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Samsara and Nirvana - A Unifying Vision

Samsara and Nirvana - A Unifying Vision
Item Code: NAN242
Author: V. N. Misra
Publisher: D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2017
ISBN: 9788124608944
Pages: 386
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details: 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
weight of the book: 695 gms
About the Book

A unifying vision between Samsara and Nirvana has been presented in this study by placing human beings at the centre of the universe. Once this is accepted, the role of God turns to be nothing. This fact is not acceptable to most of the schools of Indian philosophy because of their strong faith in Brahman (God) as the creator of the universe. In that, this study raises the fundamental question. Why Brahman, being the creator, sustainer and dissolver of the universe, has taken such a long time of more than three billion years after the solar system to provide the conditions for the evolution of human life? Since the first cause of universe is the most difficult question, it is suggested to see the creator on the creation itself.

An inference has been drawn that the action (karma) of human beings cannot be treated as ignorance, once it is accepted that human beings are at the centre of the universe. We human beings have nothing else except the freedom of action (karma). In fact, karma itself is freedom.

This volume, in a way, an offshoot of the author's earlier work, Science of Consciousness draws the inferences based on the different systems of Indian philosophy and the philosophy of the West.

About the Author

V.N. Misra, PhD, retired from Indian Economic Service (IES), has worked as Economic Advisor in different ministries of Government of India. He also has the experience of working in various research centres. He had several consultancy assignments with the ADB, FAO, World Bank and IFPRI. Dr Misra has also to his credit more than forty research papers published in reputed journals in the field of agricultural policy and development, labour, employment, rural poverty, etc. He has also co-authored (with VS. Vyas and D.S. Tyagi) a book, Significance of New Technology for Small Farmers. Dr Misra's study on Terms of Trade is a published work. He has now shifted his interest from economics to philosophy and has recently published his first philosophical study Science of Consciousness: A Synthesis of Vedanta and Buddhism.


In the Madhyarnika system of Buddhism it is categorically stated that there is no difference between Samsara and Nirvana. However, no attempt has been made to explain why there is no difference between Samsara and Nirvana, despite the fact that both are antithesis of each other in the sense that if Samsara is full of suffering, Nirvana happens to be end of suffering. In this context, the position of Vedanta is different, because Samsara is not equated with Nirvana. In Vedanta, there is no compulsion to achieve Nirvana, whereas in Buddhism, it is rather a well-known fact that every monk has to devote full time for realizing Nirvana. Yet, it is difficult to establish the unity between Samsara and Nirvana unless it is categorically stated that Samsara and Nirvana both are embodied in human beings. Once this is accepted, human beings become the centre of the universe through which an attempt has been made to present a unifying vision of Samsara and Nirvana.

In this stud y the unity between Samsara and Nirvana has been established through human beings mainly because both are meant for them. Once human beings are placed at the centre of the universe, it has the following implications:

1. The role of God turns out to be nothing. This fact is not acceptable to most of the schools of Indian philosophy because they have very strong faith in Brahman (God) as creator of the universe. In that, this study raises the fundamental question: why Brahman being the creator, sustainer and dissolver of the universe has taken such a long time of more than three billion years after the solar system to provide the conditions for the evolution of human life. Since the first cause of universe is the most difficult question, it is suggested that it would be quite appropriate to see the creator in the creation itself as mentioned in Chandogya Upanisad.

2. The action (karma) of human beings cannot be treated as ignorance, once it is accepted that they are at centre stage of the universe. It ought to be recognized that human beings have freedom only to perform their karma, knowing fully well that its results are not in their hands because the effects of karma depend upon many factors. In such a situation if karma is treated as ignorance as has been the case in Buddhism as well as in Vedanta, it means in a way negating the human beings.

It may be noted that there is a contradictory statement about karma in Vedanta. Sankaracarya in Brahmasutra Bhasya said that karma (action) is ignorance. The same Sankaracarya has stated in Bhagavadgita that every action (karma) culminates in knowledge. Therefore, karma has not been treated as ignorance in this study, because it plays an important role in constituting the empirical world (Samsara).

