Karma, Saguna, Ativahika Purusha – Definition, Composition

By Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ay) & Dr Manasa, B.A.M.S
Purusha in Sanskrit means man. But from Ayurveda and philosophical views Purusha also means human being, inclusive of both man and woman.


Definition of the word Purusha
Pura means a place where one resides.
Sha means to stay.
In this context pura means the human body. It is the abode for soul. Soul is responsible for life. He controls all life activities, he is an observer and a representative of the greater self.
Read – Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features

The word purusha is derived from root terms i.e. pura and shete. The definition of purusha is – ‘He who lives in the city of the body’.

Other names of Purusha

Atma or Jivatma is also known as chikitsa adhikruta karma purusha i.e. the life entity in our body for the survival and healthy existence of whom the treatments and medicinal interventions are conducted. The treatment keeps the purusha healthy and intact so that the life process keeps going in an uninterrupted way. Such a purusha who is a subject of treatment is called karma purusha or chikitsadikruta purusha. Here karma means treatment.

The living body with the soul is called karma purusha. The body and soul are taken together to define a living being.
Read – Importance Of Soul In Perception Of Knowledge: Atma Jnana

Sanskrit Verse

Karma Purusha

Karma Purusha / Chikitsya Purusha
The mind, soul and the body (made up of the five elements of nature) are the tripod of the creation. The universe and all life are created and exist on the combination of these three entities. The combination of these three entities is itself called as loka, the world.
Read – Human Being Is A Replica of Universe – Loka Purusha Samya Vada

These three form the basis of the loka, just like the three legs of the tripod.
Read – Mind – Qualities And Functions As Per Ayurveda

Purusha / Puman / Chetana – The combination of mind, soul and body is called purusha. This combination becomes the subject of treatment i.e. chikitsa vishaya / the working area for the physician i.e. adhikarana.

Loka grossly means the entire world and subtly means an individual persona. Thus a human being can also be considered as a representative unit of the world.
Read – 16 Factors To Watch For A Healthy Mind And Body

Chikitsya purusha / Chikitsa adhikruta purusha = the living person, i.e. combination of mind, soul and body which is fit to be treated.

The same purusha is called as satvadi traya purusha. This means ‘the purusha made up of three entities’ in whom the life and death processes take place. He is also called as chetana jnanavan i.e. combination of mind, soul and the body which is an abode of knowledge.
Read – Relation Between Doshas, Sense Organs And Perception

This purusha is made up of the below mentioned faculties –

  • Karma / adrushta – deeds done in the past / invisible deeds
  • Phala / karma phala – fruits of the deeds
  • Jnana – knowledge
  • Moha / ajnana – ignorance
  • Sukha – happiness
  • Dukha – grief
  • Jeevita / janma – birth
  • Marana – death
  • Swata / mamata – possessiveness / feeling that this, he or she belongs to me.
    Read – Four pursuits of life – Purushartha Chatushtaya

Shad Dhatu Purusha

Master Sushruta tells that the combination of the five elements of nature i.e. earth, wind, water, fire and ether and soul is called purusha. When the combination of the five elements which make up the physical self is impregnated with the life element i.e. soul, the purusha is formed.

Master Charaka too quotes ‘Shad dhatvatmaka / Shad dhatuja purusha’.
Read – Adhyatmika Gunas – Qualities Related To Soul As Per Ayurveda

24 Tattvas

Further Master Charaka explains the concept of chaturvimshati tattvatmaka purusha i.e. a purusha made up of 24 entities. They are –

Ashta Prakriti i.e. 8 primordial substances used in the creation of organisms
Shodasha Vikriti i.e. 16 derivatives of primordial substances.

The 8 primordial substances are –

  • Avyakta – miniature universe, also equated with the soul
  • Mahan or Mahat (collective intelligence) – cosmic intelligence, the ‘intelligence needed to create’ in the universe
  • Ahankara – Egoism, or the cosmic egoism, which claims that whatever created is ‘mine, my creation!’
  • Shabda tanmatra – root of sound sensation
  • Sparsha Tanmatra – root of touch sensation
  • Rupa Tanmatra – root of vision sensation
  • Rasa Tanmatra – root of taste sensation
  • Gandha Tanmatra – root of smell sensation
    Read – What Is Mind, Sense Organs? Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 8th Chapter

The 16 derivatives of the primordial substances are –

Five sense organs / pancha jnanendriyas –

  • Shabda / shravana indriya – ear
  • Sparshana indriya – skin
  • Rupa / chakshu indriya – eye
  • Rasana indriya – tongue
  • Gandha / ghrana indriya – nose

Five organs of action / pancha karmendriyas –

Dual sense organ / Ubhayendriya – The mind

  • Ubhaya Indriya or Manas – The mind, which is both, sensory and motor organ

Five elements of nature – Pancha Mahabhuta

  • Avyakta is soul who is associated with other 7 primordial substances to initiate the process of creation.
  • Mana is the mind.
  • Sharira or body is made up of the combination of other 15 derivatives of primordial substances i.e. 5 sense organs, 5 motor organs and 5 elements of nature.
    Read – Panchamahabhuta: Application, Areas of Utility in Ayurveda treatment

When we put these three entities we reach the same concept of mind + soul + body. This seems to be an extended explanation of the chikitsya purusha or the concept of loka.

