A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

In his commentary on the Īśvara-gītā, Bhikṣu says that the more universal has a wider sphere than the less universal and therefore it is called Brahman in relation to it. The cause of an effect is wider and more universal than the effect and is therefore called Brahman in comparison with it. Thus there is a hierarchy of Brahmans. But that which is at the apex of the hierarchy is the highest universal and the ultimate cause, and is therefore called the highest Brahman. Brahman is thus the highest and the ultimate reality. The determinations that make the universe of matter exist in Brahman as merged in its nature as thought.

Creation means that these determinations which exist there in a potential form and without any operation are manifested and made operative as the world of nature. God in His nature as pure consciousness has a full and complete acquaintance of all the possible developments and modifications of the pre-matter as evolving into the actual universe. The starting point in the evolution of the pre-matter or prakṛti is the moment of its association with the spirits. The scriptural text says that the Lord entered into the prakṛti and the puruṣas, disturbed the equilibrium and associated them with one another.

The puruṣas are, however, like sparks of consciousness and it is not possible to produce any disturbance in them. The disturbance is thus produced in the prakṛti and the effect of such disturbance in the prakṛti on the puruṣas is interpreted as seeming disturbances in the puruṣas as well. The puruṣas are to be conceived as being parts of God and there cannot be a real identity between the puruṣas and the Brahman. The so-called identity between the puruṣas and the Brahman refers merely to the fact of the puruṣas being the constituent entities in the being of God such as that which exists between the parts and the whole. The assertion of the Śaṅkarites that the individual soul is the same as Brahman and that the difference is due to external limitations of nescience or on account of reflections through it is wrong. The kind of unity that exists between the individual souls and the Brahman lies in the fact that they are indistinguishable in character from it (avibhāga). If the reality of individual souls is denied, that would amount to a denial of religious and moral values and of bondage and emancipation.

In this connection it is also urged that the individual souls are derived from God just as sparks come out of fire or the son comes out of the father. The individual souls resemble God so far as they are of the nature of pure consciousness. But though they have come out of Him, yet they retain their individuality and thus preserves for them the sphere of their moral career. The individual souls are free and emancipated in their own nature, they are all-pervasive and they also hold the universe within them in their consciousness. In all these they share the nature of Brahman. But in association with the limiting conditions (upādhi) they appear as finite and limited. When the entire career of the individual souls is known as existing in Brahman as part of it, as being manifested out of it as separate entities, as leading a career of their own in association with the limiting conditions and ultimately dissociating themselves from them and realizing their own natures as one with Brahman and in a sense different from it, this is the true philosophic knowledge and realization of their own nature.

When the individuals start their career and destiny in life they are different from Brahman; but there was a time when they remained in one undivided unity with Brahman. But in spite of this unity the Brahman is always felt as different and as the other of the individuals, and this difference is never sublated[1]. But the difference of this view from the Sāṃkhya is that the Sāṃkhya is satisfied only with considering the individuality and separateness of the puruṣas, but the Vedāntic view as interpreted herein cannot ignore the fact that in spite of their separateness they are one in essence with Brahman and have sprung out of it, and after the fulfilment of their career of individuality and destiny will again be merged in it, and even during their mundane career have an aspect of undividedness with Brahman inasmuch as they are the powers or energies of it[2].

The difference that exists between the individuals and Brahman is most apparent during the mundane career on account of the fact that the world of nature has a separate existence in the consciousness of the individual centres and each one of them is limited to his own experiences. But at the time of dissolution, when the world of nature merges in the Brahman as a potential level of its energies, the individuals are also merged in it and have no separate spheres of experience for themselves and thus cease to have any descriptive definition of themselves.

The nature of the relation of part and whole that exists between the individuals and Brahman is regarded as that subsisting between the son and the father. The father is reborn in the son. Before birth the son lies in a state of undivided unity in the vital energy of the father and yet wrhen he separates out of him it is the same vital energy of the father that repeats itself in its new career and has a sphere of activity which is definitely its own. Again, w hen it is said that the individuals are parts of Brahman, it should not be interpreted to mean that they have any share in the existence of Brahman as God or world-creator. God is not homogeneous in His nature, but the element of individuation and differentiation always exists in Him. Had He been a homogeneous being His parts would have no specific differentiation and they would be like the parts of space which are always indistinguishable from one another. But the fact that God has within Him the principle of differentiation explains the fact that the individuals resemble Brahman only in the aspect of their consciousness but have no share in I lis creative functions or omnipotence.

The Sāṃkhyists hold that salvation is attained through dissociation of attachment as “mine” to one’s experiences, mental faculties, senses, understanding and body, owing to one’s knowledge of the fact that the self is the self-shining entity to which all experiences appear and within which they are held together as one with it though they are all different from it. But the Vedānta as herein interpreted holds that the attachment as “mine” vanishes with the know ledge of self as pure consciousness, with the knowledge of God as the being from which they come into being, by which they are maintained and into which they ultimately return, and with the know ledge that they all exist in the consciousness of God as parts of it; and that the self is not the real enjoyer of the experiences but is only the consciousness in which the universe and its experiences shine forth. Thus, though both in the Sāṃkhya and in the Vedānta as herein interpreted salvation is attained through the dissolution of the false attachment as “mine-ness,” the dissolution of “mine-ness” is here due to an entirely different philosophic conception[3].

