A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

This page describes the philosophy of a general idea of vijnana bhikshu’s philosophy: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the first part in the series called the “the philosophy of vijnana bhikshu”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 1 - A General Idea of Vijñāna Bhikṣu’s Philosophy

The ultimate goal is not the cessation of sorrow, but the cessation of the experience of sorrow; for when in the state of emancipation one ceases to experience sorrow, the sorrow as such is not emancipated since it remains in the world and others suffer from it. It is only the emancipated individual who ceases to experience sorrow. The ultimate state of emancipation cannot be a state of bliss, for since there are no mental organs and no mind in this state there cannot be any experience of bliss. The self cannot itself be of the nature of bliss and be at the same time the experiencer of it. When it is said that self is of the nature of bliss (ānanda), the word bliss is there used in a technical sense of negation of sorrow.

Bhikṣu admits a gradation of realities. He holds that one is stabler and more real than the other. Since paramātmā is always the same and does not undergo any change or transformation or dissolution, he is more real than the prakṛti or puruṣa or the evolutes of prakṛti. This idea has also been expressed in the view of the Purāṇas that the ultimate essence of the world is of the nature of knowledge which is the form of the paramātman. It is in this essential form that the world is regarded as ultimately real and not as prakṛti and puruṣa which are changing forms; prakṛti, so far as it exists as a potential power in God, is regarded as non-existent but so far as it manifests itself through evolutionary changes it is regarded as existent. The state of emancipation is brought about by the dissociation of the subtle body consisting of the five tammātras and the eleven senses. Consequent upon such a dissociation the self as pure consciousness is merged in Brahman as the rivers mingle with the ocean, a state not one of identity but identity-in-difference.

According to the Sāṃkhya, emancipation cannot be attained until the fruits of the karmas which have ripened for giving experiences of pleasure and pain are actually exhausted through experiencing them, i.e. even when ignorance or avidyā is destroyed the attainment of the emancipation is delayed until the prārabdha karma is finished. The Yogin, however, can enter into an objectless state of meditation (asamprajñāta yoga) and this wards off the possibility of experiencing the prārabdha karma. From the state of asamprajñāta samādhi he can at will pass into a state of emancipation. The state of emancipation is reached not merely by realizing the purport of the text of the Upaniṣads but by philosophic wisdom attained through a reasoned process of thought and by the successive stages of Yoga meditation.

The world does not emanate directly from Brahman as pure consciousness, nor are the kāla, prakṛti and puruṣa derived from Brahman through transformatory changes (pariṇāma). Had the world come into being directly from Brahman, evil and sins would have been regarded as coming into being from it. With the association of sattva through the beginningless will of God at the beginning of the previous cycles the Brahman behaves as Īśvara and brings into actual being the prakṛti and the puruṣa which are already potentially existent in God, and connects the prakṛti with the puruṣa. The moment of God’s activity in bringing out the prakṛti and puruṣa may be regarded as kāla. In this sense kāla is often regarded as the dynamic agency of God. Though puruṣas in themselves are absolutely static, yet they have a seeming movement as they are always associated with prakṛti, which is ever in a state of movement, kāla as the dynamic agency of God is naturally associated with the movement of prakṛti, for both the prakṛti and the puruṣa are in themselves passive and are rendered active by the dynamic agency of God. This dynamic agency is otherwise called kāla, and as such it is an eternal power existing in Brahman, like the prakṛti and puruṣa.

In all other forms of actual existence kāla is determinate and conditioned, and as such non-eternal and to some extent imaginary. It is only as the eternal power that subsists in and through all the operations of dynamic activity that kāla maybe called eternal. The kāla that produces the connection of the prakṛti and the puruṣa and also produces the mahat is non-eternal and therefore does not exist at the time of pralaya when no such connection exists. The reason for this is that the kāla that produces the connection between prakṛti and puniṣa is a determinate kāla which is conditioned, on the one hand by the will of God, and, on the other, by the effects it produces. It is this determinate kāla that can be designated as present, past and future. But the terms present, past and future imply an evolutionary change and such a change implies activity; it is this activity as dissociated from the manifest forms of kāla as present, past and future that can be regarded as eternal[1].

