The mystical nature of the universe has always perplexed man. In an attempt to understand this nature, he came up with several philosophies. The Greek have suggested that the cosmos is made up of indivisible particles. The Chinese believe that it comprises two opposing forces known as Yin and Yang. Whereas, the Hindu Samkhya philosophy puts forth that the universe is dualistic in nature.
According to the philosophy, what constitutes the duality is Purusha (pure consciousness) and Prakriti (matter and energy). Purusha is an abstract primordial entity, believed to be ‘uncaused’. It has unlimited potential, however, it is inert. It neither paves way for evolution nor causes any change in the world. Prakriti, on the other hand, is the primal energy that manifests Purusha‘s potential in the physical realm. Albeit an ‘uncaused’ concept like Purusha, it allows for further evolution by virtue of its three qualities or Gunas.
Gunas constitute Prakriti and help manifest the physical world. They are present in all things living and non-living in the world. They are of three types–sattva, rajas and tamas. According to Dr Manikantan Menon, an Ayurvedic physician, sattva represents creation. It represents day. This form of energy is said to possess clarity and goodness. Rajas, says Dr Menon, is transformative in nature. It represents the transition from night to day and day to night. It is the passion that is necessary to bring about change. And finally, tamas is the destructive force of darkness (night). It represents fear, lethargy, ignorance and chaos, the expert explains. Together, the three gunas are responsible for creation, sustenance and destruction. And this cycle, as we know, is essential for the functioning of the cosmos.
If the entire universe is a manifestation of Prakriti, then so is every individual. In fact, within each of us, the three gunas compete for supremacy and try to suppress one another. As a result, the gunas remain in a constant state of fluctuation. This fluctuation determines our mental disposition. For instance, whenever sattva is dominant, we feel calm, clear, virtuous and peaceful. When rajas takes over, we become self-centered, driven, egoistic and action-oriented. When tamas gains control, we feel lethargic, stagnant, dull or even depressed.
The Samkhya philosophy talks about transcending the three Gunas (and hence Prakriti) to break free from this cycle and attain moksha (enlightenment).