Philosophy of Charaka-samhita

by Asokan. G | 2008 | 88,742 words

Ayurveda, represented by Charaka and Sushruta, stands first among the sciences of Indian intellectual tradition. The Charaka-samhita, ascribed to the great celebrity Charaka, has got three strata. (1) The first stratum is the original work composed by Agnivesha, the foremost of the six disciples of Punarvasu Atreya. He accomplished the work by coll...

The Foundational “Self” (cetanādhātu)

Caraka does not regard individual selves and the world as self supporting. On the contrary, he conceives a transcendental entity as their foundational cause. This foundational “Self” is called cetanādhātupuruṣa . The word cetanādhātu, as it signifies, is not consciousness but the conscious.[1] Consciousness is its inherent quality or content in the unmanifested form.

Cakrapāṇi, while commending on “śloka” I.1.48, says that consciousness does not belong to the inner self in itself. It is attained only by its contact with the senses.[2] He is also of the opinion that in final renunciation, there happens a total irradiation of all kinds of knowledge including the ultimate knowledge leading to liberation.[3] Keeping in conformity with Cakrapāṇi, Dasgupta reiterates the same opinion.[4] Elsewhere he states that though the self is eternal, yet the rise of consciousness is occasional.[5] Referring to such remarks Debiprasad Cattopadhyaya opines that in modern terminology this can only mean that the spirit is a product of matter, for prakṛti simply means primeval matter.[6] Accordingly, both the scholars agree to the point that the “Self” is not consciousness. But they differ in the second point that the “Self” is conscious. S.K. Ramachandra Rao also reiterates the same opinion.[7] But P. V. Sharma disagrees with Dasgupta. He makes the unique opinion that Dasgupta might have been mislead by the commentary of Cakrapāṇi and expresses the view that the Self is conscious and it manifests by its contact with the sense.[8]

The foundational “Self” construed by Caraka is not without consciousness for the following reasons:

(1) “Self” is a spiritual substance (adhyātmadravya)[9] which means that it is an inherent cause of consciousness (cetana). Moreover he regards conciousness as a quality of the “Self”.[10]

It is true that, in coherence with the classical Sāṃkhyas, Caraka further construe budhi as the direct evolute of the unmanifest (avyakta) and, perphas this may seem to be contradictory to the above said idea. But there is no contradiction at all. The evolute buddhi referes to the empirical consciousness. Consciousness at this level can have objects which are presented to it. The very nature of empirical consciousness is to have states. It is because of the presence of the non-conscious ontological element in the very structure of empirical consciousness[11] that he regards buddhi as the instrumental cause of cognition.[12] Determinate cognition (adhyvasāya) is only the modification of the empirical consciousness by which the inner self becomes aware of the objective world.[13]

(2) The “Self” (ātmā), is described as a conscious agent of every creation. The “Self”, in particular, is being recognized as an efficient cause or agent of the creation of the body. On the basis of this, it has been concluded that there must be a conscious agent essential for the creation, in the same way as an agent is needed for the construction of a pot or a house. Caraka calls them ignorant persons devoid of rational outlook and scriptural knowledge and who deny the existence of such a conscious agent.[14]

(3) Even if, for the sake of argument, the first assertion of Cakrapāṇiis admitted to have been made of the empirical self, then also it is not true. The empirical self is not with out the mind at any time and hence there is always consciousness in the empirical self.[15] Even the self in the subtle body that transmigrates is transcendental and is not with out consciousness.[16] It is a fact that there disappears consciousness in the final freedom as has been pointed out by Cakrapāṇi. But it is not a total eradication. On the contrary, it is the disappearance of the transient, empirical consciousness having subjectivity (saviṣayakajñāna). The formless consciousness (nirviṣayakajñāna) inherent in the “Self” still remains there. Caraka says that in final freedom all ephemeral experiences; determinate and differential cognitions having name gets eradicated and attain the state of Brahman.[17] But the important thing to be noted in this context is that the knowledge specified is the knowledge having a name (sasaṃjñājñāna). It connotes only the empirical knowledge or awareness having name and form (sākārajñāna) and not the formless and nameless consciousness (nirākārajñāna).

