Philosophical Discourse (सम्भाषा)

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Philosophical Discourse (Samskrit: सम्भाषा) or participating in philosophical debates is considered one of the three methods to obtain knowledge; the other two being, adhyayana (study) and adhyapana (teaching), says the Charaka Samhita.[1]

अध्ययनमध्यापनं तद्विद्यसम्भाषा चेत्युपायाः ॥४॥[2] adhyayanamadhyāpanaṁ tadvidyasambhāṣetyupāyāḥ ॥4॥

Meaning: To this end, we shall indicate the means viz. study, teaching and discussion with those versed in the same subject.[3]

This article is an introduction to the science of 'Tadvidya Sambhasha' (debate between experts of same field).

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

There was a long and a time-honored tradition in ancient India where philosophers and thinkers met to discuss metaphysical issues over which there were multiple views. There are detailed narrations of such discussions, debates and dialogues recorded in Chandogya Upanishad, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad and Prashna Upanishad.

Few other terms that the other early texts such as Aitareya Brahmana, Kathopanishad and others use in this context include:

  • Tarka (reasoning)
  • Vada (debate)
  • Yukti (sustained arguments)
  • Prameya (object of knowledge),
  • Pramana (proof),
  • Nirnaya (ascertainment) etc.

These later became the principal terminologies of the Nyaya School. While the Manu Samhita and Maharshi Panini's Ashtadhyayi mentioned the idioms of inquiry (Anveshiki) dealing with the theory of reasons (Hetu vidya or Hetu shastra).[4]

व्युत्पत्तिः ॥ Etymology

Shabdakalpadruma explains Sambhasha as Sambhashana. It says,

सम्भाषा सम्भाषणम् ॥[5] sambhāṣā sambhāṣaṇam ॥

And Sambhashana is,

सम्भाषणं कथनम् । आलापनम् ।[5] sambhāṣaṇaṁ kathanam । ālāpanam ।

Vachaspatya highlights 2 aspects of conversing. That is,

  1. सम्यक्कथने (samyakkathane | approprite speech/conversation)
  2. परस्परकथने च (parasparakathane | conversing with each other)[6]

सम्भाषायाः इतिहासः ॥ History of Sambhasha

The science of inquiry, Atmavidya, was at a later stage called Anvikshiki. However, while comprising the entire function of Atmavidya, Anvikshiki, was in fact different from it. Kautilya recognized Anvikshiki as a distinct branch of study over and above the three, viz, Trayi (the Vedas), Vartta (Commerce) and Dandaniti (Polity).[7]

आन्वीक्षिकी त्रयी वार्त्ता दण्ड-नीतिश्चैति विद्याः ।। ०१.२.०१ ।।[3] ānvīkṣikī trayī vārttā daṇḍa-nītiścaiti vidyāḥ ।। 01.2.01 ।।

The distinction between Atmavidya and Anvikshiki lay in this, that while the former embodied assertions about the nature of atman, the latter contained reasons supporting those assertions. Therefore, Anvikshiki dealt in fact with two subjects, viz. atman and hetu (theory of reasons).

Later on, Anvikshiki was recognized as a distinct branch of learning that bifurcated into two branches - philosophy and logic.[7] And this logic, developed in ancient India through the tradition of Vada Vidya, a discipline dealing with the categories of debate over various religious, philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues.[8] Hence, Sambhasha is also called as Vada (discussion) in many texts.

This concept of Vada is derived from the Nyaya darshana. It is said that,

प्रमाणतर्कसाधनोपालम्भः सिद्धान्ताविरुद्धः पञ्चावयवोपपन्नः पक्षप्रतिपक्षपरिग्रहः वादः ।।१।।[6]

pramāṇatarkasādhanōpālambhaḥ siddhāntāviruddhaḥ pañcāvayavōpapannaḥ pakṣapratipakṣaparigrahaḥ vādaḥ ।।1।।

Amongst the 44 Vada marga padas (logical terms used in debate), the first one is Vada. It refers to a debate following the laws of shastra (text) ie. it should have 5 avayavas, paksha (in favour) and Pratipaksha (in opposing side) both laid down on the basis of Pramana (parametres of evidence) and tarka (logical reasoning).[1]

And this methodology of philosophical debate in India, gave rise to the study of the form of correct arguments and inference patterns as part of the science of Logic.[8]

वादविद्या ॥ Vada Vidya

Nyaya, one among the Shad Darshanas, deals with well-organized logical ways of ascertaining the true nature of the objects and subjects of human knowledge (Pramana Shastra). It is also called Tarka vidya (logic) and Vada vidya or Vadartha (reasoned argument); and is included among the Chaturdasha Vidyasthanani (fourteen principal branches of learning).

