Sixteen elements of Nyāya

From Hindupedia, the Hindu Encyclopedia

Brief introduction to the sixteen elements of Nyāya Darśnam

Sometimes transliterated as: Sixteen elements of Nyaya, Sixteen elements of NyAya, Sixteen elements of Nyaaya


Nyāya darśanaṃ is one among the six traditional philosophies, which consider the vēdaḥ as the unchallenged source of knowledge. As all the philosophies have their own way to understand the world, here sorrow/ duḥkhaṃ is stated as the main problem faced by mankind and liberation from it 'ātyantika duḥkha-nivṛttiḥ' is the main goal of our life. So to attain this goal, the true knowledge of all the elements is primary. These elements are sixteen in number.


  • प्रमाणप्रमेयसंशयप्रयोजनदृष्टान्तसिद्धान्तावयवतर्कनिर्णयवादजल्पवितण्डाहेत्वाभासच्छलजातिनिग्रहस्थानानाम्तत्त्वज्ञानात्निःश्रेयसाधिगमः। १.१.१
  • pramāṇa- pramēya- samśaya- prayōjana- dṛṣṭānta- sidhdhanta- avayava- tarka- nirṇaya- vāda- jalpa- vitaṇḍā- hētvābhāsa- chala- jāti- nigrahasthānām tatvajñānānniśrēyasādhigamaḥ . 1.1.1


This is the first sutra of nyāya sūtraṃ which states that the true knowledge of the sixteen elements/ padārthāḥ leads to niśrēyasa or the mōkṣhaḥ[1].

  1. Means of valid knowledge/ pramānaṃ
  2. Object of right knowledge/ prameyaḥ
  3. Doubt/ Saṃśayaḥ
  4. Motive/ prayojanaṃ
  5. Illustrations/ dṛṣṭāntaḥ
  6. Demonstrated Truth/ siddhāntaḥ
  7. Factors of Reasoning — syllogism/ avayavaḥ
  8. Reasoning and confutation/ tarkaḥ
  9. Discernment/ nirṇayaḥ
  10. Discussion/ vādaḥ
  11. Disputation/ jalpaḥ
  12. Cavil or objection/ vitaṇḍā
  13. Fallacious Reasoning/ hetvābhāsaḥ
  14. Casuistry (unfair reasoning)/ chalaḥ
  15. Futile Rejoinder/ jātiḥ
  16. Clinchers/ nigraha-sthānaṃ


1.) Means of valid knowledge/ pramānaṃ

  • प्रत्यक्षानुमानोपमानशब्दाः प्रमाणानि। १.१.३
  • pratyakha- anumāna- upamāna- śabdāḥ pramāṇāni 1.1.3

Pramā is nothing but Valid Knowledge, the source of that is pramānaṃ[2]. Valid knowledge[3] is that which reveals a thing as it actually is and which is used daily. It can be identified as valid knowledge when it is corresponding to the actual nature of the object as it is.[4] We can also know that it is valid when we successfully obtain the object stated.[5]Valid knowledge/ pramā corresponds to the thing as it really is, and leads to successful utilization thereof. According to Nyāya tradition, there are four pramāṇāni. Namely 1.pratyakhaṃ, 2.anumānaṃ, 3.upamānaṃ, 4.śabdāḥ. Each school of Indian thought has its own theory of the Means to obtain valid knowledge.

