A comparative study between Buddhism and Nyaya

by Roberta Pamio | 2021 | 71,952 words

This page relates ‘Kinds of Perception according to Naiyayikas’ 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).

4. Kinds of Perception according to Naiyāyikas

Naiyāyikas divide perception into two broad categories:

  1. laukika which is also known as ordinary and
  2. alaukika which is known as extra-ordinary.[1]

It is also called normal and supernormal perception.

1) Laukika Pratyakṣa

According to Naiyāyikas, ordinary perception happens when there is ordinary contact of the sense organs with their objects (laukika sannikarṣa). The laukika perception further divides in two classes: external (bāhya) perception and Internal (mānasa) perception.

Naiyāyikas maintain that there are five external sense-organs and one internal sense–organ which is already stated. Each sense-organ has a specific object of its own which means different sense-organs have different objects. The external sense-organs are composed of material elements. The visual sense organ is composed of fire (tejas). Hence it is the organ of the perception of colour, with particular quality of fire. The auditory organ is composed of ether (ākāśa). Hence the auditory organ is the organ of the perception of sound, with the particular quality of ether (ākāśa). The tactual organ is composed of air. Hence tactual organ is organ of perception of touch, with the specific quality of air. The gustatory organ is composed of water. Hence it is the organ of the perception of taste, the specific quality of water. The olfactory organ is composed of earth. Hence it is the organ of the perception of smell with particular quality of earth. Being physical in nature, the external sense organs are made of material elements whose particular qualities are apprehended by them. On the other hand, the mind (manas) is the internal organ. It is not physical in nature. It is not made of physical elements. Mind is the organ of the perception of the qualities of the soul. The objects which are external are apprehended by the external senses while the qualities of the soul are apprehended by the internal organ. The mind peruses the works of the external senses.

Laukika perception is again classified into two types:

  1. nirvikalpaka and
  2. savikalpaka.

Nirvikalpaka is also known as indeterminate perception and savikalpaka as determinate perception. Various definitions of indeterminate and determinate perception discussed by the Naiyāyikas are follows:

Savikalpaka and Nirvikalpaka Pratyakṣa

The Prācina-Naiyāyika and the Navya-Naiyāyika both have maintained the existence of the nirvikalpaka and savikalpaka pratyakṣa. Some logicians believe that indeterminate is not at all a kind of perception and thus all perceptions are determinate in nature. But Naiyāyikas maintain that nirvikalpaka is also a case of perception as savikalpaka is. Literally nirvikalpaka indicates that in which there is no vikalpa while savikalpaka indicates that in which there is a vikalpa. The word vikalpa refers to name, universal, a quality or a relation of “character-characterised” (viśeṇaṇa-viśeṣya-bhāva). So, nirvikalpaka perception is a perception which is not related with name, universal, quality or relation of characteriser-characterised.

In Nyāyasūtra, Gautama has not classified perception into nirvikalpaka and savikalapaka prayakṣa. He discusses the word avyapadeśya which means not connected with a name although, the old Naiyāyikas name it as nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa.

He describes the word vyavasāyātmaka as determinate perception. The old Naiyāyikas name it as savikalpaka pratyakṣa.

Vātsyāyana in his Nyāyabhāṣya identifies a perception which is without name which may be called nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa. An object may be grasped even without an experience of its name. When a thing is perceived along with its name and their connection to each other, it is said to be perceived by determinate perception. Both determinate and indeterminate has the similar object but determinate perception apprehends an additional factor, viz., the name of its object revived in memory by association.[2]

According to Vācaspati Miśra:

“Both the universal and the particulars constituting an object are cognized in indeterminate perception, they are not brought under the substantive-adjective relation (viśeṣyaviśesaṇasaṃbandhānavagāhi)”[3].

