VAIŚEṢIKA . The Vaiśeṣika school of Indian philosophy, founded by Kaṇāda (sixth century bce?), has concentrated mostly on issues and themes of ontology and has closely cooperated with the Nyāya, its sister philosophical school, on matters of epistemology. Like many other schools of Indian philosophy, it upholds that all living beings, human or nonhuman, have souls that are different from the body, eternal, and ubiquitous; that the supreme goal of life is liberation from the bondage of karman and the cycle of birth and rebirth; and that the attainment of liberation is the only means of ensuring freedom from all suffering.
According to Vaiśeṣika teaching, the soul is a kind of substance that is conceived as the substratum of quality particulars (guṇa s) and motion. Both quality particulars and motion are related to the substance by way of inherence (samavāya). Samavāya is a special kind of relation as well as an independent ontic category that binds only those two kinds of relata, one of which must be destroyed with the severance of the relationship. Substances, quality particulars, and motions share common properties, or universals, that are eternal and independent of their substrates and yet related to them by way of inherence. Physical substances are produced from combinations of atoms, which are eternal, indivisible, and imperceptible. Each eternal substance is characterized by an ultimate differentiator (viśeṣa), which serves as a basis of distinction under circumstances where no ordinary means of distinction is available. Besides the above six kinds of positive ontological categories—substance, quality particular, motion, universal, inherence, and ultimate individuator—there is a negative ontic category, including such entities as absence (as of a book on the table), difference (as of one thing from another), and so on.
The Vaiśeṣika school seeks to prove the existence of the soul by arguing that desire, cognition, and other attributes are quality particulars and must be supported by a substance that is nonphysical because they are radically different in many ways from the quality particulars of physical substances. Such a substance must also be permanent and endure through time; otherwise no satisfactory account can be given of such phenomena as memory. It must further be eternal and in particular, preexistent before birth, or else one cannot account for the fact that a newborn child reaches out for its mother's milk, given that the infant's action is claimed to be purposive and involve memory (which can only have been acquired in a previous life).
One of the souls, called Īsvara (God), is said to be endowed with superhuman qualities such as omniscience. Īśvara's existence is inferred from the premise that a conscious agent is required not only for the creation of artifacts such as a pot, but indeed for all effects, and that the conscious agent responsible for bringing about a conjunction of atoms leading to the production of macrocosmic objects can only be Īśvara. He is also inferred as the author of revealed scriptures and further as the original bestower of significance on linguistic symbols, an act making all communication possible.
The best book on Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika philosophy is Gopinath Bhattacharya's edition and translation of the Tarkasaṃ-graha-dīpikā (Calcutta, 1976). For readers who are less technically minded, but still want a comprehensive and precise account, the best book is Indian Metaphysics and Epistemology: The Tradition of the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika up to Gaṇgeśa, edited by Karl H. Potter (Princeton, 1977), volume 2 of The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. The general reader may profitably consult Mysore Hiriyanna's Essentials of Indian Philosophy (London, 1949).
Kisor K. Chakrabarti (1987)