“I distrust the extremes. Scratch a conservative and you find someone who prefers the past over any future. Scratch a liberal and find a closet aristocrat.”
Frank Herbert

God Emperor of Dune

Nyaya – Introduction & Right Knowledge


Nyaya suggests that we are in an uninterrupted flow of misapprehension, faults, activity, birth and pain. Not very comforting- but we can break out of this flow by “understanding the true nature of things”. How do we achieve this? By realizing that (1) pain should be avoided; (2) it has a cause; (3) it can be avoided; (4) there are ways to do this. Sounds very much like the 4 Noble Truths by Buddhism! An interesting quality of Nyaya teachings is that they are not just about discerning true from false but also protect us when our knowledge is still growing and not yet matured.

Nyaya approaches philosophy by studying it’s method of inquiry. There is an innate capacity for truth seeking in human nature, logic enabled it to accomplish its aims.  Nyaya offers insights into the psychological aspects of obtaining knowledge, how the mind partakes in this process and what pitfalls it may encounter.

Nyaya mentions 16 categories of knowledge. The first 9 deal with logic and the remaining 7 are about preventing and destroying error. For now we will be focusing on the first 9.

The Means of Right Knowledge

Perception is that knowledge that arises from contact of a sense with its object. It mus be real, discreet, specific and not vague. It it also unnameable – the name of a thing has no connection with the knowledge of a thing derived through perception. Perception is in the sphere of the present.

Inference is knowledge that arises after perception. It may lead from cause to effect (clouds = it is going to rain) or from effect to cause (flooded streets = it has rained).  It may also be “commonly seen” – if its raining – there must be clouds. Inference is in the sphere of the past, present or future.

Comparison is knowing a thing from it’s similarity to another, previously well known, thing.

Verbal Testimony is instruction from a reliable person – one who is possessed of true knowledge and is truthful.

The Objects of Right Knowledge

There are countless objects of right knowledge. The 12 listed here are unique because truly knowing them is said to dispel delusion while false knowledge of them holds man in bondage of sorrow and suffering.

Soul is an intangible reality. It cannot be apprehended through the contact of the senses; therefore is must be known from either verbal testimony or the appearance of it’s qualities: desire, aversion, effort, pleasure, pain & knowledge.

Body is the site of motion, senses and objects of pleasure and pain. It is the field of the soul’s experiences as it strives to reach what is desirable and avoid what is undesirable.

Senses (and their objects) are the instruments through which the soul comes in contact with the outer world. This refers to the powers of smell, taste, sight, touch and hearing.

Intelligence is the power of forming and retaining conceptions. The mind’s faculty to discern, judge, comprehend, apprehend and understand the meaning of right knowledge. It is the power to contemplate the eternal.

Intellect is the capacity for reflection, inference, testimony, doubt, ready wit, dream, cognition, conjecture, memory, desire and feeling of pleasure and pain. It is unable to perceive two things at the same time, even though the sense may be in contact with their objects. It is the power to seek worldly factual knowledge.

Activity is that which sets the mind, body and voice in motion. False knowledge leads to desire which leads to actions that hold man in bondage.

Faults are the cause of all action. They are attraction, aversion and delusion. Delusion is the one to watch out for because it breeds attraction and aversion (which make you forget that there is nothing agreeable or disagreeable to the soul; therefore liking or disliking is pointless). Faults appear when we confuse parts and the whole (unreal and real). To deal with faults you should study and reflect on these teachings.

Rebirth – birth consists of the connection of the soul with the body, sense organs and mind. Birth is not the production of anything new, but only re-association. Death is not the destruction of anything, but only separation.

Fruit is the product of all activity. It may be in the form of pleasure or pain, depending on the nature of its cause.  Fruits sometimes appear immediately, at other times there may be a lapse of time.

Pain is an obstacle to the progress of the soul. The body is said to be the abode of pain; the senses are the instruments of pain; the intellect is the agent of pain, birth then is association with pain; therefore, life is a passing experience of sorrow and suffering. Pleasure is an interval.

Release is defined as absolute deliverance from pain. Only the soul which is no longer associated with the body, sense organs and intellect is freed from pain. When the mind is awakened to the true nature of things by right knowledge, pain will fade away.  Then, faults will have disappeared, there will be no incentive to action and the soul will be freed from future rebirths.

The teachings say:

  1. learn that rebirth, fruit and pain are to be known.
  2. learn that actions and faults are to be avoided.
  3. learn that release is to be attained.
  4. learn that is attained by true knowledge.

True knowledge is attained by constantly turning over these teaching in one’s mind.

True Knowledge is developed by first learning to withdraw the senses, then they must be held steady by continuous effort, then the mind will unite with the soul (see definition of Yoga from the Yoga Sutra). There are objects that force themselves on consciousness so intensely that the mind cannot achieve this abstraction (hunger, thirst, heat, cold, disease, the elements, etc.). Yoga practices enable you to overcome these obstacles. This capacity for practicing Yoga comes from accumulation of previous efforts in past lives. Preparation for Yoga is the study of philosophy.

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  • By Nyaya – Preventing Error on August 1, 2009 at 2:10 am

    […] | Published: August 1, 2009 Table of contents for Vedic PhilosophyYoga – Philosophical RootsNyaya – Introduction & Right KnowledgeNyaya – Doubt to ConfutationNyaya – Preventing […]

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