Yoga as Philosophy and Religion

Yoga as Philosophy and Religion

by Surendranath Dasgupta

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ISBN-13: 9781136389528
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Publication date: 10/08/2013
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 216
File size: 3 MB

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Yoga as Philosophy and Religion

By Surendranath Dasgupta

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2002 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-14853-3



HOWEVER dogmatic a system of philosophical enquiry may appear to us, it must have been preceded by a criticism of the observed facts of experience. The details of the criticism and the processes of self-argumentation by which the thinker arrived at his theory of the Universe might indeed be suppressed, as being relatively unimportant, but a thoughtful reader would detect them as lying in the background behind the shadow of the general speculations, but at the same time setting them off before our view. An Aristotle or a Patañjali may not make any direct mention of the arguments which led him to a dogmatic assertion of his theories, but for a reader who intends to understand them thoroughly it is absolutely necessary that he should read them in the light as far as possible of the inferred presuppositions and inner arguments of their minds; it is in this way alone that he can put himself in the same line of thinking with the thinker whom he is willing to follow, and can grasp him to the fullest extent. In offering this short study of the Patañjali metaphysics, I shall therefore try to supplement it with such of my inferences of the presuppositions of Patañjali's mind, which I think will add to the clearness of the exposition of his views, though I am fully alive to the difficulties of making such inferences about a philosopher whose psychological, social, religious and moral environments differed so widely from ours.

An enquiry into the relations of the mental phenomena to the physical has sometimes given the first start to philosophy. The relation of mind to matter is such an important problem of philosophy that the existing philosophical systems may roughly be classified according to the relative importance that has been attached to mind or to matter. There have been chemical, mechanical and biological conceptions which have ignored mind as a separate entity and have dogmatically affirmed it to be the product of matter only. There have been theories of the other extreme, which have dispensed with matter altogether and have boldly affirmed that matter as such has no reality at all, and that thought is the only thing which can be called Real in the highest sense. All matter as such is non-Being or Maya or Avidya. There have been Nihilists like the Sunyavadi Buddhists who have gone so far as to assert that neither matter nor mind exists. Some have asserted that matter is only thought externalized, some have regarded the principle of matter as the unknowable Thing-in-itself, some have regarded them as separate independent entities held within a higher reality called God, or as two of his attributes only, and some have regarded their difference as being only one of grades of intelligence, one merging slowly and imperceptibly into the other and held together in concord with each other by pre-established harmony.

Underlying the metaphysics of the Yoga system of thought as taught by Patañjali and as elaborated by his commentators we find an acute analysis of matter and thought. Matter on the one hand, mind, the senses, and the ego on the other are regarded as nothing more than two different kinds of modifications of one primal cause, the Prakti. But the self-intelligent principle called Purusha (spirit) is distinguished from them. Matter consists only of three primal qualities or rather substantive entities, which he calls the Sattva or intelligence-stuff, Rajas or energy, and Tamas—the factor of obstruction or mass or inertia. It is extremely difficult truly to conceive of the nature of these three kinds of entities or Gunas, as he calls them, when we consider that these three elements alone are regarded as composing all phenomena, mental and physical. In order to comprehend them rightly it will be necessary to grasp thoroughly the exact relation between the mental and the physical. What are the real points of agreement between the two? How can the same elements be said to behave in one case as the conceiver and in the other case as the conceived? Thus Vacaspati says :—

"The reals (gunas) have two forms, viz. the determiner or the perceiver, and the perceived or the determined. In the aspect of the determined or the perceived, the gunas evolve themselves as the five infra-atomic potentials, the five gross elements and their compounds. In the aspect of perceiver or determiner, they form the modifications of the ego together with the senses.

It is interesting to notice here the two words used by Vacaspati in characterising the twofold aspect of the guna viz. vyavasayatmakatva, their nature as the determiner or perceiver, and vyavaseyatmakatva, their nature as determined or perceived. The elements which compose the phenomena of the objects of perception are the same as those which form the phenomena of the perceiving; their only distinction is that one is the determined and the other is the determiner. What we call the psychosis involving intellection, sensing and the ego, and what may be called the infra-atoms, atoms and their combinations, are but two different types of modifications of the same stuff of reals. There is no intrinsic difference in nature between the mental and the physical.

