Verse 3: Generative Causality

On this current experiment with the Sāṃkhya Kārikā, I made a choice to approach it as a generative process. Verse 3 is a great place to demonstrate what that means.

I feel that it is important to re-iterate that I am not really reading the text itself. Maybe one day I will acquire sufficient knowledge of Sanskrit to attempt this. But for now, I am reading commentaries. In the commentaries there is a recurring tendency to mention principles that have not yet been laid out.

For example, the commentaries for verse 3 mention some specific examples of evolvents and evolutes. However, in my summaries I only mention things that are explicitly mentioned in the sanskrit verse (my Sanskrit is good enough for that). Verse 3 does mention the concept of Mahat and I have also mentioned it in my summary. However I ommitted the other principles which were given as examples in the commentaries but are not in the verse itself.

This is a leap-of-faith on my part. I am curious to see if the text itself is really a generative process. In a good generative process each step builds on the previous steps by adding a change which enhances the overall picture that forms in my mind. For this to work, in a good generative process, the change that is introduced is minimal: it should induce a noticeable and coherent refinment of the image in my mind without conflicting with established parts of the image and without introducing distractions. References to unexplained future prinicples, I feel, are distractions that diminish the generative quality.

I suspect that these “future mentions” are offered with an intention of providing clarity. I also suspect that the commentaries are this way because they are a kind of historical recording of real-life teaching settings in which a teacher guided students through the text. Such references have a different quality in a living student-teacher-teaching relationship. The resonance of that experience does not translate well in the “transcription” of these settings.

As a case in point of this distractive quality: I initially viewed verse 3 as a kind of overview of the 25 principles of Samkhya. In fact, that was the title I’d given it before I decided to explicitly change titles into questions. One reason for this was the commentaries references to future principles. The examples drew me in to the specific of the map and distracted me from seeing the map as a whole. Once I Set aside the “future examples” I was left with a clearer and more focused understanding of verse3: it IS a map of the principles of Samkhya but, more importantly, that map is placed on a “causality-matrix”:

I believe this casuality-matrix is the real centerpiece of this verse. The specifics of what is in each location on the matrix can distract from the vitality of the matrix itself. I felt I had a decent grasp of causality until I was able to set aside my preconceptions and take in the implications of this seemingly simple matrix which shines a bright light on the elephant in the room: that which is neither caused nor causes?

Verse2: First-person, What-if

A couple of months ago , during a conversation with my parents, I shared with them the Samkhya painting journey I was on and the paintings I’d already completed. My father expressed an interest in seeing the images alongside the summaries I was working on. Sure enough, a few days after I published verse1 he reached out to me and had questions. And it wasn’t just him, my mother was with him listening in and engaging to a 90 minute converation about verse 1 of the Sāṃkhya Kārikā … what has the world come to?

My father tends to present questions as challenges. Being my father’s son, I am sensitized to this mindset. It was applied to me and I have applied it myself. If I am not attentive, it can still dominate and activate me. This tendency, I believe, speaks to an excessive sense of conviction. It is an echo of a mindset of “I think I know (and want to prove this wrong)” rather than “this challenges my understanding, but I sense there may be something to it and want to inquire further.” May father was in the latter but spoke from the former. This is a costly modality since it incurs an “excavation fee” to get through the rubble-of-resistance and expose the question that wants to be asked.

There is also something about Samkhya itself that can trigger this mindset. Samkhya is, after all, a rigorous inquiry into “What is”, and who doesn’t already have a strong (certainly unconscious, maybe conscious) sense of “What Is”? If you are vested in your understanding of “what is” Samkhya can feel challenging.

I am finding that the Samkhya challenge can be a double-edged sword. One edge cuts me when I use rigorous thinking to understand a Samkhya concept (that may conflict with an established belief). The other edge cuts me when the rigorous thinking of Samkhya demonstrates that my thinking may not be as rigorous as I thought it was.

The latter is happening to me right now. I have just started approaching the painting for verse 17. I started by re-reading my generative summary. I remembered having difficulty following some of the logic when I studied the verse but I thought I’d figured it out. Now, reading it again, something didn’t feel right.

Side note: I hope you stick around until verse 17 because it has the most demanding logical sequence I’ve encountered in the text (so far!) and it has led to a surprising painting process. But that is to be expected when you try to rigorously define Spirit 🙂

I have been applying a couple of tactics to help me deal with this ongoing “challenge” mindset. The first is writing in the first-person. I want to make it personal. I want to keep the exploration grounded in my direct lived experience and to avoid, if possible, hypotheticals. If you are following along, you, as a reader of my first-person summaries, can also read it, if you wish, in first-person and place yourself in it. If, however, you feel uncomfortable doing that, or experience objection to what is expressed, you can step out and remember that this is my attempt to make sense of the text and that you may want to explore a different approach.

The other tactic is to treat the entire exploration as a big What If? This can apply to a single verse, to a group of verses (where an idea is built up), and to the entire text. It applies both when I think I understand, and when I feel confused. In both cases, I say to myself “let’s see where this is going.” This stretches my relationship with the text and with understanding over a longer period of time. Verses overlap and inform each other. Earlier verses sow seeds that later verses, nourish, enhance, and refine. Later verses mature into flowers that give sense to the seeds that were planted in earlier verses. Understanding becomes less sharp and more of a fuzzy, living experience.

It is OK to hold understanding as tentative. Acknowledging this, now, here, in writing these words, makes me think that that is, in and of itself, a good practice.

Which brings us to verse 2: what if inquiry can have a meaningful impact on my experience of suffering?

Verse 1: An Old Beginning

I have chosen to begin sharing this inquiry into Samkhya on this equinox day of spring 2021. I don’t remember exactly when I settled into it, either late November or early December (2020). However, as you can read in the introduction, this is really an inquiry that begun over a decade ago but never really took off … until now. I think that somewhere around verse 11 I started to feel that I was settling comfortably into the text and the process I’ve been following.

Now, as I am about to begin sharing this inquiry publicly, I am wondering about all the human beings who, over centuries, have sat down with their teachers and encountered the opening word: suffering!