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 historicity of logic and dialectical speculations of Carakasaṃhitā

In India, “science of demonstration or reasoning” has been struggling in vain for more than two thousand years to extricate itself from religion and to make itself independent of faith in the scriptures.[1] Though we can consider the earliest references of debates, dialogues, and formal legal councils in the early Upaniṣads,[2] Smṛtis,[3] Buddhistic and other secular literatures as the precursors of science of search, they do not give an idea of the formal type of disputation or the system of dialectics. Kauṭilya (about 327 BC) recognized science of search or demonstration as a distinct branch among the four branches of study.[4] He calls it anvīkṣiki and associates it with Sāṃkhya, Yoga and Lokayata.[5] It is enjoined in a verse that it is the lamp for all sciences, means of all affairs, and basis for all that is to be done.[6]

Carakasaṃhitā and the Nyāya-sūtra are the two available early books which give us an attention-grabbing account of the science of reasoning.

It is Carakasaṃhitā which gives an elaborate exposition of the science of reasoning in relation to the description of the debate. Details regarding the types of councils (pariṣats), the different kinds of partaking opponents, the nature of debates, the procedure that is to be followed in a debating council, and a long list of dialectical terms including the fundamental categories and the source of knowledge are discussed in the Carakasaṃhitā. But it does not receive as much attention as the Nyāya-sūtra does. It may be because of the following reasons. Carakasaṃhitā is not an independent treatise on the science of reasoning. On the other hand, it is a compendium of science of life. Moreover, it is not rendered in a systematic form. As far as the Nyāya-sūtra is concerned, its main purpose has been the discussion of the science of reason. Nyāya, as a philosophical system, primarily deals with epistomolgy and logic, and secondarily with ontology, psychology, ethics, and theology.[7] Of these, epistemology and logic are considered to have been the greatest contribution of the Nyāya-sūtra to the Indian system of philosophy. It is on the basis of this that it is called pramāṇaśāstra. Placing primacy on the science of reasoning, it gives a meticulous account of logic and dialectics. Above all, it enters into the act of refuting the epistemological as well as the metaphysical theories of the rival schools giving it the nature of a full fledged philosophical system.

Now the question arises as to whether Carakasaṃhitā is the precursor of Nyāya - sūtra or whether Caraka has incorporated the the Nyāya tenets into it. With regard to the origin of the science of reasoning, Mahadev Rajaram Bodas suggests that Pūrvaīmāṃsā developes sundry rules of logic in philosophical disquisitions connected with sacrifices from the exegetical necessity and called them the Nyāyas. The science of reasoning (ānvīkṣkī) took shape by the secularization of these exegetical rules.[8] Based on this hypothesis, he concludes that Gotama[9] developed a philosophical system from the secular art called ānvīṣikī. Thus, it acquired the new appellation Nyāya and became the rival of the two Mīmāṃsas.[10]

However, this theory is not tenable. The main reason is that the period of development that preceded the composition of the Nyāya-sūtra has been left out by him. The important thing to be taken into consideration is that he does not speak of anything about Carakasaṃhitā in this regard. If it is admitted that Gotama has evolved the Nyāya philosophy from the secularized form of the Mīmāṃsā-nyāyās then the Nyāya system cannot become a rival system to the Mīmāṃsas. Moreover, he does not give due importance to what Kauṭilya says.

Satis Chandra Vidyabhushana gives a different theory. According to him, ānvīkṣikī was formerly a spiritual science (atmavidyā)[11] and Carakasaṃhitā as well as Nyāya-sūtra of Akṣapāda embodies doctrines propounded by Medhatihi Gautama. He says that Caraka has accepted them in the crude form and Akṣapāda in the refined form.[12] He has also stated that the doctrines of ānvīkṣikī did not evidently constitute a part of the original Āyurveda of Punarvasu Ātreya. But it was incorporated into the Carakasaṃhitā by the redactor Caraka.[13]

It is some thing remarkable that there are scholars who consider that Caraka-saṃhitā is the forerunner of the Nyay-sūtra. Winternitz is of the opinion that Carakasaṃhitā is older than the redacted Nyāya-sūtra.[14] Though there are many other scholars who admit this point of view, it is Dasgupta who gives a precise and authentic opinion in this regard. He vehemently opposes the theory of Vidyabhusana as baseless. He says that Methātithi Gautama is a mythical person who has not written anything and that Caraka has not borrowed from Methātithi Gautama. He argues on the ground that the evidences cited by Vidyabhusana to substantiate his theory are irrelevant.[15] He considers that the Nyāya-sūtras was composed by Akṣapāda in the second or the third century A.D.[16] The most significant part of his investigative report consists of the concluding remarks.

