Yoga-sutras (Ancient and Modern Interpretations)

by Makarand Gopal Newalkar | 2017 | 82,851 words | ISBN-13: 9780893890926

This page relates ‘Astika Darshana (1): Nyaya School’ of the English translation of the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali: an ancient Indian tradition spanning over 5000 years old dealing with Yoga:—Meditating the mind on the Atma leading to the realization of self. This study interprets the Yogasutras in light of both ancient and modern commentaries (e.g., Vyasa and Osho) while supporting both Sankhya and Vedanta philosophies.

Part 3a - Āstika Darśana (1): Nyāya School

Nyāya system also otherwise known as tarka is based on the principles of logic and reasoning. It believes in the existence of an external world independent of all thinking mind.

The basic text of nyāya system is Gautama’s nyāyasūtra written probably around 550 BC[1] . There have been numerous subsequent commentaries to the nyāyasūtras.

Pramāṇas (means of valid knowledge):

One of the important aspects that every Indian philosophy deals with is the problem of knowledge i.e. what the valid knowledge or truth is and what are the means of valid knowledge (pramāṇa).

According to nyāya system, there are four means of valid knowledge.[2]

  1. Perception (pratyakṣa),
  2. Inference (anumāna),
  3. Comparison (upamāna) and
  4. Word (śabda).

Perception (pratyakṣa)—

This can be defined as cognition borne out of sense and relationship between sense organs and objects. However, later naiyāyikas defined perceptional knowledge as direct comprehension (even without sense-object contact).

The perception is further classified into -

  1. Indeterminate (nirvikalpa)
  2. Determinate (savikalpa)

Inference (anumāna)—

Inferential knowledge is mediate as against perceptional knowledge which is intermediate. The classic example of Indian inference is that of fire and smoke, illustrating that if there is a smoke on the hill, there must be a fire. This inference is possible due to universal concomitance between smoke and fire. Thus, the knowledge of fire is mediate since it is established through medium of smoke.

Much of our knowledge is inferential in nature (anumāna) which as a means of valid knowledge has far more reach than perception (pratyakṣa).

Comparison (upamāna)—

Here the instrument or the means is the knowledge of similarity and the resultant reaction between a name and the object denoted by it. For example, a man hears from a forester that a neelgai is like a cow, and then he sees an animal like a cow immediately recollects a comparison between the two and establishes that the new animal he sees must be a neelgai.

Testimony (śabda)—

This is the last pramāṇa. This means the knowledge acquired from words of a trustworthy (āpta) person provided the speaker is trustworthy and competent i.e. he knows what he is talking about and convey it correctly. For example, when a person walking through the unfamiliar forested areas meets a local person with whom he has no previous connection, takes his guidance as to which is the safe road to follow. He is accepting the information as the right knowledge called verbal testimony.

According to nyāya, truth is that knowledge which is true or valid which agrees with or corresponds to the nature of its object to the mind.

The nyāya conception of reality is greatly influenced by the system’s preoccupation with logic of epistemology.

It has 16 categories of thought and reasoning techniques. They are[3]

  1. pramāṇas (means of valid knowledge)
  2. prameyas (objects of valid knowledge)
  3. samasyā (doubt)
  4. prayojana (purpose)
  5. dṛṣṭānta (Instances)
  6. siddhānta (established in conclusion)
  7. avayava (members of syllogism)
  8. tarka (logic by reduction)
  9. nirṇaya (decisive knowledge.)
  10. vāda (arguing for truth)
  11. jalpa (constructive and destructive arguments)
  12. vitaṇḍā (destructive argument)
  13. hetvābhāsa (fallacious reasons)
  14. chala (quibbling)
  15. jāti (specious objections)
  16. nigrahasthāna (vulnerable points)

Nyāya doctrine also seeks to prove existence of God. They describe God as efficient cause of the universe and its material cause. He is the paramātman as distinguished from the jīvatmās. Guided by the past karmas of the souls God creates, protects and destroys universe and recreates it. God is omnipotent and eternal. Nyāya system is primarily a system of Logic.

