by Swami Krishnananda
This is all interesting and very useful for us so far as it goes, but our question is a different thing altogether. “What is this essence or substance out of which nature is made, and how am I going to be related to it?” is my question. If I am told that nature is made up of electricity, it is all right. It is as good as saying it is made up of many bodies, or five elements or whatever it may be. It matters little to me what name we give to that which we call nature. But tell me what nature means to me, and what I mean to nature. What is the relationship between nature and me? Are we friends or enemies? Is there any relationship between us at all? This is the question scientists have not answered and which they are not going to answer. “We are not interested in the subject. That chapter is closed,” a scientist might respond.
But in India this question was taken up by another system of thinking called the Samkhya, a school of philosophy which literally means ‘a system of knowledge’. Enumeration of the categories of reality means Samkhya. This Samkhyan analysis discovered that this gulf cannot be bridged ultimately. Nature is nature, man is man, and they will be always like this. Man looks at nature and nature may react to man, but there cannot be an ultimate resolution of this gulf between man and nature. Instead of saying man and nature, the Samkhya says purusha and prakriti. These are the Sanskrit words for ‘man in essence’ ( purusha) and ‘nature in essence’ ( prakriti). In this philosophy, there are only two things in the whole creation—purusha and prakriti. What man is and what prakriti is was the contribution of the Samkhya philosophy to us. It is on Samkhya that yoga is based, at least in one form. It is very important to remember that Samkhya and a particular system of yoga—Patanjali’s yoga—go together. I do not mean that the subject of yoga is exhausted by Patanjali, as it is just one system of yoga. Inasmuch as Patanjali’s system of yoga is based on Samkhya, it will be proper to know what Samkhya is because without an understanding of it, we cannot understand Patanjali.
The Samkhya’s question and problem were the same which I tried to state before you in the very beginning. But the Samkhya thinkers realised that the methods of observation and experiment alone will not suffice. Our modern scientists are committed to the processes of observation and experiment with laboratories, microscopes and telescopes. That is all our scientists can do—they can see and observe. But may I put forward a question: who is it that sees? The eyes? Why should we have so much confidence in these eyes? What makes us think that these eyes tell us the truth? Whatever be the discoveries or the proclamations of our wise physicists, I nevertheless pose the question: who is this physicist who is so confidently proclaiming truths? Who is this gentleman? In what way does he differ from the illiterate farmer in the fields? The unsophisticated person also sees just as the physicist sees; what is the difference ultimately between these two kinds of seeing? The scientist sees through the microscope, whereas the unsophisticated person sees without it. Well, what is the difference between using one lens or using two lenses? You may use a hundred lenses, but after all you are using a certain apparatus, the constitution of which becomes the very subject of your study. When you study nature, you should study your lens also. You use something which is itself unstudied and make use of it in studying nature. You are begging the question, sir! In studying nature you are using nature itself as an instrument. How can you understand nature? What are those microscopes and telescopes? Are they not themselves a part of nature? After all, what are your eyes themselves? They are also a part of nature. You use nature as an instrument in understanding nature! How interesting, and how humorous it looks!
But this is what our scientist does. The object and the subject are the same for him. This is “begging the question”, as it is called. He assumes something that he is going to prove. He assumes that he has understood nature well, and then wants to understand nature. But his lenses are not going to help him, because lenses are a part of nature. His eyes are also not going to help, because the eyes are also a part of nature. Nothing that he can take from nature can be of any help to him in fully knowing nature. What else does he have that does not belong to nature? Is there anything that he can use as an instrument in studying nature that is not itself coming from nature? If he thinks it over, he will find that there is nothing else with him. He is just borrowed stuff.
When we use the term ‘nature’ we have used a term signifying everything that is existent—man’s body included. Our bodies are included in nature, and we use them in observation and experiments. How do we observe an experiment? Science fails because of this difficulty. Science is a failure in the discovery of reality, because it begs the question. It borrows nature’s property for understanding nature. Samkhya was awake to this difficulty of employing the method of mere observation and experiment. Science became philosophy. By ‘philosophy’ we mean the employment of the pure mind and reason in the analysis of truth, over and above the instruments which science uses from nature. Philosophy is a work of the mind, while science is a work of physical instruments. The pure mind alone can help us.
