A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of nyaya and vaisheshika sutras: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the second part in the series called the “the nyaya-vaisheshika philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 2 - Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika sūtras

It is very probable that the earliest beginnings of Nyāya are to be found in the disputations and debates amongst scholars trying to find out the right meanings of the Vedic texts for use in sacrifices and also in those disputations which took place between the adherents of different schools of thought trying to defeat one another. I suppose that such disputations occurred in the days of the Upaniṣads, and the art of disputation was regarded even then as a subject of study, and it probably passed then by the name of vākovākya. Mr Bodas has pointed out that Apastamba who according to Bühler lived before the third century B.C. used the word Nyāya in the sense of Mīmāmsā[1]. The word Nyāya derived from the root is sometimes explained as that by which sentences and words could be interpreted as having one particular meaning and not another, and on the strength of this even Vedic accents of words (which indicate the meaning of compound words by pointing out the particular kind of compound in which the words entered into combination) w'ere called Nyāya[2]. Prof. Jacobi on the strength of Kautilya’s enumeration of the vidyā (sciences) as Anvīkṣikī (the science of testing the perceptual and scriptural knowledge by further scrutiny), trayī (the three Vedas), vārttā (the sciences of agriculture, cattle keeping etc.), and dandanīti (polity), and the enumeration of the philosophies as Sāṃkhya, Yoga, Lokāyata and Anvīkṣikī, supposes that the Nyāya sūtra was not in existence in Kautilya’s time 300 B.C.)[3].

Kautilya’s reference to Nyāya as Anvīkṣikī only suggests that the word Nyāya was not a familiar name for Anvīkṣikī in Kautilya’s time. He seems to misunderstand Vātsyāyana in thinking that Vātsyāyana distinguishes Nyāya from the Anvīkṣikī in holding that while the latter only means the science of logic the former means logic as well as metaphysics. What appears from Vātsyāyana’s statement in Nyāya sūtra I. i. r is this that he points out that the science which was known in his time as Nyāya was the same as was referred to as Anvīkṣikī by Kautilya. He distinctly identifies Nyāyavidyā with Anvīkṣikī, but justifies the separate enumeration of certain logical categories such as saviśaya (doubt) etc., though these were already contained within the first two terms Pramāṇa (means of cognition) and prameya (objects of cognition), by holding that unless these its special and separate branches (pṛthakprasthāna) were treated, Nyāyavidyā would simply become metaphysics (adhyātmavidyā) like the Upaniṣads.

The old meaning of Nyāya as the means of determining the right meaning or the right thing is also agreed upon by Vātsyāyana and is sanctioned by Vācaspati in his Nyāyavārt-tikatātparyaṭīkā I. i. 1). He compares the meaning of the word Nyāya (Pramāṇairarthaparīkṣaṇam —to scrutinize an object by means of logical proof) with the etymological meaning of the word ānvīkṣikī (to scrutinize anything after it has been known by perception and scriptures). Vātsyāyana of course points out that so far as this logical side of Nyāya is concerned it has the widest scope for itself as it includes all beings, all their actions, and all the sciences[4]. He quotes Kautilya to show that in this capacity Nyāya is like light illumining all sciences and is the means of all works. In its capacity as dealing with the truths of metaphysics it may show the way to salvation.

I do not dispute Prof. Jacobi’s main point that the metaphysical portion of the work was a later addition, for this seems to me to be a very probable view. In fact Vātsyāyana himself designates the logical portion as a pṛthakprasthāna (separate branch). But I do not find that any statement of Vātsyāyana or Kautilya can justify us in concluding that this addition was made after Kautilya. Vātsyāyana has no doubt put more stress on the importance of the logical side of the work, but the reason of that seems to be quite obvious, for the importance of metaphysics or adhyātmavidyā was acknowledged by all. But the importance of the mere logical side would not appeal to most people. None of the dharmaśāstras (religious scriptures) or the Vedas would lend any support to it, and Vātsyāyana had to seek the support of Kautilya in the matter as the last resource. The fact that Kautilya was not satisfied by counting Anvīkṣikī as one of the four vidyās but also named it as one of the philosophies side by side with Sāṃkhya seems to lead to the presumption that probably even in Kautilya’s time Nyāya was composed of two branches, one as adhyātmavidyā and another as a science of logic or rather of debate.

This combination is on the face of it loose and external, and it is not improbable that the metaphysical portion was added to increase the popularity of the logical part, which by itself might not attract sufficient attention. Mahāmahopādhyāya Haraprasāda Śāstrī in an article in the Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society 1905 says that as Vācaspati made two attempts to collect the Nyāya sūtras, one as Nyāyasūci and the other as Nyāyasūtroddhāra, it seems that even in Vācaspati’s time he was not certain as to the authenticity of many of the Nyāya sūtras. He further points out that there are unmistakable signs that many of the sūtras were interpolated, and relates the Buddhist tradition from China and Japan that Mirok mingled Nyāya and Yoga.

