"Sankhya Philosophy" (SB 3.24.19)
Kapila Muni’s Sankya philosophy discussed in this section of the Srimad Bhagavatam, describes the relationship between the Supreme Absolute and the conditional energies experienced within this world. Thompson draws upon the concept of the self, presented within Kapila Muni’s analysis, as a portal for investigating the link between consciousness and matter. He considers that just as physicists hypothesize the existence of the neutrino to account for energy loss occurring during beta-decay, a similar form of hypothesis could consider “mind energy” to account for the influence of thought on the actions of the senses.
TRANSCRIPT: Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 3, Chapter 24, Text 19. “Sankhya Philosophy.” San Diego – October 14, 1992 / (026)
Your son will be the head of all the perfected souls. He will be approved by the ācāryas expert in disseminating real knowledge, and among the people He will be celebrated by the name Kapila. As the son of Devahūti, He will increase your fame.
Purport by Srila Prabhupada:
Sankhya philosophy is the philosophical system enunciated by Kapila, the son of Devahuti. The other Kapila, who is not the son of Devahuti, is an imitation. This is the statement of Brahma, and because we belong to Brahma’s disciplic succession we should accept his statement that the real Kapila is the son of Devahuti and that real Sankhya philosophy is the system of philosophy which he introduced and which will be accepted by the acaryas, the directors of spiritual discipline. The word susammata means “accepted by persons who are counted upon to give their good opinion.”
cakṣur unmīlitaṁ yena
tasmai śrī-gurave namaḥ
śrī-caitanya-mano-'bhīṣṭaṁ sthāpitaṁ yena bhū-tale
svayaṁ rūpaḥ kadā mahyaṁ dadāti sva-padāntikam
So the translation:
Your son will be the head of all the perfected souls. He will be approved by the ācāryas expert in disseminating real knowledge, and among the people He will be celebrated by the name Kapila. As the son of Devahūti, He will increase your fame.
This verse is describing the avatar of Visnu known as Lord Kapila and it’s pointed out that He would teach the Sankhya philosophy. So the Sankhya philosophy, of course, now we’re going to go into the teaching of Kapila in the next volume so we will learn a lot about the Sankhya philosophy. But… this philosophical system describes the relationship between the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the energies that we directly have experience of in this world, and thus it establishes the link between what we directly experience with our senses and God. So therefore that’s an important aspect of philosophy.
It also explains our own situations in life because it explains the nature of the soul, the subtle body, and gross body, and relationships between these different elements. For this reason the Sankhya philosophy is important for purposes of attaining self-realization. It’s the philosophical system that describes basically what the self is, and how it works in relation to what we see and experience; and that’s actually the importance of Sankhya philosophy.
Srila prabhupada has said sankhya means counting, or enumeration, and it’s the analytical study of material nature, both gross and subtle. Srila Prabhupada also points out here that there’s another Kapila, an atheist Kapila; so there is an imposter who is also putting forward his Sankhya philosophy, which is atheistic. In fact, in India most of the time when people speak of Sankhya philosophy they refer to the atheistic Sankhya philosophy, but that’s because they have been bewildered by these invalid teachings. So the actual Sankhya philosophy is theistic.
So, just to summarise what the Sankhya philosophy contains: Well, the most basic statement you could make is that beginning with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, there are various energies – Krsna has many different types of energy. And these fall in three broad categories: There’s the internal energy, yoga-maya, by which Krsna manifests the eternal spiritual world and everything that is contained in it. Then there is the external energy, or the material energy, and the marginal potency. The marginal potency consists of the infinitesimal spirit souls. So we are spirit souls – that is what we are in essence – and so we’re part of this marginal potency, it’s part of the energy of Krsna.
Now the external energy is unique in the sense it is not conscious, or it doesn’t have the property of consciousness. The spirit souls, jivatma, are by nature conscious; they have what is called the cit potency. There’re three fundamental features of Krsna: sat, cit, and ananda.
