A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1940 | 232,512 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of yamuna’s doctrine of soul contrasted with those of others: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the philosophy of yamunacarya”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - Yāmuna’s doctrine of Soul contrasted with those of others

We have seen that from the Cārvākas to the Vedāntists there had been many schools of philosophy and each of them had its own theory of soul. We made but a scanty reference to Cārvākism in the first volume, and we have generally omitted the discussions against Cārvākism in which other systems usually indulged. The most important of the doctrines held by the Cārvākas is that there is no self other than the body; some of them, however, regarded the senses as the self, and others as Manas. They held that there were only four elements and that out of them life and consciousness sprang forth. Our notion of self also referred to the body, and there was no separate soul, apart from the body. The Cārvāka literature has, however, vanished from India, and we can know only from references in other works that their original writings were also in the form of sūtras[1].

Yāmuna’s philosophy was directly opposed to the doctrine of the Cārvākas. It is best therefore that we should deal here with Yāmuna’s theory of soul in connection with the pretensions of the Cārvākas. Yāmuna takes his stand on the notion of self-consciousness. He says that our preception “I know” distinctly points to the self as the subject, as distinguished from the perception of the body as “this is my body,” which is closely akin to other objective perceptions such as “this is a jug,” “this is a piece of cloth.” When I restrain my senses from external objects and concentrate myself on myself, I have still the notion of my self as “I,” which arises in me without the least association of my hands or feet or any other parts of the body.

The body as a whole cannot be said to be indicated by my perception, when none of the parts of the body shine forth in it. Even when I say “I am fat,” “I am lean,” the notion of “I” does not refer to the external fat or lean body, but to some mysterious entity within me with which the body is wrongly associated. We should not forget that we also say “this is my body” as we should say “this is my house,” where the body is spoken of as being different from the self as any external object. But it may be objected that we also say “my self” (mamātmā); but this is only a linguistic usage which expresses that difference, whereas the entity perceived is just the same and identical.

The confusion which is felt in the fact that the notion of “I” refers to the body is due to this, that the self has no perceivable shape or form as have ordinary external objects (such as jug, cloth, etc.), bv virtue of which they are distinguished from one another. Those who are not sufficiently discriminating cannot rest content with the formless self, and consequently confuse the soul with the body, more particularly because they find that corresponding to any and every desire of the soul there is a corresponding change of the body. They think that, since, corresponding to any mental change, such as new feeling, thought, or desire, there is a corresponding physical or physiological change of the body, there is no other soul different from the body.

But, if we try to find out by a deeper self-introspection what we mean by “I,” we find that it is an entity, as the subject, as the “I,” as distinct from the objects which are not self and which are indicated as this or that. Had the notion “I know” referred to the body, the bodily parts would surely have been manifested in the notion, as external objects shine forth in all external perception as this or that. But it is not so; on the contrary, by introspection I find that the self is an entity which is independent in itself, and all other things of the world are for the sake of my self; I am the enjoyer^ whereas everything else is the object of my enjoyment; I am not for the sake of any body; I am an end in myself and never a means for anything else (a-parārtha). All combinations and collocations are for the sake of another, whom they serve; the self is neither the result of any collocation nor does it exist for the sake of serving another.

Moreover, consciousness cannot be regarded as being a product of the body. Consciousness cannot be thought to be like an intoxicating property, the product of the four elements; for the combination of the four elements cannot produce any and every sort of power. There is a limit to the effects that a certain cause can produce ; in the production of the intoxicating property it is the atoms which happen to possess that property; intoxication is not to be compared with consciousness; nor has it any similarity to any physical effect; nor can it be thought that there are atoms in which the property of consciousness is generated.

Had consciousness been the result of any chemical change, such as we find in the production of the red colour by the combination of lime with catechu, there would have been particles of consciousness (caitanya) produced, and our consciousness would then have been the sum total of those particles of consciousness, as in the case of any material chemical product; the red colour produced by the combination of lime with catechu belongs to an object every particle of which is red; so, if consciousness had been a chemical product of the material of this body, there would have been generated some particles of consciousness, and thus there would have been perceptions of many selves in accordance with each particle of consciousness, and there would be no identity of consciousness and experience. Thus it must be admitted that consciousness belongs to an entity, the soul, which is different from the body.