(4) If the consciousness is denied to exist in the “Self”, as has been asserted by Cakrapāṇi, then the “Self” would become a bare substance which makes it nothing different from the physical substances. Moreover the consciousness that is being told of (in 1.1.56) as emerging by the contact of the self with the mind, sense capacities, and objects of senses refer only to the determinate cognition; the cognition having objectivity (saviṣayakajñāna)that arises in the empirical subject.

(5) Caraka himself has clearly stated that the self is jñaḥ (pocessing consciousness) and the consciousness of the self is manifested in empirical consciousness when the self is in contact with the instruments of knowledge. If the instruments of cognition are impeded, cognition will be generated in the same way as a mirror or water covered with impurities is unable to reflect an image.[18] What is implied is that that there is always consciousness in the “Self” which is formless (nirākāra). This formless consciousness, at the empirical level, attains form and name when objects are presented to it by the contact of instruments of knowledge.

(6) The interpretation of śloka 1.1.56 given by Cakrapāṇi is not tenable. The intended meaning of the śloka is that the unchanging eternal “Self”, which is the substantial cause of consciousness, observes all actions when it is in contact with mind and sense organs chareterised by the qualities of the physical elements. Accordingly, the “Self” is the sole cause of consciousness and nothing else. Matter cannot develop life or consciousness as the materialists hold, unless it has those potentialities. As far as the sense capacities are concerned, they take part as instruments in cognition. Thus, the “Self” being the substantial cause of consciousness, we have to admit that there inheres in the Self, consciousness in the unmanifested form, that is, nirākārajñāna which gives rise to the empirical consciousness.

(7) Caraka has specifically and purposefully used the epithetsaguṇaścetana for the inner self, which means that the self, which is naturally conscious, is further stated as endowed with empirical qualities (like pleasure and pain).[19]

(8) Above all he emphatically declares that the “Self” (ātman) is conscious (jñaḥ) and the primordial cause (prakṛti).[20]

To conclude, the “Self”, being conscious, is the efficient cause (nimittakāraṇa) and being prakṛti, is also the substantial cause (samavāyikāraṇa). To be precise, “Self” is the “conscious foundational being” (sat) and is with out a beginning. All other things are not with out a cause and so they are ephemeral.[21] It is the ultimate eternal "being' beyond thought and cognition upon which all things are based.[22] It is static (nirvikāra) and ubiquitous (vibhu).

Now it is quite natural to have the question as to how the unchanging eternal “Self” can become the substantial cause of the transient world. It is to explain this with out contradiction that Caraka often calls the “Self” by the unique epithets “unmanifest” (avyakta) and the indistructible.[23] This concept of the "Self' provides the key to understand the real sense of the conception of the foundational “Self”. The unmanifest represents the conscious “Self” enveloped by the two adjuncts, rajas and tamas.[24] Because of the presence of these adjuncts, the ultimate reality is simultaneously static and dynamic, It is this unmanifest that forms the ultimate ground of the whole universe. At the same time, it itself is self-existent and self revealing, for there is no other element from which it could be derived or by which it could be made known. The empirical world and the individual selves, according to this view, emerge from this unmanifest and therefore necessarily partake of its character of reality. The presence of the adjuncts, namely "rajas' and "tamas' make the “Self” complex, and thus becomes the foundational cause of the universe. Due to the complexity it sometimes manifests and at other times becomes latent as a real possibility.[25] This periodic evolution is called appearance- udaya and the later dissolution is called disappearance (pralya).[26] The process of udaya and pralaya is with out a beginning and so an endless one. At the end of each cycle, the empirical world of diversity returns to the “unmanifest”, but re-emerges from it again. The world of appearance thus emerges is called the “manifest” (vykta) Each succeeding universe is determined in its character by the preceding one by a kind of casual linkage.

