Ever since language began, people have used narrative to organize human experience, to orient life in the cosmos. Narrative is part of humanity’s brilliance.
Narrative in its broadest sense means not only stories, but also the recital of accounts, information, and teachings, including
scriptures–the framework of worldviews as told in the words of authoritative texts. In this sense scriptures–Hebrew, Christian Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist, and others–are largely narratives. Each master narrative is a scenario orienting people to some sort of order.
Scriptures are examples of narrative par excellence–they tell origin stories, they offer expositions of teachings, injunctions, lyrics, and wisdom. Why is narrative in all its many forms so ubiquitous? Where is a coherent life that is not shaped by some story? Scriptures can be seen to function as “attractors,” dynamic system patterns channelling human energies, reminding people of their place in the scheme of things. They channel the passions.
Scriptures (from the Latin scriptura, meaning “a writing”) are sacred texts that serve a variety of purposes in the individual and collective lives of a religious tradition. Scriptures may be used to evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey spiritual truths, promote mystical experience, foster communal identity, and to guide individual and communal spiritual practice. Many religions believe that their scriptures originated from divine inspiration. The monotheistic faiths view their sacred texts as the “Word of God” and divine revelation. Around the world, scriptures are held in the highest regard. In contemporary English usage, the term “scripture” describes any religious sacred text, such as Hindu scripture, Jewish scripture, etc..
At their best, sacred narratives serve as revered repositories storing religious wisdom. They help articulate the reasons of the heart. Thus they seem to mirror life and generate order. They provide recognizable structures (enduring answers about life’s meanings) yet allow some flexibility for new inter-pretations and applications as needs arise. They store information about ideals and make the meanings available and applicable to a great variety of situations by different people over the centuries. They are kept relevant by commentaries, new translations, and adaptive reiterations.
At their worst, scriptures can be used to promote unthinking, irrational behavior. The impact of scripture on human behavior has not always been positive. Religions themselves are critical of those who hold to a literal reading of scripture which can block
comprehension of the spirit of God behind it. The Buddha in his Parable of the Raft spoke about the scriptures as a raft—useful on the path to Enlightenment but ultimately to be abandoned on the other shore—as true enlightenment transcends conceptual knowledge (Majjhima Nikaya 1.134-35). Another issue that confounds scripture is whether it contains the whole truth or only a part of the truth. Adherents who believe their scripture is the complete and full revelation of God may well have difficulty appreciating the value of other religions’ scriptures. Yet the scriptures themselves counsel humility on this score, as when Buddha warned his follower Malunkyaputta not to question the philosophical questions that the Buddha had not elucidated—as a person shot with an arrow does not stop the doctor from removing it with questions about who shot it (Majjhima Nikaya 1.426-31).
As science is growing and new information is being discovered, we are still far from learning what it means to be a person. Therefore, we need to update our understanding of the role of the scriptures that, for so long, have oriented so many human lives. We need to assess anew the importance of scriptures, their meaning in human life. We need to understand better the processes by which we elevate them to
authoritative positions, and what is involved when they are lowered or lessened in status. Perhaps because modernity treated scriptures shabbily, fundamentalists now uphold them with a vengeance; the pendulum swings both ways.
With all the research the modern age has accumulated, people still feel growing pains of alternating pride of knowledge and power, and dismay at ignorance and chaotic change beyond control. Humans continue to face mysteries in the universe that were already long in existence when our ancestors first appeared on the scene. Common men as well as scholars are still wondering: “What is a civilization-founding scripture, and how does it remain significant? How can we begin to better under-stand the implications of scripture’s global
pervasiveness? What new awareness of common bonds and possible cooperation might grow out of respectful encounters with the sacred texts of others?”
Scripture through Ages
The scriptures of the world’s religions have provided humanity with some of the most sublime and profound philosophical insights, spiritual ideals, and values that have shaped the moral and spiritual development of humankind. The lofty ideas found in religious texts have shaped the identity of entire peoples, provided the content for their legal codes, offered individuals and communities meaning to life, and explained the purpose and destination of life’s journey for countless followers. Indeed, the impact of scripture on world cultures is immeasurable.
Scriptures (in oral form) have been an important part of human culture since the beginning of civilization. From the dawn of humanity, humans have attempted to make sense of the cosmos and to explain humanity’s place in it. Sacred stories arose to account for the bewildering variety of phenomena and feelings that comprise the human experience. Such stories developed cosmic significance and gave rise to the different religions and mythologies of the world’s cultures. Thus, the earliest use of scripture was not in the form of written texts but ancient oral stories handed down from one generation to the next. Many ancient preliterate cultures (and some modern ones) did not place a strong emphasis on recording their “truths” in written documents, preferring instead to honor their sacred stories through oral memorization and transmission. In ancient India, for example, the body of sacred literature known as Smriti was handed down orally among the Hindus before eventually being written down.
In the time before literacy was widespread, the average lay adherent of any religion would likely come to know the sacred stories of their own tradition through folklore, worship and ritual, or from literate members of the clergy who would read passages from their scriptures. While those able to read and explain the scriptures were held in high esteem—those who could recite them from memory even more so. Religious instruction in the ancient Brahmin caste of India included a set of mnemonic tools that helped students to memorize the ritual formulae found in the Vedas, which were written down relatively late in Hindu history. Similar (but unrelated) systems were used in the recording of the Qur’an. The Hebrew Bible, recorded in the ancient Hebrew language, is in its original rendering written in such a way that it is recited with a pleasing rhythm. The ascendancy of written scriptures in the world’s religions developed along side the continuation of oral traditions.
Roles of Scripture
Scripture serves a variety of roles in the spiritual life of a religious community. There are three major functions of scripture in a religion: personal guidance and inspiration, communal worship and instruction, and bibliomancy (using scripture for magical purposes). Individual use
Though limited literacy and primitive copying methods prevented the widespread dissemination of religious texts for many centuries, scripture has always had a personal aspect—at least, for those with access to it. In modern times, with the promotion of literacy and the advent of printing (and telecommunications) many individuals are able to experience the scriptures from their own traditions first hand. Following the greater access allowed by the advent of the printing press, most religious traditions now place a great emphasis on devotional reading of religious texts. For example, an individual relationship with the Qur’an has always been a focal point for practicing Muslims. A hafiz (“memorizer” or “protector”) is one who has committed the entire Qur’an to memory. Though this skill is of great use within a communal setting, it cannot be achieved without a great personal commitment. The community also sees it as a great act of personal piety.
The Lutheran insistence on “sola scriptura” (by scripture alone) highlighted the individual’s perceived need for scripture in the faith of a Christian.
In many religious communities scripture forms the basis for their social, legal and moral codes of conduct, as well as providing instruction on rituals and rites of passage. Scripture also serves as the foundation of law for some religious communities. The Qur’an and the hadith (traditions) are outstanding examples of scripture used as the foundation of law (Sharia) in Islam, as is the Torah of Judaism. In both cases we find rules for the proper conduct of the pious, including (but not limited to) the treatment of spouses, children, the poor and enemies. The Vinaya writing of Buddhism also fulfills a similar role, serving as rules for those who are practicing within a monastic community.
The use of scripture for magical ends has been widespread amongst the world’s religions, though often times not sanctioned by governing bodies or the clergy. Frequently, scriptures have been pored over for secret information encoded in a myriad of different ways, likely unrelated to the text that appears in plain sight. Those searching for secret messages are confident of the divine nature of the book, even the information that appears for everyone to see; however, they also believe that in the divine creation of scripture, secrets are planted in the text for the devout to discover. This is found in the Jewish Kabbalah tradition, which attempts to reveal mystical messages hidden in the Hebrew Bible.
In recent times there has been a surge of bibliomancy in Christian and Muslim circles, each with their own re-examination of scriptures. Most notable is the “Bible Code” phenomenon, in which passages from the Hebrew Bible are arranged in a pre-determined way (often a specific number of characters per line, without spaces) and checked for key words, found by counting letters at certain intervals. Both the number of characters per line and the intervals at which letters are counted are manipulated, often requiring a computer to handle the multitude of calculations. Sometimes the alleged Bible Code is used for predicting future events. Bibliomancy does not always fall outside of the proscribed use of scripture for the Daoist classic the Yi Jing (易經) is, at least on the surface, expressly used for divination.
Thus, attitudes to sacred texts differ between religious traditions, and can change within a faith group. Some religions make written texts widely available, while others hold that sacred teachings must remain hidden from all but the loyal and the initiate. Some religions make texts available gratis or in subsidized form; others require payment. The Guru Granth Sahib of Sikhism always appears with standardized page numbering while the Abrahamic religions and their offshoots favor chapter and verse pointers.
Scriptures in the World’s Religions
Scripture plays the central role in the Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that have been called “religions of the book.” In these religions scriptures are attributed to prophets: Moses as the transmitter of the Torah, and Muhammad as the transmitter of the Qur’an. Christian tradition attributes the canonical gospels to disciples of Jesus. In Hinduism, the Vedas are thought to have been recorded by rishis. Though all these traditions accept that their texts were recorded by human hands, they also believe that these works are in some way “heavenly books.” This assertion has different meanings in different traditions. The Qur’an is believed to be of complete divine origin, recited by Muhammad after having it revealed to him by the angel Gabriel. The Vedas of Hinduism are not thought to have been composed by the rishis, but rather heard. The Buddhist tradition sees the power of their scripture in its insight into the nature of reality.
The Hebrew Bible (Tanakh) is comprised of three major sections: the Torah (law), the Nevi’im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Writings). The Hebrew Bible is thought to have been established at the Council of Jamnia following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., though some dispute that this council ever occurred. The Tanakh is an example of a collection of scriptures written at different times by different authors in different locations. However, the various writings are thought to be equally inspired by God, and thus are said to have unity in spirit and consistency. Within Judaism there is also a strong oral tradition, preserved in the Talmud; however, there is disagreement within the Jewish community as to the importance of the Talmud. The Talmud is made up of the Mishnah, the recorded oral law, and the Gemara, commentaries on the Mishnah. Another work sometimes recognized as scripture in Judaism is the Zohar, a collection of mystical writings used in Kabbalah.
The central scripture to Christianity is the Holy Bible, made up of the Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) and the New Testament. The Old Testament is the same as the Jewish Tanakh, recognized as scripture by early Christians. The New Testament is a collection of writings by early Christians, comprised of narratives, letters and apocalyptic writings. Among Christian denominations there is some disagreement about the contents of the canon, primarily in the Apocrypha, a list of works that, though not considered fully scriptural in any major Christian denomination, are regarded with varying levels of respect. As well, there exists a group of somewhat unrelated works known as the Pseudopigrapha—texts whose authorship is attributed wrongly to others. Attitudes towards the Bible also vary amongst Christian groups. Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and many Protestant groups stress the harmony and importance of scripture and tradition, while other Protestant churches focus on the idea of sola scriptura, or scripture alone. This concept arose during the Protestant Reformation, and many Evangelical groups today continue to support the use of scripture as the only source of Christian teaching.
The central scripture of Islam is the Holy Qur’an, which was recorded in the seventh century C.E.. Islamic tradition holds that the Qur’an existed in its same form in heaven before its revelation to humanity by the angel Gabriel through Muhammad. There is a great deal of importance attached to the integrity of the Qur’an, especially the degree to which the original text has been preserved over the centuries. Additionally, the ahadith (the Arabic pluralization of hadith), which record the words and actions of the prophet Muhammad, is another revered text in Islam. However, the hadith are not considered as authoritative as the Qur’an. Muslims also recognize the Hebrew and Christian Bibles as scriptural, but corrupted by humanity over time, and not maintaining the purity of the Qur’an. Thus, Jews and Christians are known in Islam as ‘People of the Book.”
Hinduism is a broad and vast religion, both in terms of beliefs and time. thus, speaking of “Hinduism” is difficult, as the term itself encompasses a vast variety of beliefs and scriptures. There is a great deal of material, both oral and written, that is considered scriptural in the Hindu traditions.
The oldest and most authoritative scriptures in Hinduism are called the Vedas, meaning “Wisdom texts.” There are four collections (Samhitas) of Vedas: the Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. Each of the Samhitas is further connected to commentaries that elucidate these works known as the Brahmanas and Aryanakas. The highest or ultimate teachings of this corpus are known as the Upanishads, which are of great importance philosophically, and thus classified as “Vedanta” (culmination of the Vedas). The entire collection of Vedic texts is classified in Hinduism as shruti, meaning “heard wisdom.”
In addition to the Vedic “shruti” scriptures, several other Hindu writings are revered as scripture. Collectively these other writings are known as smriti (“remembered wisdom”). Included among these works are the Itihasa (Sacred History epics) of the Mahabharata and the Ramayana. A chapter of the Mahabharata called the Bhagavadgita has become the most popular and widely read scripture in Hinduism today. Other smriti texts include tantras, agamas, legal sutras and shastras, and the texts of philosophical schools.
There is no set of scripture that is universal throughout all of Buddhism. Most traditions have a tripitaka (Pali tipitaka), a Sanskrit word meaning “three baskets.” These baskets refer to the three categories of scripture found in most Buddhist organizations: the vinaya pitaka (discipline and rules for monks and nuns), the sutra pitaka (sermons and teachings by and about the Buddha), and the abhidharma pitaka (a structured presentation of Buddhist teachings). The first tripitaka was the Pali Canon, recorded in the first century B.C.E. from oral tradition. This set of teachings makes up the scriptures used by Theravada Buddhists. As new schools of Buddhism developed new canons were prepared. The Mahayana Buddhist tradition produced sets of works thought (by Mahayana Buddhists) to be superior to the Pali Canon, but still a product of the Buddha. These included the Prajnaparamita sutras and the Yogacara sutras. Some of these texts were believed to have been created by the Buddha, but preserved by mystical beings known as nagas and revealed only at the appropriate time. In China and Tibet, even further canons were created,
incorporating new ideas through the inclusion of new texts. In the Tibetan Nyingmaj tradition special texts called terma are believed to be occulted and revealed in a manner similar to some Mahayana works. In Buddhism, the term “sutra” refers to canonical scriptures. The earliest Buddhist sutras are found in the second part of the Tripitaka which is called Sutra Pitaka. There are also some Buddhist texts, such as the Platform Sutra, that are called sutras despite being attributed to much later authors. The Pali form of the word, sutta is used exclusively to refer to Buddhist scriptures, particularly those of the Pali Canon.
Jainism is the religion of about ten million people in India, with its own distinctive scriptures, history, and a long philosophic tradition. Although a part of the greater Indian culture, Jainism, like Buddhism, is a non-Vedic religious tradition, rejecting the authority of the Vedas, Upanishads, and other Hindu scriptures and their deities. Noted for its rigorous asceticism, Jain thought has influenced the greater Indian culture especially through its doctrine of ahimsa, non-injury to all living beings. Jainism teaches a strict doctrine of karma, which binds a person to suffer rebirth and retribution for all evil actions. A person must therefore liberate himself or herself from the fetters of karma by taking a vow of asceticism and thenceforth avoiding all violence in deed, in word, and in thought. All passionate desire begets violence, and is itself the result of the karmas of a deluded consciousness which must be eliminated. Jainism does not accept a creator God or personal God; instead each person has within himself or herself the potential to realize perfection and become a paramatman, a soul freed from all karmic fetters and able to reach the highest point in the universe.
Mahavira, born Nataputta Vardhamana (599-527 b.c.), realized this perfection and became a Tirthankara, the Fordfinder, who discovered the Path to salvation. A near contemporary of the Buddha, he is twenty-fourth in a long succession of Tirthankaras extending back to Rishabhadeva of the Vedic period. Popular Jainism venerates him to the point of worshipping him as a divine source of grace, thus adding a personal, devotional element absent from Jain philosophy.
There are two branches of Jainism, divided over whether a monk may or may not wear clothing: the Shvetambaras allow clothes and the Digambaras demand total nudity, as they each believe was the practice of Mahavira.
The canon of Jain scriptures (agamas) begins with the sermons of Mahavira, written down by his disciples in ancient languages of Ardhamagadhi and Shauraseni Prakrit, called Purvas. The oldest of these, however, have been lost, and thence the two Jain communities reconstructed different canons from the collections of surviving scriptures, now written in Prakrit and Sanskrit.
The scriptures according to the Shvetambara Jains are composed of twelve limbs (angas) and 34 subsidiary texts (angabahya). The first limb is the Acarangasutra, which contains laws for monks and nuns and the most authoritative biography of Mahavira. The Sutrakritanga is the second limb and contains Jain doctrines expounded through disputes with other Hindu and early Buddhist teachings. Among the angabahya the best known is the Uttaradhyayana Sutra, an anthology of dialogues and teachings believed to be the last sermon of the Mahavira, and the Kalpa Sutra, containing biographies of the Jinas. Other scriptures of the Shvetambara canon include the Upasakdasanga Sutra, Dashavaikalika Sutra, and Nandi Sutra.
The Digambara Jains believe that most of the original Purvas have been lost and dispute the authenticity of the Shvetambara scriptures. To the small surviving portion of the ancient Purvas they add a large number of scholastic expositions (anuyoga). These expositions constitute the scriptures of the Digambara tradition. Among them are the writings of Kundakunda (1st century a.d.): the Samayasara, Niyamasara, Pravacanasara, and Pancastikaya; the Anupreksa of Kartikeya (2nd century a.d.), and the Samadhishataka of Pujyapada (6th century a.d.). The Tattvarthasutra of Umasvati (2nd century a.d.) is a systematization of Jain doctrine into concise aphorisms in the style of the Hindu Vedanta Sutras; its Digambara commentaries include the Sarvarthasiddhi of Pujyapada, the Tattvartharajavartika of Akalanka (8th century a.d.), and the Tattvarthaslokavartika of Vidyanandi (9th century a.d.). The Tattvarthasutra is recognized as authoritative, with only minor differences, by both Digambara and Shvetambara sects. Another exposition which is accepted by both sects is the Sanmatitarka by Siddhasena (5th century a.d.), a treatise on logic concerned with establishing the simultaneous validity of several viewpoints on reality. Surviving fragments of the Purvas spawned commentaries such as the Gomattasara of Nemichandra (950 a.d.) and the Jayadhavala by Virasena (820 a.d.). Legends and biographies of saints are found in the Adipurana of Jinasena (9th century a.d.); their praises are sung in the Dvatrimshika of Siddhasena; while the Aptamimamsa of
Samantabadhra (5th century a.d.) gives philosophical arguments for the Jina’s perfection, omniscience, and purity. The Mulacara of Vattakera (2nd century a.d.) contains monastic rules comparable to those in the Acarangasutra, while the Ratnakarandasravakacara of Samantabadhra and the Sagaradharmamrita of Ashadhara (13th century a.d.) provide ethical instruction for lay people. This listing does not nearly exhaust the selection of anuyoga cited herein. Among the extra-canonical works, we include several passages from the Nitivakyamrita of Somadeva (10th century a.d.), a Jain classic on polity.
