A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of head and heart: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the ninth part in the series called the “speculations in the medical schools”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.


The most vital centres of the body are the head, the heart and the pelvis (vasti). The prāṇas , i.e. the vital currents, and all the senses are said to depend (śritāḥ) on the head[2]. The difference between head (śīrṣa) and brain (mastiṣka) was known as early as the Atharva-Veda. Thus in A.V. x. 2. 6 the word śīrṣa is used in the sense of “head,” and in verses 8 and 26 of the same hymn the word mastiṣka is used in the sense of “brain[3].” Head-disease is also mentioned in the Atharva-Veda, 1. 12. 3, as śīrṣakti. The brain-matter is called mastuluṅga in Caraka-saṃhitā, viii. 9. 101 ; the word mastiṣka is used in the same chapter in the sense of brain-matter (viii. 9. 80), as has also been explained by Cakrapāṇi[4]. The passage from Caraka, viii. 9.4, quoted above shows that at least Dṛḍhabala considered the head to be the centre of the senses and all sense currents and life currents. Cakrapāṇi, in commenting upon this passage, says that, though the currents of sensation and life pass through other parts of the body as well, yet they are particularly connected with the head (śirasi viśeṣeṇa prabaddhāni), because, when there is an injury to the head, they are also injured.

According to Caraka and Dṛḍhabala all the senses are particularly connected with the head, as well as the prāṇas, but the heart is regarded as the vital centre of the prāṇas, as well as of the manas, as I shall point out later on. Bhela, who is as old as Caraka, considers the brain to be the centre of the manas, a view which is, so far as I know, almost unique in the field of Sanskrit literature. He says that manas, which is the highest of all senses (sarvendriya-param), has its seat between the head and the palate (śiras-tālv-antara-gatam). Being situated there, it knows all the sense-objects (viṣayān indriyāṇām) and the tastes which come near it (rasādikān samīpa-sthān). The original cause of manas and the energy of all the senses and the cause of all feelings and judgments (buddhi), the citta, is situated in the heart.

The citta is also the cause of all motor functions and activities, such that those who are possessed of good cittas follow a good course and those who are possessed of bad cittas follow a bad course. The manas knows the citta, and thence proceeds the choice of action; then comes the understanding, deciding what is worth doing and what is not. Buddhi, or understanding, is the understanding of certain actions as good (śubha) and certain others as bad (aśubha)[5]. It seems plain that Bhela distinguishes between manas, citta and buddhi. Of these manas is entirely different from citta and, so far as can be made out from Bhela’s meagre statements, it is regarded as the cause of all cognitions and as having its seat in the brain.

The citta was regarded as the cause of all activities, feelings and judgments, and the heart was regarded as its seat. Buddhi was probably the determinate understanding and judgment which was but a function of the citta. Bhela says that the doṣas in the brain affect the manas, and, as a result of this, the heart is affected, and from the affections of the heart the understanding (buddhi) is affected, and this leads to madness[6]. In another passage, while describing the different functions of pitta, Bhela says that there is a special kind of ālocaka pitta called the cakṣur-vaiśeṣika, which, by bringing about the contact of manas with the soul, causes cognition and, transmitting it to the citta, produces the discriminative visual knowledge by which different objects are comprehended by the eye.

The judgmental state, however, is different, and it is produced by a special kind of ālocaka pitta called the buddhi-vaiśeṣika, which is situated at the point between the eyebrows, and, being there, holds together the subtle forms emanating from the self (susūkṣmān arthān ātma-kṛtān), associates the data (dhārayati), integrates them with other similar known facts (pratyudāharati), remembers the past, and, after producing our knowledge in conceptual and judgmental forms, wills for future realization, generates instructive actions, and is the force which operates in meditation (dhyāna) and restraint of thoughts (dhāraṇā)[7].

