Article by Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) and Dr Manasa, BAMS
Purusha in general terms means man, usually used to denote human being also (man and woman). But in Ayurveda Purusha is the term given to explain Chetana Dhatu or Atma, the soul or life elements which embeds us and make us live. It enters the human body and ignites the flame of life. The same Purusha leaves the human body at the time of death.
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Pure shareere shayati nivasathi iti purushaha
Purusha has 2 root words, Pura means city and Shayana means to sleep or reside. In this context, Pura means body. The body is the city in which Purusha resides or sleeps. Thus Purusha is one who lives or resides or sleeps in the human body. It is obvious to understand that it is the soul, the life element which lives within the human body and is responsible for life and life activities. Purusha is also called as Chetana Dhatu (chetana=life, dhatu=element).
Actually Purusha has no types. It is the viewpoint of the authors who have seen Purusha in different perspectives, depending on the elements with which Purusha is composed of is that which paves way to enlist the different types of purusha.
Read related: Shareera: Formation Of Human Body, Ayurvedic Concept
Ekadhatwatmaka Purusha – Purusha comprising of single element
Purusha described as chetana dhatu or life element is considered as ekadhatwatmaka purusha. Since it lies or lodges in the pura i.e. Shareera when the purusha is described in terms of chetana dhatu alone, he is called Ekadhatwatmaka purusha.
In simple terms, the chetana dhatu embedded or lodged in the shareera (body) is simply called as Purusha or Ekadhatwatmaka Purusha.
Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha – Purusha composed of 6 elements
Asmi shaastre panchamahabhoota shareeri samavayah purushaha iti uchyate (Ref – Sushruta Sutra 1)
Khaadayaha chetana shashta dhatavaha purushaha smrutaha
In Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha, Purusha is said to be comprised of 6 elements. They are Panchamahabhutas and Jeevatma. Thus, the combination of Panchamahabhootas i.e. 5 basic elements of nature and Jeevatma i.e. soul is considered as Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha. Ayurveda has accepted and emphasized on this combination of Purusha.
Below mentioned are the 6 dhatus which make up the Shad Dhatwatmaka Purusha –
Among these, the first 5 are considered as Pancha Mahabhootas or 5 elements of nature. They constitute the 5 inert elements of the combination.
Atma or soul forms the motivational force (spirit) which brings life into the inert elements.
Harana Chandra, the commentator of Sushruta Samhita interprets Purusha as only ‘human being’ but not any other living being, because all the treatment and other aspects of medicine deal only with that purusha related to human subject.
This indicates that the anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, therapeutics, hygiene etc of this medicine are described in the interest of human being only.
Chaturvimshatika Purusha or Raashi Purusha – Purusha composed of 24 elements
The purusha in terms of its composition of subtle principles (tatvas) is known as Raashi Purusha. Rashi purusha has 24 tatvas in the composition. Therefore Raashi Purusha is also called as Chaturvimshati (24) tatvatmaka (principles or elements) purusha or Chaturvimshatika Purusha.
Chaturvimshatika Purusha is composed of 24 elements or principles including Ashta Prakritis (8 primordial substances) and Shodasha Vikritis (16 derivatives of primordial substances). They are as enumerated below –
Prakriti – Primordial substance (substance used in the creation of an organism, in fact all organisms of the body)
Prakritis are 8 in number. They are primordial substances which amalgamate to form the preliminary creation of an organism. They are –
Note – Shabda to Gandha Tanmatra are represented in us in the form of subjects of sense organs. They are collectively called as Pancha Tanmatras.
Purusha – Human being PURUSHA- “ one consciousness that reside in the body” ( Charaka Shareera 1/16 )
Purusha – human being is also called – Chetana dhatu – pure consciousness Shat -dhatu purusha – five basic elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether) + consciousness
Composed of 24 elements.
Vikara / Vikriti – derivatives of primordial substance (including Pancha Maha Bhutas or 5 basic elements of nature)
The derivatives of the above said primordial substance (prakriti) are called Vikara or Vikritis. They are 16 in number. They are as mentioned below –
Sushruta and Sankhyakarika (followers of sankhya philosophy) do not accept this combination of 24 tatvas as purusha. According to them, Purusha is altogether a different entity, different from the above mentioned 24 tatvas which are only lifeless. Purusha represents life whereas the above mentioned combination of 24 tatvas is lifeless.
Sankhya karika says – ‘Purusho na Prakrutihi, na vikritihi’. This means to tell that Purusha is neither Prakriti nor Vikriti (Vikara). It is totally different principle.
