The Atreya Tantra(draft 8th may 2007 - largely uncorrected - positive feedback welcome)
Being an introduction to the gnostic philosophy
of the medico-tantrik tradition
(c) Mogg Morgan
In ancient India what we now call a philosophy was termed a view (skt darshan). This is in contrast to the western tradition where philosophy can be more doctrinaire in its approach. The Indian intellectual tradition is relativist, any philosophy is a point of view, correct only on the basis of a set of presuppositions. The six most important views were, according to one important text said to be:
Nyaya or the logical school;
Its close relative the school of Vaisheshika or Atomism;
Mimamsa, literally 'enquiry', a school dedicated to the defence of the authenticity of the Vedas;
The Vedanta non-dualist school;
The Samkhya or Reasoning School.
Samkhya is widely believed to be one of the oldest of the six and along with the Vaisheshika Atomic school the main influence on the medico-scientific (Ayurveda) tradition and Tantrism. Samkhya represents an extremely important philosophical tendency in Indian thought. All of the later philosophies defined themselves in relation to its theories, either for them or against.
In reality there were many more than six philosophies in India. One important view was preserved by the Raseshvara (mercury lords), ranked as about eighth in an imaginary league table of important views.(2) This system almost certainly comprises alchemical practitioners like Nagarjuna and is closely akin to the later Tantrik and Ayurvedic views. It is worth noting that ideas connected with medical science (Ayurveda) are also extremely pervasive and very authoritative. In fact, there is hardly any text in the Indian intellectual tradition from the Late Upanishads onwards that does not make some reference either directly or otherwise, to Ayurveda.
Haribhadra-SŻri II, a Jain* author of c.1120, in his commentary on the Shat Darshana- Samuccaya ("Summary of the Six Views"), mentions a seminal text of the Samkhya tradition, written by a physician called Atreya and called simply the Atreya-Tantra.(3) The doctrine of Ayurveda was said to have been received from the god Indra as a Tantra.(4) This important book is now lost, but for certain technical reasons I think that a chapter in a medical treatise by celebrated physician Caraka may be either a part or the whole of the lost Samkhya work the Atreya-Tantra.
There is very little biographical information available concerning its author Atreya.(5) He is widely associated with the famous ancient 'university' city of Taxila, which was situated in the north-west of India near modern-day Kalakasarai. He is described in several Buddhist texts as the teacher of Jivaka, the Buddha's personal physician.(6) His name is listed along with the line of teachers of the Brihad-Aranyaka Upanishad, although there is no mention here of a doctrine called Ayurveda in that text's standard list of known 'sciences' (7). There is a clear reference to him in the Mahabharata:The science of medicine was acquired by the dark-
complexioned son of Atri. (8)
'Atreya' means 'son of Atri'.(9) Atri was one of the seers of both the Rig Veda and the Atharva Veda. Atreya is also referred to as Krishna-Atreya: 'dark-skinned'. This very obvious reference to his skin colour, seems to mark Atreya out as being non-Aryan, perhaps bringing into the tradition secret sources of knowledge from older, more powerful origins.
The Atreya Tantra is a dialogue between Atreya and his most gifted pupil Agnivesha. This feature alone makes an interesting point of comparison between later magical tantrik texts which are also dialogues usually between Shiva and Shakti. The Atreya Tantra sets out to defend the Samkhya view of the Self (atman) against its detractors, which may include Buddhists. The dialogue is constructed around twenty-three questions of the utmost importance. Dialectical exercises like this are a common feature of Samkhya and and other points of view. In the more famous Samkhya Karika, 'sixty topics' are dealt with, giving it its alternative name 'shashtitantra'.(10) The Ahirbyudhna Samhita divides these topics into 'prakrita' and 'vaikrita' mandalas, i.e. primary and secondary questions.(11) A similar list of questions is to be found in the Vishnu Purana, which like all of the Puranas is of uncertain date.(12) (13) This latter work is said to be heavily influenced by the Ayurvedic tradition. (14)
The Questions of the Atreya-Tantra
Question (from: CS.IV.I)
i) Into how many elements is the empirical man* split?
ii) In what way is man a cause?
iii) What is the origin of man?
iv) Is he sentient or Insentient?
v & vi) Is he eternal or finite?
vii & viii) What is his nature and his modifications?
ix) What is the signifier of a man said to be?
x) How can action be derived from the 'action-less' soul? xi) If he is independent why is he born in undesirable wombs? '
xii) If sovereign why is he forcibly overcome by unpleasant feelings?
xiii) Why doesn't the omnipresent know all experiences?
xiv) Why doesn't the 'pervader' see that which is concealed by mountain or wall?
xv) Which comes first the body or the knower of the body? xvi) Of what is this a witness xvii, xviii ix) Which of the thre pains of the afflicted, does the physician seek to cure: past present or future ones? xx, xxi, xxii) What is the cause of pain where is its location and when do all pains disappear completely? xxiii) By what signs is the 'Self' grasped?
These are important questions and lead right into the mystery of existence. For example 'Which comes first' asks Agnivesha, 'The body or the knower of the body. For without the co- operation of 'The knower of the body', the body is not known; and if the body is first then 'the knower of the body' is not eternal'. (16) The atman has no beginning, neither does the body's cycle of existence. Therefore due to beginninglessness, it is not possible to say which of these two has precedence. (17) In tantrism these two principles, the body and the knower of the body are personified as Shiva and Shakti. Applying this argument, we can say that it is not possible to say which has precedence.
