Modern science describes nature as comprised of matter and forces. According to Sāńkhya, this description is both false as we have seen here and true as we have seen here. It is false because material properties such as mass and charge pertain to the observer’s senses, not to the material objects and therefore forces formulated based on such properties are fictions rather than reality. It is true in the sense that the external world still has properties such as redness and bitterness which are “matter” and these properties are connected to the senses through a “force” called prāna. Both matter and force are thus different in Sāńkhya than in modern science: force attaches the senses to the sense objects and detaches the senses from the sense objects. This post discusses the nature of force in Sāńkhya.
Table of Contents
- The Five Kinds of Prāna
- The Cycle of Life
- The Idea of Force in Science and in Sāńkhya
- The Living and Non-Living Distinction
- The Philosophical Origins of Matter and Force
- The Construction of Ecosystem by Prāna
- The Bi-Directional Model of Causality
- The Bi-Directional Causality in Atomic Theory
- The Genesis of Karma
- Karma is a Semantic Natural Law
The Five Kinds of Prāna
Sāńkhya philosophy describes the five kinds of prāna:
- Prāna: this is the force that attaches the senses of knowledge to their objects; it acts during breathing, food ingestion, sound acquisition, and any kind of sensation. It is what helps the senses such as eyes, ears, skin, tongue, and nose perceive the world. It acts in the mind when it sees meanings in the world, in the intellect when it understands the truth of other’s claims, in the ego when it senses the intentions in others, and in the mahattattva when it perceives other’s happiness.
- Apāna: this is the force that detaches the senses from their objects; it is responsible for cleansing the body during urination and defecation, and it is the force that plays a crucial role in the cleansing of the mind by giving up mental attachments. It acts in the intelligence when old beliefs are discarded, in ego when old goals and objectives are abandoned, and in the mahattattva when old moral values are rejected.
- Udāna: this is the force that helps the senses of action to create; for example, this is the force that transforms a mental idea into speech or words. Similarly, this force also powers the hands and legs (e.g. in holding and moving) and sexual procreation. It acts in the mind to create new theories, in the intellect when it creates new judgments of truth and false, in the ego when the ego creates new goals, and in the mahattattva when it creates new moral values.
- Samāna: this is the force of digestion that breaks down ideas to fit into the body or mind after prāna absorbs them. Those ideas that cannot fit are eliminated by apāna. This force acts in the digestive system (where food is broken down), in the senses (e.g. when color is analyzed into red, blue, and green), in the mind when it divides the perceptual field into individual objects, in the intellect when it separates truth from false, in the ego when complex intents are analyzed into multiple goals, in the mahattattva when it analyzes a person into their value system.
- Vyāna: this is the force of transportation due to which the sensations and ideas digested by samāna are integrated. It operates in the circulatory and nervous systems—carrying ideas to the rest of the body, in the mind when new concepts are located in specific places in relation to existing ideas, in the intelligence where new beliefs are integrated along with existing beliefs, in the ego when additional purposes and goals are reconciled with existing goals, and in the mahattattva when new moral values are reconciled with existing moral values.
The Cycle of Life
The description of five prāna is the description of a system that ingests, digests, integrates, expresses, and rejects. The five prāna create a cycle in which ideas are absorbed, digested, and assimilated on the one hand, and then used for new creations on the other, and what cannot be assimilated is eliminated. The power of prāna is that of inputs, the power of udāna is that of (useful) output, and the power apāna is that of eliminating waste. To perform the input-output, a stable body-mind is required, and the samāna function of digestion and the vyāna function of assimilation are thus needed.
These five forces act at every tier of matter from the senses to the mahattattva. As we have seen in the previous post, prāna expresses the choices of consciousness, although these choices are constrained by four factors—kāla, karma, guna, and Ishvara. Prāna is also called the field of activities—from which material objects are produced, and into which material objects can dissolve. However, these forces are neither deterministic nor autonomous. Rather these forces are controlled by the free will of the soul, time, previously acquired habits, the available opportunities, and the will of God.
