A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1932 | 241,887 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of vedantic cosmology: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the sixth part in the series called the “the shankara school of vedanta (continued)”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

From what has been said above it is evident that māyā (also called avidyā or ajñāna) is in itself an indefinable mysterious stuff, which has not merely a psychological existence, but also an ontological existence as well. It is this ajñāna which on the one hand forms on the subjective plane the mind and the senses (the self alone being Brahman and ultimately real), and on the other hand, on the objective plane, the whole of the objective universe. This ajñāna has two powers, the power of veiling or covering (āvaraṇa) and the power of creation (vikṣepa). The power of veiling, though small, like a little cloud veiling the sun with a diameter of millions of miles, may, in spite of its limited nature, cover up the infinite, unchangeable self by veiling its self-luminosity as cognizer.

The veiling of the self means veiling the shining unchangeable self-perception of the self, as infinite, eternal and limitless, pure consciousness, which as an effect of such veiling appears as limited, bound to sense-cognitions and sense-enjoy-ments and functioning as individual selves[1]. It is through this covering power of ajñāna that the self appears as an agent and an enjoyer of pleasures and pains and subject to ignorant fears of rebirth, like the illusory perception of a piece of rope in darkness as a snake. Just as through the creative power of ignorance a piece of rope, the real nature of which is hidden from view, appears as a snake, so does ignorance by its creative power create on the hidden self the manifold world-appearance.

As the ajñāna is supposed to veil by its veiling power (āvaraṇa-śakti) only the self-cognizing and self-revealing aspect of the self, the other aspect of the self as pure being is left open as the basis on which the entire world-appearance is created by the creative power thereof. The pure consciousness, veiled as it is by ajñāna with its two powers, can be regarded as an important causal agent (nimitta), when its nature as pure consciousness forming the basis of the creation of the world-appearance is emphasized; it can be regarded as the material cause, when the emphasis is put on its covering part, the ajñāna. It is like a spider, which, so far as it weaves its web, can be regarded as a causal agent, and, so far as it supplies from its own body the materials of the web, can be regarded as the material cause of the web, when its body aspect is emphasized.

The creative powers (vikṣepa-śakti) of ajñāna are characterized as being threefold, after the manner of Sāṃkhya prakṛti , as sattva , rajas and tamas. With the pure consciousness as the basis and with the associated creative power of ajñāna predominating in tamas, space (ākāśa) is first produced; from ākāśa comes air, from air fire, from fire water, from water earth. It is these elements in their fine and uncompounded state that in the Sāṃkhya and the Purāṇas are called tan-mātras. It is out of these that the grosser materials are evolved as also the subtle bodies[2].

The subtle bodies are made up of seventeen parts, excluding the subtle elements, and are called sūkṣma-śarīra or liga-śarīra. This subtle body is composed of the five cognitive senses, the five conative senses, the five vāyus or biomotor activities, buddhi (intellect) and manas , together with the five subtle elements in tanmātric forms.

The five cognitive senses, the auditory, tactile, visual, gustatory and olfactory senses, are derived from the sattva parts of the five elements,

  1. ākāśa,
  2. vāyu,
  3. agni,
  4. ap
  5. and pṛthivī respectively.

Buddhi, or intellect, means the mental state of determination or affirmation (niścayātmikā antaḥkaraṇa-vṛtti). Manas means the two mental functions of vikalpa and saṅkalpa or of saṅkalpa alone resulting in doubt[3]. The function of mind (citta) and the function of egoism (ahamkāra) are included in buddhi and manas[4]. They are all produced from the sattva parts of the five elements and are therefore elemental. Though they are elemental, yet, since they are produced from the compounded sattva parts of all the elements, they have the revealing function displayed in their cognitive operations. Buddhi with the cognitive senses is called the sheath of knowledge (vijñānamaya-koṣa).