Nor can consciousness belong to the senses; for, if it belonged to each of the senses, then that which was perceived by one sense (e.g. the eye) could not be perceived by another sense (e.g. the touch), and there would not rise the consciousness “I touch that which I had seen before.” If all the senses together produced consciousness, then we could not perceive anything with one sense (e.g. the eye), nor could we have any consciousness, or the memory of the object of any particular sense after that sense was lost; when a man was blinded, he would lose all consciousness, or would never remember the objects which he had seen before with his eyes.

Nor can the manas be regarded as ātman ; for it is only an organ accepted as accounting for the fact that knowledge is produced in succession and not in simultaneity. If it is said that the manas may be regarded as being a separate organ by which it can know in succession, then practically the self, or ātman, is admitted; the only difference being this, that the Cārvākas call manas what we (Yāmuna and his followers) call ātman.

The Vijñānavādin Buddhists held that knowledge, while self-manifesting, also manifested the objects and so knowledge should be regarded as the self (ātman). Against these Buddhists Yāmuna held that, if any permanent seat of knowledge was not admitted, then the phenomenon of personal identity and recognition could not be explained by the transitory states of self-manifesting knowledge; if each knowledge came and passed, how could one identify one’s present experiences with the past, if there were only flowing states of knowledge and no persons? Since there was no permanence, it could not be held that any knowledge persisted as an abiding factor on the basis of which the phenomenon of selfidentity or recognition could be explained. Each knowledge being absent while others came, there was no chance of even an illusion of sameness on grounds of similarity.

The doctrine of the Śaṅkara school, that there is one qualityless permanent pure consciousness, is regarded by Yāmuna as being against all experience. Thus, consciousness is always felt as belonging to a person and as generated, sustained for a time, and then lost. At the time of deep sleep we all cease to possess knowledge, and this is demonstrated by our impression on waking that we have slept for so long, without consciousness. If the antaḥkaraṇa, which the Advaitins regard as the substratum of the notion of “I,” had been submerged during the sleep, then there could not have been on waking the notion that “I slept so long.” Nobody has ever experienced any pure knowledge. Knowledge as such must belong to somebody.

The Śaṅkarites say that the rise of knowledge means the identity of the knowledge with the objects at the time. But this is not so; for the truth of the knowledge of an object is always with reference to its limitations of time and space and not to the intrinsic quality of the thing or the knowledge. The assertion also that knowledge is permanent is without any foundation; for whenever any knowledge arises it always does so in time and under the limitations of time. Nobody has ever experienced any knowledge divested of all forms. Knowledge must come to us either as perception or as inference, etc.; but there cannot be any knowledge which is absolutely devoid of any forms or modifications and absolutely qualityless.

The Śaṅkarites regard the self as pure consciousness or anubhūti, but it is apparent that the self is the agent of anubhūti, or the knower, and not knowledge or pure consciousness. Again, as in Buddhism, so in Śaṅkarism, the question of recognition remains unsolved; for recognition or personal continuity of experience means that the knower existed in the past and is existing even now —as when we say, “I have experienced this” —but, if the self is pure consciousness only, then there cannot be any perceiver persisting in the past as well as in the present, and the notion “I have experienced this” is not explained, but only discarded as being illusory. The consciousness of things, however, is never generated in us as “I am consciousness,” but as “I have the consciousness of this”; if all forms were impure impositions on pure consciousness, then the changes would have taken place in the consciousness, and instead of the form “I have consciousness” the proper form of knowledge ought to have been “I am consciousness.”

The Śaṅkarites also hold that the notion of the knower is an illusory imposition on the pure consciousness. If that be so, the consciousness itself may be regarded as an illusory imposition; if it is said that the pure consciousness is not an imposition, since it lasts till the end— the stage of emancipation—then, since the result of right knowledge (tattva-jñāna) is this, that the self ceases to be a knower, false knowledge should be welcomed rather than such a right knowledge. The notion “I know” proves the self to be a knower and apart from a knower so manifested no pure consciousness can be experienced. The notion “I” at once distinguishes the knower from the body, the senses, the manas, or even the knowledge. Such a self is also called a sākṣl (perceiver), as all objects are directly perceived by it.

