Nyāya Darśana

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

By Swami Harshananda

Of the six systems of philosophy grouped under the category of Āstika Darśanas[1] the Nyāya Darśana of Gotama or Gautama,[2] also known as Akṣapāda, comes first. Though it is sometimes coupled with the Vaiśeṣika Darśana of Uluka or Kaṇāda[3] and considered as a unified or even a single system, it has its own unique features. Hence it deserves to be treated as a separate and independent school of philosophy. Almost all the branches of philosophy deal with two subjects:

  1. The pramānas or valid sources of knowledge
  2. The prameyas or things to be known through them

Since the Nyāya Darśana gives primary importance to the first subject and has developed it in great detail, it has laid a firm foundation for the science of logic. Hence it has been called Nyāyavidyā, Tarkaśāstra and Anvīkṣakī also.


The Nyāyasutras of Gautama is considered as the basic text of this system. It is in five chapters, each of which is again divided into two sections. The total number of sutras is 523. It has a bhāsya or commentary by Vātsyāyana.[4] This Nyāyabhāsya has a Nyāya-vārttika[5] by one Udyotakara.[6] Vācaspati[7] has further elucidated this work in his Tātparyatikā. The last in this series of commentaries is the Tātparyatīkā-pari-śuddhi by Udayana.[8] His another work is Kusumāñjali. Mention may also be made of the Nyāyamañjari of Jayanta[9] and the Tattvacintāmani of Gaṅgeśa.[10] This last work laid the foundation for a new or modern and highly advanced school of Nyāya philosophy, now well-known as ‘Navya-nyāya’. It flourished in Bengal with Navadvīpa as its nerve-centre.

Other important works that need to be mentioned are:

  1. The Tarkasafigraha of Aṇṇambhaṭṭa[11] with it's commentary Dipikā.
  2. The Kārikāvali or Bhāsāpariccheda of Viśvanātha[12] with its commentary Siddhāntamuktāvalī.

The Sixteen Topics[edit]

The Nyāya system enumerates sixteen padārthas or topics and expounds them in detail. A brief summary of the same may now be attempted here. These sixteen are:

  1. Pramāṇas - methods of knowing truly
  2. Prameyas - objects of the true knowledge
  3. Sanśaya - doubt
  4. Prayojana - utility, end in view
  5. Dṛṣṭānta - example
  6. Siddhānta - doctrine
  7. Avayava - member of a syllogism
  8. Tarka - logic
  9. Nimaya - conclusion or final decision
  10. Vāda - argument to discover the truth
  11. Jalpa - to argue just to win
  12. Vitaṇḍā - destructive criticism
  13. Hetvābhāsa - apparent, but not valid, reason
  14. Chala - unfair reply
  15. Jāti - false analogy
  16. Nigrahasthāna - a ground of defeat in debate

Classification of Pramāṇas[edit]

A few of them may now be dealt with very briefly. The pramāṇas accepted by Nyāya Darśana are four:

  1. Pratyakṣa - direct perception
  2. Anumāna - inference
  3. Upamāna - comparison
  4. Śabda - verbal testimony

Classification of Prameyas[edit]

The prameyas are:

  1. Ātman - soul
  2. Śarīra - body
  3. Jñānendriyas - the five organs of knowledge like the eyes
  4. Viṣayas - objects of these five indriyas like color or form
  5. Buddhi - cognition or jñāna
  6. Upalabdhi - apprehension
  7. Manas - mind
  8. Pravṛtti - activity
  9. Doṣa - mental defects such as rāga or attachment and dveṣa or aversion
  10. Pretyabhāva - rebirth
  11. Phala - result of activities: pleasure and pain
  12. Duhkha - suffering
  13. Apavarga - absolute liberation from suffering

Significance of Tattvajñāna[edit]

The ultimate aim of a human being is to attain the state of apavarga or mokṣa wherein there is total cessation of all the suffering. This is possible only when tattvajñāna or right knowledge about apavarga and other essentials is obtained. This involves the three famous steps as mentioned in some other systems like the Vedānta Darśana:

  1. Śravaṇa - hearing the scriptures
  2. Manana - reflecting on the same
  3. Nididhyāsana - meditation

The various facets of logic and reasoning, given in the long list of the sixteen padārthas are an aid in this process of knowing and understanding the truth correctly. They are:

  1. Sanśaya - doubt
  2. Dṛṣṭānta - example
  3. Tarka - logic
  4. Nirṇaya - conclusion
  5. Vāda - argument

This leads us to the theory of knowledge as propounded by the Nyāya philosophy.