We have three perspectives of chikitsya purusha –

  • The combination of mind, soul and body
  • The combination of five elements of the nature and soul
  • The combination of 24 entities which comprise of primordial substances and their derivatives

Why Chikitsya Purusha is also called as Karma Purusha?
Karma means deeds. The combination of soul, mind and body takes place and forms purusha or jiva / loka based on the deeds done in previous birth. Such a purusha is called karma purusha.

Alternatively, karma means treatment. Since treatment is done on the purusha who is a combination of mind, soul and body, he is called karma purusha.

Saguna Purusha

The three main qualities are sattva, raja and tama. These qualities are causal for all creation and are associated with everything. They are also the qualities of the mind.

Predominance of sattva quality is responsible for a balanced and healthy state of mind, the other two qualities i.e. raja and tama are said to be the contaminants of the mind. Therefore, raja and tama are variable qualities among the three great qualities and tend to produce diseases, mainly those related to the mind.
Read – Mind – Qualities, Functions, Doshas As Per Ayurveda

But the question whether ‘the soul’ is associated with the three great qualities is debatable!
Most things and events of the world are related by ‘cause and effect relationship’. For something to happen as a result, a cause is needed. The work done definitely depend on the nature and quality of its cause.

According to this principle, everything that is created by the causal nature i.e. prakriti which is made up of three great qualities should also comprise of the same qualities.

The entire creation as a whole and every individual (life) belonging to that creation is caused by the causal nature i.e. Mula Prakriti / Avyakta. Thus, the nature is the cause and the creation is its effect. The nature is made up of three great qualities.
Read – Prakriti Chikitsa – Nature Cure, Meaning, Methods and Practices

So what are those derivatives which are formed as an effect from the causal nature?
The Mahat / Buddhi etc are created from the nature. Therefore they are called vikaras. The mahat etc derivatives too are comprised of the three major qualities of the nature from which they have been created.
Read – Manasika Doshas – Satva, Rajas, Tamas As Per Ayurveda

Is Purusha or individual soul too made up of the three major qualities?
The purusha i.e. individual soul embedded in each human body seems to be made up of sattva, raja and guna qualities because the soul is associated and attached to the causal nature.

The causal nature is said to be equivalent to the greater soul and each individual soul is derived from the greater soul. Therefore each individual soul will have the qualities of the greater soul. The individual soul is said to be associated to the causal nature just like the collyrium sticks to the eye.

Though the purusha i.e. individual soul is said to be ‘devoid of qualities’ i.e. nirguna, he is still considered to be trigunatmaka i.e. associated with sattva, raja and tama qualities due to his association with the causal nature formed with same three qualities.
Read – Foods That Increase Sattva, Rajas, Tamas: Srimad Bhagavat Geeta

Other illustrations –
1. The mirror is usually clear i.e. transparent and doesn’t exhibit any colour. But when the reflection of a red flower falls into the mirror, the mirror appears red.

Similarly when the individual soul, in spite of being devoid of any quality appears to get associated with the three major qualities due to his association with the causal nature made up of three great qualities.

2. When the water in the pond or well shakes, the image of the moon formed in the water too appears to be shaking. We may feel that the moon himself is shaking. But actually it is the water which shakes and not the moon up in the sky.

Similarly the soul devoid of qualities appears to be having three great qualities and is called saguna i.e. the one associated with the qualities due to his association with the causal nature and its derivatives. The three great qualities are present in the mahat etc derivatives of the causal nature with which the soul is associated but not in the soul itself.
Read – Satvik Nature Influencing Disease Manifestation: Case Study

Thus we can conclude that –

  • Purusha i.e. the individual soul is devoid of qualities
  • The soul appears to be associated with the three major qualities i.e. sattva, raja and tama due to his association with the causal nature and its derivatives which are made up of three major qualities.

