A comparative study between Buddhism and Nyaya

by Roberta Pamio | 2021 | 71,952 words

This page relates ‘The Meaning of Kalpana’ of the study on perception in the context of Buddhism compared to Nyaya (a system of Hindu philosophy). These pages researches the facts and arguments about the Buddhist theory of perception and its concerned doctrines while investigating the history of Buddhist epistemology (the nature of knowledge). The Nyaya school (also dealing with epistemology) considers ‘valid knowledge’ the means for attaining the ultimate goal of life (i.e., liberation).

6.2. The Meaning of Kalpanā

Diṅnāga and Dharmakīrti state that kalpanā is what completely separates anumāna from pratyakṣa. Where there is kalpanā, there is anumāna, in other words, where there is pratyakṣa, there must not be kalpanā. Pratyakṣa must not be associated with even the slightest bit of kalpanā; anumāna must be associated atleast with the slightest bit of kalpanā.

For them, pratyakṣa must be absolutely free from kalpanā. If any knowledge associates even with the slightest bit of kalpanā; it is inferential knowledge or indirect knowledge (anumāna).[1] This is the fundamental principle, for Diṅnāga and Dharmakīrti, to prove the validity of pratyakṣa. Kalpanā (conceptual construction) means the process of associating a name, genus, substance, quality and action with things.

B.K. Matilal explains:

“Human beings conceptualise an object with the help of words, and then, in search of the meanings of words, we objectify concepts. But the objectivity of concepts and complexes of concepts, i.e., the meanings of words and sentences, is only a borrowed objectivity, a sort of make-believe. Moreover, they originate from our desire, craving, will and conceit. Our language, therefore, is invented for our convenience, but it immediately becomes a tangled mask that deceives us at every step.”[2]

According to Dharmakīrti, kalpanā is a process of knowing which is associated with verbal designation. This connection happens when the content and the verbal designation are known in one sweep, so the two are felt to be one. Even the new born baby’s knowledge is not devoid of ideation, as the baby, too identifies the mother’s breasts and stops crying when its mouth is put to it.[3] This identification assumes a relation between a present sensation with a past experience and this identification has all the ability for verbal connection, which is the source of relational thought in adult mind. The test of conceptual construction is found in the indefinite presentation of the content (aniyatapratibhāsatvat) and this indefiniteness is because of the absence of sense-data, which alone is the reason of a definite invariable presentation. Here the objective data is not there before the senses and the conceptual thought arises without this objective reality, due to the presentation of content there is no vividness of direct perceptual knowledge. Conceptual knowledge has a past and a future idea and recognizes the past and the present data of experience and so is reliable being dependent upon and determined by a living fact. Conceptual construction which is not dependent on live fact and so is neither authenticated nor reliable as proof of objective reality.

Diṅnāga on the other hand defines kalpanā in his work Nyāyamukha, as the connection of class characters (jāti), quality (guṇa), action (kriyā), substance (dravya) and name (saṃjñā). This definition of Diṅnāga criticised on the basis of that they are not objective reality but imaginary constructions so cannot be connected with a real object because connection is possible when there are two real things like milk and water. Thus, the connection between conceptual constructions and the universal etc. is unholdable. If it is hold that the association between conceptual constructions and the universal, quality, action and substance, then the position becomes similar to the realists who maintain the objective existence of these universals etc. and hence the definition will not consistent with his theory. Therefore, Diṅnāga committed a mistake by using looseness of expression or confusion of thought or both.[4]

Śāntarakṣīta and Kamalaśila try to resolve the problem created by Diṅnāga by holding that the definition indicates both the realists thought as well as the Buddhists thought. The realists who maintained that conceptual thought is always connected with universals on the other hand, the Buddhists who maintained that it is associated merely with name. Thus, the realists’ position is to be refused and the Buddhist position is to be admitted.

