The Purusha is Desireless

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    James Barton

    Hi Ashish,

    I have read the preview of one of your books and have ordered it and another from Amazon UK.

    I like how you speak of the 6 schools of philosophy. However regarding Samkhya surely the Purusha is desireless and unchanging. It is pure witness only. You seem to say otherwise?

    Best Wishes,


    Ashish Dalela

    Hi James,

    Puruṣa literally means a “person”. In some contexts, the word is also used to refer to a “man”. Then, the word Pauruṣa means “virility” or “prowess”. When used in reference to God, Puruṣa means the all-powerful. When used in reference to the soul, Puruṣa means the individual soul or person.

    Every individual is different from other individuals based on a personality of desires and aversions, likes and dislikes. These desires and aversions or likes and dislikes have two forms, one material and the other spiritual. These respectively constitute a material and spiritual personality. The material personality covers the spiritual personality such that we cannot see our true spiritual desires.

    Therefore, the term “desireless” may sometimes be used in reference to the state where the material personality has been destroyed although the spiritual personality hasn’t yet been discovered. There is indeed such a “desireless” state, and it is sometimes called Brahman, but it is not the complete understanding of the self. The material personality is negated in this case, although the spiritual personality is yet to be known. The term “desireless” refers to the negation of material desire.

    As a general rule, when we say “X is Y”, the implication is always that Y is a potentiality that exists in X, although that potentiality may not always be manifest. For example, “sugar is sweet” simply means that there is a potential for sweetness in sugar, which will be perceived if we taste sugar. The process of tasting manifests sweetness in sugar. Without tasting, the sweetness exists in an unmanifest form. The manifest is called vyakta (expressed) and the unmanifest is called avyakta (unexpressed). The unexpressed exists, but since it is not always perceived, hence, it is a potential.

    This principle applies to desire as well. When we say that “Puruṣa is desire”, it means there is a potential for desire. It doesn’t mean that desire is always manifest. When the desire manifests, that potential is expressed. The potentiality for desire exists eternally, but it may sometimes not be manifest. In that state, we can say that “Puruṣa is desireless” because “desireless” refers to the manifestation of the potential of desire. Otherwise, Puruṣa always has desire as a potential.

    Context reveals what is being truly indicated, and based on the context, both statements “Puruṣa is desire” and “Puruṣa is desireless” can be made. They are not contradictory claims per se.

    The true personality of the soul is also eternal but it can be avyakta or unmanifest. The purpose of spiritual practice is to reveal, expose, discover, or manifest that unmanifest potentiality. If the material personality has been destroyed but the spiritual personality is still unmanifest, people might say that they have reached the “desireless” state. That is however not the ultimate state of the soul, because there is still a potentiality within the soul that is yet to be discovered.

    There are, however, some people who (falsely) claim that the “desireless” state is the ultimate state of the soul, and they justify it based on texts that refer to the desireless state as being superior to the material desire. They make no distinction between material personality which exists as a covering of the soul and the spiritual personality which is latent and hidden as a potential within the soul.

    These distinctions are made in all the philosophical systems, so if you read them, you will find many repudiations of the advocacy of the “desireless” state as being the ultimate state, while prior advocating the detachment from the material desire as the route to spiritual perfection.

    Hope this helps you.

    James Barton

    Thanks Ashish,

    As I understand it in the context of Samkhya: Purusha is pure unchanging divine witness only. All else including desires, thoughts, energy and physical body etc are Prakriti.

    The idea of Samkhya is to realize the difference between Purusha/pure witness and Prakriti/matter/energy. For example via the Neti Neti technique.

    A desire arises due to a delusion of lack which is itself caused by ignorance/false identification with prakriti.

    Yes, desires maybe gross, intermediate or subtle but our true nature is beyond all such.

    Purusha as “person” means an individual center of consciousness. According to Samkhya there are numerous eternal Purusha. Each being which experiences is an eternal Purusha.

    Purusha as pure witness is unchanging. Only Prakriti is subject to change and vibration. Prakriti has no consciousness at all.

    The genius of Samkhya is to separate Subject and Object where generally we confuse the 2.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 2 months ago by James Barton.
    Ashish Dalela

    What you are describing is not Sankhya, but an impersonalistic distortion of Sankhya. You can read the Sankhya Sutra and you will find numerous repudiations of what you are saying.