Thus the above said 24 Tatvas i.e. 8 Prakritis and 16 Vikritis are inert amalgamation of elements needed to create a life. When these are joined by or ignited by a life force called as Jeeva or Jeevatma or Purusha (soul, the life element), the Garbha with life is manifested, and starts’ living (life activities) in the womb until it is born. The 24 tatvas along with purusha denotes a human body embedded with life. This concept led to the description of Panchavimshatika Purusha or Purusha comprising of 25 tatvas.
Panchavimshatika Purusha – Purusha comprising of 25 elements or principles
Purusha is the 25th tatva. Purusha is also called Jeeva or Atma. The above said 24 tatvas (explained in Chaturvimshati tatvatmaka purusha above) are inert and lifeless. When they are associated with Purusha, who is a sign of life, the body is said to have life. Sushruta has accepted the 24 tatvas but has considered them as jada or inert. He is of the opinion that the life activities are possible only if these 24 tatvas are associated with jeevatma or purusha.
Purusha expresses the chaitanya lakshanas or signs of life, like respiration, movements, response to stimulus etc. When the karanas (causes) i.e. 8 prakritis and karyas (effects) i.e. 16 vikaras come together along with purusha at the time of origin of life, the movements in the inert physical body which originally do not have any properties of life get endowed with movements and activities just like a calf becomes active after taking in the inactive milk.
The purusha has got all the properties of life. That is why he alone is called by different names (which define signs of life activities) like –
Without this purusha, there is no meaning for this world at all.
According to Charaka, all experiences of the world are due to the presence of purusha.
Light and darkness, truth and untruth, knowledge and action, good and evil, doer and knower, body, pleasure and pain, movement and rest, speech and intelligence, sciences, birth and death, bondage and liberation none of these life experiences could be possible if there is no Purusha which is called soul.
Purusha – the prime cause for this creation
For every effect there should be a cause. For an effect known as creation, the chief cause is Purusha. Purusha thus forms an unavoidable cause for creation.
Charaka explains this concept with few good examples (Ref – Charaka Shaareera).
A pot cannot be made merely by using clay, string, stick and pot making wheel without the pot maker who makes the pot using all these required materials and equipments skillfully.
A house cannot be constructed without a work man just by using bricks, cement and timber.
Therefore for the creation of the whole living kingdom, the spark of life or soul known as purusha is inevitably essential.
The Purusha is intimately present in every living cell of a body.
Purusha is only a Sakshi (silent spectator or witness of all activities of the body) in spite of being all pervading. He has nothing to do with the merits and demerits of the body, mind and senses under any circumstances. This philosophical truth assures every man that ‘there is an immortal flame in this mortal frame’. The soul when proves its existence in the body it is called Ayu or life.
In this context let me explain in brief two more terms which are related with the soul, Ayu and Prana.
Ehi ithi ayuhu
That which goes on continuously without any break, breach or gap throughout the existence of the body is called Ayu.
Shareera indriya satwa atma samyogo dhaari jeevitham
Nityagaha cha anubandhaha cha paryayaihi aayuhu uchyate
The term ayu stands for the combination of Shareera (body), indriyas (sense organs), satwa (mind) and atma (soul).
Its synonyms are:
Dhaari – one that prevents the body from decomposition and putrifation
Jeevitham – that which keeps the body alive
Nithyaga – that which serves as permanent substratum of this body
Anubandha – that which transmigrates from one body to the other
The properties of life put together (structural frame work of life) are known as prana.
Prakarshena ananti iti pranaha
That which keeps the body capable of discharging it life activities effectively and continuously is known as Prana.
Prana is formed by
‘Agni soma vayu satwam rajaha tamaha pancha indriyani bhootatma iti pranaha’
All these components support the pranas through their properties and actions. Thus prana means the combination of tri-doshas of the body, tri-gunas of the mind, the indriyas and atma.
The vital points or areas of the body where the pranas are mainly lodged are called Prana Ayatanas or Pradhana Marmas. If any injury or loss happens to these structures, the consequences would be fatal.
The Pranayatanas are as below mentioned –
Just before finishing –
When something is operational or functional, our investigating and anxious mind tries to find out the mechanism behind it. The human body is a wonderful machine which keeps operating without our awareness. We live without knowing the mechanism behind what operates our living force!! The concept of Purusha clearly explains the force behind our life, the formula which runs the body mechanics and enables us to learn the the cause and effect relationship between the inert elements which make up the human body and the life force which makes it live and runs the show.
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