Verse 33 has become a favorite of mine. Initially it was for its take on time. But, as I was reviewing it and preparing it for publication I felt drawn to the subtly implied teaching it holds around internal and external.
The idea that captured my attention was the notion that “the ten external organs are the objects of the three internal organs.” This was not initially clear to me. This is partly due to my unique history and relationship with language.
When I was eight years old my family moved from Israel to the USA for five years. I left the USA (returning to Israel) before fully ingesting English grammar. I returned to Israel to join the other kids who had already ingested Hebrew grammar. I had neither and to this day do not have a good theoretical grasp of grammar in any language. Both English and Hebrew are intuitive languages for me. I don’t have an intuitive grasp of ideas such as nouns, verbs, subjects, objects, pronouns, etc (and I would struggle to even make that list in Hebrew). This also makes it difficult for others to explain to me another language (like Romanian), because the explaining usually relies on grammar itself.
So I struggled to understand what does it mean that one thing is an object of another thing (and I suspect that this isn’t just me and my predisposition towards language, I suspect that language itself is less concrete and way more slippery if you really put your mind to it). The way I resolved it was working from the outside in.
I started with the ten external organs-of-sense (see verse 26) and pondered what “their objects are.” I had an intuitive sense of that. If I am holding an apple, the apple is the object of my grasping, touch, sight and smell. The apple is the object of my ten external organs-of-sense. It is the thing to which they are applied and that they experience. This is WHY the ten are referred to as “external organs of sense.”
Now I could move inside. The three internal organs (Mahat – Intelligence, Ahamkara – I-am-ness and Manas – Mind) experience the ten external organs-of-sense similarly to the way the ten external organs-of-sense experience an apple. The ten external-organs-of-sense are the objects of the three internal organs. My mind never interacts with an apple. My mind interacts with the sense-organs that interact with an apple. This is WHY the three are referred to as “internal organs of sense.”
After carefully ingesting this I was left with a curious experience of internal and external that feels simultaneously intuitive and elusive. The elusive quality seems to be my mind clinging to an oh-so-familiar notion of physical interiority and exteriority. That physical notion hasn’t held up well over time, yet it is still a familiar and intellectually compelling idea. I feel (at least for now) better held by a notion of an “internality” that includes the three internal organs that experience the ten organs-of-sense and an “externality” that only the ten organs-of-sense can experience. I am left with an experience of self that is both clear (well bounded) and permeable (boundless).
This reframed notion of internality and externality and the three “internal organs” and the ten “external organs” is what gives rise, according to this verse, to time itself. The “present time” is an experience that arises when the three internal organs operate together with the ten external organs. A sense of “present” arises when the three internal organs unite with the taste-organ-of-sense (see verse 30 about how cognition occurs) as I bite into the apple. A sense of “past” arises when, as I bite into it, I think about the wonderful apple I had yesterday. A sense of “past and future” arises when the three internal organs operate separately from the ten external organs that always operate in the present. The notions of “past and future” are themselves based on inference (see verse 5) from previous experiences during which the the three internal organs did operate together with the ten external organs.
Time is therefore not an explicit principle in Samkhya. It is an emergent outcome of the relationships between the three internal organs and ten external organs.