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...

Sense capacities [in Charaka philosophy]

One of the outstanding features of Carakasaṃhitā is its great concern for the sense capacities. Caraka classifies the sense capacities into two groups, namely the five cognitive sense capacities and the five action capacities.

The five sense capacities of cognition are:

  1. the sense of vision (cakṣu),
  2. the sense of hearing (śrotra),
  3. the sense of smell (ghrāṇa),
  4. the sense of taste (rasana),
  5. the sense of touch (tvak).[1]

The five action capacities are those of:

  1. handling (pāṇi),
  2. walking-(pāda),
  3. excretion (pāyu),
  4. reproduction (upastha),
  5. speech (vāk).161

Of these five the sense capacities of action the sense capacity of speech is the noblest in so far as the articulation of truth is concerned. The articulation of truth represents light and that of untruth stands for darkness.162 Caraka holds that mind, intellect (buddhi), five action capacities (karmendriyas), and five sense capacities of cognition (budhhīndriyas) are the instruments of the self for action, sensation, and cognition. In the absence anyone of these instruments, one cannot act or enjoy the fruit the actions.[2] The sense capacities of cognition receive impressions by establishing direct contact with the external objects and the action capacities act upon the objects perceived.

The Sāṃkhyas[3] and the Vedāntins[4] also construe the action capacities as external sense organs.But the Nyāya- Vaiśeṣika system does not recognize them as sense capacities. They recognize only the five external instruments of apprehension as sense capacities. Jayantabhaṭṭa even argues that if the action capacities are regarded as sense capacities then many other bodily organs should be considered because the throat has the function of swallowing food, the breasts have the function of embracing, the shoulders have the function of carrying and so on. More over, if different parts of the body are treated as sense organs, there will remain no body other than the sense organs. So they must not be treated as sense-organs.[5]

Sense capacities of cognition

The theories of the sense capacities of cognition evolved in India are completely different from those of the West, because they are based on metaphysical speculations rather than the Western scientific methods of observation and experiment.[6] Western philosophy, by and large, identify the cognitive sense organs with different bodily parts like the sense organs of vision, that is to say the eye is identified with the eye balls. But Indian thought, with the exception of the materialists, has never identified the sense capacities with the bodily locations. They are conceived as imperceptible capacities.[7] Caraka is also no exception to this. In relation to the cognitive sense capacities, he says that there are five sense capacities, five material substances that constitute the sense capacities, five sites of the senses, five sense objects and five sense perceptions.[8] Accordingly, eyes (akṣīṇi), tongue (jihvā), ears (karṇau), nostrils (nāsike), and skin (tvak) are the end organs which serve as the locations (adhiṣṭānas)[9] of the respective sense capacities of vision (cakṣu), hearing (śrota), smell (ghrāṇa), taste (rasana), and touch (sparśana). The objects of the five sense capacities are colour, sound, smell, taste, and touch.[10] The sense perceptions are visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile perceptions. It is very clear from this description that the sense capacities of cognition are different from physiological sites or end organs. It is conceived that the sense capacities are centered in the heart along with the two upper limbs, two lower limbs, trunk and the head, consciousness, the self with all its attributes, and the mind.[11] But quite different to this view, elsewhere, in Siddhisthāna, it is stated that the sense capacities are centered in the head along with their channels like the rays of the Sun.[12] This difference may be because the articulation in the Siddhisthāna is that of Dṛḍhabala and not of Caraka. Caraka had a clear conception of the sensory nerves relating to the cognitive senses and motor nerves relating to the action capacities.[13]

Caraka does not give a formal definition to the sense capacities. Neither the Nyāya-sūtra nor the Vaiśeṣika-sūtra makes a difference in this respect. Śrīdharācārya gives a general definition taking into account the five cognitive sense capacities. Accordingly, sense capacities are the instrumental substances in the body which brings about direct perception.[14] Udyodakāra defines them as the instruments of perception of their respective objects.[15] According to Annaṃbhaṭṭa and Viśvanātha, sense capacities are those which unite with the mind in order that there may be perception and, at the same time, they do not possess the perceptible or developed specific qualities (udbhūtaviśeṣaguṇa) with the exception of sound.[16]

In Carakasaṃhitā, the sense capacities are inferred to have been constituted by physical elements. The special feature of this constitution is that each sense organ is predominated by a physical element. Thus, the sense of hearing is predominated by ākāśa, the sense of touch by air, sense of vision by fire, sense of taste by water, and the sense of smell by earth. Consequently, a sense capacity which is predominated by a particular material element is able to receive the specific quality of that particular element and, therefore, the five specific qualities of the five material elements are received by their respective sense capacities only.[17] The sense capacities acquire this special feature due to the peculiar nature of successive emanation of the physical elements resulting in the accumulation of their qualities in a sequence. Both the body and the sense capacities are formed of the five physical elements. So sense capacities have a relation with the gross physical body which makes possible their mutual transaction.[18] This concept of the sense capacities of cognition is quite different from the concepts that we find in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Mīmāṃsā, classical Śāṃkhya, Suśruta and Vedānta.