The Nyaya Sutras mainly treat five subjects:

  1. Pramana (instruments or means of right knowledge)
  2. Prameya (the object of right knowledge)
  3. Vada (debate or discussion)
  4. Avayava (the elements or steps of syllogism)
  5. Anya-mata-pariksha (review or examination of the doctrines of other Schools)

Therefore, types of debates and arguments come under the purview of Nyaya Shastra.

While discussing Vada, Nyaya Sutra talks about sixteen padarthas (topics or categories) involved in the development of the debate (Vada marga). They are

  • The four reliable means of obtaining valid knowledge (pramana). Namely, Pratyaksha (perception), Anumana (inference), Upamana (comparison) and Shabda (reliable testimony)
  • The five-part syllogism (Nyaya)
  • The structure (Vada vidhi)
  • The ways of developing sound evidence (Pramana)
  • The logical reasoning (tarka) to support one's thesis which needs to be proved (Pratijna) and its object (Nirnaya)
  • The disciplined (Anushasana) mode of presentation (Vadopaya) and the exceptions (Prthaka-prasthana)
  • The limits or the ‘dos and don’ts’ (Vada maryada) of three formats of such debates.[4]

The Nyaya Model

Akshapada defined a method of philosophical argumentation, called the Nyaya method or the Nyaya model. This was the standard for an ideally organized philosophical disputation. Seven categories are identified as constituting each the "prior" and "posterior" stage of a Nyaya. A Nyaya starts with an initial doubt, as to whether p or not-p is the case, and ends with a decision, that p (or not-p, as the case may be). The seven categories of the prior stage include,

  1. Doubt
  2. Purpose
  3. Example
  4. Basic Tenets
  5. The "limbs" (Avayavas) of the formulated reasoning
  6. Supportive Argument (Tarka)
  7. Decision.

Out of these 7 categories, the need for 'Purpose' is self-explanatory, the 'example' is needed to ensure that the arguments would not be just empty talk, while the 'basic tenets' supply the ground rules for the argumentation.

The "limbs” (Avayavas) were the most important formulation of the structure of a logical reasoning; these are a landmark in the history of Indian logic. According to the Nyayasutras, there are five "limbs" or "steps" (Pancha Avayavas) in a structured reasoning. And they should all be articulated linguistically. Each of these 5 steps are explained with an example in the following table.

Pancha Avayavas - 5 Steps in a Structured Reasoning The Step or Limb Example
Step 1 The statement of the thesis There is fire on the hill.
Step 2 The statement of reason or evidence For there is smoke.
Step 3 Citation of an example (or a particular case) well-recognized and acceptable to both sides that illustrates the underlying (general) principle and thereby supports the reason or evidence. (Wherever there is smoke, there is fire), as in the kitchen.
Step 4 The showing of the present thesis as a case that belongs to the general case. For reason or evidence is essentially similar to the example cited. This is such a case (smoke on the hill).
Step 5 The assertion of the thesis again as proven or established Therefore it is so, i.e., there is fire on the hill.

The Nyaya school asserted all along that this Nyaya method is used by the arguer to convince others. And that, to satisfy completely the expectation (akanksha) of another, you need all the five "limbs" or steps. This is in fact a full-fledged articulation of an inference schema.

Returning to the Nyaya method itself, the supportive argument (tarka) is needed when doubts are raised about the implication of the middle part of the above inference schema. Like, Is the example right? Does it support the evidence? Is the general principle right? Is it adequate? The "supportive arguments” would examine the alternative possibilities, and try to resolve all these questions. And thus, after the supportive argument, comes the decision, one way or another.

Another seven categories were identified as constituting the "posterior" stage of the Nyaya method. They consist of,

  • The three types of debate (Vada, Jalpa and Vitanda)
  • The group of tricks
  • False rejoinders
  • Clinchers or defeat situations
  • Pseudo-reason or Pseudo evidence.[8]

संभाषायाः प्रयोजनम् ॥ Purpose of Sambhasha

Sambhasha is essentially that which is used to discuss a problem or a topic to explore the thoughts of intellectual people and to give a relevant conclusion. In the context of the Charaka samhita, Sambhasha refers to the discussion of a physician with another physician.[1]It says,