The Sāṃkhya view is that it is the ahaṅkāra or buddhi which may be regarded as the knower; for these are but products of prakṛti, and thus non-intelligent in themselves. The light of pure consciousness cannot be regarded as falling on them and thereby making them knowers by the reflection of its light; for reflection can only happen with reference to visible objects. Sometimes it is held by the Śaṅkarites that true consciousness is permanent and unchangeable, that the ego (ahaṅkāra) derives its manifestation from that and yet reveals that in association with itself, just as a mirror or the surface of water reflects the sun; and, when these limitations of ahaṅkāra, etc., are merged during deep sleep, the self shines forth in its own natural light and bliss.

This also is unintelligible; for if the ahaṅkāra, etc., had all been manifested by the pure consciousness, how can they again in their turn manifest the consciousness itself? Actually it cannot be imagined what is the nature of that manifestation which pure consciousness is made to have by the ahaṅkāra, since all ordinary analogies fail. Ordinarily things are said to be manifested when obstructions which veil them are removed, or when a lamp destroys darkness, or when a mirror reflects an object; but none of these analogies is of any use in understanding how consciousness could be manifested by ahaṅkāra. If, again, consciousness requires something else to manifest it, then it ceases to be self-manifesting and becomes the same as other objects. It is said that the process of knowledge runs on by successive removals of ajñāna from the consciousness.

Ajñāna (na-jñāna —not knowledge) may be understood as absence of knowledge or as the moment when some knowledge is going to rise, but such an ajñāna cannot obstruct consciousness; the Śaṅkarites hold, therefore, that there is an indefinable positive ajñāna which forms the stuff of the world. But all this is sheer nonsense. That which manifests anything cannot make that thing appear as a part of itself, or as its own manifestation. The ego, or ahaṅkāra, cannot also manifest another consciousness (which is different from it) in such a way that that consciousness shall appear as its own manifestation. So it has to be admitted that the self is not pure consciousness, but the selfconscious ego which appears in all our experience.

The state of deep sleep (suṣupti) is often put forward as an example of pure consciousness being found unassociated with other limitations of ego, etc. But this is not possible, as we have already seen. Moreover, when the later experience of the waking moment testifies that “I did not know anything,” it can well be urged that there was ho pure consciousness during deep sleep; but that the ego existed is proved by the fact that at the waking moment the perception which identifies the ego (ahaṅkāra) as the self, also testifies that the ego as the self had persisted during deep sleep. The self which shines forth in us as the ego therefore remains the same during deep sleep; but it has no knowledge at that time. After rising from deep sleep we feel “I did not know anything, I did not know even myself.”

The Śaṅkarites assert the experience that during deep sleep there is no knowledge even of the ego. This, however, is hardly true; for the perception “I did not know even myself” means that during deep sleep all the personal associations (e.g. as belonging to a particular family, as occupying a particular position, etc.) were absent, and not that the ego itself was absent. When the self is conscious of itself, there is the notion of the “I,” as in “I am conscious of myself.” During deep sleep also, when no other objects are manifested, there is the self which is conscious of itself as the ego or the “I.”

If during emancipation there was no consciousness as the self, the ego, the “I,” then it is the same almost as the absolute nihilism of the Buddhists. The sense of “I,” the ego, is not a mere quality extraneously imposed on the self, but the very nature of the self. Even knowledge shines forth as a quality of this ego or “I,” as when we say “I know it.” It is the “I” who possesses the knowledge. Knowledge thus appears to be a quality of the “I.” But no experience of ours ever demonstrates that “I” is a quality of pure knowledge. We say “I have this knowledge” and not that the knowledge has the “I.”

