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Sankhya Karika - Ishvarakrishna


1. From the shock of triple misery comes the desire to know the means of prevention; nor is the enquiry superfluous because of visible remedies, for these cannot secure certain and permanent relief.

2. Like the visible means, the revealed mode is also tainted, destructive and excessive. Different from these and superior is that method consisting in discriminative knowledge of the manifest, the unmanifest and the knower.

3. Primordial matter (mulaprakriti) is the root, not a product; the seven principles beginning with the great Intellect (mahat) are both products and productive; the sixteen are mere products; the Self (purusha) is neither a product nor productive.

4. Perception, inference and testimony are recognized as the threefold proof, since all other proofs are included in these. The establishment of all that is to be proven depends, verily, on the means of demonstration.

5. Perception is the ascertainment of specific objects. Inference is declared to be threefold and follows from the knowledge of the characteristic mark and of its possessor. Testimony comes from trustworthy persons and from revelation.

6. Sensory objects are known through perception, but that which is supersensuous is known through inference; what is neither directly perceived nor secured through inference is established through testimony and revelation.

7. Non-perception may be because of extreme distance or proximity, impairment of the senses, mental unsteadiness, subtlety, interposition, suppression, blending with what is similar, and other causes.

8. Primary matter is not apprehended on account of its extreme subtlety and not because of its non-existence, as it is perceived through its effects. Intellect (mahat) and the rest are effects which are both similar and dissimilar to primary matter (prakriti).

9. The effect subsists, for that which is non-existent cannot be brought into existence, and effects come from appropriate causes. Everything is not by every means possible, as capable causes produce only that which they can and the effect is of the same nature as the cause.

10. The manifest is caused, perishable, finite, mutable, manifold, dependent, identifiable, composite and subordinate. The unmanifest is the reverse.

11. The manifest is composed of the three properties (gunas); it is non-discriminative, objective, common, insentient and prolific. So also is Nature (pradhana). The Self (purusha) is the reverse, and yet similar.

12. The constituents (gunas) consist in the pleasant, the painful and the delusive; they serve the purpose of illumination, activity and restraint; they are mutually dominating, dependent, productive, cooperative and coexistent.

13. Sattva is considered to be buoyant and luminous, rajas to be exciting and volatile, and tamas to be indeed heavy and enveloping. They function together, like a lamp, for a purpose.

14. Non-discriminativeness and the rest are proved by the existence of the three gunas and by the non-existence of these in their absence. The unmanifest is demonstrated by the effect possessing the properties of the cause.

15. The unmanifest (avyakta) exists as a general cause because the particulars are finite, because of homogeneity, because production is through power, because there is differentiation of effect from cause, and because there is merging of the effect with the cause.

16. It operates, in the form of the three gunas, by blending and transformation, like water, modified according to the predominance of one or the other of the gunas.

17. The Self (purusha) exists, since an aggregate must be for another's use, since this must be the converse of that which has the three gunas, since there must be a superintendent and also someone to experience, and since activity is for the sake of freedom.

18. The multiplicity of souls verily follows from the distributive allocation of birth, death and the instruments of causation, since occupations are not simultaneous, and since there are diverse modifications of the three gunas.

19. And from this divergence it follows that the Self (purusha) is witness, solitary, neutral, spectator and non-agent.

20. Thus, through conjunction with the Self (purusha), the insentient seems to be sentient, and though the agency really belongs to the gunas, the neutral stranger appears as if it were active.

21. The conjunction of the two, like that of the lame and the blind, is for the perception of Nature (pradhana) by the Self (purusha) and for the release of the Self. From this conjunction proceeds evolution.

22. From primary matter (prakriti) comes Intellect (mahat), thence egoism (ahankara), and from this the set of sixteen; from five among these come the five elements.

23. Intellect (buddhi) is for ascertainment. Virtue, wisdom, dispassion and lordliness are its faculties when goodness (sattva) predominates, and the reverse is true when darkness (tamas) predominates.