Sat refers to eternal being. Krsna exists eternally. There is no diminution... diminishing within Krsna. This is the principle of sat. Then cit is the principle of knowledge, being able to know something. So being able to know something means to be conscious. The real definition of consciousness is this. Something is conscious if it has knowledge. The very word ‘conscious’ says that, because con means “with” and s-c-i-o-u-s means “knowledge” in Latin. It’s the same root word you find in “science.” Also nescience means ignorance, so ne means negation, and then science, means not knowledge.
So to be conscious is to have knowledge, and the cit potency is the principle whereby an entity can have knowledge. So then ananda, this is the hladini-sakti, or the principle of pleasure or enjoyment, and that is there in the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So these principles of sat-cit-ananda are there within Krsna and to a minute degree these principles are also there within the jiva souls. The jiva soul is also by nature sat-cit-ananda.
So however the material energy is different. In one sense the fundamental basis of material energy is also sat, because it is eternally existent, but the manifestations of material energy are all temporary. So they are asat, which is the opposite of sat – they come and go. And they are also acit – they don’t have consciousness. Material manifestations don’t have any awareness of anything, and thus they cannot have knowledge. Of course we can place knowledge in a book by recording ink on paper in little shapes, but the book doesn’t know the knowledge in the book. It’s just an object, and the ink is just there on the paper and that’s all. It just sits there.
Likewise, in gross material body in the brain information could be stored up. They don’t exactly know how it happens yet, even though there is so much knowledge these days about the brain. But the idea is that by making different connections between neurons you could code information. In a computer you can store information in the form of electric charges on capacitors, for example, or magnetization of little magnets and so on, which if it’s magnetized one way it means one and if you magnetize in another way means zero. So you can have ones and zeros; and with that you can make numbers, and the numbers can stand for letters; the letters can make up a book, and so you can have a book stored in your computer. But the computer doesn’t know anything. It has information in it, but it doesn’t have knowledge because it’s not aware of anything. It’s just an object or a thing.
So that’s the nature of the material energy. So the Sankhya philosophy describes this material energy. The fundamental principle underlying the material energy is called pradhana, so that’s an eternally existing energy of Krsna. So Krsna manipulates this pradhana to create the material universes and it’s sort of like a person making a drawing or writing some message on a black board using chalk. You take the chalk and you write, and so now there’s a message there; or else you make a drawing there, and then later you erase it. And the chalk still exists but now the little particles of chalk are just arranged in a different pattern, so the writing you had on the black board or the drawing now ceases to exist. So the material energy is like that. It’s sort of a super black board system that Krsna makes use of.
So sometimes He writes universes, as it were, and then He erases them. So all these manifestations are temporary but the energy that they’re made from, namely the pradhana, continues to exist. So scientists have a principle of conservation of energy and actually that principle is valid. However it’s not valid at the level at which the scientists present it; that’s an interesting point.
Physicists, actually, should be well aware of this because since about… sometime in about the middle of the 19th century, they’ve had this principle of conservation of energy. But since that time, their definition of what energy consists of has changed on a regular basis. They keep adding to it – discovering new forms of energy – which means that the old definition of energy didn’t satisfy conservation of energy because they keep coming up with new definitions of energy. Therefore whatever the old definition of energy was, energy of that type wasn’t conserved.
For example there’s something called the neutrino, which is a subatomic particle. So there is a certain reaction in which atoms decay and they give off an electron – it’s called beta decay – and the scientists observed that this beta decay does not conserve energy. This was observed back in the 1930’s. So the scientists were rather shocked by this and they thought, “Well this is terrible, and it must be there’s another particle which carries off the missing energy in beta decay.”
I think it was Enrico Fermi who proposed it. He called the mysterious particle the neutrino and he just postulated it as something that would carry away the energy which seemed to be missing in beta decay, so that they could still have conservation of energy. And sure enough, at least according to the stories that physicists tell, he was right, because later on they did discover the neutrino and so now they are convinced that it really exists. So in their equations for energy now, they also have the neutrinos. Previously they didn’t have neutrinos, which means that previously their equations didn’t really balance and they really didn’t have conservation of energy. But now scientists will still argue that if you propose that some non-physical mind causes the brain to do something, such as move my arm like this, then that violates conservation of energy. So that couldn’t be. So scientists will argue like that.