Samkhya is one of the oldest philosophies – perhaps the oldest in the world. The other schools of thought came afterwards. Samkhya says that no instrument can help us in understanding nature. We have to stand on our own legs—the mental legs, not the physical legs. Analysis was carried to its logical limits, and it was found that it was necessary to discover the presence of something which does not belong to nature in order that nature could be studied. If we have nothing of that kind, then we are a failure in life. We will have to say, “Hopeless; I accept defeat!” and there is no more trying to understand nature. Either we proclaim this and keep quiet, or we dive deep into our own minds and find out if we have anything which cannot be said to belong to nature. We must have something independent of nature. If there is anything of that kind, we may succeed in understanding nature. The Samkhya’s analysis was thus, “I am the person wanting to know nature. I have to know myself first. It is not nature that tries to study nature. I, as a person, am confronted with this difficulty. My body has not been able to help me in the study of nature, because it is made up of the five elements which belong to nature and which constitute nature. Have I anything other than the body?”
The independent analysis of the adhibhuta revealed that study of nature is not going to succeed unless the adhyatma also goes with it hand-in-hand. The subject cannot simply be abrogated from the process of analysis. It is not the object that studies the object. It is the subject that wants to study the object. This is very simple to understand. Who is it that wants to study nature? Not nature. Nature never said, “I’ll study myself.” It is we as a subject—as a thinking being endowed with the curiosity for knowledge—that wishes to study nature. The purely objective method has failed, whether it is that which is employed by the Western physicists or the thinkers like the Nyaya-Vaiseshika, etc., who were certain kinds of thinkers in India that thought of nature as constituted of diverse bodies. The idea that nature is made up of diverse bodies was a stage of investigation, as I mentioned already. There are other schools of thought in India like the Nyaya, Vaiseshika, Mimamsa, etc. We need not bother ourselves about these names, as they are not necessary in our study. I am just mentioning that there are also other people in India who are like the Western astronomers and physicists who imagine nature to be made up of diversified bodies.
Samkhya however made an advance over these thinkers. The many things are made up of five essential things, but what these five things are cannot be understood unless I first understand myself. I am not going to understand anything else, unless I first know what the basis of my own being is. Here science borders on philosophy. When the objective analysis fails and the need is felt for a substitute for objective analysis, we turn from astronomy and physics to philosophy. Philosophical analysis reveals great facts. Man can study man, but nobody else can study man. Also, one man cannot study another man. That is a very interesting thing, because the other man becomes an object for the observing man. The difficulty was that an object cannot be independently studied. As you are an object for me, I cannot study you as an object. No object can be studied independently without reference to the subject, because the object is analysable only by this subject. Therefore, one man does not become the object of study of another man, as it is impossible. The Samkhya went deep into subjective analysis, through which it tried to understand the constitution of matter and the forces that are seen to constitute it. “What am I made of?” is a crucial question. “How am I to know myself? Whatever the method, instruments are not going to help me. I’ll have to use analytical and synthetic processes of enquiry and judgment.”
The subject does not fully comprehend the object because there has not been an understandable relationship established between the subject and the object. We are still halfway. We have not yet arrived at that stage where we can confidently say, “This is my relationship with the object.” There is still a mysterious, unknown relationship between us. The subject concludes, “Unless I equip myself with the proper apparatus to understand the object in front of me, I am not going to touch this object. I should confine myself to the study of myself, and then let us see if something can be known of the object, because the object is also something like me. If I am of such a nature, other persons also are likely to be of similar nature. So by knowing myself, I may be able to know others as well.” When a person boils rice, and he wants to see if it is well-cooked, he can take one grain and see if it is soft. If that one grain is soft, then one could conclude that the whole thing is cooked. He does not squeeze every grain in the pot.
This is the method adopted in philosophical analysis. If I can be sure of what I am made of, I can perhaps be sure of what others are made of. We seem to be in a common world of similar difficulties and relationships—whatever the relationships may be. “How am I going to study myself?” becomes the question. The method is one of analysis and synthesis. There are certain technical Sanskrit words to signify these methods of analysis and synthesis, but there is no need to use them. Let us not worry too much about terms and phraseology. It is enough if we know the subject; otherwise we will be busy only with the words, and time will be wasted in this. The point is that an analytical process has to precede a process of synthesis. To separate a subject or a question into fundamental units, and then try to relate them in a methodical manner is called analysis and synthesis. Suppose we have a huge mass of coins of various denominations. We separate by analysis the different denominations into various groups, arrange them and then count them in different groups. This is one crude example of analysis, but the example will serve us as we continue our inquiry into this complex topic later on.