Nyaya school

From Encyclopedia of Buddhism
(Redirected from Nyāya)
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Nyaya school (T. rig pa can pa) is one of the six orthodox Hindu schools of classical India.[1]

The Nyaya school's most significant contributions to Indian philosophy was systematic development of the theory of logic (nyāya), methodology, and its treatises on epistemology.[2][3]

The sixteen categories of the Nyaya school formed the logical and epistemological framework for many of the debates between Buddhist and Hindu philosophers in India.[4]

Nyaya school shares some of its methodology and human suffering foundations with Buddhism; however, a key difference between the two is the Buddhist concept of anatman (no-self).

Nagarjuna's text Vaidalyaprakarana refutes the views of the Nyaya school.


Georges Dreyfus states:

Historically, this school had become important through the systematization of its basic text, the Nyāya-sutra, and Vatsyayana's authoritative commentary. It received a further boost from the partial support of the Mīmāṃsā's most important thinker, Kumarila, and from the Naiyayika Uddyotakara, both probably living shortly before Dharmakirti.
Barlingay describes the importance of the Nyaya school in the field of logic and epistemology; "Though they [philosophers of other Hindu orthodox systems] rejected the metaphysical tenets, they accepted the general methodology of Nyaya-Vaiśeṣika school and soon, thanks to their efforts, instead of remaining a mere school of philosophy, it attained a position of pre-eminence in the science of methodology. Thus in ancient India a pupil was first required to learn grammar and then Nyaya or logic. Unless a student took lessons in Nyaya he was not supposed to be competent to study Pūrva-Mīmāṁsā or Vedanta."
The influence of the Nyaya is evident in the way other systems use its categories. Even Buddhist philosophers frame their arguments using concepts, such as substance and universals, that come out of the Nyaya categorical system. As Aristotle's categories permeates the Western discourse, the Nyaya categories have permeated the philosophical discussions of ancient India.[5]

Nyaya and Buddhism

Mark Siderits states:

Nyāya agrees with Buddhism that life as ordinarily lived is suffering, and that the ultimate cause of suffering is our ignorance about our identity. But as an orthodox (‘Brahmanical’) school, Nyāya accepts the existence of a self. It also holds that there are things that exist eternally. So it disputes two of the three Buddhist claims about the characteristics of existence. Moreover, the foundational literature of this school was composed perhaps as much as five centuries after the death of the Buddha, in the second century CE. Even if this literature reflects an older oral tradition, the Buddha himself probably knew nothing of Nyāya. Why, then, should we study Nyāya? There are two reasons. First, the debate between Buddhism and Nyāya over the existence of the self had a profound effect on the development of Buddhist philosophy from the second century CE on. Second, some of the key tools and concepts of Indian philosophy originated with Nyāya. So a brief examination of the Nyāya system will help us better understand that debate. And the better our understanding of the debate, the better position we will be in to decide who was right about the self and the nature of the world.[6]


Seven categories of existents

The metaphysics of the Nyaya school is based on that of the Vaiśeṣika school, who asserted that all the constituents of reality can be divided into seven categories.[7]

The seven categories of the Nyaya school are:

(1) substances (dravya; rdzas), such as earth;
(2) qualities (guna; yon tan), such as form;
(3) actions (karma; las), such as stretching and bending;
(4) universals (samanya; spyi), great and small, which pervade the previous three categories;
(5) individual cases or instantiations (vishesha; bye brag) of the universals; and
(6) inherence (samavaya; ’du ba), whether in terms of difference (such as the inclusion of horns on an animal’s head) or in terms of identity (as in the case of the whiteness or roundness of a conch).
(7) absence (abhāva)

Mark Siderits states:

