How to build a nyāya

A nyāya is a logical argument that is used to establish one’s point. Śrī Jīva Goswami and Śrī Visvanatha make copious use of nyāyas to support their conclusions. Being the main tool for argument and refutation, it is important to be able to construct nyāyas without defects. Many of the fuzzy notions curently prevalent in the Catianya sampradāya, I believe, are due to the inability to construct a sound logical argument. In this article, I discuss how to construct a nyāya, common defects in nyāyas, two examples of how Śrī Jīva Goswami makes use of nyāyas, and end with two nyāyas that refute dormant prema-vāda and mithya-vāda.

The description of a nyāya in Tarka-saṅgraha

The scheme of nyāya is succintly presented in the Tarka-saṅgraha:

प्रतिज्ञाहेतूदाहरणोपनयनिगमनानि पञ्चावयवाः।पर्वतोवह्निमानिति प्रतिज्ञा। धूमवत्त्वादिति हेतुः। यो यो धूमवानित्युदाहरणम्।तथाचयमित्युपनयः।तस्मात्तथेति निगमनम्।

The five limbs [of a nyāya] are pratijñā, hetu, vyāpti-udāharaṇa, upanaya and nigamana —

Proposition (pratijñā): There is a fire on the mountain.

Reason (hetu): Because there is smoke.

General principle and example (vyāpti and dṛṣṭānta): Wherever there is smoke, there is fire, as in the kitchen.

Application (upanaya): There is smoke over the mountain.

Conclusion (nigamana): Therefore, there is a fire on the mountain.

Tarka-saṅgraha presents the following key definition of vyāpti, which is at the heart of any nyāya —

यत्र यत्र धूमस्तत्रानग्निरिति साहचर्य्यनियमो व्याप्तिः vyāpti means being invariably present together, as in the statement: “Wherever there is smoke, there is fire”.

Formulating a nyāya

Constructing nyāyas can be tricky, and so I present below a protocol to construct a nyāya with five limbs or aṅgas below:

1. pratijñā (proposition)- Identify the proposition to be proven (sādhya), and the place where it is to be proven (pakṣa) 
 [Insert here that is which to be proven] e.g. there is fire [insert here where it is to be proven] e.g. on the mountain

2. hetu: identify the hetu (reason)
because of [insert here what is known already or is observable currently in the place] e.g. because there is smoke on the mountain. 

3a. vyāpti: formulate the vyāpti (general principle)
relate [insert here what is known already or observable] to [what is to be proven, i.e. not observable or not known], e.g. where there is smoke, there is fire. 

3b. dṛṣṭānta: provide an example (dṛṣṭānta) that is commonplace knowledge for everyone of the vyāpti 
[insert vyāpti here] e.g. where there is smoke there is fire, like [insert example here] e.g. in the kitchen

[If one get these three steps correct, steps four and five follow]

4. Upanaya (application) Restate the observed part in the hetu in step 2

e.g. There is smoke on the mountain

5. Nigamana (conclusion) – Restate step 1

e.g. Therefore, there is fire on the mountain

Formulating a nyāya can be challenging for a beginner. A common mistake is improper formulation of the vyāpti. The observable or known part of the hetu must invariably coexist with that which is to be proven or inferred by the vyāpti. If the known part is not explicitly stated in the vyāpti in step 3, then it is not a proper vyāpti. Likewise if that which is to be proven is not explicitly stated in the vyāpti in step 3, it is not a proper vyāpti. 

Faulty nyāyas

Tarka-saṅgraha presents five types of hetu-ābhāsa (mere semblance of a hetu or reason) which cause a nyāya to fail.

सव्यभिचारिविरुद्धसत्प्रतिपक्षासिद्धबाधिताः पञ्चहेत्वाभासाः – that which is not invariable (savyabhicāri or anaikāntika), that which would prove the opposite, that for which a counter argument exists, the unreal and the futile.

We will look at savyabhicāri hetu-ābhāsa and the viruddha hetu-ābhāsa which both show up in the Paramātmā Sandarbha.

As an example of savyabhicāri or anaikāntika-hetu-ābhāsa, consider the following nyāya:

The mountain is on fire

because it is knowable

whatever is knowable, like an oven has fire

the mountain is knowable

therefore the mountain is on fire

The problem with the hetu “because it is knowable”, is that knowability also exists in a lake. But fire cannot be in a lake, so the hetu fails the test of vyāpti with that which it is to be proved. As such, it is only a semblance of a hetu, not a real hetu.

As an example of a viruddha hetu-ābhāsa, consider the inference:

शब्दो नित्यः कृतकत्वात् – sound is eternal because it is created

The problem is that anything that is created cannot be eternal by definition. So the hetu proves the opposite of what is intended.

An example of the bādhita-hetu-ābhāsa is the following: “Fire is not hot because it is a substance. Whatever is a substance, like water, is not hot.” This conclusion is negated by direct perception of fire, which reveals that it is hot.