    The Purusha is not merely a witness, because, in the latter part of Sankhya Sutra, the nature of the spiritual body is discussed on the same principles as the material body is discussed initially.

    Even neti-neti involves a choice of rejecting the material existence. That choice is not a materially created choice, but a spiritually generated choice. Since the Purusha can stop being the witness, therefore, it is not always the witness. Rather, that witnessing is a power controlled by a desire.

    As a general principle, the drawing in and drawing out of consciousness is the mechanism by which the world is perceived or ignored. That drawing in and drawing out is the choice of the soul. This means that the soul is not merely a witness; it also has a choice. That choice requires a persona. The issue is not how we are witnessing, but that we can stop witnessing just by desiring. And that desire to stop witness is still a desire, which leads to the materially desireless state. If this drawing in and out of consciousness is replaced by “witnessing” then a crude and false caricature is produced.

    Prakriti is also a person, and She is described as a feminine persona. Owing to this, all over the world the term “Mother Nature” is used. She is divine, Shakti, and feminine. Based on this, there is a Shakta tradition of Vedic philosophy, in which this divine feminine power is worshipped. So, Prakriti is also a witness. But in the impersonalistic distortion, only the Purusha is a witness.

    The soul has two capacities, due to which it is called drsta (seer or witness) and anumanta (approver and rejector). The anumanta or “approver” aspect involves a personality and choice, by which the capacity of being the seer is utilized or not utilized. Seeing is a power, and it can be used or not used, and that change of focus or the drawing in and out of consciousness, is based on choice, governed by a personality. The impersonalist distortion emphasizes the drsta (seer) and ignores the anumanta (approver). By that distortion, you cannot willingly move your consciousness into or away from things, you cannot change the focus of consciousness, because you are only a witness, and what you are witnessing is controlled by the Prakriti.

    When the focus of consciousness is controlled by matter, then you have no free will. For example, material energy must control whether or not your consciousness will be directed toward reading a book, because you are simply a “witness” of what the body is doing. Since the body is picking up the book and reading the book, therefore, your reading the book is not your choice, but totally controlled by the material energy. Effectively, you have no choice, because you are simply witnessing what the body is doing, and you cannot intervene.

    The result of such a viewpoint is materialism. It manifests as the inability to control the body because you are just the “witness” of what the body is doing and you are not the approver and you cannot intervene in what the body is doing. So, you will helplessly observe what the body is doing, while the body may be involved in crimes as you have no power of approval or disapproval.

    All these pseudo-spiritual ideas are not based on Vedic texts, nor can they be substantiated by reason and observation. Certainly, they are contrary to Yoga practices. But they are very popular.

    You are carrying presuppositions about what Sankhya is, which is not a good way to start reading the text. The ideal way is to go to the text, read it sincerely, see the progression of its ideas, and then discuss. You are preempting the ideas of the book by imposing your presuppositions about it.

    James Barton

    I appreciate your reply although I still see from a slightly different perspective.

    Your books will add to my collection of books on Samkhya as I am trying to get to the truth whatever it may be. As far as I understand it most Samkhya texts are agreeing that the Purusha is neither created nor creative, it is witness only.

    I have been disagreeing with many Advaita school people in favour of the duality of Samkhya.

    Their philosophy is not making sense in that they say Brahman is unchanging but then creates maya etc. Also if there is Brahman only then it would mean that liberation would be meaningless, everything would be a meaningless cycle as even the Brahman/goal is still forever creating ignorance/maya, desires and suffering.

    According to my study Samkhya is a bit more like Jainism in many ways.

    I have also being debating against the materialists/physicalists. They believe that the consciousness is dependent on and being generated by the physical brain. They confuse the actual consciousness/pure witness with the mental faculties and desires etc. If we look within we can see that the unchanging aspect in our experience is the pure witness.

    Some people say that atheistic Samkhya was original and others say that theistic Samkhya was original. I aim to view both sides objectively.

    From what you have said above it seems that you mixing the Mahat/Buddhi with the Purusha.

    The Purusha is pure witness but the Mahat is Prakriti but the most illumined subtle Prakriti and free from ego.

