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Nyāya is one of the prominent branches of learning in the Indian knowledge system. It primarily deals with logic and it is one of the most widely applied subjects across the Vedic, Tantric, Bauddha and Jaina traditions. It is considered to be one of the five ‘Vidyā sthānas’ or abodes of learning, one of the six canonical schools of philosophy[1] and also a sub limb[2] in the body of Vedic learning.

Nyāya deals with the structure of knowing, learning and debating. Thus as a subject, it is component to all schools of formal knowledge in some form. To different degrees, many principles of Nyāya are agreed upon by all schools, such as ascertaining the knowable, validating sources of learning, ascertaining validity of an argument, setting terms of debate, determining the outcome of a debate. Nyāya is not prevalent as an independent school of philosophy at present, but its influence can be seen in most extant traditions. Nyāya plays a prominent role in many areas like jurisprudence.


Indian knowledge can be described into two metaphors. The first one is of a tree whose root is the Veda and various areas of learning are denoted as the trunk, branches and leaves. The other metaphor is of a human body, whose limbs[3] and sub-limbs[4] are various areas of learning. Darśanas enunciate the worldviews and outlines the philosophy of life that results in fulfillment and happiness.

Nyāya is the discipline of logic, which provides methods for inquiry into the nature of world and knowledge, means of learning and validation. It systematizes knowledge into the knowable means and methods for knowing and procedures for ascertaining and validating knowledge. Its elements include identification of the right knowledge,[5] validation, identifying explanations, methods to establish an argument and means to identify a valid argument from invalid.

The term Nyāya in Sanskrit signifies going into a subject with an analytical investigation of it through the process of logical reasoning. It can be explained in the following verse:

‘नीयते प्राप्यते विवक्षितार्थसिद्धिः अनेन इति न्यायः’
Nīyatē prāpyatē vivakṣitārthasiḍih anēna iti 'nyāyah'

Vatsyāyana, the classic commentator on the Nyāya-Sūtra, defines it as a critical examination of the objects of knowledge by the means of logical proof. Nyāya is also called as Tarka-vidyā[6] or Vāda-vidya[7].

The founder of the Nyāya system was Gautama[8] who is frequently referred to in the literature as Akṣapāda which means eye-footed and Dīrghatapas which means long-penance. Before Gautama, the principles of the Nyāya existed as an unsorted body of philosophical thoughts in different types of literature. Gautama formulated the generally accepted principles of the time and gave some elaborations wherever needed. His primary work is called ‘Nyāya Sutram’ or ‘Nyāya Darśnam’ where he introduced the philosophy of Nyāya.

Prāchīna Nyāya and Navya Nyāya

Nyāya Darśnam as a philosophy can be divided into two according to time and content. 1. Prāchīna Nyāya and 2. Navya Nyāya. A collection of five books which are called ‘Pancha Granthī’ are considered to be the authentic source of ‘Prāchīna Nyāya ’. These were a series of commentary on the previous work, which complemented and elaborated the priors work. 1. Nyāya Sutram of Gotama, 2. Nyāya Bhashyam of Vātsāyana, 3. Nyāya Vārtikam of Udyōtakāra, 4. Tātparya Tīkā of Vāchaspati Miśrā and 5. Tātparya Tīkā Pariśudhi of Udayanāchārya. Gangēśōpādhyāya’s ‘Tatvachintāmaṇi is considered to be the first work which began the new era in ‘Nyāya philosophy’. By this time the concepts which were previously dealt with separately in ‘Nyāya’ and ‘Vaiṣeṣka’ Philosophies came together. This system is later called as ‘Navya Nyāya ’ or ‘Tarka Śāstram’. ‘Dīdhiti’ of Raghunātha Śrōmaṇi is considered to be the best commentary on ‘Tatvachintāmaṇi’. ‘Dīdhiti’ had the famous three commentaries ‘Māthurī’, ‘Jāgadīśī’ and ‘Gādādharī’ on it. ‘Prāchīna Nyāya’ dealt with all the original concepts which an ‘Āstika Darśana’ needs. But whereas ‘Navya Nyāya’ mainly dealt only the topics which are useful in debate.

Nyaya as a Darshana

Nyaya is considered to be one amongst the six canonical Indian Philosophies along with Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Mimamsa, and Vedanta. (When we enquire the difference between a normal book and a Darshana, We will get to know the characteristics of a Darshana.) Every Darshana is expected to present its view on the world (samsara) and suggest a permanent solution for the problem we all face. According to Nyaya the biggest problem is suffering(duhkha) and it prescribes a theory for liberation from it. To establish its theory it has to define certain terms and change the perception of the seeker. In this process, we find a detailed discussion on the means of knowledge (epistemology), distinguishing the truth from false, critical inquiry, argumentation etc. (Problem and the Solution) According to Indian literature, there are four purushartha or Motives for men which are 1.dharma, 2.artha, 3.kama and 4.moksha. The fourth purushartha is considered to be eternal, hence superior. Generally, every Darshana deals with the eternal truth and the way to attain it. Here Gowtama described that the liberation from suffering (duhkha) is the highest goal of life. According to him, the world (samsara) is a chain of consequences starting with illusion, which eventually ends with suffering. It has to be broken in order to attain liberation from suffering. According to the text misapprehension/ illusion (ajnana) leads to distorted views (dosa), that leads to activity (karma), that leads to rebirth (janma), which ultimately leads to suffering (duhkha). To break this chain Gowtama prescribes an antidote to each member.