Cārvāka 1.Perception/Pratyakṣaṃ
Mīmāmsaka 1.Verbal Testimony/Śabdaḥ
Vaiśeṣika & Buddhists |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ
Saṅkhya |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ| |3.Verbal Testimony/Śabdaḥ
Naiyāyika |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ| |3.Comparison/Upamānaṃ| |4.Verbal testimony/Śabdaḥ
Prābhākara |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ| |3.Comparison/Upamānaṃ| |4.Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ| |5.Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ
Bhāṭṭas & Vedāntins |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ| |3.Comparison/Upamānaṃ| |4.Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ| |5.Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ| |6.Non-existence/Abhāvaḥ
Paurāṇika |2.Inference/Anumānaṃ| |3.Comparison/Upamānaṃ| |4.Verbal testimony/Ṣabdaḥ| |5.Presumption/Arthāpattiḥ| |6.Non-existence/Abhāvaḥ| |7.Probability/Saṃbhavaḥ| |8. Tradition/Aitihyaṃ

2.) Object of right knowledge/ prameya

  • आत्मशरीरेन्द्रियार्थबुद्धिमनःप्रवृत्तिदोषप्रेत्यभावफलदुःखापवर्गाः तु प्रमेयम् । १.१.९
  • ātma- śarīra- indriya- artha- budhdhi- manaḥ- pravṛtti- dōṣa- prētyabhāva- phala- duḥkhāpavargāstu pramēyaṃ। 1.1.9


After defining pramāṇāni the sūtrakāra/ gōtamaḥ is defining pramēya. An object of a valid knowledge is pramēya, and it is of twelve types.

  1. Self/ ātmā
  2. The body/ śarīraṃ
  3. Senses/ indriyaṃ
  4. Experiences/ arthaḥ
  5. Intelligence/ buddhiḥ
  6. Intellect/ manaḥ
  7. Activity/ pravṛttiḥ
  8. Imbalances/ doṣaḥ
  9. Re-birth/ prētyabhāvaḥ
  10. Consequence/ phalaṃ
  11. Suffering/ duḥkhaṃ
  12. Liberation/ apavargaḥ

There are many things that might be regarded as topics of right knowledge, but these 12 are especially significant because the true knowledge about them will dispel all delusions and lead to freedom from suffering; while false knowledge concerning these topics perpetuates rebirth and suffering. Nyāya only establishes these principles on a rational basis but does not attempt to dilate upon them. Nyāya does not attempt to explain all that is known about these several topics, that is left for the more speculative systems of philosophy.


3.) Doubt/ Saṃśaya

  • समानानेकधर्मोपपत्तेः विप्रतिपत्तेः उपलब्ध्यनुपलब्ध्यव्यवस्थातः च विशेषापेक्षः विमर्शः संशयः।१.१.२३
  • samānānēkadharmōpapattēḥ vipratipattēḥ upalabdhi- anupalabdhi- avyavasthātaśca viśēṣāpēkṣaḥ vimarśaḥ saṃśayaḥ।1.1.23

A conflicting judgment about the precise character of an object, arising from (1) the recognition in it of properties common to many objects, or (2) of properties not common to any of the objects, (3) from conflicting testimony, and from (4) irregularity of perception and non-perception. Doubt must not be confused with error, which is false knowledge. Doubt is incomplete knowledge which serves as the incentive for further investigation — it is therefore a very positive and desirable quality to have. False knowledge/error may produce an erroneous conviction which sedates the mind by removing all desire for further knowledge or even entertaining viable alternatives. Error is defined as “that knowledge which does not lead to successful action”. For example, it is impossible to fulfil the expectations created by hallucinations. In other words, the ideal world of thought must correspond to the outer reality in order to be considered true. The rules and methodology of Nyāya are to be applied when doubt has arisen, and it becomes necessary, therefore, to examine reality for confirmation or clarification of the truth. There are 4 kinds of doubt:- (1) Perception of common properties or failure to perceive the difference e.g. in the dark a post may be mistaken for a person, or a coiled rope mistaken for a snake. (2) Conflicting testimony of witnesses or news reports, or differing opinions on the same subject by two or more people. (3) Irregularity of perception; e.g. being unable to determine whether water is perceived when it is seen in a pond where it actually exists, or when it is seen in a mirage where it really does not exist. e.g. Hearing the rustle of leaves in the bush and having some doubt that it could be an animal or a human. (4) Irregularity of non-perception; e.g. being unable to believe that something exists based on never having perceived a thing with qualities as described or inability to believe that such a thing exists. Like a kangaroo which is a big jumping rat! 18

