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...

Inference (anumāna) [in Charaka philosophy]

The word anumāna is constituted by adding the prefix “anu” (after) to the stem “māna” (measuring) and it literally means measuring after. Keeping in conformity with the etymological sense, Vātsyāyana defines inference thus: Inference consists in subsequent measurement of an object (artha) by the measuring sign.[1] Thus, it means the source by which knowledge is derived from knowledge. Anumāna is a logical process of acquiring knowledge which consists in an ordered series of cognitive episodes. The knowledge thus gained is called anumiti in Sanskrit which literally means the consequent knowledge.

Before going to Carakasaṃhitā, let us see the explanations of anumāna given in the various systems of philosophy. With the exception of the Cārvākas, all the philosophical systems admit inference as a mode of knowing the world. The classical Sāṃkhyas define inference as the cognition based on the prior knowledge of the “characteristic mark” (liṅga) and that which bears the mark (liṅgi).[2] Iśvarakṛṣṇa classifies inference into three types.[3] But he does not further explain them. His commentators who name them widely differ in their interpretation.

Paramārtha’’s Chinese version on Sāṃkhya Kārikā calls them as pūrvavat, śeśavat and sāmānyato dṛṣṭa[4] and interprets thus:

  1. inference from the cause or a-priori, for example from rain clouds the rain;
  2. inference from the effect or a-posteriori, for example it must have rained because the river is flowing;
  3. inference by anology.

In Gaudapāda's Sāṃkhyakārikabhāṣya, pūrvavat and samanyatodṛṣṭa are the same as above while śeśavat is interpreted in terms of inference from a part to its whole. For instance, the saltiness of the whole waters is inferred from its salty drop. Vācaspatimiśra discusses all these three inferences on the basis of a two fold division namely affirmative (vita) and negative (avita). Vita includes pūrvavat and sāmānyatodṛṣṭa as affirmative. Śeśavat is negative (avita).[5]

Akśapāda who attaches much importance to the ways of knowing states that inference preceded from perception and that it is of three kinds: a-priori (pūrvavat), a-posterioi (śeṣavat) and commonly seen (sāmānyatodṛṣṭa).[6] Vātsyāyana explains that the perception mentioned refers to the knowledge, the antecedents of which are the observation of the invariable relation of the middle term (hetu) with the major term (sādhya). Thus by means of recollection of the invariable relation and observation of the middle term (hetu), the unknown object or the major term (sādhya) is inferred.[7] He further interprets the three kinds of inference in two ways.

1. Pūrvavat

(a) When the effect is inferred from a cause it is called pūrvavat[8] . For instance, on seeing clouds we infer that there will be rain.

(b)The inference of an object from the perception of another thing based on the prior perception of their invariable connection.[9] For example, inferring of fire from smoke.

2. Śeṣavat

(a) It is the inference of the cause from the perception of the effect.[10] For example, when one sees that the river is full and the current is swifter, he infers that there has been rain.

(b) Secondly the word śeśavat is interpreted as “that which remains” (pariśeṣa). Hence, śeṣavat amumāna (inference of exclusion) is that in which with regard to an object some of the likely properties being denied, we infer that remain. For example, sound is an entity and is transient, and these two properties are common to substances, qualities, and actions. Then we eliminate substancehood of sound, because sound inheres in a single substance. Then we find that sound is not an action, because it is the originator of another sound. Thus, through this elimination reasoning, we arrive at the conclusion that sound must be a quality.[11]

3. Sāmānyatodṛṣṭa.

(a) It is an inference based on general observation. For instance, wehave observed a thing in a place different from where we have seen it before, only when it has moved. From this observed general fact we infer that the sun must be moving even though we cannot perceive it.[12]

(b) Even when the relation of the middle term (hetu) and the major term (sādhya) is not perceptible, the major term is inferred from the similarity of the middle term to something else.[13] For instance, the self is inferred from the qualities such as desire. Here the relation of desire and the like is not perceived. But it is inferred that desire being a quality must inhere in a substance. And the substance thus inferred is confirmed as self.

Kaṇāda and Praśastapāda use the term laiṅgika for inference and define it as valid knowledge derived from the comprehension of a sign (liṅga).[14] Liṅga means the sign or middle term possessing pervasion or invariable concomitance (vyāpti) with the major term (sādhya).