Thus, it is the avyakta that accounts for the whole world and individual selves. The unique aspect of this conviction is that the world of diversity is real and that there is a unity underlying this diversity. The unitary principle underlying the unity is the foundational being (cetanādhātu).It is this nondual, all-pervading conscious “Self” (cetanādhātu) that is immanent in all beings as their inner ground. There is no distinction between the foundational and the inner self. That is why he consciously calls it simultaneously by the terms Brahman and jiva or antarātmā.[27] It is the essence of the world and our own essence. It is the foundation, the ultimate reality (sat). The logical idea of cause cannot be sundered from the ethical concept of purpose. The process of nature and the well-being of man can be explained only as the self-actualization of the divine will. The supreme “Self” as the sat is unique and wills the many. The sat becomes the manifold visible world. The purpose of the cosmic process is to provide opportunity for the "jiva' to realize it's divine destiny.

Caraka's metaphysical conception becomes more transparent in his refutation of the atheists.

Caraka, who is not accustomed to refuting the other systems of thought, is found to have reacted strongly against the Cārvākas and the Buddhists, who go against the theory of the existence of the eternal “Self”. Referring to Cārvākas he says that there are the atheist (nāstikas) who do not trust in verification or verifiability of objects; who do not believe in the existence of a substantial cause, gods, sages, spiritually perfected persons (siddhas), action and its results, and self; who consider that origination is accidental. Such atheists will be caught hold of by sins worse than that of the sin resulting from violence.[28]

Similarly he rebuts the Buddhists who do not believe in the existence of an eternal self. Instead of difference and diversity and instead of eternalism and annihilationism the Buddha uses depended origination in the sense of causal dependence.[29] According to the theory all elements of saṃsāra exist in some or other causal conditions. Everything is in a flux, for if the cause is permanent so will be the effect.[30] “Existence for the Buddhist is momentary (kṣaṇika), thing in itself (svalakṣaṇa) and unitary (dharmamātra)”.[31] Consequently, the putative self occurs as a result of the coming together of causal conditions. And so it could not be unchanging. Thus, there is no immutable, inner self which is conscious or consciousness. Consciousness is nothing but the flow of sensory experience.[32] Moreover, through out life there is constant change in accordance with the causal law and process. The relation between the different stages of a person's is neither identity nor difference.[33]

Caraka invokes this momentary theory[34] and repudiates it. He says that if the theory is admitted then we would be forced to accept that the fruits of action of one person will be enjoyed by some other person.[35]

Though Caraka includes the “Self” in the enumeration of substance and consider it as conscious in consonance with the Vaiśeṣika scheme of substance, his concept of “Self” is entirely different from the NyāyaVaiśeṣikas. Neither Kaṇāda nor Akṣapāda[36] recognizes a supreme “Self” (paramātmā or Brahman).[37] However, later thinkers construe a supreme Self. But this supreme “Self” is different from the individual selves. The first work in the Nyāya sytem which contains a description of a divine soul called (God) is Nyāyabhāṣya. There it is stated that God is a special “Self” in whom there is no demerit (adharma), no error (mithyājñāna) and no negligence (pramāda). The notable characteristic feature of God is that it possesses knowledge, concentration (samādhi), merit (dharma) and omnipotence (aiśvariya).[38] Praśastapāda clearly attributes the creation of the world to the will of God[39] and it has been acknowledged by almost all later thinkers of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school. They consider the self as the substratum of consciousness and distinguish between the supreme “Self” (paramātmā) and individual self (jīvātmā). [40] The Supreme “Self” (paramātmā) is God who is entirely different from the individual self and is only an efficient cause or creator of the world.[41] The God is in no way the foundational cause of the world.