The definite knowledge of an object characterised by its general character, particular character and other qualities is known as determinate perception.[4]

Jayanta Bhaṭṭa maintains the object of both indeterminate and determinate perception is similar. The difference between the two is the indeterminate is free from all reference to a name[5] and thus free from verbal images, whereas determinate perceives the name of the object and is thus mixed up with verbal images. Both kinds of perception perceive generality, quality, substantiality and action. According to Jayanta Bhaṭṭa, the indeterminate perception is without name, dumb and inarticulate whereas the determinate perception is with name and articulate. Hence determinate perception is different from indeterminate perception while perceiving the name of its object.[6]

Gaṅgeśa the scholar of Navya-Nyāya school defines indeterminate perception as: “The non relational apprehension of an object free from all associations of name, genus and the like. It is the knowledge of an object as not characterised in anyway.”[7]

Determinate perception as “an object is known as related to certain qualities.[8]

Viśvanātha elaborates the view of Gaṅgeśa. He defines indeterminate perception as:

“The apprehension of an object and its generic character as unrelated to each other immediately after the intercourse of a sense-organ with the object. For instance, immediately after the contact of a jar with the visual organ we cannot perceive it as belonging to the class of jars; we perceive the mere jar (ghaṭa) and mere jarness (genus for jar, ghaṭatva) without their mutual connections.”[9]

With the help of determinate perception one can perceive the connection between an object and its general character, and apprehend it as belonging to a particular class.

According to Viśvanātha, indeterminate perception is not an object of perception. It apprehends an object and its generic character, but it does not perceive the relation between them. It does not apprehend any subject-predicate relation. Also it cannot be appropriated by the self because it is purely non-relational in character. A cognition can be appropriate by the self only when it apprehends a property (ghaṭatva) as qualifying an object (ghaṭa). For instance, when the self has the determinate perception of a jar as qualified by its generic character, it can appropriate it and distinctly apprehend it as its own experience. Here the cognition of the jar qualifies the self-appropriated cognition (anuvyavasāya). The jar qualifies the cognition of the jar. And the generic character of the jar (ghaṭatva) qualifies the jar. All these qualifications qualify the self-appropriated determinate perception of the jar. But in indeterminate perception there is no apprehension of any qualifications (viśeṣaṇa) as qualifying an object (viśeṣya). Though the person apprehends an object and its generic character, it does not apprehend the relation between them. It cannot apprehend the object as qualified by its generic character. So, indeterminate is not an object of perception. It is supersenuous and imperceptible.[10]

Keśava Miśra maintains that indeterminate perception apprehends only the existence of the object without its qualification like name, class etc. while on the other hand determinate perception apprehends the object with its qualification like name, class etc. It perceives the relation between the object and its qualification.[11] According to him, the definite and concrete knowledge is apprehended by determinate perception. The indeterminate perception is the cognition of an object as something. The determinate is the apprehension of an object as having a certain name, belonging to a certain class, or as having a certain quality.[12]

According to Keśava Miśra to produce an effect three factors are involved. There is an instrument (karaṇa); there is an operation of the instrument (vyāpāra); there is a result (phala). For instance: when a tree is cut by an axe. Here axe is the instrument, the union of the axe, with the tree is the operation of the axe, and the cutting tree is the result. So, these are the three factors involved in every perception. In indeterminate perception after senseobject-contact, the sense organ is the instrument, the sense object contact is the operation and indeterminate perception is the result of the operation. In determinate perception after indeterminate perception, the contact of sense organ with object is the instrument, indeterminate perception is the operation, and determinate perception is the result. When after determinate perception we perceive that the object ought to be accepted or rejected or neither accepted nor rejected, indeterminate perception is the instrument (karaṇa), determinate perception is the intermediate agency (vyāpāra) and the apprehension of acceptability, rejectability or neutrality of the object is the result (phala).[13]

According to Annam Bhaṭṭa niṣprakāraka is nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa. Here the term niṣprakāraka indicates which is without any prakāra or qualifier. Prakāra means “something having some character” (i.e viśesana).

“An indeterminate or nirvikalpaka perception is a cognition which does not apprehend the relation between the qualifier and the qualificand.”[14]

But in the case of determinate perception there is the apprehension of the relation between the qualifier and the qualificand. When a jar is known, there is apprehension of qualifier (i.e jarness), qualificand (jar) and their relation (i.e. inherence).

Bhāsarvajña in Nyāyasāra defines indeterminate perception as:

“Apprehension of the bare nature of an object immediately after peripheral stimulation.”[15]

He maintains that yogi[16] and ayogi[17] are another types of perception. In Nyāyasārapadapañcikā on Nyāyasāra, Vāsudeva mentions that immediately after the contact of an object with a sense-organ there is no recollection of its relation to a name and other qualifications. So there is only an immediate apprehension of the mere existence of the object apart from its qualities. And this is called indeterminate perception.