Manas with the cognitive senses is called the sheath of manas (manomaya-koṣa). It is the self as associated with the vijñānamaya-koṣa that feels itself as the agent, enjoyer, happy or unhappy, the individual self (jīva) that passes through worldly experience and rebirth. The conative senses are produced from the rajas parts of the five elements. The five vāyus or biomotor activities are called Prāṇa or the breathing activity, Udāna or the upward activity and Samāna or the digestive activity.

There are some who add another five vāyus such as

  • the Nāga, the vomiting Apāna troyānes activity,
  • Kūrma, the reflex activity of opening the eyelids,
  • Kṛkala, the activity of coughing,
  • Devadatta, the activity of yawning,
  • and Dhanañjaya, the nourishing activity.

These prāṇas together with the cognitive senses form the active sheath of prāṇa (prāṇamaya-koṣa). Of these three sheaths, the vijñānamaya , manomaya and prāṇamaya, the vijñānamaya sheath plays the part of the active agent (kartṛ-rūpah) ; the manomaya is the source of all desires and volition, and is therefore regarded as having an instrumental function; the prāṇamaya sheath represents the motor functions. These three sheaths make up together the subtle body or the sūkṣma-śarīra. Hiraṇyagarbha (also called Sūtrātmā or prāṇa) is the god who presides over the combined subtle bodies of all living beings. Individually each subtle body is supposed to belong to every being. These three sheaths, involving as they do all the subconscious impressions from which our conscious experience is derived, are therefore called a dream (jāgrad-vāsanāmayatvāt svapna).

The process of the formation of the gross elements from the subtle parts of the elements is technically called pañcīkaraṇa. It consists in a compounding of the elements in which one half of each rudimentary element is mixed with the eighth part of each other rudimentary element. It is through such a process of compounding that each element possesses some of the properties of the other elements.

The entire universe consists of seven upper worlds

  1. (Bhuḥ,
  2. Bhuvaḥ,
  3. Svar,
  4. Mahar,
  5. Janaḥ,
  6. Tapaḥ
  7. and Satyam),

seven lower worlds

  1. (Atala,
  2. Vitala,
  3. Sutala,
  4. Rasātala,
  5. Talātala,
  6. Mahātala
  7. and Pātāla)

and all the gross bodies of all living beings. There is a cosmic deity who presides over the combined physical bodies of all beings, and this deity is called Virāt. There is also the person, the individual who presides over each one of the bodies, and, in this aspect, the individual is called Viśva.

The ajñāna as constituting antaḥkaraṇa or mind, involving the operative functions of buddhi and manas, is always associated with the self; it is by the difference of these antaḥkaraṇas that one self appears as many individual selves, and it is through the states of these antaḥkaraṇas that the veil over the self and the objects are removed, and as a result of this there is the cognition of objects. The antaḥkaraṇa is situated within the body, which it thoroughly pervades. It is made up of the sattva parts of the five rudimentary elements, and, being extremely transparent, comes into touch with the sense objects through the specific senses and assumes their forms. It being a material stuff, there is one part inside the body, another part in touch with the sense-objects, and a third part between the two and connected with them both as one whole.

The interior part of the antaḥkaraṇa is the ego or the agent. The intervening part has the action of knowledge, called also vṛtti-jñāna. The third part, which at the time of cognition is transformed into the form of the sense-objects, has the function of making them manifested in knowledge as its objects. The antaḥkaraṇa of three parts being transparent, pure consciousness can well be manifested in it. Though pure consciousness is one, yet it manifests the three different parts of the antaḥkaraṇa in three different ways, as the cognizer (pramātṛ), cognitive operation (pramāṇa) and the cognition, or the percept (pramiti). In each of the three cases the reality is the part of the pure consciousness, as it expresses itself through the three different modifications of the antaḥkaraṇa. The sense-objects in themselves are but the veiled pure consciousness, brahman , as forming their substance.

