A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 2

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

This page describes the philosophy of springs of action in the caraka-samhita: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the sixteenth part in the series called the “speculations in the medical schools”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 16 - Springs of action in the Caraka-samhitā

The chief feature of Caraka’s springs of action consists in the fact that he considers three primary desires as the motive causes of all our actions. These are, as has already been said, the desire for life, the desire for riches and the desire for future life. In this Caraka seems to have a view uniquely different from that of most of the systems of philosophy, which refer to a number of emotions as the root causes prompting us to action. Thus the Vaiśeṣika regards attraction to pleasure and aversion to pain as the cause of all our actions.

Pleasure is defined as being a sort of feeling which is approved and welcomed and towards which an attraction is naturally felt. Pleasures, therefore, when they arise, must always be felt, and there cannot be anything like unfelt pleasures. Apart from sensory pleasures, Śrīdhara in his Nyāya-kandalī discusses the existence of other kinds of pleasure, due to the remembering of past things, or to calmness and contentedness of mind or self-knowledge.

Pleasures are, however, regarded as the fruits of meritorious deeds (dharma) performed before.

Pain, the reverse of pleasure, may be defined as an experience from which we are repelled and which is the result of past misdeeds.

Desire, as the wish to have what is unattained (aprāpta-prārthanā), may be either for the self (svārtha) or for others (parārtha).

Such desires may be prompted by any of the following:

  • longing for happiness in heaven or on earth (kāma),
  • appetites (abhilāṣa),
  • longing for the continuation and recurrence of the enjoyment of pleasurable objects, compassion for others (karuṇā),
  • disinclination to worldly enjoyment (vairāgya),
  • intention of deceiving others (upadhā),
  • subconscious motives (bhāva).

Praśastapāda, however, distinguishes between desires for enjoyment and desires for work. But he does not include the positive Buddhist virtues of friendship (maitrī) and a feeling of happiness in the happiness of others (muditā), and he is content with only the negative virtue of compassion (karuṇā). He also counts anger, malice, suppressed revengefulness (manyu), jealousy of the good qualities of others (akṣamā), and envy arising from a sense of one’s inferiority (amarṣa). But, in spite of this elaborate classification, Praśastapāda makes in reality two broad divisions, namely, desires arising from attachment to pleasures, and those from aversion to pain.

Pain is as much a positive feeling as pleasure and cannot be regarded as mere negation of pleasure. Though Praśastapāda knows that there is such a thing as desire for work, yet he does not give it any prominent consideration, and the net result of his classification of the springs of action is that he thinks that all desires are prompted by attachment to feelings of pleasure and antipathy to pain. Feelings, therefore, are to be regarded here as fundamentally determining all desires and through them all actions.

The Naiyāyikas think that attachment and antipathy can be traced to a more fundamental root, viz. ignorance or delusion (moha). Thus Vātsyāyana, by tracing attachment or antipathy to ignorance, tends to intellectualize the psychological basis of Praśastapāda. For moha would mean want of knowledge, and, if attachment and antipathy be due to want of knowledge, then one can no longer say that feelings ultimately determine our actions, as it is the absence of right knowledge that is found to be ultimately the determinant of the rise of all feelings and emotions.

Jayanta, however, in his Nyāya-mañjarī, counts

  • ignorance (moha),
  • attachment (rāga)
  • and antipathy (dveṣa)

as being three parallel defects (doṣa) which prompt our efforts[1].

Under attachment he counts

  • sex-inclination (kāma),
  • disinclination to part with that which would not diminish by sharing with others (matsara),
  • jealousy (spṛhā),
  • inclination towards birth again and again (tṛṣṇā)
  • and inclination towards taking forbidden things (lobha).

Under dveṣa he counts

  • emotional outbursts of anger with burning bodily conditions,
  • envy (īrṣyā),
  • jealousy at the good qualities of others (asūyā),
  • injuring others (droha)
  • and concealed malice (manyu).

Under ignorance he counts

  • false knowledge (mithyā-jñāna),
  • perplexity due to indecision (vicikitsā),
  • sense of false superiority (mada)
  • and mistakes of judgment (pramāda).

But he adds that of the three defects,

  1. rāga,
  2. dveṣa
  3. and moha,

moha is the worst, since the other two arise through it. For it is only the ignorant who are under the sway of attachment and antipathy. To the objection that in that case moha ought not to be counted as a defect in itself, but as the source of the other two defects, Jayanta replies that, though it is a source of the other two defects, it of itself also leads people to action and should therefore be counted as a defect in itself. It is no doubt true that all defects are due to false knowledge and are removed by right knowledge; yet it would be wrong to count the defects as being of only one kind of false knowledge (mithyā-jñāna) ; for the three defects are psychologically felt to have three distinctive characteristics.

Jayanta, while admitting that the feelings of attachment or antipathy are due to ignorance, considers them to be psychologically so important as to be regarded as independent springs of action. Thus, while he was in nominal agreement with Vātsyāyana in regarding attachment and antipathy as being due to moha, he felt their independent psychological importance and counted them as parallel defects prompting our efforts.