I have no hesitation in stating categorically that we human beings have nothing else except the freedom of action (karma). In fact, karma itself is freedom. This has been explained quite convincingly by the famous existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre who rejected the Nobel Prize for literature in 1965.

The inferences in this study have, however, been drawn on the basis of observations not only from different systems of Indian philosophy but also from Western philosophers. Wherever possible scientific facts are also taken into account for drawing inferences. Further, this study in a way is an offshoot of my earlier book, Science of Consciousness: A Synthesis of vedanta and Buddhism. I have drawn about 25 per cent of material as such from this book in completing the present study. This is basically a research-based study, it does not claim any originality. There is no denying the fact that only topmost philosophers make original contributions. Whereas a man like me who has no formal education in philosophy, the only option is to conduct a research-based study.

One way of making original idea which is prevalent nowadays is to suppress the source from where the observation has been taken into consideration for drawing an inference. I do not have any faith in such an approach for the obvious reason that this would ultimately lead to the negation of research activities, which have now become the most crucial for further development not only in philosophy but also in all the disciplines related to knowledge and human development.

My gratitude is beyond words to Shri M.L. Pandit for writing a foreword, a generous testimonial to my first book Science of Consciousness: A Synthesis of Vedanta and Buddhism. He also encouraged me to write philosophy books. His outstanding books on Buddhism helped me in synthesizing the various conflicting views on important aspects of Indian philosophy of Vedanta and Buddhism. In fact, he has suggested the usage of consistent and explicit diacritics.

I am indebted to Shri S.N. Upadhyay, Dr V.S. Vyas, Dr S.M. Pathak, Dr S.K. Mishra, Dr Bibek Debroy, Dr G.R. Saini, Shri S.K. Sharma and Shri P.R. Sharma for their appreciation of my earlier book, Science of Consciousness. This has encouraged me to complete the present study. I am also grateful to Shri M.K. Deepak for suggestions in improving the draft. Further, I thankfully acknowledge the help rendered by my son Yash Prakash Mishra in clarifying some issues discussed in the book and my grandson Ayush Mishra for thoroughly checking the manuscript.

I express my gratitude to the authors from whose books the passages have been quoted in different chapters of this book.

I am, indeed, grateful to Messers D.K. Printworld, New Delhi, for publishing this book.


IN self-consciousness both human being and its becoming are involved. When the former purifies its consciousness (pure consciousness), it leads to Niroiina. In the latter (becoming), self- consciousness manifests through mind, which creates duality, constituting Samsara. When mind reaches the subconscious level, it opens the gate to Nirvana. We have, therefore, placed human being at the centre stage, through which, an attempt has been made to present a unifying vision of Samsara and Nirvana.

Specifically, the study attempts:

1. To examine time, space and causality (cause and effect) and karma and samskaras (impressions) because these concepts constitute the empirical world (Samsara),

2. To explain Samsara and Nirvana by placing human beings at the centre stage. In that, life, consciousness, problem of knowledge and perception are discussed.

3. To discuss Nirvana of Buddhism and Moksa (liberation) of Vedanta, being escape route from Sarnsaric sufferings.

It is possible to provide a unifying vision of Samsara and Nirvana because both have representation in human beings. In this unifying approach, human beings occupy the centre stage, which rather reverses the position of human beings vis-a-vis God. This is evident from the following observation:

Each jiva would appear to be the creator of his world through and out of the nescience abiding in him; the world is sustained by his nescience, and is destroyed with its destruction. The true creator, sustainer and destroyer would thus appear to the jiva himself. If the world be considered to be created by a God, that could be no more than an illusion, on a par with the world-illusion itself. The Creator and His Creatorship would both be figments of the creature's imagination. The jiva is enthroned on high and God apparently reduced to nothing. But such a conclusion can hardly be consistent with the true trend of Advaita.