A middle term (liṅga) proper is expected to fulfill three conditions for a correct inferential knowledge. They are:

  1. It must be present in the locus or minor term (pakṣa) where the major term (sādhya) is to be inferred.
  2. It must have invariable concomitance with the major term in all other known inferential loci (sapakṣa or positive example)
  3. It must be absent in all such loci which is devoid of sādhya(negative example or vipakṣa).[15]

Here the first condition refers to the resident of sign or middle term (pakṣadharmata) while the last two refer invariable concomitance. The sign which is devoid of either one or two of the characteristics mentioned is called fallacious sign (aliṅga).[16]

The Bhāṭṭa Mīmāṃsakas define inference as the cognition of what is not proximate resulting from the perception of what is pervaded.[17] Inferring for oneself (svārthānumāna) and inferring for others (parārthānumāna) are the two types of inferences recognised by the later Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school.[18] Among the two, the latter is syllogism which consists in a five step presentation (pañcāvayava or nyāya)[19] for the purpose of generating a veridical cognition in another person.

Caraka was fully aware of the fact that the scope of perception is very limited. Things beyond perception are unlimited. Even the things known through sense faculties are themselves not really the objects of perception. Moreover the assumption that things known through perception are the only realities and that there exists nothing beyond is absurd. So Caraka says that one has to rely on other sources of knowledge also for a complete knowledge.[20]

Caraka defines anumāna as inferential process (tarka) based on reasoning.[21] Caraka accepts yukti that functions as a conjecture which helps to arrive at true judgment in respect of the unknown object by the elimination of contrary suppositions. Cakrapāṇi interprets the term yukti in the articulation as invariable relation.[22]

Caraka asserts three things regarding inference. They are:

  1. Inference is a distinct source of knowledge based on a prior perception.
  2. There are three kinds of inference.
  3. Inferences have access to objects of three times.[23]

Of them the first assertion is that perception is the cause of inference. It implies that if one is to have an inferential knowledge one must have an actual perceived knowledge of the invariable concomitance between the middle term (liṅga) and the major term (sādhya) and must remember it at the time when one perceives that particular sign.[24] This knowledge of invariable concomitance is called “vyāptijñāna[25] and is considered as the instrumental cause of inference in Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika. It must be noted Caraka has not mentioned the invariable relation in its technical sense.

Though Caraka speaks of three different kinds of inferences, he neither calls them by specific names nor defines them. Instead, he only exemplifies them.

The examples suggested are

  1. the inference of fire from smoke,
  2. the inference of sexual intercourse from pregnancy,
  3. production of fruit from the seed respectively.[26]

Cakrapāṇi, commenting on the dictum in conformity with the divisions in the Nyāya-sūtra, says that, the first one represents the inference based on general correlation, second one the inference of the cause from the effect, and the third one the effect from the cause. They are also interpreted in relation to time as stated by Caraka himself. Thus, the example for the inference based on general correlation (inference of fire from smoke) is also related to the present. Sexual intercourse from pregnancy, the example of inference of the cause from effect, is related to the past. The production of fruit from seed which is an example of the inference of the effect from the cause is related to the future.[27]

In the therapeutic context, five kinds of signs (liṅgas) are suggested for inferring diseases which are beyond perception. They are hetu, pūrvarūpa, rūpa, upaśaya, and saṃprāpti. A physician must be conversant with the concomitance of these five types of signs with the diseases prior to the diagnosis of a disease in order to arrive at right judgements.[28] Similarly, a long list of inferences that have greater value in determining the psychosomatic conditions is also given. The inference of digestive fire from the power of digestion, strength from the capacity for exercise, conditions of senses from their capacity to perceive, existence of mind from the perception of specific objects in the presence of all other senses and their respective objects, and rajoguṇa from attachment to woman are some of them. Caraka does not conspicuously differentiate svārthānaumāna and parārthānumāna as we see in the later Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system. Yet he categorically explains parāthānumāna under the name sthapana.[29]

Footnotes and references:


anumānaṃ- mitena lingenarthasya paścānmānamanumānaṃ, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., pp. 17-18.


Sāṃkhyakārikā. 5.




JJL, p.158.


