Lakshmi Kapani's The Philosophical Concept of Samskara is
a thorough work that tries to present the originality of the Samskara concept,
tracing its beginnings from the Vedas to
traditional Darshanas such as Vaisesika, Vedanta, Sämkhya Yoga, and others. The
author delves into the Grhyasutras and Dharmasastras to analyse the impact of
rituals on the human psyche. With the use of pertinent textual references and
commentaries, Kapani skillfully demonstrates the distinctions between Buddhist
and Brahmanical attitudes towards Samskara. Furthermore, this book provides
useful comparisons with Western Philosophy and Psychoanalysis, offering a
unique viewpoint on the junction of these disciplines with Yoga. With an
English translation now accessible, this unique and valuable work allows
readers all around the world to have a better understanding of Samskara.
The purpose of this book is to throw some light on the originality of the Concept of Samskãra in which ritual, psychological, and philosophical aspects are intermingled. Keeping in mind the various implications of the word in the Hindu Darianas as well as in Buddhist thought, some relevant comparisons are drawn with Western Philosophy and Psychoanalysis.
A review of texts and contexts shows that in domains as different as Rituals, Anthropology, Logic, Epistemology, Psychology, Ethics, Soteriological Philosophy, the Concept of Samskara works like a universal key in the mind of Indian authors. The enquiry in this book based on Sanskrit and Pali texts helps to discern its denotation, connotation, evaluations.
The word Sa8ukdra applies not only to the Hindu Life-cycle perfective rites which imprint the psyche, but also to all sorts of “psycho-physical compositions”, dynamic traces and tendencies, predispositions, habits, traits of character. These morally qualified residuelle impressions: bodily, vocal, mental, cause of memory and dreams, condition and encumber the psyche or subtle body. Although beneficial on the pragmatic level, present in instincts till refined intelligence, samskãras are considered to be obstacles in the path of deliverance (moksa), specially when, appearing as blind urges or unconscious drives. Hence the role played by samskäras, (explaining the inexplicable), in the enigmatic psycho-cosmological register of the Law of karman and the doctrine of samsãra. Yoga born samskäras, traceless indeed, help in de-conditioning and dis-encumbering the psyche. The book concludes that samskãras are factors of cohesion, liaison, intelligibility, mediation and continuity in space and time, mainly, factors of bondage and release.
Mr. Lakshmi Kapani Docteur es lettres et science humaines (Parissorbonne 1987) is (Emeritus) professor of Indian and comparative philosophy at the paris X-Nanterre university.
Lakshmi Kapani’s The Philosophical Concept of Samskara is the finest book of its kind on this fundamental notion emphasizing the interrelatedness of its ritual, psychological and philosophical aspects.
The aim of this work has been to present the originality of the concept of samskãra. The work is, in fact, a comprehensive survey of this concept based on all textual references, starting right from the Veda to end up with the classical darsanas, especially in Vaisesika, Vedanta, Sämkhya Yoga. Passing through the Grhyasutras and Dharmasastra was not less important because of the impact of rituals on the psychological level of the human mind. The topics taken up are indeed an in-depth study of each problem she has chosen. She has been successful in highlighting the differences between the Buddhist attitude and the Brahmanical attitude towards samskara. All the conclusions of the author are authenticated by quoting relevant texts from the respective commentaries. This has enhanced the authenticity of this work.
Moreover Lakshmi Kapani has included valuable comparisons with Western Philosophy and Psychoanalysis. No other work known to me gives so complete a critical appreciation of the similarities and dissimilarities between Psychoanalysis and Yoga. She has particularly shown how the yogin can overcome the propensity of the subconscious impressions by creating true yogic samskara which lead to deconditioning of the mind till mental formations simply get burnt up in the fire of Yoga.
First published in French this original and irreplaceable book has unfortunately been not widely circulated in the Anglophone world including Indian and an English translation was there fore urgently needed.