[2] (somewhere in below paragraph(s))

The reference to the Atharva-Veda, as noted below in the footnote, will show how the conception of time in very ancient eras reveals “time” as a separate entity or energy which has brought everything into being, maintains it, and destroys everything. The God, parameṣṭhin Brahman or prajāpati is said to be derived from it. In the Maitrī Upaniṣad we also hear of the conception of kāla or time as akāla or timeless. The timeless time is the primordial time which is only the pure energy unmeasured and immeasurable. It appears in a measurable form when, after the production of the sun from it, it is measured in terms of the movement of the sun. The entire course of natural phenomena is thus seen to be an emanation or manifestation of the energy of time undirected by any other superintendent. Such a conception of time seems to be of an atheistic character, for even the highest gods, the parameṣṭhin and the prajāpati, are said to be produced from it.

In the first chapter of the anuśāsana parvan of the Mahābhārata there is a dialogue between Gautamī, whose son was bitten by a serpent, the hunter who was pressing for killing the serpent, the serpent, the mṛtyu or death and kāla. It appears from the dialogue that time is not only the propeller of all events by itself but all states of sattva, rajas and tamas, all that is moving and the unmoved in the heaven and in the earth, all our movements and cessation of movements, the sun, the moon, the waters, the fire, the sky, the earth, the rivers, the oceans and all that is being or not being are of the nature of time and brought into being by time and dissolved in time. Time is thus the original cause. Time, however, operates in accordance with the laws of karma; there is thus the beginningless relation between time and karma which determines the courses of all events. Karma in itself is also a product of time and as such determines the future modes of the operation of time. Here we have an instance of the second stage, the conception of time as the transcendental and immanent cause of all things. Here time is guided by karma. In the third stage of the conception of time, which is found in the purāṇas and also adopted by Bhikṣu, it is regarded as the eternal dynamic power inherent in Brahman and brought into operation by the will of God[3].

'The word puruṣa is often used in the scriptural text in the singular number, but that signifies only that it is used in a generic sense, cf. Sāṃkhya-sūtra, I. 154 (na’dvaita-śruti-virodho jāti-paratvāt)[4]. The difference between the superior puruṣa or God and the ordinary puruṣas is that while the latter are subject to experiences of pleasure and pain as a result of the actions or karma, the former has an eternal and continual experience of bliss through its reflection from its sattvamaya body to itself. 'The ordinary puruṣas, however, have not the experience of pleasure and pain as of constitutive definition, for in the stage of saintliness (jīvanmukti) they have no such experiences. God can, however, have an experience of the experiences of pleasure and pain of other puruṣas without having been affected by them. The ultimate principle or the Brahman is a principle of pure consciousness which underlies the reality of both the puruṣas, prakṛti and its evolutes; and it is because they are emergent forms which have their essence in the Brahman that they can appear as connected together. The movement of the prakṛti is also ultimately due to the spontaneous movement of the pure consciousness, the basic reality.

The viveka and the aviveka, the distinction and the nondistinction, are all inherent in buddhi, and this explains why the puruṣas fail to distinguish themselves from the buddhi with which they are associated. The association of the puruṣas with the buddhi implies that it has in it both the characters of distinction and non-distinction. The difficulty is that the “revelation of the distinction” is so opposed by the force of non-distinction that the former cannot find scope for its manifestation. It is the purpose of yoga to weaken the force of the tendency towards non-distinction and ultimately uproot it so that revelation of distinction may manifest itself. Now it may be asked what is the nature of this obstruction. It may be replied that it is merely a negative condition consisting in the non-production of the cognition of the distinction through association with the products of prakṛti, such as attachment and antipathy, through which we are continually passing.

