Nyaya-Vaisheshika categories (Study)

by Diptimani Goswami | 2014 | 61,072 words

This page relates ‘Nature of Quality (Guna)’ of the study on the Nyaya-Vaisheshika categories with special reference to the Tarkasangraha by Annambhatta. Both Nyaya and Vaisesika are schools of ancient Indian Philosophy, and accepted in their system various padarthas or objects of valid knowledge. This study investigates how the Tarkasamgraha reflects these categories in the combined Nyayavaisesika school.

The Nature of Quality (Guṇa)

Among the seven categories of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system the second category is guṇa (quality). The English term ‘quality’ used in western philosophy does not bear the same meaning as in the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophy. According to the western philosophers, the qualities are repeatable properties but according to the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika guṇa is not a repeatable property.[1]

The term guṇa has different connotations in different schools of Indian philosophy. The term guṇa is also found in the Mahābhāṣya. Patañjali states there that guṇa inheres only in a substance, under some circumstances, ceases to be there. It is found in different types of substances, eternal in some cases and non-eternal in others. According to Patañjali, the definition of the guṇa is–sattve niviśate’paiti pṛthagjātiṣuvartate ādheyaścākriyāja’śe so’sattvaprakṛti gunaḥ.[2] This definition is adopted by all the grammarians. This conception of guṇa of the grammarians corresponds to the logician’s conception of guṇa.[3]

According to the Mīmāṃsakas, the word guṇa is used in different senses, sometimes it is used in the sense of a quality and sometimes in the general sense of something. Sometimes it is used in the sense of literary merit and also in the general sense of a good feature.[4] The Sāṃkhya system uses the term guṇa in the sense of the constituent elements of the primordial matter called prakṛti. Prakṛti is consisted of three guṇas, viz., sattva (goodness), rajas (passion) and tamas (darkness). These guṇas are not perceptible but inferred from the existence of the things. Sattva is the element of the prakṛti and its nature is pleasure, light and bright. The manifestation of objects in jñāna, the mind, the knowledge, the reflection of light, the reflection in mirror all are happened due to sattvaguṇa. The principle of activity of the objects is known as rajas. It has always movement and it makes other things move. It is possessor of both cala (mobile) and upaṣṭambhaka (stimulating). Fire spreads, the wind blows, the senses follow their objects, the mind feels pain, all these are happened due to the rajas. It helps sattva and tamas to perform their action. Tamas is inactive and it is opposite of sattva. Tamas is guru (heavy) and vāraṇaka (manifestless). Tamas becomes opposed in the motion of things and in the principle of rajas. It causes sleep, drowsiness and laziness through resisting our activity.

These three guṇas sattva, rajas and tamas can be compared to whiteness, redness and darkness. This world is made through the relation of these three guṇas. These remain always together one can never be separated from other. One cannot produce anything separately without help of the other. Just as to produce light of a lamp, there must have co-operative of the oil, the wick and the flame.[5] The Vedānta system uses the term guṇa in the sense of the dharma.[6]

Kaṇāda defines a quality as an entity which exists in a substance, which has no quality and is not a cause of conjunction and disjunction.[7] Hence, a quality must reside in one or other substance, it cannot exist independently. But quality itself is qualityless as quality resides only in substance. Hence, by the term aguṇavān in the definition over pervasion to substance is avoided. The term saṃyogavibhāgeṣvakāraṇam is added here to exclude action because action is the cause of conjunction and disjunction. Praśastapāda adds another character of a guṇa. He defines guṇa thus: quality has the genus of qualityness (guṇatva), it inheres in a dravya and it is qualityless and actionless.[8] Guṇa cannot be self-existent, it is a dependent category. Existence of a quality depends upon a substance. Quality remains in a substance; it cannot inhere in a quality. Therefore, a quality is defined as qualityless. A karma (action) also inheres in a dravya but it is qualityless. Karma is cause of conjunction and disjunction, but guṇa is not cause of conjunction and disjunction. So, there is difference between guṇa and karma.[9]

According to Śrīdhara, a guṇa is actionless, but dravya has action. When a fan is running, it has motion but its colour has no motion. But we see its motion because its substrate is in motion. Actually quality has no action. Similarly a guṇa has no guṇa. Colour is the guṇa of a substance but it is not a guṇa of odour, taste, touch and other qualities. Therefore, a guṇa is devoid of guṇa.[10]