The philosophical speculations found in what I have called the Atreya-Tantra are a pre-classical Samkhya text, a precursor of the more famous Samkhya Karika of Ishvara Krishna. The latter is an exposition of the system as taught by the philosopher Kapila (18) and is widely considered to be is the most authoritative record of Samkhya views. Kapila is supposed to have lived sometime before 200 AD at the end of the 'Epic' period of Indian cultural history. D Chattopadhyaya advances the theory that the name Kapila is a derivative of Kapil‚ (long 'a' as in father) (19) which indicates that at least one of the original Samkhya adepts was female.(20) This would be an important characteristic of the view. It may indeed be possible to identify, in the Samkhya views, elements that represent a female sensibility. For example the role of (female) nature and its abhorence of warfare. There is a passage in the Mahabharata concerning PaŮcashikha, one of many great Samkhya masters. It relates that:
PaŮcashikha became a disciple of Asuri. He lived on human
milk. There was a certain brahmani called Kapil‚. She was the
wife of Asuri. PaŮcashikha was accepted by her as a son and he
used to suck her breasts. In consequence of this, he came to be
known as the son of Kapil‚ and his understanding became fixed on
Brahman. All this, about the circumstances of his birth and
those that lead to his becoming the son of Kapil‚, was told to
me by a divine sage. (21)
PaŮcashikha, whose name means, "five-crested one", is himself a bit of a strange character and may, like his teacher Asuri, have been of the race of elder gods or, as the Brahmins called them demons, who ruled before the coming of the Aryans. (see Demon Doctrine of Tantra). The reference to his diet of human milk is also very strange and suggests demonic origins, unless we are to suppose he became a student whilst still a baby, not such a far fetched idea in the Indian tradition.. Suckling is a common metaphor for the flow of life giving knowledge, although the usually an ordinary cow and its calf is the subject. Indeed, the fate of the cow is very dear to Kapila's heart as we shall see in one of the stories related below. This suckling metaphor also suggests to me some of the later tantrik practices in which spiritual knowledge is passed to the initiate via bodily fluids.
One of the strongest pieces of evidence for the dating of the Samkhya view is anecdote found in the Buddhist tradition concerning the birthplace of the Buddha, which was named after Kapila. The Buddha died in 544BCE, so the system of Kapila must have been formulated at least before that time in about the seventh century before the present era.Thus the town named after Kapila rejoiced with its surrounding territory at the prosperous birth of the prince. (23)
These lines are from the Buddha-Carita, a 'biography' of the Buddha, written during the reign of the potentate Kanishka and therefore lst-2nd century. This same document tells of the apprenticeship of the Boddhisattva, and how he visited the hermitage of Arada, another adept of the Samkhya lineage. The Buddha-to-be is supposed to have repudiated Arada with these words:
I have listened to this doctrine of yours, which grows more subtle and auspicious in its successive stages, but I consider it not to lead to final beatitude, since the 'knower of the field' is not abandoned. (24) Thus he was not satisfied on learning the doctrine of Arada and, discerning that it was incomplete, he turned away from there. (25)
The above passages along with others indicate that the Buddha studied Samkhya philosophy and that his own view is in fact a development from a Samkhya base. And indeed the Samkhya found in the Atreya Tantra, contains notable passages of what could be anti-Buddhist critique. (27)
Samkhya is clearly the name of a very ancient Indian philosophical view; one of two that superceded the Upanishads. According to at least one modern-day commentator it was a reaction against the growing idealism of the Upanishadic thinkers. (28) Samkhya is commonly designated as a Dualist philosophy. Dualism is normally thought to postulate an universe comprised of two, largely independent principles such as Self (purusha) and Matter (prakriti). The kind of Dualism found in these texts is quite different to the variety more familiar in western philosophy from the works of Rene Descartes.
The physician Caraka uses the term Samkhya several times; either as an epithet of a knowledgeable teacher (30) and along with Yoga as the name for a system of philosophy.(31) The word S‚mkhya derives from the Sanskrit root 'Khy‚' meaning to discriminate or number. We can infer from this that there was obviously a lot more to Samkhya than Dualism. The scholar Edgerton suggested that Samkhya was the Reasoning or Gnostic school.
The first verse of Ishvara Krishna's Samkhya-Karika discloses the principal or sole purpose of the system. This is stated to be the relief of humanity from suffering and pain:
Because of torment by three kinds of pain (there arises) the desire to know the means of removing it. If because of the obvious (means of removing it) this (desire) seems superfluous; it is not so, for these are neither absolutely complete nor abiding.(35)
This concern with the relief of humanity from pain was an interest shared by Ayurvedic physicians, some of whom like the Siddhas, were also Tantrik adepts. This again is a point of contrast between eastern and western intellectual tradition. For example, the Dualist philosopher Descartes, begins his discourse on method as a disinterested inquiry.
Then with the advent of embodied diseases this became an obstacle (vighnabhŻt‚) to wealth, sacred vows, the study of the Veda, meditation and fasting. Freedom from disease is the chief root of Duty (Dharma), Prosperity (Artha), Pleasure (K‚ma) and Final Liberation (Moksha). Diseases will take away the best part of this and life (itself). (36)
If you take away the first of these (duty), you have the three purposes of life as expressed in the tantrik tradition.
