Nyaya: a scheme of logic in Vedanta,

06 Sep

Nyaya is a method or a scheme of logic employed to prove or to disprove a proposition. Several types of Nyaya are employed in the texts of the Vedanta. The employment of a Nyaya becomes necessary when the subject discussed is either vague or is disputed; and when the other methods of reasoning are ineffective.

Nyaya is an illustration, model or a metaphor. It formulates in a nutshell an entire argument. It epitomizes a whole viewpoint. The merit of a Nyaya is that it is derived from common experiences in daily-life. It is therefore easier to relate to the Nyaya and its purport. The popular ancient readers such as PanchatantraHithopadeshaataka tales and Jain fables are treasure houses of Nyayas.

While the analogy or illustration is important (as in Rajju-sarpa, Sukthi- Rajatha or Rekha-gavaya-nyaya etc.); the more important than that is the validity of the argument, its methodological precision and its import. The more popular Nyayas in Vedanta are Adhyaropa Apavada and Prasajya-Prathisedha.

For instance, the Adhyaropa-Apavada attempts to prove its theory of transformation (Vivarta) in the phenomenal world. It effectively draws upon the Rajju-sarpa illustration. The rope’s appearance as a snake is not a mere Illusion. It involves a psychological process of transformation and projection while the physical object remains unaltered. The snake seems to emerge out of the coil of rope, in semi darkness; and dissolves into it when light is brought in.

The snake, in reality, was never present. The rope as a physical reality was ever present; even while the snake appeared in its place. Nevertheless, the snake could not have appeared in the absence of a physical foundation. It is therefore not a total illusion (alika).The snake-status is a superimposition or an assumption (Adhyaropa); and its subsequent annulment is withdrawal (Apavada).

The models equivalent to the above are the Sukthi-Rajatha, Shell and Silver analogy, the Akashanilima-Nyaya (blue sky) and the Stambha-Nara-Nyaya (Man in the post). The mother-of-pearl is mistaken for pure silver, the attribute -less sky appears blue, and the stump of wood is mistaken for a man at night. The unreal status is superimposed on the actual and is later withdrawn. The knowledge of the world is an appearance of Brahman, just as the man in the stump is only an appearance of the stump, and the silver in nacre an appearance of nacre.

There are a number of other Nyayas employed as metaphors, models and analogies to illustrate certain points of view. The following are a few of them.

There is a Nyaya called Rekha-gavaya-nyaya. An urban person had not seen a wild Bison. A forester draws a picture of the Bison (gavaya) and the townsman takes the very drawing for the animal .When on a later occasion, he visits the forest and sees the real animal, it dawns on him that the drawing and the animal are two different things.

Similarly, in Aksharajnana-nyaya the teacher marks on the paper with ink and asks the child to recognize in them alphabets and numbers. The child learns to recognize those forms and later, in a way, learns to de-code the symbols to understand and recognize the things and values they stand for.

These two Nyayas are employed to explain that scriptures describe the Absolute as the creator of the phenomenal world and attribute several traits like “truth”, ”knowledge”, ”bliss” and “infinity” etc. to the Absolute which is without any attributes. The seeker later learns and realizes the true nature of the Brahman.

The Samudrataranga-Nyaya illustrates that the countless waves rolling in the vast ocean are one and the same and are not separate from each other or from the great ocean. All are one, in reality. The difference is only apparent. The innumerable Jivas , though apparently perceived to be separate from one another are , in reality , one .

Oornanabhi-Nyaya, just as the spider brings forth the thread from its mouth to weave its web and withdraws it again into its mouth; this world is projected forth by Brahman and then again withdrawn by Brahman. The world is nothing but the Being of Brahman. And, Brahman alone is reality.

Ghatakasha-Nyaya, this is the analogy of space in a pot which is the same as the space pervading the universe (Mahakasha). When the pot is broken, the apparent distinction vanishes. Similarly, when the body and mind are broken, the embodied jiva becomes one with the Brahman.

Arundathi Nyaya is derived from the practice of showing the Arundathi star to the new bride. As the star is very faint and not easy to sight she is gradually led from the nearby brighter stars step by step to the Aundathi star. This underlines the principle of leading from gross to the subtle, from general to the particular and from known to the unknown.

For more on Nyayas please visit . 

The models employ something that is already familiar in order to explain certain concepts that are at once abstract and real. Let me mention that these analogies are not perfect. They have their limitations and are brittle at times; and if pressed too hard they might crumble .There cannot be a perfect analogy; and argument is not evidence. Its purpose is to illustrate. The models attempt to represent something that which cannot be perceived. Nyaya is the finger and not the moon. Therefore, there is always an element of inadequacy. One has to strive to extract from the model what is called “a positive analogy”. The notion of transformation (Vivarta) is thus what one could call a logical construction.

Nonetheless, the value of these Nyayas consists in that they facilitate a passage from the observable to the actual and from the factual to the theoretical .Sri Shankara’s merit is in the consistent interpretations he provides to an axiomatic system that the Upanishads provided. And in doing so he contributed significantly to the Indian theory -formation.


Indebted to Prof.SRK Rao

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Posted by on September 6, 2012 in Indian Philosophy, Nyaya


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