For details see Vācaspatimiśra on Sāṃkhyakārikā, 5, Sāṃkhyatattvakaumudī of Vācaspati Miśra., pp.55-58.


atha tatpūrvakaṃ trividhamanumānaṃ—pūrvavat śeṣavat sāmānyatodṛṣṭaṃ ca, Nyāyasūtra., I. i. 5.


tatpūrvakamityanena liṅgaliṅginoḥ........., smṛtyā liṅgadarśanena cāpratyakṣo'rtho'numīyate. Vātsyāyana on Nyāyasūtra., I. i. 5, Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 24.


pūrvavaditi yatra kāraṇena kāryamanumīyate. Ibid.


adhavā—pūrvavaditi yatra yadhāpūrvaṃ pratyakṣabhūtayoranyataradarśanenānyatarasyāpratyakṣasya anumānaṃ yathā dhūmenāgniriti. Ibid., p. 25.


śeṣavat—tad yatra kāryeṇa kāraṇamanumīyate, Ibid., p. 24


śeṣavat nāma pariśeṣaḥ sa ca prasaktapratiṣedhe'nyatrāprasaṅgāt śiṣyamāṇe saṃpratyayaḥ......, Ibid., p. 25.


sāmanyatodṛṣṭaṃ—vrajyāpūrvakamanyatra dṛṣṭasyānyatra darśanamiti tathā ca ādityasya, tasmādastyapratyākṣāpyādityasya vrajyeti. Ibid., p. 24.


sāmānyatodṛṣṭaṃ nāma yatrāpratyakṣe liṅgaliṅginoḥ saṃbandhe kenacidartheṇa liṅgasya sāmānyād apratyakṣo liṅgī gamyate.... Ibid., p. 25.


asyedaṃ kāryaṃ kāraṇaṃ samyogi virodhi samavāyi ceti laiṅgikaṃ, Vaiśeṣikadarśana.. IX. ii. 1; liṅgadarśanāt sañjāyamānaṃ laiṅgikaṃ. Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 476.


yadanumeyena saṃbadhaṃ prasiddhaṃ ca tadanvite tadabhāve ca nāstyeva talliṅgamanumāpakaṃ. Ibid., p. 478. p. 480. see also Nyāyakandalī on Ibid.


Praśastapādabhāṣya., p. 480.


vyāptidarśanādasannikṛṣṭārthajñānamanumānaṃ. Mānameyodaya of Nārāyaṇa., p. 27.


taccānumānaṃ dvividhaṃ svārthaṃ parārthaṃ ceti, svarthaṃ svapratipattihetuḥ............. paraṃ bodhayituṃ pañcāvayavavākyaṃ prayṅkte tat parārthānumānaṃ. Tarkabhāṣa of Keśavamiśra., pp. 79-80; tadapi liṅgaṃ dvividhaṃ svārthaṃ parārthaṃ ca, Saptapadārthi of Śivāditya., p. 31. See also the commentary by Jinavardhana Sūri on Ibid; TSA, p. 37.


taccānumānaṃ parārthaṃ nyāyasādhyamiti nyāyastadavyavāśca pratijñāhetūdāharaṇopanayanigamanāni nirūpyante. Tattvacintāmaṇi of Gaṅgeśopādhyāya., Vol. II, p. 540. see infra, pp. 205 - 206.


CS, Su, XI. 7.


anumānaṃ nāma tarko yuktyapekṣaḥ. CS,Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 4; Vimāna - sthāna, VIII. 40.


yuktiśca saṃbandho'vinābhāva ityarthaḥ. Cakrapāṇi on CS,Vimāna - sthāna, IV. 4.


pratyakṣapūrvaṃ trividhaṃ trikālaṃ cānumīyate. CS, Su, XI. 21.


pratyakṣagrahaṇaṃ vyāptigrāhakapramāṇopalakṣaṇārthaṃ, tena pratyakṣpūrvakamiti vyāptigrāhakapramāṇapūrvakaṃ, Cakrapāṇi on ibid., p.71. pratyakṣapūrvakamityanena khyāpitaṃ yad yasya kāraṇaṃ yasya ca kāryasya yat kāraṇaṃ yasya ca sāmānyaṃ yatra tayostayoḥ saṃbandhayorniyatasaṃbandhasya pratyakṣeṇa jñānaṃ liṅga jñānaṃ....., Jalpakalpataru on Ibid., CSJ, Vol. I, pp. 514-15.


yatra yatra dhūmastatrāgniriti sāhacaryaniyamo vyāptiḥ, TSA, p. 35.
vyāparastu parāmarśaḥ karaṇaṃ vāptidhīrbhavet anumāyāṃ, NSMK, p. 218.


CS, Su, XI. 21 - 22.


See Jalpakalpataru on CS, Su, XI, CSJ, Vol. I, p. 515.


see infra, p. 296.

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