Patañjali divides all our actions into two classes, vicious (kliṣṭa) and virtuous (akliṣṭa). The virtuous actions are prompted by our natural propensity towards emancipation, while the vicious ones are prompted by

  • ignorance (avidyā),
  • egoism (asmitā),
  • attachment (rāga),
  • antipathy (dveṣa)
  • and the will to live (abhiniveśa).

The latter four, though of the nature of feeling, are yet regarded as being only manifestations of the growth and development of ignorance (avidyā). It is a characteristic peculiarity of the Sāṃkhya philosophy that thoughts and feelings are not regarded there as being intrinsically different; for the guṇas form the materials of both thoughts and feelings. What is thought in one aspect is feeling in another. It was on this account that false knowledge could be considered to have developed into the feelings of egoism, attachment and antipathy, and could be regarded as being of the same stuff as false knowledge. In the Nyāya psychology, thought and feelings being considered intrinsically different, a difficulty was felt in reconciling the fact that, while ignorance could be regarded as being the cause of the feelings of attachment and antipathy, the latter could not be regarded as being identical with ignorance {moha).

Jayanta, therefore, while he traced rāga and dveṣa to moha , ontologically considered them as parallel factors determining our actions psychologically. In the Sāṃkhya-Yoga metaphysics this difficulty could be obviated; for that school did not consider feelings to be different from thoughts, since the thoughts are themselves made up of feeling-stuff; hence even false knowledge {avidyā) need not be regarded as being wholly an intellectual element, since it is itself the product of the feeling-stuff—the guṇas.

It is needless to refer in detail to the theories of the springs of action in other systems of Indian thought. From what has already been said it would appear that most systems of Indian Philosophy consider false knowledge to be at the root of all our worldly activities through the mediation of feelings of attachment, antipathy and self-love. There is an inherent pessimism in most systems of Indian thought, which consider that normalfy we are all under the evil influence of false knowledge and are all gliding on the downward path of sins and afflictions. They also consider that all attachments lead to bondage and slavery to passions, and thereby lead us away from the path of liberation. Actions are judged as good or bad according as they lead to liberation or bondage; their efficacy is in securing the transcendental realization of the highest truth and the cessation of rebirth, or obscuration of the nature of reality and exposure to the miseries of rebirth.

But Caraka gives us a scheme of life in which he traces the springs of all our actions to the three fundamental motives or biological instincts of life-preservation, worldly desire of acquiring riches for enjoyment, and other worldly aspirations of self-realization. According to him these three fundamental desires sum up all springs of action. On this view will appears to be more fundamental than feeling or knowledge. Caraka does not seem to begin from the old and stereotyped idea that false knowledge is the starting-point of the world. His is a scheme of a well-balanced life which is guided by the harmonious play of these three fundamental desires and directed by perfect wisdom and unerring judgment.

Evil and mischief creep in through errors of judgment, by which the harmony of these desires is broken. All kinds of misdeeds are traced, not to feelings of attachment or antipathy, but to errors of judgment or foolishness (prajñāparādha). This prajñāparādha may be compared to the moha or avidyā of the Nyāya and Yoga. But, while the Nyāya and Yoga seem to refer to this moha or avidyā as a fundamental defect inherent in our mental constitution and determining its activities as a formative element, Caraka’s prajñāparādha is not made to occupy any metaphysical status, but expresses itself only in the individual lapses of judgment.

Caraka, however, did not dare to come into conflict with the prevailing ethical and philosophical opinions of his time, and we find that in Śārīra , 1 he largely accepts the traditional views. He says there that it is the phenomenal self (bhūtātman or saṃyoga-puruṣa) that feels pleasure and pain, and in connection with the duty of a physician to remove all physical sufferings produced by diseases he says that the ultimate healing of all pain consists in the permanent naiṣṭhikī (removal) of pain by the removal of grasping (upadhā)[2]. He says there that grasping (upadhā) is itself sorrowful and the cause of all sorrows.

All sorrows can be removed by the removal of all grasping tendencies. Just as a silkworm draws out its cocoon thread to its own destruction, so does the miserable man of ignorance draw desires and longings from the objects of sense. He is wise indeed who considers all objects as fire and withdraws himself from them. With the cessation of all actions (anārambha) and dissociation from sense-objects there is no more fear of being afflicted with sorrows.

Sorrows, again, are said to proceed from four causes, namely,

  1. the wrong notion of noneternal things (e.g. sense-objects) as eternal (buddhi-mbhratnśa),
  2. the want of the power of controlling the mind from undesirable courses (dhṛti-vibhraṃśa),
  3. forgetfulness of the nature of right knowledge (smṛti-vibhraṃśa)
  4. and the adoption of unhygienic courses (asātmya-arthāgamd).

