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...

Knowledge (pramāṇa) [in Charaka philosophy]

The Sanskrit word pramāṇa, as indicated by its constituents, denotes source of knowledge. It is derived from the root “ma[1] which means to measure by prefixing “pra” and dissolving the instrumental infix “lyuṭ”.

The word has three different but closely connected meanings:

  1. a source of knowledge with out referring to its being either true or false,
  2. a source of valid knowledge,
  3. a means of scrutiny.2

Thus, pramāṇa basically deals with the moot epistemological question “How do we know?” Probably it is one of the toughest problems that the human thought has ever confronted. It dwells on various types of knowledge from sensory experience to transcendental perception of ultimate reality. Carakasaṃhitā includes a comprehensive treatment of the various sources of knowledge from an epistemologist's point of view.

Caraka was circumspect of the fact that a person who wants to become a successful physician must know the reality of human constitution and the world beyond his nerve endings, their relations, and the universal principle which co-ordinates and governs them. Also, he was aware of the fact that the knowledge gained must open to view what is hidden and must have the competence to lead to fruitful efforts. So a proper understanding of the sources of knowledge is essential, since the knowledge that derives from it manifests objects by removing the mist and veil. It is with this view that Caraka, the extreme realist, incorporates the sources of knowledge in which both rational and practical aspects are found complementary. It finally gives his compendium a philosophical as well as scientific temper.

Classification and general definition

A number of definitions have been given by the various system makers for pramāṇas. But Caraka does not give a general definition. Caraka starts the description of the sources of knowledge with the categorization of all entities as the existent and the-consequent non-existent revealing that he is an extreme realist. For him the external world is a reality and is accessible to reason. He further classifies the sources of valid knowledge into verbal testimony (āptavacana), perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), and heuristic (continuous) reasoning (yukti) and they are collectively called examination (parīkṣa).[2] On certain occasions, he speaks of three divisions of the sources of knowledge only.[3] Cakrapāṇi says that yukti is not stated separately in such a context because it is implied by inference.[4] In addition to the above mentioned four pramānas, he also refers to other four pramānas namely tradition (aitihya), analogy (aupamya,), presumption (arthāprāpti) and inclusion or probability (saṃbhava).[5] Among them, aupamya and arthaprāpti, correspond to upamāna and arthāpatti respectively. However, the sources of knowledge which Caraka recognizes as the most important are verbal testimony (āptavacana), perception (pratyakṣa), inference (anumāna), and heuristic reasoning (yukti). They are designated by the common term parīkṣa. Others are not raised to such a rank.

The use of the term parīkṣa for the sources of knowledge, in general, is peculiar to Carakasaṃhitā and it primarily pinpoints to the fact that they are being conceived as a means of verification leading to right cognition or true judgment. Thus, what is real is of the nature that it submits to the scrutiny of reason and naturally the word parīkṣa is used in the third sense of the word pramāṇa cited above. This shows his rationalistic and pragmatic approach to knowledge. It was inevitable for Caraka to employ and explain the source of true judgment.

The word parīkṣā signifies scrutiny and so it is the most accurate word for the source of reflective knowledge described by Caraka. Caraka has significantly stated that in order to arrive at infallible knowledge of diseases one should acquire verbal knowledge first and then proceed to examine by direct observation (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna).[6] Quite similar to that, in Nyāyabhāṣya, inference is being treated as the final source of true judgment of things that are known by perception and verbal testimony. It is in this sense that inference is called ānvīkṣa and the Nyāya system which works by it is ānvīkṣikī.[7] If Caraka recognizes perception and inference as sources of examination for true judgment, Vātsyāyana declares that inference is the final source of judgmental knowledge.[8] This shows the development in the concept of parīkṣā expressed by Caraka in the later period in Nyāya philosophy.

Kaṇāda does not give a general definition of pramāṇas. Instead of that, he defines valid knowledge as the knowledge free from all faults.[9] The Nyāya-sūtra also gives no general definition of the source of knowledge. But his commentators Vātsyāyana[10] and Udyotakāra[11] define it as the cause of cognition. Bhāsarvajña defines pramāṇa as the source of right cognition.[12] Jayantabhaṭṭa defines it as the collection of all the conditions of true judgment which are other than illusory or doubtful.[13]

Quite similar to the Naiyāyikas, the Bhāṭṭas define it as the instrument of knowledge which brings about the valid cognition of an object which is not previously comprehended.[14] Experience which is other than recollection is pramāṇa for the Prābhākaras.[15] The Buddhists consider the knowledge which is not contradicted by experience as valid knowledge (avisaṃvādakaṃ jñānaṃ samyakjñānaṃ).[16] The Buddhist logician Dinnāga defines it as that which brings about the cognition of an object which is not previously comprehended.[17] TheVedānta-sūtra does not pay more attention to the pramāṇas, the source and authority of knowledge, than the other systems.[18]

Even though various thinkers have given their own definitions, all of them agree to the point that pramāṇas are sources of valid knowledge leading to effective activity.[19] The pramāṇas accepted by the different schools of thought are as follows: The Cārvākas admit only perception as a source of valid knowledge.[20] The Buddhists[21] and Vaiśeṣikas,[22] admit two, perception and inference; the Sāṃkhyas[23] three: perception, inference, and verbal testimony; the Naiyāyikas[24] four: perception, inference, analogy, and verbal testimony as sources of valid knowledge; the Prābhākaras[25] recognize a fifth one also, namely presumption (arthāpatti); the Bhāṭṭas[26] and the Vedāntins[27] admit one more, non-apprehension (abhāva); the Paurāṇikas[28] again adds two more, probability (saṃbhava) and tradition (aitihya).