4)Motive/ prayojanaṃ

  • यं अर्थं अधिकृत्य प्रवर्तते तत्प्रयोजनम् ।१.१.२४
  • yaṃ arthaṃ adhikṛtya pravartatē tat prayōjanaṃ।1.1.24


A desire which impels one to act Purpose serves as the motive behind all action which may be to attain something pleasurable or to avoid something undesirable. Until there is purpose, there can be no successful action; therefore, a wise person never engages in purposeless action. It is also the purpose or motive which determines if an act is morally right or wrong. No act is of itself either good or bad – it is the intention with which it is done that determines its moral character. Therefore as sincere spiritual aspirants we should always be examining and reflecting upon our motives and clarifying our intent.

5)Illustrations/ dṛṣṭāntaḥ

  • लौकिकपरीक्षकाणां यस्मिनर्थे बुद्धिसाम्यं सः दृष्टान्तः।१.१.२५
  • laukikaparīkṣakāṇāṃ yasminnarthē budhdhisāmyaṃ saḥ dṛṣṭāntaḥ।1.1.25


The thing about which a layman and an expert entertain the same opinion. This is also known as “familiar example” and is a common observation of both common folk and experts. Both scientists and laymen accept the general proposition that whenever there is rain there must be clouds; therefore, such an example can be used in the process of reasoning from the known to the unknown.

6)Demonstrated Truth/ siddhāntaḥ

  • तन्त्राधिकरणाभ्युपगमसंस्थितिः सिद्धान्तः।१.१.२६
  • tantrādhikaraṇābhyupagamasaṃsthitiḥ sidhdhāntaḥ।1.1.26

A conclusion of an hypothesis, reached and agreed upon by a school of philosophy Siddhānta is a conclusion that is recognised as being logically proven by a certain school of philosophy. These are of four kinds of Siddhānta:— (1) A commonly accepted truth — is a tenet which is not opposed by any school of philosophy and which is claimed by at least one school; e.g. All schools of Hindu Philosophy accept earth, water, light, air, and ether as the basic five elements, and smell, taste, colour, touch, and sound as the objects of the five senses. (2) A peculiar truth — is a tenet which is accepted by similar schools, but rejected by opposite schools. e.g., the 3 Abrahamic schools all accept that God creates the world from nothing. All schools of Indian philosophy reject this conclusion, as a something cannot come into existence out of nothing. (ex nihilo nihilo fit). 19 (3) A consequential truth — is a tenet which if accepted, leads to the acceptance of another tenet; e.g., the acceptance of the doctrine that there is a Self separate from the 5 senses, because it can recognise one and the same object by seeing and touch, implies:— (a) that the senses are more than one, (b) that each of the senses has its particular object; (c) that the Self derives its knowledge through the channels of the senses; and (d) that a substance which is distinct from its qualities is the locus of them. (4) An implied truth — is a tenet which is not explicitly declared as such, but which follows from the examination of particulars concerning it. e.g., the discussion whether certain people should be allowed to vote implies that those people are capable of understanding and making political decisions.


7)Factors of Reasoning — syllogism/ avayavaḥ

  • प्रतिज्ञाहेतूदाहरणोपनयनिगमनानि अवयवाः।१.१.३२
  • pratijñā hētūdāharaṇōpanayanigamanāni avayavāḥ


Introduction to Avayavāḥ


8)Reasoning and confutation/ tarkaḥ

  • अविज्ञाततत्वे अर्थे कारणोपपत्तितः तत्त्वज्ञानार्थं उहः तर्कः।१.१.४०
  • avijñātatvē arthē kāraṇōpapattitaḥ tatvajñānārthaṃ ūhaḥ tarkaḥ