The original desire of the soul (called māyā śakti) first creates the power of action (called kriya śakti or prāna) and this power of action then produces material objects when the right kind of opportunities (called bhūti śakti) are available. Similarly, the material opportunities merge back into the power of action, which then merges back into desire.
The Idea of Force in Science and in Sāńkhya
Modern science simplifies these forces considerably, reducing them to just attraction and repulsion.
The force of “attraction” corresponds to the attraction that the senses of knowledge, mind, intellect, ego, and morality have for their objects, but these senses are not driven deterministically, and the conscious observers can choose whether and where to direct their attention. Of course, in animals (and in many humans too) this choice is not very obvious and the living beings are largely driven by the sensual attractions to objects. However, the choice does exist because nature presents many alternatives from which the living being can choose, and the choice prioritizes them creating a hierarchy.
The force of “repulsion” corresponds to the production of “useful work” and “useless waste” but the distinction between useful and useless is relative to the meanings that an observer attributes to these outputs and if the mind is eliminated from nature, then there is no way to distinguish between useful and useless. Both useful work and useless waste are thus simply become “outputs”.
Once this oversimplified model of push-and-pull is established, the forces of digestion and assimilation are supposed to be reduced to these forces too. This is, in effect, the state of modern biology where the entire biological system is supposed to reduce to the laws of physics, and the result of this reduction is that we are fundamentally incapable of distinguishing between living and non-living things.
The Living and Non-Living Distinction
One of the fundamental features of Sāńkhya is that the force called prāna exists only in living bodies, not the non-living things. In fact, as we have seen earlier, “gross matter” does not even have physical properties like mass and charge, because these only exist in the observer’s senses. Therefore, one observer can perceive the world as mass and charge, another one as temperature and pressure, and yet another one has color and taste. Our ability to formulate laws of nature based on such perceptions doesn’t mean the properties are real because different laws will work for different properties.
All these properties are eventually derived from the five senses, and they represent the manner in which the senses perceive the world—e.g. as mass or charge, temperature or pressure, color or taste. Since no properties exist in material objects, but only in the observer’s senses, therefore the “laws of force” based on such properties (e.g. gravity based on “mass”, or electromagnetism based on “charge”) are also convenient fictions of the mind, based upon previously created fictions of the senses.
There is no force in the gross matter; rather, the force exists within the subtle body whose sensual activities drive the material objects. These forces are prāna, udāna, and apāna—or the power to know, to create, and to eliminate. These three may also be called the powers to maintain, create, and destroy. The power of maintaining is further based on the power to digest (samāna) and assimilate (vyāna).
Thus, living bodies and non-living things comprise of the same matter. However, the living beings have prāna while non-living things don’t. It is the prāna in the living being—under the restrictions of guna, choice, karma, and time—that is driving the inanimate objects to become animate. Nothing is, therefore, moving “automatically” in nature. Rather, prāna is the force responsible for moving it, and this prāna is under the will of a conscious being, their karma, latent habits, God, and time.
The difference between living and non-living things is thus prāna—the force of nature—because non-living things exert no force in Sāńkhya as all material properties exist only in the senses.
The Philosophical Origins of Matter and Force
Western philosophy has deeply misconstrued the nature of material reality by attributing properties such as mass and charge to the external objects, rather than to the senses. Once the properties are attributed to the external world, then forces are also attributed to the material objects. And since the objects have no life, they cannot have any choice and no meanings and no judgments can be applied. As a result, all of nature is expected to work mechanically and deterministically. The philosophical mistake begins in the idea that mass and charge are properties of matter rather than of our way of measuring matter. If we correct that mistake in empiricism, a slew of corrections can follow.
In Sāńkhya, the properties are a feature of the senses, and forces also act on the senses (and the mind, intellect, ego, and moral sense). Since the senses are under the control of mind, we can give the sensations meanings. The intellect then judges the truth of these meanings, the ego then perceives the purpose in nature, and the moral sense then perceives morality in nature. If we attribute the properties to the material objects, then the sensations become human fictions, the meanings that the mind attributes to sensations become our creations, the truth of these meanings become personal judgments, the goals in life are our creations, and there is no sense of morality in nature.
