Here is the great difference between the Samkhya and the Vedanta. According to the Samkhya, Purusha is the spectator and never the actor. According to Vedanta the Self is the only actor, all else is maya: there is no one else who acts but the Self, according to the Vedanta teaching.
As says the Upanishad: the Self willed to see, and there were eyes; the Self willed to hear, and there were ears; the Self willed to think, and there was mind. The eyes, the ears, the mind exist, because the Self has willed them into existence. The Self appropriates matter, in order that He may manifest His powers through it. There is the distinction between the Samkhya and the Vedanta: in the Samkhya the propinquity of the Purusha brings out in matter or Prakriti all these characteristics, the Prakriti acts and not the Purusha; in the Vedanta, Self alone exists and Self alone acts; He imagines limitation and matter appears; He appropriates that matter in order that He may manifest His own capacity.
The Samkhya is the view of the universe of the scientist: the Vedanta is the view of the universe of the metaphysician. Haeckel unconsciously expounded the Samkhyan philosophy almost perfectly. So close to the Samkhyan is his exposition, that another idea would make it purely Samkhyan; he has not yet supplied that propinquity of consciousness which the Samkhya postulates in its ultimate duality. He has Force and Matter, he has Mind in Matter, but he has no Purusha. His last book, criticised by Sir Oliver Lodge, is thoroughly intelligible from the Hindu standpoint as an almost accurate representation of Samkhyan philosophy. It is the view of the scientist, indifferent to the “why” of the facts which he records. The Vedanta, as I said, is the view of the metaphysician he seeks the unity in which all diversities are rooted and into which they are resolved.
Now, what light does Theosophy throw on both these systems? Theosophy enables every thinker to reconcile the partial statements which are apparently so contradictory. Theosophy, with the Vedanta, proclaims the universal Self. All that the Vedanta says of the universal Self and the Self-limitation, Theosophy repeats. We call these Self-limited selves Monads, and we say, as the Vedantin says, that these Monads reproduce the nature of the universal Self whose portions they are. And hence you find in them the three qualities which you find in the Supreme. They are units’ and these represent the Purushas of the Samkhya; but with a very great difference, for they are not passive watchers, but active agents in the drama of the universe, although, being above the fivefold universe, they are as spectators who pull the strings of the players of the stage.
The Monad takes to himself from the universe of matter atoms which show out the qualities corresponding to his three qualities, and in these he thinks, and wills and acts. He takes to himself rhythmic combinations, and shows his quality of cognition. He takes to himself combinations that are mobile; through those he shows out his activity. He takes the combinations that are inert, and shows out his quality of bliss, as the will to be happy. Now notice the difference of phrase and thought. In the Samkhya, Matter changed to reflect the Spirit; in fact, the Spirit appropriates portions of Matter, and through those expresses his own characteristics–an enormous difference. He creates an actor for Self-expression, and this actor is the “spiritual man” of the Theosophical teaching, the spiritual Triad, the Atma-buddhi-manas, to whom we shall return in a moment.
The Monad remains ever beyond the fivefold universe, and in that sense is a spectator. He dwells beyond the five planes of matter. Beyond the Atmic, or Akasic; beyond the Buddhic plane, the plane of Vayu; beyond the mental plane, the plane of Agni; beyond the astral plane, the plane of Varuna; beyond the physical plane, the plane of Kubera. Beyond all these planes the Monad, the Self, stands Self-conscious and Self-determined. He reigns in changeless peace and lives in eternity. But as said above, he appropriates matter. He takes to himself an atom of the Atmic plane, and in that he, as it were, incorporates his will, and that becomes Atma. He appropriates an atom of the Buddhic plane, and reflects in that his aspect of cognition, and that becomes buddhi. He appropriates an atom of the manasic plane and embodies, as it were, his activity in it, and it becomes Manas. Thus we get Atma, plus Buddhi, plus Manas. That triad is the reflection in the fivefold universe of the Monad beyond the fivefold universe. The terms of Theosophy can be easily identified with those of other schools.
The Monad of Theosophy is the Jivatma of Indian philosophy, the Purusha of the Samkhya, the particularised Self of the Vedanta. The threefold manifestation, Atma-buddhi-manas, is the result of the Purusha’s propinquity to Prakriti, the subject of the Samkhyan philosophy, the Self embodied in the highest sheaths, according to the Vedantic teaching. In the one you have this Self and His sheaths, and in the other the Subject, a reflection in matter of Purusha. Thus you can readily see that you are dealing with the same concepts but they are looked at from different standpoints. We are nearer to the Vedanta than to the Samkhya, but if you know the principles you can put the statements of the two philosophies in their own niches and will not be confused. Learn the principles and you can explain all the theories.
That is the value of the Theosophical teaching; it gives you the principles and leaves you to study the philosophies, and you study them with a torch in your hand instead of in the dark. Now when we understand the nature of the spiritual man, or Triad, what do we find with regard to all the manifestations of consciousness? That they are duads, Spirit-Matter everywhere, on every plane of our fivefold universe. If you are a scientist, you will call it spiritualised Matter; if you are a metaphysician you will call it materialised Spirit. Either phrase is equally true, so long as you remember that both are always present in every manifestation, that what you see is not the play of matter alone, but the play of Spirit-Matter, inseparable through the period of manifestation. Then, when you come, in reading an ancient book, to the statement “mind is material,” you will not be confused; you will know that the writer is only speaking on the Samkhyan line, which speaks of Matter everywhere but always implies that the Spirit is looking on, and that this presence makes the work of Matter possible.
You will not, when reading the constant statement in Indian philosophies that “mind is material,” confuse this with the opposite view of the materialist which says that “mind is the product of matter”–a very different thing. Although the Samkhyan may use materialistic terms, he always posits the vivifying influence of Spirit, while the materialist makes Spirit the product of Matter. Really a gulf divides them, although the language they use may often be the same.