The philosophical quest about the concept of samskara arose in my mind while listening to my mother, in everyday talk, especially while looking for a future suitor for one of her daughters, the first question that she used to put to people of her circle was, do you know something about the samskaras of this person?” This set phrase, a current cliché was easily understood by everybody and called for no further explanation.
Yet, after serious reflection, the meaning and scope of this word appeared to me to be so rich and complex, clear and obscure, that I undertook a study of this concept based on Brahmanical and Buddhist texts. The object of my enquiry is to understand as to what extent the word sarnskdra is univocal or equivocal, multivocal and over determined.
Indeed, on the one hand, the question about the young man had obviously a psychological meaning—what are his tendencies, habits, traits of character, bent of mind? What sort of behaviour can be expected from his side? In this sense, it was a question that anybody could put in any other family, culture, country.
On the other hand, and at the same time, it was full of other implications that could only be understood in the context of Indian culture and civilization (bhãratiya samskrti), precisely, in relation with ones socio-religious duties during a particular stage of life (varnasrama dharma). Speaking about an eventual partner, this meant—what is his socio religious status and family background? To which community, group or tradition does he belong to? What sort of education has he received? What are his personal qualifications and qualities? These two intimately linked personal and social dimensions can be summarized in the following manner— what sort of man is he? This question is all the more pertinent when one knows that sat samskara covers both conscious and unconscious tendencies of our psyche: past, present and future.
The extreme amplitude and diversity of the concept obliged me to leave aside the Tantra. and the Agama literature, as well as the Jaina texts. I have mentioned, in the last part of Chapter II, five Vaisnava-samskara, necessary for “initiation”; ten samskaras conferred to a mantra (Saradatilaka Tantra); and the atma-samskara of the Saiva tradition (Soma Sambhu Paddhati), necessary for niroaziadik ca; so very different from the i.aflra-sar1sskaras of Grhyaand Dharmasütras.
To my knowledge, the concept of samshara, in its ritual, psycho-moral, or epistemological dimensions, has not received an independent explanation or elaboration in early Jaina literature, It was rather treated under the head of other major pan-Indian concepts such as karman (“act”, “deeds”), vàsanã (“latent desire”, “impregnation”, “residual impressions” of acts and experiences), lesya: “colouration”, material and spiritual, (dravya- and bhava-lesyã), kasãya (“passion”), etc. In any case, the subject requires a supplementary study.
Three broad areas of my survey are—1 Brahmanical and Hindu ritualistic texts (Chs. I-Il). 2. Buddhist texts (Ch. III). 3. Philosophical systems or darsanas (lit. “views”, Points of view on the reality), Chs. IV-VIII, followed by Conclusion. Hence, my enquiry into the concept of samskara reveals a threefold interest—relative to cultural and religious anthropology, psychology and ethics, epistemology and philosophy. The whole work is a testimony of the cultural heritage of India in its opening towards Western thought.
My investigation goes back first to the use of samskar abhisamskr- in the Brahmañas, where they are closely related to sacrificial activity (yajna, karman). From a historical andmphilosophical point of view, it should be reminded that the noun samskara is not attested in the Sruti. In its psycho-moral, philosophical and epistemological acceptations, the noun appears for the first time in the Buddhist Pall Canon (samskara. Abhisamkhara). As to the adjectives samskrta, asamskrta (Pall samkhata, asamkhata), they are found since the Rg Veda, and throughout the history of Brahmanical, Buddhist and Hindu literature.
Explanations and justifications are furnished as to why one and the same translation for samskr-, abhisamskr-, samskara, abhi-samskara, samskrta, abhisamskila cannot always be maintained in Brahiuanical, Buddhist, and darsana contexts.
The present book offers the quintessence of my previous major publication in French La notion tie samskara dans lnde brahmanique et bouddhique, fascicule 591592, College tie France / Institut de Civilisation Indienne, Paris, Edition Diffusion De Boccard, 1992—93, 600 pages. I am grateful to Professor Gerard Fussman, College de France, who gave me his kind permission for the publication of this English version, as I am to Shri Narendra Prakash Jam, Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India, who warmly greeted the same.
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