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...

Specific attributes (vaiśeṣika-guṇas)

The five sensible attributes namely, sound, touch, colour, taste, and smell are specific attributes. Caraka calls them by the general term indriyārthas which means objects of sense[1] or arthawhich means objects.[2] In this context it should be noted that Kaṇāda uses the epithet artha to designate the first three categories in the sense that they are things of objective existence.[3] The above-mentioned five attributes are recognized as specific qualities (vaiśeṣikaguṇās), for each one of them predominate in each one of the physical elements; that is sound is predominant in ākāśa, touch is predominant in air, colour in fire, taste in water, and smell in earth.[4] Moreover, these five attributes can only be cognized by their respective external sense organs with which the Vaiśeṣikas agree.[5] The Mīmāṃsakas also agree with this.[6] The Vaiśeṣikas include viscidity (sneha), natural liquidity (saṃsiddhikadravata), and the attributes of the self, namely desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, volition, knowledge, merit, demerit, and impression in the group of specific qualities.[7]

Colour (rūpa)

Caraka does not give much attention to colour, smell, touch and sound since they have lesser importance in Āyurvedic system. Colour aids the sense of vision in perception. In Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika colour is the quality which is cognized by eye alone. It is of seven types namely white, blue, yellow, red, green, tawny, and variegated. They all belong to earth. Water has pale white and fire has bright white.[8]

Taste (rasa)

Taste, the object of sense of taste, occupies an important position in Āyurveda, for it plays a vital role in identifying drugs and in diagnosing disease and prescribing curative measures. So Caraka is mainly concerned with rasa when compared to other specific attributes. The description of the great conference held at caitraratha (CS.Su, I. 26) for the discussion of food and taste stands as material evidence for how much importance was given to taste in Āyurveda. In the conference, after examining the diverse opinions of the sages, Atreya Punarvasu, who presided over the conference, concluded that there were only six tastes: sweet (madhura), acid (amla), saline (lavaṇa), pungent (kaṭu), bitter (tikta), and astringent (kaṣāya).[9] Suṣruta,[10] Vāgbhaṭa,[11] Vaiśeṣikas,[12] Mīmāṃsakas,[13] and also the Mahābhārata[14] agree with this.

Caraka basically admits the successive accumulation of attributes in physical substances.[15] So, naturally, earth and water are considered as the substrates of rasa. But, both are not given equal importance.[16] Priority is given to water. In fact water is regarded as the source of rasa.[17] Suśruta is also of the opinion that water is the source of rasa.[18] Earth acquires taste because of its uninterrupted relation with water.[19] Even though earth and water serve as the substrates of taste the other three physical elements are also responsible for their manifestation.[20] Since rasas reside in the objects constituted by pañcamahābhūtās, they are conditioned by five factors, namely (1) specific nature of the substance (prakṛti), (2) action of heat or other agents (vikṛti), (3) combination (vicāra), (4) location of production (deśa), and (5) time of production (kāla).[21] In Carakasaṃitā and Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra there is reference to someone who recognises alkali (kṣāra) as the seventh rasa.[22] The alkali (kśāra) is not a rasa, for it is made up of more than one rasa and affects more than one sense organ. As such it is a compound taste. It has at least two important rasas namely pungent and saline. It is not a natural substance, but it is produced through artificial process like filteration (pariśravaṇa).[23]

Similarly, Caraka and Nāgārjuna refer to some others who regard unmanifested taste (avyaktarasa) as the eighth rasa.[24]

But, Ātreya has clearly stated that, there is no independent rasa which can be called the unmanifested (avyakta). Water is the source of all rasas. So, all rasas are considered as existing in water in an unmanifested form. Moreover, the anurasa or their co-inherence in a substance has the nature of unmanifestation.[25]

According to the variation of components of the physical elements the content of the rasas also will vary. Thus, sweet taste is dominant in substances which have more water (soma) content; sour taste is predominant in substances which abound with earth and fire; saline taste in substances having more water and fire contents; pungent taste in substances which abound with fire and air; bitter taste in substances having more content of air and ākāśa, and astringent taste in substances with more air and earth.[26] The predominanting physical element of a given medicine (dravya) can be inferred on the basis of the predominance of rasas.

From the therapeutic point of view, the various kinds of rasas are being construed as the cause of increase or decrease of the three doṣas. This subject is outside the scope of the present study, and hence it is not discussed here.

