This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

The ten external faculties of action and sensation

Between the tanmatras and bhutas there are eleven individual faculties proceeding directly from ahandkara. These are manas, the ‘inward sense’ or mental faculty, along with five faculties of sensation (knowledge) and five faculties of action. Because we are only just now entering properly into the individual order, we must refer individual thought primarily to manas and not to Buddhi, the transcendent intellect, since it operates beyond form. It is manas that ties the other ten faculties together, acting as connection to ahankara. For a description of the developments of the individual faculties, we may refer to the Brahma-Sutras:

The intellect, the inward sense, and also the faculties of sensation and action, are developed [in manifestation] and reabsorbed [into the unmanifested] in a similar sequence [except that reabsorption proceeds in an inverse order to that of development], and this sequence always follows that of the elements from which these faculties proceed as regards their constitution [which, depending upon whether the indriyas are considered in the subtle or the gross state, could be taken as  either faculties or organs; and here we must except the intellect, which is developed in the formless order prior to the determination of any formal or properly individual principle]. As to Purusha [or Atma], its emanation [insofar as it is regarded as the personality of a being] is not a birth [even in the widest meaning of the word], neither is it a production [implying a starting-point for its actual existence, as is the case for everything that proceeds from Prakriti]. One cannot in fact assign to it any limitation [by any particular condition of existence], since, being identified with the Supreme Brahma, it partakes of its infinite essence [implying the possession of the divine attributes, at least virtually and even actually insofar as this participation is effectively realized in the Supreme Identity, not to speak of all that lies beyond any attribution whatsoever, since here we are contemplating the Supreme Brahma, which is nirguna, and not merely Brahma as saguna, that is to say Ishvara].[1] It is active, but only in principle [therefore ‘actionless,’ just as Aristotle insisted that the prime mover of all things be motionless, which is essentially to say that the principle of action is actionless], for this activity [kartritva] is not essential to it nor inherent in it, but is simply eventual and contingent [merely relative to its states of manifestation]. As the carpenter, grasping in his hand his axe and his other tools and then laying them aside, enjoys tranquility and repose, so this Atma in its union with its instruments [by means of which its prinicipial faculties are expressed and developed in each of its states of manifestation, and which are thus nothing but the manifestations of these factulties with their respective organs], is active [although this activity in no way affects its inmost nature], and, in relinquishing them, enjoys repose and tranquillity [in the ‘inaction’ from which, in itself, it never departed].[2]

The various faculties of sensation and action [indicated by the word prana in a secondary acceptation] are eleven in number: five of sensation [buddhindriyas, which indicates the means or instruments of knowledge in their particular spheres], five of action [karmendriyas], and the inward sense [manas]. Where a greater number [thirteen] is given, the term indriya is employed in its widest and most comprehensive sense, distinguishing within manas, by reason of the plurality of its functions, the intellect [not in itself as transcendent but as a particular determination relative to the individual], the individual consciousness [ahankara, from which manas cannot be separated], and the inward sense properly so called [what the Scholastic philosophers called sensorium commune]. Where a lesser number [usually seven] is given, the same term is applied in a more restricted manner: thus, seven sensible organs are specified, the two eyes, the two ears, the two nostrils and the mouth or tongue [so that, in this case, we are dealing merely with the seven opening or orifices of the head]. The eleven faculties mentioned above [although indicated collectively by the term prana] are not [as are the five vayus of which we shall speak later] simple modifications of the mukhya-prana or principal vital act [respiration, with the assimilation ensuing from it], but distinct principles [from the special point of view of human individuality].[3]

The above usage of the term prana is not in its most common acceptation, which refers to ‘vital breath.’ Instead here, as is the case in other Vedic texts, it describes something that is identified with Brahma itself, as when it is said that in deep sleep all of the faculties are reabsorbed into prana, since it is also said that ‘while a man sleeps without dreaming, his spiritual principle is one with Brahma.[4] This is also, coincidentally, which is svapiti, ‘he sleeps,’ can be interpreted (by the science of Nirukta rather than simple etymological derivation) as swam apito bhavati, ‘he has entered into his own [Self].’[5]

[1] We remark here that the possession of divine attributes, that is to say ‘in the image and likeness’ of God, is called in Sanskrti aishwarya and constitutes a real ‘connaturality’ with Ishvara.

[2] Brahma-Sutras, II.3.14-17 and 33-40.

[3] Brahma-Sutras, II.4.1-7.

[4] Commentary of Shankaracharya on the Brahma-Sutras, III.2.7.

[5] Chhandogya Upanishad, VI.8.1.

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