If there is no “I,” no one who experiences, no subject who is existent during emancipation, who would strive to attain emancipation? If even the “I” is annihilated after emancipation, who would care to take all the trouble, or suffer the religious restraints, etc., for such an undesirable state? If even “I” should cease to exist, why should I care for such a nihilistic state ? What am I to do with pure consciousness, when “I” ceases to exist? To say that “I” is such an object as “you” or “he” or “this” or “that,” and that this “I” is illuminated by pure consciousness, is preposterously against all experience. The “I” manifests of itself without the help of any other manifesting agency, now as well as during emancipation; for the manifestation of the self has always the sole form of “I”; and, if during emancipation the self manifests, it must do so as “I.”

From the sacred texts also we find that the emancipated sages, Vāmadeva and Manu, thought of their own selves as the “I.” Even God is not devoid of this notion of His personality as “I,” as is attested by the Upaniṣad sayings, in which He declares: “I have created this world.” The notion of “I” is false when it is identified with the body and other extraneous associations of birth, social rank, etc., and when it gives rise to pride and boastfulness. It is this kind of ahaṅkāra which has been regarded as false in the scriptures. The notion “I,” when it refers to the self, is, indeed, the most accurate notion that we can have.

All our perceptions of pleasure and pain also are manifested as qualities of the “I,” the self. The “I” manifests itself to itself and hence must be regarded as being of non-material stuff (ajaḍa). The argument, that since the notion of “I” is taken along with knowledge (sahopalambha), knowledge alone exists, and that “I” is not different from it, may well be repudiated by turning the table and w'ith the same argument declaring that “I” alone exists and that there is no knowledge. All persons experience that knowledge is felt to be as distinct from the “I,” the know'er, as the knowrn object. To say that self is self-manifesting by nature is not the same thing as to say that the self is knowledge by nature; for the self is independent of knowledge; knowledge is produced as a result of the perceptual process involving sense-contact, etc.; the self is the knower, the “I,” which knows things and thereby possesses knowledge.

The “I,” the knower, the self, manifests itself directly by selfconsciousness; and hence those who have attempted to demonstrate the self by inference have failed to do so. Thus, the Naiyāyikas think that the self is proved as that in which qualities such as knowledge, desire, pleasure, pain, etc., inhere. But, even though by such an inference we may know that there is something in which the qualities inhere, it cannot be inferred therefrom that this thing is the self in us. Since nothing else is found in which knowledge, willing, etc., might inhere, it may as well be argued that knowledge, etc., are not qualities at all, or that there is no law that qualities must necessarily inhere in a thing. They are regarded as guṇas (qualities) only by their technical definition; and the Naiyāy ikas can accept these as guṇas, and on that ground infer that there must be some other entity, self (which is not testified by any other proof), as the basis in which the aforesaid guṇas may inhere. It is hardly justifiable to accept a new substance, soul (which cannot be obtained by any other proof), simply on the ground that there must be some basis in which guṇas must inhere; it is the maxim of the opponents that guṇas must exist in some substance and that there are knowledge, willing, etc., which they are pleased to call guṇas ; one cannot take further advantage in holding thereby that, since there is no other substance in which these so-called guṇas (knowledge, willing, etc.) might inhere, the existence of some other substance as the self must be inferred.

The Sāṃkhyists also make the same mistake, when they hold that all the movements of this non-intelligent prakṛti must be for the sake of the puruṣa, for whom the prakṛti is working. The objection to such a view is this, that even though such entities for which the prakṛti is working may be inferred, yet that cannot prove that those entities are not themselves also combinations of many things and objects requiring further superintendents for themselves; or that the puruṣas should be the same pure intelligence as they are required to be. Moreover, that alone can be the end of a certain combination of events or things, which can be in some way benefited, moved or affected by those combinations. But the puruṣas, as the passive pure intelligence, cannot in any way be affected by the prakṛti.

How then can they be regarded as the end for which the prakṛti works ? The mere illusion, the mere semblance on the part of the puruṣa of being affected or benefited cannot be regarded as a reality, so that by it the purposes of the movements of the prakṛti might be realized. Moreover, these so-called affections, or illusions of affection, themselves belong to prakṛti and not to the puruṣas; for the puruṣas, as pure intelligences, are without the slightest touch of modifications of the guṇas. All mental modifications are, according to the Sāṃkhya, but modifications of the buddhi, which, being unintelligent, cannot be subject to illusion, error, or mistake. Moreover, no explanation can be found in the supposition that the reflection of the puruṣas falls upon the buddhi; for, as the puruṣa is not a visible object, it cannot be reflected in the buddhi.