He says: “since there is no mention of the development of art of debate in any other literature it is reasonable to suppose that the art of debate and its other accessories developed from early times in the traditional medical schools, whence they are found collected in the Carakasaṃhitā.”[17]

He adds that the illustrations of the mode of dispute and the categories of the art of debate belong to the medical field and so the logical portion of Carakasaṃhitā was not collected from non-medical literature and grafted into it.[18]

The following are some of the main points that Dasgupta puts forward to substantiate his finalization. The half mythical account of the origin of Āyurveda given at the beginning of the first chapter of sūtrasthāna bears testimony to the fact that Āyurveda was occupied from the beginning with the investigation of the nature of causes (hetu) and reason (liṅga) for legitimate inferences in connection with the enquiry into the causes of diseases and the apprehension of signs of the same.[19] We find no work of an earlier date, Hindu, Buddhist or Jaina, which treats of the logical subjects found in the Carakasaṃhitā. So we have to assume that Caraka has got his materials regarding logic and dialectics from Agniveśa. More over these logical discussions seems to be inextricably connected with medical discussions of diagnosis of diseases and the ascertainment of their causes.[20] In addition to this, determination of cause and effects and the inference of facts or events of invariable concomitance are an indispensable necessity for Āyurveda physicians in the diagnosis of diseases and the ascertainment of their causes and cures.[21]

The definition of perception given by Caraka seems to be the earliest model, because its definition in the Nyāya-sūtra adds three more qualifications to make the meaning more complex and precise.[22] However, the findings of Dasgupta that debate and its accessories explained in the Carakasaṃhitā have developed in the early medical realm is more reasonable and tenable. It is significant to note in this connection that scholars like Pradeep P. Gokhale also say: “Caraka is perhaps the first thinker, whose discussion on the nature and possible faults of controversy is possible”.[23] In addition to this, he again suggests that Caraka's account of the method of debate appeared some three centuries before Akṣapāda.[24] One of the difficulties is that he ascribes Nyāya-sūtra to Akṣapāda of the second century BC, which has only a partial recognition. The original authorship of Nyāya-sūtra is a controversial one. Some scholars ascribe the authorship to Gautama while some others say that it is Akṣapāda. Some of them are of the opinion that both Akṣapāda and Gautama are one and the same person. Still some others, attribute the authorship to Gotama and also to Medhātithi Gautama as shown above.[25] These opinions are mainly based on external evidences. It should be noted that the earliest authoritative books on Nyāya which came subsequent to the Sūtra namely, Nyāyabhasya[26] , Nyāyavārtika[27] , Nyāyavārtika- tātparyatīkā[28] and Nyāya Mañjarī[29] ascribe the authorship to Akṣapāda.

There are sufficient internal and external evidences to prove that Carakasaṃhitā is a precursor of the Nyāya-sūtra with regard to the science of debate and reasoning provided Akṣapāda is admitted as the author of the Nyāya-sūtra. Though we find a large number of technical terms in the Nyāya-sūtras many differences, however are noticeable. The most striking evidence is that Caraka does not give definitions of all the dialectical terms. He does it at random; some of the terms are defined and illustrated, while some others are given definitions only. Still some others are left with examples only. At the same time, it is in the Nyāya-sūtras and its subsequent books that we see a systematic and meticulous account of these technical terms. All the dialectical terms are well defined in the Nyāya - sūtras. But illustrations are seldom found. This shows the premature nature of the doctrines at the time of the compilation of the Carakasaṃhitā. The data about the pramāṇas shows that Carakasaṃhitā does not commit itself to the views of a particular philosophical school. It maintains a partly independent and partly electic position. The four pramāṇas of Caraka include yukti which finds no place in the Nyāya - sūtras. In place of yukti the Nyāya - sūtras include upamāna. Moreover, the epistemology of the Nyāya-sūtras covers not only the sources of knowledge but also the conditions of the validity of knowledge and their sources. It is typical of the Nyāya-sūtras that it considers Sāṃkhyas as a rival school and refutes their metaphysical and epistemological doctrines. At the same time, Caraka pays much veneration to the early Sāṃkhyas. In fact, the metaphysical doctrines of the Carakasaṃhitā are of pre-classical origin. The most conspicuous thing is that Caraka not only outlines methodology of disputation but also applies it to his own compendium. The Carakasamhitā is compiled in the very same pattern.