duḥkha- janma- pravṛtti- dōṣa- mithyājñānānāṃ uttarōttarāpāyē tadanantarāpāyādapavargaḥ[9]

Tattvajñāna or the true knowledge eradicates mithyājñāna or illusion(misapprehension). As illusion is the root cause of all activity (dōṣa) (pāpaṃ, puṇyaṃ), eradication of illusion will eradicate dōṣa., when there is no dōṣa there is no pravṛtti or causation of birth., when there is no pravṛtti there is no janma or birth., when there is no birth there will be no duḥkha or sorrow. So according to nyāya sūtraṃ tattvajñāna of the sixteen elements(Gowtama divides the world into sixteen) would successively eliminate sorrow.

Elements of Nyaya

Introduction to the elements

As Nyaya is a traditional philosophy there are some unique concepts introduced to understand the world in a logical way. Even though Gowtama divided everything into sixteen, but had a special focus on the means of knowledge, structure of knowledge and debate i.e pramāṇaṃ and vādaḥ. According to this philosophy, the world should be understood in its true form to liberate an individual from suffering. To know the true sense of anything, first of all, we need to understand the process of knowing and types of knowledge. Thus epistemology/ study of pramana got a prominent place in the Nyaya sutras. In fact, In the list of the sixteen elements stated in Nyaya sutram 'pramana' stands first. Nyaya is also widely known as Vada shastra. When we are understanding some principals, at some time we may encounter different opinion. When the difference is very fundamental, there arises the need for a debate. As we want to seek the truth we must know the structure of the debate. Thus Nyaya elaborated the structure of debate and also its types.


Nyaya as a Pramana sastra

'Prama' means true knowledge and the means to it is called 'Pramanam'. As discussed earlier according to Nyaya Darshanam Moksha, is nothing but total liberation from suffering. Suffering has an indirect, but invariable connection with illusion. The direct destroyer of illusion is true knowledge. So for attaining the prescribed path for moksha, one needs to know how correct knowledge can be acquired, what is its structure, in what circumstance one cannot acquire it and how to critically inquire and validate knowledge.

The world is filled with a variety of elements, where some are known by sense organs, some are only inferable and some are only known by words. For example, a colour can only be seen, Happiness of others can only be inferred and Heaven can only be known by the scriptures. So to understand the nature of the word Gowtama accepted four valid means (pramaṇa) of obtaining correct knowledge, 1.perception (pratyakṣa), 2.inference (anumāna), 3.comparison (upamāna) and source for verbal cognition(śabda).

  • perception / pratyakṣa can be divided into six according to the number of the senses. The cognition resulted because of the relation between an object and a sense organ is perception/ pratyakṣa. The relation which is very essential for perception is of two kinds. a) direct and b) Indirect. Seeing a table and knowing that 'there is a table' is an example of direct relation. Seeing a perfume bottle and knowing that 'it has aroma' (without opening its lid) is an example of indirect relation.
  • Inference / anumāna is a means of knowledge, where the sensed object is known by reasoning. Like by seeing smoke coming out from a mountain we could infer that the mountain has fire. In the process of inferring knowing the invariable relation between the object and the reason i.e., the relation between fire and smoke is very essential. Generally, a debate takes place where the subject is not proved or accepted by both the parties. It has to be proved by good reasoning. So the Nyaya scholars like, vācaspati miśrā[10] gave a prominent position for inference in their literature according to its importance in a debate.
  • Comparison/ upamāna: An analogical cognition is a cognition of the relationship between a word and its meaning. When a word is known not the meaning, the knowledge of similarity helps to establish a relation.

To explain in detail, when a person does not know the meaning of the word 'gavaya' (wild cow)...

Step 1: He knows from a forester that "gavaya is similar to cow".

Step 2: He goes to the forest and sees an animal similar to cow and remembers the sentence of the forester.

Step 3: Then an analogical cognition or upamitiḥ arises such as "This(the animal) is the referent of the word gavaya

  • śabda/ source for verbal cognition: śabda is nothing but a meaningful word. Its delivers a meaning according to its relation. This relation is direct/ śaktiḥ and indirect/lakshaṇā. A word possessing a valid relation could be a means of knowledge.

Vada/ Debate

Vada means debate and shastra means a traditional treatise. A treatise which deals with debate in detail is Vada shastra. The methodology of debate followed by all Indian traditions is originated in Nyaya. Gowtama has given the most prominent place to introduce and elaborate the art of debate in his work. In the sixteen elements, which he described in Nyaya sutram[11]around seven elements are directly related to the debate. A debate is an exchange of verbal statements between at least two opponents. It is done to achieve different results like establishing the truth, winning an opponent, misleading an opponent etc. In the Nyaya tradition components useful in a debate like hypothetical reasoning/ tarkaḥ [12], discussion/ vādaḥ [13], polemic/ jalpaḥ[14], cavil/ vitaṇḍā[15], casuistry/ chalaṃ, futile rejoinder/ jAti and clinchers/ nigraha sthānaṃ were discussed categorically.