In the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system the sense capacities are construed as material (bhautika) and not as ahaṃkārika.[19] In that sense Caraka is in consonance with them. But the difference in Nyāya- Vaiśeṣika is that each one of the sense faculties is formed of a particular pure physical element and is restricted to its particular object. Thus, the visual organ is formed purely by fire,[20] auditory capacity by ākāśa,[21] tactile by air,[22] gustatory by water,[23] and olfactory by earth.[24] They arrive at this conclusion on the grounds that a particular quality is known by a particular sense faculty.[25]

The olfactory capacity, for example, apprehends smell alone which is the specific quality of earth because it is made up of earth alone. If more elements were present in the sense faculty, then it would sense the other qualities also.[26] The Mīmāṃsakas also share the very same view of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas.[27]

In classical Sāṃkhya philosophy, the sense faculties exist and operate as direct modifications of the “I-consciousness” (ahaṃkāra) and not of the physical elements.[28] Their main contention against the physical nature of sense capacity is that the elemental substances can pervade only those things which are of the same magnitude. On the contrary things which are not so made up are all pervading, and, as such can operate upon all things of different magnitude.[29] What they mean is that the sense capacities of cognition are the determinate sensory psychophysical impulses which go to the external objects and receive impressions from them, and the sense capacities of action are the determinate motor psychophysical impulses which respond to the objects perceived.[30] However, this conception of the sense capacities as direct evolutes of the “I consciousness” makes it difficult to prove the specificity of the senses.[31] Suśruta, in consonance with the Sāṃkhyas, holds that all the eleven sense capacities (including mind) evolve from vaikārikāhaṃkāra under the influence of rajas.[32]

Similar to that of Caraka, the Vedāntins also regard the sense capacities as material. But the difference is that in the Vedānta the cognitive sense capacities are produced from the five subtle elements called tanmātras particularly possessed of the ingredient of sattva in order.[33] Similarly,the five senses of action are produced from the five subtle elements (taken singly) which particularly the rajastic ingredients.[34]

According to Carak, firstly, the cognitive sense capacities are capable of producing perceptual knowledge when they are motivated by the mind which controls them.[35] Secondly, they can perceive a specific quality only if the specific quality that predominates the object and the sense capacity are the same. The third and the most significant feature of the sense capacities is that they are capable of producing perception through contact with the objects having identical specific qualities by their peculiar characteristic of vibhutva.[36] For instance, the sense of vision grasps the object at its place. Here, vibhutva should not be understood as the all pervading or ubiquitous in nature like that of the self. If so, there will be the perception of all things at all times. It only implies the ability of the sense capacities for contraction and dilation according to the object, smaller or bigger, they come into contact with, like a flame that pervades a whole room. Since the sense capacities are different from the end organs (adhiṣṭānas), there is no difficulty for Caraka in holding that the visual sense capacities reach out to objects, instead of stimuli from objects coming to the sensory nerves. Thus, perception is conceived as a psychophysical process in Carakasaṃhitā. It follows that medicines applied to the end organs would make corresponding effects in those which inhere in them.[37]

The peculiarity of the description of sense capacities as having both the nature of the physical nature and pervasive nature (vibhutva) reveals that it is a synthesis of the concepts of the Sāṃkhyas who hold that the sense capacities are evolutes of “I-consciousness” and pervasive, and of the Nyāya- Vaiśeṣikas who hold that sense capacities are physical. The synthesis has enabled Caraka to account for the prāpyakāritva nature of the sense capacities. Prāpyakāritva is the characteristic of the sense capacities to apprehend the object by coming into direct contact with them,[38] The Nyāya- Vaiśeṣikas agree with the Sāṃkhyas in holding that the sense capacities are prāpyakāritva. But they refuse to accept them as the evolutes of “I-consciousness” and their pervasive nature.[39] However, the Jainas and the Buddhists do not consider all the sense capacities as prāpyakāri. The Buddhists regard the sense capacities of smell, taste, and touch as prāpyakāri and the sense capacities of vision and hearing as aprāpyakāri. They apprehend their objects at a distance with out reaching them.[40] The Jainas regard the visual sense capacity as aprāpyakāri and all other capacities as prāpyakāri. The visual organ perceives its objects at a distance with the help of light with out getting at it.[41]