The most important work in the Sikh religion is the Adi Granth or Guru Granth Sahib, written in the Gurmukhi script. The Adi Granth was compiled in its final form in 1604 by the fifth Guru Arjan.
Subsequently the Adi Granth was expanded by later Sikh gurus, eventually becoming the Guru Granth Sahib as it is known today. The last of the Sikh gurus (Guru Gobind Singh) declared that the Granth would serve as guru for the Sikh tradition—a unique role for scripture in the world’s religions. Also unique is the reference system used: while many traditions (especially those of the West) use a chapter and verse system, the Guru Granth Sahib’s composition is sandardized in such a way that every instance of the book has the same number of pages (1430) and the same text on every page. Thus, when searching for a particular page in the Granth, the universal reference is a page number, rather than a chapter or verse citation. In addition to the Guru Granth Sahib, Sikhs hold the Dasam Granth in high esteem. This work records the teachings of Guru Gobind Singh.
The Confucian tradition does not have scripture in the sense that other religions do—that is, Confucians did not see their books as necessarily heavenly or divine. They did, however, still ascribe great value to them. The works in the Confucian tradition that are analogous to scripture are best described as “classics.” There is debate as to whether these Classics can be described as scripture, just as there is debate as to whether Confucianism itself can be described as a religion. The important books of Confucianism are divided into the Five Classics and the Four Books. The Five Classics are not
specifically Confucian, but do relate strongly to Confucian teachings and values. The Five Classics are the Classic of History, the Classic of Poetry, the Classic of Rites, the Spring and Autumn Annals and the Yi Jing (I Ching), the last also being an important text in Daoism and folk traditions. The Yi Jing, Classic of Poetry and the Classic of History were recorded (in some form) before Confucius’ work, though he is thought to have written the Spring and Autumn Annals and edited other volumes. The Classic of Rites was compiled by subsequent Confucians. The Four Books of Confucianism are the Analects (sayings of Confucius), the Mengzi (Mencius) (written by the disciple of that name), the Doctrine of the Mean and the Great Learning—the latter two are part of the Classic of Rites.
Philosophical Daoism’s primary text is the Dao De Jing (Wade-Giles: Tao Te Ching). Attributed to Laozi (Lao Tzu), it is often dated to around 600 B.C.E. and expounds on themes of nature, ruling, and knowledge, among others. Also important is the subsequent work the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), written by an author of the same name. Written approximately 200 years after the Dao de Jing, the Zhuangzi addressed similar themes, which became paramount in the thought of philosophical Daoists. The Classic the Yi Jing (I Ching), though not specifically a Daoist work, would become central in Daoist practice as well. Along with the developments in Daoism new texts were written and
popularized. The alchemist Ge Hong wrote the important work the Baopuzi (“Sage Who Embraces Simplicity”), and as alchemy grew in importance in Daoist thought, alchemical works grew in popularity as well. Daoist works since the fifth century B.C.E. have been arranged and rearranged in a canon known as the Daozang, which includes a great variety of Daoist works on a myriad of topics.
Shinto is not a religion mediated by written scriptures. Nevertheless, certain writings are central to Shinto and embody its spirit. The classics of Shinto are the Kojiki and the Nihon Shoki, which contain the mythology of the kami, the founding of Japan and its imperial line, and the records of the early emperors. Shinto ritual texts excerpted include Engishiki on purification and the Kagura-uta, ritual dances. There are a number of oracles associated with Shinto shrines which have wide influence. The Man’yoshu is a collection of poetry from the Nara period (700-1150). Later sources of Shinto include poetry and didactic texts: One Hundred Poems about the World (Yo no naka hyaku-shu) by Moritake Arakida (c. 1525), which has been called the “Analects of the Ise Shrine” and is used in children’s moral education; Divine Injunctions (Jingikun) by Ekken Kiabara (1630-1714); Records of the Divine Wind (Shinpuki) by Mochimasa Hikita (ca. 1660); One Hundred Poems on the Way of Death (Shido hyaku-shu) by Naokata Nakanishi (1643-1709); and One Hundred Poems on the Jeweled Spear (Tamaboko Hyaku-shu) by Norinaga Motoori (1730-1801).
African South American, Pacific region religions
There are more than one hundred million adherents of the various traditional religions of Africa, North America, South America, Asia, and the South Pacific. While many of these religions are restricted to village and tribal societies, others are vigorous in urban areas, where they offer dimensions of the sacred in the midst of an industrializing society. Some are even expanding to the status of world religions: the Yoruba religion, for example, has more than 30 million adherents and has spread from its homeland in Nigeria to Brazil and the Caribbean where its variants go by the names Candomble and Santeria.
Shamanism is widespread in most traditional religions. The shaman is specially gifted with the ability to communicate with the spiritual world. Since the unseen spiritual forces are recognized as in control of many phenomena on earth, a shaman may be called upon to heal physical and mental illness, to ferret out criminals, or to discover the reason for bad luck. The shaman may go into a trance for many hours, accompanied by dancing and the presentation of ritual objects. Other participants may join in the trance as well, as they try to cure the afflicted soul.
Ever since language began, people have used narrative to organize human experience, to orient life in the cosmos. Narrative is part of humanity’s brilliance.
The Purusha Sukta is an important part of the Rig-veda (10.7.90.1-16). It also appears in the Taittiriya
Aranyaka (3.12,13), the Vajasaneyi Samhita (31.1-6), the Sama-veda Samhita (6.4), and the Atharva-veda Samhita (19.6). An explanation of
parts of it can also be found in the
Shatapatha Brahman, the Taittiriya Brahmana, and the Shvetashvatara
Upanishad. The Mudgalopanishad
gives a nice summary of the entire Purusha Sukta. The contents of the
Sukta have also been reflected and
elaborated in the Bhagavata Purana
(2.5.35 to 2.6.1-29) and in the
Mahabharata (Mokshadharma Parva
351 and 352). Purusha sukta (puruṣasūkta) is hymn 10.90 of the Rigveda, dedicated to the Purusha, the “Cosmic Being”.
One version of the suktam has 16
verses, 15 in the anushtubh meter, and the final one in the trishtubh meter. Another version of the suktam consists
of 24 verses. The most commonly used Sukta is 24 mantras or
stanzas version. The first 18 mantras are
designated as the Purvanarayana,
and the rest as the Uttaranarayana. This is probably in honour of Rishi Naranayan, the seer of Purush Suktam. Sometimes 6 more mantras are added. This part is called the
Vaishnavanuvaka since it has been
taken from another well known hymn called the Vishnusukta, a part of the
Rig-veda Samhita. Though the
mantras of the Uttaranarayana and the Vaishnavanuvaka do not seem to
have any coherence with the 16
mantras of the Rig-veda Samhita,
tradition has somehow tied them
together. The Purusha Sukta is
a most commonly used Vedic Sanskrit hymn recited in almost all Vedic
rituals and ceremonies. It is often
used during the worship of the Deity of Vishnu or Narayana in the temple,
installation and fire ceremonies, or
during the daily recitation of Sanskrit
literature or for one’s meditation.
The Purusha Sukta is a rather difficult
text to explain in a modern way. This
is primarily because of the archaic
language that does not always lend
itself to interpretations based on the
classical Sanskrit, and that many of the words can be taken in several
different ways, both literally and
symbolically. Nonetheless, the Purusha Sukta gives the essence of the philosophy of
Vedanta, the Vedic tradition, as well
as the Bhagavad-gita and Bhagavata
Purana. It incorporates the principles
of meditation (upasana), knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti), and rituals
and duties (dharma and karma).
Content of Purush Sukt
Some scholars are of the view that some verses of Purusha sukta are later interpolations to the Rigveda. The Purusha sukta gives a description
of the spiritual unity of the universe. It
presents the nature of Purusha or the
cosmic being as both immanent in the
manifested world and yet transcendent to it. The sukta holds that From this being, the original creative will (ldentified with Viswakarma, Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati) proceeds and causes the projection of the universe in space and time. The sukta, in the seventh verse,
hints at the organic connectedness of
the various classes of society. The Purusha is defined in verses 2 to 5
of the sukta and described as a being who pervades everything conscious and
unconscious universally. Purush is poetically depicted as a being with thousand
heads, eyes and legs, enveloping the earth from all sides and transcending it
by ten fingers length – or transcending
in all ten directions. It is held that all manifestation,
in past present and future, is the Purusha alone. Sukt also proclaims that Purush transcends his
creation. Finally, his glory is held to be even greater than
the portrayal in this sukta. Creation Verses 5-15 hold the creation of the Rig Veda. Creation is described to have started with the origination of Virat or
the cosmic body from the Purusha. In
Virat, omnipresent intelligence
manifests itself which causes the
appearance of diversity. In the verses
following, it is held that Purusha through a sacrifice of himself, brings
forth the avian, forest-dwelling and
domestic animals, the three Vedas, the metres (of the mantras). Then follows a verse which states that from his mouth,
arms, thighs, feet the four Varnas (classes) are born. This four varna-related verse is controversial and is
believed by many scholars, such as Max Müller, to be a corruption and a medieval or modern era insertion into the text. After the verse, the sukta states that
the moon takes birth from the
Purusha’s mind and the sun from his
eyes. Indra and Agni descend from his mouth and from his vital breath, air is
born. The firmament comes from his
navel, the heavens from his head, the
earth from his feet and quarters of space from his ears. Through this creation, underlying unity of human,
cosmic and divine realities is espoused,
for all are seen arising out of same original reality, the Purusha. Yajna The Purusha sukta holds that the world
is created by and out of a Yajna or sacrifice of the Purusha. All forms of
existence are held to be grounded in
this primordial Yajna. In the seventeenth verse, the concept of Yajna
itself is held to have arisen out of this
original sacrifice. In the final verses,
Yajna is extolled as the primordial energy ground for all existence.
The sukta gives an expression to
immanence of radical unity in diversity
and is therefore, seen as the
foundation of the Vaishnava thought, Bhedabheda school of philosophy and Bhagavata theology. The concept of the Purusha is from the
Samkhya Philosophy which is traced to
the Indus Valley period. It seems to be
an interpolation into the Rig veda since
it is out of character with the other hymns dedicated to nature gods. The Purusha sukta is repeated with
some variations in the Atharva Veda (19.6). Sections of it also occur in the Panchavimsha Brahmana, Vajasaneyi Samhita and the Taittiriya Aranyaka. Among Puranic texts, the sukta has been elaborated in the Bhagavata Purana (2.5.35 to 2.6.1-29) and in the Mahabharata (Mokshadharma Parva 351 and 352
Regarding authenticity of Purusha Sukta, many 19th and early 20th century
western scholars questioned as to
when parts or all of Purusha Sukta were
composed, and whether some of these
verses were present in the ancient
version of Rigveda. They suggest it was interpolated in post-Vedic era, and is a relatively modern origin of Purusha Sukta. B. V. Kamesvara Aiyar, another 19th
century scholar, on the other hand, disputed this idea:
The Purusha Sukta varna verse is now
generally considered to have been
inserted at a later date into the Vedic text, possibly as a charter myth. Stephanie Jamison and Joel Brereton, a
professor of Sanskrit and Religious
studies, state, “there is no evidence in
the Rigveda for an elaborate, much-
subdivided and overarching caste
system”, and “the varna system seems to be embryonic in the Rigveda and,
both then and later, a social ideal rather than a social reality”.
1. a b c David Keane (2007), Caste- based Discrimination in International
Human Rights Law, ISBN 978-0754671725, pp 26-27.
2. a b c Raghwan (2009), Discovering the Rigveda A Bracing text for our
Times, ISBN 978-8178357782, pp 77-88.
3. a b c The Purusha sukta in Daily Invocations by Swami Krishnananda.
4. Krishnananda, Swami. A Short History of Religious and Philosophic
Thought in India. Divine Life Society, p. 19.
5. Koller, The Indian Way 2006, p. 44.
6. Koller, The Indian Way 2006, pp. 45-47.
7. Haberman, David L. River of Love in an Age of Pollution: The Yamuna River of Northern India . University of California Press; 1 edition (September
10, 2006). P. 34. ISBN 0520247906. 8. S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Vol. 1.
9. Visvanathan, Cosmology and Critique 2011, p. 148.
10. Nagarajan, V (1994). Origins of Hindu social system. South Asia Books.
pp. 16, 121. ISBN 978-81-7192-017-4.
11. J. Muir (1868), Original Sanskrit Texts on the Origin and History of the
People of India – their religion and institutions at Google Books, 2nd Edition, pp 12.
12. Albert Friedrich Weber, Indische Studien, herausg. von at Google Books, Volume 10, pp 1-9. with footnotes (in German); For a
translation, see page page 14 of Original Sanskrit Texts at Google Books.
13. Colebrooke, Miscallaneous Essays Volume 1, WH Allen & Co, London, see footnote at page 309.
14. Müller (1859), A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature , Williams & Norgate, London, pp 570-571.
15. Aiyar, B.V. Kamesvara (1898), The Purusha Sukta, G.A. Natesan, Madras , introduction, p. 7 16. a b Jamison, Stephanie; et al. (2014). The Rigveda : The Earliest
Religious Poetry of India. Oxford
University Press. pp. 5758. ISBN 978-0-19-937018-4.
Koller, John M. (2006), The Indian Way: An Introduction to the
Philosophies & Religions of India (2nd
ed.), Pearson Education, ISBN 0131455788
Visvanathan, Meera (2011), “Cosmology and Critique: Charting a
History of the Purusha Sukta”, in Roy,
Kumkum, Insights and Interventions: Essays in Honour of Uma Chakravarti , Delhi: Primus Books, pp. 143–168, ISBN 978-93-80607-22-1.
1. Coomaraswamy, Ananda, Rigveda 10.90.1: aty atiṣṭhad daśāṅgulám,
Journal of the American Oriental
Society, vol. 66, no. 2 (1946), 145-161.
2. Deo, Shankarrao (Member of India’s Constituent Assembly and co-author of
the Constitution of India),
Upanishadateel daha goshti OR Ten
stories from the Upanishads,
Continental Publication, Pune, India,
3. Swami Amritananda’s translation of Sri Rudram and Purushasuktam,,
Ramakrishna Mission, Chennai.
4. Patrice Lajoye, “Purusha”, Nouvelle Mythologie Comparée / New
Comparative Mythologie, 1, 2013: http://
Concept of Purush in Indian tradition
Purusha is an extremely complex concept whose meaning has
evolved in Vedic and Upanishadic times. Its meaning and interpretation has depended on the source and
historical timeline. It may variously mean the cosmic
man, the Self, Consciousness and Universal principle. In early Vedas, Purusa appears to mean a cosmic
man whose sacrifice by the gods created all life. This was one of many creation theories discussed in the Vedas. The idea parallels Norse Ymir, with the myth’s origin in Proto-Indo- European religion. In the Upanishads, the Purusa concept
no longer meant a being or cosmic
man and its meaning evolved to an
abstract essence of Self, Spirit and the
Universal Principle that is eternal,
indestructible, without form and all pervasive. The view of the immanence of the
Purusha in manifestation and yet his
transcendence of it is described in the sukt is similar to the
viewpoint held by panentheists. The Purusa concept is explained with the concept of Prakrti in
the Upanishads. The universe is
envisioned, in these ancient Sanskrit
texts, as a combination of perceivable
material reality and non-perceivable,
non-material laws and principles of nature. Material reality, or Prakrti, is everything that has changed, can
change and is subject to cause and
effect. Purusa is the Universal principle
that is unchanging, uncaused but is
present everywhere and the reason why
Prakrti changes, evolves all the time and why there is cause and effect. Purusa is what connects everything and
everyone, according to various schools
of Hinduism. However, there is a great diversity of views within
various schools of Hinduism about the
definition, scope and nature of Purusa. 
Definition and description of Purusha being a complex concept, its
meaning evolved over time in the
philosophical traditions of
Hinduism as well. During the Vedic period,
Purusa concept was one of several
theories offered for the creation of universe. Purusa, in Rigveda, was described as a being, who becomes a
sacrificial victim of gods, and whose
sacrifice creates all life forms including human beings. In the Upanishads and later texts of
Hindu philosophy, the Purusa concept
moved away from the Vedic definition
of Purusa. The
concept flowered into a more complex abstraction. Both Samkhya and Yoga schools of Hinduism state that there are two
ultimate realities whose interaction
accounts for all experiences and
universe – Prakrti (matter) and Purusa (spirit). In other words, the universe is envisioned as a combination
of perceivable material reality and non-
perceivable, non-material laws and
principles of nature. Material reality, or
Prakrti, is everything that has changed,
can change and is subject to cause and effect. Universal principle, or Purusa, is that which is unchanging (aksara) and is uncaused. The animating causes,
fields and principles of nature is Purusa
in Hindu philosophy. Hinduism refers to
Purusa as the soul of the universe, the
universal spirit present everywhere, in
everything and everyone, all the times. Purusa is Universal Principle that is
eternal, indestructible, without form
and all pervasive. It is Purusa in the
form of natures laws and principles
that operate in the background to
regulate, guide and direct change, evolution, cause and effect. It is Purusa, in Hindu concept of existence,
that breathes life into matter, is the source of all consciousness, one that creates oneness in all life forms, in all
of humanity, and the essence of Self. It
is Purusa, according to Hinduism, why
the universe operates, is dynamic and evolves, as against being static. Both Samkhya and Yoga school holds
that the path to moksha (release, Self-
realization) includes the realization of Purusha.
