Six Systems of Indian Philosophy

Vaisesika - Analysis of the Aspects of Reality  

Vaisesika or VA for short. The founder of VA philosophy is sage Kanada, who was also known as Uluka, so this system is sometimes called Aulukya. Kanada wrote the first systematic work of this philosophy, VA Sutra. This work is divided into ten cantos, each containing two sections. Prasastapada wrote a great commentary on this Sutra entitled Svartha Dharma Samgraha that is so profound and famous that it is called Bhasya, which simply means ‘commentary’. Two well-known explications of Prasastapada’s work are Udayana’s Kiranavali and Sridhara’s Nyayakandali. The most remarkable concept of this system is the introduction of a special category of reality known as Uniqueness (visesa). Thus this system is also known VA.

VA is allied to the Nyaya system of philosophy. Both systems accept the liberation of the individual self as the end goal, both view ignorance as the root cause of all pain and misery, and both believe that liberation is attained only through right knowledge of reality. There are however, two differences between VA and the Nyaya system. First, Nyaya philosophy accepts four independent sources of knowledge – perception, inference, comparison and testimony but VA accepts only two – perception and inference. Second Nyaya maintains that all of reality is comprehended by 16 categories (padarthas) whereas VA recognizes only seven categories.

Seven categories of Reality are dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma (action), samanya (generality), visesa (uniqueness), samavaya (inherence) and abhava (non existence). The term padartha means ‘the object denoted by the word and according to VA philosophy all objects denoted by the word can be broadly classified into two main classes – that which exists and that which does not exists. Six of the seven padarthas are in the first class, that which exists. In the second class, that which does not exists, there is only one padartha, abhava, which stands for all negative facts such as the nonexistence of things. The first two categories of reality – substance and quality are treated in greater detail than the remaining five.

1. The Category of Substance - Nine Dravyas
Dravyas, substance, is that in which a quality or an action can exist but which in itself is different from both quality and action. Without substance, there cannot be quality or an action because substance is the substratum of quality and action, and it is also the material cause of the composite things produced from it. A cloth for example, is formed by the combination of a number of threads of certain colors. The threads are the material or constitutive causes of the cloth because it is made of the threads that subsist in the cloth.

There are nine kinds of substances, earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, direction, soul and mind. The first five of these are called physical elements because each of them possesses a specific quality that can be perceived by the external sense faculty. Each of the senses is composed of these elements, whose distinguishing qualities are registered by specific sensory receptors. For example, smell is the particular property of the earth and is apprehended by the nostrils or Taste is the particular property of water, which is perceived by the tongue.

 Paramanu – the smallest particle of earth, water, fire and air - In VA, the smallest part is called paramanu or atom. This is not to be confused with the modern scientific word atom because an atom as described in nuclear physics is itself composed in many parts. The VA usage refers to the most indivisible state of matter. The atoms of water, earth, fire and air are eternal because an atom is part less and cannot be produced or destroyed. The common elements of air, water, fire and air are noneternal because they are produced by a combination of atoms and therefore can disintegrate and change. The existence of atoms is proved by inference not by perception. All composite parts of the world can be broken into smaller parts. But when one comes to the part which cannot be broken further that minutest part in VA is called atom. Atoms can neither be produced nor destroyed they are eternal.

 Akasa – ether - There are types of atoms ie atoms of water, fire, air and earth each having their own peculiar qualities. Akasa, the fifth substance, is the substratum of the quality of sound, is not made up of atoms. Sound can be perceived, but akasa cannot be perceived because it lacks two conditions for the perception of an object i.e. perceptible dimension and manifest color. Therefore, Akasa cannot be perceived but can be inferred from the perception of the quality of the sound that it contains. Akasa is the one and eternal because it is not made up of parts and does not depend on any other substance for its existence. It is all pervading in the sense that it has an unlimited dimension and that its quality (sound) is perceived everywhere.

 Direction and Time - are also imperceptible substances and they are likewise single, eternal, and all pervading. Direction is inferred on the basis of such concepts such as here, there and so on. Time is inferred from the concepts now, today, tomorrow and so forth. Although all pervading space, direction and time are spoken of as many due to certain limiting conditions known as Upadhis. E.g. when the indivisible space is limited by a jar, that space is known as the space of the jar. In the same way time is referred to as one hour, two hours and direction as east, west, north etc.

 Soul - or Atman is also considered to be eternal and all pervading. According to VA philosophy there are two kinds of souls, individual and supreme. The former is known as jivatman and the latter as Iswara. The Supreme Soul is inferred to be the creator of the world in the same manner as has been explained in Nyaya. Conversely the individual soul is perceived to possess mental qualities like I am happy.

