Vanity thought #1755. VC – how mahat-tattva goes bad

Continuing with “Mystic Universe: An Introduction to Vedic Cosmology”.

I’m still thinking how the effulgent and faultless mahat-tattva becomes the source not only of all good but all evil, too. I presented the arguments from the book in the previous post on the subject and now I’m trying to make sense of them.

These arguments can be judged in two ways – do they comply with everything else we heard about Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and if they do – how do they fit exactly? Secondly, they should make sense in the context of the book itself. The first judgement is more important because if the book complements what we already know to be true then we don’t really have to worry about how it comes to these conclusions. Second judgement is important if we want to understand Sāṅkhya, which is not a requirement but a nice thing to understand anyway.

When the book says that we are unhappy and we perform immoral acts because we see virtues of mahat-tattva in separation from Kṛṣṇa. From Kṛṣṇa consciousness point of view this is perfect, but the mechanism of how it works remains mysterious. We’d also say things like “we want to enjoy separately from Kṛṣṇa and that’s what creates karma.” This isn’t exactly how the book puts it but close. I have a feeling that the author wanted to explain how these statements can be justified from Sāṅkhya point of view rather than find what Sāṅkhya produces by itself and then reconcile it with what we already know. This would explain the lack of clarity.

Let me try and get Sāṅkhya’s reasoning once again. Mahat-tattva is produced from the union of the Lord and Prakṛti and the Lord Himself is its first observer – when He selects several of its principles and creates an appropriate universe out of this selection. Once the universe is created He passes it over to the observer of this newly created field – Lord Brahmā.

The question could be asked then – why does this transition happen? Why all the previous observers were forms of the Lord Himself and why would the Lord suddenly choose a living entity, a jīva, to take over and continue with the creation? Sometimes He takes the position of Lord Brahmā Himself, too. Is this the first time when products of mahat-tattva become seen as separate from the Lord? I mean Lord Brahmā was born into darkness and he clearly had no clue that God exists.

I think here we should have a much better idea of what the universe was at the time of Lord Brahma’s appearance. Lord Viṣṇu saw the entirety of mahat-tattva and then He made selections of its principles. Each individual selected set then became an individual universe. Perhaps it was at this point that principles of mahat-tattva were seen on their own. We got a set of four and it was brilliant but we have no idea of the existence of other sets, we think ours is perfect already. Perhaps this is the first manifestation of ignorance of the complete reality and, as I mentioned before, incomplete knowledge leads to creation of karma and, eventually, suffering.

It could be that, being unaware of other virtues contained in mahat-tattva, we act contradictory to them even if within our selection, within our universe all our actions seem to be perfect. This contradictory behavior, which rises from our ignorance, could then be seen as unavoidable cause of all subsequent suffering. We can’t escape it even if we try because all those other principles selected from mahat-tattva don’t even exist in our universe, we can’t avoid breaking them.

Prior to being separated into sets mahat-tattva was seen as a property of the Lord Himself but once the selections have been made its effulgence became seen as a property of itself. Even if we do connect it to the Lord it still doesn’t paint the whole picture of Him because He has an infinite amount of other qualities. This could explain that acting according to our dharmas is better than acting against them but it still isn’t good enough and we should follow the Lord Himself exclusively.

This unavoidable ignorance could also be seen as a reason why dealing with it has been passed to jīvas, who, by their nature, do not possess full knowledge. It would be hard for the Lord to pretend He is ignorant of His own qualities and does not see mahat-tattva as connected to Himself. I suppose He could do it if necessary but, generally, jīvas fit the job description better.

Another aspect of this subject is what is this “evil” thing anyway? According to Sāṅkhya “evil” doesn’t exist. We have a perception that some acts make us suffer and it’s our own reaction that labels them as “evil”. Hitler didn’t see himself as evil – WE think that he was because of all the bad things that he had done to US.

According to Sāṅkhya every action is guided by the desire for ānanda, which we think we can find in mahat-tattva, and all that is contained in mahat-tattva is moral by definition, so all our desires for happiness are inherently moral and do not need external justifications. We’d rather justify why we did something afterwards, when pressed for explanations, but our primary move is “because it feels good”. Some people would accept our excuses and some won’t. Some would understand why it felt good but would say that this one feeling doesn’t justify the accompanying suffering. I bet raping feels good to rapists but there are “side effects” to rape, too – victims don’t like it and the perpetrator himself would normally feel guilty afterwards.

From this example we can see how strife for one selected aspect of happiness might be moral on its own but, due to our ignorance of sum total of all morality, actions in pursuit of our preferred selection would contradict other principles of morality. The root of all suffering, therefore, is ignorance, which can be manifested as unawareness. That’s why in Sāṅkhya māyā blinds us to the complete reality, it’s not so much an illusion but a covering of our vision. When we automatically say that māyā is an illusion it’s not a complete description of what it is either. It’s an illusion that things exist without connection to Kṛṣṇa and this aspect of māyā is included in Sāṅkhya, too – when we deal with self-contained selection of mahat-tattva which defines our universe we don’t see the connection to Kṛṣṇa, too. Unawareness of other principles of mahat-tattva is an addition to this original mistake.

The point is that māyā in Sāṅkhya is compliant with māyā in wider Kṛṣṇa conscious philosophy and I bet there are many ways to look at it in Sāṅkhya, too. The source of suffering in Sāṅkhya is also compliant with what we already know, though it adds a slightly different explanation than usual. Or I could say that the same concept manifests itself differently in different frameworks. Sāṅkhya as was given by the Lord Kapila should comply with everything we know from other sources but it doesn’t have to look exactly the same.

Finally, we come to the end of the section on Sāṅkhya and the last couple of paragraphs contrast it with material approach to happiness. Materialists believe that happiness arises from matter and that means that happiness can’t be found outside of matter. That’s why atheists tell us that religion will never make us truly happy and that knowledge of science will set us free. There’s nothing wrong with their views – they speak of the same virtues rooted in mahat-tattva but about their different manifestations. Some would actually prefer happiness of the mind to happiness of the senses and they would be right, too. These are not mutually contradictory statements. In whatever shape or form, mahat-tattva always feels good. I think it should be obvious here that we don’t see the actual mahat-tattva but rather what has been produced from it through stages of creation.

The quest for spirituality begins when people recognize happiness in something else rather than gross matter. They find it not in sex but in love, for example. As they gradually seek it in subtler and subtler forms of matter they eventually come to contemplating morality, then to realizing that the world is an incurable place of suffering and rejecting it in principle. That is a typical way of jñāna.

What Sāṅkhya tells us is that the underlying principle of this quest is that matter comes from happiness and not the other way around. Most “seekers of the truth” do not realize it and the universe appears confusing and undecipherable to them. Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, on the other hand, gives us full knowledge of spirituality by introducing Sāṅkhya early on and demonstrating the emergence of matter from spirit before moving on to other topics of the Lord. After all, our illusion lies in not seeing that spirit-matter connection, which means we weren’t attentive to the theory of Sāṅkhya in the Third Canto.

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