In a debate, presenting your argument in a systematic way is very important. It should precisely establish an argument without any flaw and redundancy. For this Nyaya sutra introduces a syllogism which consists of five members. 1. ‘Pratigyā’ [16], 2. ‘Hētu’[17], 3. ‘Udāharaṇa’[18], 4. ‘Upanaya’[19] and 5. ‘Nigamanam’[20]. These five members are called ‘Panchāvayava ’. In a formal debate, an argument with all these five members is considered to be complete. So using these five members to prove the merit of their cause can be called ‘Nyāya’. As ‘Nyāya’ had a predominant place in ‘Gōtama’s’ work it is called ‘Nyāya Darśanam’ or ‘Nyāya Sūtram’.

In general, an exchange of dialogue is called kathā[21]. when it is used in a systematic way to know the truth its called vādaḥ. When the arguer has no desire to establish his position, but his only interest is to distract the opposition its called vitaṇḍā. When the only intention is to win its called jalpaḥ. Generally, we tend to commit flaws while presenting an argument. But to establish the correct principles/ sidhāntaḥ one must be aware of them. To identify the flaws of others and not to commit Nyaya explains types of flaws in the hētvābhāsāḥ section. Hence to equip us with the potentiality in argumentation and to find flaws in others argumentation Gotama took a very prominent portion of his book Nyaya sutram.

Nyaya in Life

Today we may not find many people getting trained in the traditional Nyaya system. We may find seekers following vēdāntaḥ, but not find people seeking the eternal truth as prescribed in the nyāya sūtraṃ. But we always find the traditional Nyaya concepts in the Indian/ Bharath culture. These concepts got absorbed by the culture and regional languages according to their merit. Some of the concepts got adapted by different traditional systems like sāmkhyā, vēdāntaḥ, mīmāmsā etc. Knowingly or unknowingly who ever claimed to be logical they followed some principles of Nyaya.

(Logical comparative techniques we have. live demonstation of logic in life... 'pradhana malla nibarhana', 'pangvandha nyaya'.. by showing upamana they are establishing a logic. Regardless when the sutras came Nyaya was always in our life. conseptual ga who ever claimed to be logical he followed some pricipals of nyaya.. like panchavayava. System got used to Nyaya a long time ago.. 'Vitanda vada' is been used by people who know the definition.. and also people who do not know.. This shows the impact of the Nyaya system. Impact on Structured thinking ... common life lo indication of nyaya. )


  1. It means Darśana.
  2. It means Upaṅga in hindi.
  3. It means aṅga.
  4. It means upānga.
  5. It is known as pramā.
  6. It means science of reasoning.
  7. It means science of argument.
  8. He is also called as Gotama.
  9. 1.1.2 Nyaya sutram
  10. pratyakṣa parikalitaṃ apyarthaṃ anumānēna bubhutsantē tarkarasikāḥ, Means that one who enjoy logic, tries to infer everything even it can be known by sense organs
  11. 1.1.1
  12. tarkaḥ is a method of attaining correct knowledge about an uncertain thing by showing faults in all contrary ideas.
  13. vādaḥ is a sincere dialogue in which one adopts the truth in the end.
  14. jalpaḥ is a verbal interaction done only to be victorious, it is not for the truth.
  15. vitaṇḍā is a type of debate where the arguer has no desire to establish his position, but his only interest is to distract the opposition.
  16. Pratijyā: The proposition or the statement that is going to be proved(inferred) or statement of the thesis. Ex: ‘पर्वतो वह्निमान्’ (Parvatō vanhimān) Mountain is on fire (Here smoke is only seen not the fire.. but he wants to prove the fire which is not seen)
  17. Hētu: The statement consisting the ground of the inference. Ex: ‘धूमात्’(Dhūmāt) Because of the smoke.
  18. Udāharaṇam: The sentence of example which demonstrates the invariable relationship between the reason and the claim (to be inferred ) or the statement setting forth an illustration. Ex: ‘यो यो धूमवान् सः वह्निमान ्, यथा महानसः’ (Yō Yō Dhūmavān Sa Vanhimān, Yathā Mahānasah) Whatever place consists of smoke it consists fire also. Because fire is the reason behind smoke (Fire and smoke are having a cause-effect relationship), Like Kitchen(In the older times).
  19. Upanaya: The statement showing that the subject of the inference has the ground of the inference which is invariably related to the thing that is sought to be established. Ex: ‘तथा चायम्’ (Tathā chāyam) Such is this (Mountain).
  20. Nigamana: Conclusion or The sentence which confirms the claim or The statement that the subject of the inference has the thing that is sought to be established as it has the ground of the inference. Ex: ‘तस्मात् तथा’ (Tasmāt tathā) Therefore this mountain possess fire.
  21. pūrvōttara vākya samdarbhaḥ: exchange of dialouge

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