The abstract idea Purusa is extensively
discussed in various Upanishads, and
referred interchangeably as maha-
atman and brahman (not to be confused with Brahmin). Sutra literature refers to a similar concept using the word puṃs. Rishi Angiras of the Atmopanishad belonging to the Atharvaveda explains that Purusha, the dweller in the body, is
three-fold: the Bahyatman (the Outer-
Atman) which is born and dies; the
Antaratman (the Inner-Atman) which
comprehends the whole range of
material phenomena, gross and subtle, with which the Jiva concerns himself, and the Paramatman which is all- pervading, unthinkable, indescribable,
is without action and has no Samskaras. The Vedanta Sutras state janmādy asya yatah, meaning that ‘The Absolute
Truth is that from which everything else
emanates’ Bhagavata Purana [S.1.1.1].
For the theistic schools of Hinduism, there is no consensus among various these schools of
Hinduism on the definition of Purusa,
and it is left to each school and
individual to reach their own
conclusions. For example, one of many
theistic traditions script such as Kapilasurisamvada, credited to another
ancient Hindu philosopher named
Kapila, first describes purusa in a
manner similar to Samkhya-Yoga
schools above, but then proceeds to
describe buddhi (intellect) as second purusa, and ahamkara (ego) as third
purusa. Such pluralism and diversity of thought within Hinduism  implies that the term purusa is a complex term
with diverse meanings.
As for the Rigvedic justification of Varna system in Hindu society, in one verse of Purusha sukta (10:90.11), Varna is portrayed as a result of human beings
created from different parts of the
body of the divinity Purusha. This
Purusha Sukta verse is controversial
and is believed by many scholars, such
as Max Müller, to be a corruption and medieval or modern era insertion into Veda, because unlike all other major concepts in the Vedas including those of Purusha, the four varnas are never mentioned anywhere else in
any of the Vedas, and because this
verse is missing in some manuscript
prints found in different parts of India.
Notes and references
1. Purusha Encyclopedia Britannica (2013).
2. a b c d e Angelika Malinar, Hindu Cosmologies, in Jessica Frazier (Editor)
– A Continuum Companion to Hindu
Studies, ISBN 978-0-8264-9966-0, pp 67.
3. a b c d Karl Potter, Presuppositions of Indias Philosophies, Motilal
Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0779-0, pp 105-109.
4. a b c Klaus K. Klostermair (2007), A survey of Hinduism, 3rd Edition, State
University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7081-7, pp 87,
5. Encyclopædia Britannica. Edition: 11 V. 19 – 1911 page 143.
6. Patrice Lajoye, “Puruṣa”, Nouvelle Mythologie Comparée / New
Comparative Mythologie, 1, 2013: http://nouvellemythologiecomparee.
7. a b c Theos Bernard (1947), The Hindu Philosophy , The Philosophical Library, New York, pp 69-72.
8. An example of alternate theory is Nasadiya Sukta, the last book of the
Vedas, which suggests a great heat
created universe from void. See: Klaus
K. Klostermair (2007), A survey of
Hinduism, 3rd Edition, State University
of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7081-7, pp 88.
9. Klaus K. Klostermair (2007), A survey of Hinduism, 3rd Edition, State
University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7081-7, pp 167-169.
10. Klaus K. Klostermair (2007), A survey of Hinduism, 3rd Edition, State
University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0-7914-7081-7, pp 170-171.
11. A school of Hinduism that considers reason, as against Nyaya school’s logic or Mīmāmsā school’s tradition, as the proper source of
12. Jessica Frazier, A Continuum Companion to Hindu Studies, ISBN 978-0-8264-9966-0, pp 24-25, 78.
13. Angelika Malinar, Hindu Cosmologies, in Jessica Frazier (Editor)
– A Continuum Companion to Hindu
Studies, ISBN 978-0-8264-9966-0, pp 78-79.
14. Swami Madhavananda. Minor Upanishads . Advaita Ashrama . p. 11.
15. Angelika Malinar, Hindu Cosmologies, in Jessica Frazier (Editor)
– A Continuum Companion to Hindu
Studies, ISBN 978-0-8264-9966-0, pp 80.
16. David Keane (2007), Caste-based Discrimination in International Human
Rights Law, ISBN 978-0754671725, pp 26-27.
17. Raghwan (2009), Discovering the Rigveda A Bracing text for our Times, ISBN 978-8178357782, pp 77-88.
18. Rigveda 10/81 & Yajurveda 17/19/20, 25.
19. Colebrooke, Miscallaneous Essays Volume 1, WH Allen & Co, London, see footnote at page 309.
20. Müller (1859), A History of Ancient Sanskrit Literature , Williams & Norgate, London, pp 570-571.
21. N. Jabbar (2011), Historiography and Writing Postcolonial India,
Routledge, ISBN 978-0415672269, pp 149-150.
सहस्रशीर्षा पुरुषः सहस्राक्षः सहस्रपात् । स भूमिं विश्वतो वृत्वात्यतिष्ठद्दशाङुलम् ॥१॥
Sahasra-Shiirssaa Purussah Sahasra-
Akssah Sahasra-Paat |
Sa Bhuumim Vishvato Vrtva-Atya [i]- Tisstthad-Dasha-Angulam ||1||
1.1: The Purusha (The Universal Being) has Thousand Heads, Thousand Eyes and Thousand Feet (Thousand signifies innumerable which points to the
omnipresence of the Universal Being),
1.2: He envelops the World from all sides (i.e. He pervades each part of the
Creation), and extends beyond in the Ten Directions ( represented by Ten Fingers ),
पुरुष एवेदं सर्वं यद्भूतं यच्च भव्यम् । उतामृतत्वस्येशानो यदन्नेनातिरोहति ॥२॥
Purussa Evedam Sarvam Yad-Bhuutam
Yacca Bhavyam |
Uta-Amrtatvasye[a-I]shaano Yad- Annena-Ati-Rohati ||2||
Meaning: 2.1: The Purusha is indeed All this (Creation) in essence; That which existed in the Past, and that which will exist in the Future,
2.2: Everything (i.e the whole Creation) is woven by the Immortal essence of the Great Lord (Purusha); by becoming Food of which (i.e. by getting consumed in
Whose Immortal essence through
surrender) one transcends the gross world (and becomes Immortal).
एतावानस्य महिमातो ज्यायाँश्च पूरुषः । पादोऽस्य विश्वा भूतानि त्रिपादस्यामृतं दिवि ॥३॥
Etaavaanasya Mahima-Ato Jyaayaash-Ca
Paado-Asya Vishvaa Bhuutaani Tri-Paad-
Asya-Amrtam Divi ||3||
Meaning: 3.1: The Purusha is Greater than all the Greatness (which can be expressed by words),
3.2: His One Foot has become all these (visible) Worlds, and His Three Feet rests in the Immortal World of the Transcendence.
त्रिपादूर्ध्व उदैत्पूरुषः पादोऽस्येहाभवत्पुनः । ततो विष्वङ् व्यक्रामत्साशनानशने अभि ॥ ४॥
Tri-Paad-Uurdhva Udait-Puurussah Paado-
Asye[a-I]ha-Abhavat-Punah | Tato Vissvang Vya [i-A]kraamat- Saashana-Anashane Abhi ||4||
Meaning: 4.1: The Three Feet of the Purusha is raised high Above (in Transcendental Realm), and His One Foot becomes the Creation again and again.
4.2: There, in the Creation, He pervades all the Living ( who eats ) and the Non-Living ( who does not eat ) beings.
तस्माद्विराळजायत विराजो अधि पूरुषः । स जातो अत्यरिच्यत पश्चाद्भूमिमथो पुरः ॥५॥
Tasmaad-Viraadda-Jaayata Viraajo Adhi
Sa Jaato Atya[i-A]ricyata Pashcaad- Bhuumim-Atho Purah ||5||
Meaning: 5.1: From Him (i.e. the Purusha) was born the Virat; (the Virat came into being) from the presence of the Shining Purusha (Who remained as the background or
substratum of Virat);
5.2: He (i.e. the Virat) created the Earth, by manifesting Her from His own being as substratum.
यत्पुरुषेण हविषा देवा यज्ञमतन्वत । वसन्तो अस्यासीदाज्यं ग्रीष्म इध्मः शरद्धविः ॥६॥
Yat-Purussenna Havissaa Devaa Yajnyam-
Vasanto Asya-Asiida-Ajyam Griissma
Idhmah Sharad-[d]Havih ||6||
Meaning: 6.1: With the Purusha as the (Sacrificial) Fire, the Deva (the Shining One, referring to Virat) continued the Yagya (Sacrifice of creation),
6.2: Spring was (created as) the clarified Butter (of that Yagya), Summer was (created as) the Fuel (of that Yagya), and Autumn was (created as) the Havis (Sacrificial offering of that Yagya).
तं यज्ञं बर्हिषि प्रौक्षन्पुरुषं जातमग्रतः । तेन देवा अयजन्त साध्या ऋषयश्च ये ॥७॥
Tam Yajnyam Barhissi Pra Ukssan-
Purussam Jaatam-Agratah |
Tena Devaa Ayajanta Saadhyaa Rssayash-
Ca Ye ||7||
Meaning: 7.1: The First Divine Men were created as the Holy Water sprinkled with the Kusa Grass in that Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation).
7.2: The First Divine Men were the Sadhya Devas and the Rishis, Who were created by Him, the Deva (the Shining One, referring to Virat), Who performed the Yagya. (These Rishis were not human but divine Rishis like Saptarshis created
directly by Virat).
तस्माद्यज्ञात्सर्वहुतः सम्भृतं पृषदाज्यम् । पशून्ताँश्चक्रे वायव्यानारण्यान् ग्राम्याश्च ये ॥८॥
Sambhrtam Prssadaajyam |
Aarannyaan Graamyaash-Ca Ye ||8||
Meaning: 8.1: From the Complete Offering of His (i.e. Virat’s) Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation) was obtained Ghee mixed with coagulated Milk, …
8.2: … which (i.e. the Ghee and Milk) are (the created) Animals, both of Air (Birds) and of Forests (Wild Animals) and Villages (Domestic Animals).
तस्माद्यज्ञात्सर्वहुत ऋचः सामानि जज्ञिरे । छन्दांसि जज्ञिरे तस्माद्यजुस्तस्मादजायत ॥९॥
Saamaani Jajnyire |
Chandaamsi Jajnyire Tasmaad-Yajus-
Meaning: 9.1: From the Complete Offering of His (i.e. Virat’s) Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation) was born the Rig Veda and Sama Veda,
9.2: The Chandas (Vedic Meters) were born from Him, and the Yajur Veda was born from Him.
तस्मादश्वा अजायन्त ये के चोभयादतः । गावोः ह जज्ञिरे तस्मात् तस्माज्जाता अजावयः ॥१०॥ Tasmaad-Ashvaa Ajaayanta Ye Ke Co [a- U]bhayaadatah | Gaavoh Ha Jajnyire Tasmaat Tasmaaj-
Jaataa Ajaa-Vayah ||10||
Meaning: 10.1: From Him (i.e. Virat) was born the Horses, and all those animals who has teeth in both jaws,
10.2: From Him (i.e. Virat) was born the Cows, and from Him was born all types of Goats.
यत्पुरुषं व्यदधुः कतिधा व्यकल्पयन् । मुखं किमस्य कौ बाहू का ऊरू पादा उच्येते ॥११॥
Yat-Purussam Vya [i-A]dadhuh Katidhaa Vya[i-A]kalpayan | Mukham Kimasya Kau Baahuu Kaa Uuruu
Paadaa Ucyete ||11||
Meaning: 11.1: What did the Purusha (i.e. Virat) hold within Him? How many parts were assigned in His Huge Form?
11.2: What was His Mouth? What was His Arms? What was His Thighs? And what was His Feet?
ब्राह्मणोऽस्य मुखमासीद् बाहू राजन्यः कृतः । ऊरू तदस्य यद्वैश्यः पद्भ्यां शूद्रो अजायत ॥१२॥
Baahuu Raajanyah Krtah |
Uuruu Tad-Asya Yad-Vaishyah
Padbhyaam Shuudro Ajaayata ||12||
Meaning: 12.1: The Brahmanas were His Mouth, the Kshatriyas became His Arms,
12.2: The Vaishyas were His Thighs, and from His pair of Feet were born the Shudras.
चन्द्रमा मनसो जातश्चक्षोः सूर्यो अजायत । मुखादिन्द्रश्चाग्निश्च प्राणाद्वायुरजायत ॥१३॥ Candramaa Manaso Jaatash-Cakssoh
Suuryo Ajaayata |
Meaning: 13.1: The Moon was born from His Mind and the Sun was born from His Eyes,
13.2: Indra and Agni (Fire) were born from His Mouth, and Vayu (Wind) was born from His Breath.
नाभ्या आसीदन्तरिक्षं शीर्ष्णो द्यौः समवर्तत । पद्भ्यां भूमिर्दिशः श्रोत्रात्तथा लोकाँ अकल्पयन् ॥१४॥
Naabhyaa Aasiid-Antarikssam Shiirssnno
Dyauh Samavartata |
Padbhyaam Bhuumir-Dishah Shrotraat-
Tathaa Lokaa Akalpayan ||14||
Meaning: 14.1: His Navel became the Antariksha (the intermediate Space between Heaven
and Earth), His Head sustained the Heaven,
14.2: From His Feet the Earth (was sustained), and from His Ears the Directions (were sustained); in this manner all the Worlds were regulated by Him.
सप्तास्यासन् परिधयस्त्रिः सप्त समिधः कृताः । देवा यद्यज्ञं तन्वाना अबध्नन्पुरुषं पशुम् ॥१५॥
Saptaasya[i-A]asan Paridhayas-Trih Sapta Samidhah Krtaah |
Devaa Yadyajnyam Tanvaanaa Abadhnan-
Purussam Pashum ||15||
Meaning: 15.1: By making Seven Enclosures with Three times Seven sacrificial Firewood (symbolically representing various koshas
etc), … 15.2: … the Deva (the Shining One referring to Virat) in that Yagya (Sacrifice of Creation), bound the infinite expanse of the Purusha as (apparently) finite living beings (Pashu).
यज्ञेन यज्ञमयजन्त देवास्तानि धर्माणि प्रथमान्यासन् । ते ह नाकं महिमानः सचन्त यत्र पूर्वे साध्याः सन्ति देवाः ॥ १६॥
Yajnyena Yajnyam-Ayajanta Devaas-
Taani Dharmaanni Prathamaanya[i- A]asan | Te Ha Naakam Mahimaanah Sa-Canta
Yatra Puurve Saadhyaah Santi Devaah ||
Meaning: 16.1: The Devas performed the external Yagya by meditating on the real Yagya (i.e. contemplating on the Purusha Who is
Shining behind everything); And thus they first obtained the Dharma (based on the Oneness of the Purusha),
16.2: By Meditating on the Greatness of the Chidakasha (Blissful Spiritual Sky behind everyone, which is the essence of
the Purusha), during those earlier times, the Spiritual Aspirants became the Shining One themselves.
Twenty four verse vesion of Purush Sukt
Om taccham yoravrini mahe ghatun yajnaya ghatun yajnapataye daivi svastirastu naha svastir manushebhyaha urdhvam jigatu bheshajam sham no astu dvipade sham chatushpade Om shantih shantih shantihi
We worship and pray to the Supreme Lord
for the welfare of all beings. May all
miseries and shortcomings leave us
forever so that we may always sing for
the Lord during the holy fire ceremonies.
May all medicinal herbs grow in potency so that all diseases may be cured. May the
gods rain peace on us. May all the two-
legged creatures be happy, and may all
the four-legged creatures also be happy.
May there be peace in the hearts of all
beings in all realms.
Om sahasra shirsha purushaha sahasrakshas sahasrapat sa bhumim vishvato vritva atyatishthad dhashangulam
The Purusha (the Supreme Being) has a
thousand heads, a thousand eyes and a
thousand feet. He has enveloped this
world from all sides and has (even)
transcended it by ten angulas or inches.
purusha evedagam sarvam yadbhutam yaccha bhavyam utamritatva syeshanaha yadanne natirohati
All this is verily the Purusha. All that
which existed in the past or will come
into being in the future (is also the
Purusha). Also, he is the Lord of
immortality. That which grows profusely
by food (is also the Purusha).
etavanasya mahima ato jyayagamshcha purushaha padosya vishva bhutani tripadasya mritam divi
So much is His greatness. However, the
Purusha is greater than this. All the
beings form only a quarter (part of) Him.
