Beyond Sustainable Economy: Six Systems of Indian philosophy on Non-possessiveness

Published: 20.06.2017

The state of non-attachment is difficult, but fearless.

The six later systems of Indian philosophy that accept the authority of the Veda contain life-values of a non-possessive person by way of their theories, thoughts, contemplation and practice.


Sacrifice is a change from 'mine' to all

Mīmāṁsā philosophy deals with the earlier portion of Veda (that is, the Mantra and  Bhramaṇa portion, therefore called Pūrva Mīmāṁsā). It deals with action, the rituals and the sacrifices (hence known as Karma Mīmāṁsā). Mīmāṁsā Sūtra of Jaimini (3rd century BC) is the earliest work of Pūrva Mīmāṁsā, Shabarasvāmī wrote a commentary on it, which was explained by Prabhakar and Kumaril Bhatt. Logakshi Bhaskar has written a treatise named Arthasaṅgraha.

Mīmāṁsā literally means 'reflection, consideration, profound thought, investigation, examination, discussion'. In the Mīmāṁsā or Pūrva-Mīmāṁsā philosophy, dharma is the subject of inquiry - "athāto dharma jijñāsa" (Mīmāṁsā Sūtra). Dharma is an injunction which impels men to perform certain actions or to refrain from doing some others actions. Sacrificial actions etc. are considered as 'dharma' in the Mīmāṁsā  school of Indian philosophy - 'yāgādireva dharmaḥ' (Arthasaṅgraha, upoddhāta, 2) Actions produced through sacrificial activity (yajña) produce an unseen potency (apūrva) in the soul of the doer which produces fruit of the action. The accomplishment of yajña is analogous with "it is not mine" - 'idaṁ na [idanna] mama'. It is a change from mine to all.

In Mīmāṁsā philosophy actions are divided into three categories:

  1. Obligatory, which is further classified as daily (nitya karma) and occasional (naimittika karma)
  2. Optional (kāmya karma)
  3. Prohibited (niśiddha karma)

Obligatory actions are those which must be performed, for their violation results in sin, though their performance leads to no merit. Those which must be performed daily as a prayer (sandhyāvandana) are nitya or daily obligatory actions and those which must be performed on special occasions are naimittika or occasional obligatory actions.

Optional actions are called kāmya karma and their performance leads to merit, e.g., he who wants to go to heaven should perform certain jyotiṣṭoma sacrifices, 'svargakāmo jyotiṣṭomena yajeta'.

Prohibited actions are called niṣiddha and their performance incurs sin and leads to hell. We find mention of expiatory acts (prāyaścitta karma), which are performed in order to ward off or at least mitigate the evil effect of the performed prohibited actions.

Earlier Mīmaṁsakas dealt with 'dharma' as an instrument to reach 'heaven', but later Mimāṁsakas believed in liberation (apavarga) of the soul through abstention from karmas. Both of them admit that abstention from karma does not mean abstention from all karmas, but abstention from optional (kāmya) karmas and the prohibited (niṣiddha) kind of karmas only. The seeker for liberation has to rise above both merit (heaven) and demerit (hell). But even he should perform the obligatory - nitya and naimittika actions enjoined in the Vedas. Obedience to the Veda is an end in itself and is its ultimate value (puruṣārtha). These actions must be performed in an absolute detached manner without any consideration of reward, simply because of the fact that they are commands of the Vedas. Here lies the roots of non-possessiveness in Mīmāṁsā philosophy. Kumarila, through his jñānakarma samuchhedavāda or harmonious combination of knowledge and action, paved the way to liberation for which he admits Upāsanā or meditation, a kind of action that leads to knowledge, which ultimately leads to liberation.

Vedānta philosophy

Eternal peace depends upon the control of mind

The Upaniṣads are regarded as the śruti (Veda) by the Vedāntins and their teachings were summarized by Bādarāyaṇa in his Brahma Sūtra and were developed into the school of Advaita Vedānta by its first systematic expounder, Gauḍapāda in his work the Māṇḍukya Kārikā  or Gauḍapāda Kārikā, known as the Āgama-śastra.

