Vaisheshika – Six Different Type of Objects of Experience

The Vaisheshika system is one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy from ancient India. Acharya Kanada in around 6th to 2nd Century BCE presented his detailed atomic theory in Vaisheshika-Sutra. Basically, Vaisheshika is a pluralistic realism. Acharya Kanada is also known as Kashyap.

The concept of Atoms was actually formulated by Acharya Kanada Est. 2500 years before John Dalton

“Vaisheshika” is a Sanskrit word meaning “referring to the distinctions.” It emphasized the separateness of individual selves and objects. Moreover, it developed an atomic theory of the universe.

All material objects of the universe are composed of parts that are divisible into smaller parts. Those smaller parts are further divisible into even smaller parts. The minutest particle of matter which cannot be further divided is eternal and partless. This particle is called paramanu (atom) and these are said to be spherical or globular in shape. Creation is the combination of atoms in different proportions, and destruction is the dissolution of such combinations. These combinations do not pre-exist in atoms nor form their essential nature.

The Categories or Padartha

Acharya Kanada, the founder of the Vaishesika school, cited atoms as the material cause of the universe; God as an efficient cause. The Vaisesika is primarily a metaphysics system of thought which classifies all beings (All objects of experience) into six categories and postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms.

1. Dravya (substance)

It is defined as the substratum where actions and qualities inhere. It exists independently of all other categories. There are nine substances, five of which are physical substances (bhutas).

  1. Prithvi (earth)
  2. Ap (water)
  3. Tejas (fire)
  4. Vayu (air)
  5. Akasa (ether/sky)
  6. Kaala (time)
  7. Dim (space)
  8. Atman (self or soul)
  9. Manas (mind)

The first five, are called elements – Earth, Water, Fire, Air, and Ether

The first four, earth, water, fire and air, signify the ultimate, indivisible atoms which make up the physical universe. Ether is not atomic, but is infinite and eternal and forms the medium in which the atomic elements combine with each other.

Each of these five elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) possess a unique quality, smell, taste, color, touch, and sound, respectively, which corresponds to one of the five physical senses, and each element is said to constitute that sense. All the compound substances (avayavidravya), which arise from these simple substances are necessarily transient, impermanent and subject to production and destruction.

The other four substances (time, space, soul/self, and mind) are imperceptible, eternal, intact substances, partless and indivisible, but in ordinary discourse are spoken of as having parts and divisions.

Time is the cause of our perception of past, present, and future, and also of the concepts of “older” and “younger.” Space is the cause of our perceptions of the relative location of things, such as “east” and “west,” “near” and “far,” “here” and “there.” Souls are innumerable and each is an independent, all-pervading, eternal spiritual substance. Mind (manas) is the internal sense (antarindriya) and is considered atomic, but it does not give rise to compound objects. The mind is also many, rather than a single substance, and each is eternal and imperceptible.

2. Guna (quality or characteristics)

Guna is inherent in a substance and depends for its existence on that substance. It cannot exist independently and possesses no quality or action itself. Guna is considered an independent reality because it can be conceived of, thought of, and named independently of the substance where it inheres. Kanada identified seventeen qualities; another seven were added by Prashastapaada. They include spiritual as well as material qualities.

The Vaisesika recognizes the following twenty-four qualities (including both mental and material properties)

  1. Rupa (Color)
  2. Rasa (taste)
  3. Gandha (smell)
  4. Sparsa (touch)
  5. Samkhya (number)
  6. Parimana (size)
  7. Prithaktva (individuality)
  8. Samyoga (conjunction)
  9. Vibhaga (disjunction)
  10. Paratva (priority)
  11. Aparatva (posterity)
  12. Buddhi (knowledge),
  13. Sukha (pleasure)
  14. Dukha (pain)
  15. Iccha (desire)
  16. Dvesha (aversion)
  17. Prayatna (effort)
  18. Gurutva (heaviness)
  19. Dravatva (fluidity)
  20. Sneha (viscidity)
  21. Dharma (merit)
  22. Adharma (demerit)
  23. Sabda (sound)
  24. Samskara (faculty).

Guna is a static and permanent feature of a substance

3. Karma (activity or action)

Karma also belongs to a substance and cannot exist separately from it. While guna is static and permanent, karma is dynamic and transient. Karma is the cause of conjunction and disjunction. There are five kinds of karma:

  1. Utksepana (upward movement)
  2. Avaksepana (downward movement)
  3. Akunchana (contraction)
  4. Prasārana (expansion)
  5. Gamana (locomotion).

4. Samanya (universality or 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 samanya. The samanya reside in substances, qualities and actions. They are of two kinds, higher and lower, with the higher samanya referring to “being” (satta), which includes everything and is not included in anything. All other generalities are “lower” because they cover only a limited number of things. Only one universal inheres in all members of a class. A quality or action that pertains to only one individual is not considered a universal.

5. Vishesha (Vishesa)

Vishesa allows us to perceive things as different from one another. Every individual is a particular, single, unique and different from all others. Vaisesika does not use this category to refer to the individuality of compound objects, which can be distinguished by the differences in their parts. The category of Vishesha is applied to the most basic, simple, ultimate substances, which would otherwise be perceived as alike. Each partless, ultimate substance, including atoms, souls, space, time, and mind, has an original peculiarity of its own, an underived uniqueness.

6. Samavaya (inherence)

Samavāya is one and eternal relationship between two things inseparably connected. It is defined by Kanada as “the relationship between cause and effect,” and by Prashastapaada as “the relationship subsisting among things that are inseparable, standing to one another in the relation of the container and the contained, and being the basis of the idea this is in that. It is imperceptible and inferred from the relation of two things which are inseparably connected: The part and the whole; the quality and the substance; the action and the substance; the particular and the universal; the particularity and the eternal substance.

Later, the seventh category was added to this theory

Abhava (non-existence or absent)

Abhava theory came after Kanada. The Vaisesika believes that knowledge, though it necessarily points to an object, is different from the object known, and that object exists independently. Similarly, knowledge of negation points to an object which is negated and is different from that object. There are four kinds of abhava: Antecedent non-existence, the non-existence of a thing before its production; subsequent non-existence, the non-existence of a thing after its destruction; mutual non-existence, the non-existence of a thing as another thing which is different from it; and absolute non-existence, the complete and eternal absence of a relation between two things that by their very nature cannot co-exist, for example, a barren woman and her child.