A process for ascertaining the real nature of a thing of which the character is not known. A method of arriving at the truth by showing the absurdity of all contrary ideas. Tarka is a method of attaining knowledge of the truth about an unknown or uncertain thing by comparing and then gradually eliminating all the competing suppositions; E.g. Is the Self a product or a non-Product? If the Self is a non-product, it will experience the result of its action and will, on the eradication of the causes of re-birth, attain release; therefore, re-birth and release are indeed possible. If it is a product, these will not be possible, because the Self's connection with the body, mind, and senses will not be the result of its own action, nor will it experience the fruit of its own actions. The phenomenon of re-birth and release is well known and established; therefore, the Self must be a non-product. This form of reasoning is also called Confutation. This is not a method which ascertains, determines and verifies that the Self is a particular thing and nothing else. It simply eliminates all other contesting theories to the supposition it supports; after which Truth is established through the application of other means of Right Knowledge. For this reason Confutation is considered to be a supporting technique and is, therefore mentioned separately.


9)Discernment/ nirṇayaḥ

  • विमृश्य पक्षप्रतिपक्षाभ्यां अर्थावधारणं निर्णयः।१.१.४१
  • vimṛśya pakṣapratipakṣābhyāṃ arthāvadhāraṇaṃ nirṇyaḥ

The removal of doubts, and the resolution of a dispute, by examining two opposite views. Dialectic is in the form of a dialogue between two people who may hold differing views, yet wish to establish the truth by seeking agreement with one another. This is in contrast to debate in which two or more people hold differing views and wish to persuade or prove one another wrong (and thus a jury or judge is needed to decide the matter), The sequence of investigation is as follows:— First impression 9 doubt arises 9 examining the opposite view (pūrva pakṣa) 9 application of logic 9 determination of the controversy 9 ascertainment of Truth. (nirṇaya) Doubt is the result of first impression and gives impetus to investigation in order to ascertain the truth. 28 “Ascertainment” is unnecessary in the case of direct perception or the verbal testimony of a trustworthy authority. But you must first be convinced that the authority is trustworthy. In other words, everything should be doubted and questioned and not accepted simply because the person holds a degree or title. You must test that individual and once you have assured yourself of their trustworthiness then you can accept their statements without further investigation. Endlessly questioning for the sake of questioning is not useful for acquiring and furthering knowledge.

10)Discussion/ vādaḥ

  • प्रमाणतर्कसादनोपालम्भः सिद्दान्ताविरुद्दः पंचावयवोपपन्नः पक्षप्रतिपक्षपरिग्रहो वादः। 1-2-1
  • pramāṇa tarkasādhanōpālaṃbhaḥ sidhdāntāvirudhdaḥ paṃcāvayavōpapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣa parigrahaḥ vādaḥ

A dialogue in which one adopts one of two opposing positions. The purpose of Discussion is to arrive at the truth of the proposition under consideration. This may be achieved by talking about the topic with anyone who is a sincere seeker of Truth. In vāda it is not necessary to establish one's own thesis, it is enough to submit one's views for examination in order to ascertain the Truth. The discussion does not necessarily have to take into consideration the opposite opinion; it is enough to put any proposition to the test of logic. The usual procedure is to maintain the thesis by means of Right Knowledge and to attack the counter-thesis by means of tarka 11)Disputation/ jalpaḥ

  • यथोक्तोपपन्नः छलजातिनिग्रहस्थान साधनोपालम्भः जल्पः। 1-2-2
  • yathōktōpapannaḥ chalajātinigrahasthānōpālaṃbhaḥ jalpaḥ

A vigorous verbal disputation directed at gaining victory only. The sole purpose of engaging in a polemic is simply to gain victory over the other party. There’s no desire to either gain further knowledge of Truth or to establish one’s own position, and therefore, one can employ any device of debate in order to win. These devices are usually of a negative character, such as attacking the opponent’s character, (argumentum ad hominem) quibbling, advancing futile arguments, reducing to absurdity, evading the issue, focussing on examples or metaphors rather than on the actual argument itself etc.