The three-quarter part of His, which is
eternal, is established in the spiritual
tripadurdhva udaitpurushaha padosyeha bhavatpunaha tato vishvajya kramat sashana ashane abhi The Purusha with the three-quarters (of
His energy) ascended above (the spiritual
energy). His one quarter of material
energy becomes this creation again (and
again). Then He pervades this universe
comprising a variety of sentient beings and insentient objects.
virajo adhi purushah sa jato atyarichyata pashchad bhumimatho puraha From Him (the Adipurusha or original
Supreme Being) was born the Virat (or
Virat Purusha, the immense universal
form). Making this Virat as the
substratum (another) purusha (or being,
Brahma) (was born). As soon as he was born, he multiplied himself. Later, he
created this earth and then, the bodies
(of the living beings).
yatpurushena havisha deva yajnam atanvata vasanto asyasidajyam grishma idhmash sharaddhavihi
When the devas (the demigods or beings
of light) performed a yajna (or sacrificial
ritual), using the Purusha as the havis
(sacrificial material) for the yajna (ritual),
the Vasanta (spring) became the ajya
(ghee), the Grishma (summer) served as idhma (pieces of wood) and the sharad
(autumn) filled the place of havis
(oblatory material like the purodasha or
rice-cake). Text Seven
saptasyasan paridhayaha trissapta samidhah kritaha deva yadjajnam tanvanaha abadhnan purusham pashum
For this (yajna or spiritual ceremony)
there were seven paridhis (fuel pieces
serving as borders). And, twenty-one
items were made the samit or sacrificial
fuel sticks. When the devas were
performing this yajna or ceremony, they tied the purusha (himself) as the pashu
tam yajnam barhishipraukshan purusham jatamagrataha tena deva ayajantaha sadhya rishayashchaye
The devas, the sadhyas and the rishis
performed the sacrifice by using that
Purusha as the means of yajna, the
Purusha who had been born in the
beginning, after sprinkling him with
water by the barhis (or sacrificial grass).
tasmad yajnat sarvahutaha sambhritam vrishadajyam pashugamstya gashchakre vayavyan aranyan gramashcaye From that yajna (or sacrificial ritual)
wherein the Cosmic Being was Himself
the oblation, was produced the prasajya
(or curds mixed with ghee). Birds flying in
the air, wild animals of the forest as also
the domesticated animals of the villages were also produced.
tasmad yajnat sarvahutaha richassamani jijignire chandhagamsi jijignire tasmat yajus tasmad ajayata
From that yajna (or sacrifice) wherein the
Cosmic Being was Himself the oblation,
were born the riks (the mantras of the
Rig-veda) and the samans (the mantras of
the Sama-veda). From that (yajna) the
metres (like Gayatri) were born. From that (yajna again) the yujas (the Yajur-veda) was born.
tasmadashva ajayata ye ke cobhaya dataha gavo ha jijignire tasmat
tasmad jnata ajavayaha
From that were born the horses, as also
animals (like donkeys and mules) which
have two rows of teeth. From that were
born the cattle. From that (again) were
born goats and sheep.
yatpurusham vyadadhuhu kadhita vyakalpayan mukham kimasya kau bahu kavuru padavuchayate
(Now some questions are raised by the
sages:) When the gods decided to
(mentally) sacrifice the Viratpurusha (and
produce further creation), in how many
ways did they do it? What became of his
face or mouth? What became of his two arms? What became of His two thighs?
What were (the products of) the two feet
brahmanosya mukhamasit bahu rajanyah kritaha uru tadasya yadvaishyaha padhyagam shudro ajayata
From His face (or the mouth) came the
brahmanas. From His two arms came the
rajanya (the kshatriyas). From His two
thighs came the vaishyas. From His two
feet came the shudras.
chandrama manaso jataha chakshoh suryo ajayata mukhad indrash chagnishcha pranadvayur ajayata
From His mind was born the moon. From
His two eyes was born the sun. From His
mouth were born Indra and Agni. From
His breath was born the air.
nabhya asidanta riksham shirshno dyauh samavartata padhyam bhumirdishash shrotrat tada lokagamm akalpayan
From (His) navel was produced the
antariksha (the space between the earth
and the heavens). Dyuloka (or heaven)
came into existence from His head. The
bhumi (the earth) evolved out of His feet,
and deek (or spacial directions) from His ears. Similarly (the demigods) produced
the worlds (too).
vedahametam purusham mahantam adityavarnam tamasastu pare sarvani rupani vichitya dhiraha namani kritva abhivadan yadaste
“I know (through intuitive experience)
this great Purusha (the Supreme Being),
the wise one, who, having created the
various forms and the nomenclatures (for
those forms), deals with them by those
names, and who is beyond darkness and is brilliant like the sun.”
dhata purastadya mudajahara shakrah pravidvan pradishashcha tasraha tamevam vidvan amrita iha bhavati nanyah pantha ayanaya vidyate
In the ancient days, Prajapati (Brahma)
praised Him. Indra who knows all the four
quarters also spoke about Him. Anyone
who knows Him thus, will become
immortal even in this life. For attaining
liberation there is no other path (than knowledge of this Purusha, the Supreme
yajnena yajnam ayajanta devaha tani dharmani pradhamanyasan te ha nakam mahimanas sacante
yatra purve sadhyah santi devaha
The (demi)gods worshiped (the Supreme
Creator in the form of) yajna through
yajna (sacrifical ceremonies). Those very
processes became the primary dharmas
(laws guiding humanity). Those great
ones attain that heaven where the ancient devas (demigods) and sadhyas
adbhyas sambhutah prithivyai rasacca vishvakarmanas samavartatadhi tasya tvashta vidadhad rupameti tatpurushasya vishvamajanamagre
The Viratpurusha manifested Himself
from out of (the all-pervading) water as
also the essence of the element of earth.
This Viratpurusha was born out of the
greatness of the Paramapurusha, the
Creator. The (Paramapurusha, known as) Tvashta engaged Himself in the act of
creating (the fourteen planetary systems),
(which form of the expanded) figure (of
the Viratpurusha). (Thus) the entire
creation (related to the Viratpurusha)
came into existence in the very beginning of creation.
vedahametam purusham mahantam adityavarnam tamasah parastat tamevam vidvan amrita iha bhavati nanyah pantha vidyate’yanaya
“I have known that great Purusha
(Supreme Being) who is brilliant like the
sun and who is beyond all darkness. One
who knows Him thus becomes immortal
(even) here. There is no other path for
liberation than this.”
Text Twenty one
prajapatishcharati garbhe antaha ajayamano bahudha vijayate tasya dhirah parijananti yonim marichinam padamicchanti vedhasaha
Prajapati (the Supreme Creator) moves
inside the cosmic womb. (Though) unborn
He takes birth in a variety of ways. The
wise ones know His (real nature) as the
origin (of the universe). The (secondary)
creators desire to attain the positions of Marichi and others.
Text Twenty two
yo devebhya atapati yo devanam purohitaha purvo yo devebhyo jataha namo ruchaya brahmaye Obeisances to Him, the self-luminous
Brahman, who shines for the (demi)gods,
who is the leader of the rituals of the
gods and who was born even before the
Text Twenty three
rucham brahmam janayantaha deva agre tadabruvan yastvaivam brahmano vidyat tasya deva asanvashe
In the beginning of creation, the gods,
manifesting the light of Brahman,
addressed Brahman thus: “That brahmana
who realizes (You) thus, all the gods will
come under his control.”
hrishcha te lakshmishcha patnyau ahoratre parshve nakshatrani rupam ashvinau vyattam ishtam manishana amun manishana sarvam manishana Om shanti shanti shantihi
O Purusha! The goddesses Hri (modesty)
and Sri (Lakshmi, wealth) are Your
consorts. Day and night are Your lateral
limbs. The stars are Your form. The
Ashvins are your widely opened (mouth).
(O Purusha) fulfill our desire for self- knowledge as also our desire for the
enjoyments of this world (like longevity,
cows, and horses). Give us all that we
need. Om, let there be peace, peace,
SAMKHYA THEORY OF MATTER
(M. P. Rege: In THE NATURE OF MATTER © 1995 Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, New Delhi)
1. What may count as the Samkhya theory of matter is part of the general philosophical theory advanced by it which aims at giving a true account of the nature of all that there is.
2. Samkhya divides all things that are there into two radically different kinds:
(a) things which possess consciousness or rather are constituted of consciousness (cetana);
(b) things which are unconscious (jada) but are objects of (or for) consciousness.
The latter category includes not only inanimate physical things and physical processes, living things and vital processes, but also minds and mental acts, occurrences like sensations, wishes and feelings. For, one can be as much aware of one’s feelings and perceptions of things, as of tables and stones. Thus for Samkhya, physical things, organisms and minds fall on one side of the fundamental ontological divide, on the other side of which are to be found only subjects of pure consciousness (purusa).
Samkhya dualism may be compared with Cartesian dualism which has dominated later Western thought, according to which the basic ontological division is that between minds which are characterised by consciousness, and material things which are characterised by extension and motion.
3. The totality of jada things is called Prakrti. Prakrti is one, not only in the formal sense of being the all-inclusive set of all jada things, but also in the sense that it is one causal system. A jada thing exists, in some sense, within Prakrti. It is one form of the stuff of which Prakrti is composed and is causally linked with other such forms.
4. The ultimate constituents of which Prakrti or all jada things are composed are gunas. The commonest meaning of the Sanskrit word guna is quality. However, as used by Samkhya, guna does not mean quality. A guna is rather a substantive entity. But a guna is not something which possesses quality. Rather a guna is an entity with its own characteristic expression. A guna expresses itself in a certain quale. The total character of a particular thing or process like a pot or a tree or an emotion is the resultant of the qualia in which all the gunas which constitute that thing or process have expressed themselves. Everything or process in prakrti is composed of gunas.
5. Gunas fall into three kinds: Sattva, rajas and tamas. For Samkhya, a jada thing is something which is essentially (a potential) object of consciousness, an object for some Purusa. The consciousness of a purusa is likened to light. This metaphor needs to be taken seriously. For a purusa to be aware of an object is for the object to be illumined with a glow with the light of the purusa. The contribution which the component of sattva gunas within a jada thing makes to its nature, consists in rendering it illuminable by the light of a purusa. The sattva gunas are just those gunas which are responsive to the light of a purusa. A composition of gunas which is capable of being illumined by the light of a purusa is a mental phenomenon. It has this nature and capability because there is a preponderance of sattva gunas in its composition. When a mental phenomenon which is in itself unconscious (jada) is illumined by the light of a purusa, it becomes a conscious experience. Opposed to sattva gunas are the tamas gunas. (Tamas means darkness.) Tamas gunas resist the light of a purusa; they are opaque to it. They thus constitute the principle of materiality. A material thing is one which has a preponderance of tamas gunas in it. However, a material thing can become an object for consciousness indirectly even though not directly. Sattva gunas in addition to being translucent are plastic. As a mind is predominantly composed of sattva gunas, it can assume, because of the plasticity which it possesses, the form of a material thing. A mental formation of this sort when illumined by the light of a purusa becomes a conscious perception of the physical object.
The third kind of gunas, the rajas gunas, express themselves in motion. They constitute the dynamic principle in Prakrti. Tamas gunas in addition to resisting the light of a purusa also resist the force exerted by rajas gunas. They make for inertia. As a material thing is mainly constituted of tamas gunas it is inert. As against this, even though a mental phenomenon is overwhelmingly composed of sattva gunas it also contains a component of tamas gunas. A mental state, e.g., a perception of a pot has a determinate nature which it maintains at least for a brief while. This implies that it successfully resists being transformed into another sort of mental state. This is made possible by the presence of tamas gunas in it. Every phenomenon in Prakrti is an admixture of all the three kinds of gunas, and the proportions in which they are blended in it determine its character. Things cannot be separated from one another by assigning them to different species or sorts, each with a sharp boundary. They rather form a continuous gradation stretching from the most tamasika things to the most sattvika. Further, as each thing contains a component of rajas gunas, it is continuously changing.
The picture of Prakrti — ‘Nature’ — which Samkhya presents is not that of a totality of things each of which has its own rigid identity which it maintains for a longer or shorter duration, is endowed with a determinate nature of its own and acts uniformly on other things in accordance with its intrinsic nature. The identity of a particular thing — a material thing or a mind — is akin to the identity of a wave. Nature is like an ocean in which waves arise and subside and are continued in subsequent waves. One may note that this is largely a similar picture to that presented by Buddhism or Advaita Vedanta.
6. A human person, indeed any jiva (a living organism) consists of a purusa, and a mind-body complex to which it is related. The purusa is the transcendental element in jiva; the mind-body complex falls squarely within Prakrti. The mind, the body to which it is linked, and the environment within which the mind-body complex is set and acts, are different formations of the same stuff of which everything in Prakrti is composed. The body can function as an organ of the mind, and the mind-body complex can deal effectively with the environment because of their essential homogeneity. Thus, if Purusas are excluded the Samkhya view of things is monistic and naturalistic.
7. The last point: According to Samkhya there is a teleology inherent in Prakrti, which has a reference to the purposes of purusas. Whatever happens in Prakrti happens for the sake of purusas. Prakrti in its original state exists as an entity which was totally devoid of any specific character. This is so because the expression of every guna in it is exactly nullified by the expression of some other guna which counters it, so that no specific character emerges as the resultant. From this pristine condition Prakrti evolves into the kind of world-order which is familiar to us: a world, consisting, on the one hand, of diverse kinds of material things which change in accordance with causal laws and, on the other, mind-body complexes, each of which is associated with a distinct purusa, and by virtue of this association is capable of perceiving things, feeling pleasures and pains, and the desires they prompt, and acting in order to satisfy these desires. It is within such a world-order that the purposes of purusas can be effectively served. These purposes are of two sorts: (a) to enjoy diverse experiences (bhoga) and
(b) to be liberated from association with Prakrti (apavarga).
The teleology of Prakrti has a moral aspect. The diverse experiences which happenings in Prakrti provide to Purusas are determined by their past karmas. And the supreme end of a purusa which Prakrti serves is his liberation (apavarga or moksa). The Samkhya vision when considered in its entirety is spiritualistic in the peculiarly Indian form of spiritualism.
Space, Time and Anu in Vaisheshika
Abstract: This article summarizes the main ideas related to space, time, and the fundamental particle (anu) in Vaisheshika, the ancient Indian tradition of physics. In particular, the conception of anu, the fundamental particle of this tradition, is examined at length. Kanada used his framework of defining observables (matter) through the effect of motion in a very consistent manner. When the universe ceases to be at the end of the cosmic cycle, matter is not annihilated. Rather, the collection of anu (atoms) reaches a quiescent state where they do not undergo any motion and thus become invisible to observation. The anu in itself is not observable, and is thus an abstraction. Kanada’s framework defies the usual categories of realist versus idealist, since for him matter in itself is a result of motion. In this framework, time and space arise out of the motion that anu obtains due to its interactions. To this extent, the observer is central to Kanada’s scheme.
The characteristics of all that can be conceptualized and hence named and defined in the world through comparison and contrast, is the science of Vaisheshika ,. This includes a conceptual representation of space, and the gross visible matter, which is taken to be constructed out of the varying motions of anu, the most fundamental particle of matter.
Vaisheshika approaches basic concepts in a characteristic manner. For example, the division of time as past, present and future as understood by the observer is said to be a consequence of the fact that time is a function of movement. Vaisheshika is observer centric but it acknowledges that certain entities are necessary within the conceptual framework although there is no direct way of experimental verification of these entitites. For example, anu – the fundamental particle of matter – is said to be beyond direct perception irrespective of the kind of instrument that is used to view it. Nevertheless, its presence can be inferred indirectly.
In this paper, our emphasis is to examine Vaisheshika through the sutras of Kanada (we use the English translations by Sinha ), although the important commentary by the fifteenth century scholar Sankara Misra  will also be used for clarification, wherever necessary. Other important sources on Vaisheshika are references [16-21]. An early overview of Vaisheshika is to be found in the book by Seal .
2. Dravya – The building blocks
Kanada in his sutras enumerates real entities irrespective of whether they can be perceived through the sense organs or not. These are conceivable by the mind of the observer who is central to his world. These are the nine dravyas and these alone describe everything existing in the universe. These are the building blocks of Kanada’s world described through their gunas/attributes and karma/motion.
Space is one among these nine and Kanada recognizes it as an independent positive entity which is neither absence of matter nor an abstract concept. Every dravya has an identifier linga which helps identify the specific dravya besides which it has a unique set of guna/attributes associated with it.
Earth, water, Fire, Air, Akasa, time, Space, atma, mind are the only nine dravyas 1.1.5.
Commentary: All the nine mentioned dravyas in the sutra although are translated as earth, water, etc are not to be understood as the planet earth or the drinking water, etc.
These nine dravyas have specific gunas/ attributes associated to them like the dravya earth has smell associated as the primary guna/attribute to it. An understanding of dravyas can be arrived at by analyzing their attributes and their interactin with the rest of the world. The dravyas shall not be analyzed in this paper but it is important to understand the division of the dravyas.
The first four dravyas: earth, water fire and air are associated with a sense organ each as sense of smell, taste, sight and touch respectively. Although sound is mentioned as the identifier of akasa – the fifth dravya, which is not translated here as ether for specific reasons, that shall be dealt with separately.
Time, space, atma and mind are the eternal or nitya dravyas and none of them are perceivable by any of the sense organs is a basic definition in Vaisesika. Although, these four eternal entities can only be conceived by the mind, they are real existent dravyas or entities. Time, space and akasa are incapable of motion (by sutra 5.2.21) and it is only the first four dravyas and mind which are capable of motion. The mind is also not visible (because it is by nature an anu like-fundamental particle, which is not visible (by sutra 7.1.23). It is only the first four dravyas which compose the matter world. A sort of motion is applicable only to the matter section of dravyas which are the first four among the nine.
The dravyas are both perceivable and possess motion represent matter. Among nine dravyas, the first four compose the non-eternal matter, mind is the eternal but invisible dravya and the remaining four are eternal and incapable of motion.
3. Definition of Dik (Space) and Kala (Time)
That which gives rise to such (cognition and usage) as “This (is remote, etc.) from this,”– (the same is) the mark of space 2.2.10.
Space is identified through the fact that it can provide the context to describe objects as being separated spatially.
Spatial separation can only apply to matter since eternal dravyas which are incapable of motion can neither be separated nor brought together. Although mind can move, it is invisible. Therefore all that remains in Kanada’s classification of dravyas is matter.
The separation is an identifier and the identification is with reference to the observing mind. It is also significant that the displacement of matter is observed relative to another piece of matter.
The essence of this sutra may be rephrased as: mind recognizes space when matter is displaced relative to another piece of matter.
In Sankara Misra’s commentary of this sutra an argument is built about the similarity of space and time in terms of their guna/attributes and a question is raised about the requirement of a new entity called space to be recognized. Both space and time are characterized by their guna/attribute of – partva-aparatva/ being together – separated.
In Kanada’s definition, the dravyas are understood and defined through their gunas/attributes and each of these dravyas is non-repetitive and unique. Therefore time and space can be recognized as two separate entities if and only if their difference is established.
The guna/attribute of partva-aparatva/ being together – separated in time signifies two objects co-existing at the same point of time or being separated in time and the simultaneity in time is defined as a function of the movement of the sun. But that reflects a dependency of time on sun’s movement whereas a dravya has to have an independent existence by definition. It is explained that the concept of ‘simultaneity’ in time (in sutra 2.2.6 commentary) indicates the movement in sun and not vice-versa.