भिषक् भिषजा सह संभाषेत ।[2] bhiṣak bhiṣajā saha saṁbhāṣeta ।

Meaning: A physician should discuss (a problem) with another physician[3]

Thus, in the Charaka Samhita, Sambhasha referred to such discussions between physicians to solve a problem and clear doubts. And in general, a discussion amongst experts of one branch about a topic related to their subject. And this method of discussion amongst experts of the same field served the purpose of achieving thorough knowledge of the subject.[1]

The purposes of Sambhasha as enumerated in the Charaka Samhita (Vimana Sthana, Adhyaya 8) are,

  1. Enjoyment through knowledge
  2. Encouragement of oratory skills
  3. Gaining command and confidence over a certain topic
  4. Fame
  5. Acquiring new knowledge about various things
  6. Developing scholarship and skill of defeating the opponent.[1]

    तद्विद्यसम्भाषा हि ज्ञानाभियोगसंहर्षकरो भवति, वैशारद्यमपि चाभिनिवर्तयति, वचनशक्तिमपि चाधत्ते, यशश्चाभिदीपयति पूर्वश्रुते च संदेहवतः पुनः श्रवणाच्छ्रुतसंशयमपकर्षति श्रुते चासंदेहवतो भूयोऽध्यवसायमभिनिर्वर्तयति अश्रुतमपि च कञ्चिदर्थे श्रोत्रविषयमापादयति यच्चाचार्यः शिष्याय शुश्रूषवे प्रसन्नः क्रमेणोपदिशति गुह्याभिमतमर्थजातं तत् परस्परेण सह जल्पन् पिण्डेन विजिगीषुराह संहर्षात् तस्मात्तद्विद्यसंभाषाम्भिप्रशंसन्ति कुशलाः ॥१२॥[2]

    tadvidyasambhāṣā hi jñānābhiyogasaṁharṣakaro bhavati, vaiśāradyamapi cābhinivartayati, vacanaśaktimapi cādhatte, yaśaścābhidīpayati pūrvaśrute ca saṁdehavataḥ punaḥ śravaṇācchrutasaṁśayamapakarṣati śrute cāsaṁdehavato bhūyo'dhyavasāyamabhinirvartayati aśrutamapi ca kañcidarthe śrotraviṣayamāpādayati yaccācāryaḥ śiṣyāya śuśrūṣave prasannaḥ krameṇopadiśati guhyābhimatamarthajātaṁ tat paraspareṇa saha jalpan piṇḍena vijigīṣurāha saṁharṣāt tasmāttadvidyasaṁbhāṣāmbhipraśaṁsanti kuśalāḥ ॥12॥

    Meaning: Discussion with a person of the same branch of science is indeed what makes for the increase of knowledge and happiness. It contributes towards the clarity of understanding, increases dialectical skill, broadcasts reputation, dispels doubts regarding things heard by repeated hearing, and confirms the ideas of those that have no doubts. It enables one to hear a few things in the course of discussion. Sometimes, secret meanings which the teacher imparts to the ministering disciple in a propitious moment gradually, is revealed by the excited disputant, desirous of victory, in the process of discussion. Hence, it is that discussion with men of the same branch of science, that is applauded by the wise.[3]

There was, for a considerable period of time, a very lively and extensively practiced tradition of formal debates in ancient India. These debates were conducted, sometimes with royal patronage, to examine various religious, philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues. For example, Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, has references to Raja Janaka as not only organizing and patronizing debates between the sages and priests but also as participating in such debates. Women also participated in these debates. Gargi was a woman scholar who used to participate in the debates in Raja Janaka's court.[8]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Rajpreet Singh, Veenu Malhotra, Rimpaljeet Kaur and Shashikant Bharadwaj (2016) , Comparative study of Sambhasha in Charaka Samhita with Sympoisums held in Modern Era, International Journal of Research in Ayurveda and Pharmacy.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Edited by Debendra Nath Sen and Upendra Nath Sen, Charaka Samhita, Vimana Sthana, Chapter 8,
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Edited and Published by Ayurvedic Society (Jamnagar, 1949), Charaka Samhita (Volume 5),
  4. 4.0 4.1 Sreenivasa Rao, Discussions, Debates and Arguments: Ancient India.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Shabdakalpadruma
  6. 6.0 6.1 Vachaspatya
  7. 7.0 7.1 Satis Chandra Vidyabhusana (1921), A History of Indian Logic, Calcutta University.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 Bimal Krishna Matilal, Jonardon Ganeri & Heeraman Tiwari (1998), The Character of Logic in India, SUNY Press, p. 31.