If it is said that there is no real reflection, but the buddhi becomes like the pure intelligence, the puruṣa, then that also is not possible; for, if the buddhi is to become as qualityless as the puruṣas, then all mental states have to be abrogated.

If it is said that the buddhi does not become like pure intelligence, but as if it was as intelligent as the puruṣa, then that also is not possible; for puruṣa is according to the Sāṃkhya pure intelligence, not intelligent.

There is no intelligent knower in the Sāṃkhya, and that is its trouble. If it is said that what is meant by the belief that puruṣa is the end of all guṇa- movements is simply this, that, though it is absolutely incapable of any change or transformation, yet by its very presence it sets the guṇas in motion and is thus the end for which all the guṇa modifications take place, just as if the puruṣa were a king for whom the whole dominion works and fights. But since the puruṣa, unaffected by them, is only the seer of them all, this also is not possible; for the analogy does not hold, since the king is really benefited by the movements of the people of his dominions but the puruṣa, which merely implies seeing, cannot be regarded as a seer.

The nature of the self, as we have described it, is also attested by the verdict of the l paniṣads. This self is directly revealed in its own notion as “I,” and pleasure, pain, attachment, antipathy are but its states, which are also revealed along with the revelation of its own self as the “I.” This self is not, however, perceived by any of the senses or even by the organ manas, as Kumārila supposed. For the question arises as to when, if the self is believed to be perceived by the manas, that takes place? It cannot take place precisely at the moment when the knowledge of an object arises; for then the notions of the self and the objects, as they occur at the same moment, could not so appear that one (the self) was the cognizer or determiner, and the others (the objects) were the cognized or the determined. If the knowledge of the objects and the self arose at two different moments as separate acts, it would be difficult to conceive how they could be related as cognizer and cognized. So it cannot be held that the self, though it always manifests itself to us in self-consciousness, could yet be perceived by any of the senses or the manas.

Again, Kumārila held that knowledge was a new product, and that when, as a result of certain sense activities, knowledge or the jñāna movement was generated in us, there was also produced an illumination (jñātatā or prākatya) in objects in association with the self, and that from such an illumination the jñāna-kriyā or knowledge movement could be inferred, and the self, as being the possessor of this knowledge, could be perceived by the manas. But such a theory that the self is conscious not by itself, but by an extraneous introduction of knowledge, is hardly acceptable; for no one imagines that there exists in him such a difference when he perceives a thing which he had not before that perception. Moreover, since the act of knowledge did not directly reveal the self, there might also be doubts as to whether the self knew things or not, and the self would not shine forth directly in all conscious experience, as it is found to do.

Again, some hold that the self is known from the objective consciousness and not directly by itself. It is easy to see that this can hardly be accepted as true; for how can objective consciousness, which refers to the objects, in any way produce the consciousness of the self? According to this view it is difficult to prove even the existence of knowledge; for this, since it is not self-manifested, requires something else to manifest it; if it is thought that it is self-manifesting, then we should expect it to be manifested to all persons and at all times. It may be said that, though knowledge is self-manifesting, yet it can be manifested only in connection with the person in whom it inheres, and not in connection with all persons. If that be so, it really comes to this, that knowledge can become manifested only through its connection with a someone who knows. If, in answer to this, it is said that knowledge does not require its connection with a person for its owrn existence, but only for its specific illumination as occurring with reference to a certain subject and object, then that cannot be proved.

We could have accepted it if we had known any case in which pure consciousness or knowledge had been found apart from its specific references of subject and object. If it is still asserted that consciousness cannot be separated from its self-manifesting capacities, then it may also be pointed out that consciousness is never found separated from the person, the subject, or the knower who possesses it. Instead of conceding the self-manifesting power to the infinite number of states of consciousness, is it not better to say that the self-manifestation of consciousness proceeds from the self-conscious agent, the subject and determiner of all conscious experiences? Even if the states of consciousness had been admitted as self-manifesting, that would not explain how the self could be self-manifesting on that account. If, however, the self, the knower of all experiences, be admitted as self-manifesting, then the manifestation of the conscious experiences becomes easily explained; for the self is the per-ceiver of all experiences.