On the other hand the guna/attribute of partva-aparatva/ being together – separated, in space is reflected by conjunction and disjunction of matter and to be understood as samkalina – simultaneity in Time, i.e. the relative spatial separation of matter in the same time frame (same time frame =time measured for the same sun movement).
Questions: The commentary raises certain questions.
1. Spatial separation for objects being defined also with respect to same time frame – Does this imply that time is to be understood as changing with different suns and such different suns and time measures exist?
2. Simultaneity in time reflects the movement of sun – It means that for the observing mind, sun’s movement is a logical conclusion from the concept of what we call ‘at the same time’ in our day-to-day life.
If ‘simultaneity in time’ is relative to the position of observer (meaning with reference to the same sun) and spatial separation of objects is not, does it mean that space is absolute but time is relative.
Time is said to be _- .__/_/ a specific outcome of state of motion – which means time as a larger concept is a function of motion and therefore indicates the general state of motion of the entire cosmos (in the commentary of sutra 2.2.10 of Sankara Misra).
In Yoga Vasistha  which discusses Indian cosmological perspective correlated with many other works, a similar concept of varying time with different universes is mentioned. Space for Kanada is devoid of motion and therefore it is only the matter in motion when the cosmos is mentioned and space is still.
This fits with the idea of Indian cosmological model in which time is said to collapse in the rest period between the cosmic creation and dissolution, and that must be true if time is a function of ‘state of motion’ of the cosmos which comes to a rest in this period between creations and dissolutions [7-13].
4.1 Space as dravya
Dravyatva (being a dravya) and eternality (of Space are) explained by (the explanation of the same in) Air 2.2.11.
Commentary: Space is eternal (explained later). It is concluded to be a dravya and that encompasses hypothesis like – Space is an independent entity
It is existent
It is unique
It is a padartha
It has guna/attributes associated with it
It can give rise to another dravya.
It is incapable of motion.
It is homogenous.
4.2. Space homogeneity
The unity (of space is explained) by (the explanation of unity of) existence (sutra 2.2.12).
Commentary: Here is a discussion of unity of space which is explained in the commentary by Sankara Misra as /eka-pritaktvam. is a guna/attribute of space and in Shankara Misra’s commentary, he defines it as that which differentiates one from two, or it is that kind of a guna/attribute which gives a sense of discretion about the state of dravya discussed.
In the case of space, /eka-pritaktvam must refer to the fact that space is found in one state – what ever that is, and shall always be in the same state irrespective of which point in space is considered or even which point in time is considered. This refers
to the homogeneity of space. Such a guna/attribute fits in with Space being nitya/eternal or unchanging.
4.3. Directions in Space
The diversity (of space) is due to the difference of effects 2.2.13.
Commentary: karya visesena means an outcome the specific kind of work under consideration, and because space is by definition incapable of motion, work in question can only refer to the work done by matter in space. Due to the nature of matter’s behavior in space, it appears that space itself is diverse in nature. The diversity is explained in the following sutras.
4.4. Space Time as the fundamental matrix
‘aditya-samyogat, from the conjunction of the sun ‘bhutapurvat, past and gone bhavisyatah, future ‘bhutat, what has taken place or come in to existence; present ; cha, and prachi, east. (The direction comes to be regarded as) the east, from the past, future, or present conjunction of the sun 2.2.14.
Commentary: East is recognized as the direction from which the sun rose and therefore it is in the past. The past present and future divisions of time as a result of the movement of sun are also connected to the spatial directions which are named based on sun’s movement. The directions in space are explained as relative to the position of the observer. In this sutra space and time are connected by the ‘motion’ of sun which observation is also found in many commentaries.
In the commentary of sutra 2.1.5 Sankara Misra while defining the attributes of akasha states that not only is akasha absolutely color-less but based on the same argument even time and space are devoid of the attributes of rupa, rasa, gandha and sparsha. Time and space have the same attributes associated to them (number, magnitude, pritakathva/ separateness, conjunction and disjunction). He concludes the commentary of this sutra stating that it follows that time and space are thefundamental entities of everything.
The space and time matrix are said to be fundamental because the mind perceives the world through matter which is identified through the four senses of touch, smell, taste and visibility (the eternal dravyas can only be conceptualized by the mind and not perceived).
These four guna/attributes exist in matter which always exists in a certain space and time combination.
The absence of either space or time indicates absence of motion and as is later established in this paper, no guna/attributes can exist in absolute rest or when time collapses to zero.
Space and time has to be the fundamental matrix of the matter world, and the observing mind can never escape either Space or Time during the process of observing the universe. In the Kanadasiddhantachandrika of Gangadharasuri Sastri says 
This division of time is said to be caused by the E_.F/intelligence and in Space it results from conjunction and disjunction of real matter and so the intelligence of the observer plays a secondary role.
In the footnote of Udayavir Shastri ‘s book [15, page 103], it is mentioned that Chandrakant Bhattacharya is of the opinion that space, time and even akasha are the same which are seen as different entities because of the nature of the effects as observed by the mind in their interactions with matter.
By this, the intervals of directions in space are explained 2.2.16.
Commentary: In these last two sutras the four main directions east, west, north, south besides which four more directions between these four directions are accounted for as relative to the position of the observer as concepts which arise only because of the nature of motion of matter in Space. Hence Space itself is homogenous and has no division of direction inherent in it.
The nature of both Space and, anu – the most fundamental particle of matter (sutra 7.1.8 – explained later) in Vaisheshika are said to be explained in the chapter that discusses nitya/eternal.
The eternal is that which is existent and uncaused 4.1.1.
Commentary: In this sutra Kanada begins his definition of /nityam or the ‘eternal’ but this term is a very imprecise translation of his /nityam. The term existent has a lot of significance in the school of Vaisheshika because Kanada – a realist, has set himself the task to enumerate everything in the universe through predicable – all that which can be named, expressed through words or conceptualized by the mind. Hence all that he describes are not mere theoretical concepts, but true existing entities of the real world.
The term not having a cause – is two fold. In terms of the time one must remember that Indian cosmology constantly discusses two kinds of cosmic dissolution: the primary and the secondary. There are time periods mentioned for the creation and dissolution process besides the rest period in between. The way in which Kanada links matter, space, time and mind with ‘state of motion’, the question is raised whether anything other than the anu persists through the rest period of universe when time collapses to zero and there is absolute stillness.
Questions: The question raised is, since matter, space, time and mind are all connected to one or the other kind of ‘motion’, does /eternal refer to an existence beyond these dissolutions? Is anything transferred from one process of creation-dissolution to another which are said to be cyclic in nature? Since anu cannot be reduced any further, it must exist as is through all creations and dissolutions, but since time and space are linked to ‘motion’ are they recreated after each rest period?
5.2. Anu in Real Time
The effect is the mark (of the existence) of the ultimate anu 4.1.2.
Commentary: Kanada has stated in a later chapter (sutra 7.1.8) that both anu and mahat are explained through the nitya/eternal, which must be the reason from Prashastapada to Shankar Misra all scholars explain this sutra with an extension to mean the fundamental particle – the anu.
Although in no sutra is the term paramanu mentioned by Kanada, all the other scholars talk of paramanu as the most fundamental particle of matter. We will not focus on the term, instead try to understand what anu in Kanada’s sutras is and for the purpose of this work we shall use the term ‘anu’ for the fundamental particle of matter.
Literally the sutra translates to – The work done by it is its identifier. Here ‘it’ refers to nitya/eternal as this is a section on the same. By the sutra 7.1.8 which states that both anutva and mahatva are explained by the eternal, this sutra should also refer to the two –anutva and mahtva. These terms shall be explored in detail in a later section, for now anu – refers to the most fundamental particle of matter and mahatva refers to space (mahatva – is used in the context of Vaisheshika for more than one dravya, but space is definitely one of them)
Therefore anu and space are identified by the mind of observer through the work done by these or through their effects. This must be the only way they can be identified by the mind because by definition they are not perceivable by the human sense organs irrespective of the method employed.
Sankara Misra in the commentary of this sutra discusses that the gross matter which is visible with properties like magnitude, etc implies that it must be made of smaller parts.
The parts can be further divided to reach some final indivisible entity. The final or most fundamental entity must have the least possible measure of length, mass or volume – magnitude in total, in order to avoid the infinite regression of such fundamental particle being further divisible (anu is a particle because it is capable of conjunction, later mentioned with the sutra). In the fundamental particle of matter which Sankara Misra and other scholars call paramanu there are minima of mass, volume or any measure.
Kanada does not use the term paramanu in his sutras anywhere, yet we mean the same fundamental particle of matter as other commentators who use paramanu). Kanada explores the relation between whole and its parts.
Sankara Misra states that if an enormously large piece of matter like a mountain and a small piece of matter like grain were to be composed of infinite parts of anu, then the difference in the gross size of mountain and grain being built from the same number of anu leads to logical inconsistency. This interpretation is not only used with respect to the gross form in general but in the commentary of sutra 2.1.2 there is a specific mention that the measure of a mountain and a seed would be the same in terms of magnitude, measure and volume if the relation between the parts and the whole were unlimited.
Such an unlimited whole-parts relation is not permissible because it is only during pralaya- the cosmic dissolution, the limit of the series of parts and wholes reaches a maximum. For a given whole which is the matter state of universe the maximum number of parts is reached during the time of dissolution when all matter is reduced to anu form.
This is because the only reducible dravyas of Kanada are matter which is composed of anu and the remaining dravyas are not composed of parts. This discussion of whole and parts throws light on key things.
1. Relation between whole and parts and it raises question about can infinity fit such a loose definition as – infinity added to infinity is infinity, etc.
2. Matter cannot be reduced to anything further than anu, and so matter must be conserved in the state of anu.
3. If during cosmic dissolution all matter is reduced to anu form, then it demands that anu be at rest or with zero motion. This concurs with the definition of karma/ motion in Vaisheshika which by definition is perceivable and anu by definition is not perceivable at any time, therefore anu in order to be non-perceivable must not possess any form of motion. This is exactly what is stated by the cosmological theory.
4. It further concurs with the idea of anu having an inherent potential of acquiring guna/attribute which makes sense that the four fundamental distinguishing guna/attribute of rupa/visibility, etc are associated with four distinct basic motions of anu (discussed in a later section).
5. If the maximum number of parts in to which matter can be reduced is anu which is during dissolution, then matter must not be reducible to the anu state at any other time for then the whole can be reduced to maximum number of parts at times other than dissolution too. This makes sense because Kanada does not include anu as a dravya among the only nine that exist in his enumeration of everything that exists and is conceivable. Therefore anu does not exist in real time at all or when time is non zero.
6. Anu not existing as an individual particle in real time makes sense because different scholars like Prashastapada, etc have an elaborate argument about whether anu is bound as a dvayanuka or trayanuka, etc. i.e., is anu found in conjunction with another anu in a di-anu state or tri-anu state, etc.
Once creation of universe begins time begins to click and things are no more at rest. Then the world can be perceived by the observer and some kind of motion must begin (because by definition in Vaisheshika motion is perceivable or observable). Kanada has an interesting sutra relating to motion of anu.
5.3. Initial motion of Anu
The initial upward flaming of fire, the initial sideward blowing of air and the initial action (motion) of anu, and of mind are caused by adristam 5.2.13.
Commentary: In the commentary of this sutra the initial Adyam – is said to refer to the first motion that is produced in anu by Sankara Misra when the creation of universe begins, like wise the motions of flame of fire, wind and the mind. The reason for these motions are said to be adristam – which can literally be translated as unseen (drista = what is seen and adrista = what is unseen). There are many interpretations about what adristam might mean in Kanada’s context, but we shall not dwell on it here. It is clear from this sutra that Kanada describes an initial motion for the anu and this must essentially be when time begins for time is a function of motion. This sutra implies that anu can have two states – absolute rest and a state of motion.
6. Matter and Motion
The existence (of color, etc.) in the effect, (follows) from (their) existence in the cause 4.1.3.
Commentary: The terms in the sutra ‘ and are in the saptami samasa which is a grammatical condition that implies that the sutra should be understood to mean – because of the existence (of an effect or a specific unique character) in cause it is also exhibited in the gross form. Here Kanada is specifying that anus carry some distinguishing feature in them which gets exhibited as the effect in the gross form.
Logically any thing that is not in the root cause which is the anu cannot be exhibited in the gross form of matter as well.
This is an issue about which the entire School of Vaisheshika has had constant conflict with other schools of philosophy historically. If the anu has to acquire some thing by which four distinct forms of matter – which are recognized by the observer as those with the four primary distinct guna/attributes of rupa, rasa, gandha, sparsha – visibility, taste, smell, touch, then on what basis does an anu pick up a certain attribute and what is it inherent in the anu which makes it a specific form of matter.
The anu is said to potentially have something inherent which later becomes manifested once the process of creation of universe begins.
By the above sutra of the initial movement or motion of anu which begins with creation, it is clear that the four kinds of matter are related to four distinct kinds of motion of anu which in gross form builds up to a certain kind of matter.
Also in Sankara Misra’s commentary of sutra 1.1.6 it is stated that these four attributes of rupa, rasa, gandha, sparsha – visibility, taste, smell, touch cannot co-exist simultaneously at the same point of time in the same substrate. This makes sense because an anu cannot have four distinct kinds of motion at the same time. Space too is said to be a function of samyoga and vibhaga – which is conjunction and disjunction which is declared as a kind of motion by Kanada in sutra 1.122.
Besides conjunction and disjunction are permitted for anu (sutra 4.2.4) and in Kanada’s science only real things are stated, not probable events. In sutra 1.127 it is stated that matter is formed by conjunction Kanada defines the entire creation in terms of different kinds of motion.
7.1. Visibility of Anu
External perception (takes place), in respect of an object possessing magnitude, by means of its possession of that which is composed of more substances than one, and by means of its color 4.1.6.
Commentary: Here the condition for visibility is that the perceived entity be that is be composed of more than one kind of dravya among the nine defined by Kanada, it will have a perceivable magnitude unlike the anu, and must be the substratum of color which does not necessarily mean that it must possess a color. In the commentary Shankara Misra explains that the term which is generally indicative of the magnitude due to or elision of the mutup pratyaya here becomes an adjective to indicate its greatness in its ability to conjunct with many dravyas at a time.
In substances not possessing color, they are not objects of visual perception 4.1.12.
Commentary: In Sankara Misra’s commentary it is explained that all the dravyas from air/vayu upwards do not posses color and so are impossible to be seen through the eyes or to be perceived no matter approached in which way. Yet a specific mention is made to clarify that this does not mean they are impossible to comprehend conceptually. When
the anu is in conjunction with more than one dravya, then they acquire attributes/guna and hence may be perceived. Once anu acquires guna/attribute, Time is in motion and space too must be in existence therefore anu is invariably in conjunction with these two dravyas.
It further can possess no motion or spin as in atoms, electrons or other fundamental particles as defined by modern science because by definition motion/karma is perceivable through the senses.
This is because from the sutra on different kinds of motion (1.1.7) rotation or spin is recognized as a kind of motion or action which can be perceived and if the anu were to be in a state of motion it would mean that it is perceivable which it is not.
Therefore in conclusion anu is not visible in principle with a minima of magnitude and not possessing any kind of motion.
7.2. Is anu spherical?
In chapter seven from the sutra number 7. 1. 5 to 7. 1. 19 an argument is built by Kanada as to what ‘large’ or ‘small’ generally means magnitude wise and finally he concludes about the anu in the following sutra:
The eternal is Parimandala 7. 1. 20.
Commentary: This sutra is often translated as the anu is spherical. In his commentary on this sutra Sankara Misra points out that the term Parimandala is specifically used in the context of Vaisheshika to describe the natural state of the anu which, even though cannot be perceived through the senses has to be the same from any direction or it must necessarily possess a symmetry. In the conventional two or three dimension visualization that we are used to, it is a circle or a spherical shape.
In Kanada’s definition, length or any measurement is a quality associated only with the matter and so the anu and space with its eternality is non-measurable or at least any kind of length-measurement is not applicable to it. Kanada has coined a term parimandala which is not an adjective for spatial dimension but a concept of logical deduction which is conceived by the mind and is therefore only an abstraction.
Anu therefore by definition and logical deductions are described by Kanada as the fundamental particle of matter which is discrete and not perceivable by senses, with minima of magnitude, yet with a real independent existence beyond the perceptions.
These are not further divisible in to components and hence are concluded to be neither destroyable nor created which makes them eternal.
These are not perceivable by an observer and hence are called / super-sensible which means ‘too acute for the senses’. As these are entities with no association of magnitude, it is meaningless to fix a position for the anu and hence they are /non localizable .
Space also is eternal, with no measurable magnitude association, not perceivable, indivisible, non-matter and yet a dravya.
Therefore ‘existent’ or real to Kanada would not necessarily mean anything that can be perceived through senses, but also extends to anything that can be conceptualized by the human mind. The role of the individual who shall understand the predicable is consequently very central and critical.
Conjunction of anu is not restricted 4.2.4.
Commentary: Therefore the term anu is used to refer to a particle which can go through the operations of conjunction. Anu is concluded to be a particle.
The contrary of this is anu 7.1.10.
Commentary: In this chapter which is discussing the magnitude of anutva and mahatva – where anutva is already established as the minima of magnitude, anu is defined as the contrast of mahat. Therefore in terms of magnitude mahat is the maxima of magnitude or Space is the maxima of magnitude and it is not necessarily infinite at least in Vaisheshika.
The examination of the various sections of the Vaisheshika Sutras reveals that Kanada used his framework of defining observables (matter) through the effect of motion in a very consistent manner. When the universe ceases to be at the end of the cosmic cycle, matter is not annihilated. Rather, the collection of anu (atoms) reaches a quiescent state where they do not undergo any motion and thus become invisible to observation. The anu in itself is not observable, and is thus an abstraction, which is why we have not used the term “atom” for it.
Kanada’s framework defies the usual categories of realist versus idealist, since for him matter in itself is a result of motion. In this framework, time and space arise out of the motion that anu obtains due to its interactions. To this extent, the observer is central to Kanada’s scheme. Kanada’s emphasis on analysis of categories is also found in the complementary tradition of logic [22-25] and the application of these two traditions to cosmological questions [26-27]. The idea of tanmatra in the cosmology of Samkhya, which is viewed as a kind of potential out of which materiality emerges, has features similar to that of anu in the Vaisheshika system.
