The Concept of Sharira as Prameya

by Elizabeth T. Jones | 2019 | 42,971 words

This page relates ‘Defenition of Body (Sharira)’ of the study on the concept of Sharira as Prameya Based on Nyaya (shastra), which represents one of the six orthodox schools of Hindu philosophy. Nyaya philosophy basically represents the “science of reasoning” and primarily deals with epistemology and logic. Sharira (“body”) refers to one of the twelve Prameyas (“objects of valid knowledge”), as defined in the Nyayashastra literature.

Defenition of Body (Śarīra)

[Śarīra in Nyāyaśāstra]—Like any other Darśanas, the Nyāya Philosophy also gives much importance to Prama, the real knowledge. Then the question arises of which category the real knowledge is to be obtained. In reply, the Naiyāyikas list the objects of real knowledge which starts with Ātma (Soul) and ends with Apavarga (Emancipation).[1] In this the second category, according to Naiyāyikas, is to be known is Śarīra (Body).

Śarīra or body is an object of real knowledge according to Gautama. Synonyms of body are Śarīra, Kāya and deha. Śarīra is derived from the root śir[2] that means to be “rendered to pieces”. The word Kāya derived from the root cin[3] means “to collect” literally which meant the collection from food. The term deha has its origin from the root “dih’ meaning to grow or to collect[4]. It conveys the idea of underlying anabolic process. These three terms are expressive of the various aspects of the body, its transient nature, the constitutional aspect and also the destructive and constructive process of metabolism that occurs within the body.

Gautama defines the body as the locus of gestures (ceṣṭa), sense organs (indriyas), and sensual objects (viṣaya). The Self desires to obtain or discard an object, it performs an action (ceṣṭa)[5] which consists in the employment of the means for obtaining or discarding it, that in which this action is performed is the body. The body can be considered as the support of the sense organs (indriyas) by whose benefit the sense organs are benefited and by whose injury they are injured and where, according to this benefit or injury, these sense organs act upon their objects, good and bad, such a thing is the body. Body is regarded as the support of objects in which there appear the feelings of pleasure and pain (viṣaya)[6] produced by the contact of the sense organs with these objects, such a thing is the body. Gautama defines the body as the locus of gestures, sense organs, and sensual objects. According to Vātsyāyana, the body is the field of the soul’s experiences. It is the seat of the senses, the field of the activity of the soul, mind and experience of pleasure, pain and cognition. The Nyāya declines to admit the pāñcabhautika nature of the body, in other words, the combination of five sort of physical elements.

According to Gautama, the human body is constituted of earth, by objects, so it is considered as having the properties of the earth and it is unanimously admitted. The body is regarded as earthy by all thinkers of Nyāya -Vaiśeṣika systems, because it possesses the specific (viśeṣaguṇa) quality of earth called smell (gandha). The human body though is composed of all the five elements of earth (pṛthvi), water (āpah), fire (tejas), air (vāyu) and ether (ākāśa) it is called earthly owing to the pre-eminence of earth in it.

As everybody knows body is the main part of beings. Both sense of action (Karmendriya) and the sense of knowledge (jnānendriya) depend on body for their existence. Among the senses of action, nose (ghrānendriya) comes first. The object of the sense organ is smell and the organ is originated from earth. Similarly rasa (taste) becomes the object of rasanendriya (tongue), the element from which it is born is water. Eye is the sense organ that catches the forms or figures (rūpa). Eye represents the element namely Tejas (Fire). The skin is the other organ which originated from Vāyu (Air). One gets the knowledge of touch with the help of skin. Ear is the fifth and final organ of sense in which sound is heard. Since the capacity of the sense organ is limited each one can receive its own object. A thorough study on senses and sense organs will make the study of body complete.

Though the earth is known as possessed of fourteen qualities, the chief quality of the earth is considered as odour. Odour or smell becomes the chief quality of earth since no other organ than that of earth absorbs it. Earth is divided into two as eternal (nitya) and non eternal (anitya). Earthly objects in their atomic state are eternal and when they take the form of products they are non eternal. Again it is divided into body organ and object. Body is the abode of soul though which the soul experiences pleasure or pain. Each organ is connected with mind and it produces knowledge combined with the object. Ear alone gets the knowledge of sound heard in it. It is to be noted that the object of ghrāṇa is gandha as well as ghrāṇa is earthly in nature.

Among the five great elements water, comes next to earth. Water in the state of atom is considered eternal and in the state of product it is non eternal. Water the touch of which is cold is divided in to three body, organ and object. It is bodily present in the region of Varuṇa, the god of water. It is to be noted that both the bodies of animals living in land and ocean are earthly. The tongue is the organ connected with water. River, ocean, etc., are considered the objects of water.

Light, the third element, is divided as eternal and non eternal according to its atomic and productive nature. In the solar region it is bodily present. The organ connected to it is the eye by which the colour or form of an object is perceived. The objects of water are apparently divided into earthly, heavenly, gastric and mineral. The first two are represented by the common fire and the lightning respectively. The third one causes digestion of food materials and the last type includes minerals including gold. But in the modern science, it to be noted that gold is not considered as a material of light.

Among the five great elements air is the fourth one, which has no form. When it is said as existing in the atomic form it is eternal. And as other elements it is non-eternal in its productive form. When it is divided further it is said bodily present in the world of wind god.

