6 Schools | 2. Vaiśeṣika


The Vaiśeṣika


Rishi Kaṇāda is also known by the names, Aulukya and Kaśyapa.

The Vaiśeṣika system takes its name from Viśeṣa or particularity which is the characteristic differentia of things.

The aphorisms of Kaṇāda contain the essence of the Vaiśeṣika philosophy. The principal subject treated therein is Viśeṣa, one of the six Padārthas or categories enumerated by the founder.

The Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika

The Vaiśeṣika and the Nyāya agree in their essential principles, such as the nature and qualities of the Self and the atomic theory of the universe.

The Vaiśeṣika is a supplement to the Nyāya.

The Vaiśeṣika has, for its chief objective, the analysis of experience:

It begins by arranging its enquiries under categories (Padārthas), i.e., enumeration of certain general properties or attributes that may be predicted of existing things.

It formulates general conceptions, which apply to things known, whether by senses or inference, or by authority.

The Aphorisms of Kaṇada

There are 10 chapters in Kaṇāda’s book:

The 1st chapter deals with entire group of Padārthas or predicables.

In the 2nd chapter, Kaṇāda has ascertained substance.

In the 3d chapter, he has given a description of the soul and the inner sense.

In the 4th chapter, he has discussed the body and its constituents.

In the 5th chapter, he has established Karma and action.

In the 6th chapter, he has considered Dharma or virtue according to scriptures.

In the 7th chapter, he has established attribute and Samavāya (co-inherence or combination).

In the 8th chapter, he has ascertained the manifestation of knowledge, its source, and so on.

In the 9th chapter, he has established the particular or concrete understanding.

And, in the 10th chapter, he has established the differences in the attributes of the soul.

There is enumeration of Padārthas (substances) in the beginning.
Then there is definition.
Then comes examination or demonstration.

This system is chiefly concerned with the determination of the Padārthas and yet, Kaṇāda opens the subject with an enquiry into Dharma, because Dharma is at the root of the knowledge of the essence of the Padārthas.

The first Sutra is:

Dharma is that which exalts and bestows the Supreme Good or Moksha (cessation of pain). [Note; Dharma = Righteous way of living, as enjoined by the sacred scriptures; virtue.]

The Seven Padārtha or Categories

Padārtha means literally the meaning of a word. But here it denotes a substance discussed in philosophy. A Padārtha is an object which can be thought (Artha or meaning)) and named (Pāda).

All things which exist, which can be perceived and named, all objects of experience, are Padārthas. Compound substances are eternal and independent.

The Padārthas of the Vaiśeṣika are the following:

1. Substance (Dravya)
2. Quality or property (Guṇa)
3. Action (Karma)
4. Generalities of properties (Samānya)
5. Particularity (Viśeṣa)
6. Co-inherence or perpetual intimate relation (Samavāya)
7. Non-existence or negation of existence (abhāva)

The first three categories of substance, quality and action have a real objective existence.

The next three, viz., generality, particularity and inherence are logical categories. They are products of intellectual discrimination.

Kaṇāda enumerated only six categories; the seventh was added by later writers.

Earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, space, soul and mind are the 9 Dravyas or substances:

The first four of these and the last are held to be atomic. The first four are both eternal and non-eternal, non- eternal in their various compounds and eternal in their ultimate atoms to which they must be traced back.

Mind is an eternal substance. It does not pervade everywhere like the soul. It is atomic. It can admit only one thought at a time.

There are 17 qualities inherent in the 9 substances, i.e.:

1. colour (Rūpa), 2. taste (Rasa), 3. smell (Gandha), 4. touch (Sparśa),
5. numbers (Sānkhya), 6. measures (Parimanani),
7. separateness or individuality (Pṛthaktva),
8. conjunction and 9. dis-conjunction (Saṁyoga-vibhāga),
10. priority and 11. posterity (Paratva-aparatva),
12. intellection or understanding (Buddhayaḥ),
13. pleasure and 14. pain (Sukha-duhkha),
15. desire and 16.aversion (Ichchā-dveṣa), and 17. volition (Prayatna).

7 others are said to be implied, viz.,

gravity, fluidity, viscidity, merit, demerit and sound- making 24 in all.

16 of these qualities belong to material substances.

The other 8, viz., understanding, volition, desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, merit and demerit are the properties of the soul.

The third category, Karma or action, consists of 5 kinds of acts, viz.,

1. elevation or throwing upwards, 2. depression or throwing downwards, 3. contraction, 4. expansion and, 5.motion.

The fourth category, Samānya or generality of properties, is twofold, viz., (1). Higher and lower generality and (2.) that of genus and species.

The fifth category, Viśeṣa or particularity, belongs to the nine eternal substances of the first category, all of which have an eternal ultimate difference distinguishing each from the others. Therefore, the system is called Vaiśeṣika.