The Samkhya philosophers dealt with the notion of pain under three categories.
i. The intrinsic (‚dhy‚tmika)
ii. The extrinsic (‚dhibhautika)
iii.The divine or superhuman (‚dhidaivika).
Of these, the intrinsic is two-fold, bodily and mental. Bodily pain is caused by the disorder of the several humours, wind, bile and phlegm.
Mental pain is due to desire, wrath, avarice, affection, fear, envy, grief, and the non-perception of particular objects. These later are in fact 'kleshas', a medical term meaning pain. In the Nath tradition, the klesha are given as five in number:
The five pain bearing obstructions the root causes of trouble and strife
ignorance, ego, revulsion, attachment and clinging to life. (Tantra Magick : 54)
The AMOOKOS adepts trace these back to the Linga Purana
By means of the fivefold bonds called klesha, Shankara (Shiva) binds the pashus. On being served well by devotion, he alone is their redemmer. The five kleshas that have become fetters are ignorance, ego, revulsion, clinging to life. (Linga Purana II.9)
The kleshas and other pains above are all of the intrinsic variety on account of their being amenable to internal remedies.
Pains amenable to external remedies are two-fold: extrinsic and superhuman. The extrinsic are caused by men beasts, birds, reptiles and inanimate things; and the superhuman ones are due to the evil influence of planets and the various elementals.
An objection is raised: '.... Hundreds of remedies for bodily pain are laid down by eminent physicians; for mental pains also we have easy remedies in the shape of the attainment of the objects of enjoyment such as women, desirable food and drink, unguents, dress, ornaments, and the like. Similarly, of extrinsic pains we have easy remedies such as expert knowledge of moral and political science, residence in safe places etc. In the same manner of superhuman troubles we have remedies in the shape of charms, incantations, and the rest. (The Reply) .... though easily available, the obvious means do not effect absolute and final removal of pain. Consequently the present enquiry [for spiritual remedy] is not superfluous.(37)
The tantrik or spiritual physician wants to cure the pain of human existence permanently. Medicine cannot solve these kinds of issues but is can buy you a little time with which to think about them. There is, after all, nothing quite like illness to fix you in the mundane world of matter. People say that illnesses such as headache or fever tend to return. The causes of disease in this instance an imbalance of the humours (dosa), return again. Therefore the appropriate remedy for a disease, whether physical or spiritual, will be one that looks at what happened in the past. 'As a dam is made in order to hold back the swelling river waters, which had previously damaged the cornfield.'(41) In the same way, he who intends to administer a therapy to destroy future pain depends upon having seen the early devlopment and history of the disease. The cycle of disease is then extinguished and pleasure arises from the therapy.(42)
These doctrines treats physical and mental trauma on an equal footing, implying that one cannot progress to the contemplation of spiritual things without also thinking about your physical fitness. To take a very simple example; a person could not maintain one of the postures (‚sanas) that are an integral part of meditation without a moderate degree of good health. The relationship between health and sanctity is a dialectical one - one is nourished by the other.
Samkhya philosophy is sometimes said to be a radical departure from the formalism of the ancient Vedic texts. The second aphorism of the Samkhya Karika rejects the Vedic sacrificial religion in favour of its particular path of knowledge.
The revealed (means) are like (medicine) for they are connected with impurity, destruction (47) and excess. A contrary method is better and this consists in a discriminative knowledge of the manifest (forms of matter), The Unmanifest (Prakrti or primal matter) and the knowing-self (jŮa).(48)
We can agree, to some extent at least, with this condemnation. Even medicine does involve 'impurity, destruction and excess`, whether this be in the form of the animal sacrifice of Vedic religion or even the use of animal products in the medical pharmacopeia.(49). In our own time, there has been renewed criticism of Chinese traditional medicine which makes use of exotics like bear's bile. And our own western system of medicine, called allopathic in India, makes a great, and to some unacceptable use, of vivisection. In ancient India, the establishment of veterinary dispensaries at about this time, indicated a growing concern for the welfare of animals.(50) It is surely significant that in the popular mind, the celebrated veterinarian Shalihotra is supposed to have been Kapila's son.(51) There is an extremely interesting dialogue in the Mahabharata, which throws some light on Kapila's attitude to Vedic sacrifice.When the deity Tashtri came to the palace of king Nahusha, the latter for hospitality was on the point of killing a cow. Beholding that cow tied for slaughter Kapila of liberal soul, cried 'Alas ye Vedas!' At that time a Rishi called Syumarashmi entered (by yogic power) the form of that cow and addressed Kapila thus: 'If the Vedas be authoritative, whence have those other duties concerning harmlessness to all creatures come to be regarded as important?'
It is obvious that this dialogue occurs at a time when the notion of non harming (ahimsa) has already many adherents in ancient India, not only amongst early Buddhist but also within Hinduism. The protagonist here is pointing out the apparent contradiction between Hinduism with its promulgation of non-harm to all creatures and the older and still venerated, indeed supposedly authoitattive Vedas, that call for many bloody sacrifices
Kapila replies: 'I do not censure the Vedas, I do not wish to say anything in derogation of them. However I have heard that the different courses of duty that are laid down for the different modes of life, all lead to the same end. So both to perform and not perform acts are both Vedic declarations. When the scripture appears thus, the strength or weakness of particular declarations must be very difficult to ascertain. If thou knowest of any course of duty which is superior, then tell me about it.'