There is no denying the fact tha t every human being by and large creates his own empirical world and makes determined efforts to achieve the set goal. Having achieved the goal he himself dissolves the created world. This is mainly due to the fact that, "since the Jiva (individual centre) produces his own Samskara (tendencies), there is, it is true, a sense in which we each make our own world".

The self of human beings is known as self-consciousness which has two aspects: immanent and transcendent. The former is involved in Samsara and it becomes limited by the body and mind problem. Whereas at the transcendent level, consciousness becomes the Ultimate Reality. Atman (self) in Indian philosophy is of the nature of transcendental awareness, which is pure and content-less. When pure consciousness descends in human beings, it becomes jivatman (self-consciousness), which in itself cannot know the external objects. If jivatman can know the objects directly, then it would become almost similar to mind. In that case, jivatman (self) would be changeable like mind. This is not acceptable to Vedanta mainly because the mind happens to be an instrument through which self-consciousness manifests. Now the question is: "What is the role of knowledge in such a situation?"

Jivatman itself cannot have knowledge; mind being an object of consciousness, it is treated as jada (unconscious), so it also cannot by itself have knowledge. When jivatman and mind come together in association, "knowledge arises as an emergent phenomenon". This view of knowledge is acceptable to both Samkhya and Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy. However, there are different kinds of knowledge, which may be broadly grouped into two: cognitive knowledge and verbal knowledge. In this study, mainly the cognitive approach is followed. It is confined mainly to perception, which establishes the relationship between self-consciousness and Samsara (empirical world). In this interrelationship, the latter (the empirical world) has no independent existence as it is known mainly due to self- consciousness.

Whatever has been examined in this study, it has only relative existence. These things would collapse in the absolute reality which is Nirvana in present context. This is mainly due to the fact that the absolute reality happens to be pure consciousness, which is referred to by different names such as integrated consciousness, concentricity of consciousness. That apart, the fact remains that pure consciousness or integrated consciousness turns out to be the smallest point known as Mahabindu from which light emerges like sun. At this point the manifest things disappear into the unmanifest things or vice versa, the unmanifest emerges into manifest. This is the reason for saying that in the absolute reality, time and space, causality and karma get collapsed. In other words, these things have no existence in the absolute reality. The most important property of a point of the absolute reality is mentioned below:

The point is the meeting ground or door leading from the world of the unreal to the world of the Real, or from the world of the mind to the world of pure consciousness. On the one side of the point is the world of Reality or pure consciousness, on the other side the multidimensional worlds of the mind, created by the mind and existing within the mind. He whose consciousness is established in the point is therefore in contact with both the worlds. He is standing, as it were, at the threshold of existence. When he looks within, beyond the point, he is aware of the Reality which lies at the basis of the manifested worlds of the mind. When he looks outside he is conscious of all the worlds created by the mind. The vision which can be obtained from this Point or Centre of manifestation is therefore unique.

Now coming to the manifested world (Samsara) which is treated in Indian Philosophy as the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. It is going round and round, embodies the Indian notion about the problem of life. In fact, "we are caught up, as it were, in a meaningless routine of birth and rebirth which degenerates into pain and boredom and from which we seek release. We seek release because although we are essentially free individuals, we are, by accident, in a stage of bondage”. More or less similar things are stated in Buddhism. A Samsara (empirical or manifested world) is full of suffering. But the route of escape from Samsara is possible mainly through realization of Nirvana, which is indeed difficult to realize in one life. That apart, the fact remains that "if Samsara is pain, Nirvana must be painless. Samsara and Nirvana negate and affirm each other through their mutual opposition". In view of the importance of Nirvana as escape route from the suffering of Samsara, an attempt is made to examine Nirvana also in this study.