Signs And Qualities Of The Individual Soul

The qualities of paramatma i.e. greater soul according to master Charaka, are also applicable to the individual soul. The qualities and signs of individual soul explained in this context are those which depict life activities attributable to the soul.
Read – Importance Of Soul In Perception Of Knowledge: Atma Jnana

Below mentioned are the qualities and signs of the greater / individual soul:
Pranadi – The soul is characterised by the presence of the below mentioned activities –

  • Prana – sub-type of vata which is located in the head and controls life activities
  • Apana – sub-type of vata occupying the lower zones of the body mainly involved in excretion and expulsion activities
  • Uchchvasa – activity of breathing in of air
  • Nishwasa – activity of breathing out of air
  • Nimesha – closing of eyes
  • Unmesha – opening of the eyelids
    Read – Relieving Negative Feelings With Self Awareness – Case Study

The presence of the above said entities and their activities in an uninterrupted way is an indicator of presence of soul.

Jivana – Jivana means life. The life and all life activities point out towards the presence of soul in the body.

Manaso Gatih – The mind is fluctuant. The minuteness of the mind makes it move very quickly in an unimaginable way from one place to other, from one object to the other and from one subject to the other. These moments of the mind are influenced by the presence of the soul.
Read – 16 Factors To Watch For A Healthy Mind And Body

Manasoh Indriyantara Sancharana – The mind will be quickly moving from one sense organ to the other in order to perceive the objects of the related sense organs. The subtleness and quickness of the mind gives an impression that it is involved with many sense organs simultaneously but the fact is that it is involved with only one sense organ at a time. This movement of the mind in between different sense organs is controlled by the soul itself.

Prerana – It means stimulation or motivation. The soul helps the mind to stimulate and motivate the sense organs to perceive their concerned objects.

Dharana – Dharana means to wear. It is said that the soul wears the physical body. The soul adorns the body along with the mind and thus forms the basis of life (loka).
Read – Impact of Cloth Colour And Material On Body And Mind

Swapne Deshantara Gatih – Since the mind travels quickly, it has a capacity to travel from one place to the other, from one country to the other, where one has never been or at least seen. This is caused due to the involvement of the soul with the mind and sense organs.

Panchatva Grahana – Panchatva means the disintegration of one into the five elements from which he has been created. This happens once the person is dead. Death is caused when the soul leaves the body and when the physical body made up of elements of nature is left behind.

Drishtasya dakshina akshnaa savyena avagamastatha – The knowledge of all substances seen by the right eye are also obtained by the left eye. The vice versa is also true. This is possible due to the presence of the soul in the body.
Read – Meditation By Watching Mind: Stages, Method, Benefits

Ichchadi – Below mentioned are experienced due to the presence and involvement of the soul –

Chetanadi – Below mentioned entities indicate the presence of soul in the body (the soul controls these) –

  • Chetana / chaitanya – presence of life and life activities
  • Dhruti / dharana / dhairya – presence of courage
  • Buddhi / jnana – presence of knowledge
  • Smruti – presence of memory
  • Ahankara / ahambhava – presence of egoism / feeling of selfness

The above mentioned qualities are indicators of the presence of individual soul.

Read – 3 Basic Desires Of Life – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 11

Sixteen qualities of purusha / soul as mentioned by Master Sushruta
The 16 qualities of the soul enlisted by master Sushruta are as below mentioned –

Sl No Quality of
the soul
1 Sukha happiness
2 Dukha grief
3 Ichcha desire
4 Dwesha hatred
5 Prayatna efforts to perform physical, verbal and
mental tasks
6 Unmesha opening of the eyelids
7 Nimesha closing of the eyelids
8 Buddhi intelligence
9 Manah
determination / decision / wish of the mind
10 Vicharana distinction / analysis / thought process /
11 Smriti memory
12 Vijnana consciousness / discernment /
distinguishing / proficiency / wisdom
13 Prana activities of prana vata
14 Apana activities of apana vata
15 Adhyavasaya mental effort / apprehension (activity of intellect)
16 Vishayopalabdhi capability of perceiving objects of senses like
sound, touch, sight, smell and taste

Signs of soul according to Nyaya Darshana
Nyaya Darshana mentions desire, hatred, efforts, happiness, grief and knowledge as the six qualities of soul.
Read – Influence Of Ayurveda in Darshanas: Analysis, Explanation

Signs of the soul explained by Vaisheshika Darshana
According to Vaisheshika Darshana the signs of soul are prana, apana, opening of eyelids, closure of eyelids, life activities and movements of mind and perception of object by one sense organ stimulating the other sense organ, happiness, grief, desire, hatred and effort.  

Indriyantara Vikara – It is a special sign explained in this treatise. In this, an object perceived by a particular sense organ will be responsible to create a stimulus (vikara) in another sense organ. Example – by seeing sweet by the eyes there is salivation in tongue.

Ativahiki Sharira (Subtle Body)

The minute and subtle part of the human body is called Ativahiki Sharira. Ativahiki means inhabitant of the other world.
Read – Shareera: Formation Of Human Body, Ayurvedic Concept

The physical body has its subtle form before the actual physical body is manifested. It seems to inhabit our body from some other world and become causal for the existence of the human body. This is called as ativahiki / sukshma or linga shareera.