Suśruta does not state anything of importance concerning the brain; but there seems to be little doubt that he knew that particular nerves in the head were connected with particular sense functions. Thus he says in hi. 6. 28 that there are two nerves (śirā) lower down the ears on their back, called vidhurā, which, if cut, would produce deafness; on both sides of the nasal aperture inside the nasal organ there are two nerves called phciṇa, which, if cut, would destroy the sensation of smell; at the back of the eyebrows, below the eyes, there are the nerves called the apāṅga, which, if cut, would produce blindness. All these cognitive nerves meet in passing at the centre of the eyebrow (śṛṅgātaka)[8]. He further says that the nerves are attached to the brain inside the skull on the upper part of it (mastakābhyantaropariṣṭhāt śirā-sandhi-sannipāta) and this place, called the romāvarta, is the supreme superintendent (adhipati). Caraka says that the head is the place for the senses. It cannot be decided whether he took this in any deeper sense or whether he means simply that the sense-organs of ear, eyes, nose and taste are situated in the head.

Caraka considers the heart (hṛdaya) to be the only seat of consciousness[9]. The seats of prāṇa are said to be the head, throat, heart, navel, rectum, bladder, the vital fluid ojas, semen, blood and flesh[10]. In 1. 19. 3 Caraka, however, excludes navel and flesh and includes the temples (śaṅkha) in their place. It is difficult to determine what is exactly meant by prāṇa here. But in all probability the word is used here in a general way to denote the vital parts. In 1. 30. 4 and 5 Caraka says that the whole body with the four extremities, the trunk, and the head, collectively called ṣaḍ-aṅga, knowledge (vijñāna), the senses, the sense-objects, the self, manas and the objects of thought (cintya), are all supported (saṃśrita) by the heart, just as a house is supported by pillars and rafters[11]. It is plain, as Cakrapāṇi explains, that the body cannot subsist in the heart. What is meant is that, when all is well with the heart, it is wrell with all the rest.

Caraka holds that the manas and the soul reside in the heart and so also do cognition, pleasure and pain, not, however, in the sense that the heart is the place where these reside, but in the sense that they depend on the heart for their proper functioning; if the heart is wrong, they also go wrong, if the heart is well, they also work well. Just as rafters are supported by pillars, so are they all supported by the heart. But Cakrapāṇi does not seem to agree with this view of Caraka, and he holds that, since the heart is affected by strong thoughts, pleasure and pain, the mind and the soul actually reside in the heart and so do pleasure and pain. The self, which is the cause of all knowledge of sense-objects and the upholder (dhārin) of the system, resides in the heart. It is for this reason that, if a man is struck in the heart, he swoons away, and, if the heart bursts, he dies. It is also the place of the supreme vitality (param ojas)[12]. The heart is also regarded as the place where all consciousness is concentrated (tatra caitanya-saṃgrahaḥ). Caraka says that the heart is the centre of the prāṇa currents (prāṇa-vahānāṃ srotasāṃ hṛdayaṃ mūlam, in. 5. 9) and also of the currents of mental activity (11. 7. 3). In the Apasmāra-nidāna (11. 8. 4) Caraka speaks of the heart as being the supreme place of the inner self (antar-ātmanaḥ śreṣṭham āyatanam).

It may not be out of place here to point out that the Taittirīya-upaniṣad (1.6. 1) also speaks of the heart as being the space where manomaya puruṣa, i.e. the mind-person, resides. In many other Upaniṣads the heart is the centre of many nāḍīs, or channels[13]. Śaṅkara, in explaining Bṛh. n. i. 19, says that the nāḍīs or śirās, called hitā, which are developed out of the food-juice and are 272,000 in number, emanate from the heart and spread over the whole body (purītat)[14]. The buddhi resides in the heart and from there controls the external senses. Thus, for example, at the time of hearing in the awakened state the buddhi passes through these nāḍīs to the ear and from there expands the auditory organ and superintends it. When the buddhi thus expands, we have the state of awakening, when it contracts, the state of deep sleep (suṣupti).

Footnotes and references:


The different names of the heart in Caraka-saṃhitā are mahat, artha, hṛdaya (1. 30. 3).


Cakrapāṇi, however, explains it as śritā iva śritāḥ, i.e. “as if they depended on” (1. 17. 12), because, when the head is hurt, all the senses are hurt. It is said in ibid. vi. 26. 1 that there are one hundred and seven vital centres (marma), and of these the three most important are the head, the heart and the pelvis. Also in viii. 9. 16, hṛdi mūrdhni ca vastau ca nṛṇāṃ prāṇāḥ pratiṣṭhitāḥ. In viii. 9. 4 it is distinctly said that all the senses and the currents of senses and prāṇa are dependent on the head as the rays of the sun are dependent on the sun— śirasi indriyāṇi indriya-prāṇa-vahāni ca srotārmi sūryam iva gabhastayaḥ saṃśritāni.