The sixth category Samavāya or co-inherence, is of only one kind:

It is the co-inherence between a substance and its qualities, between a genus or species and its individuals, between any object and the general idea connected with it and is thought to be a real entity.

There are 4 kinds of Abhāva, Non-Existence, the seventh category, viz.,

1. antecedent non-existence,
2. cessation of existence,
3. mutual non-existence and
4. absolute non-existence.

Knowledge of the Pārtha Secures Supreme Good

Knowledge of the Pārthas is the means of attaining the Supreme Good. The Supreme Good results from the knowledge produced- by a particular Dharma- of the essence of the Padārthas, by means of their resemblance and differences.

The Principle of Adriṣṭa and its inadequacies

Kaṇāda does not openly refer to God in his Sutras. His belief was that the formation of the world was the result of Adriṣṭa, the unseen force of Karmas or acts. He traces the primal activities of the atoms and souls to the principle of Adriṣṭa.

The followers of Kaṇāda introduce God as the efficient cause of the world. The atoms are the material cause of the universe.

The unthinking atoms have not the power and the intelligence to run this universe in an orderly manner. Surely, the activities of the atoms are regulated by an omniscient and omnipotent God.

Inference and scriptures compel us to admit God:

What is that intelligence which makes the Adriṣṭa to operate? That intelligence is God.

The five elements are effects. They must be preceded by someone who has knowledge of them. That ‘someone’ is God.

There must be an author for the Vedas. The contents of the Vedas are destitute of errors. The author is free from deceit. He must be an omniscient being.

The souls are destitute of intelligence in the state of dissolution. Hence they cannot control the activities of the atoms. There is no source of motion within the atoms. Therefore, there must be a first mover of the atom. That First Mover is the Creator or God.

Atomic Theory of the Universe

In the Vaiśeṣika system, the formation of the world is supposed to be effected by the aggregation of atoms. These atoms are countless and eternal. They are eternally aggregated, disintegrated and re-disintegrated by the power of Adriṣṭa.

An atom is defined as ‘something existing, having no cause, and eternal’. It is less than the least, invisible, indivisible, intangible and imperceptible by the senses.

Each atom has a Viśeṣa or eternal essence of its own. The combination of these atoms is first into an aggregate of two (Dvyanu, dyad). Three of them, again combine into a particle, called Trasareṇu (Triad), which like a moat in a sunbeam has just sufficient magnitude to be perceptible.

There are four classes of Paramāṇus (Paramāṇu is a sub-atomic particle, such as electron), viz., Paramāṇus of earth, water, fire and air. The individual atoms combine with others, and again disintegrate after some time.

The Vaiśeṣika cosmology is dualistic in the sense of assuming the existence of eternal atoms side by side with eternal souls. It has not decided positively the exact relation between soul and matter.

Body and Soul

The body is subtle in Pralaya (dissolution) and gross in creation. The time, place and circumstances of birth, family and the span of life are all determined by the Adriṣṭa.

The individual souls are eternal, manifold, eternally separate from one another, and distinct from the body, senses and mind; and yet capable of apprehension, volition, desire, aversion, pleasure, pain, merit and demerit.

They are infinite, ubiquitous or omnipresent and diffused everywhere throughout space:

A man’s soul is as much in New York as in Bombay, although it can only apprehend and feel and act where the body is. The soul and the mind are not objects of perception.

The soul is absolutely free from all connections with qualities in the state of Moksha or release. It regains its independence.

Birth, Death and Salvation

Conjunction of soul with body, sense and life, produced by Dharma (virtue, merit) and Adharma (demerit), is called birth, and disjunction of body and mind produced by them is called death.

Moksha consists in the non-existence of conjunction with the body, where there is, at the same time, no potential body existing and consequently rebirth cannot take place.

Bondage and Release

Pleasure and pain result from the contact of soul, sense, mind and object.

From pleasure arises desire:

From pleasure derived from the enjoyment of garlands, sandal paste, women and other objects, Rāga or desire is produced successively for pleasure of a similar kind or for the means of attaining it.

From pain caused by snakes, scorpions, thorns and the like, aversion arises with regard to such pain or with regard to its source.

A very powerful impression is produced by constant or habitual experience of objects, through the influence of which, a sad lover who does not win his mistress sees his beloved in every object.

He who has been bitten by a snake beholds snakes everywhere, on account of a strong impression regarding that.

The Faults That Lead to Bondage

Desire (Rāga), aversion (Dveṣa) and infatuation (Moha) are called faults (Doshas), as they are incentives to activity which serves to bind the doer to this world.

Gautama also says: “Faults have for their characteristic, incitement to activity or worldly occupation” (Nyāya Sutras, 1-1-18).

The Knowledge That Results in Release

Intuitive knowledge of the Self destroys false knowledge:

Consequently, attraction, aversion, stupidity or Moha and other faults vanish.
Then activity also disappears.
Then birth due to action does not take place.
Consequently, pain connected with birth also disappears.