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Vaisheshika or Vai?e?ika (Sanskrit: ?) is one of the six schools of Indian philosophy (Vedic systems) from ancient India. In its early stages, the Vai?e?ika was an independent philosophy with its own metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and soteriology.[1] Over time, the Vai?e?ika system became similar in its philosophical procedures, ethical conclusions and soteriology to the Ny?ya school of Hinduism, but retained its difference in epistemology and metaphysics.

The epistemology of Vai?e?ika school of Hinduism, like Buddhism, accepted only two reliable means to knowledge: perception and inference.[2][3] Vai?e?ika school and Buddhism both consider their respective scriptures as indisputable and valid means to knowledge, the difference being that the scriptures held to be a valid and reliable source by Vai?e?ikas were the Vedas.

Vaisheshika school is known for its insights in naturalism.[4][5] It is a form of atomism in natural philosophy.[6] It postulated that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramu (atoms), and one's experiences are derived from the interplay of substance (a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), quality, activity, commonness, particularity and inherence.[7] Everything was composed of atoms, qualities emerged from aggregates of atoms, but the aggregation and nature of these atoms was predetermined by cosmic forces. Ajivika metaphysics included a theory of atoms which was later adapted in Vai?e?ika school.[8]

According to Vai?e?ika school, knowledge and liberation were achievable by a complete understanding of the world of experience.[7]

Vai?e?ika darshana was founded by Kada Kashyapa around the 6th to 2nd century BC.[9][10][11]


Although the Vaisheshika system developed independently from the Nyaya school of Hinduism, the two became similar and are often studied together. In its classical form, however, the Vaishesika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaishesika accepted only two.[2][3]

The epistemology of Vai?e?ika school of Hinduism accepted only two reliable means to knowledge - perception and inference.[2]

Vaisheshika espouses a form of atomism, that the reality is composed of five substances (examples are earth, water, air, fire, and space). Each of these five are of two types, explains Ganeri,[6] (paramu) and composite. A paramu is that which is indestructible, indivisible, and has a special kind of dimension, called "small" (a?u). A composite is that which is divisible into paramu. Whatever human beings perceive is composite, and even the smallest perceptible thing, namely, a fleck of dust, has parts, which are therefore invisible.[6] The Vai?e?ikas visualized the smallest composite thing as a "triad" (trya?uka) with three parts, each part with a "dyad" (dya?uka). Vai?e?ikas believed that a dyad has two parts, each of which is an atom. Size, form, truths and everything that human beings experience as a whole is a function of parmanus, their number and their spatial arrangements.

Parama means "most distant, remotest, extreme, last" and a?u means "atom, very small particle", hence paramu is essentially "the most distant or last small (i.e. smallest) particle".

Vaisheshika postulated that what one experiences is derived from dravya (substance: a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), guna (quality), karma (activity), samanya (commonness), vishesha (particularity) and samavaya (inherence, inseparable connectedness of everything).[7][12]


Hinduism identifies six Pramas as epistemically reliable means to accurate knowledge and to truths:[13] Pratyak?a (perception), Anum?na (inference), Upam?na (comparison and analogy), Arth?patti (postulation, derivation from circumstances), Anupalabdhi (non-perception, negative/cognitive proof) and ?abda (word, testimony of past or present reliable experts).[2][3][14] Of these Vai?e?ika epistemology considered only pratyak?a (perception) and anum?na (inference) as reliable means of valid knowledge.[15] Nyaya school, related to Vai?e?ika, accepts four out of these six.[2]

  • Pratyak?a () means perception. It is of two types: external and internal. External perception is described as that arising from the interaction of five senses and worldly objects, while internal perception is described by this school as that of inner sense, the mind.[16][17] The ancient and medieval texts of Hinduism identify four requirements for correct perception:[18] Indriyarthasannikarsa (direct experience by one's sensory organ(s) with the object, whatever is being studied), Avyapadesya (non-verbal; correct perception is not through hearsay, according to ancient Indian scholars, where one's sensory organ relies on accepting or rejecting someone else's perception), Avyabhicara (does not wander; correct perception does not change, nor is it the result of deception because one's sensory organ or means of observation is drifting, defective, suspect) and Vyavasayatmaka (definite; correct perception excludes judgments of doubt, either because of one's failure to observe all the details, or because one is mixing inference with observation and observing what one wants to observe, or not observing what one does not want to observe).[18] Some ancient scholars proposed "unusual perception" as prama and called it internal perception, a proposal contested by other Indian scholars. The internal perception concepts included pratibha (intuition), samanyalaksanapratyaksa (a form of induction from perceived specifics to a universal), and jnanalaksanapratyaksa (a form of perception of prior processes and previous states of a 'topic of study' by observing its current state).[19] Further, the texts considered and refined rules of accepting uncertain knowledge from Pratyak?a-pranama, so as to contrast nirnaya (definite judgment, conclusion) from anadhyavasaya (indefinite judgment).[20]
  • Anum?na () means inference. It is described as reaching a new conclusion and truth from one or more observations and previous truths by applying reason.[21] Observing smoke and inferring fire is an example of Anumana.[16] In all except one Hindu philosophies,[22] this is a valid and useful means to knowledge. The method of inference is explained by Indian texts as consisting of three parts: pratijna (hypothesis), hetu (a reason), and drshtanta (examples).[23] The hypothesis must further be broken down into two parts, state the ancient Indian scholars: sadhya (that idea which needs to proven or disproven) and paksha (the object on which the sadhya is predicated). The inference is conditionally true if sapaksha (positive examples as evidence) are present, and if vipaksha (negative examples as counter-evidence) are absent. For rigor, the Indian philosophies also state further epistemic steps. For example, they demand Vyapti - the requirement that the hetu (reason) must necessarily and separately account for the inference in "all" cases, in both sapaksha and vipaksha.[23][24] A conditionally proven hypothesis is called a nigamana (conclusion).[25]


