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The Sanskrit term ‘abhava’ means non-existence. It is one of the seven fundamental entities (padartha) as per darshana philosophy. A two-fold classification of tattvas viz. existent (sat) and non-existent (asat) is described in Ayurveda. Abhava is categorized under non-existents. [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 11/17] The non-existence is also essential. This article describes the importance of non-existing entities in the process of knowledge.

Section/Chapter/topic Concepts / Abhava
Authors Bhojani M.K.1, Jain Rahul1, Tanwar Ankur kumar1
Reviewers Mali V. 2, Basisht G.3
Editor Deole Y.S.4

1 Department of Kriya Sharira, A.I.I.A. , New Delhi, India

2 Department of Samhita Siddhanta, C.B.P.A.C.S., New Delhi, India

3 Rheumatologist, Orlando, Florida, U.S.A.

4 Department of Kayachikitsa, G.J.Patel Institute of Ayurvedic Studies and Research, New Vallabhvidya Nagar, Anand, Gujarat, India
Correspondence email meera.samhita@aiia.gov.in, carakasamhita@gmail.com
Publisher Charak Samhita Research, Training and Development Centre, I.T.R.A., Jamnagar, India
Date of first publication: June 05, 2022
DOI 10.47468/CSNE.2022.e01.s09.100

Origin of concept

A description of abhava under seven padartha was first mentioned by Shivaditya in his work saptapadarthi.[1] Vaisheshika darshana explained the theory of creation. In this discussion, the Vaisheshika sutra (the first authentic book of this school, written by Kanada) describes six positive categories as objects of conceptions (as six padarthas). [Vaisheshika Darshana 8][2] Nyaya and Vaisheshika philosophies don't accept the existence of abhava padartha. With time, Nyaya and Vaisheshik systems blended giving rise to Navyanyaya school of philosophy. This system added abhava as seventh padartha in the list given by Kanada. The necessity of abhava has been recognized by Akshapada Gautam, Kanada, and their commentators. In Vaisheshikasutra, it is mentioned that the non-existence of effect is due to the non-existence of cause.[Vaisheshika Darshana 32][2] It means the absence of reason will not result in any product. Non-existence (abhava) is a negative idea. It is considered the seventh category, as established by negative proofs. The concept of padartha has been explained under two categories viz. bhava padartha and abhava padartha.[3] All the entities (tattvas) having existence in this universe fall under one of these six categories as bhava padarthas like similarity (samanya), dis-similarity (vishesha), qualities (guna), substances (dravya), actions (karma) and inseparable relationships (samavaya). These six entities have existence. On the contrary, abhava is based on and can be explained based on relativity theory. Thus, by abhava, one can understand only the negation of something, somewhere, and absolutely nothing (shunya). Nyaya philosophy mentioned abhava as an object of knowledge (prameya). The Bhatta Mimamsaka and the Vedanta school of Philosophy hold that Abhava as anupalabdhi or non congnition.[3] It may be concisely defined as that which, itself not having intimate relation, is not close relation. [Sarvadarshanasangraha 10/18-19][4] Knowledge of Abhava can be perceived through Pratyaksha.


The Sanskrit word ‘abhava’ is made by applying the prefix ‘to the word ‘bhava’. The prefix ‘a’ denotes absence, less, false, or prohibit; Bhava means existence, natural state, condition, thing, substance, or a being.[5] So Abhava is defined as the non-existence or absence of something or substance. It denotes a natural or human-made lack of an item.


Abhava, negation, non-existence, non-entity.


  • Non-existence or negation of things is called ‘Abhava’.[SAT-A.272][6]
  • The category of negation, absence, or non-existence is abhava.

Characteristic features

  • Abhava is the non-existence or negation of a thing. When knowledge of a thing depends on its contrary ability to existence is abhava.
  • The cognition of bhava padartha occurs independently. The cognition of a pot (ghata) is naturally through the existence of pot. The knowledge of non-existence of pot also depends on pot. The knowledge of pot exists initially; its non-existence will essentially depend on this initial knowledge.

Acceptance of abhava as padartha

Following texts accepted and included abhava as padartha.

Reasons for acceptance of abhava as a padartha or a distinct category

A padartha is characterized by existence (astittva), knowability (jneyatva), and nomenclature (abhidheyatva).[Prashastapada] The first requirement of padartha is that it must be factual or real and not fictional or virtual. Every natural thing has its existence (astittva) which is something unique and prevents from being confused with one another. The second requirement is that it should be known. Anything that is unknowable cannot be regarded as a padartha. Lastly, every padartha must be expressible in language, verbal expression is nothing but thought externalized. The concept of ‘abhava’ indirectly fulfills all the three basic requirements of a padartha. Therefore, abhava is considered a padartha.

In the absence of abhava, all the entities in this universe will be eternal. Destruction of things will not be possible. Vaisheshika philosophy accepts causative elements (kaarana dravya) and acting elements (kaarya dravya). The acting elements (kaarya dravya) have the characteristic feature of getting destroyed. In the absence of abhava, it is difficult to explain the state of transformation and the state of transient existence (anityata). Navyanaiyayik has used the principle of Abhava, to explain ultimate liberation (moksha), the absolute abolition of pain.[3]

Types of abhava

Abhava is mainly of two types [Sarvadarshanasangraha 10/22][4], [Tk.S. 80][7]:

  1. Absence of something in something else (samsargabhava).
  2. One thing is not another thing or mutual negation (anyonyabhava).

Abhava is classified into four types [Saptapadarthi 9][1]:

  1. Antecedent negation (pragabhava)
  2. Non-existence after destruction (pradhwansabhava)
  3. Absolute negation or absolute non-existence in all times (atyantabhava)
  4. Reciprocal or mutual negation (anyonyabhava)

The first three types are considered under samsargabhava.