But it’s not a very good argument because their definition of energy has been changing on a regular basis, so it can change again; and they can discover a new kind of energy perhaps, which you could call mind energy. Why not? It’s perfectly possible. In fact there’s a lot of empirical evidence for the existence of mind as a separate kind of energy.
In any case the Sankhya philosophy does say that there is something that you could call mind energy. So that’s all described by Lord Kapila in considerable detail. Basically the pradhana is the… as I say, you can compare it to a blackboard or you can compare it to clay that is moulded by a sculptor to make different sculptures. You can take clay and mould that and now you have a figure human being, let’s say, and you can wad it up and that figure is gone; and then you can mould it into something else and wad that up and so on.
So from this pradhana, which is like this basic clay, it basically exists in two states. In one state nothing is manifest – that’s just like the clay which was wadded into a ball and it does not have particular form. Of course a ball has a form. But in any case… so when the pradhana is in this state in which nothing is manifest, on some occasions Maha-Visnu will glance over it, and when He glances over the pradhana, He injects into it the conditioned spirit souls which were stored up within His body in a state of suspended animation. And He also injects into it the time factor. This is described in the Brahma-samhita. It becomes quite complex.
But when the time factor begins to operate within the pradhana things begin happening. False ego becomes manifest within the pradhana, then the three modes of material nature become manifest, and they begin to interact and various elements are produced in a systematic order. Intelligence is produced from the mode of passion, mind is produced from the mode of goodness and from the mode of ignorance gross elements are produced beginning with ether, which is space. So initially space is produced. This means material space, because there’s also spiritual space. Spiritual space actually is the brahmajyoti because that’s the spiritual sky and the Vaikuntha planets are floating within that. So that is Krsna’s spiritual counterpart of space. So material space is different – it is the container, it’s described actually by Lord Kapila. Ether or space is the container for all the other material manifestations, that is, other manifestations take place within it
And space also, and this is a somewhat unique idea, is the generating cause of the other gross elements which are listed as air, fire, water, and earth. So everything that we see in ordinary experience is made up of air, fire, water, and earth in different proportions. But these elements are transformations of ether, so in one sense they’re nothing but ether. Interestingly enough there are some scientists who have made similar theory. Einstein introduced the idea of space as a continuum that can be curved. His idea is that curvature of space creates gravity; that’s a whole subject: Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity
Another scientist named John Wheeler proposed that particles are made of curved areas of space; that is, where space curves in a certain way – that’s a particle of matter. So all matter as we know it is just space that is curved in little lumps. So really there’s nothing but space. So that’s an idea somewhat similar to the idea in the Sankhya philosophy. But it’s only somewhat similar, because in Sankhya philosophy there are other aspects also. For example, the senses get linked up with the gross elements. This is an important feature because there’s a basic question of how consciousness gets connected with matter. If matter doesn’t have consciousness, then how is it that consciousness gets linked up with matter?
So first of all, we are conscious of matter, and secondly, matter seems to be acting in a conscious way, that is, you see these bodies walking around and they give evidence of being conscious. So many people, including respectable scientists, think that matter is conscious and they trace the consciousness back to the brain. Actually, the reason why they trace consciousness to the brain is that’s the point where things become so complicated that they can’t trace things any further. They can’t really understand the brain – it’s too complicated.
For example, it’s said there’re... well, it used to be estimated that there were 10 billion neurons in the cerebrum. But then someone made a comment that out of that 10 billion neurons in cerebrum, at least a 100 billion of them are found in one small part of the cerebrum. In other words, 10 billion was off – it was really 100 billion. Well of course, actually nobody knows what a 100 billion neurons are doing. Just consider that – trying to keep a track of what’s going on with 100 billion neurons. Just trying to keep track of what 100 neurons are doing – that would be difficult. So you don’t really know what they are doing in there – nobody knows.