Viśvanātha gives the definition of guṇa in his Bhāṣāpariccheda thus: the guṇas (qualities) reside in substances and they are themselves qualityless and motionless.[11] Viśvanātha also points out that the generic character guṇatva (qualityhood) subsists in guṇa and it is its real definition. The definition of guṇa as subsisting in dravya cannot be a correct one, since it is overpervasive to karma, as karma also subsists in dravya. So, Viśvanātha maintains that this definition should be interpreted in such a way so that the meaning is the fact of possessing generic attributes other than sattā (existence) that are the determinant of what is inclusive of substancehood. Qualityhood (guṇatva) is a determinant of what is inclusive of substancehood, and qualities are possessed of it. Neither substancehood nor actionhood is so. Ether, time and the soul do not possess substance in the relation of inherence and they are actionless. Hence, the definition of quality is that which possesses qualityhood.[12] Viśvanātha also offers argument to prove the existence of quality hood which is a generic attribute (jāti). He says: the causality abiding in categories which are possessed of generic attributes, other than substance and action, must be determined by some attribute, since unqualified causality is not acceptable. Colourhood etc. cannot be the determinant here, because they are not found in all qualities. Sattā is also not a determinant here as it is over pervasive to dravya etc. Hence, something must be accepted as inhering in all the qualities and that is guṇatva.[13] According to Keśava Miśra, a guṇa is a asamavāyikāraṇa (noninherent cause) and it is devoid of action. He also defines it as an entity abiding in a substance and it possesses a generality.[14] Śivāditya’s opinion has the similarity with Keśava Miśra’s opinion of guṇa. He also states that a quality is an entity which has the genus of qualityhood is actionless, and is not an inherent cause.[15]

Annaṃbhaṭṭa has not defined guṇa in his Tarkasaṃgraha, he only enumerates them. But he gives two definitions of guṇa in his commentary Dīpikā.

These are:

(i) dravyakarmabhinnatve sati sāmānyavān guṇaḥ.[16]
(ii) guṇatvajātimānvā.[17]

The first definition means that guṇa possesses sāmānya (generality) and at the same time is completely different from substance and actions. According to the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, sāmānya can reside only in dravya (substance), guṇa (quality) and karma (action). Hence, the definition of guṇa as–sāmānyavān guṇaḥ would be overpervasive to dravya and karma, because there are also sāmānyavān. To avoid this Annaṃbhaṭṭa adds the term ‘different from dravya and karma’ (dravyakarmabhinnatve sati). If the term sāmānyavān (possessed of generality) is not given in the definitionthen the definition will be overpervasive to sāmānya, viśeṣa, samavāya and abhāva, which are also different from dravya and karma. This defect is avoided by the term sāmānyavān, because sāmānya inheres only in dravya, guṇa and karma. In this way, this definition of guṇa can be said to be free from defects.[18]

The second definition means that which possesses the generality of qualityhood is called guṇa. This definition of guṇa is free of defects as qualityhood is found in all the qualities and it is not found in any category other than quality. This definition is also preferable to the other definition as it possesses brevity of expression.

Footnotes and references:


cf. Potter, Karl H., Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, p.112


cf. Sastri, S. Kuppuswami, A Primer of Indian Logic, p.13




cf. Ibid


An Introduction to Indian Philosophy, pp. 260-263


A Primer of Indian Logic, p.13


dravyāśrayaguṇavān saṃyogavibhāgeṣvakāraṇam anapekṣa iti guṇalakṣaṇam. Vaiśeṣikasūtra, 1.1.16


guṇānām gunatvābhisambandho dravyāśritatvaṃ nirguṇṭvaṃ niṣkriyatvam. Vaiśeṣikadarśanam with Praśastapādabhāṣya, p.60


Vaiśeṣikasūtropaskāra, 1.1.16


Nyāyakaṇḍalī, pp. 94-95


atha dravyāśritā jñeyā nirguṇā niṣkriyā guṇāḥ/ Bhāṣāpariccheda, p.177


Ibid., p.156


śamānyavān asamavāyikāraṇaṃ spandātmā guṇaḥ. sa ca dravyāśrita eva. Tarkabhāṣā, p.378


guṇastu guṇatvajātiyogī,jātimatve satyacalanātmakatve sati samavāyikāraṇarahitaśceti. Saptapadārthī, p. 5


Dīpikā on Tarkasaṃgraha, p.5




Gajendragadkar, A.B., and Karmakar, R.D., Tarkasaṃgraha, p.27

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