All things require for their manifestation another category which does not belong to their class; but since also there is nothing on which the self can depend for its consciousness, it has to be admitted that the self is a self-manifesting intelligent entity. Thus the jug does not require for its manifestation another jug, but a light, which belongs to an altogether different class. The light also does not require for its manifestation another light, or the jug which it manifests, but the senses; the senses again depend on consciousness for the manifestation of their powers. Consciousness, in its turn, depends upon the self; without inhering in the self it cannot get itself manifested. The self, however, has nothing else to depend upon; its self-manifestation, therefore, does not depend on anything else.

The states of consciousness have thus to be regarded as being states of the self, which by its connection with different objects manifests them as this or that consciousness. Knowledge of this or that object is thus but different states of consciousness, which itself again is a characteristic of the self.

If consciousness had not been an inseparable qualitv or essential characteristic of the self, then there might have been a time when the self could have been experienced as being devoid of consciousness; a thing which is so related with another thing that it never exists without it must necessarily be an essential and inseparable characteristic thereof. It cannot be said that this generalization does not hold, since we are conscious of our self in connection with the body, which is not an essential characteristic of the self; for the consciousness of the self as “I,” or as “I know,” is not necessarily connected with a reference to, or association with, the body. Again, it cannot be said that, if consciousness were an essential and inseparable characteristic of the self, then the states of unconsciousness in deep sleep and swoon could not be explained; for there is nothing to prove that there is no consciousness of the knowing self during those so-called stages of unconsciousness.

We feel on waking that we had no consciousness at the time because we cease to have any memory of it. The reason therefore why states of unconsciousness are felt in the waking stage to be so is this, that we have no memory of those states. Memory is only possible when certain objects are apprehended and the impression of these objects of consciousness is left in the mind, so that through them the object of memory may be remembered. During deep sleep no objects are perceived, and no impressions are left, and, as a result, we cease to have any memory of those states. The self then remains with its characteristic self-consciousness, but without the consciousness of anything else. The self-conscious self does not leave any impression on the organs of the psychosis, the manas, etc., as they all then cease to act.

It is easy to understand that no impression can be made upon the self; for, if it could and if impressions had been continually heaped on the self, then such a self could never manage to get rid of them and could never attain emancipation. Moreover, it is the characteristic of the phenomenon of memory that, when a perception has once been perceived, but is not being perceived continually, it can be remembered now, when those past impressions are revived by association of similar perceptions. But the self-conscious self has always been the same and hence there cannot be any memory of it. The fact that on waking from deep sleep one feels that one has slept happily does not prove that there was actually any consciousness of happiness during deep sleep; it is only a happy organic feeling of the body resulting from sound sleep which is interpreted or rather spoken of as being the enjoyment of happiness during deep sleep. We say, “I am the same as I was yesterday,” but it is not the self that is remembered, but the particular time association that forms the content of memory.

Perception of objects is generated in us when consciousness comes in contact with the physical objects in association with this or that sense of perception. It is on that account that, though the self is always possessed of its self-consciousness, yet it is only when the consciousness of the self is in touch with an external object in association with a sense-organ that we get that particular sense-perception. This self is not all-pervading, but of an atomic size; when it comes in association with any particular sense, we acquire that particular sense-perception. This explains the fact that no two perceptions can be acquired simultaneously: where there is an appearance of simultaneity, there is only a succession of acquirement so rapid that changes cannot be noticed. Had the soul been all-pervading, we should have had the knowledge of all things at once, since the soul was in touch with all things. Thus it is proved that the self has consciousness as its essential characteristic; knowledge or consciousness is never produced in it, but when the obstructions are removed and the self comes into touch with the objects, the consciousness of these objects shines forth.

Footnotes and references:


The first sūtra of Bṛhaspati is atha tattvaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ ;
the second is prithivy-ap-tejo-vāyur iti tattvāni
and the third is tebhyuś caitanyuṃ kiṇvādi-bhyo mada-śaktivat.