1. Samkhya Cosmology
2. Samkhya Anthropology
3. Raja Yoga
4. Samkhya Yoga, Attention and Western Philosophy
It is assumed that in Western philosophy there is an increasing attention for attention.1 In the Eastern traditions has attention however always been a very central theme. For these traditions are almost always characterised by the thematising of personal liberation, and the therefor application of attention plays here usually a very important role. This is at least undoubtedly the case in the Samkhya tradition and Raja Yoga. As covering term of these two Hinduist lines of thought the term ‘Samkhya Yoga’ can be applied.2 For Raja Yoga with its guidelines and instructions is eventually rooted in the concepts of the Samkhya tradition,3 whereby they thus actually do not differ from each other conceptually.4 And in that Samkhya Yoga it is thus that in the form of intellectual discernment and physical and psychic exercises the human strife for liberation is given a very central place.5 In the light of the increasing attention for attention in Western philosophy does this make a consideration of the nature of Samkhya Yoga very interesting. Thus shall in this paper Samkhya Yoga be the subject of consideration, and shall the characteristics thereof be translated to Western philosophical concepts of attention.
The method and form that shall be handled hereby will be attuned to two givens. Firstly is the reader taken in consideration. He is presumed to have had little exposure to Samkhya Yoga, and this in sharp contrast with Western philosophical concepts of attention. This makes it desirable to first depict Samkhya Yoga in its characteristics itself before bringing it in relation to the Western philosophical concepts (those last shall need no separate exposition because of the presumed familiarity with the concepts). Besides that would a direct integral approach whereby is switched back and forth between Samkhya Yoga and the Western philosophical concepts make the paper due to the complexity of Samkhya Yoga probably very messy.
The notes consequently regard the second point to which shall be attuned. With a still initial acquaintance it is on itself not desirable to make elaborate use of difficult Sanskrit terms. Because these terms however are standardly used in professional literature they must nevertheless be mentioned in the paper itself, and this to make assertions for the reader verifiable. It however speaks for itself that no Sanskrit terms shall be used without any translation or explanation. All this being said can be started with the concrete consideration of Samkhya Yoga and the translation of it to Western philosophical concepts of attention.
In the core does Samkhya Yoga seem radical dualistic in nature. For spirit and matter as eternal opposites are the essential point of departure. The names that Samkhya Yoga gives to these opposites regard purusha (spirit) and prakriti (matter).6 This dualism is however not so radical that both cannot engage in interaction with each other. For this they do. Before going deeper into this it is useful to first consider purusha and prakriti in their own characteristics.
Purusha can be understood as the transcendent spirit aspect. It transcends the world and nature. The essential nature of purusha regards consciousness.7 Remarkable thereby is that purusha originally is not seen as unity but as multiplicity. There are an infinite number of purushas,8 which we can understand as individual souls.9 Prakriti, matter, in contrary is originally one.10 However latent in prakriti are originally in equilibrium the three essential qualities that are able to bring prakriti to differentiation when they become unbalanced. These three qualities regard the gunas, being sattva, rajas and tamas. Sattva regards qualities akin to goodness, clarity and rhythm. Rajas regards qualities akin to dynamism and excessive activity. And tamas conclusively regards qualities akin to darkness and inertia.11 When they however are balanced prakriti is one, undifferentiated, without qualities and completely separated from purusha. This is called the state of pralaya.12 A state that rules before ‘creation’ or ‘(d)evolution’.
Nevertheless is Samkhya Yoga as said not so radical dualistic that the opposites of purusha and prakriti cannot interact with each other. This is philosophically perhaps somewhat unsatisfying explained through metaphors. Purusha and prakriti interact with each other like the blind can carry the crippled or like the cow at nearing of the calf already starts to give milk.13 The nearing of the transcendent staying purusha brings about a movement with prakriti like a magnet brings about a movement with the iron, without however being itself touched by that iron.14 The equilibrium of the gunas in prakriti is thus by the transcendent purusha in this way broken and a differentiation of prakriti, a (d)evolution is being set in motion.