But they’ll say, whatever they’re doing there, they’re generating consciousness; consciousness is created by these neurons. And if you ask, “How is consciousness created by these neurons?” They’ll say, “Well, we are thinking about that and we are going to explain it; and you’d better not propose anything different because you will be awfully embarrassed when we actually explain it if you propose some different theory.” This is the argument that they will ultimately give.
Recently there’s a Scientific American issue devoted to the brain. And they had an article there strongly stating, “We shall explain consciousness in terms of the brain. And the first thing we will do is explain visual perception: how you perceive something that you see. And once we explain that, then we will explain other features of consciousness.” So they are going to do it; so anyway, that’s what they say, but no one has done it.
So in any case, in Sankhya philosophy the link between consciousness and matter is explained. Basically the gross elements of ether, air, fire water, and earth are produced and these are linked up with senses, namely hearing, touch, vision, taste, and smell interestingly enough. So these senses get hooked up with the elements. It’s something perhaps comparable to having a peripheral device hooked up to the computer. You can hook up the computer to your mouse, so once it’s properly hooked up and you move the mouse, you can send information into the computer. So the mouse is like a material object, obviously, but when that link is established, then the computer picks up signals from the mouse. So we don’t know exactly how it’s done, but links are established between these senses and the material elements. So the senses in turn are linked up to the mind, and the intelligence, and the false ego. And finally the false ego is linked up to the spirit soul, and the link there is Krsna himself. Now that’s why the Sankhya philosophy has to be the theistic Sankhya philosophy if it’s going to actually work, because Krsna is essential in all of this.
First of all it was Krsna who set the elements into motion and transformation so as to create the whole system; and Krsna is also the source of conscious spirit souls; and Krsna is also the final link between the spirit soul and the element of false ego.
So in the atheistic Sankhya philosophy, basically what the atheists do, of course, is they just cut Krsna out of the picture completely. So they just have this pradhana with the elements manifest in it, and from what I understand, they say that that’s eternal. The manifestation of the elements is eternally present, and spirit souls, somehow or other, are embedded in it. It’s like plum pudding and the spirit souls are like plums embedded in it. And they are just drifting under the influence... as a result of interactions between the modes of material nature; and they don’t have power to do anything, but they are just adrift, and that’s it. They just drift about undergoing different experiences as the modes of material nature transform, and that’s all that ever happens – that’s the atheistic Sankhya philosophy.
In a way it’s similar to the modern scientific philosophy. Modern scientific philosophy says there’s nothing but material energy. It eliminates the spirit souls also, so there are no plums in the pudding. But the material energy is just transforming endlessly. And sometimes the transformations produce brains, which make statements about consciousness even though there is really no such thing, and then at other times the transformations just produce rocks and masses of gas and things like that. So the atheistic Sankhya philosophy and the modern scientific view are quite similar.
So anyway, a brief summary. Sankhya philosophy is important because it really explains how our inner self is related to the material energy and it explains the role that Krsna has in manipulating the material energy and creating the different manifestations
So that’s what Lord Kapila is going to explain. So I’ll stop there. Are there any questions or comments?
Answer: Yeah, well, ether… the question is: What about the material scientists’ concept of ether? Of course, they originally had the concept of ether because they inherited that from Aristotle. As a matter of fact, Aristotle had earth, air, fire, water, and ether; but he had his own theory about them. And one wonders if there was some contact with India there, and it could well be that there was. In any case, in the 19th century the scientists, physicists, still felt there was a need for a concept of ether because ether would explain how light can go through a vacuum. Because it’s observed if you take, say, a glass chamber and you pump all the air out of it, sound, as we all know, cannot go through that, but light keeps going through. So they thought, well, there must be something there you’re not pumping out which conducts the light. So that they called ether.
