Vaisheshika: Wikis


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Vaisheshika, or Vaiśeṣika, (Sanskrit:वैशॆषिक) is one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy (orthodox Vedic systems) of India. Historically, it has been closely associated with the Hindu school of logic, Nyaya.

Vaisesika espouses a form of atomism and postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms. Originally proposed by the sage Kaṇāda (or Kana-bhuk, literally, atom-eater) around the 2nd century BC.[1]



Although the Vaishesika system developed independently from the Nyaya, the two eventually merged because of their closely related metaphysical theories. In its classical form, however, the Vaishesika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaishesika accepted only perception and inference. Although not among Kanada's original philosophies[2], later Vaishesika atomism also differs from the atomic theory of modern science by claiming the functioning of atoms was guided or directed by the will of the Supreme Being. This is therefore a theistic form of atomism.

An alternative view would qualify the above in that the holism evident in the ancient texts mandate the identification of six separate traditional environments of philosophy, consisting of three sets of two pairs.

Literature of Vaisheshika

The earliest systematic exposition of the Vaisheshika is found in the Vaiśeṣika Sūtra of Kaṇāda (or Kaṇabhaksha). This treatise is divided into ten books. The two commentaries on the Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, Rāvaṇabhāṣya and Bhāradvājavṛtti are no more extant. Praśastapāda’s Padārthadharmasaṁgraha (c. 4th century AD) is the next important work of this school. Though commonly known as bhāṣya of Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, this treatise is basically an independent work on the subject. The next Vaisheshika treatise, Candra’s Daśapadārthaśāstra (648 AD) based on Praśastapāda’s treatise is available only in Chinese translation. The earliest commentary available on Praśastapāda’s treatise is Vyomaśiva’s Vyomavatī (8th century). The other three commentaries are Śridhara’s Nyāyakandalī (991 AD), Udayana’s Kiranāvali (10th century) and Śrivatsa’s Līlāvatī (11th century). Śivāditya’s Saptapadārthī which also belongs to the same period, presents the Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika principles as a part of one whole. Śaṁkarā Miśra’s Upaskāra on Vaiśeṣika Sūtra is also an important work[3].

The categories or padartha

According to the Vaisheshika school, all things which exist, which can be cognised, and which can be named are padārthas (literal meaning: the meaning of a word), the objects of experience. All objects of experience can be classified into six categories, dravya (substance), guṇa (quality), karma (activity), sāmānya (generality), viśeṣa (particularity) and samavāya (inherence). Later Vaiśeṣikas (Śrīdhara and Udayana and Śivāditya) added one more category abhāva (non-existence). The first three categories are defined as artha (which can perceived) and they have real objective existence. The last three categories are defined as budhyapekṣam (product of intellectual discrimination) and they are logical categories[4].

1.Dravya (substance): The substances are conceived as 9 in number. They are, pṛthvī (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire), vāyu (air), ākaśa (sky), kāla (time), dik (space), ātman (self) and manas (mind). The first five are called bhūtas, the substances having some specific qualities so that they could be perceived by one or the other external senses[5].

2.Guṇa (quality): The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra mentions 17 guṇas (qualities), to which Praśastapāda added another 7. While a substance is capable of existing independently by itself, a guṇa(quality) cannot exist so. The original 17 guṇas (qualities) are, rūpa (colour), rasa (taste), gandha (smell), sparśa (touch), saṁkhyā (number), parimāṇa (size), pṛthaktva (inidividuality), saṁyoga (conjunction), vibhāga (disjunction), paratva (priority), aparatva (posteriority), buddhi (knowledge), sukha (pleasure), duḥkha (pain), icchā (desire), dveṣa (aversion) and prayatna (effort). To these Praśastapāda added gurutva (heaviness), dravatva (fluidity), sneha (viscosity), dharma (merit), adharma (demerit), śabda (sound) and saṁkāsra (faculty)[6].

3.Karma (activity): The karmas (activities) like guṇas (qualities) have no separate existence, they belong to the substances. But while a quality is a permanent feature of a substance, an activity is a transient one. Ākaśa (sky), kāla (time), dik (space) and ātman (self), though substances, are devoid of karma (activity)[7].

4.Sāmānya (generality): Since there are plurality of substances, there will be relations among them. When a property is found common to many substances, it is called sāmānya[8].

5.Viśeṣa (particularity): By means of viśeṣa , we are able to perceive substances as different from one another. As the ultimate atoms are innumerable so are the viśeṣas[9].

6.Samavāya (inherence): Kaṇāda defined samavāya as the relation between the cause and the effect. Praśastapāda defined it as the relationship existing between the substances that are inseparable, standing to one another in the relation of the container and the contained. The relation of samavāya is not perceivable but only inferable from the inseparable connection of the substances[10].

Epistemology and syllogism

The early vaiśeṣika epistemology considered only pratyaksha (perception) and anumāna (inference) as the pramaṇas (means of valid knowledge). The other two means of valid knowledge accepted by the Nyaya school, upamāna (comparison) and śabda (verbal testimony) were considered as included in anumāna[11]. The syllogism of the vaiśeṣika school was similar to that of the Nyaya, but the names given by Praśastapāda to the 5 members of syllogism are different[12].

The atomic theory

The early vaiśeṣika texts presented the following syllogism to prove that all objects i.e. the four bhūtas, pṛthvī (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire) and vāyu (air) are made of indivisible paramāṇus (atoms): Assume that the matter is not made of indivisible atoms, and that it is continuous. Take a stone. One can divide this up into infinitely many pieces (since matter is continuous). Now, the Himalayan mountain range also has infinitely many pieces, so one may build another Himalayan mountain range with the infinite number of pieces that one has. One begins with a stone and ends up with the Himalayas, which is obviously ridiculous - so the original assumption that matter is continuous must be wrong, and so all objects must be made up of a finite number of paramāṇus (atoms).

According to the vaiśeṣika school, the trasareṇu (dust particles visible in the sunbeam coming through a small window hole) are the smallest mahat (perceivable) particles and defined as tryaṇukas (triads). These are made of three parts, each of which are defined as dvyaṇuka (dyad). The dvyaṇukas are conceived as made of two parts, each of which are defined as paramāṇu (atom). The paramāṇus (atoms) are indivisible and eternal, they can neither be created nor destroyed[13]. Each paramāṇu (atom) possesses its own distinct viśeṣa (individuality)[14].

Later developments

Over the centuries, the school merged with the Nyaya school of Indian philosophy to form the combined school of nyāya-vaiśeṣika. The school suffered a natural decline in India after the 15th century.

See also


  1. ^ Oliver Leaman, Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge, 1999 , page 269.
  2. ^ Kevin Burns: "Eastern Philospohy", Enchanted Lion Books, 2006
  3. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 180-81
  4. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 183-86
  5. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, p. 169
  6. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 204
  7. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 208-09
  8. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 209
  9. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 215
  10. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 216-19
  11. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, p. 170
  12. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 75ff
  13. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, pp. 169-70
  14. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 202


  • Chattopadhyaya, D. (1986), Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, ISBN 81-7007-023-6.
  • Radhakrishnan, S. (2006), Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, ISBN 0-19-563820-4.

External links

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