The difference between the individual consciousness (jīva-caitanya) and the brahman- consciousness (brahma-caitanya) is that the former represents pure consciousness, as conditioned by or as reflected through the antaḥkaraṇa , while the latter is the unentangled infinite consciousness, on the basis of which all the cosmic creations of māyā are made. The covering of avidyā , for the breaking of which the operation of the antaḥkaraṇa is deemed necessary, is of two kinds, viz. subjective ignorance and objective ignorance. When I say that I do not know a book, that implies subjective ignorance as signified by “I do not know,” and objective ignorance as referring to the book.

The removal of the first is a precondition of all kinds of knowledge, perceptual or inferential, while the second is removed only in perceptual knowledge. It is diverse in kind according to the form and content of the sense-objects; and each perceptual cognition removes only one specific ignorance, through which the particular cognition arises[5].

Footnotes and references:


vastuto ’jñānasyātmāchādakatvābhāve ’pipramātṛ-buddhimātrāchādakatvena ajñānasyātmāchādakatvam upacārād ucyate. Subodhinī on Vedānta-sāra, p. 13, Nirnaya-Sāgara Press, Bombay, 1916.


As to how the subtle elements are combined for the production of grosser elements there are two different theories, viz. the trivṛt-karaṇa and the pañcī-karaṇa. The trivṛt-karaṇa means that fire, water and earth (as subtle elements) are each divided into two halves, thus producing two equal parts of each; then the three half parts of the three subtle elements are again each divided into two halves, thus producing two quarter parts of each.

Then the original first half of each element is combined with the two quarters of other two elements. Thus each element has half of itself with two quarter parts of other two elements. Vācaspati and Amalānanda prefer trivṛt-karaṇa to pañci-haraṇa; for they think that there is no point in admitting that air and ākāśa have also parts of other elements integrated in them, and the Vedic texts speak of trivṛt-karaṇa and not of pañcl-karaṇa.

The pañcī-karaṇa theory holds that the five subtle elements are divided firstly into two halves, and then one of the two halves of these five elements is divided again into four parts, and then the first half of each subtle element is combined with the one-fourth of each half of all the other elements excepting the element of which there is the full half as a constituent.

Thus each element is made up of one-half of itself, and the other half of it is constituted of the one-fourth of each of the other elements (i.e. one-eighth of each of the other four elements), and thus each element has at least some part of other elements integrated into it. This view is supported by the Vedānta-paribhāṣā and its Śikhātnaṇi commentary, p. 363.


The Vedānta-sāra speaks of saṅkalpa and vikalpa, and this is explained by the Subodhinī as meaning doubt. See Vedānta-sāra and Subodhinī, p. 17. The Vedānta-paribhāṣā and its commentators speak of saṅkalpa as being the only unction of manas, but it means “doubt.” Śee pp. 88-89 and 358.


smaraṇākāra-vṛttimad untaḥkaraṇaṃ cittam
      (Vedānta-paribhāṣā-Maṇi-prabhā , p. 89).

anayor eva cittāḥatnkārayor antarbhāvaḥ
      (Vedānta-sāra, p. 17).

But the Vedānta-paribhāṣā says that manas, buddhi, ahamkāra and citta, all four, constitute the inner organ (antaḥkaraṇa). See Vedānta-paribhāṣā, p. 88. The Vedānta-sāra however does not count four functions buddhi, manas, citta, ahamkāra ; citta and ahaṃkāra are regarded as the same as buddhi and manas. Thus according to the Vedānta-sāra there are only two categories. But since the Vedānta-paribhāṣā only mentions buddhi and manas as constituents of the subtle body, one need not think that there is ultimately any difference between it and the Vedānta-sāra.


See Madhusūdana Sarasvatī’s Siddhānta-bindu, pp. 132-150; and Brahmānanda Sarasvatl’s Nyāya-ratnāvalī, pp. 132-150, Śrīvidyā Press, Kumba-konam, 1893.

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