Well, they were thinking of it as a substance within space – that’s how they were thinking. And they had problems with it because they thought, well, it has to be a very rigid substance because... the reason for that is the more rigid something is the faster vibrations will go through it. For example, sound goes much faster through, say, a steel rod than it goes through air. So light goes very fast, 186,000 miles per second, so whatever conducts light would have to be very rigid. But yet, ether does not stop you from moving. This seemed paradoxical, so they had problems with it.
In any case, finally with Einstein’s theory of relativity they kicked out ether and it’s been customary since then for scientifically trained people to say, well, ether was rejected by Einstein. Einstein, however, said that no, ether is an essential feature of his system because he just said, “We changed our ideas of what ether is like.” In his system he has curved space which means something is there that makes up space. He said that space itself is something – it’s not the absence of things – but it’s a plenum, it’s a real thing. So Einstein was really saying that space is something and you can call it either if you like; so he has the idea of ether. Yeah?
A: Well, because the idea is that they have equations. The question is, why does the idea that a non-physical entity causes the brain, say, to move your arm, why does that violate conservation of energy? Well, the reason is they have their laws of physics in which they have different terms: quantum wave functions and so on and so forth. So these equations do not have terms for non-physical entities like mind, let’s say. So if mind causes something to move then it’s upsetting the energy balance. For example, suppose mind propels... or causes an atom to start moving which was not moving before. Well now it’s got energy which it didn’t have before, so that violates conservation of energy from their point of view; because first it didn’t have the energy and now it has it. Where did that energy come from? Because they don’t recognize mind as an element in their system of equations, it couldn’t be coming from mind.
However the solution is simple enough. Your system of equations is incomplete – there is another energy called mind. And when mind moves the atom it imparts energy to the atom because it has energy in its own right, so it can do that. So that means you still really do have conservation of energy.
So to really understand conservation of energy properly you’d have to go to the level of pradhana which is the ultimate source of material energy. But of course even that wouldn't really be sufficient because you’d ultimately have to go to Krsna, who is the original source of all energy. Because if Krsna wants, He can just manifest anything: He could manifest a planet just like that, which would be a tremendous violation of energy according to the principle of E=mc2. So you take the mass of the planet and multiply it by the speed of light squared and that’s the amount of energy you need to build the planet. But Krsna can do that because he has an unlimited reservoir of energy that he can use. Yeah?
A: Yeah, when I said that I meant the gross manifestations, namely everything made of air, fire, water, and earth, because yes, it’s a fact – mind, intelligence, and false ego are beyond ether, so they are not within ether actually. Yeah… go ahead...
A: By link I am thinking of a communication link because the soul will will do something and matter goes into action and does it. That means you have something going from soul to matter, and it’s a casual chain. And then matter does something and the soul becomes aware of it, so that’s going from matter to the soul. So you have a two-way communication link, as it were. That’s what I meant by link: there’s an interaction between soul and matter.
A: Which Sankhya, the atheistic you mean?
A: Perhaps the Buddhist philosophy... I’m not really expert in it, but they ultimately say that everything is void somehow, although I’ve also been informed that their void is supposed to be a full void, or something like this. But in any case, they don’t have a Supreme Personality of Godhead so in that sense it is analogous.
Q: Pradhana is eternal, so when it’s unmanifest is it avyakta?
A: Well, avyakta means unmanifest.
Q: So when it’s manifest is it mahat-tattva?
A: Yeah, mahat-tattva. Or in the Bhagavatam, in the verses coming up, it’s said to be pradhana, and then when Maha-Visnu glances over it and sets everything into motion, then it’s called mahat-tattva. Yeah?
A: Yeah, but those aren’t just regular material books.
A: The point is that the sastras are not like that because actually, they’re non-different from Krsna. So therefore, they’re not just regular material books. Of course in one sense everything is non-different from Krsna, but in another sense it is. It’s just a question of consciousness. Krsna is there within every atom and so He has knowledge of everything. So in one sense there is total knowledge everywhere. But the material structure in and of itself does not have knowledge. But Krsna, who is there, has knowledge; and Krsna is everywhere.
All glories to Srila Prabhupada!