Caraka holds that the organ of touch pervades all the sense capacities and also the mind.[42] No sensation is possible with out the contact of the sense organ of touch. So perception is possible only if objects fall with in the range of touch. Thus, the sense of touch is conterminous with all the senses. The most conspicuous aspect of this theory is that the sense of touch is in perpetual relation with the mind while the mind in turn pervades and governs the sense of touch. So, even though the sense of touch pervades all the senses, there is no chance of simultaneous perception because it occurs only where the atomic mind is active.[43] Skin is only the end organ of touch and consists of six layers.[44] Akṣapāda refers to a similar theory which considers that the sense of touch is the only sense organ and refutes it.[45] This is further reiterated by Jayantabhaṭṭa.[46] At the same time, the later Nyāya- Vaiśeṣikas believe that the sense of touch pervades the whole body.[47] They also consider that the contact mind with the sense of touch as a general condition for cognition.[48] The sense perceptions are all determinate and at the same time momentary in nature. [49] However, we cannot set aside the view point of Caraka that the sense capacities are physical as well as pervading because it is not a mere hypothesis but an inferential knowledge based on empirical analysis.

Footnotes and references:


CS, Su, VIII. 8. 161 Ibid., CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 25, 162 Ibid., 26.


Ibid., 56-57.


vākpāṇipādapāyūpsthāni karmendriyānyāhuḥ, Sāṃkhyakārikā, 26; Vijñānabhikṣu on Sāṃkhya-sūtra,, II. 19, Sāṃkhyadarśana (with Sāṃkhyapravacanabhāṣya of Sri Vijñana Bhikṣu)., p. 100.


Vedāntaparibhāṣa of Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra., p. 60; Vedānta- Sāra of Sadānanda Yogīndra., p. 49.


See “vāgādīnāṃindriyatvakhaṇḍanaṃ”, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—II. pp. 54.


IP, p.1.


“Phenomenology and Indian, Philosophy, Sibajiban Bhattacharyya”, PIP p. 60. The Buddhists hold that the sense capacities are nothing but the end organs. IP, p. 5.


iha khalu pañcendriyāṇi, pañcendriyadravyāṇi, pañcendriyādhṣṭhānāṇi, pañcendriyārthāḥ, pañcendriyabuddhayo bhavanti”, CS, Su,VIII. 3.


Ibid., 10.




ṣaḍaṅgamaṅgaṃ vijñānamindriyānyarthapañcakaṃ ātmā ca saguṇaścetaścintyaṃ ca hṛdi saṃśritaṃ. Ibid., XXX, 4.


śirasi indriyāni indriyaprāṇavahāni ca srotāṃsi sūryamiva gabhastayaḥ saṃśritāni, CS, Siddhi - sthāna, IX. 4.


IP, p. 1.


śarīrāśrayaṃ jñāturaparokṣapratītisādhanaṃ dravyamindriyaṃ, Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 82.


svaviṣayagrahaṇalakṣaṇatvamindriyāṇāṃ, Nyāya-Vārttika of Udyotakāra., p. 72.


śabdetaroḍbhūtaviśeṣaguṇānāśrayatve sati jñānakāraṇamanasaṃyogāśrayatvaṃ, See Dīpikā, TSA, p. 7; NSMK, p.197.


CS, Śārīra - sthāna, I. 24.


The articulation CS, Su, V.100 is an instance which is expressive of the transaction of the sense organs and body.


Vaiśeṣikadarśana., VIII. ii. 5, 6; ghrāṇarasanacakṣustvakśrotrāṇi bhūtebhyaḥ, Nyāyasūtra., I. i. 12; III. i. 60; asti cāyamindriyāṇāṃ bhūtaguṇaviśeṣopalabdhiniyamaḥ tena bhūtaguṇaviśeṣopalabdhermanyāmahe bhūtaprakṛtīnīndriyāṇi nāvyaktaprakṛtīnīti, Vātsyāyana on Nyāyasūtra., III, i, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana.. p. 60; bhautikānīndriyāṇīti samarthitaṃ, Nyāya-Vārttika of Udyotakāra., p. 388; evaṃ bhautikānīndriyāṇi svaṃ svaṃ viṣayamadhigantumutsahanta iti tallakṣaṇatvameṣāṃ siddhyatīti ato bhūtebhaḥ ityuktaṃ, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—II, p. 51.


indriyaṃ sarvaprāṇīnāṃ rūpavyañjakamanyāvayavānabhibhū taistejo'vayavai rārabdhaṃ cakṣuḥ, Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 99.