A first and most subtle differentiation consequently takes place as intelligence or power of discrimination. On cosmic level this is called ‘mahat’ and on individual level (for purusha consisted of a multiplicity of souls) this is called ‘buddhi’.15 This utmost subtle buddhi is also that with which is come to discernment between prakriti and purusha.16 The next aspect that develops from mahat or buddhi in the concretisation of prakritis differentiation is ahamkar. ‘Aham-kar’ can freely be translated with ‘I am the actor’, and with this principle then takes place the forming of personal identity (which thus differs from the notion of ‘soul’) and the experience of separateness.17 With help of the three gunas consequently the differentiation continues to concreteness. Through satoguna manas comes to being. Manas must be understood as the mind, again both at individual and cosmic levels.18 From manas consequently (d)evolve through satoguna the five senses (indriyas) and through rajoguna the five organs of action (karmendriyas, knowing; mouth, hands, feet, organs of reproduction and anus).19 Through the activity of tamoguna in ahamkar it is that the five subtle elements and from there the five gross elements develop (earth, water, fire, air and ether).20 With this then has the differentiation of prakriti under influence of the transcendent staying purusha come to its ultimate concretion. It is this differentiation that eventually makes out the world as we know it. With the senses perceiving and the organs of action acting do we experience ourselves as separate identities in interaction with the five elements. Samkhyas cosmology thus results in a certain anthropology. In the next paragraph shall this anthropology be further worked out.
In the cosmology (that actually already was an anthropology) we followed the line of the transcendent purusha through the subtle principles to the most concrete and gross physical principles. In this elucidation of Samkhya anthropology we shall follow the line up from the gross physical principles through the more subtle principles towards the transcendent purusha or human soul. This we shall do for the sake of the overview divided, through the five sheaths of the human soul. These sheaths regard: the food sheath (annamayakosha), the vital sheath (pranamayakosha), the mental sheath (manomayakosha), the intelligence sheath (vijnanamayakosha) and the bliss sheath (anandamayakosha).21
The food sheath needs little elucidation because it is very familiar to us as the gross physical body. In Samkhya however encompasses the gross physical body (sthula sharira) more, and does it contain also the vital centres (chakras) and the vital flows (pranas) of the vital sheath.22 These are which enliven and vitalise the physical organs and the food sheath.23 The nature of this gross physical body, the state of health, the flow of the pranas, the enlivening of the chakras, actually all activities, are eventually determined by the subtler bodies and sheaths. For as we already saw in the previous paragraph does Samkhya Yoga apply the principle that the more subtle and more spiritual is the cause and reason of the nature of the more gross and more material. Thus is the nature of the food and vitality sheath determined by the mental sheath and the intelligence sheath (manas and buddhi). Together with ahamkar do manas and buddhi constitute the inner organ antahkarana.24 This is the organ which so to speak directs the exchange of information between the soul (purusha) and the above mentioned three.
