A colleague from the Savitribai Phule Pune University, Prof. Muzaffar Ali, sent us this question concerning K.C. Bhattacharya. Can readers help?
“To reflect on the feeling of pain is necessarily to wish to be free from it. To wish anything is to think that it may be attained. To necessarily wish something is to believe that it not only may but can be attained, that it cannot be unattainable. The necessary wish for freedom from pain is then the unquestionable belief that it can be attained. The necessity of the wish further implies that it is constitutive of the feeling of pain which yet is distinct from it. The wish presupposes the belief in the facthood of pain and yet if the wish were absent, there would be no feeling of pain, for what is not wished to be terminated is not felt pain. The wish for freedom is the reflective self or reason itself which thus has to be regarded as conditioning the facthood of pain and as therefore, acting suicidally. Reflection on pain, though implying the possibility of freedom from it, is in this sense an evil, the potentiality of pain. Reflection thus develops into reflection on itself as evil, freedom from which too is necessarily wished. The wish for freedom from the reflective wish to be free from pain is spiritual wish, the latter wish being secular. It is the necessary wish for absolute freedom, freedom not only from pain, but from the potentiality of pain, and implies the belief not only that it can be attained but also that it has already begun to be attained. The belief in mukti is belief not only in its possibility but also in its actuality and in the indefinite realisability of the actuality.”
K. C. Bhattacharya (hereafter KCB) starts the chapter “Pain as Evil” from his Studies in Sāṅkhya Philosophy with this paragraph after offering a brief definition of what mukti stands for. I have been trying hard to grasp the meaning of this dense paragraph and after numerous readings, I am still at doubt.
According to my naïve understanding KCB argues that within our consciousness there is a parallel and simultaneous movement of two strains: One of the feeling of pain and the other (in the form of a wish) of the reflection to get rid of it. The simultaneous presence of these two opposing strains forms the core of contradictory character of pain, as one strain constantly tries to oppose the other. Yet both exist. Later on he attempts to divide the wish for freedom or mukti into a) secular wish and b) spiritual wish.
It seems to me that according to KCB secular wish is the “reflective wish” (one which accompanies the feeling of pain) to get rid of pain as a fact i.e. pain as being felt by consciousness. Spiritual wish on the other hand is something more complex. It attempts to get rid of not only pain but of the secular wish as well. Only the spiritual wish can lead to absolute freedom or mukti. Is this interpretation right? Is spiritual wish more holistic than the secular one? What is the rationale behind dividing the wish for mukti into two?
Apart from a brief mention of KCB in Classical Sāṃkhya: An Interpretation of Its History and Meaning by Gerald James Larson, I have not been able to find any secondary source which can of help in grasping the nuances of KCB’s creative understanding of pain and mukti. At the end I decided to post it on the blog to get help from scholars of Indian philosophy across the globe.