Essay on the Individual Self and Its Liberation


The Nyaya is a philosophy of life and seeks to guide individual selves in their search for truth and freedom. With regard to the individual self (jivdtma) we have to consider first its nature and attributes. There are four main views of the self in Indian philosophy.

According to the Carvakas, the self is the living body with the attribute of consciousness. This is the materialistic conception of the self. The Bauddhas reduce the self to a stream of thought or a series of cognitions. Like some empiricists and sensationalists, they admit only the empirical self.

The Advaita Vedanta takes the self as one, unchanging and self-shining consciousness (svaprakasa caitnya) which is neither a subject nor an object, neither the ‘I’ nor the ‘me’. The Visistadvaita Vedanta.


However, holds that the self is not pure consciousness as such but a conscious subject called the ego or the ‘I’ (jnata ahamartha evatma). Both these views of the self may be called idealistic in a broad sense.

The Nyaya-Vaisesikas adopt the realistic view of the self. According to them, the self is a unique substance, to which all cognitions, feelings and conations belong as its attributes desire, Version and volition, pleasure; pain and cognition are all qualities soul.

These cannot belong to the physical substances, since are not physical qualities perceived by the external senses. Must admit that they are the peculiar properties of other than different from all physical substances.

Different selves in different bodies, because their retraces do not overlap but are kept distinct. The self is indestructible and eternal. It is infinite or ubiquitous (vibhu) since it is not limited by time and space.


The body or the senses cannot be the self because consciousness cannot be the attribute of the material body or the senses. The body is, by itself, unconscious and unintelligent.

The senses cannot explain functions like imagination, memory, ideation, etc. which are independent of the external senses. The manas too cannot take the place of the self.

If the manas be, as the Nyaya Vaisesikas hold, an atomic and, therefore, imperceptible substance, the qualities of pleasure, pain, etc., which should belong to the manas, must be equally impreceptible.

But pleasure and pain are experienced or perceived by us. Nor can the self be identified with the series of cognitions as in Bauddha philosophy, for then memory becomes inexplicable.


No member of a mere series of cognitions can, like a bead of the rosary, know what has preceded it or what will succeed it.

The Advaita Vedantin’s idea of the self as eternal, self-shining consciousness is no more acceptable to the Naiyayika than that of the Buddhists. There is no such thing as pure consciousness unrelated to some subject and object.

Consciousness cannot subsist without a certain locus. Hence the self is not consciousness as such, but a substance having consciousness as its attribute.

The self is not mere consciousness or knowledge, but a knower, an ego or the ‘I (ahankarasraya), and also an enjoyer (bhokta).


Although knowledge or consciousness belongs to the self as an attribute, yet it is not an essential and inseparable attribute of it.

All cognitions or conscious states arise in the self when is related to the manas, and the manas are related to the senses and senses come in contact with the external objects. Otherwise there will be no consciousness in the self.

In its condition therefore, the self will have no knowledge or consciousness. Thus the attributes of cognition, feeling and conation in a word, consciousness is an accidental attribute of the self, the accident being its relation to the body.

How do we know that there is any self of the individual, which is distinct from his body, his senses and mind? Some old Naiyayikas seem to think that there cannot be a perception or direct cognition of the self.


According to them, the self is known either from the testimony of spiritual authorities or by inference from the functions of desire, aversion and volition, the feelings of pleasure and pain, and the phenomenon of knowledge in us. That we have desire, aversion, etc. nobody can doubt.

But these cannot be explained unless we admit a permanent self. To desire an object is to strive to obtain it as something pleasurable. But before we obtain it we cannot get any pleasure out of it.

So in desiring the object we only judge it to be similar to such objects as were found to be pleasurable in the past.

This means that desire supposes some permanent self which had experienced pleasure in relation to certain objects in the past and which considers a present object to be similar to any of those past objects, and so strives to get possession of it. Similarly, aversion and volition cannot be explained without a permanent self.

The feelings of pleasure or pain also arise in an individual when he gets something considered to be the means of attaining a remembered pleasure, or gets into something which had previously led to a painful experience.

