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Vaisheshika Philosophy

The Vaisheshika school was founded by Kanada in the 6th Century B.C., and it is atomist and pluralist in nature. The basis of the school’s philosophy is that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms, and Brahman is regarded as the fundamental force that causes consciousness in these atoms.

The earliest systematic exposition of the Vaisheshika is found in the Vaisheshika Sutra of Kaṇada (or Kaṇabhaksha or Kashyapa). This treatise is divided into ten books. The Vaisheshika and Nyaya schools eventually merged because of their closely related metaphysical theories (although Vaisheshika only accepted perception and inference as sources of valid knowledge).

The Vaisheshika school attempts to identify, inventory, and classify the entities and their relations that present themselves to human perceptions. It lists six categories of being (padarthas), to which was later added a seventh. These are:


Dravya, or substance, the substratum that exists independently of all other categories, and the material cause of all compound things produced from it. Dravyas are nine in number: earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, space, spirit, and mind.


Guna, or quality, which in turn is subdivided into 24 species.


Karma, or action. Both guna and karma inhere within dravya and cannot exist independently of it.


Samanya, or genus, which denotes characteristic similarities that allow two or more objects to be classed together.


Vishesha, or specific difference, which singles out an individual of that class.


Samavaya, or inherence, which indicates things inseparably connected.


To these six was later added abhava, nonexistence or absence. Though negative in content, the impression it makes is positive; one has a perception of an absence where one misses something. Four such absences are recognized: previous absence, as of a new product; later absence, as of a destroyed object; total absence, as of colour in the wind; and reciprocal absence, as of a jar and a cloth, neither of which is the other.

The Vaisheshika system holds that the smallest, indivisible, indestructible part of the world is an atom (anu). All physical things are a combination of the atoms of earth, water, fire, and air. Inactive and motionless in themselves, the atoms are put into motion by God’s will, through the unseen forces of moral merit and demerit.

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