11.1. As mentioned earlier, Aitareya Aranyaka and Aitareya Brahmana are fairly lengthy texts. The concepts and explanations therein do not also proceed in an order. We may not be able to discuss Mahidasa’s works thoroughly. But, we can attempt to glance at his views on certain subjects.
There are no clear-cut divisions or grouping of his doctrines. But, we can attempt to classify his views under some broad heads. Those classifications are our own; but, the concepts are of Mahidasa.
11.2. The main problems that Mahidasa tried to grapple were the origin of life and the development of consciousness.
Before we get to that, let’s briefly see a few other subjects discussed by Mahidasa.
The task of philosophy
12.1. To begin with, Mahidasa pointed out that the task of philosophy is to explain ones experience. By ‘experience’ he perhaps meant a person’s relation and interaction with the rest of the world and with himself. The maxim that Mahidasa laid down for himself was : “I know the universe and myself as far as I know the gods; and I know the gods as far as I know the universe and myself”(Aitareya Aranyaka-2.17.7; 126.96.36.199).
The term ‘gods’ in his statements is taken to mean the hymns (ukta) or the elements (bhutani).
12.2. How does one explain such experiences ? According to Mahidasa, there are two methods of understanding or two levels of experience: objective and subjective. These could be termed as conventional (vyavaharika) and philosophical (paramarthika).
Mahidasa and the world
13.1. In a philosophical perspective (paramarthika), Man is conceived as the miniature universe. Man is a microcosm just as the visible world is universal man (yadvad brahma vistitam tatvati vagiti; yatra ha kva ca brahma tad vaag, yatra va vak tad va brahmati – AA 188.8.131.52). Every individual is like an egg, very similar to the oval shaped spherical universe (Brahmanda); curvilinear , bending around itself with no distinct boundaries. . Both are complete in themselves. What is in one is in the other :
“whatever there is belonging to the son belongs to the father; whatever there is belonging to the father belongs to the son” (Aitareya Aranyaka: 184.108.40.206).
What is true in respect of man is also true of the universe. The whole of nature is a purposive-order, a system of ends. The finite thing of experience is not only a part of the whole but is, in essence, the whole itself.
“I as a living nomad am the universe”.
But that does not mean, he says, that the universal completely explains the particular. Obviously, there are differences. But those differences are not of kind but of intensity and degree.
The physical world
14.1. As regards the conventional (vyavaharika) or the physical world, Mahidasa considered it as a combination of the visible world, the organic world and the man. By visible world Mahidasa meant the physical world as whole. The organic world included vegetable kingdom and the animal world, as also the Man.
14.2. Of these, the visible world is a living thing and man is a living being; and connecting the two is the organic world. He believed, ‘If we know one, we know the rest’. For, there is no difference, in principle, between the physical world and the organic world; or between the organic world and the man. The fundamental difference, if any, would be in the intensity or the degree of growth. That is to say; as a naturalist Mahidasa perceived the difference subsisting between things of experience; but as a philosopher he realized the unity underlying all existence (AA 220.127.116.11)
14.3. According to Mahidasa’s classification, all those shining gods – the sun , lightening, the moon, the planets, and the stars; and all the five great elements (maha-bhutani) – the earth, water , fire, air and the sky – belong to the physical world. Mahidasa regarded nature as a living form, an interconnected whole, having a unity in the midst of all changes.
As regards the organic world, it included vegetable and the animal kingdoms. And, man naturally belongs to the animal world; and is classed among the animals (prani– the living).
According to Mahidasa, the distinction between the physical world and the organic could roughly be termed as that between the dead-matter and living-matter. As said earlier, the differences among them are in the intensity or the degree of their growth.
14.4. If one extends Mahidasa’s explanation, a so-called non-living thing is in fact an undeveloped life, in the same way as man could be taken as a developed thing. Because, according to him, what takes place in the world continuously is not creation or manifestation (prakatatvam), but it is the evolution (avistarah avirbhava) of life. He described it as the ceaseless flowering of the hidden potential in all matter.
