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?