The Sāṃkhya, however, says that the non-production of the distinction is due to the extreme subtleness of the nature of buddhi and puruṣa which so much resemble each other that it is difficult to distinguish their nature. But this view of the Sāṃkhya should not be interpreted as meaning that it is only the subtleness of the natures of these two entities that arrests our discriminating knowledge regarding them. For had it been so, then the process of yoga would be inefficacious in attaining such a knowledge. The real reason is that our association with attachment and antipathy with regard to gross objects obstructs our discriminating vision regarding these subtle entities. Our attachment to gross objects is also due to our long association with sense-objects. A philosopher, therefore, should try to dissociate himself from attachment with gross objects. The whole purpose of creation consists in furnishing materials for the experiences of puruṣa which seems to undergo all experiential changes of enjoyment and suffering, of pleasure and pain, in and through the medium of buddhi.

With the dissociation of buddhi, therefore, all experience ceases. The God is essentially pure consciousness, and though the knowledge of Him as such brings about liberation, yet epithets of omnipotence, all-pervasiveness and other personal characteristics are attributed to Him because it is through an approach to God as a super-personal Being that devotion is possible, and it is through devotion and personal attachment that true knowledge can arise. It is said in the scriptures that God cannot be realized by tapas, gifts or sacrifices, but only by bhakti[5]. The highest devotion is of the nature of love (attyuttamā bhaktiḥ prema-lakṣaṇā).

God remains within all as the inner controller and everything is revealed to^ His super-conscioūsness without the mediation of sense-consciousness. God is called all-pervasive because He is the cause of all and also because He is the inner controller.

Bhakti consists in the whole process of listening to God’s name, describing His virtues, adoration to Him, and meditation ultimately leading to true knowledge. These are all to be designated as the service of God. These processes of operations constituting bhakti are all to be performed with love. Bhikṣu quotes Garuḍa purāṇa to prove that the root “bhaj” is used in the sense of service. He also refers to the Bhāgavata to show that the true bhakti is associated with an emotion which brings tears to the eyes, melts the heart and raises the hairs of the body. Through the emotion of bhakti one dissolves oneself as it were and merges into God’s existence, just as the river Ganges does into the ocean.

It will be seen from the above that Bhikṣu urges on the doctrine of bhakti as love, as a way to the highest realization. The metaphysical views that he propounded give but small scope for the indulgence of such an attitude towards divinity. For, if the Ultimate Reality be of the nature of pure consciousness, we cannot have any personal relations with such a Being. The ultimate state of realization is also the entrance into a state of non-ditference with this Ultimate Being, who is not Himself a person, and therefore no personal relations ought to be possible with Him. In the Vijñānā-mṛta-bhāṣya, iv. i. 3, Bhikṣu says that at the time of dissolution or emancipation the individuals are not associated with any content of knowledge, and are therefore devoid of any consciousness, and being of the nature of unconscious entities like wood or stone they enter into the all-illuminating great Soul just as rivers enter into the ocean.

Again, it is this great Soul that out of its own will sends them forth like sparks of fire and distinguishes them from one another and goads them to action[6]. This great Soul or paramātman is the inner-controller and mover of our selves. But it may be remembered that this great Soul is not also the Ultimate Principle, the pure consciousness, but is the manifestation of the pure consciousness in association with the sattvamaya body. Under the circumstances the metaphysical position does not allow of any personal relation between the human beings and the Ultimate Entity. But yet the personal relation with the divinity as the ultimate consciousness not being philosophically possible, that relation is ushered in more out of a theistic tendency of Bhikṣu than as a necessary natural conclusion.

The theistic relation is also conceived in a mystical fashion in the indulgence of the emotions of love rising to a state of intoxication. Such a conception of Divine love is found in the Bhāgavata-purāṇa ; and later on in the school of Vaiṣṇavism preached by Caitanya. It is different from the conception of devotion or bhakti as found in the system of Rāmānuja, where bhakti is conceived as incessant continual meditation. He seems to have been, therefore, one of the earliest, if not the earliest, exponent of emotionalism in theism, if we do not take into account the Purāṇic emotionalism of the Bhāgavata-purāṇa. There are instances in the writings of modern European philosophers also, where the difficult position does not justify an emotionalism that is preached merely out of the theistic experiences of a personal nature, and as an illustration one may refer to the idea of God of Pringle Pattison. In the conception of jīva or individuals also there seems to be an apparent contradiction. For while the puruṣas are sometimes described as pure consciousness, they are at other times described as inert and wholly under the domination of paramātman.

