Saamkhya (सांख्य) Hypothesis – Creation Link Deciphered

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This article was co-written with Dr. S. N. Bhavasar, a Sanskrit and Ayurvedic scholar, and James P. Kowall, PhD, MD.

The literal meaning of the Sanskrit word “Saamkhya” (संख्या) is enumeration, but the term Saamkhya (सांख्य) refers to a system, school, or philosophy. We have chosen to label it as a “hypothesis” since it is provable as we will see. It is said to have been developed by Sage Kapila and there appear to be references to Saamkhya in the vedic literature. The Bhagvad Geeta contains a chapter on Samkhya Yoga. This information tells us something about when Saamkhya system might have been developed, but it is certainly thousands of years old.

There is an interesting connection of Saamkhya to modern physics.

The year is 1995 and teenager Amanda Gefter is having dinner at the House of Hunan restaurant in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, just west of Philadelphia, with her father, Warren Gefter who is a Professor of Radiology in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School. In the course of the evening, Dr. Gefter asks Amanda, What is “nothing”? Puzzled by the question, Amanda responds, absence of something, anything, why do you ask? Warren says, Amanda that just might hold the secret to the beginning of the universe.

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This conversation is in Amanda Gefter’s best-selling book, “Trespassing on Einstein’s Lawn” (Bantam Books, 2014). Amanda says for the first time, she felt a sense of excitement at the prospects of uncovering something special. Amanda asks her father, so, how do we find out?Warren responds, let’s do some research.

To the father-daughter duo, this sounded like a physics problem, and so, they buy book after book on modern physics, relativity theory, quantum theory, inflationary cosmology, and particle physics, and study late into the night. They would find a hint here, a clue there, but no real answers. Then they had an opportunity to attend the Science and Ultimate Reality Conference at Princeton in 2002 organized to celebrate the 90th birthday of celebrated theoretical physicist, John Archibald Wheeler, a colleague of Albert Einstein at Princeton. At the conference they availed of an opportunity to chat with Wheeler and asked him, If Observers create reality, where do observers come from? Wheeler, responded, physics, the universe is a self-excited circuit.

Bewildered by the response, Amanda Gefter writes in her notepad, Wheeler thinks, the universe came out of nothing.

Over the ensuing decade, Amanda Gefter interacted with many of the best brains in physics including Stephen Hawking, finally concluding, ultimately, nothing is real. In other words, the ultimate reality is the nothingness of the void.

The energy phase of the big bang event, incredibly small (about the size of Plank length, 10 -33 cm in diameter), unbelievably hot and immensely dense, came into existence some 13.8 billion years ago when the flow of time began, but there was nothing on the other side of the energy phase, a void.

Physics cannot answer the question, how nothing can transform into something, the energy phase of the big bang event.

That said, all there is in the universe today was already there in the energy phase of the big bang event, albeit in unmanifest form. Now, Saamkhya proposes that all creation requires two constituents: Purusha (Undifferentiated consciousness) and Prakriti (Primordial energy). Purusha and Prakriti give rise to five principal elements: Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space), and associated with the five principal elements are three Gunas (Attributes); Sattva, S, Rajas, R, and Tamas, T.

Let us investigate the role of the five principal elements and the three Gunas in creation and in life.

The Five Principal Elements

The five principal elements are Prithvi, Jal, Agni, Vayu, Akash (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Space).

The Earth element includes all physical matter that is present in the human body. The periodic table is believed to be complete. Whatever is present in the human body is present on Earth.

Some 60% of the human body is water, and, so, the Water element is essential for life.

The Fire element breaks down food into energy for growth and survival. Hydrochloric acid is a good example of the Fire element.

The Air element includes oxygen, an essential component for life.

Taiittiriya Upanishad discusses the five principal elements. There are temples dedicated to the five principal elements in South India.

Fast forward some ten billion years and the Earth’s climate system has stabilized and single-cell organisms have appeared which according to the theory of evolution eventually evolve into human beings.

Now, the question is, how the first life appeared on the Earth.

Given the four principal elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air), it is not possible to create life. The fifth element, Akash, which must comprise of consciousness and energy are also needed.

Consciousness and energy come into us when we come out of our mother’s womb and take our first breath, and leave us when we exhale for the last time.

We have been getting our consciousness and energy from our mother from one generation to the next, but where did the first single-cell organism get its consciousness and energy from?

Science is stuck here too. The only plausible answer is, undifferentiated consciousness of the void and the primordial energy of the energy phase must be the sources of consciousness and energy in all living systems, just as Saamkhya suggested.

If we came from the source which comprises of the five principal elements, then, we should want to return to the source at the conclusion of this life. Yogis and Buddhist monks realize this.

“The universe may end one day but consciousness will remain for consciousness is eternal.”

H. H. The Dalai Lama (Nobel Peace Prize Recipient, 1989)

In August 2020, IANS reported on a Tibetan Buddhist scholar in Taiwan in the state of thukdam after being declared clinically dead on July 14.