So too knowledge as a Process of reflective thinking requires a permanent self which first desires to know something, then reflects on it and finally about it cannot be explained either by the body or the senses or the mind as a series of cognitions or a stream of consciousness.

Just as the experience of one man cannot be remembered by another man, so the present states of the body or the senses or the mind cannot remember their past states; but without such memory we cannot explain the phenomena of desire, aversion and volition, pleasure, pain and cognition.

The later go a step further and maintain that the self is directly known through internal or mental perception (manasapratyaksa).

Of course, when its existence is denied or doubted by anyone, the self must be inferred and proved in the way explained above.

The mental perception of the self may take either of two forms. It may be a perception in the form of pure self-consciousness, which is due to a contact between the mind and the pure self, and is expressed in the judgment ‘I am.’

According to some Naiyayikas, however, the pure self cannot be an object of perception. The self is perceived only as having a perceived quality like cognition, feeling or willing, and so the pereceptual judgment is in the form, ‘I am knowing,’ ‘I am happy.’ and so forth.

We do not perceive the self as such, but as knowing or feeling or doing something. Hence self- consciousness is a mental perception of the self as present in some mode of consciousness.

While one’s own self can be perceived, other selves in other bodies can only be inferred from their intelligent bodily actions, since these cannot be explained by the unintelligent body and require a conscious self for their performance.

The end of almost all the systems of Indian philosophy is the attainment of mukti or liberation for the individual self.

This especially true of the Nyaya system which purposes, at the very outset, to give us knowledge of reality or realities for the highest good or the summum bonum of our life.

The different systems, however, give us different descriptions of this consummate state of the soul’s existence.

For the Naiyayikas jt is a state of negation, complete and absolute, of all pain and suffering. Apavarga or liberation is absolute freedom from pain.

This implies that it is a state in which the soul is released from all the bonds of its connection with the body and the senses. So long as the soul is conjoined with a body, it is impossible for it to attain the state of utter freedom from pain.

The body with the sense organs being there, we cannot possibly prevent their contact with undesirable and unpleasant objects, and so must submit to the inevitable experience of painful feelings.

Hence in liberation, the soul must be free from the shackles of the body, and the senses. But when thus severed from the body, the soul ceases to have not only painful but also pleasurable experiences, may more, it ceases to have any experience or consciousness.

So in liberation the self exists as a pure substance free from all connection with the body, neither suffering pain, nor enjoying pleasure, nor having consciousness even.

Liberation is thenegation of pain, not in the sense of a suspension of it for a longer or shorter period of time, as in good sleep or a state of recovery from some disease or that of relief from some bodily or mental affliction.

It is absolute freedom from pain for all time to come. It is just that supreme condition of the soul which has been variously described in the scriptures as ‘freedom from fear'(abhayam), ‘freedom from decay and change’ (ajaram), ‘freedom from death’ (amrtyupadam) and so forth.

Some later Naiyayikas, however, hold that liberation is the soul’s final deliverance from Pam and attainment of eternal bliss one must acquire a true knowledge of self and all other objects of experience (tattva-jnana).

He must know the self as distinct from the body, the mind, the senses, etc. For this he should first listen to the scriptural instructions about the self (sravana).

Then he should firmly establish the knowledge of the self by means of reasoning (manana). Finally, he must meditate on the self in conformity with the principles of yoga (nididhyasana).

These help him to realise the true nature of the self as distinct from the body and all other objects. With this realisation, the wrong knowledge (mithya jnana) that ‘I am the body and the mind’ is destroyed, and one ceases to be moved to action (pravrtti) by passions and impulses (dosa).

When a man becomes thus free from desires and impulses, he ceases to be affected by the effects of his present actions, done with no desire for fruits.

His past karmas or deeds being exhausted by producing their effects, the individual has to undergo no more birth in this world (janma).

The cessation of birth means the end of his connection with the body and consequently, of all pain and suffering (duhkha); and that is liberation.

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