    That Mahat is the virtues and wise approver, maybe this dissolves or maybe it stays as the highest possible body of the individual Purusha

    As for God, even in so called atheistic Samkhya please consider this: The Purushas free from Prakriti are omniscient. Consider an infinite number of omniscient eternal Purushas. They also transcend space etc. So in a sense they are at One. This goes along with the idea that our true nature is beyond both mere individuality and beyond mere oneness: it transcends both categories.

    Then with the highest beings who still have some Prakriti, they could be classed as gods and creator etc.

    So even in so called atheistic Samkhya I see gods of various classes and also the ‘One’ divine with the infinite eyes/ Purushas.

    Where I question the so called theistic Samkhya is what is the nature of their God? Are they claiming that it creates the Purushas and Prakriti? For me that does not make logical sense as the whole point of the Purusha and Prakriti is that they are not created. They are the 2 fundamental aspects of Reality.

    From that we can see that any ‘God’ which is conscious must be a Purusha and if not pure witness must also have some Prakriti.

    It is not a case of a Purusha and then the physical body. In between the Purusha and the physical body are several subtle bodies.

    Ashish Dalela

    As for God, even in so called atheistic Samkhya please consider this: The Purushas free from Prakriti are omniscient. Consider an infinite number of omniscient eternal Purushas. They also transcend space etc. So in a sense they are at One. This goes along with the idea that our true nature is beyond both mere individuality and beyond mere oneness: it transcends both categories.

    This is another concoction of the impersonalists. Bhagavad-Gita 13.23 states the following:

    upadraṣṭānumantā ca
    bhartā bhoktā maheśvaraḥ
    paramātmeti cāpy ukto
    dehe ’smin puruṣaḥ paraḥ

    Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.

    The term upadraṣṭa means the overseer. The term anumantā means the approver. Similarly, bhartā means the sustainer or master, bhoktā means enjoyer, and maheśvaraḥ means the Supreme Lord. 

    We are witness or drasta, and the Supreme Lord is a upadrasta or overseer. We are approvers, and the Supreme Lord is an approver. But the Supreme Lord is the maintainer of the body, He is the ultimate enjoyer of the body, although we are also enjoying. This form of God is called paramātma or the Supersoul He is all pervading or what you call “omniscient”. The soul is not omniscient.

    From that we can see that any ‘God’ which is conscious must be a Purusha and if not pure witness must also have some Prakriti.

    Not true. You can become as conscious as you like, but you will never know the innermost feelings, thoughts, pain and pleasure of all the living entities in this world. At best, you will develop empathy. Empathy is not omniscience. You have stated the root of all the problems in your philosophy, namely, that the soul is God if it becomes a pure witness. Well, as a pure witness, you cannot even stop the crimes of the body, then what to speak of becoming God. This is pure fantasy.

    Just because someone uses the word Sankhya, Veda, Vedanta in their book doesn’t mean squat. There can be a bottle whose cover says “Jam”, while it contains dirt. Many people are selling dirt as Jam, because the buyer doesn’t know what Jam tastes like. So the buyer thinks: Well if it says this is Jam, then it must be Jam. Beware of the cheaters! Read more carefully, ask more questions.

    Here is the simple test for anyone who says he has become omniscient. You can ask: My dear Sir, since you are now omniscient, can you solve my problems in mathematics, physics, biology, economics, cosmology, etc.? Since you say you are omniscient, therefore, you must know how atomic particles work, how molecules are working in the body, the structure of the entire cosmos, etc. If you cannot solve these problems, then you don’t know how things are working. Clearly, then you cannot be omniscient. A simple test for growing consciousness is that you can answer and solve difficult problems in science, that others are not able to solve. So how many of these “omniscient” people can even talk about the nature of the atoms and molecules, the structure of the cosmos? Omniscience means you know past, present, future. So, you can test their omniscience by asking them.

    The fact is that we will never be omniscient. But we can become devoted to the Omniscient. Then, as a devotee, we can ask the Omniscient: My dear Lord, can you tell me about the nature of atoms? And the Lord can tell you, because you are devoted to Him. By that telling, you also know what God knows. You can know anything you like, but that doesn’t mean you are omniscient. The impersonalist wants to short-circuit this process. He thinks: Why should I ask anyone? I know everything! But the fact is that he will never know even his body, let alone everything. So, the so-called “omniscience” is just pretentious hypocrisy.