  Preface vii
  Introduction 1
Chapter 1 Karma and Rebirth 55
1 Introduction 55
2 Defining Karma 57
  Advaita Vedanta 57
  Buddhism 58
3 Karma as Individuality 59
  Advaita Vedanta 59
  Buddhism 60
4 Karma as Ignorance 60
  Advaita Vedanta 60
  Buddhism 61
5 Karma and Knowledge 62
6 Nature of Karma 63
  Advaita Vedanta 63
  Buddhism 65
7 Karma-Nirodha (Cessation of Action) 66
  Advaita Vedanta 66
  Buddhism 67
8 Only Deed Exists, but No Doer in Buddhism 67
9 Karmic Impressions (Vasanas) and Dispositions (Samskaras) 70
  Samkhya Philosophy 71
  Advaita Vedanta: Causal Body 71
  Karmasaya 73
10 Karrnic Seeds and Alaya-vijnana of Yogacara Vijnanavada Buddhism 75
  Karmic Seed 76
  Proofs of Alaya-vijnana 78
  Impossibility of Action 79
  Alaya-vijnana and Momentariness 80
  Reconciliation 82
11 Karma Based on Philosophy of Jean-Paul Sartre 86
  Cause and Motive 88
  Undetermined Choice 89
  Freedom 92
Chapter 2 Space and Time 94
1 Introduction 94
2 Vaisesika Philosophy 96
  Space 96
  Time 97
  Space and Time 97
  The Atomic Theory 98
  The Eleven Moments Theory 98
  Functions of Different Atoms 101
  Thought Process and Atom 104
  Self and Atom in Vedantic Perspective 106
3 Philosophy of Samkhya-Yoga 106
  Time 106
  Space 107
  Space and Time 108
4 Advaita Vedanta 108
  Time 110
  Time and Space as One 111
5 Space and Time as Illusion 111
  Time 112
6 Philosophy of Bauddha Dharma: Madhyamika System 114
  Space 114
  Time 114
  Yogacara Vijnanavada Buddhism 114
  Time and Space (Eternity and Infinity) 115
7 Hume's Philosophy (Time and Space) 116
  Space 116
  Time 117
9 Kant's Philosophy 118
  Metaphysical Exposition of Space and Time 119
  Priority of Time over Space 122
10 Scientific Views on Space and Time 123
11 Consciousness and Time 126
  Temporality of Consciousness 127
  Non-thetic and Thetic Consciousness 128
  The Past 129
  The Present 131
  The Future 132
  The Ekstatic Unity of Consciousness 133
Chapter 3 Substantiality and Causality 134
1 Introduction 134
2 Causality: An Overview 134
3 Vaisesika Theory of Causation 139
  Motion 140
  Motion in Relation to its Causes 141
  Adrsta 141
  Concept of Vega 142
  Causes of Pressure and of Impact 143
4 Samkhya Theory of Causation 144
  Objection 145
  Answer 145
  Prakrti 147
5 Advaita Vedanta 148
6 Philosophy of Bauddha Dharma 152
  The Causal Theory of Co-production 152
  Nagarjuna's View of Causality 154
  Sautrantika's View of Causality in Perception 156
  Causal Aspect of Alaya-Vijnana of Yogacara Vijnanavada Buddhism 158
7 Hume's views on Causation and Causality 159
8 Kant's Concept of Causality 161
9 Scientific Views on Causality 163
  Quantum Field Theory and Implicate Order 163
  Implicate order and Generative Order 164
  Consciousness and Implicate Order 164
  Interconnection between Consciousness and Matter 165
Chapter 4 Continuity 167
1 Introduction 167
2 Matter as Atom and Particles 168
3 Complementarily in Duality of Matter 170
4 Energy as Basis of Universe 172
5 Prakrti 175
6 Guna 176
7 Consciousness 178
8 The Concept of Samskara of Samkhya-Yoga 179
9 Advaita Vedanta Theory of Samskara (Disposition) 183
10 The Concept of Samskara in the Philosophy of Bauddha Dharma 185
  Dependent Origination and Samskara 187
  Samskara (Karmic Formations) and Vinnana (Consciousness) 188
Chapter 5 Life and Consciousness 191
1 Introduction 191
