Samkhya Karika 24

Samkhya Karika 24, From Ahamkara Evolve Tanmatras and Mahabhutas


Abhimanah ahamkarah tasmat dvividhah pravartate sargah |

Ekadasakah ca ganah tanmatra pancakah ca eva ||


Abhimanah ahamkarah – principle of identification, self-assertion

Dvividhah – two-fold

Pravartate – emerges, evolves

Sargah – Creation

Ekadasakah – eleven

Ca- and

Ganah – series

Tanmatra – subtle form of elements / substances

Pancakah – five

Ca – and

Eva – other


After Buddhi the principle of Ahamkara evolves. What is this Ahamkara? After spelling out the qualities of Buddhi, Prakriti and Purusa, Samkhya karika 24 now tells us about the characteristics of Ahamkara or ego and the subsequent evolution of universe.


Ahamkara is the Ego, ‘I’ Sense or individual identity


The first, subtlest evolute of Prakriti, Buddhi, gives rise to the second principle of evolution, Ahamkara. Ahamkara, ego, or the ‘I’ sense is the principle of identification of the self with the body and the material world. With this “I” sense we recognize our nature, our abilities and qualities. To that extent it is good.


However, generally this concept of me and mine-ness blow out of proportion and we begin to own everything at an individual level - my work, my mind, my image, my body etc. We are so blinded by this “I”, that we are unable to understand or comprehend intelligence and consciousness which lie above and beyond it in the sequence of evolution of Prakriti. We get drowned in it and become egotist. “I said this”, “how was I spoken to like this”, and thus the entire squabble is about this “I”, and this alone is the source of all our misery. If we think a little deeper and realize that there is nothing that belongs to us, and our existence is a part of a larger whole, then where is the scope of any suffering! When this ahamkara (ego) is subdued only then consciousness appears and this is the purpose of Samkhya Philosophy. 


Ahamkara creates individual identity, separate from other individuals. Here, one begins to limit oneself to an entity that is separate from the whole, or the consciousness. Each individual Purusha or conscious entity has its own individuating factor, Ahamkara. 


From Ahamkara Emerges the two-fold Evolution 


Further, this karika states that from Ahamkara Prakriti further evolves along two parallel lines: From Sattvika Ahamkara evolve eleven sense faculties, five karmendriyas (organs of action), five jnanendriyas (organs of perception) and manas (mind). Parallel to this evolution five tanmatras (subtle, sub atomic, imperceptible to the senses essence which further condense into five gross elements (mahabhutas) which are building blocks from which the physical world is made up of) evolve from the tamasic aspect of Ahamkara. 


The eleven sense faculties will be discussed in the subsequent karikas, this karika only describes the emergence of the tanmatras which form the basic five elements. Being very subtle entities tanmatras form the substratum from which the materially grosser five elements emerge. Each one of the five elements is a combination of all the five tanmatras but exhibit traits of any one tanmatra. Thus, the various combinations of the five different tanmatras express themselves in five elements or mahabhutas from which the physically perceptible universe is constructed. 


Relation of Tanmatras to Mahabhutas


The first tanmatra is sabda, or sound, and it expresses itself as the element of akasa, space or ether. Everything that is to be manifested as the physical universe exist in space.  Manifestation of any physical dimension needs space within which it can exist. In reality the chain of evolution of the material world is actually the evolution – transformation – of the pure consciousness (a subjective phenomenon) into the physical world (the objective phenomenon). Tanmatras lie midway along this chain of transformation of the pure consciousness, that’s why, to some extent, they hold the qualities, essence of both the subjective and the objective phenomenon.


Vibration, expansion, contraction, and non-resistance are the qualities of space (ether) which also typify sound. The sound vibrations, as the first tanmatra, are actually the elementary force or energy which express themselves as the subtlest of the grosser (physical) elements, space. The sound vibrations have in turn emerged from the tamasic tendencies of Ahamkara during the process of evolution of the pure consciousness (purusha) and Prakriti.


Another way of understanding the relation between sound and the space is that the frequency of sound waves at any given point of time is dependent on the space it is allowed to occupy at that point of time:  sound generated within closed space differ from the sound generated within a more expansive space. Sound can only exist within a certain space; space is the primary element within which the physical world gets manifested. 


Forms of matter cannot be created just by the availability of sound vibrations in ether. Some obstruction must be created in the flow of the sound energy so that it can expand, contract, or some friction between the forces of energy is available so that some contact begin to build between them. The contact as needed between these forces, energy streams to begin settling them down to more concrete, material forms is known as sparsh in Sanskrit. Sparsha, or touch is the second tanmarta which along with the Sabda (Sound) creates the second element vayu, or air. Vayu is formed from the coming together (essence of contact or sparsha) of the vibration (sound essence energy principle).


Now the hitherto undistinguished forces of energy begin to condense (by contact within themselves) into distinguished energy forms, or forces of gravitation, magnetism, and electricity. Sparsh (tanmatra) expressed as vayu (mahabhuta) becomes the medium which allows us to feel anything. Vayu is the principle of movement within all pervading space. Next, sabda (sound), sparsha(touch) combine together to give comparatively sustaining principle of rupa (tanmatra) which express itself as the element of teja, fire, or heat, as sabda and sparsha cannot manifest any material form on their own owing to their just existence as varying forms of energy, forces. 

The fire element is the source of all heat and light prevalent within the universe from the cosmic fire to the fire that burns in the intellect and the body. 


No stable form of matter is possible form the combination of the first three tanmatras – sabda, sparsha & rupa - alone. That is why the fourth, first real principle (tanmatra) of rasa, taste, arises from a combination of sabda, sparsha, rupa. It gives rise to the fourth element of water, or jala, apa that allows us to taste anything. These elements not not the elements as in the real sense, like water element doesn’t mean the water which is found in our oceans and lakes, these are just the subtle conditions which come together and create material forms which can be perceived by our senses.


Water has a binding quality where in it can bind particles of soil, or two living cells together to build up more complex forms. Due to its binding nature, we can distinguish between the tastes of different elements as it helps connect the element to be tasted (in hydrated form due to the presence of saliva in the mouth) to the sensory organ, taste buds. Taste buds cannot function with the presence of water. It is the first element which can act as an adhesive to build up blocks of matter needed for creating the universe.


Metabolism which takes place within the living cell is only possible in a liquid environment provided by water. Water represents the flow of the universe, of the fluids within the body, and the flow of thoughts within the mind. The fifth tanmatra is the gandha, smell, which expresses itself as the element of prithvi, earth. The particle of  earth has the potential to stimulate our olfactory organs and generate the sense of smell, gandha.  Conversely, the particulate matter  of gandha (tanmatra) coalesc into denser earth element (mahabhuta). It is the element of further cohesion which binds various elements together to create hard structures that begin to exhibit perceptible shape. Along with structure and shape the earth element provides strength to the matter so created. 


When within the space (akasa) the movements (vayu) and flows (jala) are arrested, the light and fire (teja) becomes opaque and cool, there is solidity and finality of creation of the material universe.