1. Antecedent negation (pragabhava): The non-existence of a substance before its manifestation is termed pragabhava.[SAT-A.273][6] According to Tarka Sangraha, “Absence of effect before the manifestation of karya (effect) is called pragabhava or antecedent non-existence.[7] There is no beginning. It exists before the production of the effect. The appearance of the effect brings about the end of antecedent non-existence. e.g., before the manifestation of the pot (ghata), a negation of pot (ghata) exists for a long time. But when once the pot is created, this negation is destructed. Hence this negation has an end.[Tk.S.47][7]

2. Negation after destruction (pradhwansabhava): The non-existence of an effect (kaarya) after its destruction is termed pradhwansabhava. [SAT-A.274][6] The non-existence is produced as soon as the effect is destroyed, and it lasts indefinitely. As a result, it has a beginning (adi) but no end (anant). So, destruction causes negation. e.g. absence of pot after its destruction. It indicates the non-existence in the future.[Tk.S.47][7]

3. Absolute negation or absolute non-existence (atyantabhava): The absolute non-existence in past, present, and future is atyantabhava. [SAT-A.275][6] It ascertains or reflects counter correlative delimited by relation or connection. It is eternal [Tk.S.47][7]. e.g. Vision (rupa) never exist in vayu mahabhuta. As rupa is the quality of agni mahabhuta, not of vayu. This shows the absolute negation.

4. Reciprocal or mutual negation (anyonyabhava): The non-existence of a substance in another substance is anyonyabhava.[SAT-A.276][6] It differentiates absolute non-existence from reciprocal non-existence. The relation of identity characterizes it. It has its counter entity characterized by the relation of the identity. Like atyantabhava, it also has no beginning and no end. e.g., the pot cannot be cloth. Every individual has a unique identity, and he cannot be another person.[Tk.S.47][7]

Ayurveda perspectives

Six factors (shat-karanas) are essential for restoring the equilibrium of dhatus (dhatu saamya), which is the primary objective of Charak Samhita. As abhava is not required to achieve this objective, Charak has not enumerated and further described abhava. Charak has accepted that there are two types of entities in this universe viz. Sat (entities do have existence), and asat (entities do not have existence). While explaining the principle of “Svabhavaparamavada” (theory of natural destruction), the abhava principle has been accepted. The non-existence of causative factors (hetohavartanam) is considered the cause of the destruction of disequilibrium of dhatu (dhatu vaishamya). [Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 16/27]

Applicability of abhava

  • The presence and absence of knowledge (gyanasya abhava or bhav) are the characteristics feature of mind (manas). [Cha.Sa.Sharira Sthana 1/18] The presence or absence of mind plays a key role in the perception of knowledge.
  • The pathology is manifested by the depletion of increments in dosha, dhatu, and mala. These pathological states lead to the absence of some signs and symptoms. This helps in proper diagnosis and prognosis. So abhava is also helpful in understanding the normal physiology, pathology, diagnosis, and prognosis. For example, in insomnia (anidra), sleep is absent and leads to other disorders. The absence of normal digestion in indigestion leads to other signs.
  • Treatment that leads to an absence of relapse is called as ‘apunarbhava chikitsa’. The concept of abhava is also applied in such a treatment approach.
  • All the objects in this Universe have presence (bhava) and absence (abhava) which can be recognized by their proper maintenance (yoga), non-utilization (ayoga), excessive utilization (atiyoga), and improper utilization (mithyayoga). Bhava needs logical interpretation (yukti) for recognition. Abhava doesn’t depend on yukti.[Cha.Sa.Sutra Sthana 11/44]
  • All researches need hypothesis testing. A researcher in any study proposes the null hypothesis and underlines the desire for acceptance of an alternative idea through hypothesis testing (tests of statistics). The absence or abhava of the null hypothesis ultimately leads to the approval of the alternative idea.

Current researches

Existence and Non-Existence in the Philosophy of Martin Heidegger

Hiba Abdulelah Younus attempts to shed light on the basic point of Martin Heidegger's philosophy, which is founded on two central ideas: existence (human life) and non-existence (death). The meaning of nothingness (death) was disclosed by philosophy in light of a person's yearning for continuation in life and the fear of death, which is a clear indication that existence does not make sense. Still, the person's presence in this world is what gives life its meaning and rationality.[8]

Heisenberg's uncertainty principle

This concept states that if an electron stays within the nucleus, it can stay anywhere within the nucleus and has a particular kinetic energy. Still, the electron's maximum emitted kinetic energy is less than what is necessary. As a result, the expelled electron was not present inside the nucleus before emission. The concept of abhava, or non-existence before manifestation, is implicitly accepted by this concept.[9], [10]

Rajen Lakra focused on the notion of abhava in nyaya and vaisheshika darshana and their understanding of abhava and its forms in a review study. The paper elaborated on the description of abhava in the different philosophical literature.[11]

Theses done

  1. Rekha Bajpai (1986): Nyaya vaishesika darshanamein abhavapadartha ka niruapana. Department of Sanskrit; University of Lucknow, Lucknow.
  2. Neela Malik (1988): Concept of abhava. Department of Philosophy, University of Delhi.
  3. Subrahmanya Kumar K (2015): Study of abhava and abhavapratinidhidravyas. Institute of Trans-disciplinary Health Sciences and Technology, Manipal University.
  4. Sanghamitra Barman (2017): Abhava as a category some philosophical problems. Department of Philosophy, University of North Bengal.


Tk. = Takra, S.= Sangraha

Related Chapters

Deerghanjiviteeya Adhyaya, Ayurveda, Kaarya Kaarana Siddhanta, Samanya Vishesha Siddhanta, Dravya, Padartha, Guna, Karma, Disha,Samavaya

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