Manas regards as mentioned the mind or thinking and is as such related to the senses, the organs of action, the sheaths of the gross physical body and to buddhi (intellect or intelligence). With this it has a very central function, although manas itself does not make decisions. It arranges the flows of prana and the sympathetic nervous system, takes in the sensuous peceptions and redirects them reflected to buddhi for judgement and executes through the organs of action the offered orders of buddhi.25 Manas thus knows both a parasympathetic and sympathetic activity. Also it may seem as if manas can execute many activities at the same time, however the speed of manas makes that it usually is not seen that these activities are executed one by one.26 Dependent upon the guna by which the mind is determined is manas calm and peaceful (sattva), excessively active and restless (rajas) or dull and inert (tamas).27
Buddhi in vijnanamayakosha, which can be translated with ‘intellect’, ‘intelligence’, ‘reason’ and ‘power to discriminate’, is in Samkhya Yoga taken together with the concept ‘citta’ where other Hinduist schools of thought often thematise these two as separate aspects.28 Especially when taken together with citta does buddhi have several prominent functions. It receives the unprocessed impressions of manas through ahamkar, which personifies these impressions (it makes the impressions to my impressions),29 analyses these impressions and offers them as knowledge to purusha.30 The other way around does it under influence of purusha also stimulate manas (through ahamkar) to the execution of certain actions.31 Several aspects are of importance in the nature of the analysis and the choice. Firstly the nature of buddhi itself. Is buddhi sattvik by nature then it is able to discern between purusha and prakriti and will the decisions be virtuous. Is buddhi rajasik by nature then the decisions shall be egoistic and unvirtuous and directed at the satisfaction of all kinds of lusts. Is buddhi conclusively tamasik then ignorance rules and are the decisions violent and cruel.32
In relation to which guna is dominant in buddhi are the karmic seeds that lie stored deeply in citta (which in Samkhya thus eventually is equalled to buddhi).33 These karmic seeds are known under the name ‘samskaras’ and can be understood as subconscious impressions.34 When they become manifest they make tendencies and habits (‘vasanas’ and more concrete ‘vrittis’)35 come to being that in their nature correspond to the nature of the samskaras. These tendencies and habits, when expressed in actions (and this concept of ‘action’ we must understand widely) bring on their turn again new karmic seeds in citta. For the concept of karma wants to express that the actions in correspondence to their nature eventually shall return to the actor. Sattvik actions bring sattvik samskaras in citta, rajasik actions rajasik samskaras and tamasik actions tamasik samskaras. This is a process which can continue for countless lives, for also Samkhya assumes reincarnation or samsara36 (not to be confused with samskara). This cycle of rebirth brings along an inevitable suffering. In this suffering then lies hid the importance of liberation. A liberation which can only come to being when through discrimination purusha can be isolated from prakriti.37 And for this must buddhi thus be completely sattvik and must the samskaras which keep buddhi attached to prakriti and ignorant be worked off and burned completely.38 Hereby it needs to be mentioned that buddhi in its sattvik nature constitutes not on itself liberation but regards only the necessary means for it. When liberation comes to being does purusha eventually settle in its own nature (swarupa), totally unbound by prakriti.39 Hereby is even the subtle bliss sheath (anandamayakosha) seen through, in which purusha before still reflected itself utmost pure in ahamkar and thus made an experience of bliss (and with that a boundedness to prakriti) come to being.40
It is on the above theory that Raja Yoga, ‘the royal path of unification’,41 is based. Raja Yoga is also mentioned as ‘the eightfold path’ (not to be confused with the eightfold path of Buddhism) because of the eight steps that are prescribed to come to liberation.42 And this means here thus; to come to discrimination of purusha and prakriti. The eight steps regard; restraint (yama), following of regulations (niyama), body posture (asana), control of breath (pranayama), control / withdrawal of sensuous perception (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and eventually inner stillness (samadhi).43 It is in this order that the guidelines must be followed.
and niyama can in principle be taken together. Both regard ‘ethical’ guidelines. The first regards the leaving out of certain actions which bring about unfavourable karmic seeds, and the second regards the following of prescriptions for those actions that bring about ‘favourable’ karmic seeds.44 Asana regards the taking of a good body posture in which one can sit motionless still during a long time. For when this is not the case then the meditation shall be disturbed.45 Pranayama completes the first four steps that are mainly related to the gross physical body and regards the control of the breath. For this makes the mind suitable for meditation.46 That a control of the breath can calm down the mind is closely related to the given that both can have their activity in a sympathetic and parasympathetic way. By taking the breath out of the unconscious activity is in the same movement the mind taken out of there.