Gauḍapāda's philosophy is based on the Māṇḍukya, the Bṛhadāraṇyaka and the Chhandogya Upaniṣads. Gauḍapāda's contribution of the doctrine of Vaiṣāradya or Aṣparśayoga or Amanībhāva is very near to the philosophy of the vow of Non-possessiveness and non-attachment.

Gauḍapāda identifies the Unborn and Non-dual Absolute with the Ātman or Brahman or Amṛta or Turīya [fourth state] of the Advaita Vedānta, which can be directly realized by pure knowledge or Asparśayoga (uncontaminated meditation) or Vaiśarādya (transcendental purity) or Amanībhāva (control of mind). This Absolute manifests itself in three forms as Viśva, Taijasa and Prājña. In the waking state (jagrata) when it has the consciousness of outside it is called 'viśva' and enjoys the gross (world-objects). In the dream state (svapna) when it has the consciousness of inside it is called 'taijasa' and enjoys the subtle (world-objects). In the deep sleep state (suṣupti) when it has concentrated consciousness it is called prājña and enjoys bliss. But the turīya (fourth or unattached pure state) is non-dual (advaita), having neither cause nor effect (anādi anānta). Being pure and self-luminous consciousness it is All-seeing (sarvadraṣṭā), All-pervading (sarvavyāpaka) but not connected with any waking or dream or deep sleep state. He alone is a sage who has embraced this infinite and measureless Brahma represented by Auṁkāra, which is the cessation of all duality and which can directly be realized by pure knowledge whether by Asparśayoga (uncontaminated meditation) or Vaiśarādya (transcendental purity) or Amanībhāva (control of mind). It is realized by the sages who have known the essence of the Vedas and who are free from fear, anger and attachment. A detached person can know the reality of non-dual Brahma. It is thus explained is Vedānta philosophy. Ātman or Brahma is like space, the individual souls are like space in jars. When the jars are destroyed, their spaces merge into space. So do the jīvas merge into the ātman when ignorance is destroyed by right knowledge. Just as, if a particular space in a particular jar is contaminated with dust, smoke etc., all other spaces in all other jars do not become so contaminated. Similarly if a particular jīva is contaminated with attachment of happiness or aversion to misery, all jīvas do not become so contaminated. Spaces in jars differ in forms, functions and names, but there is no difference in space, similarly jīvas differ in forms, functions and names, but there is no difference in the ātman.

Just as the space in the jar is neither a transformation nor a modification nor a part of space, similarly a jīva is neither a transformation not a modification nor a part of the Atman. Ultimately there are no grades of reality, no degrees of truth. The same immanent Absolute is reflected in all. In Vedānta philosophy Brahma is described as one and non-dual. By negating all plurality and difference— 'neti neti', the śruti manifests the positive Unborn and the Absolute. The Absolute cannot be grasped by the intellect and so the best method of describing the Indescribable is by negative terms. Duality is the creation of the intellect - 'manaso hyamanībhāve dvaitaṁ naivopalabhyate' that is, when the intellect is transcended (amaīābhāve), duality and plurality disappear (Māṇḍukya Kārikā, 3.31), This is real detachment. The state of non-attachment is difficult, but fearless. It is the fearless and unshakable meditation. It is Asparśayoga:

Asparśayogo vai nāma durdarśaḥ sarvayogibhiḥ

Yogino bibhyati hyasmād abhaye bhayadarśinaḥ

(Māṇḍukya Kārikā, 3.39)

"It is the uncontaminated meditation difficult to be realized even by great yogins. They are afraid of it, imaging fear where there is really no fear at all."

Vedānta philosophy aptly narrates that it is only the dualists that quarrel with one another in order to strengthen their respective views. The advaitins quarrel with none:  

Svasiddhāntavyavasthāsu dvaitino niścitā dṛḍham

Parasparaṁ virudhyante tairayaṁ na virudhyate

(Māṇḍukya Kārikā, 3.17)

For vedāntins non-duality is the ultimate truth. For the dualists, there is duality from the empirical point of view as well as the absolute stand point.