 Mind - The mind is considered to be the ninth kind of substance. It is the eternal sense faculty of the individual soul. Like the soul, the mind is indivisible. Its existence is not perceived from inferred from the following propositions. First, like an external sense facility is required to perceive the outer world, an internal sense facility is required to perceive the inner objects like soul, pleasure and pain. Second it is apparent that the five external senses may all be in contact with their respective objects simultaneously but not all perceptions are received at the same time. Attention is focused on one object, which means that there is a coordination of the mind with the senses. We must thus admit the existence of the mind as an internal sense facility.

2. The Category of Quality - Twenty-four Gunas
Guna, quality the second of the seven categories of reality cannot exist by itself but exists only in a substance. It cannot, thus, be the constituent or material cause of anything’s existence. It differs from substance and action in the sense that it is an unmoving property.

The 24 gunas are rupa - color, rasa – taste, gandha – smell, sparasa – touch, sabda – sound, samkhya – number, parimana – magnitude, prthaktva – distinctiveness, samyoga – conjunction or nearness, buddhi – cognition, saukha – pleasure, dukha – pain, iccha – desire, dvesa – aversion, prayatna – effort, gurutva – heaviness, dravatva – fluidity, sneha – viscidity, samskara – tendency, dharma – merit or virtue, and adharma – demerit or nonvirtue. A brief description follows –

According to VA there are six colors – white, black, red, blue, yellow and green and there are also six tastes – sweet, sour, bitter, pungent, astringent and salty. Smell is divided into 2 categories – good and bad and touch is divided into three – hot, cold and neither hot or cold. There are two kinds of sound, dhvani (unarticulated) and varna (articulated). Number is that quality by which virtue of a thing can be counted. Magnitude is the quality by which things are distinguished as big or small.

Distinctness is the quality by which one knows that one thing is different from another. Conjunction is the quality by which one knows the existence of one or more things at one place or in one time. Disjunction is that quality by which a substance is perceived as being either remote or near in time or space.

Buddhi means knowledge and should not be confused with buddhi of Samskhya philosophy explained as intellect. Pleasure is a favorable experience of mind and pain is the opposite. Effort is the quality by virtue of which a substance is capable of changing its position. There are three kinds of effort – striving towards something – against something and vital functioning. Heaviness is that quality by virtue of which a substance is capable of falling, while fluidity is the quality by virtue of which it flows. Viscidity is the quality – belonging exclusively to the element of water.

Samskaras are innate tendencies; they can be of anything, not just the mind. There are three kinds of samskaras in a substance, activity – which keeps a thing in motion, elasticity – which makes a thing tend towards equilibrium when it is disturbed and mental impressions which enables one to remember and recognize a thing. Dharma and Adharma means that which is accordance with the conscience and its opposite. The remaining five categories are –

3. The Category of Action – Karma - Karma, action is viewed in the VA school as being physical movement, but the term physical here refers to no more than just bodily movements because in VA mind is also considered to be a kind of substance. There are five types of action – upward, downward, inward, outward and linear. The action of perceptible substances like earth, water, fire and air can be perceived by the five senses, but not all the actions of tangible substances can be perceived. The movement of the Earth, for example, cannot be perceived, it can only be inferred.

4. The Category of Generality – Samanya - Generality relates to abstract characteristics that is singular and eternal and yet pervades many. Like leadership is a single characteristic, but it resides in many individuals. Leadership is also eternal because it was already in existence before the first leader emerged and will continue to exists even if there are no more leaders. Samanya is the essence of the common characteristics that unites different entities into one class.

VA recognizes three levels of generality or universality – highest, lowest and intermediate. The highest kind of generality is existence itself – satta. The lowest kind has the most limited referents such as American-ness, Indian-ness that are generalities present in all Americans, Indians. Concepts such as substantiality represent the intermediate level of generality because they do not include many categories of reality like action, quality and so on.

5. The Category of Uniqueness – Visesa - Uniqueness is that characteristic of a thing by virtue of which it is distinguished from all other things. Like space, time, soul it is eternal. Everything in the world regardless of whether it is existent or nonexistent is accompanied by uniqueness. Generality and uniqueness are opposite concepts.
6. The Category of Inherence – Samavaya - There are two kinds of relationships between things: nearness – samyoga and inherence – samavaya. Nearness is one of the 24 gunas of VA but inherence is one of the seven categories of reality described in this system. Nearness is temporary, allows two more things to exist together without being affected by each other. This nearness is an external relationship existing as an accidental quality of the substances related to it. Inherence, on the other hand, is a permanent relation between two entities, one of whom inheres in the other. Here one of the entities depends for its existence on the other. Further terms within an inherent relationship cannot be reversed as those that are related by nearness.