The syllogism of the Vai?e?ika school was similar to that of the Ny?ya school of Hinduism, but the names given by Pra?astap?da to the 5 members of syllogism are different.[26]


The earliest systematic exposition of the Vaisheshika is found in the Vai?e?ika S?tra of Kada (or Ka?abhaksha). This treatise is divided into ten books. The two commentaries on the Vai?e?ika S?tra, R?va?abhya and Bh?radv?jav?tti are no more extant. Pra?astap?da's Pad?rthadharmasa?graha (c. 4th century) is the next important work of this school. Though commonly known as bhya of Vai?e?ika S?tra, this treatise is basically an independent work on the subject. The next Vaisheshika treatise, Candra's Da?apad?rthastra (648) based on Pra?astap?da's treatise is available only in Chinese translation. The earliest commentary available on Pra?astap?da's treatise is Vyoma?iva's Vyomavat? (8th century). The other three commentaries are ?ridhara's Ny?yakandal? (991), Udayana's Kiran?vali (10th century) and ?rivatsa's L?l?vat? (11th century). ?iv?ditya's Saptapad?rth? which also belongs to the same period, presents the Ny?ya and the Vai?e?ika principles as a part of one whole. ?a?kara Mi?ra's Upask?ra on Vai?e?ika S?tra is also an important work.[27]

The Categories or Pad?rtha

According to the Vaisheshika school, all things that exist, that can be cognized and named are pad?rthas (literal meaning: the meaning of a word), the objects of experience. All objects of experience can be classified into six categories, dravya (substance), gu?a (quality), karma (activity), s?m?nya (generality), vi?e?a (particularity) and samav?ya (inherence). Later Vai?e?ikas (?r?dhara and Udayana and ?iv?ditya) added one more category abhava (non-existence). The first three categories are defined as artha (which can perceived) and they have real objective existence. The last three categories are defined as budhyapek?am (product of intellectual discrimination) and they are logical categories.[28]

  1. Dravya (substance): The substances are conceived as 9 in number. They are, p?thv? (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire), v?yu (air), ?ka?a (ether), k?la (time), dik (space), ?tman (self or soul) and manas (mind). The first five are called bh?tas, the substances having some specific qualities so that they could be perceived by one or the other external senses.[29]
  2. Gu?a (quality): The Vai?e?ika S?tra mentions 17 gu?as (qualities), to which Pra?astap?da added another 7. While a substance is capable of existing independently by itself, a gu?a(quality) cannot exist so. The original 17 gu?as (qualities) are, r?pa (colour), rasa (taste), gandha (smell), spar?a (touch), sa?khy? (number), parima (size/dimension/quantity), p?thaktva (individuality), sa?yoga (conjunction/accompaniments), vibh?ga (disjunction), paratva (priority), aparatva (posteriority), buddhi (knowledge), sukha (pleasure), du?kha (pain), icch? (desire), dve?a (aversion) and prayatna (effort). To these Pra?astap?da added gurutva (heaviness), dravatva (fluidity), sneha (viscosity), dharma (merit), adharma (demerit), ?abda (sound) and sa?sk?ra (faculty).[30]
  3. Karma (activity): The karmas (activities) like gu?as (qualities) have no separate existence, they belong to the substances. But while a quality is a permanent feature of a substance, an activity is a transient one. ?ka (ether), k?la (time), dik (space) and ?tman (self), though substances, are devoid of karma (activity).[31]
  4. S?m?nya (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 s?m?nya.[32]
  5. Vi?e?a (particularity): By means of vi?e?a, we are able to perceive substances as different from one another. As the ultimate atoms are innumerable so are the vi?e?as.[33]
  6. Samav?ya (inherence): Kada defined samav?ya as the relation between the cause and the effect. Pra?astap?da defined it as the relationship existing between the substances that are inseparable, standing to one another in the relation of the container and the contained. The relation of samav?ya is not perceivable but only inferable from the inseparable connection of the substances.[34]

The atomic theory

According to the Vai?e?ika school, the trasare?u are the smallest mahat (perceivable) particles and defined as trya?ukas (triads). These are made of three parts, each of which are defined as dvya?uka (dyad). The dvya?ukas are conceived as made of two parts, each of which are defined as paramu (atom). The paramus (atoms) are indivisible and eternal, they can neither be created nor destroyed.[35] Each paramu (atom) possesses its own distinct vi?e?a (individuality)[36] and have an inhering relation which is responsible for change and motion.