According to Gauḍapāda those who move in duality can never acquire transcendental purity (vaiśarādya). Pure consciousness is devoid of all thought-determinations and imagination. Eternal peace depends upon the control of mind, Amanībhāva. The aspirant should be free from attachment from misery and happiness alike. When Brahma is realized there is a unique bliss which transcends misery and happiness and which is called the attainment of Brahma - and he who has transcended all the three stages of consciousness of outside, inside and concentrated (jagrata, svapna and suṣupti), realizes Turīya (the fourth state) or Advaita Brahma or attains Asparśayoga or Vaiśarādhya or Amanībhāva. He embraces the pure self and becomes omniscient - the trinity of knowledge, knower and known is transcended.

According to Vedānta philosophy the rightful student of Vedānta texts is a non-possessive person. The śruti endorses that one who is calm (śanta) and passionless (dānta) is a competent student of the Vedānta.

As per the Vedānta school a liberated soul is an example of absolute non-possessiveness:

Bhidyate hṛdayagranthiḥ chhidyante sarvasaṁśayāḥ,

Ksīyante cāsya karmāṇi tasmin dṛṣṭe parāvare.

(Vedāntasāra, 34: Ed. G.A, Jacob, 1911, p.53)

That is, realizing (perceiving) the pure soul, the heartfelt bond of attachment and aversion is broken; all doubts disappear; all acts annihilated.

The actions like taking food etc. by a liberated soul do not bind him, because of the absence of attachment, 'aśnan-api-anaśnan', i.e., 'he does not eat while eating, there is no attachment to eating.' Thus the form of a liberated (jīvanmukta) being as depicted in Vedānta philosophy presents an example of an absolute non-possessive person.  

The Sāṅkhya System of Philosophy

'I am the owner of possessions'... is the cause of ignorance

and due to ignorance one cannot... attain liberation.

Kapila is regarded as the founder of the Sāṅkhya system, and he wrote the Sāṅkhya-Pravacana-Sūtra. Ishvarakrishna's Sāṅkhyakārikā is the most popular book of Sāṅkhya philosophy.

The word sāṅkhya, derived from 'sāṅkhyā', which means number as well as right knowledge. It is so named because it deals with twenty-five categories - puruṣa, prakṛti etc. - and Saṅkhyā denotes the philosophy of right knowledge or samyak khyāti or jñāna, of the separation of the puruṣa from the prakṛti.

Twenty-five categories are: the pure consciousness (puruṣa), the root cause of worldly objects (prakṛti), intellect (mahat), ego (ahaṁkāra), mind (manas), the sense organs (the five jñānendriyas), the motor organs (the five karmendriyas), the subtle essences (the five tanmatras) and the gross elements (the five mahābhūtas). Prakṛti is the unity of three guṇas - sattva, rajas and tamas inferred from their effects - pleasure, pain and indifference respectively.

All worldly effects are latent in prakṛti. Prakṛti is the uncaused root cause of this universe. It is unconscious yet active and called pradhana and avyakta i.e. the first principle of this universe and the unmanifested state of all effects. Puruṣa is free and pure consciousness. It is inactive, indifferent and possesses no attributes. When, by ignorance puruṣa identifies itself with the internal organs of the intellect, the ego and the mind, and it is said from then on to be bound. In fact it is the ego which is bound, not the puruṣa. When the puruṣa realizes its own pure nature it becomes liberated, what in fact it always was, hence bondage is due to ignorance or non-discrimination between prakṛti and puruṣa or non-self and self.

Ignorance is the fundamental cause of all sufferings and miseries. There are three kinds of miseries: due to mental and physical sufferings (ādhyātmika dukkha), due to extra-organic causes (adhibhautika dukkha): due to supernatural causes (ādhidaivika dukkha). Liberation means cessation of all these sufferings. According to Sāṅkhya philosophy liberation is achieved by right knowledge or discrimination between the self (puruṣa) and not-self (prakṛti). It is only knowledge which leads to liberation because bondage is due to ignorance and ignorance can be removed only by knowledge - 'jñānena cāpavargo, viparyayād iṣyate bandhaḥ' (Sāṅkhyakārikā, 44). The knowledge that 'I am not the not-self' - 'na asmi'; that 'nothing is mine' - 'na me'; that 'ego is unreal' - 'na ahaṁ', when constantly meditated upon, becomes pure, incontrovertible and absolute and leads to liberation:

Evam tattvābhyāsān nāsmi na me nāhamityapariśeṣam.