In Tārkikarakṣā, Varadarāja defines indeterminate perception as an object which is free from all qualifications like name, class, quality, action, substance etc. and determinate perception perceives an object with these qualifications.[18]

To conclude, nirvikalpaka pratyakṣa is a cognition which includes particular and universal. It is not self-conscious state of knowledge. It is knowledge of an object which is not characterised. It is the basis of determinate knowledge and lastly it is the first stage in the process of perceptual knowledge while on the other hand savikalpaka is a knowledge qualified by qualifications. It is expressed in a word and it does not add anything that is not included in the object itself.


In Laukika perception, Nyāya adds pratyabhijñā which means recognition. It is recognition of a thing, i.e., a cognition of it as that what was perceived before. In it we understand immediately that the object which we perceive now is the same as that was perceived before. For instance: when one says: “This must be same woman who helped me yesterday.”

2) Alaukika Pratyakṣa

The alaukika pratyakṣa which is also known as supernormal perception and extra ordinary perception is of three types viz.,

  1. sāmānyalakṣaṇa,
  2. jñānalakṣaṇa and
  3. yogaja.

Sāmānyalakṣaṇa Pratyakṣa

Sāmānyalakṣaṇa pratyakṣa is the general apprehension of a class or the perception of class. In alaukika pratyakṣa the objects are not directly close to sense, but are communicated to it by an extraordinary medium. In it there is a special kind of senseobject contact (alaukika sannikarṣa).

Naiyāyikas maintain that:

sāmānyalakṣaṇa is the perception of a whole class of objects through the generic property (sāmānya) perceived in any individual member of that class.”[19]

It relies on the presentative knowledge. It is a kind of genuine perception. For instance: when one perceives something as a cow one understands it as belonging to the class of cows. To understand that the thing belongs to the class of cows is also to understand all other cows belonging to same class. To say that “this is a cow” is to know, by implication, what all other cows are. Thus in perceiving one thing as a cow one perceives all other cows. Here one may argue that how can there be any perception of the other cows which are not presented to senses?

According to Naiyāyikas, when one perceives a cow he also perceives the universal “cowness” as its defining property. It is this perception of the universal “cowness” in the present cow that work as contact (āsatti) between sense and all other cows. The medium of the sense-object contact is the knowledge of the universal (sāmānya jñāna), through which one has perception of all cows when a cow is perceived.[20] It may be argued that sāmānyalakṣaṇa a perception is capable of making each of us omniscient because if all things of a class are known with the perception of any of them, one should know all knowable things when one perceives anything of the world as belonging to the class of knowable. The Naiyāyikas answer that in sāmānyalakṣaṇa one perceives only one member of a class as an individual with its specific and general properties, whereas the other members are known as possessing the general property or the universal alone. Hence one cannot sure to have complete knowledge of all object, which is implied by omniscience.

Jñānalakṣaṇa Pratyakṣa

The Jñānalakṣaṇa pratyakṣa or acquired perception of an object is in contact with sense through a previous knowledge of itself.[21] For instance: I look at a blooming Jasmine from a distance and say “I see a fragrant Jasmine”, he has an immediate perception of its fragrance. This cannot be understood without jñānalakṣaṇa. It is an extraordinary perception and also the “complicated perception” by union. Here different sensations become united and create one integrated perception. In example one may ask how can fragrance be seen? It can only be smelt. Naiyāyikas say it is true that fragrance can be apprehended by sense-organ of smell and not by the visual perception which perceives only colour. Here the visual perception of the Jasmine revives in memory the idea of fragrance by union, which was perceived in the past by the nose. The perception of the fragrant Jasmine of the eye therefore, is called Jñanalakṣaṇa perception. Some other examples of it are: “ice looks cold”, “tea looks hot”, “cotton looks soft” etc.

But Advaitins do not agree with the Nyāya theory of Jñanalakṣaṇa perception. According to them the knowledge of fragrance in the distantly placed Jasmine is nothing but a case of inference.