The mode of causal transformation is explained by Vijñana Bhikshu in his commentary on the system of Samkhya as if its functions consisted only in making manifest what was already there in an unmanifested form. Thus he says, "just as the image already existing in the stone is only manifested by the activity of the statuary, so the causal activity also generates only that activity by which an effect is manifested as if it happened or came into being at the present moment." The effects are all always existent, but some of them are sometimes in an unmanifested state. What the causal operation, viz. the energy of the agent and the suitable collocating instruments and conditions, does is to set up an activity by which the effect may be manifested at the present moment.

With Samkhya-Yoga, sattva, rajas and tamas are substantive entities which compose the reality of the mental and the physical. The mental and the physical represent two different orders of modifications, and one is not in any way superior to the other. As the gunas conjointly form the manifold without, by their varying combinations, as well as all the diverse internal functions, faculties and phenomena, they are in themselves the absolute potentiality of all things, mental and physical. Thus Vyasa in describing the nature of the knowable, writes: "The nature of the knowable is now described:—The knowable, consisting of the objects of enjoyment and liberation, as the gross elements and the perceptive senses, is characterised by three essential traits—illumination, energy and inertia. The sattva is of the nature of illumination. Rajas is of the nature of energy. Inertia (tamas) is of the nature of inactivity. The guna entities with the above characteristics are capable of being modified by mutual influence on one another, by their proximity. They are evolving. They have the characteristics of conjunction and separation. They manifest forms by one lending support to the others by proximity. None of these loses its distinct power into those of the others, even though any one of them may exist as the principal factor of a phenomenon with the others as subsidiary thereto. The gunas forming the three classes of substantive entities manifest themselves as such by their similar kinds of power. When any one of them plays the role of the principal factor of any phenomenon, the others also show their presence in close contact. Their existence as subsidiary energies of the principal factor is inferred by their distinct and independent functioning, even though it be as subsidiary qualities." The Yoga theory does not acknowledge qualities as being different from substances. The ultimate substantive entities are called gunas, which as we have seen are of three kinds. The guna entities are infinite in number; each has an individual existence, but is always acting in co-operation with others. They may be divided into three classes in accordance with their similarities of behaviour (Sila). Those which behave in the way of intellection are called sattva, those which behave in the way of producing effort of movement are called rajas, and those which behave differently from these and obstruct their process are called tamas. We have spoken above of a primal cause prakrti. But that is not a separate category independent of the gunas. Prakrti is but a name for the guna entities when they exist in a state of equilibrium. All that exists excepting the purushas are but the guna entities in different kinds of combination amongst themselves. The effects they produce are not different from them but it is they themselves which are regarded as causes in one state and effects in another. The difference of combination consists in this, that in some combinations there are more of sattva entities than rajas or tamas, and in others more of rajas or more of tamas. These entities are continually uniting and separating. But though they are thus continually dividing and uniting in new combinations the special behaviour or feature of each class of entities remains ever the same. Whatever may be the nature of any particular combination the sattva entities participating in it will retain their intellective functions, rajas their energy functions, and tamas the obstructing ones. But though they retain their special features in spite of their mutual difference they hold fast to one another in any particular combination (tulyajatiyatulyajatiyasaktibhedanupatinah which Bhikshu explains as aviseshenopashtambhakasvabhavah). In any particular combination it is the special features of those entities which predominate that manifest themselves, while the other two classes lend their force in drawing the minds of perceivers to it as an object as a magnet draws a piece of iron. Their functionings at this time are undoubtedly feeble (sukshmavrttimantah) but still they do exist.

In the three gunas, none of them can be held as the goal of the others. All of them are equally important, and the very varied nature of the manifold represents only the different combinations of these gunas as substantive entities. In any combination one of the gunas may be more predominant than the others, but the other gunas are also present there and perform their functions in their own way. No one of them is more important than the other, but they serve conjointly one common purpose, viz. the experiences and the liberation of the purusha, or spirit. They are always uniting, separating and re-uniting again and there is neither beginning nor end of this (anyonyamithunah sarvve naishamadisamprayogo viprayogo va upalabhyate).