2 Prana as Vital Principle of Life 192
  Individual Prana 192
  Cosmic Prana 195
  Nature of Life: Cosmic and Individuated 195
3 Convertibility of Prana into Consciousness 197
4 Life as Interaction of Consciousness and Matter 198
5 Dualistic Philosophy of Samkhya-Yoga: Purusa and Prakrti 199
  Prakrti 199
  Purusa 203
  One and Many of Consciousness 207
6 Interaction between Prakrti and Purusa 212
7 David Bohm's Views on Consciousness and Matter 218
  Awareness and Attention 219
8 Implications of Main Tendencies of Self-Consciousness for Human Life 220
  Self-protection 220
  Instinct of Self-procreation 221
  Disembodied Survival of the Mental and Consciousness 221
9 Consciousness as Transmigration and Buddhist Soul 223
  Transmigration of Consciousness 223
  Buddhist Soul 223
  Tendency of Consciousness Getting Immortalized 224
10 Theory of Five Kosas 225
  Annamaya-Kosa (Matter and Life) 225
  Pranamaya-Kosa (Vital Sheath) 226
  Manomaya-Kosa (Mind Sheath) 227
  Vijnanamaya-Kosa (Intellect Sheath) 229
  Anandamaya-Kosa (Bliss Sheath) 230
  Five Kosas as Solution of Body-Mind Problem and Gaining Different Kinds of Knowledge 231
Chapter 6 Autopoiesis as Systems View of Life: Some Problems and Its Reconciliation 233
1 Introduction 233
2 Autopoiesis 233
  Self-Maintenance 234
  Non- Localization 234
  Emergent Properties 235
3 Interaction of Living Organism with Environment 235
  Structural Coupling 235
  Structural Determination 236
4 Cognitive Function in General 236
  The Cognitive Process 236
5 Cognitive Function in Particular 237
  Nerve Cells 237
6 The Observer 239
7 Brain States and Cognition 241
8 Sense Perception and Cognition 242
9 Consciousness and Its Coverage (Defining Consciousness) 245
  Defining Consciousness in Buddhism 246
10 Mind as Process 249
  Mind According to Vedanta 250
11 Consciousness as Process 251
12 Two Types of Consciousness 251
13 Consciousness as Unity 252
Chapter 7 Problem of Knowledge and Perception Advaita Vedanta 254
1 Introduction 254
2 Self-consciousness and Knowledge 256
3 Consciousness as Foundational Knowledge 257
  Criticism of pure consciousness as a fictitious entity 261
4 Consciousness as Witness 262
5 Mind and Consciousness 265
6 Sense Organs and Objects of Perception 268
  Contact of Sense-Organs with their Respective Objects 269
7 Mental Mode of Advaita Vedanta 271
  Cognitive Process 273
8 Perceptual Illusion 276
Chapter 8 Concept of Nirvana in Buddhism 281
1 Introduction 281
2 Purification of Consciousness 285
  Kamavacara-citta-bhumi (Sphere) 285
  Rupavacara-citta-bhumi 285
  Arupavacara-citta-bhumi 286
  Locuttara-citta-bhumi 287
3 Nirvana as Pure Consciousness 289
4 Nirvana as Dharmakaya 292
  Dharmakaya 292
5 Nirvana as the Absolute Reality 294
6 Nirvana in Lankavatarasutra (Based on the Commentary of Zen Buddhism) 295
7 Madhyamika View of Nirvana 295
  Nirvana and Samsara as One 297
8 Sautrantika View of Nirvana 300
9 Madhyanta-Vibhanga 303
Chapter 9 Liberation (Moksa) in Advaita Vedanta 305
1 Introduction 305
2 Liberation as Self-Realization 307
3 The Locus of Ignorance 310
4 Three States of Consciousness (Sleep, Dream and Waking) 311
  Metaphysics of Sleep Consciousness 312
  Dream Consciousness 315
  Waking Consciousness 318
5 Means of Liberation 319
  Turiya 319
  Epilogue 325
  Bibliography 334
  Index 346

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