The fallacy in arguing that the universe is unreal

In Anuccheda 70.2, Śrī Jīva Goswami examines arguments against the concept that the world is changing yet real. A real object, or ‘sat’, is defined as that which cannot change. The universe changes observably, so it must be unreal.

An effect should have the same nature as the ingredient cause – like gold earrings formed from gold. The gold earrings have the same essential qualities as the gold that makes it. Brahman is stated in the scriptures as the upādāna or ingredient cause of the universe. But Brahman is unchanging, and the world is changing. How can this contradiction be resolved?

One solution is to make the world disappear by stating that it is unreal! The argument goes like this:

This universe is unchanging

because it has arisen from unchanging Brahman

whatever is generated has the qualities of its upādāna cause as golden earrings have the qualities of gold

the universe has arisen from the unchanging Brahman

therefore the universe is unchanging

It is an observable fact that the universe is perishable. Therefore, one must conclude that it must not exist, i.e. it is unreal, because the above nyāya is opposed.

The problem with this logic is that it contains a hetu-ābhāsa (a fallacious reason) of the vyabhicāri or anaikāntika type as the Śrutis point out in SB 10.87.36 (vyabhicarati kva ca). Śrī Jīva Goswami comments —

vyabhicarati kva ca iti | kva ca kutrāpi kāraṇa-dharmānugatir vyabhicarati | kārya-kāraṇa-dharmasya sarvāṁśenānugataṁ bhavatīti niyamo na vidyata ity arthaḥ | dahanādy-udbhave prabhādau dāhakatvādi-dharmādarśanād iti bhāvaḥ

there is sometimes a deviation in this principle meaning that in some instances, the characteristics of a cause do not follow into the effect. In other words, there is no rule that an effect must correspond in every single aspect with the attributes of its cause; for example, light arises from fire but does not have the capacity to burn.

Gold earrings and gold are not different in their qualities, but this is not true for all causes and effects. The imperishability of Brahman, the cause, need not be present in its effect, the universe. That is, just because it is an effect of Brahman, the universe need not share all of Brahman’s qualities. There is, therefore, no need to wish it away as being ‘unreal’. Rather, one can posit that is real or ‘sat’ but also changing.

Nyāyas that argue for and against dormant prema-vāda

Consider the following two nyāyas which support and oppose dormant prema-vāda – the (incorrect) notion that prema or bhakti is intrinsic inside the ātmā. These were developed as part of a debate that recently took place in Jiva institute. The reader is invited to try and refute them.


Pratijñā: Bhakti is inherent in the ātmā
Hetu: Because the ātmā is a śeṣa of Bhagavān
Vyāpti : Whoever is śeṣa has bhakti for its śeṣī, as jīvas in Vaikuṇṭha
Upanaya: The ātmā is a śeṣa as said by Jāmātṛ Muni.
Nigamana: Therefore, bhakti is inherent in the ātmā

Pratijñā: Bhakti is inherent in the ātmā.
Hetu: Because the ātmā is saccidānanda
Vyāpti : Whoever is saccidananda has bhakti, as jīvas in Vaikuṇṭa
Upanaya: The ātmā is saccidānanda as said by Jāmātṛ Muni.
Nigamana: Therefore, bhakti is inherent in the ātmā

Pratijñā: Bhakti is not inherent in the ātmā.
Hetu: Because the ātmā does not have śraddhā.
Vyāpti: Wherever there is bhakti, there is śraddhā, like in Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.
Upanaya: The ātmā does not have śraddhā.
Nigamana: Bhakti is not inherent in the ātmā.

Pratijñā: The ātmā does not have śraddhā
Hetu: Because it cannot hold thoughts
Vyāpti: All śraddhā are thoughts, like “I believe in the meaning of śāstra”
Upanaya: The ātmā cannot hold thoughts
Nigamana: Thus, the ātmā does not have śraddhā

Nyāyas that argue for and against mithyā-vāda

Mithyā-vada posits that the universe is neither sat nor asat. Here, sat is that which exists in past, present and future, i.e. it is unchanging. Asat is that which cannot be perceived – such as a sky flower or a rabbit with horns. The debate at Jiva institute took place on the following propositions:

Pratijñā: Everything other than Brahman is mithyā.
Hetu: because everything except Brahman has vyāvahārikā or prātibhāsikā-sattā
Vyāpti: everything which has vyāvahārikā or prātibhāsikā-sattā is mithyā
Udāharaṇam: like a mirage
Upanaya: everything except Brahman has vyāvahārikā or prātibhāsikā-sattā
Nigama: therefore, everything except Brahman is mithyā

Pratijñā: The world (jagat) is real.
Hetu: Because the world is apprehended.
Vyāpti: An unreal object cannot be apprehended, such as a sky-flower or a rabbit with horns.
Upanaya: The world is apprehended.
Nigamana: The world is real.


I showed in this article how to formulate a nyāya, how to avoid mistakes in nyāya, and how the scriptures and Śrī Jīva Goswami use nyāyas to refute the opponent. Constructing a nyāya is helpful in identifying weaknesses in one’s arguments.

Categories: concepts, Definitions

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