Philosophy of Charaka-samhita

by Asokan. G | 2008 | 88,742 words

Ayurveda, represented by Charaka and Sushruta, stands first among the sciences of Indian intellectual tradition. The Charaka-samhita, ascribed to the great celebrity Charaka, has got three strata. (1) The first stratum is the original work composed by Agnivesha, the foremost of the six disciples of Punarvasu Atreya. He accomplished the work by coll...

Fundamental Categories (padārtha or tattva) [in Charaka philosophy]

Placed in Nature and interrogated by forces of nature, man is objectively obliged to look more and more into the secrets of both man and Nature. Endowed with “insatiable curiosity”,[1] he tried to discover the final truth of the experienced world. In order to systematize the sporadic knowledge, he employed certain orders of inference like analogical reasoning, inductive reasoning and deductive reasoning. On this basis, all the entities that constitute the universe are classified into categories, so that all objects of pure thought shall fall into a pattern as intelligible as possible, by establishing the structural identity of the real world and the experienced world. This enabled him to derive correct knowledge and, on the basis of it, gave form and shape to human projects that would lead him to progress. Without a categorial commitment expressed or implied, no systematic study or philosophizing is possible. Thus, categories which are the outcome of rational thinking form the foundation stone of all investigative sciences and “categariology”[2] its soul.

“Broadly speaking a category is a mode of being, a type or a kind of being, a manner of existing, a way of having ontological status, an ultimate demarcation of reality”.[3] Categories may well be taken to be the nature of objects of pure objective thought forming the subject matter of philosophy of the object, shorn of all empirical content.[4] Thus, categorial[5] commitment became an essentiality for any systematic study, most particularly philosophy. In philosophy, categorisation is a faultless classification which involves a deeper probe into the ways and inner strata of being. However, there are different types of categorial schemes like ontological, epistemological, and axiological in the philosophical domain.

In the West it was Aristotle who first used the word category and it meant “a mode of predication”.[6] He saw a grammar governing correct thinking, which the grammar of language follows and expresses.[7] Based on this, he puts forth ten categories. They are: “substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, action, being acted upon or affected, and state, and position”.[8] Immanuel Kant, who describes his philosophy as transcendental, classifies everything that occurs in the sensible manifold into twelve categories which constitute four trinities: quantity, quality, relations, and conditions of existence or modality.[9]

Samuel Alexander gives a list of eight categories:

  1. Identity, diversity, and existence.
  2. Universal, Particular and Individual.
  3. Relation,
  4. Order.
  5. Substance, Causality, Reciprocity.
  6. Quantity and Intensity.
  7. Whole and Parts and Number.
  8. Motion.[10]

It is unique that the Indian thinkers were sagacious enough to evolve or owe allegiance to one or other of categorial schemes. The nearest equivalent used in Indian philosophical systems (Darśanas) to mean category in its general sense of mode or being is the word padārtha or tattva. The word padārtha is a compound formed of two terms: pada and artha. The term pada is defined by the grammarian Pāṇini as a word invariably associated with a suffix sup or tiṅ.[11] The term artha means the object of cognition. The word padārtha is generally taken as a yaugika[12] type and so the meaning signification of a word or denotation of a word is taken into account by deriving the word as padasya arthaḥ. The word tattva means reality. The various systems of knowledge have prepared their own categories for explaining their tenets.

Thus, the Cārvākās, who maintain that the limit of the reality of this universe do not extent the limit of sense experience, enumerate four physical substances (bhūtadravyas) as categories.[13] The Jainas divide the whole reality into two principles: souls (jīva) and “not-souls” (ajīva).[14] The Buddhists, who often starts with the four noble truths, namely life is suffering (duḥkha); there is a cause for suffering (samudaya);there is also cessation (nirodha), and there is a way for cessation (mārga),[15] divide all that are into five assemblages of elements under the heading skandhas. These skandhas are specific awareness (vijñānaṃ), sensation (vedanā), idea (saṃjñā), tendencies (saṃskāra) and matter (rūpa).[16] The Sāṃkhyas, who accept two final entities at the ground level speaks of twenty-five categories and call them tattvas.[17] Kanada the author of Vaiśeṣika-sutra postulates six fundamental categories of reality, namely substance (dravya), attribute (guṇa), action (karma), universal (samanya), particularity (viśeṣa),and inherence (samavāya).[18] Akṣapāda in his Nyāya-sūtra enumerates sixteen categories.[19] Later on interpreters of Nyāya - Vaiśeṣika syncretic school made it seven by adding one more, that is, negation (abāva),to the above six.[20] The Vedāntins put forth two categories: cit and acit.[21] The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas five, namely substance, universal quality, action, and negation, and Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas eight: substance, attribute, action, universal. potency (śakti), similarity (sādṛśya), number, and inherence. Candra, a sectarian Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas, accepted eleven by adding three more, sequence (krama), benefit (upakāra), and tendency (saṃskāra).[22]

Thus, based on certain matrices, the various philosophical systems of both the West and the East have classified “things that are” that constitute the universe into categories in order to suit the particular way of analysis of the universe.

Fundamentally, Caraka classifies reality into two namely being (sat) and non-being (asat).[23] In consonance with the philosophical methodology, Caraka also opens his discussion with an enumeration of six categories.

These categories are:

  1. Universal (sāmānya),
  2. Particularity (viśeṣa),
  3. Attribute (guṇa),
  4. Substance (dravya),
  5. Action (karma),
  6. Inherence (samavāya).[24]

It is something unusual for a medical treatise like Carakasaṃhitā, which is expected to be confined to health and cure, to have a start with a categorial scheme having ontological nature that usually forms the subject matter of philosophy. Hence it is necessary to know the real source and nature of the schemata of the Carakasaṃhitā. Nothing is told in the Carakasaṃhitā, with regard to its source, beyond saying that these categories are visualised by sages by their intuitive power. The Carakasaṃhitā neither calls them by a general term nor gives a general definition of them. In an English translation of the book it is stated that these are various categories enumerated in the Nyāya system of philosophy.[25] Actually there is no such categorization in Nyāya philosophy as we referred to earlier. But, to a certain extent, they resemble the categories enumerated in the Vaiśeṣika-sutras, since the terms used and the total number of the categories enumerated are the same. Certain scholars are also of the opinion that the categories postulated are a reiteration of the Vaiśeṣika categories. Quite different from that, one of the remarkable opinions is that of Surendranath Dasgupta. He opines that Caraka enumerates the Vaiśeṣika categories though it often differs from the Vaiśeṣika view.[26]

In this connection it is to be noted that the Carakasaṃhitā in its Śārīrasthāna enumerates twenty-four principles which correspond the categories of Sāṃkhya system of philosophy. Taking account of these two categorial schemes, scholars like G.C. Pande remarks that Carakasaṃhitā presupposed the categories of both Vaiśeṣika and Sāṃkhya.[27] A probe into the Carakasaṃhitā reveals that it also has utilised the concepts of other

Darśanas of which each one claims that it makes more sense than the others. Moreover ideas from almost all relevant sources including Dharmaśāstras are also absorbed into it. It is something extraordinary that Caraka categorises things at two different dimensions which mainly show resemblances to the Vaiśeṣika and Sāṃkhya Darśanas.

Another thing to be noted is that the categorial scheme enumerated above is not found in any other Āyurvedic treaty. Hence it brings forth the doubt as to whether the categories of Caraka are the real dārśanic entities categorised by Kanāda. If so, it is not possible to accommodate the tenets of other Darśanas like Sāṃkhya which present different theoretical outlooks regarding the truth and behaviour of the universe. It is a fact that theoretical formulations cannot be made on the basis of contradictory views, even if it is for practical usage. The problem becomes graver in the context of medicine which aims at the preservation of life. This type of thought may bring about ambiguity with regard to the basic concepts on which the whole of therapeutic theory is built. If we want to digest the theory regarding therapeutics, if we want to update the science, we ought to have a real understanding of the true nature and position of the said categories which form the starting point.

As for as philosophy is concerned, it cannot be directly learned like manual or technical skills; it cannot be directly applied or judged by its usefulness in the manner of professional knowledge.[28] It deals with something uncommon to our habitual concern something alien to the reductionist approach. It deals with the most fundamental of all questions. “Philosophy always aims at the first and last ground of the ‘essent’[29] with particular emphasis on man himself and on the meaning and goals of human being-there”.[30] But, in this effort it breaks the paths and opens the perspectives of the knowledge that sets norms and hierarchies, of the knowledge which kindles all enquires.[31] Thus, it shows that philosophy stands in a different realm and order. It confines itself to no specialised investigation of any kind. Its main aim is to demonstrate what is real and what is unreal.

At the same time, science of any sort is a result of the practical curiosity spearheaded by general curiosity. Though such a curiosity has allegiance to philosophy in one way or other, in course of time, it got segregated from the metaphysical conceptions of philosophy, and became independent and self supporting. The main aim of such specialised investigations was to satisfy the needs of everyday human life. Their main concern was to bring about immediate usefulness rather than trying to discover the ultimate reality. In the case of Āyurveda also things are not different. It is confined to the special fields of health and cure, or equipoise of the dhātus and longevity in the technical sense. So, the real nature of the categories can be discerned from the ensuing chapters.

Perhaps this may be a digression. But it is indispensable since it would be helpful to familiarise ourselves with the problem by a gradual transition from the things to which we are accustomed to. It should be on the basis of this that the ambiguity regarding the fundamental problem of the categorial scheme of Caraka is to be removed.

The purpose of the enumeration of the categories in the Carakasaṃhitā and the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra are different. In the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra they are the outcome of the enquiry of the ultimate reality. They consider that the world is real (vastu) and not unreal (avastu). The world is real in the sense that it is the content (viṣaya) of true knowledge (prama) that can be verbalised. In other words, verbalisation is an encoded form of the cognition which has content (viṣaya). This content is the captured reality. The world consists of such reals. Hence, they call these reals as referents of linguistic terms or words (padārthas). Thus, for the Vaiśeṣikas, knowledge implies that the world exists (jñānādhīnā vastusattā) and it can be verbalised (abhidheya). Taking account of all these facts, Praśastapāda gives a comprehensive definition of padārtha in his commentary. Accordingly, existence (astitva), “namability” (abhidheyatva) and “knowability” (jñeyatva)are the common characteristics ofpadārtha.[32] Almost all the interpreters have reiterated the definition deleting the term astitva.[33] At the same time, a quite different definition is given in Nyāya-sūtra. There, padartha is defined as that which signifies individuality, form, and genus.[34] Thus, the key point of the Vaiśeṣika school is that language maps reality. So if we analyse a word, it reveals a content which has a structure. This structure consists of contained (dharma), container (dharmi), and container-contained relation (dharmadharmibhāva). Dharma is a class forming property or distinguishing property. The entity or entities which are qualified by a dharma is called dharmi, and the relation between the two is called dharmadharmibhāva.[35]

Kaṇāda analyses the whole world on the basis of this notion and thus the above stated six categories follow as corollaries of this fundamental concept. The most important thing that is to be remembered of this classification is that it consists of both the entities of objective existence and the entities having existence at the conceptual level. Substance, quality, and action are construed as entities of objective existence.Hence, they are said to have the universal “being-ness” (satta) and are called by the general term object (artha).[36] Thus, padārtha includes all entities in general despite of it being an entity of conceptual existence or objective existence, and refer to the ultimate realities.

Carakasaṃhitā is a treaty on Āyurveda and as such the entities enumerated in the Carakasaṃhitā reveal the idea of the fundamental categories within the context of Āyurveda. From the terminological and numerical similarity and the definition of some of the categories we can conclude that it presupposes the categories of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras. But, at the conceptual level, the categorial scheme of Caraka has got its own identity and uniqueness. The change of order in the arrangement of the categories is the prima facie evidence for that. Instead of placing substance, attribute, and action as the first, second, and third categories Caraka places universal, particularity, and attribute as the first, second, and third in the hierarchy.[37] In fact, the first two categories, namely universal and particularity are most important in Āyurveda, because they are responsible for the equipoise of the dhātus by means of increase and decrease.[38] As far as Kaṇāda is concerned, these two entities are postulated on the basis of logical necessity. Similarly attribute is placed next, because in the scope of Āyurveda, attributes like taste and not substance that count most in therapeutic measures.[39] Second thing is that Caraka himself has asserted that the main object of the treatise is the maintenance of the equipoise of the dhātus and that these categories have been enumerated as the cause of dhātsāmyakriyā [dhātusāmyakriyā?].[40] While in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra it is declared that the true knowledge of the resembling characteristics and differential characteristics will lead to the supreme good, that is liberation.[41] Thus, the categories of Caraka are to be understood as having direct involvement in the process of treatment and preservation of health ensuring longevity of man. In this sense, they are to be understood as entities that would serve the purpose of therapeutics.

It is true that the Carakasaṃhitā indiscriminately deals with the world en masse, its general nature and behaviour and nature of occurrences of particular events, without separating scientific and philosophical fields and methods of investigation from one another. In that sense they are ontological categories. But, the thing is that its metaphysical conceptions are based on the speculations of the early monistic Sāṃkhya and not on the pluralistic Vaiśeṣika. So the categories enumerated should not be confused with the padārthas of Vaiśeṣika-sūtra.[42] The doctrinal thesis regarding “being and becoming” are different. However, we shall have occasion to know it in detail again and again in the forthcoming chapters. The six entities enumerated by Caraka have their own signification and their scope co-exists mainly with the empirical realities.

Thus, it can be concluded that the categories, though presuppose the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra, are in no way a reiteration, but they are the categories fundamental to Āyurveda.

Footnotes and references:


In the Western terminology insatiable curiosity is called disinterested curiosity or general curiosity, which has the features that are disconcerting to our human, moral, and religious interests and to our tendencies to think in accordance with them. It is this general curiosity that animates and sustains what we call the theoretical exercise of intellect in a disinterested pursuit of what we call truth. Without general curiosity there would be no dispassionate scientific and philosophic enquiry, no pure science, no pursuit of learning for its own sake, no voyage of intellectual or for that matter of geographical discovery, undertaken in the spirit and for the sake of sheer adventure. FM, Contents - I, p. 6 - 7. In Indian intellectual tradition the Sanskrit word jijñāsā used in the sense of insatiable curiosity is found used in the articulations. See “athāto Brahmajijñāsā”, Brahmasūtra, I. i. 1; athāto dharmaṃ vyākhāsyāmaḥ, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 1; athāto dīrghaṃ jīvitīyamadhyāyaṃ vyākhyāsyāmaḥ, CS, Su, I. 1; athāto dharmajijñāsā. Mīmāṃsāsūtra of Jaimini., I.i.1. However, curiosity mentioned in these articulations not to be conceived as disinterested one. On the other hand, in the pursuit of truth, it is also interested in the moral and religious bearing upon human life.


Categoriology means the theory or critic of categories. See ENVC, Vol. I, p. 22.


Donald Walhout, “On Categories”, The Philosophical Quarterly, XXXIV, 3, October, Amalner, 1961, p. 142.


K.C. Bhattacharyya, The concept of philosophy: Studies in philosophy, ed., Gopinath Bhattacharyya, Calcutta, 1958, Vol. II, p. 102.


W.T. Stace claims to have used the word categorial for the first time vide his Theory of Knowledge and Existence, Oxford, 1932, p. 289; Harsh Narain who uses this word suggests that the alternative word categorical is rarely used now. See ENVC, Vol. I, p. 2.


ENVC, Vol. I, p. 64.


FM, Contents - I, p. 199.


Ibid., “Expressions are in no way composite signify substance, quantity, quality, relation, place, time, position, state, action or affection”. C.D.C. Reeve, “Introduction”, The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard Mckeon,University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the Modern Library, New York, 2001, p. 8. Harsh Narain points out that Aristotle sometimes seems to content himself with even smaller lists. See foot-notes, ENVC, Vol. I, p. 65.


FM, Contents - II, p. 222.


ENVC, Vol. I, p. 78.


When the meaning of the component parts of the word is understood, that word is called yaugika: “yatrāvayavārtha eva budhyate tadyaugikaṃ”. NSMK, p. 315.


tatra prḥthivyādīni bhūtāni catvāri tattvāni, Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., p. 2.


atra saṃkṣepatastvajīvājīvākhye dve tatve staḥ, Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., p. 67. The English word “not- souls” is used as equivalent for the Sanskrit word ajīva by Satchidananda Murty. Ṣaḍdarśanasamucaya of Haribhadra., p. 63;K.B. Jindal calls ajīva padārthas as physical objects. EJ, p. 44.