Another important thing is that the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika thinkers define self as a substance having the universal ātmatva[42] and consider the individual selves as many,[43] eternal, and all-pervading.[44] Even though the individual selves are told as ubiquitous, the very disparity in the circumstances charecterising the lives of beings is regarded as an index to the fundamental distinction between the individual selves.[45]

There is no contradiction in describing selves as all-pervading and yet exclusive, since they are not physical entities. But the most striking point is that the difference of the individual selves, being intrinsic, continues even in the state of release. Though all other differences between any two selves disappear when both have released, there will be the viśeṣa then, as in the case of atoms, to distinguish them from each other.[46] This conception of innumerable individual self different from the higher Self (paramātmā) is also against the conception of the empirical self in Caraka.

In classical Sāṃkhya, the self is referred to by the word puruṣa. Unlike Caraka puruṣa construed here refers to the individual self only. These individual selves are innumerable in number.[47] Each individual self is conceived as an unrelated, featureless, eternal, ubiquitous being and is identical with consciousness. Beyond the individual selves they do not admit a divine non-dual “Self” as a substantial cause or as an efficient cause for the manifestation of the empirical world. As stated earlier, the world is a manifestation of the primordial matter (prakṛti) which is extremely different from the selves (puruṣas). To be precise the concept of puruṣa in Carakasaṃhitā is different from that of classical Sāṃkhya. At the same time, it should be noted that the pre-classical Sāṃkhya conceived Brahman as the foundational cause of the universe. Scholars like Durgāśaṅkara Śāstrī and Jotiścandra Saraswatī are of the opinion that the nature of “Self” as expounded by Caraka identifying it with the unmanifest is undoubtedly Upaniṣadic in significance.[48] It is non other than the Vedantins and the pre-classical Sāṃkhya who strongly speak of Brahman as the foundational “Self”. But it does not mean that Caraka's conception of “being” fully agrees with the teachings of the Upaniṣads or the AdvaitaVedānta. The Upaniṣads, though speak of the unity of “being”, sometimes distinguish Brahman from the individual self on the one hand and the physical universe on the other.[49] Another significant thing is that Brahman as in the Upaniṣads is pure consciousness.[50]

Puruṣa or Brahman, as construed by Caraka, is the all pervading essence, that is, the essence which permeated the object in all its form and changes. Accordingly, the omniscient and omnipotent Brahman is the source or the foundational cause from which occur the birth, continuance, growth, transformation, decay, and death. But it should not be equated with the concept of Brahman in Advaita-Vedānta, for it considers this world as illusion (maya).[51] For Caraka, the world is not an illusion (māya) but a reality. Puruṣa is the ultimate “being”. In the Vedāntic terminology puruṣa is simultaneously the substantial and the efficient cause or "abhinnanimittopadanakaraṇa' of the world. The origin of the world is a result of evolution (pariṇāma) and not vivarta as has been postulated by the Advaita-Vedāntins. The basic difference between evolution and vivarta is that the former is a real transition while the latter is an unreal one.76 Accordingly, for Caraka the relation between the universal “Self” and the world can be "identity in difference' (bhedābheda).[52]

Thus Caraka, though agrees with the Vedāntins who call it Brahman, says that the foundational principle of unity differs in his vision regarding its real nature. According to him, cetanādhātu-puruṣa or Brahman is not pure consciousness nor without consciousness, but conscious. The peculiar way of the description of the conscious puruṣa as the foundation of the world of diversity and the origin of the world as a real manifestation of the “unmanifest” differentiates Caraka's concept of “Self” from the conceptions of “Self” in other philosophical systems.

Footnotes and references:


Elsewhere it is stated as “cetanavan”, CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 76.


idameva cātmanaścetanatvaṃ, yadindryasaṃyoge sati jñānasālitvaṃ, na kevalasyātmanaśetantvaṃ”. Cakrapāṇi on CS, Su, I. 48.


tattvajñānamapi hi mokṣaṃ janayitva nivartata eva kāraṇābhāvāt”. Cakrapāṇi on CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 154.


