Verse 27: Mind and Matter

Verse 27 makes two distinct statements. Verse 26 described ten out of the eleven special objects that arise from a Sattvic Ahamkara (see verse 25). So, first, verse 27 accounts for the eleventh special object: mind (Manas). Then verse 27 tends to the question of how is it possible that such a diversity of special objects (five knowing objects-of-sense + five action objects-of-sense + mind) arise from a single source – Ahamkara? The answer it points to is (once again) the Gunas (see verse 12 and verse 16).

Something about the coupling of these two statements (in one verse) caught my attention. It seems to speaks directly to a prominent question in modern scientific and philosophical thinking: mind versus matter. In a mechanistic scientific view, everything is a complicated machine made up of parts. This view proves to be challenging when it comes to consciousness. If the basic building blocks (eg: atoms) are not conscious how does a collection of atoms come to have consciousness? In this context, this verse feels like a gentle whisper of wisdom (perhaps even foresight?) passed down through the ages.

In Samkhya, consciousness has been attributed to Spirit (see verse 11) and accounts for the fundamental experience of witnessing. Everything else, including mind (which is NOT the source of consciousness), is produced by Primordial Nature (Prakrti – see verse 15 ) in conjunction with Spirit (see verse 21). Primordial Nature itself is an eternal dance of the three Gunas. It follows that everything that is produced by Primordial Nature is also a dance of the three Gunas (see casualty in verse 9). Therefore, according to Samkhya, mind and matter are of the same essence – an eternal fluctuation of the Gunas … of Rajas, Tamas & Sattva … movement, heaviness & stillness … activity, obscurity & clarity …. suffering, delusion & pleasure.

In Samkhya the question of mind versus matter seems to be dis-solved. Our scientific microscopes have zoomed in so far that we’ve seen beyond atoms and what we’re finding seems to challenge the mechanistic view itself. It seems that atoms are mostly space, a realization that may dis-solve the notion of physical matter. And, within that space, it seems that there is some kind of underlying quantum reality of ever-shifting potentials that are somehow directly tied to the act of observation itself … the manifested potentials are affected by the witness!

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