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VAISHESHIKA According to Kanāda, the mythical founder of the system, Vaisheshika is the enumeration of everything in this world that has the character of being. Since the categories are numerous, the use of formal logic is essential to draw inferences, and in this respect Nyāya is its sister system.

Kanāda's Vaisheshika Sūtra presents a system of physics and metaphysics. Its physics is an atomic theory of nature, where the atoms are distinct from the soul, of which they are the instruments. Each element has individual characteristics (visheshas), which distinguish it from the other nonatomic substances (dravyas): time, space, soul, and mind. The atoms are considered to be eternal.

There are six fundamental categories (padārtha) associated with reality: substance (dravya), quality (guna), motion (karman), universal (sāmānya), particularity (vishesha), and inherence (samavāya). The first three of these have a real objective existence, and the last three are products of intellectual discrimination. There are nine classes of substances (dravya), some of which are non-atomic, some atomic, and others all-pervasive. The non-atomic ground is provided by the three substances, ether (ākāsha), space (dik), and time (kāla), which are unitary and indestructible; a further four, earth (prithivī), water (āpas), fire (tejas), and air (vāyu) are atomic, composed of indivisible, and indestructible atoms (anu); self (ātman), which is the eighth, is omnipresent and eternal; and, finally, the ninth is the mind (manas), which is also eternal but of atomic dimensions, that is, infinitely small.

There are seventeen qualities (guna), listed in no particular order as color or form (rūpa), taste (rasa), smell (gandha), and touch (sparsha); number (sankhyā), size (parimāna), separateness (prithaktva), conjunction (samyoga), and disjunction (vibhāga); remoteness (paratva) and nearness (aparatva); judgment (buddhi), pleasure (sukha), pain (duhkha), desire (ichchhā), aversion (dvesha), and effort (prayatna). These qualities are either physical or psychological.

Two atoms combine to form a binary molecule (dvyanuka). Two, three, four, or more dvyanukas combine into grosser molecules of tryanuka, chaturanuka, and so on. The other view is that atoms form dyads and triads directly to form the molecules for different substances. Atoms possess an incessant vibratory motion. The activity of the atoms and their combinations are not arbitrary but are based on laws that are expressed as the adrishta.

Molecules can also break up under the influence of heat. In this doctrine of heating of atoms, the impact of heat particles decomposes a molecule. Heat and light rays are taken to consist of very small particles of high velocity. The particles of heat and light may be endowed with different characteristics, and therefore heat and light can be of different kinds.

Ākāsha (ether), time, and space have no lower constituents. Of ākāsha the qualities are sound, number, dimension, separateness, conjunction, and disjunction. Thus, being endowed with qualities, and not being located in anything else, it is regarded as a substance. In as much as it has no cause, either homogeneous or heterogeneous, it is eternal. "Time" is the cause of the relative notions of priority, posteriority, or simultaneity and succession, and of late and soon, in as much as there is no other cause or basis for these notions. The Vaisheshika Sūtras clearly present the principle of cause (kārana) and effect (kārya). Time and space are the efficient cause for all phenomena.

It is stated that there are two kinds of universals: higher and lower. The higher universal is Being, which encompasses everything. Lower universals exclude as well as include, which means that the universals may be defined in a hierarchical fashion. The higher universal is akin to a superposition of all possibilities and it therefore anticipates the essence of the quantum theory.

Subhash Kak

See alsoVedic Aryan India


Matilal, B. K. Nyāya-Vaisesika. Wiesbaden, Germany: Otto Harrassowitz, 1977.

Phillips, Stephen H. Classical Indian Metaphysics. Chicago: Open Court, 1995.

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