A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 3

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

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

Śaṅkara, in his commentary on the Vedānta-sūtra, I. 1.4, discusses the meaning of the term avyakta and holds that it has no technical meaning but is merely a negation of vyakta or manifested form. He says that the word avyakta is compounded of the negative particle na and vyakta. He points out that since the term avyakta has thus a mere etymological meaning and signifies merely the unmanifested, it cannot be regarded as having a technical application to the Pradhāna of Sāṃkhya. The avyakta according to Śaṅkara thus means the subtle cause, but he does not think that there is an independent subtle cause of the world corresponding to the Pradhāna of the Sāṃkhya[1]. He holds that this primal state of the existence of the universe is dependent upon God and is not an independent reality. Without the acceptance of such a subtle power abiding in God, God cannot be a creator. For without power God cannot move Himself towards creation; it is the seed power called avidyā which is denoted by the term avyakta. It is the great sleep of māyā (māyāmayī mahā-supti) depending upon God. In it all the jīvas lie without any self-awakening. The potency of the seed power is destroyed by knowledge in the case of emancipated beings and for that reason they are not born again[2].

Vācaspati, in commenting on it in his Bhāmatī, says that there are different avidyās with reference to different selves. Whenever an individual attempts to gain wisdom, the avidyā associated with him is destroyed, though the avidyā associated with other individuals remains the same. Thus, even though one avidyā is destroyed, the other avidyās may remain in an operative condition and may produce the world. In the case of the Sāṃkhyists, however, who admit on e pradhāna, its destruction would mean the destruction of all. Vācaspati says further that if it is held that though the pradhāna remains the same yet the avidyā as non-distinction between puruṣa and the buddhi is responsible for bondage, then there is no necessity of admitting the prakṛti at all. The existence and the non-existence of avidyā would explain the problem of bondage and emancipation.

The objection that the distinction of selves depends upon avidyā and the distinction of avidyā upon the distinction of the selves is invalid, for the process is beginningless. The term avyakta refers to avidyā in a generic sense as including all avidyās. The avidyā rests in the individual but is yet dependent upon God as its agent and object. The avidyā cannot come into operation without having the Brahman as its support, though the real nature of the selves is Brahman; yet, so long as they are surrounded by avidyā, they cannot know their real nature.

In reply Bhikṣu says that since without power God alone is unable to create the manifold universe it has to be admitted that God does so by a power distinct from Him, and this power is the prakṛti and the puruṣa. If it is said that this power is avidyā, then also since it is a dual factor separate from Brahman that may as much nullify the monistic doctrine as the admission of prakṛti and puruṣa. It cannot also be said that in the time of pralaya the avidyā is non-existent, for in that case there being only Brahman the world would have to be admitted as coming into being from Brahman alone, and the selves that lie identified with Brahman and one with Him would, even though emancipated, undergo the world-process (saṃsāra). If it is held that bondage and emancipation are all imaginary, then there is no reason why people should undergo so much trouble in order to attain an imaginary emancipation. If it is held that avidyā may be said to have a secondary or vyavahārika existence at the time of pralaya, and if it is argued that under the circumstances bondage and emancipation may also be regarded as having a merely secondary existence, the view of monism would be unexceptional. But if such an avidyā be admitted which has mere vyavahārika or secondary existence, the same may be supposed with regard to pradhāna.

If we inquire into the meaning and significance of the term vyavahārika, we find that its connotation is limited to the power of effectuation and service towards the fulfilment of the purpose. If that is so, then prakṛti may also be admitted to have a similar kind of existence[3]. It is true no doubt that the pradhāna is regarded as eternal, but this eternality is an eternality of ceaseless change. Avidyā is regarded by the Vedāntists as apāramārthikā, that is, avidyā is not true absolutely. This negation of absolute truth may mean that it is not immediate and self-apparent or that it cannot manifest itself as being or that it has no existence in all times. Hut such limitations are true also of pradhāna.

The pradhāna is eternal as changeful, but it is non-eternal in all its products. All the products of prakṛti are destructible; being unintelligent by nature they can never be self-apparent. Again, though pradhāna may be said to be existent in any particular form at any particular time, yet even at that time it is non-existent in all its past and future forms. 'Thus, since vyavahārikatva cannot mean absolute non-existence (like the hare’s horn) and since it cannot also mean absolute existence it can only mean changefulness (pariṇāmittva); and such an existence is true of the pradhāna. Thus Śaṅkarites do not gain anything in criticizing the doctrine of pradhāna, as a substitute of the avidyā is supposed by them to be endowed with the same characteristics as those of the prakṛti.

It is thus evident that Śaṅkara’s criticism against prakṛti may well apply to the prakṛti of Īśvara Kṛṣṇa, but it has hardly any application to the doctrine of prakṛti as conceived in the Purāṇas as interpreted by Bhikṣu, where prakṛti is regarded as a power of Brahman. If avidyā is also so regarded, it becomes similar to prakṛti. As it is believed to be existent in a potential form in God, even in the pralaya, most of the connotations of avidyā that distinguish it from the absolute reality in the Brahman are prakṛti the connotations of prakṛti.

According to the view propounded by Bhikṣu pradhāna is not regarded as having a separate and independent existence but onlv as a power of God[4].

In explaining Brahma-sūtra I. 4. 23, Bhikṣu points out that Īśvara has no other upādhi than prakṛti. All the qualities of Īśvara such as bliss, etc., proceed from prakṛti as is shown in Patañjali-sūtra. Prakṛti is to be regarded as the characteristic nature of Brahman, which is not directly the material cause of the world, but is only the abiding or the ground cause (adhiṣṭhāna-kāraṇa), and prakṛti, as it were, is its own character or part (svīyo bhāvuh padārtha upādhir ity arthaḥ). 'The relation between this upādhi and prakṛti is one of the controller and the controlled or the possessor and the possessed. The fact that God can think or will also testifies to the fact that God must have as His instrument the prakṛti which can make such thinking possible for Him. For God is in Himself only pure consciousness. Prakṛti, however, behaves as the upādhi of God with its purer parts of the eternally pure sattva. Kāla and adrṣṭa also form part of the prakṛti and as such are not regarded as the separate powers of God.

Footnotes and references:


 yadi vayaṃ sva-tantraṃ kāñcit prāg-avasthāṃ jagataḥ kāraṇatvenā’ bhyupagacchema praṣañjayema tadā pradhāna-kāraṇa-vādam.
I. 4 - 3


muktanam ca punar an utpattiḥ; kutaḥ vidyayā tasyā vīja-śakter dāhāt.


pradhānepīdaṃ tulyaṃ pradhāne artha-kriyā-kāritva-rūpa-vyavahārika-sattvasyai’vā’smākam iṣṭattvāt.
I. 4. 3.


Prakṛ tasya tad-upapattaye pradiumaṃ karaṇatva-śariravac chaktividhavai’vo’cyate na svatantryene’ty a vadhāryata ity arthaḥ.
Vijñānū-mṛta-bhaṣya . I. 4. 4.

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