12)Cavil or objection/ vitaṇḍā

  • स प्रतिपक्षस्थापनाहीनः वितण्डा। 1-2-3
  • sa pratipakṣa sthāpanāhīnaḥ vitaṇḍā

A kind of wrangling, which consists in mere attacks on the opposite side. In cavil there is no desire to establish any proposition. The only interest is to heckle the speaker by carping and offering frivolous objections. 29 Polemics and Cavilling, which are considered as forms of Discussion, may be used by an aspirant of Truth only as means of protecting one's young and fragile knowledge which has not yet matured into a full blossomed conviction. One may occasionally encounter objectionable people who, devoid of true knowledge, are puffed up with their academic achievements or are deluded by their own erroneous convictions. These people may try to impose their views and beliefs on others. Under such circumstances the student is urged to make use of these argumentative devices in order to safeguard the development of knowledge in the same way that nature uses thorns on some plants to safeguard the growth of its fruit. If one’s philosophy or belief system is under attack then one may also employ these negative means for self-defence. One should never gratuitously criticize or attack anyone else’s belief system, ideology or way of life if that person is keeping to themselves. When a person tries to impose their views on others then defence is required. 13) Fallacious Reasoning/ hetvābhāsaḥ

  • सव्यभिचारविरुध्द- प्रकरणसम- साध्यसम- कालातीताः हेत्वाभासाः। 1-2-4
  • savyabhicāra virudhda prakaraṇasama sādhyasama kālātītā hētvābhāsāḥ


Introduction to Hētvābhāsāḥ

14)Casuistry (unfair reasoning)/ chalaḥ

  • वचनविघातो अर्थविकल्पोपपत्या छलम्। 1-2-10
  • vacanavighātō arthavikalpōpapatyā chalaṃ

The opposition offered to a proposition by the assumption of an alternative meaning. Casuistry is of three sorts: - (1) Playing upon words (vacas). This consists of wilfully taking a term to mean something different from that intended by the speaker; e.g., taking the word 'quadruped' to mean four-legged table instead of an animal. (2) Generalisations (sāmānyas). This consists of asserting the impossibility of a particular part because of the impossibility of the whole; e.g., to deny that a particular cow is black because all cows are not black. (3) Metaphors (upacārās). This consists of invalidating a word used in a particular context by taking it literally when it was used metaphorically; e.g., the ‘House cheered’ means that the people in the house cheered and not the physical structure.


15)Futile Rejoinder/ jātiḥ

  • साधर्म्य वैधर्म्याभ्यां प्रत्यवस्थानं जातिः।1-2-18
  • sādharmya vaidharmyābhāṃ pratyavasthānaṃ jātiḥ

Offering objections founded on mere similarity or dissimilarity. The reply is said to be futile if it does not take into consideration the universal connection between the middle term and the major term. Mere similarity or dissimilarity is not sufficient. There are twenty-four kinds of futility which aim at showing an equality of the arguments of two sides so that neither side can win the argument. 16)Clinchers/ nigraha-sthānaṃ

  • विप्रतिपत्तिरप्रतिपत्तिश्च निग्रहस्थानम्।1-2-19
  • vipratipattirapratipattiśca nigrahasthānaṃ

A situation in which one misunderstands, or does not understand at all. There is no purpose in entering into a debate with one who demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the subject being investigated; therefore, one is advised to stop the discussion the moment the other demonstrates an ignorance of, or misunderstanding of the subject under discussion. Twenty-two occasions of “disagreement in principle” are listed and discussed in the Nyāya Texts. Any one these will result in the loss of the debate, but it is beyond the scope

of this course to examine them in full detail.
  1. Destruction of the final sorrow is mōkṣhaḥ according to nyāya
  2. pramā karaṇaṃ pramāṇaṃ
  3. yathāvasthita vyavahārāṇuguṇa jñānam pramā
  4. tadvati-tat-prakāraka-anubhavaḥ
  5. pravṛtti-samārthya