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Nyaya-Vaisheshika: The Indian Tradition of Physics
Roopa Hulikal Narayan
This paper is the first in a series on the Indian tradition of physics that while summarizing the earlier review by Kak ,  will set the stage for a more comprehensive analysis to follow in later papers. In ancient India, the schools of Nyaya and Vaisheshika focused on logic and atomic approach to matter. In this paper, the idea of atomicity and other physical ideas given in Vaisheshika are reviewed in light of the central role the observer plays in Indian thought. We provide introduction to ideas that are described in greater detail in Potter’s text , where the focus is not on physical ideas but rather on philosophy.
The Rigveda, the oldest of the Vedic texts of India, generally assigned to the early second millennium BC or earlier, is seen within the Indian tradition as the source of its approach to reality. The Vedic sages recognized a binding unity among all that constitutes this universe. They made an attempt to reflect this pattern of interdependence among the
entities of the universe including the very structure of universe itself. This may be seen in the structure and symbolic purpose of Vedic altars, approach to language, and so on ,,. The observer or the experiencing subject was given a privileged state in physical thought [6-10].
By the end of nineteenth century, the place of the observer also became a part of the mainstream discourse of academic physics and psychology in the consideration of the dichotomous issues of order and disorder. The second law of thermodynamics stood for the principle of increasing disorder in physics, whereas in biology, the theory of evolution is a principle of ever-increasing order and organization [6, page 50].
Parallels to this dichotomy occur in Indian thought: the self tends toward order whereas the atoms of the body it resides in and the mind it possesses tend toward disorder. But in the analysis of Indian writings we face the problem that its terminology is not always clear in commentaries. One of the tasks of the paper is to clarify the basic terminology used in the Indian physics tradition.
It is generally accepted , that the origin of the Indian physical thought is in the Rig Veda where the order of nature is expressed as Rta. This Rta encompasses the laws of universe which are otherwise unexplainable unless an initial cause of universe is identified. The ability of consciousness to comprehend these laws is also in the purview of Rta. Kanada, one of the primary architects of Vaisheshika, states “I shall enumerate
everything that has a character of being . Vasheshika analyzes material particles through two independent means of knowledge, which are recognized as Perception and Inference. The dependence on these two means alone is evident from the fact that the Vaisheshika accepts the authority of the Vedas based on inference alone . The same principle of inference is added as a prelude to the inference of the self as the basis of cognitive states.
In India, objective science and the science of the self, go hand-in–hand. The Nyaya School as the discipline of logical inference complements Vaisheshika, and the two are often called as Nyaya-Vaisheshika.
3 Brief introductions to their Sciences
3.1 The Philosophers and their philosophy
All thought systems evolve with time, and the philosophy of Vaisheshika is no exception to this rule. The two primary philosophers of interest to us are Kanada and Prashastapada, because their contributions have been remarkably significant.
Kanada, one of the early philosophers of Vaisheshika, is known for his atomic view of the world. He uses the term ‘Vishesha’ to mean particularity of an atom and also in the sense of ‘Antya Vishesha’meaning the‘final individuator the ultimate individuality of each atom which individuates it from all else. This is a unique feature of this school and hence the term vishesha in its adjective form‘Vaisheshika’ is the name of this school.
Prashastapada, who came centuries after Kanada, describes the dissolution of earth, water, air and fire in terms of its atomic constituents that excludes space since its nature is taken to be non-atomic. The conjoining and disjoining of atoms is described as a natural property of atoms but Prashastapada includes a higher will (or order) as the guiding principle of universal dissolution which over-rides the natural karma (motion) of atoms [8, page 65].
The cosmological cycle of creation and dissolution at an atomic level and the breakdown of all natural properties of atoms at such a time of dissolution until the process of creation is re-begun when such natural properties hold good once again is a remarkable insight. Initially atoms were described to conjoin and disjoin resulting in creation and dissolution of new substances which is because of the karma (laws) [8, page 65].
3.2.1 Definition and Classification
Knowledge begins with cognition through two valid means of knowledge, namely Perception and Inference. Perception is when the sensory organs come in contact with some recognizable property of a substance like color of an object. Inference is the method of reasoning. It has a sub-classification of Drshta -what can be observed and, Adrshta – what cannot be observed. Adrshta encompasses all that cannot be explained . Although the inability to explain Adrshta is admitted, its significance is not under estimated. Absence of Adrishta will result in no contact between the body and self and hence result in collapse of cognition. Adrshta seems to be rejected by Nyaya. Kanada makes extensive use of this notion to explain magnetic attraction, initial motion of atoms, falling downwards .
3.2.2 a Priori Inference
Primarily in the early periods a priori inference was preferred for empirical observations. The a priori inference can be described as:
Thinking is a property.
A property can reside in a substance alone.
Therefore thinking must be attributed to a substance.
There is no other known substance with thinking as its property.
By elimination, a new substance with thinking as its property must exist [10, page 56].
3.2.3 Observational Inference
Prashastapada who focused on empirical inference redefines inference as observational. It is at two levels as Drishta – the observed, and Samanyato drishta – the generally observed. Observational inference is illustrated as follows:
Dewlap exists only in cow.
Dewlap is observed in an animal.
Observed dewlap is associated with memory information.
Inference about the observed object is drawn.
Therefore the animal is recognized as cow alone [10, page 66].
Here Prashastapada mentions that the Self has to contact the mind before drawing the final conclusion. A clear parallel can be seen between his method of comparing the unknown object and partly observed object in question with a recollection, to his idea of Self contacting the mind in the final step of inference. Self is the completely known and observed in the physical sense which should contact the mind/manas whose existence is known through memory of previous interactions with the same mind. The external process of observation is mirrored in the internal process of understanding. An entire section is dedicated for the establishment of the concept of self expressed as “I. An illustration for Samanyato drishta – The Generally Observed:
As the name suggests this includes substances generally observed like air, which cannot be seen but is inferred through its commonly known properties. Air possesses touch.
Touch has the attributes of motion and quality.
This substance does not inhere in any other known substance. Therefore this is a new Substance [10, page 56].
A diagrammatic view of cognition is as follows:
Perception ←———————————————→ Inference
Drshta ←——————————→ Adrshta
Observed Generally Observed3.
2.4 Empirical Inference
The principle of empirical inference is explained as a cause-effect relation or any of its derivatives. The process of inference is said to occur in one of the following ways:
An object exists ≡ The object of inference exists.
An object exists ≡ The object of inference does not exist.
An object does not exist ≡ The object of inference does not exist [7, page 289].
The inference about a substance can be drawn from both the existence and non-existence of the premise. The Vaisheshika School does not recognize Upamana-analogy and Shabda-verbal testimony as ways of acquiring knowledge like the Nyaya School.
4. Atoms – The Anu
4.1 Nature of Atoms
The Vaisheshika sutra about atoms states
That which is existent and has no cause (i.e., an atom) is eternal. It is not perceived but is inferred from its effect. . (iv.1.1-5) Atoms are the primordial infinitesimal particles of everything except space or Akasha. To a certain extent terms like atom, space, tend to give us the picture of current-day atom or space, but there are some differences.
Atoms in Vaisheshika are essentially of four kinds: Earth, Apa- water, Tejas- Fire and Vayu-air. These atoms are characterized by their characteristic mass, basic molecular structure such as dyad, triad, etc, fluidity (or it’s opposite), viscosity (or its opposite), velocity (or quantity of impressed motion- Vega) and other characteristic potential color, taste, smell or touch not produced by chemical operation. It is these four kinds of atoms involved in all chemical reactions while the space remains unaffected.
4.2. Atomic Combinations
Atoms may conjoin or disjoin in reactions. Conjunction and disjunction: Kanada says there are three kinds of conjunction:
a) Contact produced due to motion of one object and not the other.
b) Both may be in motion.
c) Contact by actual contact.
Prashastapada explains the last by referring to an example – consider a dyad of earth which is in contact with two water atoms which are themselves in contact and form a water dyad. Then the earth dyad’s contact with the water dyad is produced by the earth dyad’s contacts with the water atoms. It is important to note that while one ubiquitous substance like akasha (say) may contact non-ubiquitous substance, two ubiquitous substances cannot be in contact since neither is capable of motion. Disjunction is considered by the older Vaisheshikas to be a quality which inheres in a pair of substances when one has just parted contact with the other [10, page 121-122]. 4.3 Nature of Atomic Combinations
Atoms are invisible though the final substance formed by conjunction of many such atoms is visible. Several causes lead to such a multi-conjunction substance. The atoms unite in pairs and the unification continues until the visible substance is formed. As long as there is no external agent such as heat applied the properties of the atom are reflected in the binary structure as well. The atoms combine driven by an inherent tendency which is their natural property to form dyads. Although Prashastapada seems to have popularized this view of dyads, Kanada’s system maintained a different stand.
Kanada says the atoms conjoin as a result of their inherent tendency, but different atoms combine in different patterns. Some in pairs, others in triads, tetrads and so on, which may happen in two different ways,
Atoms combine ≡ basic unit /molecule with two, three or n number of units and not two three or n number of dyads where n ≥ 1.
Basic unit of n atoms ≡ 1 atom + 1 atom… n atoms where n≥1.
This essentially means
A group of n atoms fall together to form one unit. (n≥1)
Prashastapada insists on
Atoms combine ≡ only to a binary molecule, not triad, tetrad, etc. Further
Basic unit of n dyads ≡ 1 dyad + 1 dyad… n dyads where n ≥ 1
These dyad combinations further combine in different proportions to form isomeric substances. The inherent properties exhibited by these different substances is a result of the collocation process where it may mean quantitative difference or even spatial arrangement since it is only‘paramanu’ generally translated as ‘atom’ which is a point
energy with zero mass and dimension. Therefore the dyad will have a finite mass and size and hence the spatial arrangement too becomes an important qualifier of the properties of the final substance to be formed .
This is comparable to the current physics point- of- view of basic particles like electrons, protons, bosons, etc that are mere energy clouds which inter-combine in different combinations to form all the known matter. The properties of energy when treated as a basic unit is a constant, but it is the difference in mere combination in quantity, quality and time that qualifies the finally formed substance as‘The Substance’ with its inherent properties. Once the basic unit is formed, further conjunction results from several causes other than the basic impulse or nature of the atom. Hence the atom is different from the substance.
Prashastapada and Kanada concur on the idea of the above said process of combination of the basic unit resulting in the variety of substances which is bound by the laws of universe. Therefore an element of consciousness is considered as playing a role in what the world appears to be. 4.4 Atomic reactions
A substance may change qualitatively under the influence of heat in its course of existence. The Vaisheshika’s stand on such a change is Substance A ——application of heat——→ Decomposition in to paramanus or the basic unit with zero mass and not the unit of dyad, triad, etc. ↓
Recombination of paramanus with a new ←——application of heat basic unit arrangement and order resulting in a new substance.
The Vaisheshikas hold that under the influence of heat, substances are broken down to the most basic entity (paramanu) before being transformed in to a new substance where as the Nyaya school does not believe in decomposition in to the very basic entity. The Vaisheshikas believe that in transformation of a substance the basic properties of the atoms change and the Naiyayikas disagree [9, page 104-105]. This also establishes how meticulous the ancient schools and their philosophers were to the very last detail.
Prashastapada gives a specific example for such a reaction. He considers the fertilized ovum under the application of the animal heat or the bio-motor energy.
_____germ Both are isomeric
↑ modes of
Fertilized ovum ——action of heat—→ Earth
↓____ sperm substance
The fertilized ovum breaks down in to its constituents which in turn are reduced in to homogenous earth atoms. They are homogenous because they essentially belong to the same bhuta. These basic atoms of the bhuta earth re-combine under the influence of the metabolic heat to form the germ-plasm. The germ-plasm develops enriching itself through the nutrients of the body . Germ-plasm —action of heat—→ germ —— action — radicals ↓
Of → cells and tissues
Food substance —action of heat—→ food —— heat —
As can be seen at each stage heat breaks down germ-plasm in to constituent atoms which combine with the constituent atoms of food and all these basic atoms will re-combine to form the cells and tissues. All along heat is a necessary element.
5. Hetero-Bhautic compounds in action:
The Naiyayikas and Vaisheshikas agree on how atoms of different bhutas, i.e. atoms of earth, water, air and fire interact when in contact under the stress of heat. Heat alone is seen as insufficient in many such hetero-bhautic reactions and hence a medium is required to keep the reaction going. Hetero-Bhautic as the term suggests refers to reactions between atoms of different bhutas. A medium is the energizer for the atoms of different bhutas in setting up intra-atomic dynamic forces which finally results in a new substance as the end-product of the reaction. It may be easier to understand this with an analogy:
Tea leaves and sugar cannot be chewed together for the effect of tea. Instead, the two have to be boiled in water where water is the substratum, such boiled decoction with or without milk is consumed as tea. Theoretically this is the same as the tea leaves and sugar chewed together. Likewise certain hetero-bhautic atoms require a substratum to inter-bond them though in the end such a substratum remains unaltered. Milk is an example of a quasi-compound
where water is the energizer for the earth particles and when water is extracted from milk, milk retains its milky substance .
Although all the four bhautic atoms can act as the substratum, it is only the earth atoms which can correspond to basic changes in the atoms since, they can arrest the molecular motion which may even be the motion such as liquid flowing due to gravity and the earth atoms can also counteract the tendency of atoms to fall in to a peculiar group or order .
6. Action of light as a source of heat
6.1. Nature of Light
Vatsayana of the Nyaya School describes the internal heat of a substance as acting in reactions where no external heat is traceable. Such an internal heat is compounded by the solar heat which is the source of all heat stored by substances utilized in chemical changes. An example is given as the change in grass color is due to the bhuta Tejas-fire in the form of latent heat which is stored in the atoms of grass obtained from sunlight and not Tejas in the form of Agni the fire . Such heat cannot be taken away from the substance even by freezing it. It is the same internal heat obtained from the sunlight which ripens a mango fruit eventually resulting in the change of its color, smell, taste not to say about nutritional value.
Light itself is described as constituting indefinitely small particles which mean something smaller and different than so far explained anu or paramanu since these particles are called neither anu nor paramanu. These particles radiate themselves in all directions rectilinearly with a conical dispersion from their source and with inconceivable velocity [9, page 105].
6.2. Action of Light
Light can penetrate the inter-atomic or inter-molecular spaces, hence light particles must be indefinitely smaller than the atoms. Such penetration does not always affect the atomic structure necessarily which is explained with an analogy of frying paddy in a pan where the heat from the fire neither affects the pan nor the paddy structure. Such a penetration and passing through of the light rays accounts for translucent and transparent objects. In other instances the light particles might rebound off the atomic surface as in reflection or simply are obstructed like in opaque objects to cast the shadows of the objects .
All these processes also indicate no decomposition or re-composition of the atomic structure of the object of incidence.
7. Parispanda – The fundamental Motion
The atoms possess an inherent rotary or vibratory motion – Parispanda which is the root cause of all visible or invisible action and operation involving matter. Only an ideal body is devoid of any motion . Akasha –The Space is devoid of this vibratory motion since it has no atomic structure. Vayu which is matter in gaseous form is explained as a state of Parispanda in action. The Nyaya-Vaisheshika holds such Parispanda-the basic inherent motion of all atoms as the basic form of all activity in the universe because all existing matter can be reduced to such jiggling atoms. The philosophers of this school also add that the concept of “Maheshvara” or any such godly agent is included to satisfy the philosophers but not to undermine either the power of Parispanda or the material causes and effects as can be seen or perceived or inferred. Yet consciousness is excluded from those substances which are affected by physical motion of atoms. At this juncture it is important to note that although the invisible god is not seen as the cause of all unexplainable phenomena the invisible consciousness is not treated similarly. The importance of consciousness is as real as any real visible object.
A problem: A fundamental problem for Vaisheshikas was to explain how imperceptible atoms could combine to produce perceptible individuals. There is textual evidence to suggest that the early Vaisheshikas held the straight forward view that surely if one takes enough things below the threshold of perception and sets them beside each other it will produce something perceptible .
8. Matter Classification
Matter classification begins with classifying everything in to Dravya, Guna and Karma roughly translated in to Substance, Quality and Action. Such a translation is limited by language since even technical terms are influenced by the philosophy of the culture they originate in. A categorization such as this indicates an organized discipline of study. A clear differentiation is made between matter and its attributes. Here Dravya – the substance is a term used in a narrow technical sense to exclude quasi-compounds which refers to compounds made of atoms from the different bhutas, i.e. poly-bhautic compounds.
8.2. Dravya – The Substance
The dravya which is all that can be perceived is sub-classified in to five physical substances as earth, air, water, fire and space which are the Pancha Bhutas. Substance is defined as the material cause of its quality and action. Kanada deals with each of the sub-categories of substance through their properties like: color, taste, smell associated with earth; color, taste, fluidity with water; so on with air and fire. It can be understood as:
Properties Color Taste Smell Touch Fluidity Viscosity
1. Earth * * * * — —
2. Water * * — * * *
3. Fire * — — * — —
4. Air — — — * — —
Fluidity is observed to occur both naturally and instrumentally. Water is in a liquid state naturally and can be converted in to gaseous state or solid state by externally applying or removing heat. Yet fluidity will be the primary state of water. Likewise butter or ghee is normally in a solid state (at least in winter) but can be melted in to a liquid state with very little application of heat. In such a case solid state would be their primary state .
Dravya, Guna and Karma give rise to further categories. All the three are non-eternal. They are explained through their properties. Dravya possesses in it both guna which is quality and karma which is action, e.g. Fire which is a dravya possesses both the guna of heat and the action of moving upwards as in a flame. Thus Dravya, Guna and Karma have a real objective existence since they are associated with the real substances.