Syumarashmi replies by reaffirming the ancient tradition of sacrifice, in which the inferior animals, human beings, trees and herbs all wish for heaven. There is no means, other than sacrifice, by which they can fulfill that desire.
Kapila rejoins: 'The fruits attainable by acts are finite
instead of eternal. Ascetics, by adopting self-restraint and
tranquility attain to God (Brahman) through the path of
knowledge. They are freed from the influence of all pairs of
opposites. Wisdom is theirs. Cleansed they are from every sin.
Transcending grief and freed from impurity (rajas), theirs are
acquisitions that are eternal. When the high end that is these
men's, is within reach, what need has one for practicing the
duties of the domestic mode of life?'
Syumarashmi replies that if indeed, that be the highest object of acquisition if that be truly the highest end, then the importance of the domestic mode of life becomes obvious, because without this, no other mode of life would be possible! Indeed as all living creatures are able to live in consequence of their dependence on their respective mothers, in the same way the three other modes of life exist in consequence of their dependence upon the domestic lifestyle; that householder who leads the life of domesticity, performs sacrifices and practices penances. Your doctrine is false, though dressed in the colours of truth. It subverts the real purport of the declarations of the Vedas and must have been introduced by learned men reft of prosperity and eaten up by idleness. The Brahmin who performs sacrifice according to the declarations of the Vedas is never seduced by sin. Through sacrifice, such a person attains the highest regions of felicity, along with the animals he has slain in those sacrifices. And by gratifying his own wishes, succeeds in gratifying the wishes of those animals.'
Kapila replies: that if acts are obligatory then the Darsha (fortnightly oblation), Paurnam‚sa (full-moon oblation), Agnihotra (fire-sacrifice) and C‚turm‚sa (Fourth month sacrifice) should be sufficient; why is there any need to partake in acts involving cruelty? One who has no fear for any creature and from whom no creature hath any fear and who constitutes himself the soul of all creatures, should be known as a Brahmin. Without having acquired purity of heart the result of pious acts, one remains a foolish man and will not be a genuine Brahmin no matter who ones teachers are. The ignorant man desire fruits of a very different kind. He is unable to practice even a small part of the good conduct recommended since remote times. Such foolish men don't really understand or appreciate the Vedic sanctions. Besides which as regards sacrifices, it is extremely difficult to get all the details correct and so the results can only be of limited value.'
At this point Syumarashmi capitulates and reveals his true identity. Acknowledging Kapila as his teacher she asks: 'The Vedas countenance and discountenance acts. Whence then is their authority when their declarations contradict each other?'
Kapila replies that the path of Yoga is the best path because its results are visible in this world. It is only through ignorance that a contradiction is seen between this view and that of the Vedas.
Kapila claims to be recapturing the visions of the ancient Vedic seers. 'There were,' he says, ' in days of yore, many men leading lives of domesticity. They were thoroughly devoted to their own duties. There were also many kings of the same qualification as well as Brahmins, all devoted to yoga. They behaved equally towards all creatures and were endowed with perfect sincerity, contentment and certainty of knowledge. Manifest were the rewards of their righteousness and pure were they in behavior and heart'. 'Acts ' he says 'only cleanse the body. The highest end is knowledge itself. When one possesses this, all the faults of the heart are cured. When one is at peace with God (Brahman), one becomes established in knowledge, one obtains benevolence, forgiveness, tranquility, compassion truthfulness, candour and devotion.'
It is clear that in the popular mind and in the mind of the Samkhya philosophers, there was never any thought of heresy. Their aim was always to recapture what was to them the highest aspect of Vedic religion which had been lost. They placed their complete faith in the path of knowledge which to them was worth a great deal more then animal sacrifices and Soma (v‚japeya).A thousand horse sacrifices, one hundred V‚japeya are not worth one sixteenth of the merit of yoga (52)
It is out of this philosophy that many Tantrik ideas developed. It is not uncommon for tantrism to be viewed as anti establishment. But early pieces of discussion such as the above show that tantriks need not have shared this perception of themselves. They may indeed have thought themselves truer to the spirit of the tradition out of which they grew.
The Atreya Tantra II
Knowledge is, in itself, a path or power that can transform its possessor. The Greek philosopher Plato, who was much influenced by Indian philosophy, also understood this fact. He made a distinction between knowledge and true belief. True belief was a useful thing but knowledge was an experience that could transform the possessor with the insight into the way things really are.
