Sankhya reflects ascent of mind

Published on April 08, 2015 15:26:26 PM
The Vedic approach to knowledge was based on the assumption that there exist equivalences of diverse kinds between the outer and the inner worlds. This prompted a deep examination of the human mind. In the description of physical reality the Vedic scholars noted several paradoxes. If matter is divisible, each atom must be point-like because otherwise it would be further divisible.

But how do point-like atoms lead to gross matter with size? Space is neither continuous nor discontinuous, for if it were continuous its points would be non-enumerable, but if it is discontinuous then how do objects move across the discontinuity? A popular way to express these difficulties was to talk about the riddle of being and becoming. The basic question here is how does an entity change its form and become another?

The philosophical systems that arose in India early on were meant to help one to find clues to the nature of consciousness. It was recognised that a complementarity existed between different approaches to reality, presenting contradictory perspectives. That is why philosophies of logic (nyaya) and phys- ics (vaiseshika), cosmology and self (sa nkhya) and psychology (yoga), and language (mimamsa) and reality (vedanta) were grouped together in pairs.
The system of Sankhya considered a representation of matter and mind in different enumerative categories. The actual analysis of the physical world was continued outside of the cognitive tradition of Sankhya in the sister system of Vaiseshika, that deals with further characteristics of the gross elements. The atomic doctrine of Vaiseshika can be seen to be an extension of the method of counting in terms of categories and relationships. The reality in itself was taken to be complex, continuous and beyond logical explanation.

However, its representation in terms of the gross elements like space, mass (earth), energy (fire) and so on that are cognitively apprehendable, can be analysed in discrete categories leading to atomicity. The cosmology of Sankhya is really a reflection of the development of the mind, represented in cognitive categories.
The Greek philosophers also spoke of paradoxes inherent in descriptions. For example, we have Zeno's famed paradoxes on motion. But the Greek tradition does not appear to have dealt with the problem of consciousness.

The Vedic Model of the Mind
One Vedic model of the mind is expressed by the famous metaphor of the chariot in Katha Upanishad and the Bhagavad Geeta. A person is compared to a chariot that is pulled in different directions by the horses yoked to it; the horses represent the senses. The mind is the driver who holds the reins to these horses; but next to the mind sits the true observer, the self, who represents a universal unity. Without this self no coherent behaviour is possible.

The Five Levels
In the Taittiriya Upanishad an individual is represented in terms of five different sheaths or levels that enclose the individual's self. These levels, shown in an ascending order, are:
_ The physical body (annamaya kosa)
_ Energy sheath (pranamaya kosa)
_ Mental sheath (manomaya kosa)
_ Intellect sheath (vijnanamaya kosa)
_ Emotion sheath (anandamaya kosa )
Here I have translated ananda as emotion rather than the customary bliss, since emotion is the closest cognitive category to the Sanskrit term. These sheaths are defined at increasingly finer levels.
At the highest level, above the emotion sheath, is the self. It is significant that emotion is placed higher than the intellect. This is a recognition of the fact that eventually meaning is communicated by associations which are influenced by the emotional state.