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...

Action (karma) [in Charaka philosophy]

The word karma is used in the most general sense of motion and the specific sense of action. Caraka primarily defines it in the sense of actions of living beings.[1] Accordingly, karma is defined as action prompted by volition.[2] Comprehending both the above- mentioned meanings, he also defines it as that which causes conjunction and disjunction by inhering in substances and as action for something that is to be accomplished and it depends on no other entity.[3]

Even though karma isdefined in the sense of motion, he does not go further into the details giving its general divisions or the laws governing it. On the contrary, his further explanation is mainly centered on actions of the five physical elements which are relevant in the therapeutic context.

The five peculiar types of actions are:

  1. emesis (vamana),
  2. purgation (virecana),
  3. corrective enemata (āsthāpana/nirūhabasti),
  4. unctuous enema (anuvāsana-basti),
  5. head-purging (śīrṣa-virecana).[4]

This is nothing but a classification of the therapeutic actions done by physicians with drugs. He also classifies human actions into two: (i) positive actions (pravṛtti) and negative actions (nivṛtti).[5]

In the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school, the category karma refers to motion rather than action.[6] The earliest definition of karma is found in the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra. There, it is defined as residing in one substance only, not possessing quality, being an independent cause of conjunction and disjunction.[7]

He classifies karma into five:

  1. upward motion (utkṣepaṇa),
  2. downward motion (apakṣepaṇa),
  3. contraction (ākuñcana),
  4. expansion (prasāraṇa),
  5. motion in general (gamana).

Here the last one called is meant to include any motion not designated by the other four.[8] This classification has been admitted by all the later thinkers of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school.[9]

Praśastapāda comprehending all the five divisions gives a generic definition: All the five kinds of action beginning with utskṣepaṇa belong to a class of karmatva (the universal of karma). He elaborates it in the following way: action belongs to a single substance, is momentary, inheres in corporeal substances, is devoid of qualities, is caused by weight, volition, and conjunction or disjunction and is destroyed by its effect. It is an independent cause of conjunction and disjunction and is conceived as an intimate cause (asamavāyikāraṇa). It produces effects in its substratum and other substrates. It does not bring forth actions of the same class and does not create substance.[10] One significant thing to be noted in this connection is that he differentiates volitional acts from other kinds of motion. He calls all the five types of actions related to the body and the things connected with the body as conscious (satpratyaya) and all other motions as unconscious (asatpratyaya).[11]

Now it is very clear that the motif of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika is motion and that of Caraka is action. Probably Caraka has sought to give therapeutic connotation for the category karma, presumably with a view to assimilating them in the medical tradition.

Footnotes and references:


The words pravṛtti, ceṣṭā, kriya, yatnaḥ, and kāryasamāraṃbha are also used in the sense of bodily actions along with the word karma. see CS, Vimāna - sthāna, VIII. 77.


prayatnādi karma ceṣṭitamucyate CS, Su, I. 49. Volition (prayatna) is the quality of the self. So the expression "prayatnādi' in the dictum is to be understood as “prompted by volition” and not as “volition and the like”.


saṃyoge, vibhāge ca karaṇaṃ dravyamāśritaṃ kartavyasya kriyā karma karma nanyadapekṣate, CS, Su, I. 52.


CS, Su, II. 5-16; Ibid., XXVI. 10


see infra, pp. 359 - 60.


calanātmakaṃ karma. TSA, p. 60; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p. 213.


ekadravyamaguṇm saṃyogavbhāgeṣvanapekṣakāraṇamiti karmalakṣaṇaṃ, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., I. i. 17.


Ibid., 7.


TSA, p. 5, 60; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p. 213; Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 8; NSMK, p. 41.


utkṣepaṇadīṇāṃ pañcānāmapi karmatvasambandhaḥ ekadravyavatvaṃ kṣaṇikatvaṃ mūrtadravyavrttitvamaguṇavatvaṃ gurutvadravatvaprayatnasaṃyogavatvaṃ svakaryasamyogavirodhitvaṃ saṃyogavibhāganirapekṣakāraṇatvamasamavāyikaraṇatvaṃ. svaparāśrayasamavetakāryāraṃbhakatvaṃ samānajatīyānārambhakatvaṃ dravyānāraṃbhakatvaṃ ca pratiniyatajātiyogitvaṃ, Praśastapādabhāṣya., pp. 697 - 698.


For details see Ibid., pp. 713 - 725.

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