Prajñāparādha is defined here as a wrong action that is done through the confusion of intelligence and want of selfcontrol and right knowledge (dhi-dhṛti-smṛti-vibkraṣṭa), and this is supposed to rouse up all maladies and defects (sarva-doṣa-prakopaṇa). Some of the offences that may be counted under prajñāparādha are as follows: to set things in motion, to try to stop moving objects, to let the proper time for doing things pass by, to begin an action in the wrong manner, not to behave in the accustomed manner, not to behave modestly and politely, to insult respected persons, to go about in wrong places or at wrong times, to take objects which are known to be harmful, not to abide by the proper course of conduct described in the Caraka-saṃhitā , I. i. 6; the passions of jealousy, vanity, fear, anger, greed, ignorance, egoism, errors, all actions prompted by these and whatever else that is prompted by ignorance (moha) and self-ostentation (rajas).

Prajñāparādha is further defined as error of judgment (viṣama-vijñāna) and as wrong enterprise (viṣama-pravartanā), proceeding out of wrong knowledge or erroneous judgment. It will thus appear that it is wise to take prajñāparādha in the wider sense of error of judgment or misapplied intelligence, regarding it as the cause of all kinds of moral depravity, unhealthy and unhygienic habits and accidental injuries of all kinds. As Caraka admitted the existence of the self and of rebirth and regarded moral merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma) as the causes of all human enjoyment and sufferings, and of the productivity or unproductivity of the ground, and the hygienic or unhygienic conditions of water, air and the seasons, he had to include within prajñāparādha the causes that led to vices and sins.

The causes of all sorrows are,

  1. firstly, wrong consideration of the non-eternal as eternal and of the injurious as good;
  2. secondly, want of self-control;
  3. and, thirdly, the defect of memory (smṛti-bhraṃśa), through which the right knowledge and right experience of the past cannot be brought into effect.

Thus, though in a sense Caraka compromises with the traditional schools of philosophy in including philosophical ignorance or misconception within prajñāparādha , and though he thinks that philosophical ignorance produces sins, yet he takes prajñāparādha in the very wide sense of error of judgment, leading to all kinds of transgression of laws of health and laws of society and custom, risky adventures, and all other indiscreet and improper actions. Prajñāparādha, therefore, though it includes the philosophical moha of the traditional school of philosophy, is yet something very much more, and is to be taken in the wider sense of error of judgment.

Caraka, no doubt, admits jealousy, vanity, anger, greed, ignorance (moha), etc., as producing improper action, but he admits many other causes as well. But the one supreme cause of all these subsidiary causes is prajñāparādha, or error of judgment, taken in its wide sense. It will not, therefore, be wrong to suppose that, according to Caraka, all proper actions are undertaken through the prompting of three fundamental desires, the desire for life, the desire for wealth and enjoyment, and the desire for spiritual good. And all improper actions are due to improper understanding, confusion of thought, and misdirected intelligence (prajñāparādha). The three fundamental desires, unassociated with any error of judgment or lack of understanding, may thus be regarded as the root cause of all proper actions. There is, therefore, nothing wrong in giving full play to the functioning of the three fundamental desires, so long as there is no misdirected understanding and confusion to turn them into the wrong path.

Caraka does not seem to agree with other systems of philosophy in holding the feelings of attachment and antipathy to be the springs of all actions. Actions are prompted by the normal active tendencies of the three fundamental desires, and they become sinful when our energies are wrongly directed through lack of understanding. Though Caraka had to compromise with the acknowledged view of the systems of Indian Philosophy that the cessation of all sorrows can be only through the cessation of all actions, yet it seems clear that the course of conduct that he approves consists in the normal exercise of the three fundamental desires, free from the commission of any errors of judgment (prajñāparādha).

Thus Caraka does not preach the ideal of leaving off desires, attachments, feelings and actions of all kinds, nor does he advocate the Gītā ideal of the performance of duties without attachment. His is the ideal of living one’s life in a manner that is most conducive to health, long life, and proper enjoyment. Our only care should be that we do not commit any mistake in eating, drinking and other actions of life which may directly or indirectly (through the production of sins) produce diseases and sufferings or jeopardize our life and enjoyment in any way. This unique character of Caraka’s ethical position is very clearly proved by the code of conduct, virtues and methods of leading a good life elaborated by Caraka. He no doubt shows a lip-sympathy with the ideal of giving up all actions (sannyāsd); but his real sympathies seem to be with the normal scheme of life, involving normal enjoyments and fruition of desires. A normal life, according to Caraka, ought also to be a virtuous life, as vices and sins are the sources of all sorrows, sufferings and diseases in this life and the next.

Footnotes and references:


Teṣāṃ doṣōṇāṃ trayo rāśayo bhavanti rāgo dveṣo moha iti.
, p. 500


Cakrapāṇi interprets upadhā as desire (tṛṣṇā) ; hut it seems to me that it would have been more correct to interpret it as the Buddhist upādāna, or grasping. Cakrapāṇi on Caraka, iv. r. 93.

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