Purusha is conscious, Prakriti is unconscious. Purusha is as much ultimate as Prakriti, both are un–caused. Prakriti enters into action from an original state of equilibrium. The state of equilibrium is reached when, although it is a single reality, it has three qualities: it has Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. It is one but triple you might say. The movement of action is opposed within itself by the tendency towards inaction, inertia. And both of them are opposed by a movement of harmony, of knowledge, of happiness: Sattwa is harmony, knowledge and happiness. These are the three fundamental characteristics of Sattwa: wherever there is Sattwa, there is…When you say: ‘such and such individual is Sattwic’, what you mean is that this person has a natural tendency to learn, to know. Secondly, a Sattwic person is a harmoniser; he does not like conflicts around; he wants to bring about harmony. And, by knowledge and by harmony, there is some kind of happiness, inward happiness, saṁtoṣaṁ, some contentment.
This is opposed to Rajasic: in Rajasic there is no tendency to learn, to know. Rajas is prepared to fight and to conflict. Rajas has a fever, in which pleasures and pains are both feverishly enjoyed. There is not movement towards any kind of equilibrium or rest. Equilibrium of the Sattwa or rest of inertia, of the Tamas: Rajas has a constant fever of movement.
Tamas on the other hand, has constant inertia to cling to ignorance, just as Sattwa wants to move towards knowledge; Tamas always wants to move towards ignorance, to move towards mechanical activities and towards inertia, towards sleep, rest, idleness, sloth: all this is Tamas.
According to Sankhya, Prakriti surprisingly is three fold. It does not explain how these three fold Prakriti happens to be there originally, from where has it come. According to Sankhya, it is original; there is no source of it. But how these three contradictory things are put together originally, there is no answer in the Sankhya. It simply says: ‘there is such a Prakriti’. And what is the proof of it? The proof of it is… ‘Look, look at the movement, any movement you analyse, and you will find these three tendencies there’. And if you ask the question: ‘from where has it come?’ Sankhya says, ‘I don’t find from where it has come, I don’t see the origin of it anywhere’. Therefore, it is, ‘anādi’, it is ‘eternally there’, it is ‘like that’. But how these contradictory things came to be together, originally? That is a mystery and Sankhya has no answer to that question: its answer is what you call ‘a scientific answer’. A scientific answer to a question is: “see what it is and describe what it is, try to explain as much as you can, and if you can’t, you can simply say that ‘this is there’”. That is why Sankhya philosophers where called also great scientists of India. There are describing what is there in the world, and they found in this world a huge ocean of action, but surprisingly consisting of these three elements which are warring with each other.
Then, it analyses further this three fold energy and found that this energy which is manifested into such a huge universe, if you analyse it, you will find that all can be reduced to five elements. You can distinctly distinguished between five elements in this world: there is first one physical element that you call ‘earth’, physic, physical, something solid, something that is tangible, something when you press that gives a reaction, something in which once placed, another thing can not be placed. Such is the principle of “earth”. You cannot put two pieces of the matter at the same place; this is the simplest definition of matter, you might say. Matter is such a stuff that this space occupied by a piece of earth or matter cannot be occupied by another piece of matter. This is such an important principle that if it was not valid then our driving in the cars would have been impossible. If two cars could move in the same space, then driving would be impossible. It is because where there is one car ends, and another car cannot enter into that space that we can drive safely. Such is the principle of “Matter” first of all; this is what we see in the world.
The second is liquid. You can distinguish very clearly between that which is solid and that which is liquid; although liquidity has some solidity, but it is not that kind of solidity which you find in earth, in pure Matter. Because you can distinguish between them very clearly, therefore Sankhya says that apart from earth, pṛthivī, there is jala, there is liquidity.
Then, there is a third element which is neither material… it is material but it is not material like Matter, it is not material like liquid, but it is something by which…it is subtler than water and by which you can bring matters, even physical matters together, you can weld. Water cannot weld between two matters, two points: if you want to weld one piece of iron with another piece of iron then you need a third element which is called ‘fire’; it is by fire that you can, it is such a subtle thing, it can touch both the matters and can bring them together.
And then, there is even subtler than fire and that is ‘air’. Fire at least is visible, just as water is visible, earth is visible; but there is another element which is invisible but which exists, you can prove it, you can experience it, even physically experience it. When there is a breeze in a breezeless atmosphere, you can really experience it. When there is fire and there is a breeze on it, it can extinguish the fire. It is even subtler than the fire.
But there is even subtler than the air, subtler than vāyu; vāyu is also called anila; agni is also called anala. So, there is pṛthivī, jala, agni or anala, and vāyu or anila. And then there is ākāśa; even subtler than air, is what they call ‘ether’. Of course, the modern physics tells us that ether does not exist. But Sankhya affirms that there is even subtler than air and that is ‘ether’, which is called ākāśa. Not only that ether exists according to Sankhya but it is the very basis of what we call ‘hearing’. Just as pṛthivī is the basis of smell, similarly ether is the basis of hearing: if ether did not exist, you would not hear. How is it that we distinguish between sounds coming from this side or from that side, by what quality, by what means? Not by means of earth, or water, or fire, or by air. The ākāśa, the directions are recognised by us by a subtler activity of us and that is because of the ether. Our hearing seems to be determined by the presence of ether. That was the discovery of the Sankhya thinkers.
They say that although Prakriti is one, it is triple, but produces five great elements in the world, and all of them are one because in all of them three Gunas are present. And general nature of Prakriti is present in the activity. All the pañca mahābhūta(s), as they are called, five elements, all the pañca mahābhūta(s), are active in nature; all of them are riddled with the oppositions of Sattwa, Rajas and Tamas. Therefore it can be concluded that there is one Prakriti which is capable of triple force and which is capable of producing five big elements.