According to the Atreya-Tantra, the phenomenal man is reducible to twenty-four categories. Man is said to be a microcosm so it follows that the world is in a similar way reducible to these same categories. The twenty-four tattva (categories) are:...Mind, Ten Organs (five sensory and five motor), five objects and eightfold Prakriti. (54)In the table above I give a diagramatic representation of the categories based on the Atreya-Tantra and other classical sources. The first feature that you might notice is the radical divide between Self (purusha) and Nature (prakriti). Purusha is a Sanskrit term meaning 'man', and it is used here in a technical sense for the transcendental Self. (I suppose the modern critic might detect an element of ancient sexism in this terminology!). Prakriti is a feminine Sanskrit noun meaning nature. Interestingly, the version of the Samkhya philosophy found in the Atreya Tantra appears to omit the first category, Self (purusha), altogether. It is in fact, an important early variation in the system. In my opinion, the Atreya Tantra and the medical tradition from which is comes, does not deny the existence of Self. It seems instead to view the Self as a synthetic entity. For example:
Mind (55), Self and Body, these three are like a tripod; the
world is sustained by their combination; they constitute the
substratum for everything. This is Man (pums), this is sentient
and this is the subject matter of the Veda.(56)
The Atreya Tantra sometimes uses a very suggestive term for Self - Jiva. The concept of the Jiva has, surprisingly, found its way into the western esoteric tradition, via the theorising of the Theosophical Society. The Jiva is sometimes known as the 'astral body'. It is the subtle body that comprises the transcendental self, Mind and the subtle elements. Categories 1-2? in the above diagram. It is this part of the human organism that is sometimes said to wander around in dreams or even to transmigrate from one body to another. It is, in the words of the Atreya Tantra, very much a tripartite structure, that relies for its existence on the combination of its parts. It is the whole that only exists when the three are united and that can, in some circumstances, be dispersed, when this partnership is dissolved. It has been suggested that the Jiva is the instrument of human will, coming into existence each time the will has a conscious (or even perhaps unconscious) purpose.
Mind is now the conventional translation of the Sanskrit term 'manas'. In the English language the word `Mind' has a fairly wide meaning, denoting: `The seat of consciousness thoughts, volition and feelings; also the incorporate subject of the psychical faculties; the soul as distinct from the body.'(60) Consequently the English word must be applied with some care as it means more than the Samkhya category `manas'. The Atreya-Tantra begins its account with a description of Mind. Mind is said to be a connecting link between `Self' (Jiva) and the physical body (61).
According to the Atreya-Tantra, Mind has two qualities: Singularity (ekatvam) and Atomicity (anutvam).(68) A singular thing is something so small that it can no longer be divided, i.e. it is atomic. If we took this literally, as some do, then it follows that in the Samkhya system, Mind is an extremely small thing, smaller even than a speck of dust. However, personally, I do not think the Samkhya philosophers meant it in this way. I suggest that Mind is the moment of perception, the instant in which the whole system of - senses, object and consciousness are connected and a thought results. If my view is correct, then is follows that for each thought, the faculty Mind is generated anew, and it is thus said to be singular and atomic, or perhaps to borrow a Buddhist term, momentary. but simple, This potential of Mind is expanded into a whole system of Yogic meditation which aims at 'one- pointedness' (samadhi). It may also be an answer to those critics who wonder why this supposed internal organ has never been seen.
The Three Gunas
Physical objects are grasped by both the sense organs and Mind. After that they are investigated by Mind and accessed according to their various (good or bad) qualities. (70) The Atreya-Tantra maintains that the universe as we find it is composed of five gross elements: Space Air, Fire, Water and Earth. 'Ether' was once the conventional English translation of the Sanskrit term 'kham or 'akasha'. In English the word 'ether' connotes 'an elastic and subtle substance believed to permeate all space; the medium through which the waves of light are propagated, thus luminiferous Ether' (71). None of these possible meanings can be applied in the Hindu context. The 'kham' is a fifth, synthetic element that is derived in a dialectical way from the other four. It corresponds in meaning to the notion of a hollow cavity or empty space.
The five elements space, wind, fire, water and earth correspond with the sensations sound, touch, vision taste and smell. In addition each of these is associated with one of the five organs - the ears, skin, eyes, tongue and nose. All but the space element are easily derivable from a naive phenomenalism of the human body. The 'kham' is less obvious in its construction. That it is a synthetic concept is clear from the statement to be found in the medical texts, that it is not present in either semen (73) or the 'embryo' (74) in its earliest stage of development. It only shows itself when the 'embryo' has began to differentiate itself and the bodily spaces and cavities appear within.
The sense of smell is said to arise from the proximity of dry 'earthy' substances with the nose vision because of light, touch corresponds to air because of the skin's contiguity with the atmosphere, which gives rise to the perception of air in its mobile form as well as air temperature. Taste arises from the contact of the tongue with wet substances, and therefore corresponds to water. The correspondence of space with the sense of hearing is traditionally the one most difficult to understand. However if you look at the ear you should be able to see that it is a hollow structure. Simple experiments show that its action does not depend upon any of the external parts of the ear. In fact, internal sound (76) is only manifest when the passages to the ear are closed with the fingers.(77)
The term tanm‚tra is often translated as subtle element although I have changed this to 'mother' element, which is closer to its literal meaning. Tanm‚tra is the universal or generic element as opposed to the particular or individual element.
The mother elements have themselves evolved from what in Sanskrit is called ahamkara, literally the 'I maker', thus the conventional translation of this term as Ego (78). (the diagram above obscures this progression) Metaphysics and spiritual discipline are both involved, perhaps confused, with this concept. The elements are said to be the reflections of Ego, because they are the mixed up surface reality that overlays and conceals the ultimate reality which is more uniform. Furthermore, Ego is generated in the act of thinking, when the higher part of the psyche become distracted by the beautiful objects that present themselves to the senses;, it is also exactly like Descartes - I think there I am. The Hindu intellectual tradition maintains that human beings exist in a state of spiritual danger because of their failure to distinguish appearance from reality. This error is related to the problem of ego. It may be that our own western view of what is means to be egotistical is not what is meant here. When we say someone is egotistical we perhaps mean they are two self centred - whereas in the Indian tradition they might say you were not self-centred enough; you have not realised where Self starts and the surface reality finishes. In my opinion, the common religious idea of rejecting ego, should not be mistaken for being austere or disinterested in the world; rather it lies in understanding the relationship between the Self and all of its parts.