śrotram punaḥ śravaṇavivarasaṃjñako nabhodeśaḥ, Ibid., p. 152.


pṛthivyādyanabhibhūtairvāyyuvavayavairārabdhaṃ sarvaśarīravyāpi tvagindriyaṃ, Ibid., pp. 113 - 14.


Ibid., p. 96.


Ibid., p. 87.


Loc. cit., p. 243.


kiṃ kimātmakamiti yena yatguṇābhivyaktiḥ. tatra pārthivaṃ ghrāṇaṃ gandhābhivyaktihetutvād bahyapārthivadravyavaditi. evaṃ śeṣeṣvapi, Nyāya-Vārttika of Udyotakāra., p.395; pārthivaṃ ghrāṇaṃ dravyatve sati rūpādimadhye gandhasyaiva vyañjakatvāt gandhayuktadravyatvāt, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—II, p. 53; NSMK, p. 124.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., pp.10-11. Jadunath Sinha points out that the Mīmāṃsakas regard the auditory organ as a portion of the space - dik confined with in the ear-hole. IP, p.15.


sāttvika ekādaśaḥ prvartate vaikṛtādahaṃkārāt, Sāṃkhyakārikā, 25; Sāṃkhya-sūtra,, II.18.


āhaṃkārikatvaśruterna bhautikāni. Sāṃkhya-sūtra,, II. 20; see also Vijñānabhikṣu on ibid; bhautikaṃ hi yāvat tāvadeva vyāpnoti abhautikaṃ tu vibhutvāt sarvavyāpakaṃ, Vātsyāyana on Nyāyasūtra., III. i.


IP, p. 4.


PVS. p. 165.


tatra vaikārikādahaṃkārāttaijasasahāyāttallakṣaṇānyevaikādaśendriyāṇyutpadyante, Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Śārīra - sthāna, I. 4.


etaiśca satvaguṇopetaiḥ pañcabhūtairvyastairyathākramaṃ śrotratvakcakṣurasanaghrāṇāni pañcajñānendriyāṇi jāyante, Vedāntaparibhāṣa of Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra., p. 159; Vedānta- Sāra of Sadānanda Yogīndra., p. 45.


etaireva rajoguṇopetaiḥ pañcabhūtairyathākramaṃ vākpāṇipādapāyūpasthākhyāni karmendriyāṇi jāyante, Vedāntaparibhāṣa of Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra., p.160.


manaḥ puraḥsarāṇīndriyāṇyarthagrāhaṇsamarthāni bhavanti, CS, Su,VIII. 7.


tatra yadyadātmakamindriyaṃ viśeṣāttattadātmkamevārthamanugṛhṇāti, tatsvabhāvādvibhutvācca, Ibid., 14.


cikitsadiprayogastu golake yaḥ pravartate so'yam adhārasaṃskāra ādheyasyopakāraḥ, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—II, p. 51.


IP, p. 2, 27.


bhautikendriyavāde'pi prāpyakāritvasiddhirna kāpilakathitamāhaṃkārikatvamindriyāṇāmupapadyate, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—II. p. 52.


IP, p. 2.


Ibid., p. 21.


tatraikaṃ sparśanamindriyāṇāmindriyavyāpakaṃ, cetaḥsamavāyi, sparśanavyāptervyāpakamapi ca cetaḥ;, CS, Su, XI. 38.


see Cakrapāṇi on ibid.


CS, Śārīra - sthāna, VII. 4. Suśruta describes seven layers of skin. see Suśrutasaṃhitā of Suśruta., Śārīra - sthāna, V. 6.


See Nyāyasūtra., III. i. 52-54.


see “ekendriyavādakhaṇḍanaṃ”, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., part—II, pp. 53-54.


indriyaṃ sparśagrāhakaṃ tvak sarvaśarīravarti.”, TSA, p. 9; śarīravyāpakaṃ sparśagrāhakamindriyaṃ tvak, NSMK, p.146. Kaṇāda is silent in this matter.


tvaṅmanaḥsaṃyogo jñānasāmānye kāraṇamityarthaḥ, NSMK, p.191.


CS, Su, VIII. 12.

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