The last four steps regard more inwardly or psychological ‘actions’. The first of those four regards pratyahara. The mind cannot be brought to a rest when it stays directed at the objects in the world.47 Therefore it must be directed to the inside. This is what takes place in the state of pratyahara; sensuous attention, first still externally directed, loosens itself from the sentient objects and is internalized.48 With this loosening of the attention from the objects is the attention consequentially concentrated to one point. This is the state of dharana. Such a point of concentration can among other things regard the navel, the heart, the centre between the eyes or the point of the nose or tongue.49 An intensified and steady perseverance of this concentration then regards the meditation (dhyana).50 When one conclusively so deeply merges into the object / point of the meditation that one as it were loses oneself in it is the state of samadhi the case.51 It are these last three, summarized in the term ‘samyama’,52 that constitute the core method to come to liberation. For by application of these three steps on all sheaths (sequentially from course to subtle)53 it is that eventually the discrimination between prakriti and purusha is realised.
Now how can we understand the above explanation of Samkhya Yoga through Western philosophical concepts of attention? Let us follow the discourse orderly and in chronological order to bring to the fore the remarkabilities which we thereby encounter. The first that is noticed hereby is of course the dualistic point of departure. Because of the eternal transcendence of purusha in relation to prakriti may the Western philosopher easily tend to recognize herein a Cartesian dualism. However Samkhya Yoga understands the spirit aspect in a different way than Descartes does. Descartes discovered the spiritual Res Cogitans as first evidence on base of his thought; “I think, thus I am.”54 Samkhya Yoga can acknowledge this assertion and translate it as ‘manas, thus ahamkar’, but shall recognize in it the by the spiritual purusha affected material pole of prakriti instead of the transcendent purusha itself.55 It is also so that Descartes actually does not give an explanation for the interaction between spirit and matter,56 while Samkhya Yoga does. The mental outline appears hereby very Aristotelian. Samkhya Yoga explains that prakriti is brought in motion by purusha like a cow already starts giving milk at the nearing of the calf. Such a metaphor is of course very reminiscent of the unmoved mover of Aristotle that brings the starry heaven in motion by being object of desire.57 A third Western philosophical element that we can recognize in Samkhya cosmology is the given that Samkhya Yoga posits a hierarchy in which is place for both gross as subtle physicality. This is reminiscent of the Neo-Platonism of Plotinus and of the way in which medieval philosophers like Proclus and pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite thought about matter and spirit,58 however differs decisively in Samkhya Yoga maintaining a completely transcendent concept of spirit and keeping ideas and intellect to the manifest side. Regarding that absoluteness of transcendence seems Samkhya Yoga carry within itself more a Kantian than a Cartesian notion of duality.
Continuing from the Samkhya cosmology to the Samkhya anthropology we discern in the large lines a very mechanistic seeming theory of attention. The orderly arrangement of different psychological aspects is in its form (however not in its content) reminiscent of Wundt. For also Wundt felt solely bound to gross physicality to come to his mechanistic theory of attention. Eventually he traced the notion of the chosen and wanted attention and the notion of ‘I’ back to feelings of lust and unlust.59 The mechanistic in Samkhya Yoga is somewhat comparable recognized in the activity of the gunas. The gunas are the three qualities that are inherent to matter and that when becoming unbalanced brings about the differentiation of that matter. With that is everything subject to these three qualities, and thus also man and the attention of man. A sattvik human shall have concentrated attention for virtuous things, a rajasik human shall disperse his attention in things for which he has lust and a tamasik human shall have a deadened and dull attention for dark matters. More specifically we see attention explained through a division of psychic functions. The senses perceive and bring the images to the mind (manas). Ahamkar imprints its ‘I’ notion in them and sends them to the intelligence (buddhi) where they are analysed and judged. Because buddhi however eventually offers this information to purusha it can be questioned if Samkhya Yoga is completely mechanistic. For purusha is the immaterial subject from which eventually consciousness is derived.60 Nevertheless appears purusha so transcendent that it is not there where decisions