The root of all current problems in science lies in its philosophical underpinnings around empiricism. Sāńkhya is also empirical, but in this empiricism there are five fundamental properties of nature—namely, taste, touch, sound, smell, and sight—although we can derive any number of hypothetical properties (such as mass, charge, temperature, pressure, etc.) from these sensations. The forces act on the senses, the mind, the intellect, the ego, and the moral sense called mahattattva.
We are absorbing sensations, ideas, judgments, intents, and morals due to prāna. Once absorbed, these entities must be broken down to fit into our bodily, sensual, mental, intellectual, intentional, and moral framework, and samāna performs this job. When the external world has been broken into what we can accept, vyāna does the assimilation. It is possible that some of these new ideas cannot be integrated into our current mind-body system. Either those new ideas must be discarded, or some of the older ideas must be rejected. Both these jobs are performed by apāna. Using the new mind-body system, we then create new sensations, ideas, judgments, intents, and morals due to udāna.
The Construction of Ecosystem by Prāna
Of course, what we consider “waste” might be useful to other living beings, and our apāna, therefore, becomes prāna for other beings. For example, the “carbon dioxide” we excrete through apāna becomes the prāna for plants. Similarly, the solid and liquid waste we create through our body can become the solid and liquid “food” for plants. Nature has created different kinds of living beings whose prāna and apāna are opposites of each other, in order to sustain the living beings in an ecosystem.
Within the human society, udāna creates the economic system because udāna is responsible for creative expression as seen in the production of goods and services. However, what is udāna for me (e.g. writing a book) can be prāna for you (e.g. reading a book) or an apāna for someone else (who is not interested in these books, and considers them worthless). My work (udāna) therefore can be a source of life for some people (prāna) or a completely useless and wasteful activity (apāna) for others. Similarly, the udāna of living beings in our bodies can be viewed as samāna and vyāna by me (if they produce useful chemicals which help digest the food—e.g. what we call “probiotics”) or apāna by me (if they produce harmful chemicals in the body—e.g. in case of viruses).
The key point is that there isn’t a universal definition of what constitutes prāna, apāna, udāna, samāna, and vyāna. Rather this definition is given from the standpoint of a particular living entity. The five prāna create a tree, in which the various branches are different living beings. What is apāna on one branch can be prāna on the other; what is udāna on one branch can be prāna on the other.
The Bi-Directional Model of Causality
In other words, we cannot define a force universally as prāna or apāna because the definition is based on the specific branch on the tree, rather than universally. In the universal definition, we only describe a physical transaction, without giving it a meaning. For example, the output of my body can be useful or wasteful, and unless we give this output a meaning, we cannot call it apāna or udāna. Nevertheless, even in the physical description of force—e.g. “attraction” or “repulsion”—we require two force particles traveling in opposite directions because of “action” and “reaction”. If you push a table with your hand, the table pushes your hand back. There are hence two forces acting forward and backward, although acting on different objects—e.g. the table and the hand.
This is the fundamental reason that a two-way causal model was originally introduced in classical electromagnetism: this model described how two waves move in opposite directions. The two waves are identical in all respects (since the force is mutually attractive or repulsive) except for their direction. Two identical waves moving in opposite directions is then treated as equal and opposite action and reaction in classical physics.
The Bi-Directional Causality in Atomic Theory
The notion of action and reaction also exists in quantum physics where there are two waves that are identical but moving in opposite directions, and these are called Ψ and Ψ*. The Ψ* wave is called the complex conjugate of Ψ, and if we separate the space and time variables in Ψ, it moves in negative time—i.e. in the opposite direction to Ψ.
I previously discussed how the use of opposite waves leads to the Absorber Theory (in which simultaneous waves of absorption and emission move in opposite directions, based on the idea of action and reaction in electromagnetism) and to the Transactional Interpretation in quantum theory involving opposite waves (Ψ and Ψ*).