A clear example of this error is found in dogmatic creeds such as Christianity and their aim to be 'world' religions. Ramakrisna, the celebrated Tantrik saint of the early part of this century said that 'God has made different religions to suit different aspirants, times, and countries.' But as Joseph Campbell observes in his brilliant study, Hero with a Thousand Faces, 'trivial (my emphasis) matters as the remaining details of credo, the techniques of worship, and the devices of episcopal organisation (which has so absorbed the interest of Occidental theologians that they are today seriously discussed as the principal questions of religion), are merely pedantic snares, unless kept ancillary to the major teaching.' (p. 158). The Christians and others like them, have mistaken the local conditions of their creed for the way things really are and are thus, to use a tantrik technical phrase, afflicted by the klesha (bad mental propensity) of revulsion for those who are different. The results of their imbalance are everywhere to be seen.
In some versions of Samkhya the idea of nature as a series of principles that evolved one from another is very important. Other Samkhya teachers, such as Atreya, seem to give far less importance to this idea of serial progression and looked at things in a more rounded way. Ego (ahamk‚ra) is often said to have evolved from an either more refined aspect of the psyche termed Buddhi (also sometimes called Mahat) , in Sanskrit and conventionally translated as Intellect. Buddhi is another feminine noun meaning awake - Buddhi is the part of your nature that is awake and conscious, as opposed to the other parts of the neural network that only respond to stimuli in a conditioned way. The term Buddha was often applied to a learned or wise sage, long before the historical Buddha took the name.
If you can conceive of Buddhi as a mirror, as some Samkhya philosophers did, then you might see that this mirror can be pointed in one of two directions. Downward (or perhaps outward) to the world of physical phenomena, or upwards (perhaps inward) to its mysterious transcendental counterpart - purusha, the real Self. In some systems this is a total abstraction such as atman or maybe the void, in others the purusha is omitted altogether and yet others it is personified as a god such as Brahman or in the tantrik tradition as Shiva. Whatever way you look at it, it is a mystery that can only be described using metaphors. According to the precepts of Samkhya and other later yoga type schools, it up to each adept to turn their minds in that direction and contemplate the void for themselves.
Buddhi and indeed all ultimate reality has three aspects -vaikrtia, bhŻt‚di and taijasa. The exact meaning of these three terms is not clear but they are normally taken as referring to a fundamental theory within the Indian intellectual tradition that of the three Gunas
The Sanskrit term 'guna' can be translated as quality or attribute. The original condition of the universe was one in which these three gunas existed in a state of equipoise. Nature has evolved from them by a series of emanations. Natures, does this, in order to reveal herself to Purusha the transcendental self. Like a dancer, Samkhya says, nature exhibits herself to the Self. According to the Samkhya view of things, the world as we find it consists of a plethora of substances and tissues, which upon analysis appear to be a synthesis of five recognisable functions, or as we have translated them elements: space, wind, fire, water and earth. Beyond this lie the three Gunas. One way of looking at this is to suppose that fundamentally the natural world is composed of myriads of infinitesimal though substantial particles of three kinds:
Sattva, Rajas and Tamas
Care has to be exercised when unravelling the Guna theory for one is also unravelling a far from simple, meta-chemical theory developed in the medical schools. For Gunas are something more than mere physical entities. There are at least three ways in which they can be viewed: physically, metaphysically and moral or temperamental.
Sattva : In its physical aspect is related to elemental fire.
At the metaphysical level it is the essence of thing. morally it
can be said to represent truth or goodness
Rajas: Is likened to elemental air. At the metaphysical level it represents energy and on the moral plan it is passion or foulness.(79)
Tamas: Predominates in elemental earth. metaphysically it signifies inertia or fixity; morally darkness and untruth
The earliest mention of three gunas is to be in the Atharva Veda. This text holds a special place within the medical and tantrik tradition. Unorthodox tantrik texts always trace their lineage back to the Atharva Veda, the fourth and most magical of the four Vedas.Thus of the four Vedas, Rig, Sama, Yajur and Atharva, the
devotion of physicians is to the beloved Atharva Veda.
In the Atharva Veda one can find the following statement concerning the body and its qualities:The lotus-flower of nine door covered with three strands
(guna) - what soulful prodigy (yaksha) is within it that the
brahma-knowers know. (81)
The point being made above is that the gunas are like three ropes (rope is another possible translation of the Sanskrit term guna) which bind Purusha into its material existence. In the Samkhya Karika, we are told that the natural world (Prakriti) originally had all three gunas distributed in equal proportions. This primeval equipoise was disturbed and became a creative flux. The reasons for this change are full of mystery and can only be described by the use of metaphors:As non-intelligent milk functions for the nourishment of the
calf, Even so does Primal Nature function for the liberation of
The various modes of existence that arise out of this creative flux are reducible to the twenty- four tattvas already described. In the Samkhya Karika the three gunas are said to have some kind of teleological instinct or entropic tendency that leads eventually to the release of Self from its bondage along with the re-emergence of cosmic homeostasis
In the Atreya-Tantra the position of the three gunas is different. The three gunas are not of equal status. A distinction must be drawn between the Sattva and the other two. Sattva is almost a ' monad (85) the material counterpart of what is termed the 'knower of the world'- (ksetrajŮa). Sattva is often used as a synonym for Manas or Mind. It represents the myriads of individual 'Monads' embedded or entwined in Nature. Thus Atreya-Tantra says that
The evolution and dissolution rules those who are egotistical
and entwined in the pair Rajas and Tamas. Whereas others escape
birth and death. (86)
The union is because of the connection with Rajas and Tamas. This is Eternal. But with the removal of these two and increased Sattva, He retreats. (87)
The Atreya-Tantra also compare the three gunas to a basic component of human society: father mother and child. There are said to be six factors responsible for procreation which are in turn a mirror view (in miniature) of the cosmic process. The six factors are: mother, father, self, wholesomeness, food and mind. (88) The last three of these can be considered as complementary conditions and the first three as necessary and sufficient conditions
The mother contributes the skin, blood, flesh, fat umbilicus, heart, lungs, liver, spleen, kidneys, bladder, rectum, stomach, colon, anus, intestines etc., to the developing foetus. All of these are considered to be Rajasic in character
The father contributes the hair, teeth, bones, veins ligaments, arteries and semen.(89) All of which are Tamasic in character
The third part of this tripod is the transmigrating atman.
