A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of karma, manas and the categories: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fourth part in the series called the “the philosophy of the yogavasishtha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 4 - Karma, Manas and the Categories

Karma in this view is nothing but the activity of the manas. The active states of manas are again determined by their preceding moments and may in their turn be considered as determining the succeeding moments. When any particular state determines any succeeding state, it may be considered as an agent, or kartā ; but, as this state is determined by the activity of the previous state, otherwise called the karma , it may be said that the karma generates the kartā , the kartā by its activity again produces karma, so that karma and kartā are mutually determinative. As in the case of the seed coming from the tree and the tree coming from the seed, the cycle proceeds on from kartā to karma and from karma to kartā, and no ultimate priority can be affirmed of any one of them[1]. But, if this is so, then the responsibility of karma ceases; the root desire (vāsanā) through which a man is born also makes him suffer or enjoy in accordance with it; but, if kartā and karma spring forth together, then a particular birth ought not to be determined by the karma of previous birth, and this would mean that man’s enjoyment and sorrow did not depend on his karma.

In answer to such a question, raised by Rāmacandra, Vaśiṣṭha says that karma is due not to ātman, but to manas. It is the mental movement which constitutes karma. When first the category of manas rises into being from Brahman, karma also begins from that moment, and, as a result thereof, the soul and the body associated with it are supposed to be manifested. Karma and manas are in one sense the same. In this world the movement generated by action (kriyā-spanda) is called karma, and, as it is by the movement of manas that all effects take place, and the bodies with all their associated sufferings or enjoyments are produced, so even the body,which is associated with physical, external karma, is in reality nothing but the manas and its activity.

Manas is essentially of the nature of karma , or activity, and the cessation of activity means the destruction of manas (karma-nāśe mano-nāśaḥ)[2]. As heat cannot be separated from fire or blackness from collyrium, so movement and activity cannot be separated from manas. If one ceases, the other also necessarily ceases. Manas means that activity which subsists between being and non-being and induces being through non-being: it is essentially dynamic in its nature and passes by the name of manas. It is by the activity of manas that the subject-objectless pure consciousness assumes the form of a self-conscious ego. Manas thus consists of this constantly positing activity (ekānta-kalanaḥ).

The seed of karma is to be sought in the activity of manas (karma-bījaṃ manaḥ-spanda), and the actions (kriyā) which follow are indeed very diverse. It is the synthetic function (tad-anusandhatte) of manas that is called the functioning of the conative senses, by which all actions are performed, and it is for this reason that karma is nothing but manas.

are different only in name, and they create confusion by these varied names; in reality, however, they signify the same concipt, namely, the active functioning of manas or citta . These different names are current only because they lay stress on the different aspects of the same active functioning. They do not mean different entities, but only different moments, stages or aspects. Thus the first moment of self-conscious activity leading in different directions is called manas. When, after such oscillating movement, there is the position of either of the alternatives, as “the thus,” it is called buddhi. When by the false notions of associations of body and soul there is the feeling of a concrete individual as “I,” it is called ahaṃkāra. When there is reflective thought associated with the memory of the past and the anticipations of the future, it is called citta. When the activity is taken in its actual form as motion or action towards any point, it is called karma. When, leaving its self-contained state, it desires anything, we have kalpanā.

When the citta turns itself to anything previously seen or unseen, as being previously experienced, we have what is called memory (smṛti). When certain impressions are produced in a very subtle, subdued form, dominating all other inclinations, as if certain attractions or repulsions to certain things were really experienced, we have the root inclinations (vāsanā). In the realization that there is such a thing as self-knowledge, and that there is also such a thing as the false and illusory world-appearance, we have what is called right knowledge (vidyā) . When the true knowledge is forgotten and the impressions of the false world-appearance gain ground, we have what are called the impure states (mala).

The functions of the five kinds of cognition please us and are called the senses (indriya). As all world-appearance has its origin and ground in the highest self, it is called the origin (prakṛti). As the true state can neither be called existent nor non-existent, and as it gives rise to all kinds of appearance, it is called illusion (māyā)[3]. Thus it is the same appearance which goes by the various names of jīva, manas , citta and buddhi[4].

One of the peculiarities of this work is that it is not a philosophical treatise of the ordinary type, but its main purpose lies in the attempt to create a firm conviction on the part of its readers, by repeating the same idea in various ways by means of stories and elaborate descriptions often abounding in the richest poetical imagery of undeniably high aesthetic value, hardly inferior to that of the greatest Sanskrit poet, Kālidāsa.

Footnotes and references:


yathā karma ca kartā ca paryāyeṇeha saṃgatau
karmaṇā kriyate kartā kartrā karma praṇīyate
bījāñkurādivan-nyāyo loka-vedokta eva saḥ.

      III. 95. 19, 20.




III. 96. 17-31.


Jīva ity ucyate loke mana ity api kathyate
cittam ity ucyate saiva buddḥir ity ucyate tathā.
      III. 96. 34.

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