Aviparyayād viśuddhaṁ kevalaṁ utpadyate jñānam

(Sāṅkhyakārikā, 64)

Sāṅkhya believes that at the moment right knowledge (prakṛti-puruṣa-bhedavijñāna) dawns, the person becomes liberated here and he becomes a jīvanmukta, even though he may be embodied due to prārabdha [previous] karmas. The body is not a hindrance to achieve liberation, only attachment and the false view that 'I am the actor' or 'I am the owner of possessions' or 'I am the doer' is the cause of ignorance and due to ignorance one cannot realize one's self and attain liberation.

The Sāṅkhya Sūtra clarifies that even Avidyā has no power to bind a non-attached person:  'na avidyāśaktiyogo nihsaṅgasya' (Sāṅkhya Sūtra, 5.13). This non-association is non-attachment, which is internal non-possessiveness of the conscious being.

Yoga Philosophy
The one who has no attachment with property, post, comforts, possessions, is fearless and is able to know his past, present and future and the relationship of Body and Soul

Yoga philosophy is intimately allied to Sāṅkhya, and is called Seśvara Sāṅkhya, 'Sāṅkhya with God (Īśvara)'. Patañjali is known as the founder of the Yoga Philosophy. In the beginning, Yoga is defined as the cessation of the modifications of citta - 'yogascittavṛttinirodhaḥ' (Yoga Sūtra, 1.2). Citta is the three internal organs of sāṅkhya combined, i.e. buddhi or intellect, ahaṁkāra or ego and manas or mind.

Citta is the first evolution of prakṛti (primordial matter or the root cause of worldly objects) and has the predominance of sattva. It is in itself unconscious, but being finest and nearest to puruṣa (conscious being) it has the power to reflect the puruṣa and therefore appears as if it is conscious. When citta comes in contact with or gets related to any object, it assumes the 'form' of that object (tad-ākāra). This form is called vṛtti or modification.

Puruṣa is pure consciousness and free from limitations of prakṛti. But it wrongly identifies itself with its reflection in the citta and appears to be undergoing change and modifications (as per objects). Just as the moon appears as moving, when seen reflected in the moving waves, and waves appear as luminous, similarly puruṣa appears as undergoing modifications and citta appears as conscious due to puruṣa's reflection on it. When puruṣa ceases to identify itself with its reflection in citta through meditation, it is called 'yoga'. It is the return of the puruṣa to its original perfection, as only a passive spectator. The bondage of the self is due to wrong identification with the mental-internal modifications and liberation means cessation of the modifications of citta.

Yoga advocates control over the body, the senses and the mind. Sensual attachment and passions distract the body as well as the mind. To overcome them, Yoga describes an eightfold yoga path (Aṣṭāṅga Yoga) - (1) abstention (yama), (2) self culture for purification (niyama), (3) Steady and comfortable postures for meditation (āsana), (4) control of breath (prāṇayāma), (5) control of the senses and withdrawing the senses from their objects (pratyāhāra), (6) steadfast mind (fixing on one object) (dhāraṇā), (7) meditation (dhyāna), (8) concentration (samādhi).

The first path of discipline is 'yama'. It means abstention, which includes the five vows of Jainism. It is Abstention from injury through thought, word or deed (ahiṁsā), from falsehood (satya), from stealing (asteya), from passions and lust (brahmacarya) and from avarice or possessiveness (aparigraha)— 'Ahiṁsā-satya-asteya brahmacarya-aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ' (Yogasūtra, 2.39).

The term 'aparigraha' or non-possessiveness is commented with many points of view, like (a) non-possessiveness means not to own those objects, which are produced out of violence; (b) non-possessiveness is to decline those objects of pleasure and lust, which are excessive in proportion to those that are necessary for the sustenance of the body; (c) non-possessiveness is non-accumulation of objects, which means not to deprive others of fulfilling their needs.