8.3. Karma – The Motion
Karma, motion, is a deeper concept than mere physical displacement with respect to time. Kanada defines five kinds of motions. They are Utksepana- ejection, Avaksepanaattraction, Akunchana-contraction, Prasarana- expansion and Gamana- composite movement. Vyomashiva clearly explains that motion is not instantaneous instead it is incremental. This is true even in a process like cooking the food where the food is neither cooked instantaneously nor does a change occur in its state until a minimum energy is expended [1, page 22]. Such a minimum energy can be seen as similar to the threshold energy concept of today. Here the threshold energy is greater than the rest energy of the
final product to be obtained instead of a particle in the concept of current physics. The incremental nature of change in substances explained by Vyomashiva is what follows from today’s relativistic physics about no action being instantaneous.
8.4. Akasha – The Space
Space or Akasha is defined as that which has none of these attributes. Space is recognized as a separate category and it is clearly not earth’s atmosphere. It is conspicuously eliminated from the sub-categories of Dravya which constitute atoms and it is an entity like a being is an entity. Akasha or space has no atomic structure and it is consequently inert.
In very early times, ancient Indians had visualized the spherical nature of space and concluded it is the earth’s rotation which causes day and night .
8.5. Space – Time
It is interesting to note the background in which the ancient Indians propose the existence of Space and Time as entities. Bhaduri one of the philosophers summarizes this insightfully as – “We perceive pairs of objects with qualities of remoteness and nearness, spatial or temporal – inhering in them. Furthermore, we are able to make comparative judgments of this sort – we can say A is farther from B than from C, etc. What enables us to make this judgment? It is the greater number of contacts between individuals spread out between A and B than between A and C. For example, the ink bottle is nearer to the pen than to the radiator, that is, the number of contacts present in a line from the ink bottle to the radiator is greater than the number from the ink bottle to the pen. Only thus can the notion of “greater distance” be explained. But when we look for individuals whose contacts must be counted up, we do not find any belonging to other categories – or at least we do not find the right number to describe such nearness or farness. Between the inkbottle and the pen a book (say) is situated, while between the inkbottle and the radiator there is just space! Thus, in order to provide the material to explain these comparative judgments we must postulate an intervening series of entities and these are spatial.” As Bhaduri puts it, contact is not a transitive relation instead space is introduced to make it transitive and more generally to relate two otherwise unconnected things by a series of contacts postulated to lie between. This is spatial discrimination .
Likewise Vachaspati states that for the concept of A is older than B the entity of time needs to be introduced. Therefore, there is a particular spatial temporal relation connecting each pair of objects. Then why aren’t there as many spaces and times as there are relations of this sort? Vaisheshika talks of one space and one time since all objects in this continual space and time can be inter-related. If there were more than one space and one time, there is a possibility that an object from a certain space/time cannot be linked with another object from a different space/time . The Vaisheshika atomic substances are defined in a matrix of four non-atomic substances: Time, Space, Soul and Mind . A map of sizes, eternality and nature can be as follows:
Substance Size Eternality Nature
Atom atomic Eternal Active
Manas atomic Non-Eternal Active
Time mahan Eternal Active
Akasha mahan Eternal Inactive
Soul mahan Eternal Active
The size atomic and mahan correspond to spherical structure being small and big respectively. Chandramati states that the same spherical nature resides in an atom when in minute proportion and in Akasha, time, place and self in infinite proportions. Space as a dravya that is Akasha has no absolute properties since space and time are relative in Indian science [1, page 26].
9. Samanya, Vishesha and Samavaya
The next three categories in the total six categories of Vaisheshika are Samanya, Vishesha and Samavaya. Samanya is the class concept and Vishesha is particularity. Kanada’s view about samanya and vishesha is different from that of the later philosophers.
Let us begin with Kanada. It has been suggested that translating these two terms as“genus” and “species” would render Kanada’s intent most accurately. Kanada makes a statement that a samanya may also be viewed as a vishesha in cases other than the Being. This can be understood by applying this concept to an entity such as, e.g., potness, which is a samanya-genus relative to particular pots but a species relative to the more inclusive genus clay-objectness.
The later thinker’s concept of universals is that they are real, independent, timeless, ubiquitous entities which inhere in individual substances, qualities and motions and are repeatable, i.e., may inhere in several distinct individuals at once or at different times and places. The general term used for such an entity is samanya. Either way the postulation of universals in Vaisheshika calls for the necessity of explaining the existence of natural kinds, the fact that certain entities are similar because of a true similarity and not merely because we think so [10, page 133-134].
A special feature of this school is Samavaya which is inherence referring to the special feature of individual atom of even the same element. Kanada explains inherence as the cause of notion that something is “here” in a locus and connects its function to causality. He also conceives that there is only one inherence since there is no indication that different inherences connect different pairs of things related by inherence [7, page 292].
Samanya, Samavaya and Vishesha are products of intellectual discrimination . Such an idea is further emphasized by Kanada by including only Dravya, Guna and Karma under Bhava the Being.
Time is defined as the cause of all non-eternal things and time is irrelevant and therefore absent for eternal substances. In Vaisheshika, universal is taken to be ubiquitous and timeless. Whatever can be defined with respect to time and space cannot be a universal. The process that marks the passage of time on an object will thus be relative.It is only the universal which is true for all time and space and it is the being . Time is clearly differentiated from space and space is not absent from eternal things. This time is associated with motion, which begins with the universe in its cyclic life of creation and dissolution. The time is at rest when the universe is in the process of creation. An analogy of this is working with a piece of clay trying out various combinations and figures in it and making such arrangements with it as will lead to certain ends and aims which are potentially in it inherently. 9. The Being or Existence
Kanada and the early Vaisheshikas view existence as the highest genus which is not a genus species lying under any superior genus. Kanada calls such a supreme universal as ‘Bhava’ from the root bhu meaning “to come to be”, and he specifically mentions that bhava includes dravya, guna and karma. Such a bhava is called Satta by the time of Chandramati and Prashastapada . This indicates a clear differentiation between material or real concepts and intellectual or transcendental ideas even at the time of Kanada. The inclusion of consciousness or the Being as a variable in the studies of all matter or materialistic sciences does not hinder the understanding of matter, instead adds a new dimension to the perspective.
The Nyaya-Vaisheshika begins with the beginning of universe in an endless cycle of existence. This existence is marked by all sorts of motions- motion as microscopic as the inter-atomic vibrations and motion as macroscopic as that of the planets and stars. The motion ceases only during the rest period when the universe is preparing for the next cycle and at such a time all the atomic laws collapse. The universe can be understood as guided by the will of a personified god or the laws of nature Rta at an abstract level. The knowledge of universe, its creation, dissolution and life is comprehended by the consciousness which is an active element in all the actions of universe.
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The 20th century gradually saw emergence of a variety of new paradigms simultaneously in various scientific fields that forced philosophy to re-examine the reductionist approach resulting in the emergence of holistic thinking in philosophy. In the scientific field, some new paradigms have been major influences in emergence of holistic thinking. Important amongst these are Relatively Theory, Quantum Mechanics, Big-Bang theory of the origin and evolution of Universe, General Systems Theory, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, mathematics of chaos and fractals, Gaia-hypothesis etc. In primary healthcare, the term ‘holistic’ has been used to describe approaches that take into account social considerations and other intuitive judgements. The term holism, and so called approaches, appeared in psychosomatic medicine in the 1970s (Lipowski, Z. j), when they were considered one possible way to conceptualize psychosomatic phenomena. Instead of charting one-way causal links from psyche to soma, or vice-versa, it aimed at a systemic model, where multiple biological, psychological and social factors were seen as interlinked. Other, alternative approaches in the 1970s were psychosomatic and somatopsychic approaches, which concentrated on causal links only from psyche to soma, or from soma to psyche, respectively. At present it is commonplace in psychosomatic medicine to state that psyche and soma cannot really be separated for practical or theoretical purposes. A disturbance on any level – somatic, psychic, or social – will radiate to all the other levels, too. In this sense, psychosomatic thinking is similar to the biopsychosocial model of medicine. Many alternative medicine practitioners adopt a holistic approach to healing. The new approaches in philosophy together with new paradigms in various scientific and other fields have provided the basis of modern holistic philosophy.
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin has introduced the concept of noosphere. It has been introduced within the broader evolutionary conceptual framework. The life is explained in terms of natural evolution of self-organizing matter. The evolution, however, is viewed as purposive, leading via man to an eventual ‘Omega point’, a sort of convergence between mankind, the noosphere, and God. John Smuts (1926) had given an evolutionary and spiritual approach to holism having links with such concept of ‘noosphere’.
A.N. Whitehead, in his book SCIENCE AND MODERN WORLD (1925) developed the theory of Organic Mechanism and proposed that the human life history is a part within the life history of some larger, deeper, more complete pattern (p. 109). In his book ADVENTURES OF IDEAS (1933), he developed integrated philosophical apparoach and pioneered a move towards systems thinking which views science and philosophy as different aspects of the human mind.
J.G. Bennett in his four-volume book THE DREAM UNIVERSE (1956-1966) attempted to bring all scientific knowledge within the scope of one comprehensive theory of existence. Dealing with all branches of science, the theory shows the relations between them in terms of a set of fundamental categories derived from empirical observation, a geometry of six dimensions and a set of existential hypotheses defining the subject matter of the chief scientific disciplines.
Oliver Reiser in the book THE INTEGRATION OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE (1958) sought techniques for the integration of all human knowledge and offered a basis for both individual philosophy and a world philosophy. He advocated a synthesis of science and philosophy, and a re-evaluation of man’s knowledge of himself and of the sciences to develop a system of thought linking man to the universe. In COSMIC HUMANISM (1966), he presented a theory of an eight-dimensional cosmos, based on integrative principles from science, religion and art. In COSMIC HUMANISM AND WORLD UNITY (1975) he further developed the concepts of cosmic humanism stating that it “is a complete world view, a theory of knowledge, a cosmology and a possible universal religion”
Ludvig von Bertalanffy, the founder of General Systems Theory, in his book PROFILES OF LIFE (1952) proposed an organic theory of life. He expressed the view that the phenomenon of life can not be resolved into elementary units, but depends upon interactions, organization and dynamic order.
Arthur Koestler in rejecting the reductionist philosophy developed the concept of ‘HOLON’ as a system consisting of subsystems, which is also a subsystem of some supersystem. He further developed the concept of SOHO (Self-regulating Open Heirarchic Order), which is an explanation of a form of dynamic equilibrium (‘homeostasis’) that will occur only if the self-assertive and integrative tendencies of the components of holons counterbalance each other. If this does not happen, there will be disorder and chaos. His theory has profound implications for society and for understanding the human health in totality.
The shift from reductionist to holistic thinking is obvious in various fields of knowledge but what about the consequent social change? Social change is usually evolutionary, but occasionally it is revolutionary and is accompanied by a social paradigm shift. A social paradigm is a constellation of attitudes, beliefs, values and experiences, shared by most of the members of a society and enabling them to communicate successfully and effectively with one another (Kirk McNulty, 1989). The last shift of social paradigm in Europe, from the ‘Medieval Paradigm’ to the ‘Industrial Paradigm’ started during Renaissance. The next shift seems to be a ‘Consciousness Paradigm’ that is underway now (Willis Harman, 1988). The direct observation of a variety of new paradigms provides an evidence for this paradigm shift. In addition, evidence for such shift is also provided by sample survey data about people’s attitudes and attitude shifts. The ‘Consciousness Paradigm’ seems to be very like the new holistic paradigm.
The early Greek atomism of Leucippus and Democritus (fifth century B.C.) was a forerunner of classical physics. According to their view, everything in the universe consists of indivisible, indestructible atoms of various kinds. Change is a rearrangement of these atoms. This kind of thinking was a reaction to the still earlier cocepts of Parmenides. Indian Vaisheshik and Nyaya philosophies were also earliest atomistic worldviews.
In the seventeenth century, at the same time that classical physics gave renewed emphasis to atomism and reductionism.
Parmenides, a very early Greek philospher, had argued that at some primary level the world is a changeless unity. According to him, “All is One. Nor is it divisible, wherefore it is wholly continuous…. It is complete on every side like the mass of a rounded sphere.”
The ideas similar to modern holism have ancient roots and its examples can be found throughout human history in the most diverse socio-cultural contexts as has been confirmed by many ethnological studies.
Similar concepts also played a pivotal role in philosophy of Spinoza and more recently in that of Hegel and Husserl.
Spinoza developed a philosophy reminiscent of Parmenides and proposed that all the differences and apparent divisions we see in the World are Really only aspects of an underlying single substance, which he called ‘God’ or ‘Nature’.
Hegel rejected “the fundamentally atomistic conception of the object,” arguing that “individual objects exist as manifestations of indivisible substance-universals, which cannot be reduced to a set of properties or attributes; he therefore holds that the object should be treated as an ontologically primary whole.” In direct opposition to Kant, therefore, Hegel insists that the unity we find in our experience of the world is not constructed by us out of a plurality of intuitions. In his ontological scheme a concrete individual is not reducible to a plurality of sensible properties, but rather exemplifies a substance universal. His point is that it is a mistake to treat an organic substance like blood as nothing more than a compound of unchanging chemical elements, that can be separated and united without being fundamentally altered. In Hegel’s view, a substance like blood is thus more of an organic unity and cannot be understood as just an external composition of the sort of distinct substances that were discussed at the level of chemistry. Thus, in Hegel’s view, blood is blood is blood and cannot be successfully reduced to what we consider are its component parts; we must view it as a whole substance entire unto itself. This is most certainly a fundamentally holistic view. Hegel, too, had mystical visions of the unity of all things, on which he based his own holistic philosophy of nature and the state. Nature consists of one timeless, unified, rational and spiritual reality. Hegel’s state is a quasi-mystical collective, an “invisible and higher reality,” from which participating individuals derive their authentic identity, and to which they owe their loyalty and obedience. All modern collectivist political thinkers stress some higher collective reality, the unity, the whole, the group, though nearly always at the cost of minimizing the importance of difference, the part, the individual. Against individualism, all emphasize the social whole or social forces that somehow possess a character and have a will of their own, over and above the characters and wills of individual members.
Jan Smuts, a South African statesman, in his book, Holism and Evolution (1926) coined the modern term ‘holism’ and defined it as “The tendency in nature to form wholes that are greater than the sum of the parts through creative evolution”. He believed that the new thinking and convergence in science and philosophy would lead to emergence of new points of view. There would be shift from mechanistic world-view to a wider view of finding ways to link concepts together. It would thus be possible to explore further the relationship between mind, matter and knowledge. Smuts worked out an ascending order of wholes culminating in final values, which, when set free from human personality, are seen as the creative factors in developing ideas and spiritual values.
Alfred Adler (1927) believed that the individual (an integrated whole expressed through a self-consistent unity of thinking, feeling, and action, moving toward an unconscious, fictional final goal), must be understood within the larger wholes of society, from the groups to which he belongs (starting with his face-to-face relationships), to the larger whole of mankind. The recognition of our social embeddedness and the need for developing an interest in the welfare of others, as well as a respect for nature, is at the heart of Adler’s philosophy of living and principles of psychotherapy.
Maurice Leenhardt (1947), a French Protestant missionary, coined the term ‘cosmomorphism’ to indicate the state of perfect symbiosis with the surrounding environment which characterized the culture of the Melanesians of New Caledonia. For these people, an isolated individual is totally indeterminate, indistinct and featureless until he can find his position within the natural and social world in which he is inserted. The confines between the self and the world are annulled to the point that the material body itself is no guarantee of the sort of recognition of identity which is typical of our own culture.
Gestalt psychology was a major holist movement in the early twentieth century. Its claim was that perception is not an aggregation of atomic sense data but a field, in which there is a figure and a ground. Background has holistic effects on the perceived figure.
Logical holism is the belief that the world operates in such a way that no part can be known without the whole being known first.
In philosophy, any doctrine that emphasizes the priority of a whole over its parts is holism. Some suggest that such a definition owes its origins to a non-holistic view of language and places it in the reductivist camp. Alternately, a ‘holistic’ definition of holism denies the necessity of a division between the function of separate parts and the workings of the ‘whole’. It suggests that the key recognizable characteristic of a concept of holism is a sense of the fundamental truth of any particular experience. This exists in contradistinction to what is perceived as the reductivist reliance on inductive method as the key to verification of its concept of how the parts function within the whole. In the philosophy of language this becomes the claim, called semantic holism, that the meaning of an individual word or sentence can only be understood in terms of its relations to a larger body of language, even a whole theory or a whole language. In the philosophy of mind, a mental state may be identified only in terms of its relations with others. This is often referred to as “content holism” or “holism of the mental”. This notion involves the philosophies of such figures as Frege, Wittgenstein, and Quine. Epistemological and confirmation holism are mainstream ideas in contemporary philosophy. Ontological holism was espoused by David Bohm (1980) in his theory of The Implicate Order.
Holism as an idea or philosophical concept is diametrically opposed to atomism. Where the atomist believes that any whole can be broken down or analyzed into its separate parts and the relationships between them, the holist maintains that the whole is primary and often greater than the sum of its parts. The atomist divides things up in order to know them better; the holist looks at things or systems in aggregate and argues that we can know more about them viewed as such, and better understand their nature and their purpose.
Based on pantheistic religious experience, this emphasis on an underlying unity is reflected in the mystical thinking of most major spiritual traditions. It also reflects developments in modern quantum field theory, which describes all existence as an excitation of the underlying quantum vacuum, as though all existing things were like ripples on a universal pond. The twentieth century has seen a tentative movement toward hoilism in such diverse areas as politics, social thinking, psychology, management theory, and medicine, systems theory, and concern with the whole person in alternative medicine. All these have been reactions against excessive individualism with its attendant alienation and fragmentation, and exhibit a commonsense appreciation of human beings’ interdependency with one another and with the environment.
Where atomism was apparently legitimized by the sweeping sucesses of classical physics, holism found no such foundation in the hard sciences. It remained a change of emphasis rather than a new philosophical position. There were attempts to found it on the idea of organism in biology – the emergence of biological form and the cooperative relation between biological and ecological systems – but these too were ultimately reduced to simpler parts, their properties and the relations between them. Even systems theory, although it emphasizes the complexity of aggregates, does so in terms of causal feedback loops between various constituent parts.
