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Mahat in Samkhya Philosophy

As per Samkhya Philosophy, Mahat is the first evolute from the interaction of purusha and prakriti. As per this philosophy, underlying the manifest universe of multiplicity of objects of experience are two external, basic realities - the purusha (soul) and primordial prakriti (nature).

Purusha is in a state in which the three gunas balance each other perfectly. But due to the inherent tendency of the guans to be constantly engaged in working for the sake of the multitude of purushas, the original state of perfect balance and homogeneity (sajatiya parinama0 is disturbed and the process of creation (sarga) begins. This is called the state of disturbance of the gunas (the gunaksobhini state) in which the first evolute from the prakriti emerges. It is called the mahat, mahatattva or buddhi.

Patanjali has called it lingamatra in Yoga Sutra (II.19), because it has only one other entity as its cause (linga).

In Katha Upanishad (I.3.10.11), it is said that “the objects of experience (artha) are subtler and greater (para) than the sense organs (indriyas); the mind is para than the objects; the buddhi or mahat is para than the mans; and greater than the mahat is avyakta, that is prakriti. But purusha is para than the vyakta and indeed, there is nothing else which may be greater than the soul. The soul is the ultimate and absolute entity.

Mahat is so called because it is the greatest among the entities forming the manifest world. In it the sattva guna predominates. The sequence of creation is described as Samkhyakarika (22). First of all, Mahat evolves out of Prakriti. From it, is created ahamkara, which further gives rise to sixteen tattvas namely, the eleven senses and five tanmatras. From the tanmatras are formed the five bhutas – earth, water, fire, air and space. Thus twenty two elements are created out of mahat.

The Evolution of the Samkhya School of Thought (1959) – Anima Sengupta
Origin and Development of the Samkhya System of Thought (1951) – Pulinbihari Chakravarti – Calcutta Sanskrit Series