24. Self-assertion is egoism (ahankara). Thence proceeds a dual evolution, the elevenfold set and also the five subtle elements (tanmatras).

25. From the vaikrita form of individuation proceeds the elevenfold set characterized by goodness (sattva); from the bhutadi form of individuation proceed the subtle elements (tanmatras). In this, darkness (tamas) dominates. Both of these proceed from taijasa ahankara, in which rajas dominates.

26. The organs of cognition are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin; the organs of action are the voice, hands, feet, the excretory organ and the organ of generation.

27. Among these, the mind (manas) is both an organ of sensation and of action. It is deliberative and it is an organ cognate with the rest. They are multifarious due to the specific modifications of the gunas, and so are the external diversities.

28. The function of five, in regard to sound and the rest, is simply observation. Speech, manipulation, motion, excretion and generation are the functions of five others.

29. Of the three internal organs, the functions are their respective features; these are distinctive to each. The common function of these organs is breath and the rest of the five vital airs.

30. In regard to sensory objects, the functions of all four organs are simultaneous as well as successive. In respect to imperceptible things, the functioning of the three internal organs is preceded by that of the fourth (cognition).

31. The instruments perform their respective functions, prompted by mutual sympathy. The purpose of the Self (purusha) is the sole cause; by nothing else is any instrument activated.

32. Instruments are of thirteen varieties; they function by grasping, sustaining and disclosing. Their objects are tenfold, to be grasped, sustained and disclosed.

33. The internal instrument is threefold. The external organs, which exhibit objects to these three, are tenfold. The external organs function in the present, and the internal instrument at all times.

34. Among these, the five organs of cognition are concerned with specific and non-specific objects. Speech is concerned with sound; the rest are concerned with all five objects.

35. Since intellect (buddhi), together with the other internal organs (ahankara and manas), ascertain all objects, these three instruments are the guardians and the rest are gates.

36. These, characteristically different from one another and variously modified by the gunas, present to the intellect (buddhi) the whole purpose of the Self (purusha), illumining it like a lamp.

37. Since it is the intellect (buddhi) which accomplishes the fruition of all that is to be enjoyed by the Self (purusha), it is also that which discerns the subtle difference between Nature (pradhana) and the Self (purusha).

38. The subtle elements (tanmatras) are non-specific; from these five proceed the five gross elements which are specific, tranquil, turbulent or stupefying.

39. The subtle bodies, the bodies born of mother and father, together with the great elements, are three kinds of specific objects. Among these, the subtle are lasting and those born of parents are perishable.

40. The subtle body (linga) is primeval, unconfined, constant, composed of the principles (tattvas) beginning with Intellect (mahat) and ending with the subtle elements (tanmatras). It transmigrates, free from experience, and is tinged with dispositions (bhavas).

41. Just as a painting does not stand without a support, or a shadow cannot exist without a stake and the like, so too the cognitive apparatus cannot subsist without a support, without specific particles.

42. Formed for the sake of the purpose of the Self (purusha), the subtle body (linga) appears in different roles like a dramatic performer, owing to the connection of causes and effects and through conjunction with the universal power of Nature (prakriti).

43. The primary dispositions are innate; the acquired ones, like virtue and the rest, depend on the instruments. The uterine germ and the rest belong to the effect.

44. Through virtue there is ascent; through vice there is descent; through knowledge there is deliverance; there is bondage through the reverse.

45. From dispassion (vairagya) there is absorption into Nature (prakriti); transmigration results from passionate attachment (rajas); from power there is non-obstruction, and from the reverse, the contrary.

46. This is an intellectual creation, termed obstruction, infirmity, complacency and attainment. Through the disparity in influence of the gunas, its varieties are fifty.

47. Five are the varieties of obstruction; the varieties of infirmity due to organic defect are twenty-eight; complacency is ninefold and attainment is eightfold.

48. The varieties of obscurity (tamas) are eightfold, as also those of delusion (moha); extreme delusion (mahamoha) is tenfold; gloom is eighteenfold, and so is utter darkness.

