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...

Enumeration of attributes (guṇa)

Enumeration of attributes in Vaiśeṣika system

Kaṇāda gives a list of seventeen attributes namely,

  1. colour,
  2. taste,
  3. smell,
  4. touch,
  5. number,
  6. dimension,
  7. separateness,
  8. conjunction,
  9. disjunction,
  10. priority,
  11. posteriority,
  12. knowledge,
  13. pleasure,
  14. pain,
  15. desire,
  16. aversion,
  17. volition.[1]

Praśastapāda elaborates the list to twenty-four by adding seven more namely,

  1. weight,
  2. liquidity,
  3. viscidity,
  4. tendency,
  5. merit
  6. demerit,
  7. sound.[2]

The Bhāṭṭa-Mīmaṃsakās also speak of twenty- four attributes. But they exclude merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma), and include manifestedness (prākaṭya), and potency (śakti).[3]

Enumeration of attributes in Carakasaṃhitā

It is significant to note that Caraka presents his list of attribute in a peculiar way. Accordingly, attributes consist of sensible attributes (arthas) along with the attributes beginning with heaviness (gurvādi), the attribute knowledge (buddhi), attributes ending in volition (praytnāntā), and attributes beginning with priority or superiority (parādi).[4]

As the articulation appears, it does not give the complete list of attributes. On the other hand, it alludes to some other articulation which enumerates them. Hence there remains some sort of ambiguity. One of the main problems that arise in this context is whether it refers to some of the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras or it refers to the enumerations in the further articulations of Caraka himself.

In this connection it may be relevant to note the observations made by

Dasgupta. He states that there is no such gurvādi list in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtras. He, then, says that the list referred to as beginning with priority (parādi) and ending with volition (prayatānta) is not to be found in the Carakasaṃhitā. This may be a reference to the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra. If this is so, it leaves out a number of guṇas included in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra which were included there in the parādi list.[5]

Harsh Narain, referring to this problem, opines that, Carakasaṃhitā took its present form at a time when Kaṇāda's list of seventeen attributes was undergoing expansion, and heaviness (gurutva), liquidity (dravatva), viscidity (sneha), elasticity (samskāra), merit (dharma), and demerit (adharma) have been included in the list.[6] He further says that though Caraka has used Vaiśeṣika terms for his attributes, he has sought to give them therapeutic connotations with a view to assimilating them in the medical tradition.[7]

It is a fact that the scheme of attributes put forth by Kaṇāda should have influenced Caraka. But, all the separate groups of attributes in the above-mentioned articulation actually refer to the different tables of attribute that appear in different articulations of Caraka himself. His list is altogether too lengthy when compared to that of Kaṇāda. The reason is that Āyurveda has a vast utility to them. So the twenty four attributes which have been mentioned in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra appear in many ways inadequate from the perspective of Āyurveda.[8] The significant point is that the gurvādi list is of prime importance in therapeutics and hence they are enumerated in almost all important Āyurvedic treatises. This shows that Caraka has prepared his own list of attributes by making use of the Vaiśeṣika schemata as well as the qualities of physical elements mentioned in the Mahābhārata.[9]

Cakrapāṇi classifies whole list of attributes into specific attributes (vaiśeṣikaguṇas), generic attributes (sāmānyguṇanas), and spiritual attributes (ātmāguṇas).[10] Of them, the generic attributes comprises of the gurvādi-guṇas and parādi-guṇās. When the parādiguṇas are common to all substances irrespective of whether they are spiritual or physical, the attributes in the gurvādi list are common to the physical substances only.

So the gurvādi guṇās can be treated as general physical qualities.

Footnotes and references:


rūparasagandhasparśāḥ saṃkhyā parimāṇāni pṛthaktvaṃ saṃyogavibhāgau paratvāparatve buddhayaḥ sukhadukhe icchādveṣau praytnāśca guṇāḥ. Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 6.


caśabdasamuccitaśca gurutvadravatvasnehasaṃskārādṛṣṭaśabdāḥ saptaivetyevaṃ caturviṃtiguṇāḥ. Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 27. The word adṛṣṭa in this articulation which literally means the invisible implies “merit” (dharma) and “demerit” (adharma). Actually these attributes are found mentioned in the various Vaiśeṣika - sūtras. For instance he refers to them in the following sūtras gurutva - V.S, I. i. 29; V. i. 7; V. i. 18; V. ii. 3. dravatva - II. i. 6, 7; V. ii. 4. sneha: II. i. 2. saṃskāra: V. i. 17, 18; IX. ii. 6,10; adṛṣṭa: V. i. 15; V. ii. 2, 7,13, 17; VI. i. 12; VI. ii. 1,2, 14; IX. ii. 9, 13.


The Bhāṭṭa - Mīmaṃsakās also speaks of twenty- four attributes. But they exclude merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma) and include manifestedness (prākaṭya) and potency (śakti), Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 244.


""sārthā gurvādayo buddhiḥ prayatnāntāḥ paradayaḥ guṇāḥ proktā; CS, Su, I. 49.


HIPS, Vol. II, p. 369.


ENVC, p. 109.


Ibid., 110.


HSPCIC, Vol. II, Part—4, p. 421.


Mahābhārata mentions qualities of physical elements quiet similar to that of Caraka, though there are some additional ones in Caraka which are absent in Mahābhārata or vice versa. The Mahābhārata mentions nine types of smells in earth: iṣṭa, aniśṭa, madhura kaṭu, nirhārin, saṃhata, snigdha, rūkṣa and viśada. There are six tastes in water: madhura, lavaṇa, tikta, kaṣāya, amla and kaṭu. Fire has got sixteen colours: hrasva, dīrgha, sthūla, caturaśra, and anuvṛttavat, śukla, kṛṣṇa, rakta, pīta, nīla, aruṇa, kaṭhina, cikkaṇa, ślakṣṇa, picchala, mṛdu, and dāruṇa. Air has got twelve types of touch: uṣṇa, śīta, sukha, duḥkha, snigdha, viśada, khara, mṛdu, rūkṣa, laghu, guru and gurutara. Vyākaraṇamahābhāṣya of Patañjali.. Mokṣa, 184. 28,33. 4, 36. 7. cf. HSPCIC, Vol. II, Part—4, p. 423.


anena trividhā api vaiśeṣikāḥ sāmānyā ātmaviśeṣaguṇāścoddiṣṭāḥ”. Cakrapāṇi on CS, Su, I. 49.

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