The Nyāya Theory of Knowledge[edit]

Since the reality of an object can be ascertained truly only by the adoption of suitable methods of knowledge, it is very necessary to have a correct understanding of the latter. The theory of knowledge as propagated by the Nyāya Darśana accepts four pramāṇas or distinct and separate sources of true knowledge. They are:

  1. Pratyakṣa - direct perception
  2. Anumāna - inference
  3. Upamāna - comparison
  4. Śabda - verbal testimony

It is but proper to emphasize here that these four pramāṇas, when handled correctly, will produce pramā or valid knowledge and not apramā or non-valid knowledge as in the case of smṛti, sanśaya or bhrama or a few others already stated as a part of the sixteen padārthas or topics. Again, valid knowledge is that which corresponds to the true nature of its object. Let us now take up these four pramāṇas one by one.


It means direct perception. When a sense-organ comes into contact with a sense-object for instance the eye seeing a table and producing a true, clear and unerring knowledge of that object, it can be called pratyakṣa. This precludes indefinite or hazy cognition producing a doubt as in the case of seeing a distant object like a post and doubting whether it is a man or a post or clearly perceiving a snake in a piece of rope in insufficient light which is actually an illusion. Both these, though directly perceived, are invalid. What is internally experienced by the mind, like joy or sorrow, can also be classified under pratyakṣa. Extra-sensory perception and intuitive perception by highly spiritually evolved yogis is also included in pratyakṣa. It is called as ‘yogaja’ or ‘yogipratyakṣa’.


Anumāna means inference. It literally means a cognition or knowledge which follows some other knowledge. The stock example given to illustrate this is to draw the inference that there is fire on the yonder hill, by seeing the smoke coming out of it, even though the fire itself is not directly seen. The syllogism of anumāna runs like this:

There is fire on that yonder hill because it is emitting smoke. It has been seen elsewhere that wherever there is smoke, there is fire. For instance, in the kitchen.

The Nyāya texts use some technical terms while giving this syllogism. Fire, whose presence has to be proved, is called sādhya.[13] The hill, which is the subject under consideration in the course of inferential reasoning, is called pakṣa.[14] Smoke which is the mark or sign that indicates the presence of fire is called liṅga[15] or hetu or sādhana. The most important factor in such anumāna or inferential knowledge is that there must be a relation of invariable concomitance called as ‘vyāpti’ in the technical language of nyāya between the liṅga and the sādhya.

The knowledge gained from anumāna may be further strengthened by applying the anvaya[16] and the vyatireka[17] methods. These two are the positive and the negative ways of stating the same truth. It can be respectively illustrated by these sentences: Wherever there is smoke, there is fire. Wherever there is no fire, there is no smoke. While analyzing the subject of anumāna, the writers on Nyāya have given several varieties of the same such as svārtha and parārtha or purvavat and śeṣavat and so on. However, these subtle distinctions do not serve any practical purpose in life though they may be resorted to in philosophical disputations.


It means comparison. Upamāna has been defined as the process of naming objects through a given description. For example, a man who does not know what a gavaya[18] is, may be told by a forester that it is an animal very similar to the domestic cow. If, subsequently, he happens to see such an animal in a forest, and immediately recognizes it as a gavaya, his knowledge will be due to upamāna. Some schools of philosophy do not accept upamāna as an independent source of knowledge whereas others consider it as a form of anumāna itself.


It means verbal testimony. Śabda or verbal testimony is defined as the assertion of a trustworthy person and is recognized as the last of the pramāṇas. Śabda may concern dṛṣṭārtha[19] or adṛṣṭārtha.[20] The latter includes super sensible realities like the scriptural statements about God, soul and immortality. Hence the Śruti or the Vedas are considered Śabda in the highest sense. Since śabda or verbal testimony is revealed through sentences, the logical structure of a sentence is one of the topics discussed at length in the Nyāya philosophy. The construction of an intelligible sentence must have four conditions:

  1. Ākāṅkṣā - expectancy
  2. Yogyatā - mutual fitness, absence of contradictions
  3. Sannidhi - suitable proximity between the different words of a sentence
  4. Tātparya - intended meaning

The Nyāya Theory about the Physical World[edit]

The Nyāya Darśana, which perhaps followed the Vaiśeṣika Darśana in the chronological order, has adopted the theory of creation in the from the latter. The physical world is the product of the four kinds of paramāṇus or atoms of:

  1. Pṛthvī - earth
  2. Ap - water
  3. Tejas - fire
  4. Vāyu - air

The physical substance ākāśa[21] and the non-physical entities of kāla[22] and dik[23] are also involved in the process of creation. Īśvara or God who creates this world out of these material and non-material substances, in accordance with the totality on the adṛṣṭas or karmas of the individual souls.

