Samkhya Karika 17, The purpose behind the Emergence of the World

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Samkhya Karikas

Samkhya Karika 17 text:

Sanghata pararthatvat trigunadi viparyayat adhisthanat I

Purusah asti bhoktrbhavat  kaivalyartham pravrtteh ca II

Sanghata – Coming together, mixing, amalgamation, collocation

Pararthatvat – for someone else

Triguna – the three gunas

Adi – etc., others

Viparyayat – because of misunderstanding, absence 

Adhisthanat – a repository, a foundation, a master controller

Purusah asti – the spirit exists

Bhoktrbhavat – the ability to experience, seer

Kaivalyartham – for the purpose of achieving kaivalya

Pravrtteh – actions towards, tendency towards

Samkhya philosophy talks about the process of evolution, or coming together, of the world, the Prakriti. Samkhya karika 17 explains the reason behind why the world comes into existence in the very first place. 

Purusha provides Consciousness to the insentient world

This karika makes us aware of the existence of Purusha, or the supreme consciousness as an entity. It says that all the objects of the world, its experiences, its joys and pains all are not created for themselves but for some one else. This other for whom the world is created is the consciousness, the Purusha.

The three gunas are not present in the Purusha, thus all the activities of the gunas are also absent in the Purusha. Purusha as an entity is different from the material world and its objects, it is even different from the primal cause – from where the world or the Prakriti emerges – the Mula Prakriti. Matter, or Prakriti, is devoid of consciousness in its unmanifest state as Mula Prakriti. It can only evolve into the material world by coming together with the consciousness, the Purusha. 

Mula Prakriti, as we have seen in the previous karikas, is the root cause of all things material and subtle that exist and make up the world, but Purusha has no beginning, is unchanging, and eternal. Purusha is neither the cause nor the effect of anything.  Its only the Purusha which is sentient (has consciousness) and the only one which can make all the other evolutes of Prakriti – intelligence, mind, ego, and five mahabhutas – sentient. 

The human body, also an object of Prakriti, lack consciousness on its own, it cannot operate on its own. That means there is something, someone else which operates the body. Purusha is to the body as the electrical current is to the functioning of the computer. Purusha exists with all the objects of Prakriti, the material world, like salt exists mixed in water. Purusha (consciousness) exists within the material world as a master controller, and experiencer of all that the vagaries of the material world offers it, and these experiences should work together to liberate it from the clutches of the material bonds. Thus, Purusha has a goal of liberation known as Kaivalya. 

Only and only Purusha can activate anything by imparting consciousness to it, no other entity that exists has this ability. Without Purusha the world would exist like the existence of a bed room which is well furnished with a bed, mattresses, bedsheet, pillows etc., but not one to use it. 

Samkhya Karika 17

Purusha also experiences the world made sentient by it.

Purusha not only imparts consciousness to the otherwise inert material world it is also meant to be experiencing the working of the sentient world. The trees, flowers, and the fruits so created would not have any meaning of their own. There has to be someone who can enjoy and experience these bounties of Prakriti, nature, for them to be meaningful. Same way the mortal body is meaningless without the presence of consciousness (Purusha) in it.

Purusha, though itself inactive, is the observer of all the changes Prakriti undergoes due to the play of the gunas present within it.  Purusha sheds its luminescence on Prakriti like the Sun shines its light on the world, where, though the world becomes bright the Sun still retains its identity, and the world cannot say that it has become the Sun. Also, without the Sun the world would be dark, inert, and lifeless. That is what Purusha is for Prakriti.

As a drama is staged for an audience, the play of the conscious world is for the Purusha to see. It also laughs, cries, and feels sad as it experiences these characteristics of the world as an observes, thus these also become the characteristics of the consciousness or the Purusha itself.  That is why the Purusha needs to liberate itself from these everchanging experiences by just being their observer like an audience and not getting involved in them.

As the world becomes meaningful with the shine of the consciousness over it, the experiences generated by the meanings so attributed to the play of the world has the potential to keep the consciousness entangled within itself. This karika warns one not to identify with the material body – Prakriti – which is ever spinning the net of experiences and emotions. One must identify oneself with Purusha and watch the interplay of the world as a witness who doesn’t try to get pulled by the temptations being constantly manufactured by Prakriti.

Only then one (Purusha) can achieve Kaivalya, or the liberation from the eternal play of Prakriti. One must take time out of all the confusion being generated around and sit in silence for some time and just observe the interplay as a witness. As the din created by the material Prakriti settles down one can experience the Purusha which is otherwise not perceptible as it remains intricately enmeshed within the objects of the material world. 

As a material being, object of Prakriti, we know about our bodies only as much the medical science knows. Medical science can’t explain a lot of natural phenomenon that occur within the body, especially the concept of death. There is something beyond the understanding of human mind. Samkhya philosophy and yoga teaches us that if we need to left ourselves above the affairs of the Prakriti – material world – if we want to avoid the pain generated that comes from being embroiled with its affairs.

We have to train ourselves to remain conscious of our divine nature, not identify with our body which is material, or Prakriti with all its attributes.