Patañjali presents positive aspect of non-possessiveness by way of contentment, which gives the highest happiness - 'Santoṣādanuttamasukhalābhaḥ' (Yogasūtra, 2.42).

The one who has no attachment with property, post, comforts,  possessions, is fearless and is able to know his past, present and future and the relationship of Body and Soul— 'Aparigrahasthairye janmakathantā saṁbodhaḥ' (Yogasūtra, 2.39)


Vaiśeṣika Philosophy

The liberated soul remains its own

peculiar individuality and particularity and remains

as it is devoid of all qualities and attributes.

The founder of the Vaiśeṣika system is Kaṇāda Kaśyapa around the 2nd century BCE. He was called Kaṇāda because he used to live as an ascetic living on the grains (kaṇā) he picked up from the fields. Kaṇā also means particle or a particular, hence it suggests the Kaṇāda's philosophy of particularity (viśeṣa).

The word 'Vaiśeṣika' is derived from 'viśeṣa', particularity. The Vaiśeṣika philosophy is a pluralistic realism, that is, according to them diversity is at the core of the universe. Its main objective is to deal with the categories and to unfold its atomistic pluralism. All objects of knowledge (jñeya) come under seven categories (padārthas = objects signified by a word). This is a philosophy of identity and difference, which emphasizes that the heart of reality consists in difference.

The seven padārthas are: (1) substance (dravya), (2) quality or attribute (guṇa), (3) action (karma), (4) generality (sāmānya), (5) particularity (viśeṣa), (6) inherence (samavāya), and (7) non-being (abhāva). The Vaiśeṣika philosophy is pluralistic and realistic but not materialistic since it admits spiritual substances. The nine substances are: (1) earth (pṛthvi), (2) water (ap), (3) fire (tejas), (4) air (vāyu), (5) ether (ākāśa), (6) time (kāla), (7) space (dik), (8) spirit or soul (ātma) and (9) mind (manas).

Earth, water, fire, air are the elements that possess a peculiar quality, hence their physical form is not eternal (being compounded of atoms) while their partless unique atoms are eternal. Manas is atomic (aṇu) in size and is eternal. The first four produce composite things; manas does not. Earth, water, fire, air and ether are the five gross elements (mahābhūta). These and manas are physical (bhautika). Time and space are objective and not subjective forms of experience. Ether, space, time and soul are all-pervading and eternal. Atoms of earth etc. and mind, and the souls are infinite in number. Ether, space and time are one each. Soul is the spiritual. It is the substratum of the quality of cognition (jñāna), desire or affection (icchā), happiness (sukha), unhappiness (dukkha), conation (yatna), etc. According to yāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophy these attributes are not indispensible qualities of soul, but adventitious attributes. A person knows by inference that these are soul's attributes because no substance other than self (soul) experiences these attributes - 'I know', 'I desire', 'I am happy', etc.

According to Vaiśeṣika philosophy - 'vyavasthāto nāna' (Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, 3.2.20), even on accepting the diversity of soul, equality of similar nature of all souls (sāddharmya) has been agreed upon. As such, the annihilation of selfish motive seems to be the object of this philosophy. A person who takes a vow of universal good (upkāra) is a monk in the eyes of Prashastapāda, the commentator of Vaiśeṣika Sūtras. According to this philosophy, as long as our actions are motivated by attachment or aversion, we can not attain salvation or liberation. A liberated soul is absolutely free from all its attributes, even cognition, desire, happiness, conation, etc. Non-possessiveness has a great role in liberation according to Vaiśeṣika philosophy. Till the time our actions are motivated by ignorance, with the feeling if selfishness, we are possessive, but as soon as we experience that 'worldly' objects, which attract us or distract us are the only composition of atoms and the forms of objects are not real, then the effect of the objects on our mind vanishes away and we are liberated by the pseudo ownership of possessions and positions. And when we experience that the real nature of the soul is different from all other substances, then we believe that all souls are equal. When this self knowledge arises, selfishness and actions with selfish motive and passions do not remain hence no rebirth takes place.

