Philosophical terms explained

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Published on: July 20, 2013

Explanation of philosophical terms

Trigunas (Three Virtues): In Indian (Hindu) culture we first hear about trigunas, Nirguna etc. Historians such as A.L.Bhasham opine that Hindu culture is as old as 3 thousand B.C. It developed on the banks of river Sindhu. The Vedas are the collective consciousness of the people and culture of this time. They believed that matter in the universe is made up of these three virtues or Trigunas, and they call it nature or Prakruti.

Thrigunas which they speak of are:

  1. Satva guna – pious, truthful, having natural virtues
  2. Rajo guna – lacking natural virtues, but truthful, pious
  3. Tamo guna – devoid of natural virtues, lethargic, foolishness

Satvaguna: The satvaguna can be thought of as one extreme with which one can achieve total enlightenment. The virtues that are attributed are pious, truthfulness, non-violence, renunciation. It is essential that all these virtues must be in the mind, in speech and physically too.

Rajoguna: It is characterized by piousness and truthfulness, but when selfish inclination peeps in the natural virtues, it is called Rajoguna.

Tamoguna: It is characterized by laziness, lethargy and foolishness. Piousness and natural virtues vanish and only selfish motto prevails it is called Tamoguna.

In order to judge these virtues and to make one Satvik, code of conduct was set and it was named as Purushartha’s, which are of 4 types.

1. Dharma (propriety of conduct): Here Dharma means humanity, Saint Manu says ”ahimsa satyamasteyam shauch mindriya nigraham| etam saamaasikam dharma chaaturvanye braveenmanuhu||” That means truthfulness, non-violence, renunciation (not accepting anything from others when it actually is not needed or when offering any service etc), keeping up cleanliness (physically, mentally and also in the speech), self conquest. It is applicable to all Varnas (people doing different duties, explained below). The difference between Satvaguna and Dharma is that Dharma relaxes observation of rules or conduct to the extent it is honestly possible for a person. Where as Satvaguna says observe with full faith in God and leave the consequences to God.

Truthfulness has been classified into three categories

  1. Vyavaharika truth (practical truth): it is the truth which the society of the time believes to be the truth
  2. Pratibhashika truth (truth that can be perceived) : It is the truth which we can see or feel or which the science today accepts as the truth
  3. Paramarthika truth (real or spiritual truth): This is the truth which is beyond what our sensory organs can feel, which can only be experienced after reaching high state of consciousness or called supreme truth.

2. Artha (Wealth): That includes all types of wealth which we use for the enjoyment of our present life. Every one wants wealth. To earn wealth one must be active. One must perform his duties or obligation (called Runas) as a son, father, social human etc. But all these duties must be performed according to realistic truth. That is acceptable by the society as honest. It must be within the propriety of conduct (Dharma). However, due to the desire for luxury, one must not supersede humanity, truthfulness, honesty and propriety of conduct. Is is called Rajoguna.

3. Kama (Desire personified): Desire for all types of worldly pleasures including sex is called kama. These are natural to humans and essential too. But when humans indulge in enjoying worldly pleasures, there activeness diminishes, deliberateness vanishes. But if humans manage their desire according to realistic truthfulness, within the propriety of conduct, with self conquest it is considered as good.

For example, if there are 10 members in a family and one wishes for big house, it is not greediness. So it is called Tamoguna, as here only selfishness prevails.

4. Moksha (Renunciation of desires): Normally Moksha is taken as salvation. But according to Sankhya philosophy all living beings are naturally aim to become one with God. As wherever we may be, we love to be at our home land. Since all living being came from God himself they aim to become one with him. But it is possible if you adapt Satvaguna. So here Moksha can be taken as full discharge of debt or obligations or Runa. So it is called Satvaguna.

Now let us discuss about Chaturvanas (four varnas or duties). They are

  1. Brahmin (intellectual class)
  2. Kshatriya (warrior class)
  3. Vaishya (business class)
  4. Shudra (labor class)

In the great Hindu philosophical treatise the Bhagavadgita, Lord Krishna says “chaturvanam mayasrustam guna, karma vibhagashaha” i.e. “I have created these four Varnas according to the Gunas and Karmas (work)”.

Let us discuss all 4 varnas.

Brahmin: The actual meaning of Brahmin is that brahmin is one who possess the divine knowledge. Hindus believe that the Vedas are the most sacred and hence they called those as brahmins who are learned in Vedas and follow it. So for a brahmin Satvaguna must be predominant. He must be learned in Vedas and must follow its teachings.

Here we must recognize that this division of work was done in a growing society when everyone could not do all types of work necessary for a society. So the lively hood of brahmins was satisfied by others in the society.

Kshatriya: He is the one who is physically strong and courageous, and is allotted the duty of protection of the society. So if he was Satvik, he would not be able perform his duties properly. So he was allowed to live according to Rajo guna. However he was permitted to acquire knowledge, but his duty was to protect the society. During his old age, he was advised to renounce the world and lead a Satvik life and get Moksha.

The four stages of life are described as per Ashrama dharma namely Brahmacharya (childhood and youth), Grihashtha (adult and family life), Vanaprashta (old age) and Sanyasa (renunciation). They are described below.

Vaishya: Vaishya means businessman. When the society grew, everyone could not grow all crops or build everything needed. So exchange of groceries and other things became essential. This duty was assigned to vaishyas. For this they needed knowledge so they were allowed to learn, and renounce the world in old age according to Asharma dharma. Following pure Satva guna was not possible, so they were allowed to live according to Rajo guna.

Shoodra: When the society grew, Labour class became essential to grow crops, perform physically demanding work etc.  So people with physical strength who could withstand physical strain and stress were allotted this duty. Since they would not get time to learn etc. and required rest after heavy work, they were allowed to live according to Tamoguna. They were not prescribed to follow Ashrama dharma.

Four Ashrama Dharmas (stages of life) are

  1. Brahmacharya – State of continence and chastity (up to the age of 20)
  2. Grahastha – House holder (up to the age of 60)
  3. Vanaprastha – Hermit (up to the age of 80)
  4. Sanyasa – Renunciation (until death)

The social division of work and code of conduct although seemed to be very good theoretically, practically it resulted in caste system in India and the resultant social evils in the society. Because when the people were allowed to live according to Rajoguna, they forgot the code of conduct and started amassing the wealth and concentrated on the power within.

Here we must remember that when we think of the effects of signs, we should apply Trigunas, 4 Purusharthas and 4 varnas combined and their resultant effect, since our saints thought and described them on this basis.


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