The organ which apprehends touch is the skin which is spread all over the body. The presence of air is determined by skin and also by the movements of leaves, branches, trees etc. The main form of air is oxygen (Prāṇa vāyu). Though it is one it is also known by several other names as Prāṇa, Apāna, Vyāna, Udāna, and Samāna. After respiration air absorbed inside the body attains these names due to its different movements.

The fifth and the greatest element is ether (akāśa). It is one and all pervading since it is not born, it is eternal. The sound is said as the quality of eather.

Among the philosophers the Cārvākas do not accept ether as a separate element. Since they have only one pramāṇa, source of knowledge, as pratyakṣa (perception) and as ether does not undergo perception they deny its existence. But without ether nothing can move from one place to another.

The three elements namely earth, water and fire are visible while the fourth and fifth elements namely air and ether are not visible. They are inferred. The objects of the first four organs are received directly. But that of ear, that is sound is born outside the ear, the organ of ether. Udayanacārya, the worshipped author of Nyāyakusumāñjali, in one of his findings, makes it clear that the quality of a vibhu dravya, all pervading substance will depend on a non vibhu dravya, substance of limited pervasion, for its emerging.

The Nyāya Philosophy explains Śarīra (Body) as the abode of enjoyments of the Soul. Both pain and pleasure come under the enjoyments. Śarīra is described as anthyāvayavi (a composite whole) since it does not produce another composite whole. It is the seat of all actions. According to Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika system the human body is earthy. There are philosophers like Sāñkhyas, Vedantins, etc., who find the human body as pancabhautika (made of five elements). It is proved earthly by the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika scholars on the ground that the union of visible and invisible things will result in the invisibility of the object. Among the five elements, the first three Pṛthvi (Earth), Ap (Water) and Tejas (Light) are visible. The fourth and fifth elements namely Vāyu (Air) and Ākāśa (Ether) are invisible. If the human body is considered as made of the five elements as some philosophers think, it will be invisible. The union of air with a tree cannot be seen. Hence the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas come to the conclusion that the human body is earthy since it is visible.

Nowadays it is seen padārtha (Category) playing a very important role in the modern science. Recently it is proved by some scientists that the minute particle of padārtha (Category) has the maximum speed. Until this discovery it was believed that the particle of light has the maximum speed. Though not widely accepted these kinds of thoughts may shed light to the earlier conceptions of the NyāyaVaiśeṣika scholars who gave most importance to the study of padārthas (Categories) than anything else. Gautama’s sixteen Padārthas are cleverly included in the six or seven Padārthas of Kaṇāda.

It is to be noted that unlike modern science the NyāyaVaiśeṣikas gave importance to the study of indriyas (sense organs). They define indriya as the abode of the union of manas (mind) that causes knowledge. They further defined indriya, the sense organ, as giving no support to any viśeṣaguṇa a special quality except for sound. The sound is excluded from the definition since ear is the support of sound.

Professor Keith finds fault with Annambhaṭṭa, the renowned author of Tarkasaṃgraha, for his including atoms in the list of viṣaya (objects). But most of the scholars are not ready to accept the argument of Keith on the ground that though atoms are invisible they are considered as the objects of perception. In the suns net of, rays passing through window the minutest particle, visible is counted as tryaṇuka.

Certain worlds like of Varuṇa, Āditya, Vāyu, etc, mentioned in the text seem to be paurāṇic. Similarly gold is included in the list of fire objects which is against to modern conception. The yellow metal has some weight; the yellow colour belongs to earth. The weight is caused of earth and water. So it can be concluded that it is earthly. But the Naiyāyikas consider the gold as belonging to Tejas (Light) for their own reason. It does not lose weight while heating. It is a special property of the material of light and not of earth. But in the modern era the way of assessing the nature of materials is far improved and so in certain matters; the decision of the ancient thinkers through inference cannot be accepted.

Ākāśa (Ether) is inferred as eternal and all pervading. Though sound is accepted by all the philosophers as the quality of ākāśa, they differ in deciding the nature of sound, as eternal or non-eternal. For Vaiyākaraṇas (Grammarians) sound is eternal. But for Naiyāyikas it is non eternal since it disappears when once heard. Sāñkhyas and Advaita Vedāntiṃs consider even the element ākāśa non-eternal.

Mīmāṃsakas want to connect the sense of hearing with dik (quarters). Our present body has been composed of elements. Sense organs are produced from the gross elements as earth, water, light, air and ether. The objects of organs are smell, taste, light, touch and sound. Smell is the object of nose and the quality of earth. Taste is the object of tongue and the quality of water. Colour is the object of eye and the quality of light. Touch is the object of skin and the quality of air and sound is the object of ear and the quality of ether. In this human body which is earthly though a combination of five elements.

Footnotes and references:


ātmaśarīrendriyārthabuddhimanapravṛtidoṣapretyabhāvaphaladuhkhaapavargastu prameyam. 1.1.9, Nyāya Darśana, p.192 Vide also introduction to kayacikilsa, Dwarakanath p.1


Vide also introduction to kayacikitsa, Dwarakanath p.1


Daturupakosam, p.482


TK, p. 1


ceṣṭāśrayo vā śarīram, ceṣṭā hi hitāhitaprāpti parihārārthā kriya, TBh, p. 169


viṣayo dravyanukaadischa brahmaandaantha udaahrtaha, bhasaparicheda, p.37

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