A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of energy of free-will (paurusha): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighth part in the series called the “the philosophy of the yogavasishtha”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 8 - Energy of Free-will (Pauruṣa)

One of the special features of the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha is the special emphasis that it lays upon free-will and its immense possibilities, and its power of overruling the limitations and bondage of past karmas. Pauruṣa is defined in the Yoga-vāsiṣṭha as mental and physical exertions made in properly advised ways (sādhūpadiṣṭa-mārgeṇa), since only such actions can succeed[1]. If a person desires anything and works accordingly in the proper way, he is certain to attain it, if he does not turn back in midway[2]. Pauruṣa is of two kinds, of the past life (prāklana) and of this life (aihika), and the past pauruṣa can be overcome by the present pauruṣa[3].

The karma of past life and the karma of this life are thus always in conflict with each other, and one or the other gains ground according to their respective strength. Not only so, but the endeavours of any individual may be in conflict with the opposing endeavours of other persons, and of these two also that which is stronger wins[4]. By strong and firm resolution and effort of will the endeavours of this life can conquer the effect of past deeds. The idea that one is being led in a particular way by the influence of past karmas has to be shaken off from the mind; for the efforts of the past life are certainly not stronger than the visible efforts of the moment.

All efforts have indeed to be made in accordance with the direction of the scriptures (śāstra). There is, of course, always a limit beyond which human endeavours are not possible, and therefore it is necessary that proper economy of endeavours should be observed by following the directions of the scriptures, by cultivating the company of good friends, and by adhering to right conduct, since mere random endeavours or endeavours on a wrong line cannot be expected to produce good results[5]. If one exerts his will and directs his efforts in the proper way, he is bound to be successful. There is nothing like destiny (daiva), standing as a separate force: it has a continuity with the power of other actions performed in this life, so that it is possible by superior exertions to destroy the power of the actions of previous lives, which would have led to many evil results. Whenever a great effort is made or a great energy is exerted, there is victory.

The whole question, whether the daiva of the past life or the pauruṣa of this life will win, depends upon the relative strength of the two, and any part of the daiva which becomes weaker than the efforts of the present life in a contrary direction is naturally annulled. It is only he who thinks that destiny must lead him on, and consequently does not strive properly to overcome the evil destiny, that becomes like an animal at the mercy of destiny or God, which may take him to heaven or to hell. The object of all endeavours and efforts in this life is to destroy the power of the so-called destiny, or daiva , and to exert oneself to his utmost to attain the supreme end of life.

The Yoga-vāsiṣṭha not only holds that pauruṣa can conquer and annul daiva , but it even goes to the extreme of denying daiva and calling it a mere fiction, that, properly speaking, does not exist at all. Thus it is said that endeavours and efforts manifest themselves as the movement of thought (saṃvit-spanda) , the movement of manas (manaḥ-spanda), and the movement of the senses (aindriya) . Thought movement is followed by movement of the psychosis or cetas; the body moves accordingly, and there is also a corresponding enjoyment or suffering. If this view is true, then daiva is never seen anywhere. Properly speaking, there is no daiva , and wherever any achievement is possible, it is always by continual strenuous effort of will, standing on its own account, or exercised in accordance with the śāstra or with the directions of a teacher[6]. It is for all of us to exert ourselves for good and to withdraw our minds from evil.

By all the pramāṇas at our disposal it is found that nothing but the firm exercise of will and effort achieves its end, and that nothing is effected by pure daiva ; it is only by the effort of eating that there is the satisfaction of hunger, it is only by the effort of the vocal organs that speech is effected, and it is only by the effort of the legs and corresponding muscles that one can walk. So everything is effected by personal efforts, when directed with the aid of the śāstra and proper advisers or teachers. What passes as daiva is a mere fiction; no one has ever experienced it, and it cannot be used by any of the senses; and the nature of efforts being essentially vibratory (spanda), one can never expect such movement from the formless, insensible, so-called daiva , which is only imagined and can never be proved. Visible efforts are all tangible and open to immediate perception; and, even if it is admitted that daiva exists, how can this supposed formless (amūrta) entity come in contact with it? It is only fools who conceive the existence of daiva , and depend on it, and are ruined, whereas those who are heroes, who are learned and wise, always attain their highest by their free-will and endeavour[7].

Rāma points out to Vaśiṣṭha in 11. 9 that daiva is fairly well accepted amongst all people, and asks how, if it did not exist, did it come to be accepted, and what does it mean after all? In answer to this Vaśiṣṭha says that, when any endeavour (pauruṣa) comes to fruition or is baffled, and a good or a bad result is gained, people speak of it as being daiva. There is no daiva , it is mere vacuity, and it can neither help nor obstruct anyone in any way. At the time of taking any step people have a particular idea, a particular resolution; there may be success or failure as the result of operation in a particular way, and the whole thing is referred to by ordinary people as being due to daiva , which is a mere name, a mere consolatory word.

The instinctive root inclinations (vāsanā) of a prior state become transformed into karma. A man works in accordance with his vāsanā and by vāsanā gets what he wants. Vāsanā and karma are, therefore, more or less like the potential and actual states of the same entity. Daiva is but another name for the karmas performed with strong desire for fruit, karma thus being the same as vāsanā , and vāsanā being the same as manas , and manas being the same as the agent or the person (puruṣa) ; so daiva does not exist as an entity separate from the puruṣa , and they are all merely synonyms for the same indescribable entity (durniścaya).

Whatever the manas strives to do is done by itself, which is the same as being done by daiva. There are always in manas two distinct groups of vāsanās , operating towards the good and towards the evil, and it is our clear duty to rouse the former against the latter, so that the latter may be overcome and dominated by the former. But, since man is by essence a free source of active energy, it is meaningless to say that he could be determined by anything but himself; if it is held that any other entity could determine him, the question arises, what other thing would determine that entity, and what else that entity, and there would thus be an endless vicious regression[8]. Man is thus a free source of activity, and that which appears to be limiting his activity is but one side of him, which he can overcome by rousing up his virtuous side. This view of puruṣa-kāra and karma seems to be rather unique in Indian literature.

Footnotes and references:


sādḥūpadiṣṭa-mārgeṇa yan mano-’ṅga-viceṣṭitam
tat pauruṣaṃ tat sapḥalam any ad unmatta-ceṣṭitam.
11. 4. 11.


yo yam arthaṃ prārtḥayate tad-artḥaṃ cehate kramāt
avaśyaṃ sa tarn āpnoti na ced ardhān nivartate.
11. 4. 12.


Ibid. 11. 4. 17.


Ibid. 11. 5. 5, 7.


sa ca sac-chāstra-sat-saṅga-sad-ācārair nijaṃ phalaṃ
dadātīti svabḥāvo
’yam anyatḥā nārtḥa-siddḥaye.
      Ibid. II. 5. 25.


śāstrato gurutaś caiva svataś ceti tri-siddhayaḥ
sarvatra puruṣārthasya na daivasya kadācana.
n. 7. 11.


mūḍhaiḥ prakalpitaṃ daivaṃ tat-parās te kṣayaṃ gatāḥ
prājñās tu pauruṣārthena padam uttamatāṃ gatāḥ.
u. 8. t6.


anyas tvāṃ cetayati cet taṃ cetayati ko 'parah
ka imam cctayet tasmād anavasthā na vāstavī.
      Ibid. II. 9. 20.

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