Yogaja Pratyakṣa

The third kind of an extraordinary perception is called yogaja pratyakṣa. Jayanta Bhaṭṭa explains yogic perception:

“As the perception of subtle, hidden, remote, past and future objects and considers it to be the highest excellence of human perception.”[22]

By the help of continuous practice of meditation, the minds of yogis can have the immediate knowledge of all knowable things. The minds of ordinary people is impure because of the taints of love, hatred etc and cannot achieve the highest knowledge while on the other hand, the mind of yogis are devoid of impurities can apprehend all objects. Hence they have the power to perceive all things with their pure minds devoid of all taints by constant concentration.[23]

According to Jayanta Bhaṭṭa:

“The yogis perceive all objects in all places through a single cognition simultaneously.”[24]

The contradictory objects like blue, yellow etc. are perceived through a variegated cognition (citrapratyaya). It may be argued that if the yogic perception perceives all past, present and future and remote objects through a single cognition, then it is not different from divine perception. Jayanta Bhaṭṭa replies that eternality is there in divine perception and human yogic perception is non eternal. It may be asked that there is no scope for meditation with regard to unperceived objects and moral laws (dharma) which are established by the study of the Vedas and that, as a result, yogic perception cannot perceive them. Jayanta

Bhaṭṭa replies that:

“The yogis first acquire the knowledge of moral laws from the Vedas, meditate on them repeatedly, and then acquire the yogic perception of them without the help of the Vedas, but that God’s knowledge of moral law is natural and not acquired and that he is the creator of the Vedas and the promulgator of moral laws”.[25]

Yogic perception is valid because it perceives the true nature of things.

The yogaja pratyakṣa being intuitive is related to only yogins who, with the help of super-human powers can cognize object which are not perceptible to others.[26] Yogaja pratyakṣa is the intercourse brought about by meditation (yogaja sannikarṣa). By intense meditation a peculiar merit is created in the self. By this the self can cognize past, future, remote, hidden and subtle things. Yogaja perception is intuitive in nature.

There are two types of yogic perception, viz.,

1) Yukta: The yukta is intuitive perception of a yogin who has achieved harmony with God. It is constant and spontaneous.

2) Yuñjāna: The yuñjāna is the intuitive perception of a yogin who is trying to achieve with God. There is the aid of concentration is required to cognize all objects. It requires the effort of attention.[27]

The yogaja pratyakṣa has been admitted by almost all the schools of Indian Philosophy. It is known as kevalajñāna of Jaina, buddhi of the Buddhists, kaivalya of the Sāṃkhyas and sākṣātkāra of the vedāntis.

Footnotes and references:


S. Chatterjee, op.cit., p.166.


C.D. Sharma, op.cit., p.195.


Avyapadeśya jātyādisvarūpāvagāhi na tu jātādīnām mitho viśeṣaṇaviśeṣyabhāvāvagāhīni yāvat. Nyāyavārtīkatātparyaṭīkā , on Nyāyasūtra , 1.1.4.


S.C. Vidyabhusana, op.cit., p.137.


Śabdollekhavivarjita. Nyāyamañjari , p.99.


C. D. Bijalwan, op.cit., p.120.


S. Bhattacharya, Gaṅgesa Theory of Indeterminate Perception, p.4.


Ibid., p.10.


SM., p.58.




nirvikalpakaṃ nāmajātyādiyojanāhīnaṃ kiñccididamiti jñānaṃ jāyate. TB., pp.36


savikalpakaṃ nāmajātyādiyojanātmakam. Ibid., p.37.


Y.V. Athalye and M.R. Bodas, op.cit., pp. 215-216.


vastuvarūpamātrāvabhāsakaṃ nirvikalpakaṃ yathā prathamākṣasan nipātajaṃ jñānaṃ. Nsār., p.4.


yogipratyakṣāsyāsmadādipratyakṣaḍṛṣantavalena vedvyavādādau tadeva lakṣayati. Ibid. p.7.


tartar ayogipratyakṣaṃprakāśadeśokāladharmādyanugrahādidiyārthasaṃbandhaviśeṣaṇa sthūlārthagrāhakaṃ. Ibid. P.7.


TR., P.60.


C.D. Sharma, op.cit., p.196.


S. Chatterjee, op.cit., p.229.


Ibid., p.238.


Darśanasya paro” tiśayaḥ sūkṣmavyavahitaviprakṛṣṭabhūtabhaviṣyadādiviṣayatvam. Nyāyamañjari , p.103.


Nyāyamañjari , p.106.


Ibid., p.107.


Ibid., p.108.


Yogajadharma sannikarṣeṇa ca yoginām vastumātsya pratyakṣaṃ manasā janyate. TK., p.9.


SM., pp. 274-285.

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