used by the Samkhya system is that something cannot come out of nothing. Therefore the  material universe is traced back to a first cause – this is Cosmic Matter – it is merely a logical assumption for the sake of analysis. It is beyond the mind and can never be perceived by the mind (no more then a surgeon can see the soul). It can be understood through reason but can only be known through the practice of Yoga. Cosmic Matter evolves in a chain of cause & effect.

Cause & effect are only different states of the same thing separated by time (there is only a change of form, never of substance). The cause is un-evolved and the effect is evolved. Both are real. Nothing is new is created, all is a manifestation of what has already existed. According to Samkhya the eternal process of nature is without beginning or end.

The Gunas

Cosmic Substance consists of 3 constituents/powers called Gunas which explain the diversified objects of existence (the term means a single thread/strand of a chord): Sattva, Rajas & Tamas.

  • Sattva Guna is derived from “sat” = that which is real or existent. It is that power of nature that illuminates and reveals all manifestations. It is devoid of excitement and is the cause of equilibrium. It has no motion of its own and therefore incapable of action or reactions. It manifests itself as light.
  • Rajas Guna is derived from “ranj” – to be colored/affected/moved. It is the activating and exciting potency without which the other two constituents (Sattva, Tamas) could not manifest their inherent qualities. It’s function is to move things, overcome resistance, do work. I is responsible for all motion and change that goes on throughout nature.
  • Tamas Guna means darkness. Is it the power of nature that restrains, obstructs and envelops the other two constituents by counteracting the tendency of Rajas to do work and Sattva to reveal.  It is the restraining and binding potency of nature, the downward pull of the earth, the cause of mass, weight and inertia. It makes it possible for us to feel invisible air.

The Gunas are the roof of all change, the foundation of reality, the essence of all things. They were in a state of perfect balance before the manifestation of the objective world. When this equilibrium is disturbed the phenomenal world begins to make its appearance. The initial stress (that disturbed the equilibrium) in nature is the result of past action (karma).  In the process of nature they co-exist in everything, but one may predominate. They remain potentially ready to emerge as distinct aspects when the conditions for the next manifestations arise. Never are they non-existent nor is their power diminished or altered in any way.

Spirit (Purusa) and Cosmic Substance (Prakrti) are two aspects of a single thing. They are separated only for the purpose of analysis and because they do not have any separate existence. The formless Spirit cannot act by itself because it has no vehicle.  The Cosmic Substance can have no urge to action because it is inanimate. Through their union existence can manifest. Both are eternal realities, un-manifest, without beginning or end, all pervading and omnipotent.

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