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The Agama Pramanya is a work by the famous Sri Vaishnava Acharya Yamunacharya arguing that the Pancharatra texts, which are foundational to mainstream Vaishnavism as I discuss here, are legitimate Hindu scriptures. (He also composed another work on a related subject which I discuss here.) In the course of doing so, he presents the views of various schools of Hindu philosophy on this issue, and in this excerpt he presents the views of a follower of the Nyaya school, an ancient school of Hindu philosophy which used logical reasoning to try to prove the validity of the Vedas and the existence of a supreme being.

The Nyaya philosopher says that the Vedas are authored by the supreme being (Vishnu), so another text composed by that same being, i.e. the Pancharatra texts, would be equally valid. But the Purva Mimamsa school of Hindu philosophy, which I discuss here, says that the Vedas are authorless, in the sense of not even originating from a divine source. So in the excerpt I linked to, someone from the Purva Mimamsa school raises the objection that the Pancharatra texts talk about Dharma and Adharma (good and evil), but Vishnu can't know what is right and wrong (!), because that knowledge can only be found in an authorless text. The Nyaya philosopher responds to this objection by saying that Vishnu has to know about Dharma and Adharma because he needs that information in order to create the Universe:

OBJECTION. But does [Bhagavan's] intuition or perception also encompass dharma and adharma?

REPLY. Certainly. How else would the Bhagavan be able to give rise to such effects as body, world etc.? For the maker of such effects must be one who is capable of perceiving their material and instrumental causes. Now, dharma and adharma are the instrumental causes of the world; this is also the consensus of the Mimamsakas. Consequently we must postulate a certain person who has this perceptual knowledge, and that person must also be the one who created the Veda at the beginning.

If one contends that such entities as mountains, earth and the like are not effects, the answer is as follows: The entities in question, earth etc., are effects, because they have a complex construction, like a king’s palace....

It being thus established that earth etc. are indeed effects, on the grounds adduced above, it follows that the Bhagavan has knowledge of dharma and adharma which are the instrumental causes of origination and annihilation.

The logical structure of the argument seems to be as follows:

  1. The Earth and other objects are complex constructions.
  2. Thus these objects must be effects.
  3. The instrumental causes of all effects in the Universe are Dharma and Adharma.
  4. A being who produces an effect must know about the instrumental causes of the effect.
  5. Thus Vishnu, who produces the Earth and other objects, must know about Dharma and Adharma

The follower of Purva Mimamsa subsequently criticizes steps 2 and 4, but I'm interested in step 3 of the argument. The Nyaya philosopher says "Now, dharma and adharma are the instrumental causes of the world; this is also the consensus of the Mimamsakas." The footnotes explain what this means:

This envisages the world as the sum-total of the fruits (phala) brought about by the observance or non-observance of dharma, which is thus instrumental to world-creation.... This is the Mimamsa view which holds that the dharma and adharma as instruments in creation are always the dharma and adharma of a particular intelligent being[.]

The idea seems to be that everything that happens in the Universe, including the formation of the Earth and mountains and so on, is a product of the law of Karma, being the phala or fruit of some good deed or bad deed that some person committed in the past. (In the case of the Earth's creation it would have to be someone living in an earlier age on a previous planet Earth.)

My question is, what is the justification for this assertion? It seems like such a controversial point, yet the Nyaya philosopher takes it for granted, such that he casually goes from "The Earth is an effect" to "The instrumental causes of the Earth are Dharma and Adharma." The whole point of the Nyaya school is to use logical arguments to prove the beliefs of Hinduism. So what is the Nyaya school's argument for Dharma and Adharma being the instrumental cause of everything in the Universe? Do any Nyaya works address this?

  • I think we need to get to the definitions of dharma and adharma in order to get justification how could Nayaya Philosophers take it for granted. – Yogi Apr 1 '15 at 18:04
  • @Creator I don't think the nature of Dharma and Adharma is the key issue. I think the key issue is the idea that everything in the Universe is the phala or fruit of the past action of some being. Whether that action is good or bad is secondary. The main point is, as the footnotes say, "all entities presuppose former acts that have brought them about." That's what needs to be justified: that the instruments of creation are derived from past acts of intelligent beings. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 1 '15 at 21:35
  • Does the Nyaya school of thought have anything to do with Nyaya Shastra by Rishi Gautama? – Naveen Apr 22 '15 at 12:21
  • @Naveen Yes, Gautama's Nyaya Sutras are the foundational text of the Nyaya school. – Keshav Srinivasan Apr 22 '15 at 15:23
  • "all entities have former acts that have brought them about." that's quite interesting question :). so that implies that you basically want to know the Nyaya reasoning for the existence of karma? – Sai May 18 '15 at 22:08

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