“Which was that god who (produced) his brain, his forehead, his hindhead (kakāṭika), who first his skull, who, having gathered a gathering in man’s jaw, ascended to heaven” (A.V. x. 2. 8). “Atharvan, having sewed together his head (mūrdhānam) and also his heart, aloft from the brain the purifying one sent (them) forth, out of the head” (ibid. 26). (Whitney’s translation, Harvard oriental series.)


Mastiṣkaṃ śiro-majjā. Cakrapāṇi, viii. 9. 80 of Caraka-saṃhitā. The word mastiṣka is sometimes, though rarely, used in the sense of head, as in the passage quoted by Cakrapāṇi in viii. 9. 80— mastiṣke ’ṣṭāṅgulam paṭṭam.


śiras-tālv-antara-gataṃ sarvendriya-paraṃ manaḥ tatra-sthaṃ tad dḥi viṣayān indriyāṇām rasādikān.. . kāraṇaṃ sarva-buddḥīnāṃ cittaṃ ḥṛdaya-saṃśritaṃ kriyāṇām cetarāsāṃ ca cittaṃ sarvasya kāraṇam.
      Bhela’s chapter on “Unmāda-cikitsitam .”
      Calcutta University edition, p. 149.


ūrdḥvaṃ prakupitā doṣāḥ
śiras-tālv-antare sthitāḥ,
mānasaṃ dūṣayanty āśu
tataś cittaṃ vipadyate
citte vyāpadam āpanne
buddhir nāśaṃ niyaccḥati
tatas tu buddhi-vyāpattau
kāryākāryaṃ na budhyate
evaṃ pravartate vyādhir
unmādo nāma dāruṇaḥ.
p. 149.


Bhela’s chapter on “ Puruṣa-niścaya p. 81.


ohrāṇa-śrotrākṣi-jihvā-santarpaṇīnāṃ śirāṇāṃ madhye śirā-sannipātaḥ śṛñgā-ṭakāni.
III. 6. 28.


Caraka-samhitō, IV. 7. 8, hrdayam cetanādhiṣṭhānam ekam.


Ibid. 9.


Caraka-saṃhitā, I. 30. 5.


Cakrapāṇi says that the mention of param ojas here proves that Caraka believed in another, aparam ojas. The total quantity of aparam ojas in the bodv is half a handful Utrdhāñjali-parimāṇā), while that of param ojas is only eight drops of a white-red and slightly yellowish liquid in the heart. The dhamams of the heart contain half a handful of aparam ojas, and in the disease known as prameha (urinary disease) it is this ojas that is wasted; but even with waste of this ojas a man may live, whereas with the slightest waste of the param ojas a man cannot live.

Ojas ought not to be regarded as the eighth dhātu ; for it only supports (dḥārayati) the body, but does not nourish it. Ojas, however, is sometimes used also in the sense of rasa (Caraka-saṃhitā 1. 30. 6, Cakrapāṇi’s commentary). See also ibid. 1. 17. 74 and 75 and Cakrapāṇi’s comment on the same. Ojas is, however, regarded in the Atharva-Veda, 11. 17, as the eighth dhātu.



See Bṛh. u. i. 19, iv. 2. 2 and 3, iv. 3. 20, iv. 4. 8 and 9; Chānd. viii. 6. 6; Kaṭha, vi. 16; Kauṣ. iv. 19; Mnṇḍ. 11. 2. 6; Maitrī, Bibliotheca Indica, 1870, vi. 21, vii. 11; Praśna, in. 6 and 7.


The word purītat means principally the covering of the heart. But Śaṅkara takes it here to mean the whole body.

Let's grow together!

I humbly request your help to keep doing what I do best: provide the world with unbiased sources, definitions and images. Your donation direclty influences the quality and quantity of knowledge, wisdom and spiritual insight the world is exposed to.

Let's make the world a better place together!

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: