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Publisher's Note

Something About Late Shri V.R. Gandhi
Contents
Introduction
I - The Sankhya Philosophy
  II - The Yoga Philosophy
  III - The Naya Philosophy
  IV - Mimamsa
  V - The Vedanta Philosophy
  VI - Buddhism
  VII - Jainism
  Sanskrit Terms

Introduction

 

 

1. SANKHYA

 

Gandhi bases his account of the Sankhya system on the version of it that we find in the Sankhya Sutras (a version not essentially different from that found in the Sankhya Karika and one entitled to be treated as 'Classical Sankhya'). Students of Indian Philosophy attach importance to the Sankhya system for diverse‑nay, mutually opposite‑reasons. Those inclined to favor idealism (if the Advaita Vedanta type, say) emphasize the fact that according to Sankhya the world of day‑to‑day experience (in it capacity as an evolute of Prakrit) is real to a soul‑in‑bondage (i.e. a soul‑under‑ignorance) but unreal to an emancipated (i.e an enlightened) soul; those inclined to favor realism emphasize the fact that according to Sankhya prakriti, the root‑cause of the world of day‑to‑day experience, is a reality co‑eternal with the multiplicity of souls.

 

As a matter of fact, the Sankhya philosopher's position on the question is considerably obscure, it being really difficult to make out as to what he precisely means by his thesis that prakriti evolves itself in the form of the world of day‑to‑day experience for a soul that is in bondage while it ceases to do so for a soul that is emancipated. With this obscurity in the background we can easily follow Gandhi's account of the Sankhya system. Gandhi gives prominence to the Sankhya philosopher's contention that the world of day‑to‑day experience evolved out of prakriti is not an illusory appearance and that the souls are many in number, a contention directed against two fundamental theses of Advaita Vedanta. But he raises pointed objection against the Sankhya position that Buddhi ('intellect' in Gandhi's translation) is a product of prakriti (which in turn is a physical entity) while ahankara ('self‑consciousness' in Gandhi ji's translation) is a product of Buddhi. The functions that the Sankhya philosopher assigns to Buddhi and ahankara will be assigned to soul by Gandhi (rather by the Jaina philosopher) and the latter must have noted that the former's way of speaking paves the way for the Advaita Vedantist's dismissal of a soul's individuality as an illusory appearance. For Buddhi and ahankara represent the essence of an individual's  individuality, and if they have nothing to do with soul the conclusion certainly follows that soul has nothing to do with an individual's individuality; and this conclusion couple with the thesis that all physical phenomena whatsoever are illusory naturally leads to the Advaita Vedanta position that the sole existing reality is one soul. Of course, Gandhi must have also realized that the functions attributed by the Sankhya philosopher to Buddhi and ahankara cannot be the functions of a physical entity (as Buddhi and ahankara allegedly are), for to concede that possibility will mean embracing materialism. Be that as it may, Gandhi made an honest attempt to place before his audience the picture of an Indian system of philosophy that is partly idealist, partly realist, partly materialist. And if it is the realistic aspects of the Sankhya teaching that chiefly received Gandhi's attention it is not because Gandhi was himself a realist but because the 'classical Sankhya' is actually a realistic system of philosophy on the whole. One more point. Gandhi well observed that in an Indian system of philosophy the metaphysical and ethic ‑religious matters invariably go hand in hand, but he also knew that the importance attached to these two in different systems is differently proportioned. And consequently in his exposition of a system of Indian Philosophy Gandhi would endeavor to remain loyal to the spirit of the original in this respect. Thus he treated Sankhya as a philosophical system chiefly devoted to theoretical problems while touching upon the problems of practice as well; (on the contrary, he treated the Yoga of Patanjali as a philosophical system chiefly devoted to practical problems while touching upon the problems of theory as well). That is why Gandhi begins his lecture on Sankhya by telling us that the Sankhya philosopher aims at a cessation of the threefold miseries while in the course of his exposition he incidentally tells us as to what according to the Sankhya philosopher is the nature of moksa and what the means of attaining it, for the rest his concern is with the metaphysical tenets of the Sankhya system.

 

2. YOGA

 

