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A History of Sanskrit Literature by MacDonell

According to the Sankhya system


popular beliefs about heavens and hells, gods, demi-gods, and demons, were retained in Buddhism and Jainism, as well as in the orthodox systems. But these higher and more fortunate beings were considered to be also subject to the law of transmigration, and, unless they obtained saving knowledge, to be on a lower level than the man who had obtained such knowledge.

The monistic theory of the early Upanishads, which identified the individual soul with Brahma, aroused the opposition of the rationalistic founder of the Sankhya system, Kapila, who, according to Buddhist legends, was pre-Buddhistic, and whose doctrines Buddha followed and elaborated. His teaching is entirely dualistic, admitting only two things, both without beginning and end, but essentially different, matter on the one hand, and an infinite plurality of individual souls on the other. An account of the nature and the mutual relation of these two, forms the main content of the system. Kapila was, indeed, the first who drew a sharp line of demarcation between the two domains of matter and soul. The saving knowledge which delivers from the misery of transmigration consists, according to the Sankhya system, in recognising the absolute distinction between soul and matter.

The existence of a supreme god who creates and rules the universe is denied, and would be irreconcilable with the system. For according to its doctrine the unconscious matter of Nature

originally contains within itself the power of evolution (in the interest of souls, which are entirely passive during the process), while karma alone determines the course of that evolution. The adherents of the system defend their atheism by maintaining that the origin of misery presents an insoluble problem to the theist, for a god who has created and rules the world could not possibly escape from the reproach of cruelty and partiality. Much stress is laid by this school in general on the absence of any cogent proof for the existence of God.

The world is maintained to be real, and that from all eternity; for the existent can only be produced from the existent. The reality of an object is regarded as resulting simply from perception, always supposing the senses of the perceiver to be sound. The world is described as developing according to certain laws out of primitive matter (prakriti or pradhana). The genuine philosophic spirit of its method of rising from the known elements of experience to the unknown by logical demonstration till the ultimate cause is reached, must give this system a special interest in the eyes of evolutionists whose views are founded on the results of modern physical science.

The evolution and diversity of the world are explained by primaeval matter, although uniform and indivisible, consisting of three different substances called gunas or constituents (originally "strands" of a rope). By the combination of these in varying proportions the diverse material products were supposed to have arisen. The constituent, called sattva, distinguished by the qualities of luminousness and lightness in the object, and by virtue, benevolence, and other pleasing attributes in the subject, is associated with the feeling of joy; rajas, distinguished by activity and various hurtful qualities, is associated with pain; and tamas, distinguished by heaviness, rigidity, and darkness on the one hand, and fear, unconsciousness, and so forth, on the other, is associated with apathy. At the end of a cosmic period all things are supposed to be dissolved into primitive matter, the alternations of evolution, existence, and dissolution having neither beginning nor end.

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