7. The Category of Nonexistence – Abhava - Abhava is different from the first six categories in the sense that it is negative. Nonexistence is not found in any of the six positive categories, and yet according to VA philosophy nonexistence exists, just as, for instance, space and direction do. E.g., how does not one know that there is no chair in the room? Answer by looking at the room. Thus nonexistence also exists as such.

There are three types of nonexistence: the absence of something in something else and mutual nonexistence. The former is of three kinds: antecedent nonexistence, the nonexistence of a thing after its destruction and absolute nonexistence. Kind one refers to the nonexistence of a thing prior to its creation for e.g. in the sentence ‘A book will be written using this paper’ the book is nonexistent in the paper. But when a book is written its previous nonexistence comes to an end. Kind two assumes that there is something in existence, which shall cease to exist after its destruction for e.g. when a jar is broken into pieces, and then there is nonexistence of that jar. Kind three is the type of nonexistence that does not belong to time and space is called absolute nonexistence.

Mutual nonexistence is the difference of one thing from another. When one thing is different from another, they mutually exclude each other, and there is the nonexistence of either as the other. For e.g., a pen is different from a book, so there is nonexistence of the book in the pen and of the pen in the book.

The Concept of the Creation and Annihilation of the World
VA holds on to the atomic theory of existence, according to which the entire universe is composed of eternal atoms. But at the same time, VA does not ignore the moral and spiritual laws that govern the process of union and separation of atoms. In this way the atomic theory of VA is different from the atomic theory of modern science. Modern science’s theory proposes a materialistic philosophy; it explains the law of universe as mechanical, as being the result of the motions of atoms in infinite time, space and direction. According to this view, mechanical laws govern the operation but according to VA the functioning of atoms is guided by the creative or destructive will of the Supreme Being. This will of the Supreme Being directs the operation of atoms according to the past Samskaras of individual beings.

VA states that the universe has two aspects, one eternal and one noneternal. The eternal constituents of the universe are four kinds of atoms – earth, water, fire, and air and the five substances – space, time, direction, mind and self. These are not subject to change and cannot be created or destroyed. Another part of the universe is noneternal, that is, subject to creation and destruction in a particular time and space. In the beginning of creation two atoms are united into a dyad, which is noneternal because it can be divided again into two. The dyads and atoms cannot be perceived but are known through inference. The combination of three dyads is called a triad that is the smallest perceptible object. It is from these triads that other larger compounds develop. Thus the common elements comprised of two eternal atoms are noneternal because they can be broken down into smaller units.

Thus, according to VA philosophy, the word is a moral stage on which the life and destiny of all beings is governed, not only by the physical laws of time and space but also by the moral law of karma. In the performance of present karma, an individual is free and is thus the creator of his own destiny, but the starting and ending point of the universe depends on the creative or destructive will of the Supreme Being. The universal law (adrsta) of the process of creation and annihilation influences the individual selves to function or to be active in the direction of the creative will. Directed by this unknown force of adrsta, the soul makes contact with an atom of air, thus the primeval motion comes into being. That primeval activity in air atoms creates dyads, triads and all the rest of the gross physical manifestations of air elements (mahabhutas). In a similar manner, there arises motion in the atoms of fire, water and earth, which then compose the gross elements of fire, water and earth. In this way the vast physical world comes into existence.

The Supreme Lord is endowed with perfect wisdom, detachment and excellence. He releases the adrsta related to individual human beings, which guides the individuals in their flow through the currents of life. At the end of life, the process of dissolution and annihilation also depends on the will of God. He inspires the adrsta corresponding to the individuals or the universe, and then a destructive motion in the atoms of the body and senses or in the cosmos starts vibrating. On account of this destructive motion, then arises the process of disjunction and disintegration of the body and senses or of the universe. Compound things break down into simpler and simpler components, finally devolving into the state of triads and dyads and ultimately into atoms. In this manner the physical elements of earth, water, fire and air and the related sense organs are disintegrated. After the dissolution of the manifest universe, there remain the four kinds of atoms of earth, water, fire and air as well as the eternal substances of space, time, direction, mind and soul with their attendant meritous and nonmeritious samskaras.

Thus, according to the VA system of philosophy, there is no creation or annihilation but rather than orderly and morally systematized composition and decomposition of compounds. An individual self or soul is involved in the universe because of Adrsta. The karma of each soul is its own earnings, deposited in the safe of the Supreme Being, which back to the self with interest. The VA concepts of God, liberation of soul, and of the path to liberation are all basically the same as the Nyaya concepts that have been discussed in the earlier chapter.

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