An essential part of the Sāṅkhya-kārikā of Iśwara Kṛṣṇa is the discussion of how prakṛti undergoes transformations which result in the material world. In this system, effects, which are the next step in the transformation, are present in a potential or unmanifest state in their cause. This is called satkārya-vāda, which means that the effect (kārya) exists (sat) in the cause. Satkārya-vāda is accepted by the Bhāgavatam, and this is discussed by Śrī Jīva Goswami in the Paramātmā Sandarbha. Satkārya-vāda is distinct from ārambha-vāda which is espoused by the Naiyāyikas, who posit that new effects emanate from their cause.
prakṛti is the cause of all effects in Sāṅkhya. It transforms into mahat-tattva, which transforms into ahaṅkāra, and from there on, develop 16 components. These are the five working senses, five cognitive senses, the mind and the five tan-mātrās. The five tan-mātrās are the focus of this article.
tan-mātrās are causal, unmanifest states of matter
There are five tan-mātrās – śabda, sparśa, rūpa, rasa and gandha. These tan-mātrās can be thought of as subtle, causal states of five types of matter. The tan-mātrās give rise to five distinct states of matter, which have distinct qualities. The five senses are endowed with the ability to sense these qualities and/or sense the states of matter.
Vācaspati Miśra’s commentary on kārikā 22 of the Sāṅkhya-kārikā is as follows:
तत्र शब्द तन्मात्रादाकाशं शब्दगुणम् – ākāśa is the product of the śabda tan mātra, and has the quality of śabda, sound.
शब्दतन्मात्रसहितात् स्पर्शतन्मात्राद्वायुः शब्दस्पर्शगुणः – From the śabda and sparśa tan-mātras comes the gaseous state of matter, or vāyu. Its qualities are śabda, sound and sparśa, touch.
शब्दस्पर्शतन्मात्रसहिताद्रूपतन्मात्रातेजः शब्दस्पर्शरूपगुणम् – The product of śabda, sparśa and rūpa tan-mātras is the state of heat and light (fire). Its qualities are śabda, sound, sparśa, touch and rūpa, color.
शब्दस्पर्शरूपतन्मात्रसहिताद्रसतन्मात्रादापः शब्दस्पर्शरूपरसगुणाः – The product of śabda, sparśa, rūpa and rasa tan-mātras is the liquid state of matter (water). Its qualities are śabda, sound, sparśa, touch, rūpa, color and rasa, taste.
शब्दस्पर्शरूपरसतन्मात्रसहिताद्गन्धतन्मात्राच्छब्दस्पर्शरूपरसगन्धगुणा पृथिवी, जायत इत्यर्थः: – The product of śabda, sparśa, rūpa, rasa and gandha tan-mātras is the solid state of matter (earth). Its qualities are śabda, sound, sparśa, touch, rūpa, color, rasa, taste and gandha, smell.
The senses which detect these states of matter and/or their qualities are nose (smell), eye (color), tongue (taste), ear (sound) and skin (touch).
The curious thing about this system is that ākāśa, commonly understood as space, holds sound. However, we know that sound travels in a medium, and cannot be held in vacuum. The idea is that sound is of two types: āhat and anāhat. anāhat sound is subtle sound that exists but is not perceived by the ears and does not require a medium like air to propagate. This sound is present in ākāśa, which is not to be understood as space, but as that substance which holds anāhat sound. From this ākāśa springs space as we know it.