They have no purpose of their own to serve, but they all are always evolving, as Dr. Seal says, "ever from a relatively less differentiated, less determinate, less coherent whole, to a relatively more differentiated, more determinate, more coherent whole" for the experiences and liberation of purusha, or spirit. When in a state of equilibrium they cannot serve the purpose of the purusha, so that state of the gunas is not for the sake of the purusha; it is its own independent eternal state. All the other three stages of evolution, viz. the linga (sign), avisesha (unspecialised) and visesha (specialised) have been caused for the sake of the purushas. Thus Vyasa writes:— "The objects of the purusha are no cause of the original state (alinga). That is to say, the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha is not the cause which brings about the manifestation of the original state of prakti in the beginning. The fulfilment of the objects of the purusha is not therefore the reason of the existence of that ultimate state. Since it is not brought into existence by the need of the fulfilment of the purusha's objects it is said to be eternal. As to the three specialised states, the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha becomes the cause of their manifestation in the beginning. The fulfilment of the objects of the purusha is not therefore the reason for the existence of the cause. Since it is not brought into existence by the purusha's objects it is said to be eternal. As to the three specialised states, the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha being the cause of their manifestation in the beginning, they are said to be non-eternal."

Vacaspati again says:—"The fulfilment of the objects of the purusha could be said to be the cause of the original state, if that state could bring about the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha, such as the enjoyment of sound, etc., or manifest the discrimination of the distinction between true self and other phenomena. If however it did that, it could not be a state of equilibrium," (yadyalingavastha Sabdadyupabhogam va sattvapurushanyatakhyatim va purushartham nirvarttayet tannrvarttane hi na samyavastha syat). This state is called the prakrti. It is the beginning, indeterminate, unmediated and undetermined. It neither exists nor does it not exist, but is the principium of almost all existence. Thus Vyasa describes it as "the state which neither is nor is not; that which exists and yet does not; that in which there is no non-existence; the unmanifested, the noumenon (lit. without any manifested indication), the background of all" (nihsattasattam nihsadasat nirasat avyaktam alingam pradhanam). Vacaspati explains it as follows :—"Existence consists in possessing the capacity of effecting the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha. Non-existence means a mere imaginary trifle (e.g. the horn of a hare)." It is described as being beyond both these states of existence and non-existence. The state of the equipoise of the three gunas of intelligence-stuff, inertia and energy, is nowhere of use in fulfilling the objects of the purusha. It therefore does not exist as such. On the other hand, it does not admit of being rejected as nonexistent like an imaginary lotus of the sky. It is therefore not non-existent. But even allowing the force of the above arguments about the want of phenomenal existence of prakrti on the ground that it cannot serve the objects of the purusha, the difficulty arises that the principles of Mahat, etc., exist in the state of the unmanifested also, because nothing that exists can be destroyed; and if it is destroyed, it cannot be born again, because nothing that does not exist can be born; it follows therefore that since the principles of mahat, etc., exist in the state of the unmanifested, that state can also affect the fulfilment of the objects of the purusha. How then can it be said that the unmanifested is not possessed of existence? For this reason, he describes it as that in which it exists and does not exist. This means that the cause exists in that state in a potential form but not in the form of the effect. Although the effect exists in the cause as mere potential power, yet it is incapable of performing the function of fulfilling the objects of the purusha; it is therefore said to be non-existent as such. Further he says that this cause is not such, that its effect is of the nature of hare's horn. It is beyond the state of non-existence, that is, of the existence of the effect as mere nothing. If it were like that, then it would be like the lotus of the sky and no effect would follow.

But as Bhikshu points out (Yoga-varttika, II. 18) this prakrti is not simple substance, for it is but the guna reals. It is simple only in the sense that no complex qualities are manifested in it. It is the name of the totality of the guna reals existing in a state of equilibrium through their mutual counter opposition. It is a hypothetical state of the gunas preceding the states in which they work in mutual co-operation for the creation of the cosmos for giving the purushas a chance for ultimate release attained through a full enjoyment of experiences. Some European scholars have often asked me whether the prakrti were real or whether the gunas were real. This question, in my opinion, can only arise as a result of confusion and misapprehension, for it is the gunas in a state of equilibrium that are called prakrti. Apart from gunas there is no prakrti (guna eva prakrtiSabdavacya na tu tadatirikta prakrtirasti. Yoga- varttika, II. 18). In this state, the different guas only annul themselves and no change takes place, though it must be acknowledged that the state of equipoise is also one of tension and action, which, however, being perfectly balanced does not produce any change. This is what is meant by evolution of similars (adrSaparinama). Prakrti as the equilibrium of the three gunas is the absolute ground of all the mental and phenomenal modifications—pure potentiality.


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