A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the cognitive process and some characteristics of citta: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the twentieth part in the series called the “the kapila and the patanjala samkhya (yoga)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 20 - The Cognitive Process and some characteristics of Citta

It has been said that buddhi and the internal objects have evolved in order to giving scope to the experience of the puruṣa. What is the process of this experience? Sāṃkhya (as explained by Vācaspati) holds that through the senses the buddhi comes into touch with external objects. At the first moment of this touch there is an indeterminate consciousness in which the particulars of the thing cannot be noticed. This is called nirvikalpa pratyakṣa (indeterminate perception). At the next moment by the function of the satnkcilpa (synthesis) and vikalpa (abstraction or imagination) of manas (mind-organ) the thing is perceived in all its determinate character; the manas differentiates, integrates, and associates the sense-data received through the senses, and thus generates the determinate perception, which when intelligized by the puruṣa and associated with it becomes interpreted as the experience of the person.

The action of the senses, ahaṃkāra, and buddhi, may take place sometimes successively and at other times as in cases of sudden fear simultaneously. Vijñāna Bhikṣu differs from this view of Vācaspati, and denies the synthetic activity of the mind-organ (manas), and says that the buddhi directly comes into touch with the objects through the senses. At the first moment of touch the perception is indeterminate, but at the second moment it becomes clear and determinate[1]. It is evident that on this view the importance of manas is reduced to a minimum and it is regarded as being only the faculty of desire, doubt and imagination.

Buddhi, including ahaṃkāra and the senses, often called citta in Yoga, is always incessantly suffering changes like the flame of a lamp; it is made up of a large preponderance of the pure sattva substances, and is constantly moulding itself from one content to another. These images by the dual reflection of buddhi and puruṣa are constantly becoming conscious, and are being interpreted as the experiences of a person. The existence of the puruṣa is to be postulated for explaining the illumination of consciousness and for explaining experience and moral endeavour. The buddhi is spread all over the body, as it were, for it is by its functions that the life of the body is kept up; for the Sāṃkhya does not admit any separate prāṇa vāyu (vital breath) to keep the body living. What are called vāyus (bio-motor force) in Vedānta are but the different modes of operation of this category of buddhi, which acts all through the body and by its diverse movements performs the life-functions and sense-funetions of the body.

Apart from the perceptions and the life-functions, buddhi, or rather citta as Yoga describes it, contains within it the root impressions (saṃskāras) and the tastes and instincts or tendencies of all past lives (vāsanā)[2]. These saṃskāras are revived under suitable associations. Every man had had infinite numbers of births in their past lives as man and as some animal. In all these lives the same citta was always following him. The citta has thus collected within itself the instincts and tendencies of all those different animal lives. It is knotted with these vāsanās like a net.

If a man passes into a dog life by rebirth, the vāsanās of a dog life, which the man must have had in some of his previous infinite number of births, are revived, and the man’s tendencies become like those of a dog. He forgets the experiences of his previous life and becomes attached to enjoyment in the manner of a dog. It is by the revival of the vāsanā suitable to each particular birth that there cannot be any collision such as might have occurred if the instincts and tendencies of a previous dog-life were active when any one was born as man.

The saṃskāras represent the root impressions by which any habit of life that man has lived through, or any pleasure in which he took delight for some time, or any passions which were engrossing to him, tend to be revived, for though these might not now be experienced, yet the fact that they were experienced before has so moulded and given shape to the citta that the citta will try to reproduce them by its own nature even without any such effort on our part. To safeguard against the revival of any undesirable idea or tendency it is therefore necessary that its roots as already left in the citta in the form of saṃskāras should be eradicated completely by the formation of the habit of a contrary tendency, which if made sufficiently strong will by its own saṃskāra naturally stop the revival of the previous undesirable saṃskāras.

Apart from these the citta possesses volitional activity (cestā) by which the conative senses are brought into relation to their objects. There is also the reserved potent power (śakti) of citta, by which it can restrain itself and change its courses or continue to persist in any one direction. These characteristics are involved in the very essence of citta, and form the groundwork of the Yoga method of practice, which consists in steadying a particular state of mind to the exclusion of others.

Merit or demerit (punya, pāpa) also is imbedded in the citta as its tendencies, regulating the mode of its movements, and giving pleasures and pains in accordance with it.

Footnotes and references:


As the contact of the buddhi with the external objects takes place through the senses, the sense-data of colours, etc., are modified by the senses if they are defective. The spatial qualities of things are however perceived by the senses directly, but the time-order is a scheme of the citta or the buddhi.

Generally speaking Yoga holds that the external objects are faithfully copied by the buddhi in which they are reflected, like trees in a lake:

tasmiṃśca darpaṇe sphāre samastā vastudṛṣṭayah
imāstāḥ pratibimbantisarasīva taṭadrumāḥ.

     Yogavārttika , I. 4.

The buddhi assumes the form of the object which is reflected on it by the senses, or rather the mind flows out through the senses to the external objects and assumes their forms:

indriyñttyeva praṇālikā cittasañcaraṇaṃārgaḥ taiḥ saṃyujya tadgolakadvārā bāhyavastuṣūparaktasya cittasyendriyasāhityenaivārthākāraḥ pariṇāmo bhavati.

     Yogavārttika , 1. vi. 7.

Contrast Tattvakaumudī , 27 and 30.


The word samskāra is used by Pānini who probably preceded Buddha in three different senses:

  1. improving a thing as distinguished from generating a new quality (Sata utkarṣādhānaṃ saṃskāraḥ, Kāśikā on Panini, VI. ii. 16),
  2. conglomeration or aggregation,
  3. and adornment (Pānini, vi. i. 137, 138).

In the Pitakas the word saṅkhāra is used in various senses such as constructing, preparing, perfecting, embellishing, aggregation, matter, karma, the skandhas (collected by Childers). In fact saṅkhāra stands for almost anything of which impermanence could be predicated. But in spite of so many diversities of meaning I venture to suggest that the meaning of aggregation (samavāya of Pānini) is prominent.

The word samskaroti is used in Kausītaki, 11. 6, Chāndogya, iv. xvi. 2, 3, 4, viii. 8, 5, and Bṛhadāranyaka, vi. iii. 1, in the sense of improving. I have not yet come across any literary use of the second meaning in Sanskrit. The meaning of samskāra in Hindu philosophy is altogether different. It means the impressions (which exist sub-consciously in the mind) of the objects experienced. All our experiences whether cognitive, emotional or conative exist in sub-conscious states and may under suitable conditions be reproduced as memory (smṛti).

The word vāsanā (Yoga sūtra , iv. 24) seems to be a later word. The earlier Upaniṣads do not mention it and so far as I know it is not mentioned in the Pālj pitakas. Abhidhānappadīpikā of Moggallāna mentions .it, and it occurs in the Muktika Upaniṣad. It comes from the root “vas” to stay. It is often loosely used in the sense of samskāra, and in Vyāsabhāṣya they are identified in iv. 9. But vāsanā generally refers to the tendencies of past lives most of which lie dormant in the mind. Only those appear which can find scope in this life. But samskāras are the sub-conscious states which are being constantly generated by experience. Vāsanās are innate samskāras not acquired in this life. See Vyāsabhāṣya, Tatlvāvaiśāradl and Yogavārttika, II. 13.