Principles of Subtle Body
According to Sankhya Darshana, the subtle body is made up of 17 principles. They are –
Buddhi – the intellect
Ekadasha Indriya – 11 sense organs
1. Pancha Jnanendriya i.e. subtle parts of 5 organs of sense

2. Pancha Karmendriya i.e. subtle parts of 5 organs of action

  • Organ of action of speech – speech apparatus
  • Organ of grasping – hands
  • Organ of locomotion – feet
  • Organ of defecation – anus / rectum
  • Organ of action of sex – penis

3. Ubhayendriya – that which is both an organ of sense and action, i.e. mind
Read – Indriya Pancha Panchaka: 5 Fives Of Sense Organs

 Pancha Tanmatra – five subtle elements

Creation and manifestation of subtle body along with its 18 principles According to Sankhya Karika treatise, the subtle body is made up of 18 principles.

The creation of the subtle body takes place from the pradhana. Pradhana is also called prakriti or purusha which means ‘the great soul / causal nature / God’.

Since the number of lives in the creation is innumerable and every life needs a subtle body, the subtle bodies are innumerable. They are created independently from the God.
Read – Atma – The Soul: Types, Life Cycle

Subtle body with 18 principles – The above said 17 principles when get associated with cosmic egoism, being created by the principle causal nature i.e. prakruti, will be called as ashtadasha tattva samudayatmaka swarupa i.e. subtle body embedded with an accumulation of 18 principles.

When associated with the causal nature, the subtle body is ready to get embedded in a body and be born. The 18 principles forming and present in the subtle body at the time of its creation are –

  • Mahat / Buddhi – the cosmic intelligence
  • Ahankara – the cosmic egoism
  • Ekadasha Indriyas – 11 faculties of sense (five organs of sense + five organs of action + mind)
  • Pancha Tanmatras – 5 subtle elements (subtle forms of sound, touch, sight, taste and smell)
    Read – Purusha: Definition, Types, Characteristic Features

Qualities of subtle body
The subtle body is

The physical body – means for subtle body to experience the results of actions
The subtle body can neither perform any action nor experience results of any actions without a physical body. The subtle body lives in a gross physical body. The physical body forms the abode and the subtle body its resident.

The subtle body can become an upabhokta i.e. experience of the fruits of all actions only when it has a physical body to live in. Being associated with righteous and non-righteous impressions, good and bad experiences, the subtle body keeps wandering. Subtle body cannot exist independently without the presence of an abode in the form of a physical body wherein it needs to reside.
Read – Four pursuits of life – Purushartha Chatushtaya

Subtle body as explained by Master Charaka
Jivatma i.e. the individual soul residing in each living body goes from one body to the other along with 4 subtle elements in an invisible form having the swift movements as that of the mind. Individual soul enters the subtle body depending on the auspicious and inauspicious or righteous and non-righteous deeds done by an individual in the previous birth.

The individual soul will enter any body into which the actions and merits depending on the righteous and non-righteous deeds take him, to experience the fruits of those actions. The individual soul or the subtle body cannot be seen unless one has divine vision.
Read – Meditation By Watching Mind: Stages, Method, Benefits

Subtle body responsible for reincarnation
The subtle body also exists after the death of the physical body. Depending upon the righteous and non-righteous deeds and actions done by that body (person), the individual soul enters another body in the form of subtle body and thus attains rebirth.
Read – Moksha – The Ultimate Spiritual Liberation

Gita Rahasya

Explanation according to Gita Rahasya
According to this, 23 principles are created from the causal nature. From them, if the five elements of nature i.e. earth, wind, water, fire and ether are removed, only 18 principles will be left out. These principles are the cosmic intelligence, cosmic egoism, mind, ten organs of sense and five subtle elements. These 18 principles together constitute subtle principles or subtle body.

The association of these 18 principles with the soul is always stable i.e. the soul and subtle body are never separated. Thus, the body formed by these 18 principles is called linga / sukshma sharira i.e. subtle body. This is totally different from the gross physical body.
Read – 3 Basic Desires Of Life – Charaka Samhita Sutrasthana 11

Liberation of subtle body
When a person dies without acquiring the knowledge of self which leads to self realization, the individual soul will be relieved from the gross physical body made up of five elements of nature but will still be associated with the subtle body consisting of 18 principles. After the death of the person, the subtle body along with the individual soul comes out of the physical body. It will keep entering new physical bodies and keep taking rebirths again and again until the soul gets liberated and obtains salvation. Salvation to the subtle body can be obtained and it may get free from the vicious cycle of life and death only when the person having that subtle body does righteous deeds all through the life and realizes the value of self.
Click to Consult Dr Raghuram Y.S. MD (Ayu) – Email / Skype

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