Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Vaisheshika, or Vaiśesika, developed from Nyaya. Vaisesika espouses a form of atomism and postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of particles.


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.

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), guna (quality), karma (activity), sāmānya (generality), viśesa (particularity) and samavāya (inherence). Later Vaiśesikas 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 budhyapeksam (product of intellectual discrimination) and they are logical categories.

1.Dravya (substance): The substances are conceived as 9 in number. They are, prithvī (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire), vāyu (air), ākaśa, 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.

2.Guna (quality): The Vaiśesika Sūtra mentions 17 gunas (qualities), to which Praśastapāda added another 7. While a substance is capable of existing independently by itself, a guna(quality) cannot exist so. The original 17 gunas (qualities) are, rūpa (colour), rasa (taste), gandha (smell), sparśa (touch), samkhyā (number), parimāna (size), prthaktva (inidividuality), samyoga (conjunction), vibhāga (disjunction), paratva (priority), aparatva (posteriority), buddhi (knowledge), sukha (pleasure), dukha (pain), icchā (desire), dvesa (aversion) and prayatna (effort). To these Praśastapāda added gurutva (heaviness), dravatva (fluidity), sneha (viscosity), dharma (merit), adharma (demerit), śabda (sound) and samkāsra (faculty).

3.Karma (activity): The karmas (activities) like gunas (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, kāla (time), dik (space) and ātman (self), though substances, are devoid of karma (activity).

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.

5.Viśesa (particularity): By means of viśesa , we are able to perceive substances as different from one another. As the ultimate atoms are innumerable so are the viśesas.

6.Samavāya (inherence): is defined 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.

Epistemology and syllogism

The early vaiśesika epistemology considered only pratyaksha (perception) and anumāna (inference) as the pramanas (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. The syllogism of the vaiśesika school was similar to that of the Nyaya, but the names given by Praśastapāda to the 5 members of syllogism are different.

The atomic theory

The early vaiśesika texts presented the following syllogism to prove that all objects i.e. the four bhūtas, prithvī (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire) and vāyu (air) are made of indivisible paramānus (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 paramānus (atoms).

According to the vaiśesika school, the trasarenu (dust particles visible in the sunbeam coming through a small window hole) are the smallest mahat (perceivable) particles and defined as tryanukas (triads). These are made of three parts, each of which are defined as dvyanuka (dyad). The dvyanukas are conceived as made of two parts, each of which are defined as paramānu (atom). The paramānus (atoms) are indivisible and eternal, it can neither be created nor destroyed. Each paramānu (atom) possesses its own distinct viśesa (individuality)



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