The measure of the partless atoms is known as parimaala parima. It is eternal and it cannot generate the measure of any other substance. Its measure is its own absolutely.[37]

The early Vai?e?ika texts presented the following syllogism to prove that all objects i.e. the four bh?tas, p?thv? (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire) and v?yu (air) are made of indivisible paramus (atoms): Assume that the matter is not made of indivisible atoms, and that it is continuous. Take a stone. One can divide this up into infinitely many pieces (since matter is continuous). Now, the Himalayan mountain range also has infinitely many pieces, so one may build another Himalayan mountain range with the infinite number of pieces that one has. One begins with a stone and ends up with the Himalayas, which is a paradox - so the original assumption that matter is continuous must be wrong, and so all objects must be made up of a finite number of paramus (atoms).

See also


  1. ^ Amita Chatterjee (2011), Ny?ya-vai?e?ika Philosophy, The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195328998.003.0012
  2. ^ a b c d e DPS Bhawuk (2011), Spirituality and Indian Psychology (Editor: Anthony Marsella), Springer, ISBN 978-1-4419-8109-7, page 172
  3. ^ a b c
    • Eliot Deutsch (2000), in Philosophy of Religion : Indian Philosophy Vol 4 (Editor: Roy Perrett), Routledge, ISBN 978-0815336112, pages 245-248;
    • John A. Grimes, A Concise Dictionary of Indian Philosophy: Sanskrit Terms Defined in English, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791430675, page 238
  4. ^ Dale Riepe (1996), Naturalistic Tradition in Indian Thought, ISBN 978-8120812932, pages 227-246
  5. ^ Kak, S. 'Matter and Mind: The Vaisheshika Sutra of Kanada' (2016), Mount Meru Publishing, Mississauga, Ontario, ISBN 978-1-988207-13-1.
  6. ^ a b c Analytical philosophy in early modern India J Ganeri, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  7. ^ a b c Oliver Leaman, Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge, ISBN 978-0415173629, 1999, page 269.
  8. ^ Basham 1951, pp. 262-270.
  9. ^ Jeaneane D. Fowler 2002, pp. 98-99.
  10. ^ Oliver Leaman (1999), Key Concepts in Eastern Philosophy. Routledge, ISBN 978-0415173629, page 269
  11. ^ J Ganeri (2012), The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0199652365
  12. ^ M Hiriyanna (1993), Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120810860, pages 228-237
  13. ^ P Bilimoria (1993), Prama epistemology: Some recent developments, in Asian philosophy - Volume 7 (Editor: G Floistad), Springer, ISBN 978-94-010-5107-1, pages 137-154
  14. ^ Gavin Flood, An Introduction to Hinduism, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-0521438780, page 225
  15. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, p. 170
  16. ^ a b MM Kamal (1998), The Epistemology of the Carvaka Philosophy, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 46(2): 13-16
  17. ^ B Matilal (1992), Perception: An Essay in Indian Theories of Knowledge, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198239765
  18. ^ a b Karl Potter (1977), Meaning and Truth, in Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 2, Princeton University Press, Reprinted in 1995 by Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0309-4, pages 160-168
  19. ^ Karl Potter (1977), Meaning and Truth, in Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 2, Princeton University Press, Reprinted in 1995 by Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0309-4, pages 168-169
  20. ^ Karl Potter (1977), Meaning and Truth, in Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Volume 2, Princeton University Press, Reprinted in 1995 by Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0309-4, pages 170-172
  21. ^ W Halbfass (1991), Tradition and Reflection, State University of New York Press, ISBN 0-7914-0362-9, page 26-27
  22. ^ Carvaka school is the exception
  23. ^ a b James Lochtefeld, "Anumana" in The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 1: A-M, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 0-8239-2287-1, page 46-47
  24. ^ Karl Potter (2002), Presuppositions of India's Philosophies, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 81-208-0779-0
  25. ^ Monier Williams (1893), Indian Wisdom - Religious, Philosophical and Ethical Doctrines of the Hindus, Luzac & Co, London, page 61
  26. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 75ff
  27. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 180-81
  28. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 183-86
  29. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, p. 169
  30. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 204
  31. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 208-09
  32. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 209
  33. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 215
  34. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, pp. 216-19
  35. ^ Chattopadhyaya 1986, pp. 169-70
  36. ^ Radhakrishnan 2006, p. 202
  37. ^ Dasgupta 1975, p. 314


  • Chattopadhyaya, D. (1986), Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction, People's Publishing House, New Delhi, ISBN 81-7007-023-6.
  • Dasgupta, Surendranath (1975), A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, ISBN 978-81-208-0412-8.
  • Radhakrishnan, S. (2006), Indian Philosophy, Vol. II, Oxford University Press, New Delhi, ISBN 0-19-563820-4.

Further reading

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