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Location: chennai, tamil nadu, India

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Tuesday, May 09, 2006

An ancient explanation for everything

Sānkhya is one of the major “orthodox” (pro-vedic or Hindu) Indian philosophies. Two millennia ago it was the representative Hindu philosophy. Its classical formulation is found in Īśvarakrishna’s Sānkhya-Kārikā (ca. 350 CE), a condensed account in seventy-two verses. It is a strong Indian example of metaphysical dualism, but unlike many Western counterparts it is atheistic. The two types of entities of Sānkhya are Prakrti and purusas, namely Nature and persons. Nature is singular, and persons are numerous, eternal and independent of each other. Persons (puruasas) are essentially unchangeable, inactive, conscious entities, who nonetheless gain something from contact with Nature. Creation as we know it comes about by a confluence of Nature and persons. Prakrti, or Nature, is comprised of three gunas or qualities. The highest of the three is sattva (essence), the principle of light, goodness and intelligence. Rajas (dust) is the principle of change, energy and passion, while tamas (darkness) appears as inactivity, dullness, heaviness and despair. Nature, though unconscious, is purposeful and is said to function for the purpose of the individual purusas. Aside from comprising the physical universe, it comprises the gross body and “sign-body” of a purusa. The latter contains among other things the epistemological apparati of embodied beings (such as the mind, intellect, and senses). The sign body of a purusa transmigrates: after the death of the gross body, the sign-body is reborn into another gross body according to past merit, and the purusa continues to be a witness through its various bodies. An escape from this endless circle is possible only through the realization of the fundamental difference between Nature and persons, whereby an individual purusa loses interest in Nature and is thereby liberated forever from all bodies, subtle and gross. Much of the Sānkhya system became defuse in India: especially the theory of the three gunas; and it was incorporated into much latter Indian philosophy, especially Vedānta...

For the full text, visit the fascinating Internet Encylopedia of Philosophy.


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