Ṣaḍdarśanasamucaya of Haribhadra., p.5; see also VNK, p. 27.


dukhaṃ saṃsāriṇaḥ skandhāḥ, te ca pañca prakīrtitāḥ vijñānaṃ vedanā saṃjñā saṃskāro rūpameva ca. Ṣaḍdarśanasamucaya of Haribhadra., p. 6.


mūlaprakṛtiravikṛtirmahadādyāḥ sapta ṣodaśakastu vikāro, na prakṛtirna vikṛtiḥ puruṣaḥ, Sāṃkhyakārikā, 3.


dharmaviśeṣaprasūtāt dravyaguṇakarmasāmānyaviśeṣa samavāyānāṃ sādharmyavaidharmyābhyaṃ tattvajñānānniśreyasaṃ. Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 4.


pramāṇa-prameya-saṃśaya-prayojana-dṛstānta-siddhānta-avayavatarka-nirṇaya-vāda-jalpa-vitaṇdā-hetvābhāsa-chala-jātinigrahasthānānāṃ tattvajñānāt niśreyasādhigamaḥ. Nyāyasūtra., I. i. 1.


dravyaguṇakarmasāmānyaviśeṣasamavāyabāvāḥ sapta padārthāḥ, TSA, p. 2; Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p.5; NSMK, Kārikā, 2, p. 26.


cidacidātmakau dvau padārthau iti māyāvādino vedāntina āhuḥ. Nyāyakośa., p. 464.


HSPCIC, Vol. II, Part—4, p. 183.


dvivdhameva khalu sarvaṃ saccāsacca, CS, Su. XI. 17.


sāmānyaṃ ca viśeṣaṃ ca guṇān dravyāṇi karma ca samavāyaṃ ca tatjñatvā tantroktaṃ vidhimāsthitāḥ. CS, Su. I. 28.


CST, Vol. I, p. 22.


HIPS, Vol. II, p. 369.


FIC, Vol. I, p. 234; “Further a critical survey of the entire text of Caraka reveals the fact that he was highly influenced by the Vaiśeṣikas and the Sāṃkhyas. The first conception of the individual proceeds from the stand point of Vaiśeṣika and the last from that of Sāṃkhya”. ODST, p. 100.


IM, p. 8.


The basic question of philosophy is “Why are there essents, why is there anything at all, rather than nothing”. Ibid, p. 1. “Essents” = “existents”, “things that are” see F. notes, ibid.


Ibid., p. 10.




ṣaṇṇāmapi padārthānāmastitvābhidheyatvajñeyatvāni. Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 41.


pramitiviṣayāḥ padārthāḥ. Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 4; padasya arthaḥ padārthaḥ iti vyutpatyābhidheyatvaṃ padārtha sāmānyalakṣaṇaṃ. See Dīpikā, TSA, p. 2; “saptānāmapi sādharmyaṃ jñeyatvādikamucyate”. NSMK, p. 67.


vyaktyākṛtijātayastu padārthaḥ. Nyāyasūtra., II. ii. 65.


For details see “Introduction”, Viṣayatāvāda, Hrirāma Tarkālaṅkāra., pp. xiv-xv.


artha iti dravyaguṇakarmasu. Vaiśeṣikadarśana., VIII. ii. 3; “dravyādīnāṃ trayāṇāmapi sattāsaṃbandhaḥ,............svasamavāyārtha śabdābhidheyatvñca”. Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 45; nirupapadenārthaśabdena dravyādaya evābhidhīyante, Kiraṇāvalī of Udayanācārya., p. 246 For details see CSP, p. 37.


Substance being the substratum of all other categories, it is placed first in the Vaiśeṣika - sūtra.


“.....sāmānyajñanamūlatvāccāyurvedapravṛtyupāyasya hetvādeḥ sāmānyamagre nirdiśati”. Cakrapāni on CS, Su, I. 44.


sāmānyaṃca viśeṣaṃ caityādau guṇānādau nirdiśatā guṇānāmeva rasādīnām prāyaḥ śāstre kārmukatvamupadiśyate. Cakrapāni on Ibid., 48.


ityuktaṃ kāraṇaṃ, kāryaṃ dhātusāmyamihocyate dhātusāmyakriyā coktā tantrasyāsya prayojanaṃ. Ibid., 53.


Loc. cit., F. Note, 18.


Caraka does not use the term padārtha or any such general term for the categories he has enumerated.

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