By Swami Harshananda
Acit literally means ‘the insentient’.
Man is a ‘thinking animal.’ Once his animal needs are satisfied and he obtains relative peace and stability in life, he starts thinking about ‘how,’ ‘why’ and 'when’ did he perceive things. This thinking about the origin and evolution of things has to be in the form of conjectures and hypotheses before being advanced as theories. Such conjectures and hypotheses start from the seen and the known before progressing towards the unseen and the unknown.
It is but natural that this world in which man lives, moves and has his being, is the first to catch his attention. Such attention and thinking often leads to a broad categorization of the created world. Out of these categorizations, the most simple, direct and obvious is the twofold one, viz. The living and the non-living, the sentient and the non- sentient. This is exactly what the Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta system presented by Rāmānuja (A. D. 1017-1137).
According to this system, the ultimate Reality is threefold :
- Cit - the sentient
- Acit - the insentient
- Īśvara - God
The former two are dependent realities, subservient to the latter. The acit principle, as its very name indicates, is the matrix of all that is without life and consciousness. Also called prakṛti (nature), it is jaḍa (lifeless and insentient) but capable of vikāra (modification or evolution). It is avidyā (ignorance) since it is opposite to true knowledge and also called māyā as it is the cause of all diverse creations. Insentient is incapable of evolving by itself but does so under the controlling will of the God.
According to one classification acit has three aspects:
- The śuddha-sattva aspect has pure sattva guṇa capable of producing knowledge and bliss. It is the matrix out of which Vaikuṇṭha (the world) has been made. It is unaffected by the karma of the individual souls and is directly under the control of God.
- The miśra-sattva aspect has the three guṇas of sattva, rajas and tamas. It contracts and obstructs the jñāna (knowledge) of the jīvas (individual selves) and sustains their bondage by producing viparīta-jñāna (knowledge opposite to their real nature).
- Kāla or time forms the third aspect viz., sattva-śunya. Whether kāla should be deemed as an aspect of acit or considered as a special power inhering in God, has been a point of debate among the thinkers of the Viśiṣṭādvaita school.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore