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...

Substance (dravya) [in Charaka philosophy]

Since the early days of Western Indology, in particular since Colebrooke’s pioneering studies in Indian philosophy, the Sanskrit word dravya has usually been rendered as “substance”[1] In a recent critical review of the problem of substance, it is stated that “substance is the oldest topic of philosophical enquiry and it is also one of the most entangled”.[2] For Aristotle “substance is the fundamental category. Without it, without things to have quality or relation or to act or to be acted upon - the others (other categories) are meaningless”.[3] A recent dictionary of philosophy says that substance of a thing may be its essence or that which makes it what it is. This will ensure that the substance of a thing is that which remains through change in its properties.[4] In an encyclopaedia of philosophy, six notions of substance have been distinguished: “(1) the concrete individual, (2) a core of essential properties, (3) what is capable of independent existence, (4) a centre of change, (5) a substratum, and (6) a logical subject”.[5] Another encyclopedia says: “In MATAPHYSICS, substance is the unchanging underlying reality of a thing; it is contrasted with those aspects of a thing (its accidents) which change”.[6]

Wilhelm Halbfass says:

“In the history of European thought the concept of substance covers, indeed, the entire semantic range from concrete empirical things to bear particulars and basic substrates. In applying the word ‘substance’ to the Indian philosophical tradition and in using it as a translation of dravya, it is important to be aware of the question and ambiguities with which it has associated”.[7]

The word dravya is derived from the root “dru” by adding the suffix “yat”. Etymologically it means a qualified one to become the substratum of quality, action and the like.[8]

Some of the earliest references concerning the semantic and categorial concepts are seen documented in Pāṇini’s Aṣṭādhyāyī and Vyākaraṇa Mahābhāṣhya of Patañjali. There, in the sūtras of Pāṇini, the words like sattva [9] (being) and adhikaraṇa [10] (substratum) appear in the categorial sense of dravya. Patañjali further advances two questions: (1) “What is dravya?, and (2) What are qualities?” He then replies that sound, touch, colour, taste and smell are qualities and anyting else different from qualities is dravya.[11] One of the most significant descriptions of dravya found in Mahābhāṣya is guṇasāndrava,[12] which means a confluence of guṇās. He further considers it as eternal, even if the forms which emanate from it are changing. However, this explanation is ambiguous, since it suggests a mere aggregation of qualities without any underlying substrate. At the same time it implies a correspondence to the conception of substance in infancy and also to the Sāṃkhyas who consider it as a confluence of the three guṇas. Kaiyaṭa uses the term āśraya[13] to paraphrase the idea of aggregation of qualities. Uttarādhyayana-sūtra, a prākṛit work, which is considered to have been written before the dawn of the Christian era, defines dravya asa substrate of qualities, quality, as resident in one substance only, and mode as residence in both substance and quality.[14] Moreover, it gives a peculiar type of classification. It classifies substances into merit, demrit, space, time, matter and soul.[15]

The Sāṃkhyas and the Yogins describe substance as a collective form of guṇas.[16] The term guṇa denotes the three intertwining “strands”[17] , namely (1) essence or the subtle matter of pure thought (sattva), (2) the kinetic matter of energy (rajas), and (3) the ramified matter of inertia (tamas) that constitute the primordial matter (prakṛiti) which is opposed to the (puruṣa). Vyāsa, in his Yogabhāṣya, defines substance as an aggregation of sāmānya and viśeṣa.[18] The Buddhists have denied substance as an independent entity.[19] The Vedāntins, though accept the reality of substance, call it indefinable (anirvacanīya) illusion (māya).[20] According to them Braḥman is the ultimate reality.

It was Kaṇāda who gives a comprehensive definition of substance. He defines it as having qualities and actions and as inherent cause.[21] He also classifies it into nine: earth (pṛthivī), water (āp), fire (tejas), air (vāyu), (ākāśa), time (kāla), space (dik) self (ātmā), and mind (manas).[22]

Now it is evident that both the English term substance and the Sanskrit term dravya are problematic. Various systems of thought have explained dravya in different ways. Halbfass, after considering such differences, has rightly remarked that the different approaches to the elusive notion of dravya exemplify historically different levels of reflection as well as fundamental distinctions in conceptual and soteriological orientation.[23] So it should be on the basis of this that the historical and scientific genuineness of the concept of dravya in the Carakasaṃhita is to be assessed.

In consonance with Kaṇāda, Caraka defines substance as that in which quality and action exists and which is the inherent cause (samavāyikāraṇa).[24]

Cakrapāṇi explains the definition in the following way. Existence means existence by the relation of inherence. Then only substance can become the inherent cause of quality and action. As quality and action cannot produce an effect in their own by the relation of inherence, they are not inherent causes. “Having action” in the definition is to exclude the other five categories, namely quality, action, and the like, and not simultaneously to exclude the dissimilar categories and to pervade the similar ones, because the inherence of action does not exist in substances like akāśa.[25]

The definitions given by Caraka and Kaṇāda have got a two-fold nature. Annaṃbhaṭṭa invokes the first part of the definition, that is, substance is the substratum of qualities, in his twofold definition.[26] Then he points out that it is defective. Accordingly, if we say that anything that serves as the substratum of qualities as substance, then it will not apply to all the substances. Substances at the moment of their production will be excluded because the Nyāya- Vaiśeṣika system holds that substances at the time of their production are without any quality and action.[27] The defect is remedied by amplifying the definition thus: Substance is that in which inheres the universal (jāti) which is different from the universal existence (sattā).[28]

Although the products are devoid of qualities at the moment of production, there resides the universal substance-ness (dravyatva) which co-exists with qualities after production. It is to avoid the over applicability (ativyāpti) of the definition in existence (sattā) that co-exist with qualities that “different from the universal existence” (sattābhinna) is inserted in the definition. Though theoretically faulty, the definition is good for all practical purpose.[29] The second part of the definition, “substances are inherent causes”, is technically correct. Since it implies the sense expressed by amplifying the first part of the definition.

The uniqueness of this definition is that it reveals a structure in which there is a substratum and super stratum. As such substance is a cosmological substrate and the others like quality and action are ontologically separable world constituents. It pinpoints to the fact that substance, as substrate has the efficacy of becoming inherent or substantial cause of qualities even though they are devoid of them at the production moment. In other words substances are capable of initiating new dependent entities. In that sense they are not featureless. Thus the definition implies a cosmological perspective of origination and change giving sufficient scope for enumerating and describing the cosmological scheme wherein the qualities and actions can be regarded as emanations of their substrates. It is based on this fundamentally additive relationship of substances with their qualities and actions that Caraka formulates his theory of rasa, vīrya, and vipāka.

In spite of the basic differences between Caraka and Suśruta with regard to “being” and “becoming”, Suśruta who has been conversant with the above mentioned nature of substance reiterates the same definition[30] and adds that substance is eternal and qualities are ephemeral.[31] Thus, according to him, substance is that which remains in and through all changes. Placing primacy on dravya, Bhadanta Nāgārjuna enumerates six entities as the basis of disease and health, and conspicuously asserts that substance is the substratum of the five.[32] The other entities in the sequel are taste (rasa), quality (guṇa), potency (vīrya), vipāka and action (karma).[33]

Caraka enumerates nine substances namely, ākāśa, air (vāyuḥ), fire (agni), water (ap) earth (pṛthivī), self (ātmā), mind (manas), time (kāla), and space (dik).[34] This classification is also akin to the classification in the Vaiśeṣika philosophy.[35] Almost all except the Bhāṭṭamīmāṃsakas do accept this classification.[36] These substances are heterogeneous in sense. Among these nine substances the first five namely, ākāśa, air, fire, water and earth form one group and are called physical or material substances (bhūtas). The remaining four are non-material substances. The material substances constitute the physical world. Among the non-material substances mind and self are differentiated from the rest and Caraka calles them spiritual substances (adhyātmadravyas).[37] Mind represents the psychological world and self represents the spiritual world. Thus, the schemata of substance reveal the physical, the psychological, and the spiritual world and also the space time continuum.

Footnotes and references:


BWT, p. 89.


See A. Quinton, The Nature of Things, London, 1973, p.1. Quoted from Ibid., p. 89.


FM, Contents - I. p. 199.


“In Aristotle (Metaphysics z, vii) this essence becomes more than just the matter, but a unity of matter and form”. Simon Blackburn, The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, London, 1994, p. 366.


See also “Substance and Attribute”, P. Edward, ed., Encyclopedia of Philosophy, by Vol. 8, art. “Substance and attribute”, cited in BWT, pp. 89-90.


Lexicon Universal Encyclopedia, Lexicon Publication, Inc, New York, N. Y., Delux Home edn., 1990, Vol. XVIII, p. 377 “In philosophy substance is the primary being of things, or that which underlies changes of quality”. The Encyclopedia Americana, Grolier Incorporated, Connecticut, International edn. 2001, Vol. XXV, p. 828.


BWT, p. 90.


droḍhuṃ guṇakarmādibhirāśritatvena prāptuṃ yogyamityartheaco yat” (Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini..3-1-61) iti sūtreṇa kṛtyapratyayena niṣpanno'yam dravyaśabdaḥ pṛthivyādi dravya vācako bhavati. Pāṇinīyavyākaraṇaśāstre Vaiśeṣikatattvamīmāṃsā, Dr. Ramsharan Sastri, Delhi, 1976, p.7.


cādayo'satve” Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini.. I. iv.57. Patañjali interprets the word sattva in the sūtra as “ayaṃ sattvaśabdḥ - astyeva dravyapadārthakaḥ.......asti kriyā- padārthaḥ, sadbhāvaḥ sattvamiti. kasyedaṃ grahaṇaṃ? dravyapadārthakaḥ”. Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali., Vol. II, I. iv. 4, p. 282; “sattvamiti dravyamucyate”, KV (on Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini.. I. iv, 57), Vol. I, p. 77.