The contradiction is to be solved by the supposition that the inertness is only relative, i.e. the puruṣas are to be regarded as themselves inactive, being goaded to action by the inlying controller, paramātman. They are called “jaḍa,” resembling stone or wood only in the sense that they are inactive in themselves. But this inactivity should not be associated with want of consciousness. Being sparks of the eternal consciousness they are always of the nature of consciousness. Their activity, however, is derived from the paramātman, so that, drawn by Him, they come out of the Eternal consciousness and play the role of a mundane individual and ultimately return to Brahman like rivers into the ocean at the time of emancipation. This activity of God is an eternal activity, an eternal creative impulse which is absolutely without any extraneous purpose (cararna-kāraṇasya kṛteḥ nityatvāt)[7]. It proceeds from the spontaneous joy of God in a spontaneous manner like the process of breathing, and has no reference to the fulfilment of any purpose.

In the Vyāsa-bhāṣya it is said that the creation of God is for the benefit of living beings. But Bhikṣu does not support any purpose at all. This activity is sometimes compared with the purposeless playful activity. But Bhikṣu says that even if there is any slight purpose in play that also is absent in the activity of God. The action also proceeds spontaneously with the creative desire of God, for which no body or senses are necessary. I le is identical with the whole universe and as such I Iis action has no objective outside of Himself, as in the case of ordinary actions. It is He who, depending upon the beginningless karma of human beings, makes them act for good or for evil. The karma itself, also being a part of His energy and a manifestation of I Iis impulse, cannot be regarded as limiting His freedom[8]. The analogy of the doctrine of grace where the king bestows his grace or withholds it in accordance with the good or bad services of his serv ants is also regarded as helpful to conceive of the freedom of God in harmony with the deeds of the individual.

If it is argued now, if the creative activity of God is eternal, it can depend on the karma, Bhikṣu’s reply is that the karmas act as accessory causes determining the eternal creative impulse of God as producing pleasurable and painful experiences. Following the trend of the Purāṇic method Bhikṣu further suggests that it is the Hiraṇyagarbha created by God who appears as the law-giver of the law of karma, as manifested in the spontaneous activity of God. It is He, therefore, who is responsible for the suffering of humanity in accordance with their karmas. God helps the process only by letting it go on in an unobstructed manner[9]. In another passage he says that God perceives within Himself as parts of Him the jīvas and their conditioning factors (upādhi) as associated with merit and demerit (dharma and adharma)\ associating these conditions with the jīvas He brings them out of Himself. He is thus the maker of souls, just as the potter is the maker of pots[10].

The self is regarded as being itself untouchable and devoid of any kind of association (a-śaṅga). The association between prakṛti and puruṣa, therefore, is not to be interpreted in the sense of a direct contact in the ordinary sense of the term, but the association is to be understood only as transcendental reflection through the conditioning factors which make the pure soul behave as a phenomenal self or jīva. The self has no knowledge as its quality or character, and is in itself pure consciousness, and there is at no time a cessation of this consciousness, which exists even during dreamless sleep. But in dreamless sleep there is no actual knowledge, as there is no content present at the time; and it is for that reason that the consciousness though present in the very nature of the self cannot be apperceived.

The vāsanās or desires existing in the antaḥ-karaṇa cannot affect the pure soul, for at that time the antaḥkaraṇa remains in a dissolved condition. Knowledge of contents or objects is possible only through reflections from the states of the buddhi. The pure consciousness being identical with the self, there cannot also be the self-consciousness involving the notion of a duality as subject and object during dreamless sleep. The pure consciousness remains the same and it is only in accordance with changes of mental state that knowledge of objects arises and passes away[11]. The jīvas are thus not to be regarded as themselves the products of the reflection of paramātman as the Śaṅkarites suppose; for in that case the jīvas would be absolutely unreal, and bondage and emancipation would also be unreal.