Gandhi rightly noted that the Yoga system of philosophy‑ more properly, the system of philosophy propounded by Pantanjali in his Yoga Sutras‑ differs but little from Sankhya so far as theoretical questions are concerned; what distinguishes Yoga is its over‑all preoccupation with practical matters. Hence we find Gandhi too almost exclusively discussing practical matters throughout his lecture on Yoga. But the practical matters taken into consideration by the Yoga system are of a somewhat peculiar nature. The Yoga philosopher (rather the Yoga adept) aims at developing the capacity to concentrate his mind on one subject of the exclusion of everything else‑and ultimately to concentrate it on `nothing'. A rough equivalent for `concentration of mind' is `cessation of mental modifications (Skt. Citta vrtti‑ nirodha)' and whatever theoretical problems interest a Yoga philosopher mostly arise in the course of his inquiry into the precise nature of citta, citta‑vrtti and citta‑vrtti‑nirodha. For the rest he is busy discussing the practical measures to be devised in order to develop the capacity for `concentration of mind' (or discussing the miraculous capacities that a practicing yogi allegedly comes to acquire). Gandhi's exposition of Yoga therefore begins with a brief account of citta, citta‑vrtti and citta‑vrtti‑nirodha; then is considers the nature of the eight yogangas (or `means of yoga'‑ i.e., means for developing the capacity for concentration of mind), and lastly the miraculous capacities that one allegedly comes to acquire as a result of concentrating one's mind on this object or that. Now the first two yogangas happen to be yam and niYams (in Gandhi's translation `forbearances' and `observances') and the various sub‑species of them happen to be various virtues of character. Thus the five yams are `abstaining from killing (ahimsa)', `abstaining from falsehood (satya)', `abstaining from theft (asteya)', `austerity (tapas)', `study (svadhyaya)' and `resignation to God (Isvarapranidhana)'. Hence the consideration of these two yogangas provided Gandhi a good opportunity to express his views on a number of ethical questions. Of course, in his exposition Gandhi did not want to deviate from what was actually said or implied in the Yoga writings; but when he found that a particular position adopted by the Yoga philosopher was not worth dilating upon he simply mentioned it and passed on. This attitude becomes particularly striking in the later parts of his exposition‑ that is, in the course of his exposition of the remaining six yogangas and of the miraculous capacities allegedly acquired by a practicing yogin. In these parts we are able to know a good deal as to what the Yoga philosopher has to say on the questions under consideration but pretty little as to what Gandhi himself feels about the matter. But one thing is certain. In his own way Gandhi was thoroughly convinced that as a result of controlled `concentration of mind' (and the allied yoga exercises) one can come to acquire supra‑normal capacities of body and mind; this becomes clear not only from the occasional comments made by him in the course of his present lecture on Yoga philosophy but also from his numerous other lectures on the subject of yoga which were later on published under the title `The Yoga Philosophy'. Perhaps, Gandhi would not therefore endorse the following stricture passed by Max Muller against that part of the Yoga Sutras where the miraculous powers allegedly acquired by a practicing yogi are enumerated: ``... we get more and more into superstitions, by no means without parallels in other countries, but for all that, superstitions which have little claim on the attention of the philosopher, however interesting they may appear to pathologist", (The six systems of Indian philosophy, p. 351). But then Max Muller had himself gone on to add; ``These matters, though trivial, could not be passed over, whether we accept them as hallucinations to which, as we know, our thinking organ (organs?) are liable, or whether we try essential part on yoga philosophy and it is certainly noteworthy even from a philosophical point of view, that we find such vague and incredible statements side by side with the specimens of the most exact reasoning and careful observation'' (Ibid., p. 352) Moreover, the acquisition of miraculous capacities was not considered even by Gandhi to be the true aim of yoga practice; for in his eyes this aim was `self‑culture' as he understood it.

 

3. NAYA (AND VAISESIKA)

 

For reasons partly technical and partly ideological the NayaVaisesika system yet remains `under‑studied' by the students of Indian Philosophy‑Indian as well as Western. On account of their logical rigor‑ as also on account of their highly evolved technical terminology ‑even the elementary NayaVaisesika texts are tough enough to scare the novice. Another reason for the comparative neglect of the system lies in the content of its teaching. The NayaVaisesika philosophy is a type of empirical realism and as such it is opposed to the transcendental idealism of Advaita Vedanta‑ the system patronized by a majority of scholars working the field of Indian philosophy. Max Muller's attitude was typical. "While in the systems hitherto examined," he says, "particularly in the Vedanta, Sankhya and Yoga, there runs a strong religious and even poetical vein, we now come to two systems, Naya and Vaisesika, which are very dry and unimaginative, ... businesslike exposition of what can be known, either of the world which surrounds us or of the world within..." (The Six Systems, p. 362). Gandhi, who was himself a man of deeply religious temperament, and who must have been alive to the fact that the NayaVaisesika system pays scant heed to the problems of ethics and religion, could not ditto Max Muller's sweeping condemnation of the system, not only because the condemnation was so sweeping but also because Gandhi's own general philosophical standpoint was realistic rather than idealistic. But as things stood, Gandhi did not think it worthwhile to say much (maybe he had not think it worthwhile to say much (maybe he had not much to say) about the philosophical teachings of the NayaVaisesika system, and what we have from his  pen is a barest outline of the sixteen topics (technically called Padarthas) whose consideration exhausts what may be called the Naya philosophy and of the seven categories (again, technically called Padarthas) whose consideration exhausts what may be called a Vaisesika philosophy.

 

4. MIMAMSA

 

Gandhi did not consider Mimamsa to be a system of philosophy but a system of ritualism, and that is why he just takes note of it and then passes on to the system to be taken up next. As a matter of fact, Mimamsa is both a system of philosophy and a system of ritualism. But the philosophical literature emanating from the Mimamsa school belongs to the same broad category (and broadly presents the same type of difficulties before a student) as does that emanating from the NayaVaisesika school. Nay, a serious study of the NayaVaisesika philosophy is impossible without a serious study of the Mimamsa philosophy (just as it is impossible without a serious study of the Buddhist philosophy as expounded by the school of Dinnaga and Dharmakirti). Be that as it may, we too take leave of Mimamsa and proceed on the Vedanta.