Published On: Sat, Oct 8th, 2016

The Astika School of Thought – Nyaya School

Leading Human Beings to Ultimate Reality

Ancient India was clear about the goal of life – to end suffering and experience liberation when living (Jeevan Mukthi). To enable this, depending on the mental model of the person, they created varied offerings. The Nyaya School is one such impeccable offering to humanity.

The Nyaya School is a collection of ways of thinking and reasoning that helps human beings to go from what they perceive as reality to the ultimate reality. In this sense, it is accessible to the common person. One need not be having a matured cognition to be able to work with the sutras of the Nyaya School.

Nyaya takes what is commonly perceived as reality. It then encourages the person to get into a critical enquiry of what they perceive as reality. The assumptions are broken down and means of dropping the assumptions laid out. When the means of knowledge (analytical investigation through logical reasoning) is made clear and practiced, the flowering of knowledge is an inevitable outcome.

What is Nyaya?

Vatsyayana, the authoritative commentator on Nyaya Sutras, defines Nyaya as “a critical examination of the objects of knowledge by means of the canons of logical proof.”[1]

Nyaya is also called ‘Tarka-Vidya’ as the science of reasoning leads to knowledge. It is also called ‘Vada-Vidya’ as the science of discussion also leads one to knowledge. The tools for reasoning are provided in the sutras. The platforms for discussion are made available through Gurukuls and Vakyartha Sadas – forum created with the intention to discover right knowledge through discussion.


Sage Gautama (Akshapada) has been credited with organising the scattered gems of philosophical thought regarding what can be known and the means of acquiring knowledge that were available at that time. Attributing the age of the Nyaya School to his time is therefore not accurate. When Krishna says, He taught the truths to the Sun god millions of eons ago, He is telling the truth. Truths as revealed in the Vedic Scriptures are beyond time and space.

Tangible Start

Suffering is a condition that most human beings can relate to. Nyaya starts out by laying down the problem and how it has come about. It establishes the world as a chain of consequences that starts from misapprehension of reality that leads to the imbalance of ego-centrism. Taking action from the point of view of false knowledge, leads to karma that have to be lived through. Rebirth happens to actualise such karma and being stuck in the cycle of births and deaths leads to suffering characterized by disease and depression.

Ajanana Dosha Karma Janma Duhkha
Misapprehension Imbalance Activity Rebirth Suffering



Right knowledge (jnana) about reality is the solution. This dissolves the wrong identification of the Self with the ego as mind-body complex. This leads to action that is not derived from desire or aversion (karma), association with a certain set of people (praja) and wanting to declare supremacy (dhana) over others. Such action cuts the need for rebirth and leads to mosksha (liberation).

Four Topics

The Nyaya Sutras delve into four areas that helps one to achieve moksha. They are:

  1. Suffering (what we want to avoid)
  2. Its cause (ignorant thought patterns and thought currents)
  3. Its solution (unclutched living that cuts out karma)
  4. Means of unclutched living

Why Logic?

The Nyaya School provides a rational basis for knowing what reality is. It puts everything under the scanner and argues against any irrational beliefs. Logic is required to think through and get deep understanding. Logic is offered as the tool that will eliminate false knowledge and reaffirm what has been declared in our scriptures.

What is Rational?

When one follows a series of mental steps, when the conclusion that is arrived at is agreed as true by everyone, such a process is rational. This takes away dependence on subjective truth.

Nyaya Methodology

The methodology of the Nyaya School focuses on the ways and means to acquire knowledge and does not delve into the nature of knowledge. This comes from the realization that the frequency of enlightenment is the same for everyone. One needs to be guided on the path.

By the application of 16 categories of Logic called Padarthas, Reality is ascertained. Of these 16, pramana (means of right knowledge) and prameya (object of right knowledge) are the most critical. The rest of the article deals with these two padarthas.


Prama (right knowledge) is defined as that which reveals an object as is and is pragmatic. Knowledge is considered true when there is:

  1. Coherence – logical and consistent statements
  2. Correspondence – relate to the object as is
  3. Consequence – enables application (has utility value)

Means of Acquiring Knowledge

Nyaya offers four means to obtain knowledge. They are:

  1. Pratyaksha – what is perceived through the senses and experienced and which has characteristics of being
    1. concrete,
    2. not limited by name, and
  • that can be used.

Sense perception can be nirvikalpaka (abstract, non-specific and therefore not useful) and savikalpaka (concrete, specific and therefore useful).

  1. Anumana (inference)

Inference is the knowledge that uses the past to comment about the present and predict for the future. This knowledge is of the nature of established concomitance between the cause and the effect. For example, clouds and rain, fire and smoke.

  1. Upamana (analogy)

This means relates to acquiring knowledge about something based on another object that is already well known. For example, consider someone is going for the first time, to the regions where Yaks are present. If they are told that they look like large buffaloes, when they see something resembling a large buffalo, they will know that it is a Yak.

  1. Sabda, Agama, Apta Vakya (Testimony)

The experiential assertion of credible people (apta), and written scriptures belong to this category. Their assertions can be about the tangible and intangible. Assertions about tangible things can be verified through concrete sense perceptions. Assertions on the intangible needs to be understood through anumana and subjective experience that happens when using the methodology.


Nyaya School states that right knowledge about 12 topics leads to freedom from suffering. If one has false knowledge about these areas, it leads to rebirth and suffering.

1 Atman Self 7 Pravritti Activity
2 Sarira Body 8 Dosa Imbalances
3 Indriya Senses 9 Phala Consequence
4 Artha Experiences 10 Duhkha Suffering
5 Buddhi Intelligence 11 Pratyabhava Rebirth
6 Manas Intellect 12 Apavarga Liberation


Nyaya defines Buddhi as that which seeks factual knowledge whereas Manas seeks divine wisdom.


Nyaya establishes the reality of the atman through anumana. No one doubts their own existence. Our own self is self-evident. This Self or atman is the subject that experiences all human emotions such as attraction and aversion. As atman is intangible, it cannot be perceived by the senses, and is distinct from body and mind. Its existence is proven by inference and from sabda – scriptural references.

In a similar fashion, Nyaya establishes the reality of Brahman and God.

Thus by clarifying the means of acquiring right knowledge and the places where one needs to seek that knowledge, Nyaya allows for channelling the human intelligence and intellect to experience the ultimate reality. It is a pity that such bodies of knowledge are not part of our common curriculum. It’s time to revive them and the mode in which these were taught – the Gurukul system.

Other References:

  1. to lec23.pdf

[1] Nyaya – The Hindu System of Logic and Debate by Ub. Ve. Sri Rama Ramanuja Achari,, 2013

By – Sathish Selvakumar

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  1. Ravishankar says:

    Very good,, expect further articles on Basic principles of Vedas, deviations,, correction methodology etc and long term sustainable goals using ancient knowledge

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