The Samkhya theory of causation is often termed 'conservationist'. The world is a biosphere in which nothing is either created ex nihilo or is destroyed. Substances transform themselves into other substances whilst remaining the same in essence. This is a theory that was adumbrated in the Upanishads :In the beginning, my dear this (universe) was being only; one
only; without a second. True some say that in the beginning this
(universe was Not-being only,-one only, - without a second and
that from that Not-Being Being was born
But my dear whence could this be? said he. How could Being be born
from Not-Being? No, it was Being alone that was this (universe) in the beginning,- one only, without a second. (98)
This idea is also clearly spelt out in the Bhagavad-GitaOf the non-existent there is no coming to be; of the existent
there is no ceasing to be. The conclusion about these two has been
perceived by the seers of truth.(99)
(C) Mogg Morgan & Mandrake
Notes (needs some proofing)
1 The practical philosophy of the Patañjali’s Yoga-sûtras.
2 The Sarva-Darshana-Sangraha of Madhava (c.1331), Translated by E B Cowell & A E Gough (Trubner 1982).
3 S C Vidyabhusana, A History of Indian Logic - Ancient Medieval & Modern (Motilal Banarsidas 1971). 209fn.
There is some dispute as to whether it might be the work of Haribhadra the Elder c.854.
5 See also comments on this person in chapter 4.
6 The Mahavagga, (SBE) Chapter VIII Part II page 171; Hardy, Manual of Buddhism Ch. VII; Schiefner Tibetan Talesh Ch VI page 92 - 109 ; Beal, Buddhist Recordsh Vol I introduction lix and Vol II page 152 : M Oldenburg, The Buddha page 147.
7 The Brhad-Äranyaka Upanishad IV.6.3.
A list of ‘sciences‘ is given in the Chândogya Upanishad VII.I.2.
8 The Mahâbhârata, P C Roy edition (Calcutta ) S’anti Parva CCX page 96 in Critical Ed.
Caraka’s name mentioned at Pân V.I,11.
11 P Chakravarti, op cit page 117.
12 M Winternitz, History of Sanskrit Literature, (Calcutta ,1963) page 478.
13 L Rocher The Purânash (Wiesbaden 1986) page 249.
14 Vishnu Purâna,translated by H H Wilson (Oxford, 1840) I,1,5-15.
15 Nelson Goodman , Languages of Art (Hackett Indianapolis 1976) page 8.
18 Kapila, Äsuri and Pañcas’ikha mentioned at
AV XLIII 3,4.
19 Kapilâ is also the name of one of the Kala or subsidiary devi of the mandal as given by Bharati’s informant. See Bharati (1970) p. 254. He translates as the ‘reddish one’
20 D Chattopadhyaya Lokâyata: A Study in Ancient Indian Materialism (Moscow 1959) page 283.
21 S’antiparva-(mokshadharma) Chapter 218 page 121 in P C Roy edition.
22 P Chakravarti, op cit page 61.
23 A’svaghosha, The Buddha-Carita I-XIV, Translated by E H Johnston (Calcutta 1936) 1.89.
24 op cit 12.69.
25 BC 12,83.
26 P Chakravarti, op cit page 103.
28 op cit page 446.
29 Brahmasûtras of Bâdarâyana, edited by P Deussen and translated by C Johnston (Chicago, 1912)
32 S S Suryanarayana Sastri, The Sâmkhya Kârikâ of ïs’vara Krshna (University of Madras 1935) 2nd ed.
The text from the Mahâbhârata is given as XII.311.36-44. which is S’ântiparva 319 in P C Roy’s edition.
34 F Edgerton The Beginnings of Indian Philosophy, (London 1965) page 36; ‘The Meaning of Sâmkhya and Yoga’, American Journal of Philology 45 (1924) 1-46.
35 SK.1. translated by J Davies (London 1881).
36 CS.I.1,6 & 15b-16a.
37 Vâcaspati Mis’ra, The Tattva-kaumudi, translated by Gangnatha Jhâ (Poona,1934).The debt to Äyurvedic medicine is clear. Comparison should made between this passage and CS.II,7 with deals with unmâda (insanity).