“The self in itself is with out consciousness. Consciousness can only come to it through its connection with the sense organs and manas”. HIPS, Vol. I. p. 214.


See Ibid.,Vol. II. p. 368.


Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya, what is Living and What is Dead in Indian Philosophy, People,s Publication House, (First edn.1976) New Delhi, Third edn. 1993, p. 417.


""In its transcendental aspect there is no consciousness. Consciousness is a quality that emerges incidental to the involvement of "Self' in the phenomenal mass''. DO, p. 23-24.


PVS, p. 165.


mano mano'rtho buddhirātmā cetyāddhyātmādravyasaṅgrahaḥ”. CS, Su, VIII. 13.


See supra, p. 54.


Knowledge of objects is not possible without sense kind of relation between the self consciousness and objects. For further details see infra, pp. 261 - 62.


karaṇāni mano buddhirbuddhikarmendriyāni ca”. Ibid., 56;


jāyate tatra yā buddhirniścayātmika”. Ibid., 23; see also Ibid., 23.


Ibid., 43 - 44.


na cātmā satsvindriyeṣu jñaḥ, asatsu vā bhavatyjñaḥ, na hyasatvaḥ kadaācidātmā, sattvaviśeṣāccopalabhyate jñānaviśeṣa iti”. CS, Śārīra - sthāna, III. 18.


Ibid., II. 31, 35.


tasmin caramasanyāse samūlāḥ sarvavedanāḥ sasaṃjñājñānavijñānā nivṛttiṃ yāntyaśeṣataḥ. Ibid., I., 154. There are different versions for the word “sasañjnājnāna”. Another reading is "samajñajnānavijnāna', CSJ, Vol. III, p.1560. Dasgupta accepts the reading “asaṃjñājñāna”. HIPS Vol. I, p. 215, F. Notes. It may be noted that the word sañjnāna is used in the Aitareya Upaniṣad in the sense of determinate knowledge, See CHI, Vol. III, p. 508. How ever the expression “saṃjñājñānavijñāna” is reliable, for he has previously used it in the Nidānasthāna while defining insanity. “unmādaṃ punarmanobuddhisaṃjñājñānasmṛti......”, CS, Nidāna - sthāna, VII. 5.


CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 54-55.


CS, Su, XXX. 4.


tasmājñaḥ prakṛtiścātmā draṣṭā kāraṇameva ca, CS, Śārīra - sthāna, III. 25.


CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 59.


tadeva bhāvādagrāhyaṃ nityatvaṃ na kutaścana,bhāvājñeyaṃ tadavyaktamacintyaṃ vyaktamanyathā. Ibid., 60. According to Caraka eternity means the one with out a cause,See Ibid., 59.


avyaktamātmā kṣetrajnaḥ śāśvato vibhuravyayaḥ, CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 61., Cf. Manusmṛti., I. 11.


See Ibid., 68. It invokes Śārṇgadharasaṃhitā of Śārṇgadharācārya., I; V. 55.


See supra, p. 121.


For details See supra, p. 122.


Loc. cit., F. Note, 22.


na parīkṣā na parīkṣyaṃ na kartā karaṇaṃ na ca na devā naṛṣayaḥ siddhāḥ karma karmaphalaṃ na ca nāstikasyāsti naivātmā yadṛcchopahatātmanaḥ pātakebhyaḥ paraṃ caitat pātakaṃ nāstikagrahaḥ”, CS, Su, XI. 1415.

According to Cārvākas, life and consciousness are the products of the combination of the four material elements just as the power of intoxication (madaśakti) generated in molasses: “tatra pṛthivyādīni bhūtāni catvāri tattvāni. tebhyaḥ eva dehakaraṇapariṇatebhyo madasaktivaccaitanya-mupajayate”, Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., p. 2. Ṣaḍdarśanasamucaya of Haribhadra., p. 108; A theory of Cārvākas is being nurrated by Jaavaala in Rāmāyaṇa, Ayodhya, sarga.108, 15.