adhikaraṇavicāle ca” Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini., V. iii. 43; dravyaṃ hi loke "adhikaraṇaṃ' ityucyate, Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali., Vol. II, II. i. 1, p. 344; “adhikaraṇaṃ dravyaṃKV (on Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini., V. iii. 43), Vol. II, p. 83.


kiṃ punaradravyaṃ? ke punarguṇaḥ? śabdasparśarūparasgandhā guṇaḥ, tato'nyat dravyaṃ. Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali., Vol. IV, V. i. 2, p. 297.


anvarthaṃ khalu nirvacanaṃ - "guṇasandrāvo dravyaṃ'. Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali., Vol. IV, V. i. 2, p. 299. see infra, F. Notes, 85, p. 94.


sandrūyate-saṅgamyate-āśrīyate iti sandrāvaḥ. "samiyadruduvaḥ' iti ghañ. guṇānāmāśrayo dravyamityarthaḥ. Bhāṣyapradīpa, Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali., Vol. IV, V.i.2, p. 299; evañca "guṇasamūho dravyamiti patañjaliḥ' iti yogabhāṣyeṇa na virodha iti mañjūṣāyāṃ nirūpitaṃ, Pradīpapradyota, Ibid.


guṇāṇamāsayo davvaṃ, egdavvasiya guṇā, larakaṇaṃ pajjavāṇaṃ tu ubhau assiya bhave. US, 28. 6, p. 713.


dhammo, adhammo, āgāsam, kalo, puggala, jantavoes logutti pannatto jṇohi varadaṃsihi, Ibid., 28.7, p.714.


sāṃkhyayogdarśanayorguṇasamūho dravyaṃ, Dr. Ramsaran Sastri, Pāṇinīya Vyākaraṇa-sūtre Vaiśeṣikatattvamīmāṃsa, Delhi, 1976, p. 1.


Vijñānabhikśu uses the word guṇa in the sense of “strand”: “guṇaśabdaḥ puruṣopakaraṇatvāt puruṣapaśubandhakatriguṇātmakamahadādirajjunirmātṛtvācca prayujyate”. Sāṃkhyadarśana (with Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya of Sri Vijñana Bhikṣu)., p. 38. It is also designated by the Sanskrit terms “māyā” and prakṛti. “māyā abdena ca prakrḥtirevocyate. māyāṃ tu prakrḥtiṃ vidyāditi (śve. U. 2/10) śrutau,.......kiñcāvidyāyā dravyatve śabdamātrabhedo, guṇatve ca tadādhāratayā prakṛtisiddhiḥ”. Ibid (on Sāṃkhya-sūtra,. I. 69), pp. 47-48.


sāmānyaviśeṣasamudāyo'tra dravyaṃ, YD, pp. 365-66.


“In the Buddhists view, the mango is nothing but an aggragate of qualia and actions (guṇakarmasamudāya)”. CIPM, p. 81; Notes,TSA, 78.




kriyāguṇavān samavāyikāraṇaṃiti dravyalakṣaṇaṃ, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 15.


Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i.5.


BWT, p. 90.


yatrāśritāḥ karmaguṇāḥ kāraṇaṃ samavāyi yat tat dravyaṃ. CS, Su, I. 50.


See Cakrāpaṇi on ibid., p. 13.


dravyatvajātimatvaṃ guṇavatvaṃ vā dravyalakṣaṇaṃ, TSA, p. 4. The term kriyāvatva can also be added to it.


utpannaṃ dravyaṃ kṣaṇamaguṇamakriyaṃ ca tiṣṭati is an axiom of the Nyāya- Vaiśeṣika. They hold this axiom because if the qualities are supposed to be produced simultaneously with production of the substances then all distinctions between qualities and actions with substance will disappear.


guṇasamānādhikaraṇasattābhinnajātimatvasya vivakṣtatvāt. TSA, p.4. kāryasamavāyikāraṇatāvacchedakatayā, saṃyogasya, vibhāgasya, vā samavāyikāraṇatāvacchedakatayā, dravyatvajātisiddiḥ. NSMK, p.


TSA, notes, p. 77.


dravyalakṣaṇaṃ tu kriyāguṇavat samavāyikāraṇaṃ iti. Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Su, 40, 3.




dravyamāśrayalākṣaṇaṃ pañcānāṃ, Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra of Bhadantanāgarjuna., I.166, p. 60.


dravyarasaguṇavīryavipākakarmāṇyanayormūlaṃ. Ibid., I. 4. p. 8. Even though rasa is a ramification of quality, it is because of its specific importance in therapeutics it is treated as a separate division.


khādīnyātma manaḥ kālo diśaśca dravyasaṃgrahaḥ, CS, Su, I. 48. ākāśa is sometimes translated as ether. But the latter was introduced by some physicists as the medium of light. The translation as ether is avoided since ākāśa is not a medium of light.


Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 5.


The Bhāṭṭamīṃāṃsakas accept darkness as an additional substance. Madhavācārya, the author of Sarvadarśanaṃgraha mentions that a section of Prābhākaramīmāṃsakas and Srīdharācārya, the author of Nyāyakandalī also accept this view, TSA, notes, p. 79.


CS, Su, VIII. 13.

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