Samkhya Karika 16, Mula Prakriti is the cause of the Universe


Karnam asti avyaktam pravartate trigunatah samudayat ca I

Parinamatah salilvat prati-prati-guna-asraya-visesat II


Karanam – the reason, cause

Asti – exists

Avyaktam – The unmanifest Mula Prakriti

Pravartate – its functions, acts or interplay

Trigunatah – of the three gunas

Samudayat – through the interplay, interaction

Ca – and

Parinamatah - as a result, through changes and transformations

Salilvat – like water

Prati- repetition, again and again

Guna asraya – repository of the gunas

Visesat – differences between


The myriad number of objects (effects) created – caused- by the intermingling, combinations and permutations of the three basic gunas stand testimony to the existence of their subtle cause, the unmanifest Mula Prakriti. Karika 16 of Samkhya is talking about more proof – pramana- of the existence of the Mula Prakriti as the cause behind the manifestation of all the objects that make up the material universe. 


How does the Three Gunas Operate?


In order to prove the existence of subtle Mula Prakriti as a cause one needs to prove – the existence of its effects, the material objects which make up the universe. This is easy to prove as the presence of all the three qualities of the gunas can be easily perceived, in various combinations, in the matter of the universe. 


All the objects which construct the universe are nothing but the three gunas coming together in different proportions, combinations and manifesting as that object.  Wood would have a particular combination of the three qualities which would be different from the combination present in iron. The parallel is drawn to the existence of water in three states – solid, liquid, and gas – where the basic composition of water remains the same across all the three forms. 


Thus, the matter of the universe takes different forms but its basic composition – three gunas – remains the same in all its forms – effects – as well as in the cause, the Mula Prakriti. When the three gunas exist in a state of equilibrium – homogeneity – with each other they do not evolve into the objects of the universe and this ecistence of their’s is known as Mula Prakriti. 


The evolution begins the moment this equilibrium is disturbed, due to some cause, which will be explained in later karikas, and the three gunas intermix with each other in various different combinations heterogeneously.  Even after the effect – object – is formed they remain in constant state of flux due to which the qualities of this object constantly keep changing depending upon which guna is dominant at a particular point of time.  


This Samkhya karika basically emphasises the everchanging nature of the worldly existence of matter.  As the human beings are also a part of the material universe the changing effect of the three gunas can be seen in their emotions and thought as well.  Some times when Sattva guna is predominant the mind remains calm, as rajas takes over the other two gunas the mind becomes restless, and a dull or sleepy mind is the result of the dominance of tamas guna. 


Due to the nature of the gunas even these states of mind are perceptible to further alteration or change. This karika helps one delineate the only cause of the existence of endless number of objects which make the universe: the interplay of just three gunas is common to this staggering number of objects which traces their cause back to the Mula Prakriti – unknown and imperceptible to us - which is also composed of the same gunas, as the basic composition of the cause and the effect remains the same.


The Cause of all Creation is Mula Prakriti and the Purusha


Whatever is manifest has a cause in Mula Prakriti and Purusha which are unmanifest. Like milk (the cause of curd) is not visible in curd (its effect), Mula Prakriti, the cause of the existence of the entire universe, though not visible to us does exist. Mula Prakriti and Purusha are unmanifest but Samkhya philosophy has given multiple proofs of their existence. Based on these proofs we do admit to their existence but since we can’t perceive them, we do not know their nature.


For us the manifest world (Prakriti) is the only reality which is not static and permanent.   In spite of being aware of this fact we remain engaged in the ever-changing material world and suffer as a result. Purusha is the only entity which is changeless. We always remain lost in the play of Prakriti, laughing and crying in the process. 


Because of the three attributes the Prakriti is ever changing. It has many forms; we just have to sit and observe. If we will try to interfere, we will land up in problems. It would be like trying to change a scene of a movie we do not like; this is bound to land us in problems. We just need to observe the play of the three gunas. We need to understand that the gunas as per their nature will keep on presenting the ever-changing drama to us; it is for us to decide whether we should interfere in their functioning (which is fruitless and will lead to confusion causing pain), or just objectively observe the play. 


Thus, gunas go under two kinds of transformations – parinama: svarupa parinama(homogeneous transformation), where each guna mutates within itself without disturbing the overall equilibrium; and virupa parinama ( heterogenous transformation) where guna intermix with each other and create the universe in the process. Here, the equilibrium of the gunas is disturbed and any one guna gains predominance over the other two, thus begins the evolution of the universe. 



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