As far as Āyurveda is concerned, it has got a high pragmatic value. It makes use of the pramāṇas in diagnosis of diseases and applying therapeutic measures as has been exemplified in Carakasaṃhitā. After grasping the characteristic features of the disease from scriptural testimony, the physician examines the diseased by direct observation and inference and arrives at a conclusion regarding the disease.One who is skillful in operating this procedure seldom fails to act properly as a physician.[29]

Footnotes and references:


mā māne”. Mādhavīya Dhātuvṛtti of Sayaṇācārya, ed; Swāmi Dvārakādās Śāstrī,Tara Book Agency,Varanasi,Third ed., 2000, p. 65. 2 Hiriyanna, M., Journal of Oriental Research, Madras, 1940, pp. 1-2.


dvividhameva khalu sarvaṃ saccāsacca; tasya caturvidhā parīkṣā-āptopadeśaḥ, pratyakṣaṃ, anumānaṃ yuktiśceti. CS. Su. XI. 17.


CS, Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 3, 9.


yukteranumānantarbhāvādeva na pṛthakkaraṇaṃ, Cakrapāṇi on CS. Vimāna-sthāna, IV. 3. But this view is not tenable. See infra, pp. 270 - 271.


CS, Vimāna - sthāna, VIII. 27. See infra, p. 292.


“.........trividhe tvasmin jñānasamudāye pūrvamāptopadeśajñānaṃ, tataḥ pratyakṣānumānābhyaṃ parīkṣopapadyate”, CS, Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 5.


pratyakṣāgmāśritaṃ anumānaṃ sānvīkṣā = pratyakṣāgamābhyāmīkṣitasyānvīkṣāṇamānvīkṣā tayā pravartate ityānvīkṣikī nyāyavidyā = nyāyaśāstraṃ.”, Vātsyāyana on Nyāyasūtra., 1, i, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 6. ānvīkṣikī was the earliest name for Nyāya -śāstra.


pramānairarthaparīkṣānaṃ nyāyaḥ”, Ibid. The term Nyāya ultimately refers to syllogism. For details see Tattvacintāmaṇi of Gaṅgeśopādhyāya., Vol. I, p. 540.


aduṣṭaṃ vidyā, Vaiśeṣikadarśana., IX. ii. 12.


upalabdhisādhanāni pramāṇānīti samākhyānirvacanasāmarthyād boddhavyaṃ-pramīyate'neneti karanārthābhidāno hi pramāṇa-śabdaḥ. Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 18.


viṣayāntaraṃ prati karaṇasādhanaṃ pramīyate'neneti pramāṇaṃ,


samyaganubhavasādhanaṃ pramāṇaṃ, Nyāyasara of Bhāsarvajña., p. 2.


avyabhicāriṇamasandigdhamarthopalabdhiṃ vidadhatī bodhābodhasvabhāvasāmagrī pramāṇaṃ, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., Part—I, p.12.


tasmādajñātatattvārthajñānasādhanameva naḥ pramāṇamiti nirnītaṃ, Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 8.


anubhūtiḥ pramāṇaṃ smṛtivyatiriktā samvidanubhūtiḥ iti, prābhākarah. ibid., p. 7.


Dharmottara on Nyāya Bindu of Dharmakīrti., p. 4.


anadhigatārthajñāpakaṃ pramāṇaṃ; Abhedanandabhaṭṭācārya Nyāyapramāṇasamīkṣā, Parimal Publications, Delhi, 1987, p. 19.


Max Muller, Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, The Chowkhamba Sanskrit Studies, Vol. XVI, The Chawkhamha Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi, 4th edn.1971, p. 143.


pramāṇato'rthapratipattau pravṛttisāmarthyādarthavatpramāṇaṃ, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p.1; jñānaṃ vyavasāyeneti vyavasāyaḥ pravṛtti, yathā- peyajale pānārthā pravṛttiḥ; tenānumīyate jalajñānamasya jātaṃ, kathamanyathā, for details see CS, Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 5-12. jñānakāryārtha kriyāyāṃ pravartate iti. Cakrapāṇi on CS, Vimāna-sthāna, IV. 8; also see Dharmottara onNB, p. 4.


pratyakṣamekameva pramāṇaṃ yathārthajñānasādhanamiti cārvākāḥ manyante, Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., “Upodghāta”, p. 29.


pratyakṣamanumānañceti, Nyāya Bindu of Dharmakīrti., p. 8; Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., “Upodghāta”, p. 30.




pratyakṣanumānopamānaśabdāḥ pramāṇāni, Nyāyasūtra., l. i. 3; There is a class of Naiyāyikas (ekadeśis) who exclude comparison and acknowledge only three: “trividhaṃ pramāṇaṃ. pratyakṣamanumānamāgamaśceti”, Nyāyasara of Bhāsarvajña., p. 9.


uktaṃ pramāṇacatuṣṭayamarthāpattiśceti pramāṇapañcakaṃ mīmāṃsakaviśeṣāḥ prābhākarāḥ, Sarva-Darśana-Saṃgraha of Sāyaṇa-Mādhava., “Upodghāta”, p. 30.


pratyakṣamanumānaṃ ca śabdaṃ copamitistathā arthāpattirabhāvaśca ṣaḍ pramāṇāni mādṛśāṃ. Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 8.


tāni ca pramāṇāni ṣaḍ - pratyakṣānumānopamānāgamārthāp atyanupalabdhibhedāt, Vedāntaparibhāṣa of Dharmarāja Adhvarīndra., p.8.


paurāṇikāstvaṣṭakamabhidadhire saṃbhavaitihyayogāt, Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 9.


For details see CS, Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 5-12.

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