A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of acit or primeval matter (the prakriti and its modifications): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the fifth part in the series called the “the philosophy of yamunacarya”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 5 - Acit or Primeval Matter: the Prakṛti and its modifications

Proceeding to describe the nature of matter, Veṅkaṭanātha tries to disprove the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika theory of atoms. The smallest particle of matter is that which is visible in the sun’s rays coming in through a chink or hole. The imagination of still finer particles, which may be called dyads or atoms, is not attested by experience; for these cannot be perceived. They cannot be compared to the small invisible pollen of flowers which makes the air carrying it fragrant; for these small particles possess the quality of smell, whereas atoms are subtle particles which do not possess any perceivable characteristic.

Even inference cannot establish these atoms; for, if we suppose that particles when divided could be further divided until we could arrive at the limit of division, beyond which no division was possible, and that these subtlest particles could be called atoms, this would be impossible, for the atoms of Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika are not only the smallest particles but they are considered to have a special kind of measure (pārimāṇḍalya) as their characteristic, and this we have no data for inferring. If only the smallness is the criterion, we may better stop at the trasa-reṇu (the dust particles in the air). There are also other objections against the atomic theory, such as have been propounded by Śaṅkarācārya, that the partless atoms cannot come into touch with other atoms or form together into one whole, or that the pārimaṇ-ḍalya measure of the paramāṇu should not generate a different kind of measure in the dyad (dvy-aṇuka), or that the dyad ought not to generate quite another kind of measure in the trasa-reṇu. The world cannot thus be accepted as due to the conglomeration of atoms or trasa-reṇus.

Prakṛti containing the three qualities of sattva, rajas and tamas has thus to be admitted as the primal matter. The state of it just preceding ahaṅkāra and just following its state as prakṛti (the state in which, all its three qualities being the same, there is no manifestation of any particular quality) is called mahat. The next state, which follows mahat and precedes the senses, is called ahaṅkāra. The mahat and ahaṇkāra are not subjective states of buddhi or ego, as some Śāmkhyists would think, but are two successive cosmic stages of the prakṛti, the primeval cosmic matter. The ahaṇkāra is of three kinds, sāttvika, rājasa and tāmasa. The senses are not products of elements, as the Vaiśeṣika supposed, but represent the functional cognitional powers in association with the eye, nose, skin, etc. It is manas whose states are variously called imagination, determination, etc.

Lokācārya describes prakṛti as being of three kinds, namely

  1. that which contains the purest sattva characters and forms the material of the abode of Īśvara;
  2. that which contains the threefold characters of sattva, rajas and tamas and forms the ordinary world for us.
  3. (?)

This is the field of Īśvara’s play. It is called prakṛti because it produces all transformations, avidyā because it is opposed to all true knowledge, and māyā because it is the cause of all diverse creations. As we have mentioned before, the guṇas of prakṛti are its qualities, and not the Sāṃkhya reals. Creation is produced by the rise of opposite qualities in the prakṛti. The tan-mātras are those states of matter in which the specific elemental qualities are not manifested.

The order of the genesis of the tan-mātras is described by some as follows:

  • first the bhūtādi, from it śabda-tan-matra, and from that the ākāśa;
  • again, from ākāśa comes sparśa-tan-mātra (vibration-potential), followed by vāyu;
  • from vāyu comes the rūpa-tan-mātra (light-potential) and from that tejas (light and heat);
  • from tejas comes rasa-tan-mātra (taste-potential), and thence water;
  • from water comes gandha-tan-mātra (smell-potential), and from that earth.

Other theories of the genesis of the bhūtas are also described, but we omit them here, as they are not of much value. Varavara says that time is regarded as the prakṛti without its sattva quality, but Veṅkaṭanātha speaks of time as existing in the nature of Īśvara as a special form of His manifestation. Space (dik) is not an entity different from ākāśa, which offers room for the movement of things. Ākāśa is not a mere vacuity or non-occupiedness, but a positive entity.

Thus it is seen that the indeterminate matter of prakṛti, w ith its three qualities, passes through many stages and at last exhibits the phenomenal world, which produces happiness and misery in accordance with a man’s destiny (adṛṣṭā) and good or bad deeds. The force of adrṣṭa is not a separate entity, but the favour and disfavour of Īśvara, which works in accordance with the good or bad deeds of men.

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