    James Barton

    Hi Ashish,

    Your books (“Material and Spiritual Natures” plus “Sankhya and Science”) have arrived, looking forward to studying indepth.

    I appreciate that not all that is labeled as Samkhya is the real Samkhya. However on general search the majority of sources have it that Samkhya school has Purusha and Prakriti as uncreated eternals.

    From my understanding of personality I can see that the true nature is both personal and impersonal.

    Think of “fearlessness” for example. Any being who is truly fearless is the same in that regard of anyone else who is also truly fearless. Anyone who loves unconditionally is the same in that regard as anyone else who loves unconditionally.

    So that ideal of personality is universal and in God as in the truly realized beings.

    Differences in personalities are only temporary lacks of particular virtues. There is a divine blueprint of ideal personality. As it is absolutely universal it can be said to also be impersonal in a way.

    I am not saying that humans are going around as omniscients. Most people claiming enlightenment are somewhat deluded. I have tested some people claiming special powers and they have failed.

    Enlightenment is freedom from the ego delusion but that does not make them omniscient. After freedom from physical reincarnation there is likely many other subtle purifications. I still hold though that omniscience is the eventual destiny of all beings.

    As is said by Sri Ramana and other self realized beings: anything gained can again be lost. Enlightenment is only the revealing of the reality which is ever there within. So all wisdom must be within inherently. It is only covered up temporarily.

    Samkhya is famous for having 25 Tattvas: Purusha and Prakriti plus the evolutes of Prakriti.

    Shaivism I think has the 25 plus 11 more making 36. Those 11 they believe to be higher than the Purusha such as various divine levels.

    “Samkhya philosophy lists 25 tattvas while later Shaivite philosophies extend the number to 36”

    So to clarify: Samkhya is said to be earlier and original. The additions up to 36 came later as the Yugas descended and errors may have crept in.

    However some say that the Purushas free from Prakriti are the 26th Tattva which would be a kind of divine unity as I outlined earlier. This is not necessarily labeled as impersonal. It can be seen as the universal personality with infinite eyes /purushas in perfect harmony beyond our human understanding.

    Another point though is that there is also eternal unchanging truth. Eternal truth is not a created thing and cannot be changed even by God.

    Many materialists confuse our man-made mathematical conceptual ‘maps’ with the eternal ‘territory’ of the mathematical facts.

    Some theists wrongly believe that God has created the eternal truths.

    There are an infinite number of eternal mathematical and other transcendental truths. 2+2=4 and it cannot be changed by any god. Are we agreed on this?

    So there can be omniscience which is aware of the infinite unchanging truths and there can be omniscience  which is also aware of every heart etc as you said.

    In mathematics there can be levels of infinity:

    “Infinity is a powerful concept. … There are actually many different sizes or levels of infinity; some infinite sets are vastly larger than other infinite sets. The theory of infinite sets was developed in the late nineteenth century by the brilliant mathematician Georg Cantor.”

    So perhaps there are also different levels of omniscience? Just something to think about.

    Ashish Dalela

    As it is absolutely universal it can be said to also be impersonal in a way.

    There are infinite qualities that are universal. The combination of these qualities is unique and individual. Sankhya acknowledges three fundamental qualities, namely, sattvarajas, and tamas. And infinite variety is created from the combination of three qualities. Some of these can be common across individuals, but all the qualities are not. That unique combination is individuality.

    I still hold though that omniscience is the eventual destiny of all beings.

    You are using “destiny” in a weird way. It seems from the use that it is guaranteed or inevitable. Instead, I would like to hear from you about your method for attaining omniscience. Please describe a process, a path, a practice by which the current non-omniscient state will become omniscient. If you can present a path, and how that will work, then we can accept that omniscience will be achieved. But if you cannot present such a path, then the desire for omniscience is a pipe dream.

    So all wisdom must be within inherently. It is only covered up temporarily.

    Yes, everything is within us. This is one of the cornerstones of Satkaryavada: Everything springs out of the self. Even things that you don’t know presently are within you, and they can spring out of you. The unmanifest can become manifest. But have you also pondered on how that unmanifest thing will become manifest?

