Prakrti: The theory that causation means a real transformation of the material cause leads to the concept of Prakrti as the root-cause of the world of objects.
All worldly effects are latent in this uncaused cause, because infinite regress has to be avoided. It is the potentiality of nature, ‘the receptacle and nurse of all generation. As the uncaused root-cause, it is called Prakrti; as the first principle of this Universe, it is called Pradhana ; as the unmanifested state of all effects, it is known as Avyakta ; as the extremely subtle and imperceptible thing which is only inferred from its products, it is called Anumana; as the unintelligent and unconscious principle, it is called Jada; and as the ever-active unlimited power, it is called Shakti. The products are caused, dependent, relative, many and temporary as they are subject to birth and death or to production and destruction; but Prakrti is uncaused, independent, absolute, one and eternal, being beyond production and destruction. The extreme subtleness of Prakrti makes it unmanifest and imperceptible; we infer its existence through its products. Motion is inherent in it in the form of Rajas. As the source of the inanimate world, it is unconscious. The entire world of objects is implicit in the bosom of Prakrti. Evolution is the explicit manifestation of this world of objects, while dissolution is the returning of this world to Prakrti. Sankhya believes that consciousness cannot be regarded as the source of the inanimate world, as Vedanta and Mahayana believe, because an intelligent principle cannot transform itself into the unintelligent world. On the other hand, the material atoms of the physical elements too cannot be regarded as the cause of this world, as Charvaka, Nyaya and Vaishesika, Jainism and Hinayana Buddhism, and Mimamsa wrongly believe, because they cannot explain the subtle products of matter like intellect, mind and ego (these are different from pure consciousness which belongs to Purusa alone, and are regarded here as internal organs), and further because the unity of the universe points to a single cause while the atoms are scattered and many. Unintelligent, unmanifest, uncaused, ever-active, imperceptible, eternal and one Prakrti alone is the final source of this world of objects which is implicitly and potentially contained in its bosom.
Sankhya gives five proofs for the existence of Prakrti which are as
- All individual things in this world are limited, dependent, conditional and finite. The finite cannot be the cause of the universe. Logically we have to proceed from the finite to the infinite, from the limited to the unlimited, from the peros to the aperosy from the temporary to the permanent, from the many to the one. And it is this infinite, unlimited, eternal and all-pervading Prakrti which is the source of this universe (bhedanam parimanat).
- All worldly things possess certain common characteristics by which they are capable of producing pleasure, pain and indifference. Hence there must be a common source com-posed of three Gunas, from which all worldly things arise (samanvayat).
- All effects arise from the activity of the potent cause. Evolution means the manifestation of the hitherto implicit as the explicit. The activity which generates evolution must be inherent in the world-cause. And this cause is, Prakrti (karyatah pravrttescha).
- The effect differs from the cause and hence the limited effect cannot be regarded as its own cause. The effect is the explicit and the cause is the implicit state of the same process. The effects, therefore, point to a world-cause where they are potentially contained (karanakaryavibhagat).
- The unity of the universe points to a single cause. And this cause is Prakrti. (Avibhagat vaishvarupyasya).
Prakrti is said to be the unity of the three Gunas held in equilibrium (gunanam samyavastha). The three Gunas are Sattva, Rajas and Tamas. They are the constituents of Prakrti and through it of the worldly objects. Being subtle and imperceptible their existence is inferred from their effects— pleasure, pain and indifference respectively. Although they are called Gunas, yet they are not ordinary qualities or attributes like the Nyaya-Vaishesika Gunas. They themselves possess qualities like lightness, activity, heaviness etc. They are extremely fine and ever-changing elements. They make up Prakrti which is nothing apart from them. They are not the qualities which Prakrti, the substance, possesses; on the other hand they themselves constitute Prakrti. They are the factors or the constituents or the elements of Prakrti. They are called Gunas because they are the elements of Prakrti which alone is called substantive; or because they are subservient to the end of the Purusa, or because they are intertwined, like three strands, to make up the rope of Prakrti which binds the Purusa.
Sattva literally means real or existent and is responsible for the manifestation of objects in consciousness. It is called goodness and produces pleasure. It is light and bright, buoyant (laghu) and illuminating (prakashaka). Luminosity of light, power of reflection, upward movement, pleasure, happiness, contentment, and bliss is all due to it. Its colour is white. Rajas, which literally means foulness, is the principle of motion. It produces pain. Restless activity, feverish effort and wild stimulation are its results. It is mobile (chala) and stimulating (upastam-bhaka). Its colour is red. Tamas, which literally means darkness, is the principle of inertia. It produces apathy and indifference. Ignorance, sloth, confusion, bewilderment, passivity and negativity are its results. It is heavy (guru) and enveloping (varanaka) and as such is opposed to Sattva. It is also opposed to Rajas as it arrests activity. Its colour is dark. These three Gunas which constitute Prakrti are never separate. They conflict and yet co-operate with one another and are always found intermingled. They are compared to the oil, the wick and the flame of a lamp, which, though opposed, yet co-operate to produce the light of a lamp. They are imperceptible and are inferred from their effects. All things are composed of these three Gunas and their differences are due to the different combinations of these Gunas.
The nature of a thing is determined by the preponderance of a particular guna. Things are called good, bad or indifferent; intelligent, active or slothful; pure, impure or neutral, on account of the predominance of Sattva, rajas or tamas respectively. When these Gunas are held in a state of equilibrium, that state is called Prakrti. Evolution of worldly objects does not take place at this state. These Gunas are said to be ever-changing. They cannot remain static even for a moment. Change is said to be of two kinds— homogeneous or sarupa -parinama and heterogeneous or virupa -parinama. During the state of dissolution (pralaya) of the world, the Gunas change homo-generously, i.e., Sattva changes into uattva, rajas into rajas and tamas into tamas. This change does not disturb the equilibrium of the Gunas and unless the equilibrium is disturbed and one predominates over the other two, evolution cannot take place. Evolution starts when there is heterogeneous change in the Gunas and one predominates over the other two and brings about terrific commotion in the bosom of Prakrti. The nature of these Gunas is beautifully brought out in a Hindi couplet by Rasalina. The poet says that the eyes of the beloved are white, red and dark, and are full of nectar, intoxication and poison, with the result that once they pierce the heart of the lover, he experiences the joy of life, the agony of restlessness and the inertia of death. The recollection of the beloved gives him joy and makes life worth living; separation causes acute pain and makes him restless; intensity of love makes him forget everything and become inactive, unconscious and almost dead. Sattva is white and is like nectar and gives joy; rajas is red and is like intoxication and gives pain; tamas is dark and is like poison and produces unconsciousness. ‘We bow to Prakrti,’ says Ishvara-Krishna the red-white-dark, the unborn mother and “nurse and receptacle of all generation”. Such is the conception of Prakrti in Sankhya.