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...

The Indian art of debate according to the Carakasaṃhitā

It is only through critical investigation of modes and sources of knowledge that the world of experience and human destiny can be truly met. Science of reasoning is a general plan and method of analytic investigation to solve the problems in both science and philosophy. The investigators make use of logic and dialectics embedded in the science of reasoning as a method for arriving at right judgments. Science of reasoning as a methodology of critical enquiry may be called as the science of sciences.[1] The Indian art of debate that has been exhaustively dealt with in the Carakasaṃhitā and found systematically explicated in the Nyāya philosophy is a universal model of such a methodology for critical enquiry.

Council of debate (pariṣad)

Debating councils occupy a prominent position in the hierarchy of the educational system in Indian intellectual tradition. The councils which carry out the art of debate are called Pariṣads. These councils of debate are primarily classified into two: (l) assembly of the learned and (2) assembly of the ignorant. Further, each one is subdivided into three: friendly (suhṛtpariṣad), indifferent (udāsīnapariṣad), and hostile (pratiniviṣṭapariṣad).[2]

Colloquy (tadvidyāsaṃbhāṣa)

In Carakasaṃhitā, a colloquy (tadvidyāsaṃbhāṣa) is visualized as one of the most genuine methods of the acquisition of right medical knowledge. Colloquies (saṃbhāṣas) have got their own merits since they enables one to arrive at correct judgments by interrogating his cognitive achievements and to redeem him from socially stagnant and intellectually dogmatic state of affairs. Caraka says that medical men should engage in a discussion with other medical men because such discussions will increase the fervour for knowledge and contribute to the clarity of knowledge. They increases dialectical skill and thereby dispel doubts relating to the previously acquired knowledge and confirm the knowledge devoid of doubts. One may come to know of many new things. Sometimes there may be propitious occasions during the course of discussions on which one can hear from the opponents the most cherished secret teachings.[3] The Nyāya school also regards tadvidyāsaṃbhāṣa as the best means of perfecting one's knowledge.[4] Since scrutiny reveals that knowledge is incomplete, a colloquy will help us to improve our life- situations by making innovative knowledge through continuous reflection, exploration, and interpretation.

Colloquies are mainly of two types, namely friendly colloquy (sandhāya saṃbhāṣā) and hostile colloquy (vigṛhya sambhāṣa).[5] The discussion among wise and learned persons, who have the argumentative power and tolerance is called friendly debate. He must be devoid of jealousy, and should have good communicative ability. In a friendly discussion, the participants discuss problems and express their opinions frankly and sincerely without fear of being defeated or of the fallacies of their arguments being exposed. One is not worried when he is defeated or feels proud of defeating his opponent in such a discussion. One should neither make an attempt to misinterpret the others view nor hold extreme views and should behave politely with the opponents.[6]

Meanwhile, a hostile colloquy always aims at victory. So Caraka gives instructions regarding the line of approach to be adopted in a hostile debate. Before entering into a hostile colloquy one must be confident of his superiority. He must also examine the method proposed to be adopted by the opponent, the difference between the abilities of himself and those of his opponents and the dispositions of the members of the assembly. He is to be judged from the intellectual and moral points. The good qualities of the participants are knowledge of the text, capacity to remember, presence of mind, and eloquence. Bad qualities are irritation, lack of skill, capacity to remember, cowardice, and carelessness.[7]

Based on this criteria, the opponents are classified into three namely,

  1. superior (pravara),
  2. inferior (pratyavara),
  3. equal (sama).[8]

However, factors like the family status and religion are not taken into account in assessing the opponent.

The strategies (vādopāya)to be adopted in the debate

It is not sensible to enter into a debate in a hostile council even if it consists of the learned or the ignorant. But one can enter into a discussion with the ignorant that is friendly or indifferent even if they neither possess blazing fame, erudition, wisdom, and eloquence nor are held in high esteem by reputed persons. When one gets engaged in a debate with such opponents, he should use difficult sentences composed of complicated aphorisms. Assuming a cheerful countenance and ridiculing the opponent, one should engage the assembly without giving an opportunity for the opponent to speak. If the opponent says some unusual word, he should be immediately told that such a word is never used or that his proposition failed. If he further challenges, he must be stopped by ridiculing him.[9]

In brief, Caraka gives a conspicuous and diplomatic description of the nature and function of a debating council, taking into consideration the divergent attitudes and dispositions of the participants. The instructions about the procedures that are to be adopted by the disputant are suggestive of how they would be helpful in the successful functioning of the Pariṣads in engendering faultless and precise knowledge. When compared with a hostile discussion, a friendly discussion is an unbiased one. On the contrary, a hostile discussion always aims at either ones own victory or the defeat of the opponent. The most important aspect of a colloquy is that it reflects a secular outlook. Its goalpost is true knowledge that contributes to human betterment and happiness. So Caraka does not emphasize religion and family status of the participants. The two main things that he insists are intellectual ability and moral strength.

Footnotes and references:


S. Radhakrishnan, Indian Philosophy, Oxford University Press, Delhi, 6th Impression, 2000, Vol. II, p. 33.


pariṣattu khalu dvividhā—jñānavatī, mūḍhapariṣacca. saiva dvividhā satī trividhā punaranena kāraṇavibhāgena suhṛtpariṣat, udāsīna pariṣat, pratiniviṣṭa pariṣacceti., CS, Vimāna - sthāna, VIII. 20.


Ibid., 15.


Nyāyasūtra., VI. ii. 47; tadvidyaiśca saha saṃvāda iti prajñāparipākārthaṃ, Vātsyāyana on ibid., Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 415.


CS, vi, VIII. 16.


Ibid., 17.






Loc. cit., F. Note, 2.

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