49. Defects of the eleven organs, together with impairment of the intellect, are said to constitute infirmity. Injuries to the intellect are seventeen, resulting from the inversion of complacency and attainment.

50. Nine forms of complacency are propounded: four internal, relating to Nature (prakriti), means (upadana), time (kala) and luck (bhagya); five external, resulting from avoidance of enjoyment of objects.

51. The eight attainments are reasoning, oral instruction, study, the prevention of pain of three sorts, acquisition of friends, and charity. The three mentioned before (obstruction, infirmity and complacency) are the curbs on attainment.

52. Without dispositions (bhavas) there would be no subtle body (linga), and without the subtle body there would be no cessation of dispositions. Evolution, therefore, proceeds in two ways, the elemental and the intellectual.

53. Celestial evolution is of eight kinds; the grovelling species is fivefold; the human is single and specific in form. This, in brief, is material evolution.

54. Above, there is abundance of sattva; in the lower order of creation, tamas predominates; in the middle, rajas dominates. Such is creation from Brahma down to a blade of grass.

55. Therein does the conscious Self (purusha) experience pain caused by decay and death, until dissociation from the subtle body; thus suffering is in the very nature of things.

56. This evolution, from Intellect (mahat) to the specific elements (bhuta), brought about by the modifications of matter (prakriti), is for the emancipation of the individual Self (purusha). This is for the sake of another, though seemingly for itself.

57. Just as insentient milk serves as nourishment for the calf, so too does Nature (prakriti) act for the sake of the Self's emancipation.

58. Just as people engage in action to gratify desire, so too the unmanifest, unevolved Nature functions for the emancipation of the Self.

59. Just as a dancer desists from dancing, having shown herself to spectators, so too does primal Nature (prakriti) desist, having revealed itself to the Self (purusha).

60. Munificent Nature, endowed with attributes, accomplishes by manifold means the purpose of the attributeless and uncaring Self, with no gain for itself.

61. Nothing, in my view, is more gentle and gracious than Nature; once aware of having been seen, Nature does not expose herself to the gaze of the Self.

62. Verily, therefore, the Self is neither bounded nor emancipated, nor does it transmigrate; it is Nature alone, abiding in myriad forms, that is bounded, released and transmigrates.

63. Nature by herself binds herself by seven modes, and by means of one mode (knowledge), releases herself for the sake of the Self.

64. So through study of principles (tattvas) arises the ultimate, undistracted, pure knowledge that neither I am, nor is anything mine nor am I embodied.

65. Possessed of this self-knowledge, and the proliferation of Nature having ceased (owing to its withdrawal from its seven modes), the Self stands apart and at ease, like a spectator.

66. The Self stands indifferent, having seen Nature; Nature desists, having been seen. Though their coexistence continues, there is no motive for creation.

67. Through the attainment of perfect wisdom, virtue and the rest cease to function as causes; yet the Self continues to be invested with the body, just as a potter's wheel continues to whirl owing to the momentum imparted by a prior impulsion.

68. When separation from the body takes place and Nature ceases to act, its purpose having been fulfilled, the Self attains to absolute and final emancipation (kaivalya).

69. This Secret Doctrine (guhya) leading to the emancipation of the Self, and wherein the origin, duration and dissolution of beings has been considered, has been fully expounded by the great Seer (paramarishi) Kapila.

70. This supreme purificatory wisdom was imparted, through the compassion of the Sage, to Asuri. Asuri transmitted it to Panchashikha, by whom the system (tantra) was elaborated.

71. This, which was handed down through a succession of pupils, has been compendiously set down in the arya metre by the noble-minded and devout Ishvarakrishna, who thoroughly comprehended the established doctrine.

72. The subjects treated in the seventy verses are those of the entire science of sixty themes (shashtitantra), exclusive of illustrative tales, and devoid of polemical consideration of rival doctrines.

73. This briefly expounded treatise has not sacrificed anything of the content of the science, and is an image reflected in a mirror of the compendious tantra.


Hermes, September 1987
by Raghavan Iyer, Ed.

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