It is only with quantum theory and the dependence of the very being or identity of quantum entities upon their contexts and relationships that a genuinely new, “deep” holism emerges. Relational Holism in Quantum Mechanics is of the view that ‘Every quantum entity has both a wavelike and a particlelike aspect. The wavelike aspect is indeterminate, spread out all over space and time and the realm of possibility’. The particle-like aspect is determinate, located at one place in space and time and limited to the domain of actuality. The particle-like aspect is fixed, but the wavelike aspect becomes fixed only in dialogue with its surroundings – in dialogue with an experimental context or in relationship to another entity in measurement or observation. It is the indeterminate, wave-like aspect – the set of potentialities associated with the entity – that unites quantum things or systems in a truly emergent, relational holism that cannot be reduced to any previously existing parts or their properties. If two or more quantum entities are “introduced” – that is, issue from the same source – their potentialities are entangled. Their indeterminate wave aspects are literally interwoven, to the extent that a change in potentiality in one brings about a correlated change in the same potentiality of the other. In the nonlocality experiments, measuring the previously indeterminate polarization of a photon on one side of a room effects an instantaneous fixing of the polarization of a paired photon shot off to the other side of the room. The polarizations are said to be correlated; they are always determined simultaneously and always found to be opposite. This paired-though-opposite polarization is described as an emergent property of the photons’ “relational holism” – a property that comes into being only through the entanglement of their potentialities. It is not based on individual polarizations, which are not present until the photons are observed. They literally do not previously exist, although their oppositeness was a fixed characteristic of their combined system when it was formed. In the coming together or simultaneous measurement of any two entangled quantum entities, their relationship brings about a “further fact.” Quantum relationship evokes a new reality that could not have been predicted by breaking down the two relational entities into their individual properties. The emergence of a quantum entity’s previously indeterminate properties in the context of a given experimental situation is another example of relational holism. We cannot say that a photon is a wave or a particle until it is measured, and how we measure it determines what we will see. The quantum entity acquires a certain new property – position, momentum, polarization – only in relation to its measuring apparatus. The property did not exist prior to this relationship. It was indeterminate. Quantum relational holism, resting on the nonlocal entanglement of potentialities, is a kind of holism not previously defined. Because each related entity has some characteristics – mass, charge, spin – before its emergent properties are evoked, each can be reduced to some extent to atomistic parts, as in classical physics.
The modern holism is not the extreme holism of Parmenides or Spinoza, where everything is an aspect of the One. Yet, because some of their properties emerge only through relationship, quantum entities are not wholly subject to reduction either. The truth is somewhere between Newton and Spinoza. A quantum system may also vary between being more atomistic at some times and more holistic at others; the degrees of entanglement vary.
The primitive societies have an instinctive holistic view, which is derived from their knowledge of the local ecosystems in their environment. Each such society treats the local ecosystem as dominant and makes all human activities subservient to it. This approach is also observed in ancient and oriental civilisations. The holistic thinking continued to prevail in the western world in some or the other form up to the Renaissance Period. However, with the rise of scientific movement in the mid-17th century, the materialistic-mechanistic world-view and the reductionist approach to analysis became dominant. This led to shifting of focus from the whole to parts and the holistic thinking was gradually abandoned. The non-holistic nature of much of the modern education leaves most the people with conceptual frameworks that are too narrow to allow holistic thinking. However, there was a decline in reductionist thinking in the last few decades of 20th century. Serious attempts were made to build a synthesis of ideas and evolve holistic paradigms in every field.
Ontology is the theory of being and ontological questions are concerned with existence, reality and the true nature of things. Realism is the ontological position that the external world is real and it ‘exists’ independent of the human observer. This position also takes the view that the ‘really existing’ objects, structures and mechanisms of that world stimulate the sense perceptions of human observer giving their perceptual knowledge. On the other hand, anti-realist position professes complete agnosticism as regard to ontological questions.
Epistemology is the theory of knowledge and epistemological questions are concerned with what can be known about the world and methods of knowledge. Empiricism is the epistemological position that ultimately all the knowledge stems only from the sense experience. On the other hand, rationalism is the position that, besides sense experience as source of peceptual knowledge, reason is true source of real knowledge of reality.
Empiricism on the epistemological level is usually associated with anti-realism at ontological level. On the other hand, justification of realism on the ontological level requires rationalism on the epistemological level. Empiricist philosophy
The rise of empiricist philosophy in Europe in 17th and 18th century was result of the changed intellectual climate following the ‘scientific’ achievements of men like Kepler, Galileo, Harvey, Newton etc. This school of philosophy is largely associated with philosophers like John Locke, George Berkeley and Auguste Comte. In the 20th century, the logical positivists of Vienna Circle and their successors analysed the logical consequences of empiricist thinking. Though there is disagreement on several important points, all the empiricists share the fundamental belief that all knowledge is derived from experience.
Empiricists accept the laws of purely deductive disciplines of logic and mathematics but assert that logical and mathematical deductions are analytic, which means that these do not generate new knowledge and serve to only analyse the existing knowledge. Anti-realism of empiricists makes it necessary to redefine the concepts like causality and objectivity in such a way that they do not presuppose any reality beyond observation. Empiricists do not accept the generative theory of causality that implies that causal relation takes place in the external world independently of our observations. They propose the alternative succession (Humean) theory of causality in which idea of causality is explained in psychological terms. This theory points out that if we observe one event followed by second event several times, our expectation of the occurrence of second event after the occurrence of first event increases. The causal relationship is this expectation, a mental habit, which we erroneously extrapolate to an external world. The succession theory may be refined by analysing in detail the logical relationship between cause and effects.
From the point of view of empiricism, the laws of nature do not tell us what really goes on in the world. Their function is the ‘mnemonic reproduction of facts in the mind’ i.e. these laws are only mental constructions that serve to describe as concisely as possible, the observations made.
The term objectivity is used by empiricists in a very restricted sense. The term has ontological implications and refers to phenomenon believed to exist independently of the observer. Since empiricist position denies this interpretation, empiricists equate objectivity with inter-subjectivity. They assert that if exactly same observation is made by two different observers then the observation statement is said to be objective meaning that it is inter-subjective, public or verifiable. This assertion lead logical positivists of 20th century to formulate a demarcation criterion, which may serve to distinguish those propositions, which are meaningful from those that are not. They proposed a criterion of verifiability according to which only those statements are meaningful, which in principle could be labelled as verifiable. However, this criterion leads to quite serious consequences and difficulties:
According to this criterion, all attempts to discuss moral issues rationally are considered futile. This nihilistic attitude to moral philosophy is called emotivism.
The criterion itself is not verifiable and, therefore, must be regarded as meaningless by empiricist standards themselves. Thus, the criterion is self-defeating.
The criterion leads to the classical problem of induction since the criterion may well be applicable to singular statements. The leap from experience, which always consists of singular observations, to a ‘law of nature’ can not be logically defended as the law can allways be proved false by next observation and this possibility can never be excluded. This logical problem has always vexed empiricist philosophers. Despite much effort by logical positivists in the last century, it has yet not been possible to logically define the jump from singular observation statements to general theory.
Importance of empiricist philosophers’ teaching regarding the importance of empirical evidence is undoubtedly great. However, it is obvious that from a purely philosophical point of view the radical empiricism leads to a dead end and creates insurmountable problems. It imposes a view of the world that is quite counter-intuitive. The empiricist belief that all knowledge is derived solely from the experience has not been established up till now to be fully consistent. The empiricist denouncement of realism has been unsuccessful in clarifying many of the philosophical problems. This forced inquiry along the lines of weakening the empiricist position.
Immanuel Kant did not accept the Locke’s idea that mind was originally like a blank sheet of paper. According to him, space and time are preconditions for the perception of something as an object and, therefore, human beings are ‘programmed’ to think in categories of quantity, quality, casualty, possibility, necessity, existence etc. A human being’s picture of the actual world reflects this a priori organisation of his sense perceptions and his actual observations. Kant, is thus, a rationalist asserting that the empirical knowledge is organised according to a priori principles but, like empiricist, he does not accept the possibility of knowledge of things-in-themselves. Contemporary philosophers and psychologists have also given up the idea that the mind was originally a ‘blank sheet of paper’. They also deny the existence of anything like pure observation. In many scientic examples, theory-dependence of observations can quite obviously be demonstrated. Philosophy of science
It has been dominated by empiricist thinking for the last few centuries. The role of empiricist philosophy in the development of science should be viewed in historical perspective. The metaphysical theories of pre-empiricist era were far too extravagantly rationalistic and realistic. Therefore, it was only natural that empiricists felt that science must start afresh with systematic observations and establishment of the Laws of Nature.
The ontological scepticism of empiricists, though seemingly counter-intuitive, is quite acceptable in advanced science. The empiricism asserts that scientific process starts with observation. Scientists are generally concerned with the study of natural ‘entities and phenomena’, which are not directly observable. They ‘observe’ these by the use of ingenious instruments. It is always debatable whether such ‘entities and phenomena’ exist really or they are just creations of scientists’ imagination that only serve to organise their ideas.
The usefulness of succession (Humean) theory of causality can be shown in discussion of the causation of in many scientific fields . Further, science is generally concerned with general statements, which can not be verified with absolute certainty by experience alone. In view of the empirist analysis of ‘Laws of Nature’ in light of their epistemological positiom leading to the classical problem of induction, Bertrand Russell has simply concluded that ‘induction is an independent logical principle incapable of being inferred either from experience or from other logical principles and that without this principle science is impossible’.
Karl Popper (1965, 1968, 1976) has been the most influential philosopher of science of this century. He has made very important point that observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem. He asserts that the first step in scientific process is not observation but the generation of hypothesis, which may then be tested critically by observations and experiments. The goal of scientific effort is not verification but falsification of the initial hypothesis. As empiricists use the criterion of verifiability to distinguish between meaningful and non-meaningful statements, Popper used the criterion of falsifiability to distinguish between those theories that fall within province of science and those that may be labelled as pseudoscience. This thought and the criterion of falsifiability has influenced the modern scientific methodology to a very large extent. However, the criterion of falsifiability, despite its importance from the logical point of view, is not easy to handle in practice. Popper himself has pointed out that there is no such thing as pure observation. Therefore, a scientist who conducts an experiment and contradicts a theory can not be sure whether the theory has been falsified or the observation (or the experimental set-up) was at fault. Further, scientists mostly have to subject their observations to a statistical analysis. Here the final analysis depends not only on the observations but also on the convention as regards the choice of statistical tests and the accepted level of significance. Thus, Popper instead of solving the problem of induction, in a sense, has tried to bypass the problem. The scientists undoubtedly in many cases try to falsify hypotheses but in many other cases, they try to reason inductively. Scientic research papers contain numerous statistical calculations that reflect inductive reasoning. Popper has asserted that we can never be quite sure about our theories being true. The efficacy of modern technology, which is based to some extent on scientific theories, proves beyond doubt that in some areas Popper’s ‘approximation to truth’ has been achieved.
It is quite true that the development of modern science is inextricably bound up with empiricist philosophy, but philosophical reflections and the results of modern science in many areas suggest that the position of classical empiricism is quite untenable. It is seems more appropriate to accept the view of:
realist position on the ontological level that the purpose of science is to explore what really goes on in the world and on the epistemological level, accept existence of pure observations but deny that the observations are the only source of knowledge,
the existence of causal relationships and deny the empiricist succession theory of causation,
existence of a laws of nature being indicated by a causal relationship existing between the two events if one event generates another event through some or the other mechanism (as is quite obvious in some bio-medical situations) and
objectivity of causal relationships and laws of nature in the sense that they exist independently of observation.
Though the realist position does not solve the problem of induction, the knowledge of underlying mechanism sometimes makes the problem less troublesome.
Teething phiosophical problems with the empiricism domiated philosophy of science prevalent for the last few centuries have prompted many philosophers (Smart, J.J.C., 1963; Harre., R., 1970; Hacking, I., 1983; Bhaskar,R., 1975) to favour a realist theory of science. These philosphers point out that scientific knowledge has both a transitive and an intransitive aspect. Knowledge in the form of a scientific theory should be regarded as a changeable social product, and as such, it is transitive. However, the object of that knowledge that does not depend upon the existence of observer, is intransitive.
The importance of this observation is that it reveals the deficiency of two different views of science. On one hand extreme realists disregard the transitive aspect of scientific knowledge while on the other hand extreme empiricists disregard the intransitive aspect. It may be proposed that a balanced philosophy of natural science must take into account both the aspects and the relationship between them. Emergence of ‘Holistic’ thinking in science may lead to a balanced philosophy of science.
Religious scriptures may be used to evoke a deeper connection with the divine, convey spiritual truths, promote mystical experience, foster communal identity and to guide individual and communal spiritual practice. Many religions believe that their scriptures originated from divine inspiration. The monotheistic faiths view their sacred texts as the ‘Word of Ultimate Universal’ and ‘Divine Revelation’.
The scriptures of the world’s religions have provided humanity with some of the most sublime and profound philosophical insights, spiritual ideals and values that have shaped the moral and spiritual development of humankind. The lofty ideas found in religious texts have shaped the identity of entire peoples, provided the content for their legal codes, offered individuals as well as communities meaning to life and explained the purpose along with the destination of life’s journey for countless followers. The impact of scriptures on world cultures has been and still is immeasurable.
Religious Scriptures in oral form have been an important part of human culture since the beginning of civilization. From the dawn of humanity, humans have attempted to make sense of the cosmos and to explain humanity’s place in it. Sacred stories arose to account for the bewildering variety of phenomena and feelings that comprise the human experience. Such stories developed cosmic significance and gave rise to the different religions and mythologies of the world’s cultures.
Thus, the earliest use of scriptures was not in the form of written texts but ancient oral stories handed down from one generation to the next. Many ancient preliterate cultures (and some modern ones) did not place a strong emphasis on recording their ‘truths’ in written documents, preferring instead to honour their sacred stories through oral memorization and transmission. In ancient India, for example, the body of sacred literature known as Smriti was handed down orally among the Hindus before eventually being written down.
In the time before literacy was widespread, the average lay adherent of any religion would likely come to know the sacred stories of their own tradition through folklore, worship and ritual practices or from literate members of the clergy who would read passages from their scriptures. While those able to read and explain the scriptures were held in high esteem, those who could recite them from memory even more so. Religious instruction in the ancient Brahmin caste of India included a set of mnemonic tools that helped students to memorize the ritual formulae found in the Vedas, which were written down relatively late in history. Similar (but unrelated) systems were used in the recording of the Qua’ran. The Hebrew Bible, recorded in the ancient Hebrew language, is in its original rendering written in such a way that it is recited with a most pleasing rhythm. The ascendancy of written scriptures in the world’s religions developed along side the continuation of oral traditions.
Ever since language began, people have used narrative to organize human experience, to orient life in the cosmos. Narrative is part of humanity’s brilliance. Narrative in its broadest sense means stories, the recital of accounts, information and teachings, including scriptures; the framework of worldviews as told in the words of authoritative oral/written texts. In this sense, all scriptures are largely narratives. Each master narrative is a scenario orienting people to some sort of order. Scriptures (from Latin ‘scritura’ meaning ‘writing’) literally are the sacred written texts but in broad sense also include oral ones that serve a variety of purposes in the individual and collective lives of a society, culture and most significantly a religious tradition. These are examples of narrative par excellence telling origin stories, offering expositions of teachings, injunctions, lyrics and wisdom. Scripture narratives, in all their many forms, are so ubiquitous because every coherent life is invariably shaped by some story. Scriptures can thus, be seen to function as ‘attractors’, dynamic system patterns channelling human energies, reminder to people of their place in the scheme of things and thus, channel the passions. At their best, sacred narratives i.e. Scriptures serve as revered repositories storing societal, cultural and religious wisdom. They seem to mirror life, generate order and provide recognizable structures i.e. enduring answers about life’s meanings along with allowing some flexibility for new interpretations and applications as needs arise. They also store information about ideals and make the meanings available and applicable to a great variety of situations by different people over the centuries. Scriptures are kept relevant by commentaries, new translations and adaptive reiterations. At their worst, scriptures can be used to promote unthinking and irrational behavior. With all the research the modern age has accumulated, people still feel growing pains of alternating pride of knowledge power and dismay at ignorance and chaotic change beyond control. Human beings while able in solving some mysteries, continue to face mysteries in the universe that were always in existence since our ancestors started. Common men as well as scholars are still wondering: 1. What is a civilization-founding scripture, and how does it remain significant? 2. How can we begin to better understand the implications of scripture’s global pervasiveness. 3. What new awareness of common bonds and possible cooperation might grow out of respectful encounters with the sacred texts of others? Woefully, even with science growing and new information in every sphere being continuously discovered, meaning of ‘being a person’ is still as elusive as ever was. Perhaps updating current human understanding of the role of scriptures that for so long have oriented so many human lives with ever increasing new knowledge may be a helpful. Assessing anew the importance of scriptures and their meaning in human life. Better understanding of the processes by which they are elevated to authoritative positions and processes involved when they are lowered or lessened in status is also necessary. Perhaps because scientific modernity started treating scriptures, particularly religious scriptures, very shabbily, fundamentalists now upholding them with a vengeance; the pendulum swings both ways. The impact of religious scripture on human behavior has not always been positive. Most of the religions themselves are critical of those who hold to a literal reading of scriptures, which can block comprehension of the ‘Ultimate Universal’. Buddha in his Parable of the Raft spoke about the scriptures as a raft, useful on the path to Enlightenment but ultimately to be abandoned on the other shore as true enlightenment transcends conceptual knowledge (Majjhima Nikaya 1.134-35). Another issue that confounds religious scriptures is whether these contains the whole truth or only a part of the truth. Adherents who believe their scriptures are the complete and full revelation of Ultimate Universal Truth may well have difficulty appreciating the value of other religions’ scriptures. Yet the scriptures themselves counsel humility on this score. Buddha warned his follower Malunkyaputta not to question the philosophical questions that the Buddha had not elucidated, as a person shot with an arrow does not stop the doctor from removing it with questions about who shot it (Majjhima Nikaya 1.426-31).