The realist does not agree with Śāntarakṣīta and Kamalaśila. According to realists, the explanation given by Śāntarakṣīta and Kamalaśila does not match with Diṅnāga’s explanation. The explanatory note given by Diṅnāga discusses that when there are proper names like Devdatta which is indicated is a thing qualified by a name, when there are common nouns like “cow” what is indicated is a thing qualified by the universal “cow”, when there are adjectives like “yellow”, what is showed is the thing qualified by the characteristic of “yellowness”, when there are verbal nouns, what is indicated, is the thing qualified by the action, and when there are words indicating substances like stick holder what is indicated is the thing qualified by substance. This note provided by Diṅnāga shows that objects qualified by the characteristics of the “universal” etc are also indicated by words in a separate manner.

Kamalaśīla answers the objection by saying-

“The note given by Diṅnāga is not inconsistent with his general position. Just as when proper names are pronounced, what is denoted is the object qualified by the name, so also in the case of words expressive of the universals etc. like “cow” what is denoted is the object qualified by that name, similarly in all cases objects are denoted by the name; similarly in all cases objects are denoted qualified by a name.”[5]

The realist objects to this unnatural explanation of Diṅnaga’s notes provided by Kamalaśila by showing that it is not consistent with the Diṅnāga’s definition of perception where verbal content has been showed as associated with universal (viśeṣaṇa) and name (abhidhāyaka).[6] Kamalaśila rejects the objection of realist by showing that the definition includes both the views of the Buddhist and also of the realist. He provides two expositions for this definition. As per the first exposition it includes both the views of Buddhist as well as the realist. He uses the word “viśeṣeṇa” or “qualifying adjunct” for the universal and the term “abhidhāyaka” or “denotative adjunct” for the name. Hence, Perception is devoid of verbal content connected with universal and name. The second exposition indicates the purely Buddhist view of Kalpanā. Here the word “viśeṣaṇa” denotes “differentiation” and the term “abhidhāyaka” denotes denoter of this “differentiation” and not of the universal. The term jātiyojanā or connection with universal is not a necessary addition to the definition of the conceptual construction only verbal association i.e. nāmayojāna itself sufficient to show it. Even Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla admitted that verbal connection was satisfactory to show the particular role of kalpanā.[7]

To avoid this argumentation Dharmakīrti does not include the word “jāti” in the definition of kalpanā and he defines it as a distinct cognition of mental reflex which is capable of coalescing or being associated with a verbal designation. This connection happens when the denoted object and the term indicating it are grasped in same cognition and it appears to the grasper that both factors are non-separable part of one connected and inalienable whole. For instance: a man sees a table with his sense-organ i.e. eyes. At this time he does not recognize what he saw. But immediately after this cognition his knowledge becomes articulable and he feels that the thing seen by him was a “table”. Now the statement “thing seen was a table” is the outcome of conceptual construction or “kalpanā”. He includes the word “yogya” or “competent” in the definition of kalpanā in order to exclude statements of new born babies who cannot speak but whose actions indicates judgement.[8]

Stcherbatsky advocates the concept of kalpanā given by Dharmakīrti, Dharmottara, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśila and maintains that it equivalents to our discernment and especially to a discernment in which the subject shows by the predicate, for instance “this is that.” The statement “this is Dittha” indicates nāmakalpanā, “this is a patch of red colour” indicates guṇakalpanā, “this is a cat” is jātikalpanā. This is known as the “epistemological” form of judgement and every judgement is reduced to this form. It can be also called construction, a division, and an imagination as it indicates both i.e. “blue and not blue”.

Footnotes and references:


Anumāna has been translated as indirect cognition, because it never directly cognises the real essence of things, just indirectly cognises (recognises) image of external things which is constructed bu intellectual mind, not by the external things. Let us say that sense-consciousness cognises objects is pratyakṣa (direct cognition) because it directly cognises objects. But for anumāna, mind with intellectual activity recognises its objects i.e. sāmānyalakṣaṇa.


B.K. Matilal, An Essay on Classical Indian Theories of Knowledge, p. 310.


Th. Stcherbatsky, op.cit, Vol.II, p.328.


S. Mookerjee, Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux, p.284.


C. L. Tripathi, op.cit., p. 90.


Nyāyamukha, p. 372.


C.L. Tripathi, op.cit., p. 92.


S. Mookerjee, op.cit., p.282.

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