DID God create the universe? No. It was always there. So said Kapila, the first atheist in the world. 2600 years ago!
Kapila (Red Face), author of Sankhya was followed by Mahavira, Mahavira by the Buddha, Buddha by Charvaka and Charvaka by the Lokayatas. We, Hindus, have a long tradition of materialism (atheism). Which is why a Hindu can never be a fanatic like others. We carry the doubt with us.
Do you know, Dear Reader, that Sankhya is the mother of all philosophic thoughts in the world, that it is the eldest philosophic system in the world and that it was the first attempt to answer questions raised by all thinking men about the origin of the universe and the destiny of man.
Kapila says: Nothing should be accepted without evidence. There is no evidence of the existence of a Supreme Being. Kapila says that there are only three ways to know everything: perception, inference and testimony. Faith has no place in his scheme.
This is where he departed from the traditional Brahmanical teachings. He also departed from the Brahmanical way of worship. Why? Because Brahmanical way of worship was tainted by the association of animal sacrifice. He opposed animal sacrifice and declared himself in favour of ahimsa. This is said to have influenced both Mahavira and the Buddha, as also some of the Greek thinkers like Pythagoras, who gave up eating of meat.
If the Universe was eternal and uncreated, what does it contain? It contains Prakriti and Purusha. Prakriti is in two forms: manifest and non-manifest. They are both eternal and independent but cannot act on their own, for Prakriti is blind, but can move, while Purusha can see, but cannot move. Purusha is not active, but contemplative. It accounts for the subjective aspects of nature. When Purusha and Prakriti combined they produced 23 elements, like water, air, fire etc.
How does Prakriti create the objective world? By combining within it the three gunas-Satva, Rajas and Tamas-in different proportions. Gunas, as explained by Kapila is considered a great contribution of his to the world of knowledge. Gunas play a very significant role in Kapila’s system. If the objective world is full of varied life, it is because of the way the gunas combined.
Soul is yet another significant element in the teachings of Kapila. The souls are eternal, self-existing, separate from each other, independent, not born of Prakriti, intelligent, changeless. Kapila was the first to draw worship line between matter and soul. Kapila does not accept the Upanishadic position that souls are part of the universal self.
Yet another pillar of Sankhya is the theory of evolution. It took 2500 years to Darwin for re-discovering the theory. Evolution presents matter as eternal, which existed in a non-manifest form. Its transformation into the world of objects and beings accessible to our senses is effected by the combination of gunas. The unconscious original matter contained within itself the power of evolving in the interests of souls which are passive.
In the event of salvation, the internal body is dissolved with its material elements and the soul becomes isolated. It continues to exist in an unconscious state.
Kapila’s basic social formulation is the “complete elimination of pain.” The purpose of life is to quit suffering. It is these ideas which preoccupied the thinkers of India in the coming centuries.