Footnotes and references:


Atharva-Veda, xix. 54. In the Atḥarva-Veda time is regarded as a generator of the sky and the earth and all beings exist through time. Tapas and Brahman exist in time and time is the god of all. Time produced all creatures. The universe has been set in motion by time, has been produced by it and is supported in it. Time becoming Brahman supports parameṣṭhin. In the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad time is regarded as being held by the sun as the ultimate cause. In the Maitrī Upaniṣad, vi. 14, it is said that from time all creatures spring, grow and decay.

Time is a formless form

(kālāt sravanti bhūtāni, kālāt vṛddhiṃ prayānti ca. |
kāle cā’staṃ niyacchanti kālo mūrtir amūrtimān).

It is again stated in the same work that there are two forms of Brahman, Time and no-Time.


That which is before the sun is no-Time and is devoid of parts, and that which is after the sun is Time with parts.


In the Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā, the work of the Pañcarātra school, niyati (destiny) and kāla (time) are the two manifestations of the power of transcendent kāla as arising from aniruddha. From this kāla first arises the sattia-guṇa and from that the rajn-gwui and thence the tamo-gima.

It is further said that it is time which connects and separates. The kāla of course in its own turn derives its power from the self-perceiving activity (sudar - śana) of Viṣṇu. That the prakṛti transforms itself into its evolutes is also due to the dynamic function of kāla.

The Māṭhara vṛtti on the Sāṃkhya-kārikā, however, refers to the doctrine of kāla as the cause of the world (kālaḥ sṛjati bhutani, kālaḥ saṃharate prajāḥ | kālaḥ supteṣu jāgarti tasmāt kālas tu kāraṇam) and refutes it by say ing that there is no separate entity as kāla (kālo nāma na kaś cit padārtho'sti), there are only three categories, ryakta, aryakta and puruṣa, and kāla falls within them (vyaktam aiyaktam puruṣa iti trayah era padārthāh tatra kālo antarbhutaḥ).


The Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā, however, explains the singular number by the concept of a conglomeration of puruṣa or a colony of cells, as the honey-comb, which behaves as a totality and also in a multiple capacity as separate cells. Ahirbudhnya-saṃhitā, VI. 33.


ahaṃ prakṛṣṭaḥ bhaktito'anyaiḥ sādhanaiḥ draṣṭuṃ na
śakyaḥ, bhaktir eva kevalā mad-darśane sādhanam.
(MS. borrowed from N. N. Gopīnātha Kavirāja, late Principal, Queen’s College, Benares).


tasmāt pralaya-mokṣā-dau viṣaya-sambandhā-bhāvāt kāṣṭḥa-loṣṭrā-divat jaḍāḥ sānto jīvā madhyand’nā-dityavat sadā sarvā-vabhāsake paramā-tmani vilīyante samudre nada-nadya iva punasca sa eva paramā-tmā sve-cchayā gni-vissphul iṅgavat tā-nupāyi-sambandhena svato vibhajyā’ntaryāmī sa na prerayati tathā coktaṃ cakṣuṣmatā’ndhā iva nīyamānā iti ataḥ sa eva mukhya ātmā-ntaryāmy amṛtaḥ.
iv. i. 3.


See Vijñānā-mṛta-bhāṣya, ii. i. 32.


Ibid. 11. 1. 33.


Vijñānā-mṛta-bhāṣya, II. i. 33.


īśvaro hi svā-ṃśa-sva-śarīrā-ṃśa-tulyau jīva-tad-upādhī svā-ntar-gatau dharmā-di-sahitau sākṣād eva paśyann a-para-tantraḥ sva-līlayā saṃyoga-viśeṣaṃ brahmā-dmām api dur-vibhāvyaṃ kurvat kurnbhakāra iva ghaṭam.
II. 1. 13.


Ibid. II. 3. 5.

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