The most reasonable conclusion that can be drawn from the foregoing facts is that Caraka gives a methodology of right thinking and the details of system of logic and dialectics practically complete and more or less consistent. Yet it has not attained the nature of a full-fledged system. Caraka addresses logic and dialectical problems not in isolation but as a second step in the hierarchy of education. In fact, his main objective was not to propound a cut and dry system of the science of reasoning and theory of knowledge but to give a complete picture of honest and value oriented medical education. Caraka expresses his views on all cognate and interdependent questions on the theory of knowledge so that it would facilitate the medical realm for clearing doubts and absurdities of what has been apprehended and thereby updating the medical knowledge. The momentous thing that is to be remembered is that there is none other than the Carakasaṃhitā in Āyurveda which gives such a detailed account of the science of reasoning. Perhaps there are shortcomings and imperfections. It is the one and the only earliest book which elaborates the nature of debating council, divisions of debate, strategies to be adopted in the debate and the dialectical terms including the fundamental categories that constitute the universe. Above all, the Carakasaṃhitā itself stands as an icon of the methodology of thought and expression. On the contrary, the available Nyāya-sūtras does not speak about the nature of the council or the strategies that is to be taken up in a debate. Based on the similarity and differences described above, we can understand that, among the sixteen categories of the Nyāya-sūtra, all the fifteen except the category prameya (which deals metaphysics) are the extricated and modified forms of the dialectical terms enumerated by Caraka. Even if we accept the argument of Vidyabhusana for argument there is sufficient evidence to substantiate the fact that Caraka's account of the method of debate has happened some three centuries before Akṣapāda.

The novelty of the Nyāya-sūtra is that it has developed a well knit theory of epistemology and logic and it led to the acceleration of the dialectical interaction of the various philosophical systems. In fact, its influence has been greater in other philosophical systems and thereby assumed the status of a newly constructed philosophical system. Thus, it has eclipsed what has been explained in Carakasaṃhitā and henceforth became the sole standard of posterity. The Nyāya system as an independent philosophical school took the lead in applying it for metaphysical discussions. Thus, it became an inevitable part of other philosophical systems also. So, from the existing data we can concede that the earliest available work which has pioneered to codify a methodology of rational thought is Carakasaṃhitā.

Footnotes and references:


WM, Vol. III, pp. 504-5.


The dialogue between Śvetaketu and Pravahaṇa, Ch. U., V. iii. 1; 5.3; The dialogue between Gārgi and Yājñavalkya, Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad..,III; Manusmṛti., XII. 110, 111.


catvāro vedadharmajñāḥ parṣatraividyameva vā, Yājñavalkya-smṛti, 1.9.


The four sciences are trayī, vārtā, daṇdanīti and ānvīkṣikī. anuvīkṣikī trayī vārtā daṇḍnītiśceti vidyāḥ. The Kautilīya Arthaśāstra., I. 2. p. 4. Cf., p. 5.


sāṃkhyaṃ yogo lokāyataṃcetyānvikṣikī, Ibid.


Ibid. Vātsyāyana affirms that Nyāya-śāstra is ānvīkṣkī and quotes the verse from The Kautilīya Arthaśāstra.. Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 5, 6, 12. In Amarakośa., ānvīkṣikī is rendered as tarkavidyā, Amarakośa., Vol. I, I. vi. 5. Rāmāyaṇa, Ayodhyākāṇda, 100, 39; The Mahābharata refers to ānvīkṣikī as tarkaśāstra, Mahābhārata., mokṣadharma, 173, 45. See also Manusmṛti., VII. 43; nyāyādhigame tarko'bhyupāyaḥ, Gautamadharmasūtra, XI. 25.


JNS, p. 479.


“Introduction”, TSA, p. XXXII.


See infra, p. 326.


Loc. cit., 173.


Ātma-vidyā was called in a later stage Ānvīkṣikī, the science of inquiry”. HIL, p. 4.


Ibid., p. 26. The date of Medhātithi Gautama assigned by Vidyabhusana is 550-500 B.C., Ibid., p. 17.


Ibid., p. 26.


WM, Vol. III. p. 560.


HIPS, Vol. II. p. 393.


Ibid., p. 398.


Ibid., 402.




Ibid., p. 395.


Ibid., p. 399.


Ibid., p. 398.


Ibid., p. 400-401.


IFD, p. 2.


Ibid., p. 9.


Nyāya-sūtra evam Carakasaṃhitā., p. 5- 6; HIPS, Vol. II, p. 393-94; A Companion to Sanskrit Literature, Suresh Chandra Banerji, Motilal Banrsidass, Delhi, Second edn. 1989, p. 10; WM, Vol. III, p. 559; Introduction, TSA, p. XXX.


Nyāya-Bhāṣya of Vātsyāyana., p. 459.


yadakṣapādapravaro munīnāṃ śamāya śāstraṃ jagado jagāda, Nyāya-Vārttika of Udyotakāra., p. 1.


atha bhagavatā'kṣapādena niśreyasahetau śāstre praṇīte vyutpādite ca.....”, Nyāya-Vārttikatātparyaṭīkā of Vācaspati Miśra., p.1.


akṣapādapraṇeta hi nyāyapādapaḥ”, Nyāyamañjarī of Jayantabhaṭṭa., p. 1.

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