The individual soul is treated as a substance and cognition, conation, etc., are its accidental qualities which it acquires when it is embodied. Hence in the state of liberation (freedom of souls from body) these qualities cannot exist. Liberation is the cessation of all pain and pleasure, cognition and conation, etc. The liberated soul remains in its own peculiar individuality and particularity because it is devoid of all qualities and attributes in its pure state.

Nyāya Philosophy

Ignorance is the root cause

of attachment and aversion

The philosopher Gautama is the founder of the Nyāya system. The Nyāya system is predominantly logical and epistemological (Pramāṇaśāstra) based on reasoning (tarka).

Nyāya philosophy is allied to the Vaiśeṣika system. Vaiśeṣika develops metaphysics and ontology while Nyāya develops logic and epistemology. Both agree that bondage is due to ignorance of reality and that liberation is due to right knowledge of reality, but there are some points of differences between them. Nyāya recognizes sixteen categories and includes all the seven categories of Vaiśeṣika in the knowable (prameya), the second category of Nyāya. Vaiśeṣika recognizes two valid means of knowledge (pramāṇa)— perception (paratyaksa) and Inference (anumāna); Nyāya recognizes four pramāṇas including two more— comparison (upamāna) and verbal authority (śabda). Nyāya philosophy agrees in viewing the earthly life as full of suffering, as bondage of the soul. Liberation is absolute cessation of suffering - duḥkkha-janma-pravṛtti-mithyājñānānāṁ uttarottarāpāye tadanantarāpayad apavargaḥ (Nyāya Sūtra, 1.1.2.)

According to the Nyāya philosophy ignorance is the root cause of attachment and aversion. The ten types of good and bad actions through mind, word and body are the effects of attachment and aversion. Suffering and bondage is due to ignorance of right knowledge of reality. Therefore when right knowledge of reality is attained ignorance does not exist, then actions with attachment ceases, then no rebirth takes place, hence absolute cessation of suffering or liberation is attained.

The Nyāya philosophy is of the view that when accidental qualities of soul like desire, aversion, bliss, suffering, knowledge all cease, the liberation of person is achieved. Here we find that in Nyāya philosophy also possessiveness in the form of desire is to be conquered through the purification of the mind by practicing the eightfold yoga -'tadarthaṁ yamaniyamābhyāṁ ātmasaṁskāro yogācca adhyātmavidhyupāyaiḥ' (Nyāya Sūtra 4-2-46).


Title: Beyond Sustainable Economy
Author: Dr. Rudi Jansma, Dr. Sushma Singhvi
Publisher: Prakrit Bharati Academy

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Advaita
  2. Advaita Vedānta
  3. Ahiṁsā
  4. Anger
  5. Anumāna
  6. Anādi
  7. Aparigraha
  8. Asteya
  9. Atman
  10. Avidyā
  11. Body
  12. Brahma
  13. Brahmacarya
  14. Brahman
  15. Buddhi
  16. Citta
  17. Concentration
  18. Consciousness
  19. Contemplation
  20. Dharma
  21. Dhyāna
  22. Dhāraṇā
  23. Discipline
  24. Dravya
  25. Dukkha
  26. Ether
  27. Fear
  28. Gautama
  29. Guṇa
  30. Guṇas
  31. Jainism
  32. Jñāna
  33. Jīva
  34. Karma
  35. Karmas
  36. Kāla
  37. Mantra
  38. Meditation
  39. Nitya
  40. Niyama
  41. Nyāya
  42. Nāma
  43. Omniscient
  44. Prakṛti
  45. Prameya
  46. Pramāṇa
  47. Puruṣa
  48. Puruṣārtha
  49. Pūrva
  50. Rajas
  51. Sarvavyāpaka
  52. Sattva
  53. Satya
  54. Soul
  55. Space
  56. Sukha
  57. Sāmānya
  58. Sāṅkhya
  59. Sūtra
  60. Tamas
  61. Tarka
  62. Upaniṣads
  63. Vaiśeṣika
  64. Veda
  65. Vedas
  66. Violence
  67. Vṛtti
  68. Yoga
  69. samādhi
  70. āsana
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