Next chapter in the book is about creation of pleasure and it’s an aspect of Sāṅkhya we should never forget. Grown up with materialistic understanding of the world we see ourselves as independent observers who objectively evaluate our perceptions and we carry this attitude to learning about Vedic cosmos, too. Sāṅkhya, on the other hand, is as much about our personal situation as it is about the universe. Its sister discipline is yoga and the very first step in yoga is to severe our connections to the world by withdrawing senses. It’s all about knowing oneself, so to speak, and so is Sāṅkhya, and so we need to understand what makes us work, what drives us in our lives, what is it that we are looking for here. Pleasure is the answer.
First, however, let me take a step back and finish the previous chapter, just to know where we stand before we get to discussing pleasure. The core difference between methodology of science and Sāṅkhya is that in Sāṅkhya we understand phenomena not on their own but in relation to the higher phenomena. We need to know the meaning of what we see and that meaning comes from the next higher tier of reality. Whatever we see is the symbol of that higher reality and we understand our sensations in connection to that next step.
Ultimately, everything is connected to Kṛṣṇa who is the source of all the material and spiritual worlds and whose meaning, therefore, can never be understood – there’s nothing higher than Him. Previously, I discussed the idea that we can look at the universe as a description of Kṛṣṇa, as the way He externalizes Himself. Spiritual world would give us a true description of all His qualities and pastimes and the material world would give a perverted, false description of the Lord. We, as marginal potency, can participate in both of these realities, but, wherever we are, we are always in search of pleasure – ānanda-mayo ‘bhyāsāt, as Vedānta Sūtra tells us. That pleasure ultimately comes from Kṛṣṇa in both material and spiritual reality.
What we want in the material world is to expand this desire for pleasure into instances of pleasure, i.e. pleasurable objects. To obtain that pleasure we must engage in some activity and that activity is choice. The choices are objectified into meanings and then meanings are converted into objects. We have four types of entities here – objects, and in order to understand them we need to know their meanings. Meanings themselves are understood when we know the choices they produce, and to understand choices we need to know the nature of pleasure. Pleasure does not have an explanation and the quest for pleasure justifies itself – as per Vedānta Sūtra, and all other types of entities – choices, meanings, and objects, depend on it.
The nature of a choice is problematic in modern science and it has been dealt with philosophically for centuries without much success. The book cites a paradox of Buridan’s ass, named after 14th century philosopher. The ass there is equally hungry and thirsty and is placed at an equal distance from a pile of hay and a bucket of water in front of him. All things being equal he can’t decide which one he should choose first and he dies both of hunger and the thirst. This demonstrates the problem with the nature of choice – we have no idea HOW we choose things and that makes the world indermenitistic and that’s where we can say the science fails because it can’t make predictions. Forget quantum probabilities for the moment – they are a problem, too, they just don’t accept them as such.
In Sāṇkhya we choose among that which exists – sat – by using our cit potency, which, in turn is subordinate to ānanda aspect of our being. This ānanda does not exist outside of us, we don’t need to be told to search for pleasure, we don’t need clues to decide what is pleasurable. Buridan’s ass was waiting for some external cause, for some push, but in Sāṅkhya that cause is always inside of us and so we always make a choice, just like a real ass would.
What makes us happy and why? It’s an obscure topic. The author gives an example of eating sweets – is it the sweets that make us happy? Or is it the sweetness we experience? Can experience of sweetness exist without happiness? Do we even need to make a distinction here? In Western culture happiness has long been linked to morality but that framework is being seriously questioned now by those who say that whatever makes us feel happy is automatically moral and righteous, while preservers of the traditions tell us that whatever is defined as moral by God automatically means happiness and we just have to accept it as it is. The liberals then say that it’s evidently not true and point out gays, who are deeply unhappy in their traditional gender roles, and so the debate goes on and on and on.
In Vedic philosophy, the author tells us, morality (I think he means dharma here) is defined as a true representation of God’s nature, which, in turn, manifests as the universe to us. False understanding of the universe is, therefore, immoral by definition. This links us back to the point that it’s ignorance that leads to creation of karma and entangling ourselves.
In the material world we, of course, don’t know God, don’t perceive him, and so for us the source of all pleasure appears as mahat-tattva (the great truth, if we take Sanskrit literally here). All the things that make us happy are contained there and these things define our material personalities. Modern psychologists also define personalities but they do not see the source of those differences, which lies in the diversity of mahat-tattva and diversity of pleasure.
Kṛṣṇa and other forms of the Lord have all their transcendental qualities out there but down here they are manifested as mahat-tattva. Mahat-tattva is the first element of creation, which is born from the union of the Lord and His śakti as prakṛti. Everything else, every universe, comes from observing that mahat-tattva and selecting different sets of pleasure contained within it, which determines the number of head of Lord Brahmā in each universe as will be seen later. I must say I don’t yet understand why our Lord Brahmā has four heads and it’s the smallest number possible. Hopefully it will become clear later.
So, this mahat-tattva is the sum total of all morals, which form the root of our material personalities and determine our particular choices of pleasure, and our choices then get objectified as meanings we seek, which, ultimately, lead to manifestation of material objects themselves. Our false ego lays claim on those morals and everything else then follows from there.