    Like I said earlier, sweetness is unmanifest in sugar, and you manifest it by tasting it. So, how are you going to taste the self to manifest knowledge out of the self? Is there a notion of a tongue tasting itself? There isn’t. So, “wisdom is inside” is a very basic conclusion. How you manifest that hidden thing that lies unmanifest is a very hard process. We have to know how to manifest it.

    Samkhya philosophy lists 25 tattvas while later Shaivite philosophies extend the number to 36.

    Sankhya begins with Pradhana, which denotes the idea that “I am boss”. But Shaivism digs deeper and concludes: The belief that we are boss is bluster. It arises after we are conditioned by many inferiorities and insecurities. A deeper sense of insecurity and inferiority leads to an outward projection of bossiness, superiority, greatness. So, Shaivism now discusses the many kinds of inferiorities, insecurities, and fears, which are deeper than the idea that “I am boss”. There are six such primary categories, which include the inferiority that “I cannot enjoy everything”, “I cannot know everything”, “I don’t have all the abilities”, “I am tied to one place”, “I am the byproduct of this time”, which are in turn produced from the inferiority that “I am a very limited individual”.

    The soul is factually limited, but the feeling of inferiority about this limitation is its covering. That covering is called Maya or “I am not (great)”. This feeling negates our pride, and an outward projection of pride (which is divided into Pradhana, Prakriti, Mahat, and Ahamkara) is created. It is not later and earlier. One philosophy says that the soul is covered by false pride, and another philosophy says that this false pride is produced by inferiority. Shaivism begins from inferiority and then discusses false pride as a byproduct of inferiority. Sankhya begins from false pride.

    And liberation is then understood as freedom from the feeling of inner fear and insecurity so that you can get rid of the feeling of false superiority so that you can transcend this world.

    Another point though is that there is also eternal unchanging truth. Eternal truth is not a created thing and cannot be changed even by God.

    Don’t you want to go to a world, where you can have your cake and eat it too? This is the meaning of “eternity” for us. Go on eating the cake, and the full cake is there. That world is based on a different kind of logic than this world. In this world, you eat your cake, and you cannot have it. In that world, you can have your cake and eat it too. In fact, there exist an infinite number of worlds based on different logics. Whatever you call the “truth” is nothing but a set of axioms and logic. And there are infinite systems of axioms and logics. Each such system is a different world. All these worlds serve different kinds of pleasures and purposes. And God created all these worlds from Himself.

    Truth is the servant of pleasure. Based on the different kinds of pleasures, different truths can be created. But God is infinitely free to create all these worlds. The soul is not free to create his own truth. He has to accept the truth. But the soul is free to choose its kind of pleasure. If your idea of pleasure is selfish, then you are put in a world where everyone is selfish. In this selfish world, you eat your cake, and you don’t have it anymore. Now, you are “forced” to accept the truth. But you develop unselfish love, then you can choose the truth. So, you think that truth is higher than God because you are thinking about selfish pleasure. That’s not our definition of God. Our definition is that God is the person Who enjoys in infinite ways. To enjoy, He creates many truths, including many kinds logics and axioms. These logics and axioms create many kinds of worlds. Each world affords a different kind of pleasure. And God enjoys infinite pleasure in infinite ways in infinite worlds.

    We are here in this world because we chose selfishness, which subordinated our pleasure to the truth. We have no choice over the truth. Now you want to extend this idea of “truth” to God? Sorry, we don’t think in that way. We ask: How many kinds of logics and axioms can exist? The answer is infinite! And why would a person end up in a world with a certain logic and axioms? And the answer is the choice of pleasure. You can change the truth you see based on how you want to enjoy. But of course, first, you have to get out of this world where your happiness is a servant to the truth.

    In mathematics there can be levels of infinity:

    But you are thinking about the infinity of numbers, which is based on one set of axioms and one type of logic. I’m talking about an infinity in which axioms and logics are themselves infinite. The infinite world you are talking about is this world; yes, in a way it is infinite. But that is only when you don’t know about the other worlds. When those other worlds are known, then this world becomes insignificant. When it is seen as insignificance, then it is understood as a “mustard seed”. You have to study Vedic cosmology, where there are infinite material universes, and each universe is just like a mustard seed. In comparison, the other worlds are far bigger. So everything you call “infinity” is a mustard seed for the transcendentalist. And what is “big” is beyond the current idea of big.

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