Īśvara or God[edit]

The Nyāya system accepts īśvara or God as the ultimate cause of sṛṣti,[24] sthiti[25] and pralaya[26] of the world. However, he does not create the world out of nothing or out of himself, but out of the eternal atoms, space, time, ether, minds and souls. Here, creation simply means the ordering of the eternal substances, which are coexistent with God, to form into a moral world shaped according to the karmas of the individual souls. The various physical objects serve as a means to the moral and spiritual ends of their lives.

God is thus the first efficient cause[27] and not its material cause. After creation, he also maintains it. He is the moral governor[28] of the world giving awards to the meritorious and punishing the wicked. He destroys the world after the cycle is over and as per the moral exigencies. This he does, by letting loose the forces of destruction. He is omniscient in the sense that he possesses right knowledge of all things and events. He is endowed with eternal consciousness as an inseparable attribute. Consciousness is not his essence as in the Advaita Vedānta. He is the possessor of the six perfections known as sadaiśvaryas like jñāna,[29] aiśvarya,[30] yaśas[31] śrī[32] and so on.

The Nyāya and the Vaīśeṣika schools give us ten reasons for proving the existence of God. However, the most important of them all is that there must be a supremely intelligent agent behind creation wherein almost all the components are inert and the jīvas or the souls are of very limited knowledge and power. The statements in the Vedas, considered as supreme authority in supra-mundane matters, also support this view.

Jīvas or Individual Souls[edit]

According to Nyāya Darśana, the jīvas or individual souls are infinite in number. They are eternal and indestructible. Consciousness is not intrinsic to them but an attribute due to the association with the mind, which is considered atomic in size. The jīvas themselves are vibhu or all-pervading. A jiva gets all its experiences when its mind is related to the outside world through the sense-organs.

The primary aim of life, according to the Nyāya school, as in other philosophical schools, is the attainment of apavarga or mokṣa, liberation from transmigration. However, unlike the other systems, the Naiyāyikas do not accept that it is a state of positive, unbroken and continuous bliss. It is more a state of negation, of the total and permanent absence of all sorrow and suffering. Since the existence of pain and pleasure is always there in life, and that too, due to the association of the mind with the senses and the objects, there can never be a state of pure pleasure or happiness or bliss without pain also. This seems to be the logic behind this negative doctrine.

One can get this liberation only by acquiring tattvajñāna or true knowledge that he is the spirit distinct from the body and the mind as also the senses. For this, he should undergo the threefold sādhanā[33] of śravaṇa,[34] manana[35] and nididhyāsana.[36] In course of time, it will destroy all mithyājñāna or false knowledge. Then the person ceases to be bandied about by passions and impulses which would have led to sorrow, pain and suffering, both physical and mental.


One of the charges generally leveled against the philosophies, especially the six orthodox systems, is that they are based more on the scriptural authority than on sound reasoning and convincing logic. The Nyāya Darśana has more than compensated for this apparent lacuna by its thorough and uncompromising logical methodology. It has provided a firm basis for the development of vast polemic literature by the later writers of many schools, especially of Vedānta.


  1. It is the system that accepts the authority of the Vedas.
  2. He lived in 550 B. C.
  3. It existed in 600 B. C.
  4. He lived in A.D. 400.
  5. It is a sub-commentary.
  6. He lived in 7th century A. D.
  7. He lived in A. D. 841.
  8. He lived in A. D. 984.
  9. He lived in A. D. 880.
  10. He lived in A. D. 1200.
  11. He lived in A. D. 1650.
  12. He lived in A. D. 1650.
  13. Sādhya means the major term.
  14. Pakṣa means minor term.
  15. Liṅga means middle term here.
  16. Anvaya means agreement in presence.
  17. Vyatireka means agreement in absence.
  18. Gavaya means a wild cow.
  19. Dṛṣṭārtha means relating to perceptible objects.
  20. Adṛṣṭārtha means relating to imperceptible things.
  21. Ākāśa means ether.
  22. Kāla means time.
  23. Dik means space.
  24. Sṛṣti means creation.
  25. Sthiti means maintenance.
  26. Pralaya means destruction.
  27. This efficient cause is nimitta-kāraṇa.
  28. Moral Governor means karma-phaladātā.
  29. Jñāna means knowledge.
  30. Aiśvarya means lordship.
  31. Yaśas means glory.
  32. Śrī means the wealth and beauty.
  33. Sādhanā literally means spiritual discipline.
  34. Śravaṇa means listening to the spiritual instructions about the ātman or the soul.
  35. Manana means reflection on the same, establishing that knowledge firmly in the mind.
  36. Nididhyāsana means meditation on the ātman in conformity with the final conclusion of the first two modes of sādhanā.
  • The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore

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