Concept of mokṣa as per Nyāyadarśana:

Nyāyadarśana uses the word apavarga (for mokṣa), which literally means fulfillment or completion. The other word, niḥśreyas also occurs as alternative to mokṣa, which means most excellent or supreme good. According to Maharṣi Gautama[4] (Nyāyasūtra, I.I.22), Release is the absolute deliverance from pain.

Apavarga means total destruction, absolute annihilation of sorrow. The absoluteness of it lies in the fact, that similar to that which is thus abolished can never revive. In the state of apavarga, special attributes of soul (viz. intellect, pleasure, pain, desire, aversion, volition, merit, demerit, and faculty) also get destructed at the time of salvation and soul becomes attributeless.

Normally, we associate sorrow or happiness as antonyms. According to Nyāya, cessation of sorrow and gain of happiness are different concepts. In the state of apavarga, all the pains get destroyed but there is no existence of pleasure accepted. Unlike other darśanas, Nyāya accepts apavarga as only cessation of sorrow, not as a gain of happiness. As bliss creates desire to attain it, which again would lead ātman to bondage. This view was however criticized by other darśanas since as per them, if the state of liberation is like a stone nobody would wish to attain such a mokṣa.

According to Nyāya, false notion is the root cause of bondage of the soul. False notion creates faults. Faults create tendency. Tendency creates births and birth creates sorrows. If false notion is removed, the complete chain would snap and break. False notion can be destructed by the true and complete knowledge about the objects. Thus, the process involves meditation on the object of right knowledge (prameyabhāvanā).

According to Nyāya, [5] objects of right knowledge are of twelve kinds.

  1. Soul (ātman)
  2. Body (śarīra)
  3. Senses (indriyas)
  4. Objects of the senses (artha)
  5. Understanding (buddhi)
  6. Mind (manas)
  7. Volition (pravṛtti)
  8. Faults (dośas)
  9. Transmigration (pratyabhāva)
  10. Fruit (phala)
  11. Pain (duḥkha)
  12. Liberation (apavarga)

Meditation on these 12 objects, lead to the true and complete knowing about objects of right knowledge and destroys false notion. Considering things such as body, organs etc. as soul, which are not is false notion. Normally man uses expressions as I am fat, I am tall etc. here body is considered as “I” i.e. ātman. It is a false notion which is ceased by true and complete knowledge of prameyas. Once false notions are annihilated, man gets true knowledge and discretion between ātman and anātman. This leads to destruction of faults.

Because of the false notion, the soul is attracted towards pleasing objects (feeling of rāga) and hates unpleasing objects (feeling of dveśa). In fact, there is nothing pleasing or unpleasing to ātman but because of the false notion of connection of ātman and body, jīva gets attracted to the pleasing objects and hates unpleasing objects of the body. Rāga and dveśa create another dośas like moha (confusion), krodha (anger), īrṣyā (jealousy) etc.

Destruction of dośas leads to destruction of tendency. The man impelled by faults is led to either tendencies of sinful activities or tendencies of meritorious activities. Sinful activities are those which are forbidden e.g. the body-injury, theft, voice-falsehood, mind-malevolence. These sinful activities produce demerit. On the other hand, he may indulge in meritorious activities of praiseworthy nature as by the body-alms, saving others or by voice-speaking truthfully, by mind-honesty. These activities produce merit. The tendency of doing any activity is caused by the dośas. Meritorious activities done by a person are admirable in the society, however they still produce merit and the jīvātmā must take a rebirth to enjoy the merits of the past life.

Destruction of the tendencies leads to destruction of births. As there are no tendencies merit and demerit are automatically destroyed. This results in absolute annihilation of pain which is apavarga as per Nyāya School.

Footnotes and references:


Vidyabhusana S.C., Nyāya Darśana of Gotama, New Bharatiya Book Corporation, Delhi, 2003,


Ibid, I.I.3


Ibid., I.I.1


Ibid, I.I. 22, [...]


Ibid., I.I.9 — [...]

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