The Tibetan word, “thukdam” refers to a Buddhist meditative practice in which an accomplished meditator is absorbed in the process of inner dissolution of the five principal elements and consciousness back into the Primordial Light after clinical death (Wikipedia). In yogic parlance the practice of the leaving the body consciously goes by the name, “Jeeva Samadhi”.

On May 5, 2021, His Holiness the Dalai Lama held a virtual conference with Russian neuroscientists who had also been studying the phenomenon of thukdam at Buddhist monasteries in India for several years.

His Holiness explained, “When an ordinary person dies, there is a dissolution of the five principal elements (at the moment of clinical death). My senior tutor, Ling Rinpoché, remained in thukdam for 13 days. Recently, a monk at Kirti Monastery remained in this state for 37 days.”

“This is an observable reality, which we need to be able to explain. Since the body of a person going through this process can remain warm, it may be that the earth, water and fire elements remained (even after clinical death).”

The Russian scientists examined 104 monks in meditation, and they observed a monk in thukdam for 37 days at the Gyutö Monastery. A forensic physician examined the physical body at various stages after death. The scientists noted that the body of a person in thukdam was in a quite different state from the body of someone undergoing the process of ordinary death.

Through the process of thukdam, the accomplished meditator is on his journey home. A warm body, free from decomposition, with neural activity and blood pressure similar to a living person,are all indications that energy and consciousness remain during thukdam for many days after clinical death. See this video clip on a Thai Buddhist monk entering the process of thukdam.

The Three Gunas

The three Gunas (attributes) are: S, R and T.

The S component encompasses truthfulness, honesty, steadfastness, and equanimity. The R component includes Ambition, bravery, ego, and desire to live, and the T component encompasses Lying, cheating, causing injury in words or deed, and sleep.

On a scale of internal excellence, the maximum S component is at the top, maximum T component at the bottom and all other combinations of the three components in between these two extremes.

The role of the Gunas in creation will be realized once we have understood that Gunas and human emotions are correlated.

Human beings are endowed with two types of emotions: Positive emotions and negative emotions.

Positive emotions include love, kindness, empathy, and compassion while negative emotions include, anger, hatred, hostility, resentment, frustration, jealousy, fear, sorrow and the like.

On the scale of emotional excellence, maximum positive emotions are at the top, maximum negative emotions at the bottom, and all other combinations of the two in between these two extremes.

Positive emotions strongly and positively correlate to the S component while negative emotions strongly and positively correlate to excessive R and T components.

Thus, the scales of internal excellence and emotional excellence are entirely equivalent.

Now, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, showed that plants “feel”. He developed a scientific device to detect plant response to various stimuli showing quivering of injured plants. He subjected metals and organic tissue in plants and noted the similarities in the responses between metals and cells.

For his pioneering work, IEEE named him one of the fathers of radio science. Wikipedia report that one of the craters on the moon is named in his honor.

The work of Bose closely links Gunas to life through emotions.

In Closing

This article has attempted to shed light on the link of Saamkhya hypothesis to creation and to life. The Saamkhya hypothesis asserts that that the five principal elements and the three Gunas are essential to creation and for life. This article has examined the Saamkhya hypothesis through the lens of sciences showing that the hypothesis is worthy of adoption as a plausible mechanism for creation and for life. Maybe this what Sri Krishna teaches in the chapter on Saamkhya Yoga in the Bhagvad Geeta?

Further Reading

  1. Pradeep B. Deshpande and James P. Kowall, The Nature of Ultimate Reality and How ItCan Transform Our World: Evidence from Modern Physics; Wisdom of YODA, 2015(amazon). James P. Kowall is an independent researcher based in suburban Eugene, Oregon. He obtained his PhD in Theoretical Physics from Brown University, and an MD from the University of Miami. He retired from private practice several years ago to spend time researching the nature of ultimate reality. Jim succeeded in his quest in 2014.
  2. Pradeep B. Deshpande, Scientific Framework for World Transformation, Dialogue and Alliance, a Publication of Universal Peace Federation, New York, 33, 1, June 2019.(Dialogue and Alliance is a publication of the Universal Peace Federation, a New York City-based international organization with consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Cultural Council).
  3. Bruce Kasanoff, How to Measure and Enhance Your Intuition, Forbes.com, November 26, 2020.
  4. Pradeep B. Deshpande, The Secret of Exemplary Performance, BizEd, August 2019.
  5. Pradeep B. Deshpande, Turbocharge General Education Requirements with Science of
  6. External and Internal Excellence, ASEE Annual Conference, Columbus, OH, June 2017.
  7. Daniel Goldman, Emotional Intelligence, Bantam Books, 10 th Edition, 2006.
  8. Aha Dharana Intuition Enhancement Program, Universal Peace Foundation, 2019.
  9. Kowall, James P., The Hierarchy of Consciousness, YouTube Video, April 30, 2022.

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