Inert and alive substances: Alternative classifications in Veṅkaṭanātha

In the Nyāyasiddhāñjana and the Nyāyapariśuddhi, Veṅkaṭanātha discusses some fundamental ontological topics in order to distinguish his positions from the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika position.

The Nyāyasūtra proposes a fundamental division of realities into dravya ‘substances’, guṇa ‘qualities’, and karman ‘actions’,1 with the former as the substrate of the latter two. This leads to two difficulties for Veṅkaṭanātha’s agenda. On the one hand, the radical distinction between substance and attribute means that Nyāya authors imagine liberation to be the end of the connection of the ātman ‘self’ to all attributes, from sufferance to consciousness. By contrast, Veṅkaṭanātha, would never accept consciousness to be separated from the individual soul and even less from God. The other difficulty regards the theology of Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta. Since the beginnings of Pañcarātra, one of its chief doctrines has been that of the manifestations (vibhūti) of Viṣṇu, which are dependent on Him but co-eternal with Him and in this sense are unexplainable according to the division of substances into eternal and transient.

To that, Veṅkaṭanātha opposes more than one classification, so that it is clear that Veṅkaṭanātha’s main point is addressing the above-mentioned problems with the Nyāya ontology, rather than establishing in full detail a distinct ontology.
For an instance of alternative classifications see, e.g., Nyāyasiddhāñjana, jaḍadravyapariccheda:

dvedhā jaḍājaḍatayā pratyak taditaratayāpi vā dravyam | ṣoḍhā triguṇānehojīveśvarabhogabhūtimatibhedāt || dhīkālabhogabhūtīravivakṣitvā guṇādirūpatvāt |
jīvātmeśabhidārthaṃ tredhā tattvaṃ viviñcate kecit || (Nyayasiddhanjana 1966, p. 33).

“Substance is of two types, [according to this classification:] inert or alive, or [according to this other classification:] innerly [luminous] or what is its opposite. [Furthermore,] it is of six types, according to the division in [natura naturans having] three qualities, time (anehas) individual souls, God, the ground for [God’s] enjoyment (bhogabhūti) and [His] cognition. Some distinguish reality as of three types, in order to distinguish the Lord, the individual soul, and the self (as the material cause of the universe) because they do not want to include (lit. express) cognition, time and the ground for [God’s] enjoyment, since these have the nature of qualities”.

Bhogabhūti must mean, out of context, the same as vibhūti. My interpretation of ātman in jīvātmeśabhidartham is also based on context. Alternative suggestions are, as usual, welcome!


  1. There are in fact further categories, namely sāmānya ‘universal’, viśeṣa ‘individual’, and samavāya ‘inherence’. See for the fact that these latter categories have been added at a later stage of the evolution of the school. The Navya Nyāya school adds also abhāva to the categories. (see Eli Franco and Karin Preisendanz, “Nyāya-Vaiśeịṣika”, Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy)↩︎

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2 Replies to “Inert and alive substances: Alternative classifications in Veṅkaṭanātha”

  1. Hi Elisa,
    Say a bit more about your bracketed interpretation of atman as ‘cause of the world’? My inclination would have been to think that the distinction between jIva and Atman in the threefold classification would be that the former is the materially (really as opposed to – as in Advaita, only cognitively – individuated self, while the latter is the self as the qualified (in all the variety of ways his system articulates) non-dual self.
    So I’d be interested to see the larger context in which you find the self as the material cause.

    • Dear Ram, I apologise for the delay in answering to your interesting question! I was also unsure about how to understand jīvātmeśa, and I see the advantages of your interpretation, however it seems an ontological partition, so I don’t think it can be a question of various ways of looking at the same realities. Since it is attributed to kecit, I thought of the various seemingly Vedāntic views thinking of the brahman as the material cause of the world and distinguishing it from a transcendent God and individual souls. What do you think?

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