38 G J Meulenbeld The Mâdhavanidâna, (Brill : Leiden 1974) page 27.
41 Agricultural metaphors abound in this literature, see YS.IV.3.
43 Pain is what the patient says hurts: H K Beecher Measurement and Subjective Responses (Yale UP,1959)
45 Manu, Manu Smrti, translated by G BÜhler as The Laws of Manu, SBE Vol XXV (Oxford : Clarendon Pressh 1886) VI.87.
46 A term used by S P Collins op cit.
47 kshaya : dwindling away.
49 Vishnu Purâna IV,iv.
50 As’oka, Edict II quoted on page 137 above.
51 Mahâbharata, S’ântiparva 337 (P C Roy edition).
52 Mbh.S’ântiparva 324 (P C Roy edition).
53 Plato’s Symposium or The Drinking Party, translated by Michael Joyce (Everyman’s Library, London & New York 1935).
55 E H Johnson Early Sâmkhya: An Essay on Historical Development According to the Texts (Royal Asiatic Soc.1937) Preface.
57 These Sanskrit terms correspond to the three gunash concepts that will be explained below.
58 Amended translation from Anatomical & Obstetric Considerations in Ancient Indian Surgery (S’ârîrasthâna). Translated by Dr G D Singhal & Dr L V Guru (Institute of Medical Sciencesh Varanasi 1979) SS.III.1,4.
59 I am indebted to Sri K S Visvanatha Sarma, the Principal of Venkataraman Äyurveda College, Madrash for the above insight.
60 Shorter Oxford English Dictionary q.v.
63 CS.II.8sq. Apasmâra from apa+smr = failure of the memory.
64 J S Lockard & A A Ward, Epilepsy: A Window to Brain Mechanism (NY 1980).
65 CS.IV.1.34 .
66 Vâtsyâna’s Bhâshya on Gautama’s Nyâya-sûtra 16 translated by J Jhâ (Poona 1939).
67 It may be worth noting in passing that there is an increasing body of evidence for the phenomenon of ‘synaesthesia’, the perception by one sense organ of data thought appropriate to another. See B J White et al, ‘Seeing with the Skin’, Perception and Psychophysicsh Vol 7(1), 1970 pages 23-7.
69 S’ankara Mis’ra, Commentary on Kanâda Sûtras IV.2 translated by E.Singh (Allahabad 1911).
71 Oxford English Dictionary q.v.
72 This observation flows from a course on Äyurvedic theory and practice that was conducted by Dr Asvin Barot at the S’ivananda Vedânta Yoga Center London 1983.
74 The usual Sanskrit term for a foetus is ‘garbha’ eg CS.IV.2,5; sometimes the term ‘pind,a’ is used rather like the way we would use the term embryo or as sometimes suggested even as the zygote, eg CS.IV.4,9.
75 CS.I.IV.22 Function analysis is here described by Ätreya. See also Nyâyasûtra III.i.27-73.
76 Some modern research has some interesting things to say about internal sound, see: H Zuccarelli, ‘Ears Hear By Making Soundsh’ New Scientist 10 November 1983, pages 438-40.
77 CS.I.8sq and CS.IV.1,27-34 for textual source of these correspondences. Internal sound is mentioned by Caraka in CS.V.IV.20.
79 T Burrow, Rajas (BSOAS XII.645).
81 AVS.X.8.43. Translated by W D Whitney. (Harvard Oriental Series Reprint1971).
82 A B Keith, The Sâmkhya System (London 1918) page 19.
83 Mbh. S’ântiparvan ch 217 (Roy’s edition).
84 SK.57 J Davies translation (London 1881).
85 Bertrand Russell, A Critical Exposition of the Philosophy of Leibniz, (Cambridge, 1900).
93 This observation stems from the lecture series give by Professor Mohanti at the University of Oxford 1982. Entitled: ‘Psychologism and Indian Logical Theories’.
95 Dignâga On Perception The Pramâna-Samuccaya translated by Masaaki Hattori (Harvard University Press 1968) section on Sâmkhya.
96 See fn 71 ‘synaesthesia’, the perception by one sense organ of data thought appropriate to another. See B J White et al, ‘Seeing with the Skin’, Perception and Psychophysicsh Vol 7(1), 1970 pages 23-7.
97 The Yoga Sûtras of Patañjali with Yoga-bhâshya of Vyâsa, translated by Rama Prasada. SBH IV (Allahabad 1924) YS IV.3 (amended).
98 The Chândogya Upanishad, VI.ii.1-2 Translated by R C Zaehner (Everyman London 1977).
99 The Bhagavad-Gîtâ, II.16. Translated by S Radhakrishnan (NY: Harper & Bros 1948).
100 J E Brady & J R Holum Fundamentals of Chemistry, (Wiley NY 1981) page 637; See also: H Hart & R D Schuetz Organic Chemistry page 109; (Houghton Mifflin 1978) ‘The symmetry of molecules can influence their chemical behavior. The kind of behavior we have in mind occurs when a molecule has the property of ‘handedness‘, called chirality (Greek cheir:hand). We all know that it is quite easy for two right-handed (or left-handed) persons to shake handsh but it is not possible to shake a right-hand with a left-hand in the usual way. Similarly, molecules may react differently with one another depending on their handedness or chirality. Handedness depends upon the presence or absence of symmetry.
101 The sense organs are amongst other things also chemo-transmitors. See footnote (71) and (80).
104 CS.I.4,21 (Sharma and Dash Translation).
105 CS.I.4,22 (Sharma and Dash Translation).
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