He also thinks that the sūtras underwent two additions, one at the hands of some Buddhists and another at the hands of some Hindu who put in Hindu arguments against the Buddhist ones. These suggestions of this learned scholar seem to be very probable, but we have no clue by which we can ascertain the time when such additions were made. The fact that there are unmistakable proofs of the interpolation of many of the sūtras makes the fixing of the date of the original part of the Nyāya sūtras still more difficult, for the Buddhist references can hardly be of any help, and Prof. Jacobi’s attempt to fix the date of the Nyāya sūtras on the basis of references to Sūṅyavāda naturally loses its value, except on the supposition that all references to Śūnyavāda must be later than Nāgārjuna, which is not correct, since the Mahāyāna sūtras written before Nāgārjuna also held the Sūṅyavāda doctrine.

The late Dr S. C. Vidyābhūṣaṇa in J.R.A.S. 1918 thinks that the earlier part of Nyāya was written by Gautama about 550 B.C. whereas the Nyāya sūtras of Akṣapāda were written about 150 A.D. and says that the use of the word Nyāya in the sense of logic in Mahābhārata I. I. 67, I. 70. 42-51, must be regarded as interpolations. He, however, does not give any reasons in support of his assumption. It appears from his treatment of the subject that the fixing of the date of Akṣapāda was made to fit in somehow with his idea that Akṣapāda wrote his Nyāya sūtras under the influence of Aristotle—a supposition which does not require serious refutation, at least so far as Dr Vidyābhūṣaṇa has proved it. Thus after all this discussion we have not advanced a step towards the ascertainment of the date of the original part of the Nyāya. Goldstūcker says that both Patañjali (140 B.C.) and Kātyāyana (fourth century B.C.) knew the Nyāya sūtras[5]. We know that Kautilya knew the Nyāya in some form as Anvīkṣikī in 300 B.C., and on the strength of this we may venture to say that the Nyāya existed in some form as early as the fourth century B.C. But there are other reasons which lead me to think that at least some of the present sūtras were written some time in the second century A.D. Bodas points out that Bādarāyaṇa s sūtras make allusions to the Vaiśeṣika doctrines and not to Nyāya.

On this ground he thinks that Vaiśeṣika sūtras were written before Bādarāyana’s Brahma-sūtras , whereas the Nyāya sūtras were written later. Candrakānta Tarkālaṃkāra also contends in his edition of Vaiśeṣika that the Vaiśeṣika sūtras were earlier than the Nyāya. It seems to me to be perfectly certain that the Vaiśeṣika sūtras were written before Caraka (80 A.D.); for he not only quotes one of the Vaiśeṣika sūtras , but the whole foundation of his medical physics is based on the Vaiśeṣika physics[6]. The Laṅkāvatāra sūtra (which as it was quoted . by Aśvaghoṣa is earlier than 80 A.D.) also makes allusions to the atomic doctrine. There are other weightier grounds, as we shall see later on, for supposing that the Vaiśeṣika sūtras are probably pre-Buddhistic[7].

It is certain that even the logical part of the present Nyāya sūtras was preceded by previous speculations on the subject by thinkers of other schools. Thus in commenting on I. i. 32 in which the sūtra states that a syllogism consists of five premisses (avayava) Vātsyāyana says that this sūtra was written to refute the views of those who held that there should be ten premisses[8]. The Vaiśeṣika sūtras also give us some of the earliest types of inference, which do not show any acquaintance with the technic of the Nyāya doctrine of inference[9].

Footnotes and references:


Āpastamba , trans. by Biihler, Introduction, p. xxvii., and Bodas’s article on the Historical Survey of Indian Logic in the Bombay Branch of J.R. A.S., vol. xix.


Kālidāsa’s KumārasambhavaUdghāto praṇavo yāsām nyāyaistribhirudīraṇam,’’ also Mallinātha’s gloss on it.


Prof. Jacobi’s “The early history of Indian Philosophy,” Indian Antiquary, 1918.


Vena, prayuktah pravarttate tat prayojanam (that by which one is led to act is called prayojanam); yamartham abhīpsan jihāsan vā karma ārabhate tenānena sarve prāṇinaḥ sarvāṇi karmām sarvāśca vidyāḥ vyñptñh tadāśrayāśca nyāyaḥ pravarttate (all those which one tries to have or to fly from are called prayojana, therefore all beings, all their actions, and all sciences, are included within prayojana, and all these depend on Nyāya). Vātsyāyana bhāṣya, 1. i. 1.


Goldstiicker’s Pāṇini , p. 157.


Caraka, Śārīra, 39.


See the next section.


Vātsyāyana’s Bhāsya on the Nyāya sūtras, 1. i. 32. This is undoubtedly a reference to the Jaina view as found in Daśavaikālikaniryukti as noted before.


Nyāya sūtra I. i. 5, and Vaiśeṣika sūtras IX. ii. 1-2, 4-5, and III. i. 8-17.

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