The Nyāya categories are: substance, quality, motion, universal, inherence, individuator, and absence. Suppose you see a white cow standing alone in a field swishing its tail:
1: The cow is a substance.
2:  Its white color is a quality.
3:  The swishing of its tail is a motion.
4:  So far so good. But what is it about this thing that makes it a cow? Why does it get called by the same name as all those other animals in other places? There would seem to be something common to all that makes it correct to call them all by the same name. Nyāya calls this a universal, in this case cowness.
5:  We say of the cow that it is white, it is swishing its tail, and it is a cow. When we say these things we are connecting the substance (the ‘it’) with a quality, a motion and a universal. But what is the connection that is expressed by the ‘is’? It is the relation of inherence. Inherence is the relation of ‘being in’ that we are talking about when we say that white color, swishing and cowness occur in the cow.
6:  We also say that this is one particular cow. The cow in the barn that looks just like this one is a distinct cow. For certain kinds of substances, what makes two qualitatively identical substances numerically distinct is the inherence in each of an individuator. For reasons that we will discuss later, an individual cow is not made distinct by an individuator of its own. But its being the particular cow it is, still is explained by individuators indirectly.
7:  We might also notice that a goat that was in the field earlier is not there now. The cow is standing alone in the field. In this case what we are aware of is the absence of the goat.
What our example suggests is that the Nyāya categories represent those aspects of reality that correspond to the different elements in our judgments about what we perceive. Suppose when asked what we see we say, ‘It is a white cow standing alone in the field swishing its tail.’ And suppose we are right. What Nyāya is claiming is that there must be these seven distinct kinds of aspects of reality in order to explain how what we said is true. There must be substances, qualities, motions, etc. There must be ‘things’ (that is, substances) in order for there to be anything for us to talk about. But then there are all the parts of our statement that constitute the ‘saying something about it’ side of the judgment. Those parts of the judgment must also hook up somehow with reality. So there must also be qualities, motions and universals.
And then there is the fact that whatever is expressed by words like ‘white’, ‘swishing’ and ‘cow’ must also be related somehow to the substance that is expressed by ‘it’. So we’ll need a relation like that of inherence; otherwise what we’d have is just a list of unconnected names. And so on. The Nyāya list of categories is generated by reflecting on what the most fundamental aspects of reality must be in order for our cognitions to capture adequately facts in the world.[6]


Mark Siderits states:

Substances are concrete particulars, such as a cow, a pot, or a tree. It’s important to be clear about how the word ‘substance’ is being used here. We sometimes use the word ‘substance’ to mean a stuff, something that can occur spread out over different locations, such as iron, mud, or water. But in philosophy the word is almost never used that way. A substance is always a particular thing, something that occurs in a single discrete spatial location. The stuff called ‘mud’ is in many different places in the world, but a substance such as a cow can only be at one place at a time.
We can get clearer about what substances are by looking at how this category is related to the other categories. Substances are inhered in by qualities, motions, universals and individuators. That is, items in these four categories can occur in substances. White color, swishing motion and cowness all inhere in our cow. Qualities, motions and individuators only inhere in substances; there would be no qualities, motions, or individuators if there were no substances for them to reside in. And every substance has some qualities and at least one universal inhering in it.[6]

The Nyaya also distinguish between impermanent substances (such as a pot) and permanent substances (such as atoms).[6]


The Padmakara Translation Group states:

The Nyaya-Vaisheshika school advocates a realistic theory of universals similar to, though perhaps not as extreme as, the Platonic theory of forms. For the Nyaya-Vaisheshikas, universals are real entities distinct from the multiple phenomena that instantiate them. In being unitary and indivisible, timeless and indestructible, these universals are obviously much more real than their evanescent instances and would continue to exist even if the latter were all destroyed and were to vanish from the world. See Matilal, Perception, pp. 382–86, and Dreyfus, Recognizing Reality, pp. 52–59.[8]


The Nyaya school accepts four valid "instruments of knowledge" (pramana):[1][6]

Mark Siderits states:

Nyāya claims there are four means of knowledge: perception, inference, testimony and comparison. Buddhists disagree, and claim that only perception and inference are means of knowledge. This disagreement is not about whether a process like the testimony of a qualified expert is a reliable source of veridical beliefs. What is controversial is whether this is a separate means of knowledge. Buddhists claim, for instance, that testimony is just a case of inference.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Britannica 2017.
  2. B Gupta (2012), An Introduction to Indian Philosophy: Perspectives on Reality, Knowledge and Freedom, Routledge, ISBN 978-0415800037, pages 171-189
  3. PT Raju (1985), Structural Depths of Indian Thought: Toward a Constructive Postmodern Ethics, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0887061394, page 223
  4. Crushing the Categories, Wisdom Publications
  5. Dreyfus 1997, pp. 52-53.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Siderits 2007, Chapter 5.
  7. The Vaiśeṣika originally identified six categories; a seventh category, "absence," was added later.
  8. Shantarakshita 2005, Notes, 401.


  • Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia (14 June 2017), "Nyaya", Encyclopedia Britannica, retrieved 17 May 2024 
  • Book icoline.svg Dreyfus, Georges B.J (1997), Recognizing Reality: Dharmakīrti's Philosophy and its Tibetan Interpretations, Albany: State University of New York Press 
  • Book icoline.svg Siderits, Mark (2007), Buddhism as Philosophy: An Introduction, Ashgate Publishing Limited 

Further reading

This article includes content from Nyaya on Wikipedia (view authors). License under CC BY-SA 3.0. Wikipedia logo