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...

Verbal Testimony (śabda) [in Charaka philosophy]

In the theory on the source of knowledge, perception occupies the undisputed place because it is immediate cognition. Moreover, it is the foundation on which all other pramāṇas operate. So perception is discussed first in all most all philosophical systems. Quite contrary to that, Caraka places primacy on verbal testimony (śabda) because in Āyurveda scriptural knowledge is an essential prerequisite for a physician. It is only after attaining competency in scriptural testimony that a physician becomes proficient in making use of the other sources of knowledge for diagnosis. In Indian tradition, it is a conventional belief that truth reveals itself to a man with pure heart and chaste mind when he engages in sincere and deep meditation, with a view to providing social welfare and without the slightest trace of selfish interest. Such is the belief in the ultimate revelatory nature of knowledge.[1]

Caraka defines verbal testimony as the authoritative instructions of reliable persons (āpta).[2] Trustworthy persons (āptas) are authoritative and enlightened persons who are freed from rajas and tamas by spiritual endeavour and knowledge. Such persons have a clear and untainted vision of things belonging to the present, the past, and the future. The teachings of such trustworthy persons are regarded as authentic.[3] Their words are regarded as authentic because they have an unimpaired memory and complete knowledge free from doubts, attachment, and affliction.[4] Further śabda is seen to be included in the table of logical terms. There it is said that a word (śabda) is a collection of letters and that it is of four kinds, namely perceived purport (drṣṭārtha), unperceived purport (adrṣṭārtha), truth (satya) and untruth (anṛta).[5] According to this definition and division, śabda refers to articulations of all types without considering whether they are authoritative or not. It brings about some ambiguity due to the inclusion of untruth as one of its divisions. It may mislead to the conclusion that statements of any person can be treated as a source of valid cognition. But according to the Carakasaṃhitā itself, all sentences, particularly of untruth, in no way, can be treated as the source of valid cognition. Caraka has not only explained in clear terms the specific qualities essential for a man to be recognized as a trustworthy person, but he has also cautioned that the intoxicated, mad, the illiterate persons and persons having attachment should not be treated as bonafide.[6]

Caraka primarily accepts Vedas as authoritative scriptures (āptāgama). He includes the knowledge of moral rule, spiritual goals, and practices derived from the Vedic scriptures in verbal testimony. At the same time, the duly verified and established doctrines by critical thinkers in other secular disciplines which do not contradict the objects of Veda and are aimed at the well-being of the universe were also treated with greater importance.[7] This shows his unbiased synthesizing attitude. Referring to this, P.V. Sarma points out that Caraka was a daiṣṭika who accepted both āstika and nāstika views as logic permitted. He says that diṣta is a term which Pāṇini puts in between asti and nāsti. The last two are at opposite poles while the first one (diṣṭa) balances the two. The daiṣṭikas, choose one of the two after critically examining the facts and circumstances.[8] However we cannot deny the fact that Caraka was an āstika even though he adopted a neutral approach.

Akṣapāda describes verbal testimony as the assertion of a worthy person (āpta) which is further followed by the later thinkers.[9] With regard to the question as to who an āpta is, Vātsyāyana says that he is one who operates through the direct and intuitive knowledge of things. Quite different from the Mīmāṃsakas, the Naiyāyikas consider that the knowledge derived from the Vedas is valid, since they are the utterances of īśvara. He adds that āptas need not be sages. Even foreigners (mlecchas) can be āptas.[10] It is relevant to note that the Nyāya-sūtra refers to two divisions of verbal testimony, namely dṛṣṭārtha and adṛṣṭārtha.[11]

The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas describe verbal testimony in the following way: When the words of a sentence are heard there arises the recollection of the meaning of the words. The recollection gives rise to sense of the sentence, which is not in contact.[12] They give a different division of verbal testimony namely human (pauruṣeya) and superhuman (apauruṣeya). The first is the words of reliable persons and the second is the Vedic scriptures.[13] The Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas, at the same time, recognize only the Vedic scriptures as verbal cognition.[14] The reason is that though the words of a man lead to the inference of the intention of the speaker they do not convey themselves the meaning of the sentence because their capacity is made blunt by doubt.[15] Kaṇāda asserts that the cognition derived from verbal testimony is a variety of inference and it is attested by his followers. In classical Sāṃkhya, reliable authority (āptāgama) is verbal testimony (śabda).[16] The Vedāntins, similar to that of the Prābhākara Mīmāṃsakas, consider only the Vedic scriptures as authority. At the same time, Caraka, in coherence with the Sāṃkhya, Nyāya, and some other systems, consider the  articulations of trustworthy persons as authority.

Footnotes and references:


CSG, Vol. 1, p. 459.


tatrāptopadeśo nāmāptavacanaṃ, CS, Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 4.


rajastamobhyāṃ nirmuktastapojñānabalena ye yeṣāṃ trikālamamalaṃ jñānamavyāhataṃ sadā. āptāḥ śiṣṭā vibuddhāste teṣāṃ vākyamasaṃ-śāyaṃ satyaṃ, vakṣyati te kasmādasatyaṃ nīrajastamāḥ., CS, Su, XI. 18-19.


aptā hyavitarkasmṛtivibhāgāvido niṣprītyupatāpadarśinaśca.
teṣāmevaṃguṇayogādyadvacanaṃ tat pramāṇaṃ, CS, Vimāna-sthāna, IV. 4.


Ibid., VIII. 38.


apramāṇaṃ punarmattonmattāmurkharaktaduṣṭādusṭavacanamiti, Ibid., IV. 4.


tatrāptāgamastāvadvedaḥ, yaścānyo'pi kaścidvedārthādaviparītaḥ parīkṣakaiḥ praṇītaḥ śiṣṭānumato lokānugrahapravṛttaḥ śāstravādaḥ, sa cāptāgamaḥ; CS, Su, XI. 27.


PVS, p.164; asti nasti distaṃ matiḥ, Aṣṭādhyāyī-sūtrapāṭha of Pāṇini., IV. iv. 60; pramāṇanupatinī yasya matiḥ sa daiṣṭikaḥ, KV, Part—I, p. 399. Vaiśeṣikadarśana.. Agarwala says that daiṣṭika mentioned by Pāṇini refers to the followers of the determinist philosophy preached by Makkali Gośāla who repudiated the efficacy of karma as means for the lot of human beings. Vaiśeṣikadarśana.. Agarwala, India as Known to Pāṇini, Varanasi, 1963, pp. 384-85.


āptopadeśaḥ śabdaḥ, Nyāyasūtra., I. i. 7; Nyāya-Vārttika of Udyotakāra., p.61; Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., p.108, TSA, p. 50.


ṛṣyāryamlecchānāṃ samānaṃ lekṣaṇaṃ”, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p.28.


sa dvividhaḥ - dṛṣṭādṛṣṭārthatvāt, Nyāyasūtra., 1. i. 8.


Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 93.


tacca śabdaṃ dvividhaṃ pauruṣeyamapaoruśeyañca. tatrāptavacaḥ pauruṣeyaṃ vedavaco apuruṣeyaṃ, Ibid., p. 105.


gurustvāḥ. vaidikameva śabdamasti, Ibid.




Sāṃkhyakārikā, 6.

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