Consciousness is not a quality but it is the very substance of the self. Just as light is a substance which illuminates other things, so consciousness is also a substance which illuminates other things. When one says “I know it,” knowledge appears to be a quality of “I” which is neither self nor a homogeneous entity. The “I” is a complex of sense-faculties, understanding, etc., to which a quality can be attributed; the self is not a complex entity, but a homogeneous simple substance—the consciousness. The complex entity, the “I,” expresses all things by a manifestation of consciousness. Bliss or happiness, however, cannot be regarded as a self-revealing substance, but it is an independent substance like sorrow which is revealed by consciousness. Neither the Brahman nor the self can therefore be regarded as being of the nature of bliss or happiness as this is a modification of prakṛti and has therefore to be regarded as expressible (dṛśya) and not as expressing (darśana).

The consciousness requires the intermediary of intellectual functions for the illumination of objects, but consciousness in itself does not require the intermediary of any other functions, as such a view would lead only to an infinite regressus without solving the point at issue. It is also wrong to suppose that the principle of consciousness exercises any operation in order to reveal itself, for an entity cannot operate on itself (karma-kartṛ-virodhāt). If for the above reasons the self cannot be regarded as being of the nature of bliss, then at the time of salvation also there cannot be any bliss in the self. There is only a cessation of sorrow at that time, or rather a cessation of both happiness and sorrow which is technically called a state of happiness or sukha (sukhaṃ duḥkha-sukhā-tyayaḥ)[4]. At the time of emancipation all conditioning factors such as the intellectual functions and the like are dissolved and as a consequence thereof all experiences of pleasure and pain also vanish, for these are substances belonging to objects which were presented to the self through these conditions. When the Upaniṣads say that the self is dearest to us, it need not necessarily be supposed that it is the pleasure that is dearest to us, for the self may be regarded as being valued for its own sake; it may also be supposed that pleasure here means the cessation of pain[5].

The desire for immortality or continued existence of the self illustrates the feeling of fondness that we all have for ourselves. The other view, that the ultimate object of realization is extermination of all sorrow is also not open to any objection on the ground that pleasure and pain never belonged to the selves; for the association of pleasure and pain is only with reference to their enjoyment and suffering and not directly as a bond of attachment to the self. The term “bhoga which may be translated only semi-accurately as “experience,” has a twofold application as referring to buddhi or psychosis and to puruṣa. The prakṛti is composed of sukha, duJikha and moha substances, and buddhi is an evolute of the prakṛti ; therefore, when the buddhi is in association with sukha or dulikha, such an association supplies the buddhi with the stuff of which it is made and thus sustains and maintains its nature and constitution. But when the word bhoga has a reference to puruṣa, it means that the pleasure or sorrow held in the buddhi is reflected on it and is thereby intuited. It is this intuition of pleasure and pain through their reflection in the puruṣa that is regarded as their bhoga or experience by puruṣa.

The buddhi cannot have any bhoga or experience, even in a remote sense of the term, for the simple reason that it is unconscious. But it may well be argued that since the puruṣa is not in reality the ego, it cannot have any experience in any real sense of the term; and since it cannot in reality have any experience of sorrow, it cannot in reality regard its cessation as being of the utmost value to it. The reply to such an objection is that the realization of the fact that the cessation of sorrow is of ultimate value to the experiencer, the puruṣa, leads the suddhi on its onward path of progress. Had it not been so there would be no movement of the buddhi on lines of utility. So though pleasure and pain do not belong to puruṣa, they may yet be experienced by it and the buddhi may be guided by such experiences.

When the Upaniṣad says “that art thou,” the idea at the back of it is that the self is not to be identified with any of the elements of the psychosis—the buddhi —or with any of the evolutes of the prakṛti. The self is part of the pure consciousness—the Brahman. When a man learns from the Upaniṣad text or one’s teacher that he is a part of Brahman he tries to realize it through a process of meditation. The difference of the Yedāntic view from that of Sāṃkhya is that the latter rests with the individual selves as the ultimate entities whereas the former emphasizes the Brahman as the ultimate reality, and also the fact that the reality of all other things, the selves and the matter, depends ultimately on their participation in it.

Footnotes and references:



ata idaṃ brahmā-tma-jñānam vivikta-jīva-jñānāt sāṃkḥyo-ktād api śre-ṣṭham.
I. I. 2.


Vijñānā-mṛta-bhāṣya, p. 56.


Vijñānā-mṛtā-bhāṣya, I. 1. 2.


ātmatvasyā’pi prema-prayojakatvāt duḥkha-nivṛtti-rūpattvād vā bodhyam.

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