for actions (and in this we can include also actions of attention) are made. For note 31 shows clearly that decisions take place in buddhi. Decisions shall in their nature be dependent upon the nature of buddhi, shall despite the immaterial subject be dependent upon the gunas. In the Upanishads is in relation to this mental outline the image sketched of two birds in a tree. One eats from the fruits and the other only watches it.61 The question is as said if Samkhya Yoga in such a theory of attention stays purely mechanistic. For the subject is as purusha surely present in the act of attention because therein consciousness is present; consciousness that is derived from purusha. But if this subject further makes no choice whatsoever in attention, is itself not selective, does the theory then after all not stay a purely mechanical theory? Again here the radicalness shows of the transcendence in Samkhya Yoga in relation to Descartes’ theory of attention. For Descartes may be mechanistic where strong sensuous stimuli are concerned but nevertheless offers also space for the thinking subject to fix attention well-chosen.62
A seemingly remarkable turnaround in tone we find in Raja Yoga. Where the notion of attention in Samkhya was very theoretical and mechanical explained there seems Raja Yoga to give suddenly a very pragmatic turn to attention. Although already deducible in the theory of Samkhya is attention in Raja Yoga very explicitly important in the coming to liberation. The whole of Raja Yoga seems to consist of instructions which, when successfully followed, lead to an ever deeper concentration and attention until discrimination of purusha and prakriti sets in. But do instructions for the usage of attention not presume that the one taking note of these instructions is a choosing and acting subject? In other words; stays Raja Yoga purely mechanistic when it instructs or does such a thought after all look more like a spiritualistic vision of attention? Several things must here be brought to clarity. Firstly is nothing decided upon the question whether Raja Yoga is indeed normative or if it is actually only descriptive. Gives Raja Yoga really instructions or does Raja Yoga describe the actions of attention through which purusha isolates itself from prakriti? Secondly it is so that when Raja Yoga indeed would be normative that it is so to speak normative for ahamkar. For we saw that what in the Western thought about attention is often Cartesian taken as spiritual subject in Samkhya Yoga as ahamkar still belongs to nature. The spiritual subject in Western thought is Cartesian mostly (though not always) the thinking subject. In Samkhya Yoga and thus also in Raja Yoga is the spiritual subject even transcendent to the mind. Thus needs Raja Yoga, when it indeed gives a normative turn to Samkhyas theory of attention, not be an undermining of the mechanistic vision.
The reason for this paper was the given that in Western philosophy there is an increasing attention for attention. Because attention in Eastern traditions has always been important was one of that traditions, Samkhya Yoga, taken under examination. Samkhya Yoga showed so to speak to be the collective name of Raja Yoga and the Samkhya theory in which the first is grounded. In the first three paragraphs we considered Samkhya cosmology, Samkhya anthropology and conclusively Raja Yoga. In the last paragraph we tried to undertake a translation to Western philosophical concepts of attention.
The basic assumption of Samkhya Yoga showed to be ‘dualism’. A dualism which because of its radicalness of the transcendence of purusha looked more like a Kantian than a Cartesian dualism, though which was also shown to carry Aristotelian and Neo-Platonic mental outlines within itself. Also showed Samkhya to be mechanistic in its theory of attention. Purusha does play a role in the act of attention because it is purusha from which consciousness is derived, however because it plays no further role in selective attention does Samkhya Yoga not at all tend to a spiritualistic theory of attention.
An apparent turnaround in tone we found in Raja Yoga. Where Samkhya in its cosmology and anthropology stayed very theoretical, there did Raja Yoga give attention a very pragmatic turn. The question whether Raja Yoga with that also really takes a normative turn or stays after all just descriptive did not matter for the translation of Samkhya Yoga to Western philosophical concepts of attention. For even when meant normatively stays the one who is appealed by Raja yoga (in Cartesian philosophy the thinking subject) belonging to the material side.
Following this argumentation it must be concluded that Samkhya Yoga when translated to Western philosophical concepts of attention must be placed under the mechanistic theories. A mechanistic theory which is however not completely reductionistic because at all times a radical transcendent spiritual ‘soul’ is maintained.