Evolution – the rope of life
15.1. Mahidasa understood evolution (avistarah avirbhava) as an ongoing process, a continuing relation between a series of causes and effects. He regards evolution of life alone as the real process in the world. He views evolution as the unfolding of life; a transition from the hidden to the manifest; from potential to the actual. Each step in evolution comes from something and becomes something. Each step is the seed (bija) of the next.
15.2. Mahidasa visualized evolution as a series of knots on a rope; each knot representing a stage in evolution (AA .18.104.22.168). Such a rope or a chain has two extremities – two ends – two ultimate knots , either way , between which all other knots fall ; and which therefore determine the length of the rope ( duration of the evolutionary process). Each knot (stage) is the seed of the next. Therefore what we recognize as two separate knots are essentially two aspects of one and the same reality. If we take the first cause as Brahman or God the final cause too is God; and so is whatever that falls in-between.
[In the process of evolution, a living individual is one of the many knots on the rope of life. He is one of the developed stages which matter assumes or is capable of assuming.]
15.3. In Mahidasa’s terminology, in the Universe the first and the last knots are termed Prajapathi (the efficient cause) and Brahman (the final cause or end). In the case of the individual they are termed prana and Prajna.
Prajapathi causes the world; the world causes water; the water causes life; life begets herbs and living creatures; the manas is the heart of thinking creature; it causes thinking mind; the thinking mind expresses through thoughtful speech ; the thoughtful speech leads to thoughtful action; and the thoughtful action is in reality the man (Purusha), the abode of Brahman”( AA 22.214.171.124)
16.1. Each stage is the seed (bija) of the next. A seed (effect) is developed from a seed (cause) through a process of series of changes or natural transformation. That process of change from one seed to the next is at once both a destroyer and a creator. Let’s take the example of a real plant: when a seed moves into its next stage or when it becomes a whole plant, the essence of the seed is transformed into a wholly different object. The seed and its form would no longer be there. But a plant would not have come into existence without the presence of the seed.
16.2. In the series of changes that take place, each stage (seed) gives place to the next stage. The seed is never inactive. When the seed (cause) becomes a shoot (effect) it is no longer continuing as a seed; but its nature has altered to that of a shoot. The seed series is transformed into shoot-series, when suitable conditions prevail. But one series is in as much a flux as another. The fully grown plant , in turn, puts out the seeds. That is the cycle of life.
The ultimate product of the seed is again the seed. Regeneration and perpetuation is the theme of life
16.3. Thus, according to Mahidasa, a higher form often presupposes the lower. The process that causes development of a seed from a seed must itself undergo a certain form of change; or itself must enter into motion. In order to attain a higher form, a seed is bound to lose its own form but not necessarily its substance.
That is to say, the root and shoot (cause and effect) are, for practical purposes, distinguishable from each other; but logically they are identical in substance or in essence (AA 126.96.36.199).
Mahidasa in his picturesque language asserts: ‘no one possess that which he does not eat or the things that do not eat him…the eater and the food are in reality the food. The food is that which feeds and is fed. What we call this moment as eater may later be the food’. That is to say, the food (cause) and eater (effect) are correlated. Each stage in development is the destroyer of its predecessor.
[The same reasoning is applied to show that no extraneous causes are needed for destroying a thing. The germs of destruction are inherent in every object. If a thing does not annihilate itself, nothing else can do it.]
[In these texts, food (anna), the eater (annada); seed (bija); or root (mula) or shoot (tula) were all meant to denote ‘cause’ or ‘effect’ depending on the context.]
16.4. The relationship that binds each successive stage is, thus, akin to the relation between the food (anna) and the eater (annada); the material and the individual; the potential and the actual; the indeterminate and the determinate. A developed seed (the effect) is more individual (independent), more actual, and more determinate and more of an object of nature than that from which it developed (AA 188.8.131.52).
17.1. Mahidasa did not look upon changes from one stage to the other as unrelated or isolated events. In his view, the evolution has a unity of its own; and that unity implies identity and continuity of a common substratum of change, that is the matter. Thus matter is the ground of all plurality of forms, just as speech is the ground for all plurality of names.
17.2. Matter, according to Mahidasa, is that out of which a thing becomes; and that from which a form (murti) or a purposeful order is brought forth (AA.184.108.40.206). Form is related to matter as shoot (tula) to its root (mula); as that which manifests it (AA.220.127.116.11). Matter and form are thus conceived by him as transition from something hidden or potential to something manifest and actual or express. That is to say, there is no transition from nothingness to being; but it is derived from that which is not- yet or the potent. The more evolved the matter is the more manifest or recognizable or better defined it becomes. (This applies also to evolution of human from primitive forms.)
17.3. Mahidasa provides an illustration “A whispered voice is just breath; but when it is aloud it acquires a distinct form or a body (sarira) . The whispered speech is the latent or the underdeveloped form of clear speech. Going further backward, the whispered speech is loud breath which in turn is an expression of formless breath. When spoken aloud, the formless breath transforms into clear perceptible speech.
Speech in this case is a kind of form . Breath is the root of speech. Similarly, going backward, breath is a form of air. Thus , going backward in successive steps we may arrive at the first or pure matter which may be entirely be devoid of form, indeterminate or in- cognizable by itself.
On the other hand, going forward from matter to form, root to shoot, we may proceed towards forms that are better defined.
Mind – Speech
18.1. Mind is that faculty in an organized body which thinks, wills and feels (A 18.104.22.168). All desires dwell in mind because it is with the mind that man conceives all desires (AA 22.214.171.124). A thought conceived in the mind is expressed through speech. Thus, logically thought is prior to speech (AA 126.96.36.199). At another place, Mahidasa states that thought and speech are interdependent (van me manasi pratistitha; mano me vaci prathistam – AA 2.7)
18.2. Like matter or mind, speech is conceived as a continuous structure. It also is compared to a rope or a chain with many knots. As the rope or chain that runs along, it has a first and a last knot, representing the first and the final forms. The knots or links that lie in between are the names or concepts corresponding to their existent forms (vak tanti namani daamaani -AA 2.6.2).
19.1. Matter according to Mahidasa is neither being nor non-being. And, the principle of motion or the energy that brings about changes in it is something other than matter itself.
Mahidasa recognizes that spirit or the agent which continually causes changes as prana, or the living principle of the universe, the pure vital energy and activity. He regards that vital principle (prana) by which virtue of which we keep changing and function as living organisms, as the soul (atman). The organisms are kept alive by the vital air. Therefore, the central or the fundamental function of an organism is breathing or respiration. For, even during sleep when all sensations and mental activities cease, the process of life, its vital air (prana) goes on all the while.
[It is not clear whether or not Mahidasa conceived the vital air (Prana) as a principle separate from the elements. At one place he says that in so far as the living beings are concerned the vital principle has no separate existence from the five elements (AA 188.8.131.52). At another place he considers Prana as a principle by itself, a principle which is not altogether dependent on body or material conditions (AA 184.108.40.206-13) : “the immortal dwells in the mortal”]
20.1. Mahidasa says consciousness (prajnana) resides in and is a function of the soul. What is consciousness? He asks and says:
“The faculty by which we see form , that by which we hear sound, that by which we perceive odors, that by which we utter speech, that by which we taste food and all that which comes from the heart and the mind, namely , appreciation , comprehension, understanding, cognition, intellect, insight, retention, judgment, reflection, receptivity, remembrance, conceiving, willing, breathing, loving, desiring – bear in varying degrees the name of consciousness (prajnanasya namadheyyani)” — (AA.2.6.2)
20.2. He recognized prajna as pure intelligence, the eternally active self-conscious –reason (prajnana).He said ; the whole realm of change is led the self-conscious reason (prajna – netra). He declared; you could call that consciousness as God, the deity which is ‘the best and without flaw’ –Prajnanam Brahma- (AA 220.127.116.11).
20.3. As between soul and consciousness, he asks:
Who is this self on whom we meditate? Is it the self by which we hear, see, smell and taste; and through which we speak in words? Is self the mind by which we perceive, direct, understand, know remember, think, will, desire and love? No, these are but the servants of the self who is pure consciousness. It is Prajna which guides all. The world rests on Prajna; and, Prajna is Brahman.
21.1. Mahidasa seems to have conceived soul as the compliment of a living body. The soul is, in essence, just the vital principle (prana) by virtue of which we exist as living beings.
From a metaphysical position, Mahidasa understood soul as a part of change or the process; as the agent of all changes. It is directly connected with the mode of cognition and indirectly with the object cognized. He did not seem to make a serious distinction between abstract reasoning and sense perception.
21.2. According to Mahidasa, the development in a living being is not merely physical but is psychological as well. He considers sense perception and reasoning – mental functions –as not different in kind but only in the degree or the intensity. They develop gradually, stage – by- stage. Those mental functions ranging from bare sensations to comprehension have the name of reason (prajna-nasya namdheyyani -AA 4.1.3).
21.3. According to Mahidasa, we should try to understand HOW we know, rather than what we know. Gargyayana, another philosopher of those times, took the alternate view saying what we know is more important than worrying about HOW we came to know.
21.4. An interesting aspect of the soul, as per Mahidasa, is its graduated scales of function. According to Mahidasa, the whole of nature is a system of ends; and that the self develops gradually in living world (prana-bhritsu). ‘As there are infinite gradations of types of existence, so there is a graduated scale of functions of soul.’ Its primary function is nutritive, desire for food and sensations of hunger and thirst. The next function is sense perception and other body -functions. And, the third function is that of ‘heart and mind’, meaning those relating to understanding and reason. All these are merely the stages of its existence; and do not mean different kinds of existence. Similarly, the various functions of the soul do not vary in kind, but only in their degree or intensity. Mahidasa relates these concepts to the growth of life in the world.
[Mahidasa’s ideas of graded existence of the soul perhaps were the nucleus or the seed-ideas from which the later concepts of Annamaya, Pranamaya and vijnanamaya were developed.]
22.1. A fascinating feature of Mahidasa’s biology is his view that the intelligence principle (chitta or chidrupa) in the living world (prana-bhritsu) develops or evolves gradually – (AA.3.2.2). He asks:
‘understand the gradual unfolding of individual things’ – (atmanam avistaram veda). Materials (what we call as life-less) do have a sense of touch or feel. In the herbs and trees, for instance, the sap (Rasa – life) has its own intelligence.
22.2. But, chitta (consciousness or thought) in the widest sense is seen in the higher form of life. Among the latter again, some show vitality and intelligence, while others are devoid of intelligence. Among all the animals, man alone has the capacity for acquiring higher wisdom; yet in him too the soul develops gradually.
22.3. Man differs from lower animals in these respects:
“He says what he has known. He knows what is to happen tomorrow. He knows heaven and hell. By means of the mortal he desires the immortal – thus he is endowed (A 18.104.22.168). With other animals, on the contrary, hunger and thirst (instincts and impulses) only are a kind of sensation; they possess voice but no speech; mind but not prudence (AA 2.2.1-5). Animals may possess rudimentary reason but not reasoned knowledge”.
Classification of living beings
23.1. His classification of living beings includes earth, water, fire, air, and heaven (space). According to him, the matter too has one fundamental sense that of touch or ‘feel’. In a way, matter is an ‘organic-thing’ as distinguished from plants and herbs which are ‘organic beings’.
[But, Sri Sayana differed from Mahidasa. He considered earth, stone and such others as unconscious objects .They merely exist and, they do not come under the strict definition of organic beings].
23.2. Mahidasa mentions Plants and herbs in general as distinct from things. For, they can be distinguished by the sap (rasa) or moisture (ardratvam) which exhibits its peculiar intelligence (AA 22.214.171.124). It has faculty that takes sunlight, absorbs water and essece from soil and converts that into plant energy. Plants are alive ; and are endowed with sense of light, sensations of thirst and hunger. According to Mahidasa, that sense itself is developed into reason; and, a plant becomes a man by the gradual process of evolution. But like the’ organic things ’, the plants too are immovable (sthavara) lacking the freedom to move around (AA. 126.96.36.199).
23.3. But, those that are higher in the scale of development can move from place to place at their will – (jangama) and are also capable of experiencing other sensations and reasoning. Physically and mentally humans are the best of all such created things. But, again, the differences among the species are the mere question of degree.
23.4. Mahidasa explains the graded signs of freedom. The sign of freedom is the power of bodily movement, the power which the stones, herbs etc (sthavara as distinguished from jangama) are deprived.The second test of freedom is the power of the thighs (uru) or the power of regeneration by means of separate sexes, that is to say maithuna.The next higher test is by the stomach (udara) , that is to have choice of food and the power to assimilate etc. The last test is that of the head (sirasah) or the power of heart and mind (hridayam manasa) by which human is endowed with knowledge. A human says what he has known; sees what he has known; knows what is to happen tomorrow; knows heaven and hell; and desires the immortal by means of the mortal.
Thus, the highest in the scale of development is man who alone is endowed with the faculty of reason (prajnanam sampannatama).
25.1. The continual advance of life is from mere existence towards reason (prajna); from bondage to freedom of action. That is the story of evolution. Mahidasa maintained that the intelligence principle develops or evolves gradually. Among the higher animals the two footed man surpasses the four-footed. Therefore the quadrupeds though physically stronger obey man.
25.2. All the forms of life eat and drink. All lower animals propagate the species. Even the plants, when grown up, bear fruits and seeds (A 188.8.131.52). This alone cannot be the whole duty of human being who is endowed with the extraordinary faculty of reason, by cultivating which he acquires wisdom, builds his moral self and perfects his conduct.
25.3. It is his sense of duty and his performance of duty that distinguishes the human from the rest. The highest duty of human is to attain perfection. And, his principle means is prajnana. That is, in order to realize the full freedom, a wise person must transcend in his thought all material conditions of existence and limitations . He should aspire to attain the immortal by means of the mortal (martyena amritam ipsa). The ultimate aim of man’s life and of all life is to attain perfection which consists knowledge (Prajna or prajnana), bliss (nandana) and immortality (amritatva).
Mahidasa’s views on Art
26.1. Mahidasa regards all human arts including art of generation as an imitation, in some way, of the works of nature, the living arts. “The creations of the divine (daiva shilpa) in nature are indeed great works of art. All human arts (manusha shilpa ) such as brass work, garment, works in gold and such toys as elephants, mule and chariot are but a reproduction (anukarana) of nature” (AB .6.5.1) . All the skillful works that appear in this light (sense) are to be regarded as arts.
Sri Sayana explains that self-development is also an aim of those arts. He says that by practicing art, the Yajamana ( the aspirant) would improve his awareness; he becomes chandomaya – harmonious with nature; he grows in tune with the whole of nature ; and , becomes vedamaya, endowed with intelligence .
(The generation of offspring and bringing up a healthy and well educated young generation is also regarded an art).
26.2. Gargyayana, a sage–king who followed Mahidasa, did not, however, entirely agree with Mahidasa’s view of art. He did acknowledge the existence of the divine order in nature ; but maintained that all art creations are products of human mind. He questioned ; if all art is an imitation or a reproduction of nature, where is the scope for free play of one’s expressions or imagination. According to Gargyayana, art is how the human mind conceives and experiences the nature and the surrounding life; how it expresses that experience in its own way; and how it imposes its own forms and interpretations on nature.
26.3. Centuries later, the Buddha improved upon Gargyayana‘s view of art. The Buddha precluded all ideas of the divine as being external to man. He regarded art as a product of human experience and imagination, a representation of ideas that take birth in human mind- (charanam chittam chitten eva ciutitam- Samyukta Nikaya, 5.8 quoted in the Atthasalini). In addition, the Buddha brought in psychological aspect of art as influenced by the diversity of forms of life and human experiences.
26.4. Buddhagosha the Buddhist commentator explaining the Buddha’s view said “In drawing the finest pictures the thought arises in the mind of the painter: such and such figures are to be drawn in this picture. By this thought the drawing of the outline, colouring, polishing and other details follow in consequence whereupon a wonderful picture emerges on the canvas – (Saratthappakasini, Sri Lankan edition)
References and sources:
1. The History of the Pre-Buddhistic Indian Philosophy (1921); Calcutta University by Dr. Benimadhab Barua (Reprinted by Motilal Banarsidass, 1970)
2. A Course in Indian Philosophy; by Prof. AK Warder; Motilal Banarsidass, 1998
3. The Essence of Aitareyopanishad by Swami Sivananda
4. .Aitareya Aranyaka