Kapila postulated a fundamental distinction between spirit (purusha) and nature or matter (prakrti). Prakrti has many subcategories but Samkhya is usually called dualistic, meaning that its whole system rests on the basic distinction between spirit, on the one hand, and nature/matter on the other hand.
The three gunas are material but are also associated with different types of consciousness within living beings.
- Sattva is the highest of the three gunas; it manifests as calmness, light and peace
- Rajas is neither the highest nor the lowest guna; it expresses itself as excitement, action, passion and force
- Tamas is the lowest of the three gunas; it induces feelings of darkness, grief, fear and laziness.
Like most philosophical systems with religious overtones, Samkhya enjoyed a sort of primal golden age. According to the belief, the three gunas originally existed in a happy equilibrium but the workings of the spirit threw them out of balance. The inevitable tensions, conflicts, attractions and affiliations arising from their disequilibrium contributed to a process of cosmic and spiritual evolution. This kind of evolution is, for Hindus, much grander and deeper than the Darwinian take on evolution.
Like the theory of reincarnation, Samkhya is an imaginative but arguably limited human attempt to understand the godhead, creation and the interaction of time and eternity. My main critique of both samkhya and the idea of reincarnation stems from how they make me feel.
Even in writing this entry, I feel a vibe that differs from the kind of uplifting warmth and love that I experience through the Catholic Mass, especially through the Eucharist. But I can’t demonstrate that to anyone. It’s just a matter of my sensitivity to the numinous and to grace.
So I usually have to rely on intellectual arguments to try to suggest that not all numinosities are the same as grace and that some spiritual experiences, and the theologies that they emerge from, may be preferable to others.²
The idea that I usually talk about is how Hindu philosophy tends to be couched within a one-directional understanding of time. With Samkhya, there is an initial golden age, things go awry and then human history, nay, the history of the cosmos, marches along from past to present. This may take a somewhat circular arc (Hindu philosophy tends to be cyclic) but it’s still one-directional in the sense that creation travels from past to present. Same thing with the belief in reincarnation. A soul starts out at a simple level of consciousness and, through many reincarnations, apparently evolves into higher levels of consciousness. All from past to present.
Today we’re moving past such a simple view of time. Physicists have demonstrated that at the subatomic level, some interactions go back through time. And with relativity theory, we have empirical support that time, actually space-time, is not fixed but a flexible relationship among elements and conditions. So I think it quite possible, for example, that someone in the present could have a backwards ripple effect to someone in the past. Also, someone in the past could have a forward ripple effect on someone in the present, who would exist in the past person’s future.
So the alleged “past life” some dream about or see in visions could conceivably be caused by something quite different than the dynamic of reincarnation. These people could be connecting with another person in the past—not with themselves in the past, but with another person, another soul.
This may not be quite as glamorous as believing we are the reincarnation of Napoleon or Cleopatra, but in my way of thinking, it’s far more exciting because it opens the door for many intuitive connections, as many as we are meant to experience. And that could be a lot.
It also means that we could possibly connect with people in the future. Or who knows, we might even be able to connect, on some intuitive level, with ourselves in our own future.
Think about it. If we can intuitively connect with people in the past, we are located in the future from their perspective. So the same dynamic should apply to people located in our future and ourselves.³
If by chance this has gotten a bit too complicated or innovative to easily understand, please don’t feel dumb. I myself have had to double check a few sentences because dealing with different time frames as they relate to grammar can get confusing!
Suffice it to say that the belief in reincarnation just doesn’t cut it when it comes to more contemporary theories about the fluidity of space and time. In subatomic physics we’re moving beyond a simple, past to present cosmology, and I think speculative theory about consciousness should begin to take a similar direction—umm, make that, directions. 🙂
¹ Some scholars dispute the idea that Samkhya has Vedic origins. Part of the problem is the sheer time scale involved when trying to decipher its beginnings, transmission and influences.
² For those who insist that all religions are the same, or perhaps that all religions are bogus, this is a challenging issue. Also, I realize that one person’s preference need not be another’s. However, one should hopefully be in a position to compare and make up one’s own mind, rather than be dictated to by ignorance or by political correctness as to what they, themselves experience (which of course is ludicrous at best, oppressive at worst).
³ A complication to this theory arises in that some people believe they can connect with the souls of the dead. So they would connect with souls in an afterlife, not with past souls still living on Earth. Myself, I don’t see why both scenarios could not occur. Even Carl Jung, whom in my opinion was something of a kindergarten student when it comes to spirituality, suggested that the soul exists beyond space and time, and that spirituality somehow collapses space and time. So he may have been unadvanced but was, in my view, heading in the right direction. Later in the day I added this additional consideration at earthpages.org. I didn’t want to put it here because, as I said, this was already getting a bit long and involved.