The Vaiśeṣikas consider that quality of water can be sensed by the sense of taste and they ascribe all the six tastes to earth and sweet taste to water.[27]

Smell (gandha), Touch (sparṣa), and Sound (ṣabda)

Smell, touch, and sound are the qualities which are apprehended by their respective senses. In Vaiśeṣika, smell is of two types: fragrant (surabhi) and noxious (asurabhi).[28] Both of them belong to earth. The Mīmāṃsakas add one more called ordinary (sādhāraṇa).[29] Similarly, for the Vaiśeṣika, touch is of three kinds: cold (sīta), hot (uṣṇa) and tepid (anuṣṇaśīta).[30] Cold touch belongs to water, hot touch to fire, and tepid which is neither cold nor hot to earth and air.[31] Mīmāṃsakas also accept these three divisions.[32]

One of the most important things to be noted in this connection is that Caraka makes use of the theory of paka which is responsible for change in colour, taste, smell, and touch in ephemeral substances.[33] But he does not postulate a theory on it. It is in the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas that we meet with such a theory. Accordingly, the specific qualities, namely, colour, taste, smell, and touch inhering in earth are ephemeral and can sometimes be changed by the application of heat. There is a sharp difference of view in this matter between the Vaiśeṣikas and the Naiyāyikas. The Vaiśeṣikas, who hold the theory of pīlupāka, believe that the change of qualities are affected in the paramāṇus which form the parts of the whole like a jar, in accordance with the application of external heat. Naiyāyikas, who hold the theory of piṭharapāka, argue that the change takes place in the whole, that is, in the jar itself.[34]

Footnotes and references:


Ibid., VIII. 11.


arthāḥ śabdādayo jñeyāḥ gocarāḥ viṣayāḥ guṇaḥ”. CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 31.


artha iti dravyaguṇakarmasu”, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., VIII. ii. 3. For details see CSP, p. 37.


ete ca vaiśeṣikāḥ; yataḥ ākaśasyaiva śabdaḥ prādhānyena, vāyoreva sparśaḥ prādhānyena evamagnyādiṣu rūpādayḥ, Cakrapāṇi on CS, Su, I. 49.


śabdasparśarūparasagandhā bāhyekaikendriyagrāhyaguṇāḥ”, Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 231.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., pp. 245-46.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 230; budhyādiṣaḍkaṃ..... amī vaiśeṣiko guṇāḥ, NSMK, p. 370


TSA, p. 14; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., pp. 191-92.


ṣaḍeva rasā ityuvāca bhagavānātreyaḥ punarvasuḥ madhrāmlalavaṇakaṭutiktakaṣāyāḥ, CS, SU, XXVI. 9.


Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Su, xlii, 3.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 254; Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya.. 26. Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 245.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., P. 245.


madhuro lavaṇastiktaḥ kaṣāyo'mlaḥ katustathā eṣa ṣadvidhavistāro vārimayaḥ smṛtaḥ, Mahābhārata., Mokṣa, 177, 30.


see infra, p. 122. gandhrūpasparśaśabdaguṇāḥ pṛthivyaptejovāyvākāśānāṃ, pūrvaḥ pūrvo pakṛṣyate, Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra of Bhadantanāgarjuna., II. 40. guṇāḥ pūrvasya pūrvasya prāpnuvantyuttarottaraṃ. Mahābhārata., Mokṣa, 224. 39.


rasanārtho rasastasya dravyamāpaḥ kṣtistathā, CS, Su, I. 64.


teṣāṃ ṣaṇṇāṃ rasānāṃ yonirudakaṃ, CS, Su, XXVI. 9.


“.....tasmādāpyo rasaḥ”, Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Su, xlii. 3.


kṣitistvapāmeva rasena nityānuṣaktena rasvatītyucyate, Cakrapāṇi on CS, Su, I. 64.


Loc. cit. F. Note,132.


pañcamahābhūtavikarastvāśrayāḥ prakṛtivikṛtivicāradeśakālavaśāḥ, CS, Su, XXVI. 9.


kṣārameke saptamaṃ, Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra of Bhadantanāgarjuna., III. 3.


kṣaraṇāt kṣāraḥ, nāsau rasaḥ,. CS, Su, XXVI. 9. See also Cakrapanion Ibid.


avyaktamaṣtamamityeke, Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra of Bhadantanāgarjuna., III, 4.


avyaktībhāvastu khalu rasānāṃ prakṛtau bhavatyanurase anurasasamanvaye vā dravye, CS, Su, XXVI, 9.


CS, Su, XXVI, 40; Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Su, xlii. 3; Rasavaiśeṣika-sūtra of Bhadantanāgarjuna., III. 38-43. “kṣmāṃbhognikṣmāṃbutejaḥ..... bhūtairmadhurādirasodbhavaḥ”. Aṣṭāṅgahṛdaya of Vāgbhaṭa., Su, X.1.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 254; TSA, p.15; Sivādityaya adds one more: citrarasa. Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 46.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 255, TSA, p. 16.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 245.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 256; Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 27; TSA, p. 16.


TSA, p. 16.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 246.


Pāka is the application of external heat which effects a change of colour, taste, smell and touch in earth. “pāko nāma vijātīyatejasaṃyogaḥ”, TSA, p. 17.


For details see Praśastapādabhāṣya., pp. 257-260; TSA, p. 16-18; see also the notes on it, pp.156 - 159.

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