In the previous post I further discussed how the imaginary component in a complex number is used to represent the meaning of the symbol. The use of Ψ and Ψ* in quantum physics, therefore, indicates something that is physically identical and yet has an opposite meaning. In the case of a heat transfer, for example, it can mean heat moving in one direction and cold in the other direction. Whether we look at a change physically, or we treat it semantically, two opposite types of transactions are involved.
In Sāńkhya the forces of nature are defined through semantic rather than physical changes. Nevertheless, since any of the five prāna for one living entity (e.g. udāna) could be any of the five prāna for another living entity (e.g. apāna), we have to employ a two-sided causal model in which each side can give a different meaning to the force. Thus, there have to be two opposite waves, but these waves may not be identical because their meanings in two directions can be quite different. The forward and reverse waves are physically identical, but they can potentially have different meanings.
The Genesis of Karma
The theory of karma is called action-and-reaction. A theory of action-and-reaction also exists in modern science, with one key difference: the action and reaction are produced immediately, while action and reaction are delayed in the theory of karma. Thus, in the theory of karma, an action and reaction are moving in opposite directions, but both actions and reactions are due to consequences of previous interactions, while lie dormant or “unmanifest” and are later “manifest” due to time.
With a physical theory we cannot understand how the consequences are created because these involve judgments. Thus, a physical theory can show that there are two opposite waves, but it cannot explain why two opposite transactions must be involved. Within a semantic understand, we can see that these two opposite waves represent different kinds of meanings, and a new law of nature should be formulated based on these meanings.
For example, suppose a gunman shoots a person with a gun. The physical transaction is that a bullet is emitted and someone is hit. But this act of shooting cannot itself be considered right or wrong unless more context is supplied. For instance, the gunman might be a soldier fighting for justice and the person shot may be an unjust oppressor. Conversely, the gunman might be a thief and the person shot may be innocent. We cannot judge the consequence unless we take into account deeper levels of matter—such as meanings, beliefs, intentions, and morals. Therefore, we cannot formulate a theory of moral consequences if we don’t give the transactions themselves a meaning.
Karma is a Semantic Natural Law
What modern science calls “action” and “reaction” are simply two different actions acting in opposite directions, and these actions are visible in every material transaction. For example, if my hand pushes the table, then there are two actions (which modern science calls “action” and “reaction”)—one acting on my hand, and the other acting on the table. The reaction in Sāńkhya is not the “reaction” of modern science because of two reasons: (1) the reaction doesn’t act immediately, and (2) the reaction is based on a moral judgment of the actions, which is produced based on their respective meanings.
Since science discards meanings, it cannot describe the real reaction which arises when material forces or actions are given meanings, and therefore this law of nature is outside current science. However, we can understand that if material actions are given meanings, then there can be two reactions to the two actions—each one resulting from a judgment of the action itself. Unlike the “reaction” in current science which acts on a different object, the reaction in Sāńkhya acts on the same object. For instance, my act of shooting will produce a reaction for me (not for the person who is shot) if my shooting is unwarranted. If, however, the shooting was the justified performance of a moral duty and was performed in a regulated manner (i.e. without greed or malice) then the action would not produce a reaction. Such an assessment requires many deeper levels of meaning.
Accordingly, a material transaction has to be viewed as the interaction between two branches of the material tree involving deeper levels of meaning, rather than two leaves. The interaction also modifies the branches as a whole. Since prāna constructs all the branches, all such branch-to-branch interactions cannot simply be described as “action” and “reaction” as in current science. Rather, they have to be described as two actions, which may, in turn, produce two reactions (if both actions are not morally just).
Karma is therefore also a law of nature, but it is based on the interaction of two branches rather than two particles (nodes on the branch). This kind of causality is based on the fact that when I shoot a bullet, it is not just my hands that are involved; rather the mind, intellect, ego, and morality are also involved. When these deeper levels of matter are incorporated, the currently envisioned “causality” in nature would be discarded and a completely different kind of causality would be envisioned. Then, what we consider “laws of nature” (as described by current science) would be deemed illusions, and a new kind of law of nature (which is based on natural moral judgments) will be considered reality.