Samkhya Karika 39, Subtle and Gross Matter to Three Bodies

Author: Randeep Singh / go to all Samkhya Karikas

Samkhya Karika 39 text:

Sukshmaah maataapitrjaah saha prabhutaih tridhaa visheshaah syuh I

Sukshmaa  teshaam niyatah maataa-pitrajaa nivartante II

Sukshmaah – subtle

Maataapitrjaah – bodies born through parents

Saha – with

Prabhutaih – the great elements

Tridhaa – three fold

Visheshaah – distinguishable

Syuh – wlll be

Sukshmaah – Subtle entities

Teshaam – amongst them

Niyatah – continual

Maataa-pitrajaa – bodies born through parents

Nivartante – perishes

Samkhya Karika 39, for the first time mentions the evolution of human entity. All the previous Sankhya Karikas, up till karika 38, have explained the evolution of universe, nature up till the level of creaton / evolution of the the Mahabhutas, the gross elements, from the tamasic side of Ahamkara, and of the manas (mind) and 10 sense organs on the Sattvik side of Ahamkar.

Samkhya karika 39 – Gross Elements Evolve from two Parents

The mention of 10 sense organs up till now was referring to their subtle forms which need to be expressed through the gross sense organs present in the human body made of Mahabutas (5 gross elements)

The Sankhya karika text begins by stating that both, Tanmatras and Mahabhutas, are part of matter which is not sentient, animate, or alive. Matter evolves from its parent matter, like Tanmatras and Mahabhutas evolve from Ahamkara which in turn evolve from Buddhi (mahat).

Here the parent matter is single but the Mahabhutas (gross elements) evolve by the combination of two parents; like humans are born of a mother and a father. The nature of the offspring so born is distinct from both the parents.

For example, Sabda and Sparsha (give rise to Vayu (Air), Vayu and Rupa come together to form fire, Agni (fire), Agni and Rasa (taste) combine to form Jala (water), and finally Jala and Gandha (smell) beget Prithvi (earth).

The Mahabhutas are the gross elements which are the final evolutes of the process of evolution of Prakriti, and are also different from all the evolutes as they are born of, or evolve out of two entities as their parents.

Three Types of Bodies form a Human Being

Samkhya Karika 39

As per the principles of evolution of matter into material universe, matter is distinguished only in two types: subtle matter (tanmatras) and gross matter (mahabhutas). As per Samkhya Karika 39 matter exhibits three types of qualities (nature) in the evolution of the human body. These give rise to subtle body, biological or animate body, and gross body.

Biological or animate body is what represents the quality of being alive or sentient in nature. The structure of the biological body is further explained with the help of the concept of Koshas (6 sheaths) in Yoga.

This karika further states that the subtle body never dies and remains in existence up till the time liberation is achieved. The subtle body can only be destroyed by attaining Moksha, or Liberation. Out of the three, it is the subtle body onto which the Samskaras or imprints of karma get imprinted. The Gross body, or the physical body which is made up of the gross elements (which evolve from parents) is perishable.

Since Buddhi (intelligence) forms the part of the Subtle body, this Karika is talking about human beings and no other sentient species on the planet Earth. So Human beings evolve from three categories of matter.

Attachment to Gross Body is Futile, Its a Tool for Liberation

The role of the gross body, the physical body one can see and touch, is only to hold the subtle body, the animate body and itself together as a being. It is perishable or will surely vanish sooner or later. Our attachment to the physical body is futile as it serves no purpose. The gross body should only be used as an instrument to expunge the imprints of Samskaras carved onto the subtle body and attain liberation.

Otherwise, there is no way to work with the subtle body which keeps moving on from one gross body to another till liberation, Moksha is attained and the subtle body itself disappears. The existence of subtle body is an indicator of the existence of desires for a particular being. It is the desire to exist in the material world that goads the Mula Prakriti (prakriti in its unmanifest form) to start manifesting the material world as the target of these desires which the human existence hankers after.

One should not only strive to eradicate the already existing Samskaras, which are liek blot son the fabric of subtle body, but must also work to prevent the formation of new Samskaras. Samkskaras are formed by the Klesha. They are the tendencies in one’s personality which generate Samkskaras.

Samkskaras or marks of karma germinate from the tendencies of attachment and aversions. These two are the basic potencies which push the being towards action or karma. Every action, karma leaves its imprint on the subtle body. Thus, be extra conscious and aware of any tendency within you which is disposed towards action of any kind.

Identify your Real Self and work Towards it

Sankhya Karika 39 clarifies the difference between what is perishable (Gross body) and what is not (subtle body). An ordinary man, on the contrary, is only aware of the gross body. his success and failures are all defined by the achievements related to ‘me and mine’ thought process. Attainment of pleasures connected to matter (gross body) is defined as success and failing to achieve the same is failure.

We have to realize that only living as the gross body is about creating karma (samskaras) which are binding and go against the concept of liberation. Whatever material success one achieves it has to all end one day, and that too very soon as human life is not very long a cycle to come by.

We need to develop awareness of what is material and what is not. We need to understand and change our living towards first realizing the existence of subtle body, then working towards expunging all the Samskaras pipped on to it, and finally attaining liberation by dissolving the subtle body as well.

Once the obstacle of subtle body is removed one can realize the supreme consciousness, the Purusha present behind the fuzzy web created by the play of matter, or Prakriti.