BT, p. 66. The usual Sanskrit word used for depended origination is: pratītyāsamutpāda. (paṭiccasamutpāda in Pāli). Caraka refers to its promulgators by the term “pāraṃparyasamuddhitā”.


Ibid., p. 64.


SIT, p. 1.


BT, p. 62.


SIT. p. 70.


na te tadsadṛśāstvanye pāraṃparyasamuddhitāḥ sārūpyādye ta eveti nirdiśyante navā navāḥ bhāvāsteṣāṃ samudayo nirīśaḥ saṃjakaḥ kartā bhoktā na sa pumāniti kecidvyavasthitāḥ, CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 46 - 47.


Ibid., 48.


“The tradition unanimously names Akṣapāda, Gotama (also called Gautama) as the founder of Nyāya-sūtras”. WM, Vol. III, p. 559. In the present work it is the name Akṣapāda is used since all scholars have unanimously accepted him as the author of the now available Nyāya-sūtras. For details see infra, pp. 32 - 328.


There is a casual reference of God in the Nyāya-sūtras.


guṇaviśiṣṭamātmāntaramīśvaraḥ.... adharmamithyajñānapramādahānyā dharmajñānasaṃpadā..... saṅkalpānuvidhāyī cāsya dharmaḥ”, Vātsyāyana on Nyāyasūtra., IV, I. 2, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 154.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p.127; see Nyāyakandalī on ibid.


TSA, p.12; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p.160; TSA p. 12. Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 23.


NSMK pp. 22- 32, 169, “tatreśvaraḥ sarvajñaḥ paramātmāika eva”, TSA, p. 12; Also see Dīpikā on it; Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 23.


ātmātvabhisaṃbandhādātmā”, Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 167; ātmātvasamanyavān buddhiguṇāśraya ātmā, Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 51;NSMK, pp.156-57; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p. 190.


vyavasthāto nānā, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., III, ii. 20;“nānatmano vyavasthātaḥiti vacanena pṛthaktvaṃ siddhaṃ, Nyāyakandalī, Praśastapādabhāṣya., p213; NSMK; prati śarīraṃ bhinnaḥ, Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p. 190.


vibhavavān mahānākāśastathā cātmā, Vs,VII. i. 22; “jivātmā pratisariraṃ bhinno vibhurnityaścaTSA, p.12.


EIP, p. 91.




Sāṃkhyakārikā, 18; Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra., p. 163.


CSG, Vol. I, p. 480.


The aspect of unity is declared in the great utterence “tatvamasi”, Ch. U, VI. viii. 7; VI. ii. 1; Aitareya Upaniṣad., I. i. 1. The following text declares the difference - Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad., IV. 6.


satyaṃ jñānamanantaṃ Brahma”; Taittirīya Upaniṣad., Brahmānandavalli, I; “prajñānaṃ Brahma”, Aitareya Upaniṣad.., III. i. 3.


Brahman is the absolute, devoid of all determination, and the empirical world is enveloped in cosmic illusion, which claims to be true, but is not really true. The manifold world is only the making of māya. Māya is a falsity, but yet it may appear to be a fact satisfying certain practical needs. Thus the unreal world appears to be real and have pragmatic value. But the claim that the world of appearance is a truth becomes absolutely false like the flower in the sky when it refers to the self evidencing absolute. The Philosophy of Bhedabheda, P.N. Srinivasachari, pp. 52 - 53.


Bhaskarācārya, the commentator of Brahmasūtra., has promulgated the philosophy of identity in diference (bhedābheda). He says that “sa cābhinnābhinnarūpo abhinnarūpaṃ svābhāvikaṃ aupādhikaṃ tu bhinnarūpaṃ”, Brahma-sūtra with the commentary of Bhāskarācarya, ed., Pt. Vindhyeśvarī Prasād Dvivedin, Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi, Second edn. 1991, p. 141.

Like what you read? Consider supporting this website: