Does Purusha will?

Ferenc Ruzsa f_ruzsa at ISIS.ELTE.HU
Thu May 13 17:01:14 UTC 1999

Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

> Quality, to an Indian ear, seems to imply guNa,
> which of course, the sAMkhyan purusha is devoid of, technically. But it is
> different question whether the purusha is viSishTa or not, which is what
> are saying. A different word than 'quality' would clear the issue.

A very sensible proposal. I would however suggest translating guNa (in
sAMkhya contexts only, of course!) differently; say 'aspect' or
'constituent'. The reasons for this approach: the guNas themselves have
qualities (e.g. sattvaM laghu prakAzakam, sattva is light and brilliant, SK
13), and there is no substance that they would qualify: simply the three
guNas together *are* the material substance, prakRti. And this contradicts
European (Aristotelian) notions of substance and quality, and also the
vaizeSika concept of quality (unfortunately also called guNa): dravyAzrayy
aguNavAn ... iti guNa-lakSaNam (The characteristics of quality: inheres in a
substance, has no qualities ...; vaizeSikasUtra 16).
    Though it is generally hazarous to translate one and the same word
differently, I feel that it cannot be helped. Wherever guNa means "sattva,
rajas and tamas", it *must not* be translated as quality - it can be left
untranslated, or a specific term must be selected for the purpose (some more
ideas: 'factor', 'thread'). In other contexts 'quality' still seems to be
the best choice.
    The situation is similar, say, in the case of 'dharma' - it will also
mean 'quality' quite often, but at other times it wil be 'law' etc.

> From another angle, what does the purusha think with? After all, the
> apparati of awareness such as manas and buddhi are classed together with
> tattvas.
I do not know. Clearly it cannot think *with* anything, as it is completely
isolated. It might itself be able to think, perhaps in a more or less
limited sense; e.g. only in concepts (with meanings only, deprived of any
reference), or, an even more reduced ability: only with logical words (and,
or, not) and pronouns (variables [some, all] and deictic [I]).
    If even this is unacceptable, one could try to interpret SK 64 in a
roundabout way. The buddhi (or antaHkaraNa) will then think in a kind of
meta-language - something like this: "If you, puruSa, could think, you would
be right in thinking: 'the buddhi is not me; it is not mine; I am not the
    This latter solution seems to me rather complicated; anyway, all of this
is - and I am afraid, must remain for ever - mere speculation. A pity.

Regards, Ferenc

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