Vaiseshika Darshana (वैशेषिकदर्शनम्)

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परिचय || Introduction

Vaisheshika or Vaiśeṣika (Sanskrit: वैशेषिक) is one of the Shad Darsanas or the Veda Upangas which exist traditionally since ancient times in India. In its early stages, the Vaiśeṣika was an independent philosophy with its own metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and path to mukti or liberation. Over time, the Vaiśeṣika system became similar in its philosophical procedures, ethical conclusions and in it's theory of liberation to the Nyāya Darshana, but retained its difference in epistemology and metaphysics.

  • Vaiśeṣika school of philosophy accepts only two reliable means to knowledge: Pratyaksha pramana (perception) and Anumana pramana (inference).
  • Vaiśeṣika considers their scriptures as indisputable and valid means to knowledge, and acknowledge that Vedas are the foundation of their siddhantas.
  • Vaisheshika school is known for its insights in naturalism or Padarthajnana. It recognizes nine ultimate substances : Five material or perceivable substances and four inanimate or non-material substances. The five material substances are: Earth, water, fire, air and akasha. The four non-material substances are: space, time, soul and mind. Earth, water, fire and air are atomic but akasha is non-atomic and  infinite.
  • It postulated that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramāṇu (atoms), which are indivisible, eternal, neither can be created or destroyed. Thus the Vaishesika explains the atomic theory far before any western discovery.
  • Human experiences are derived from the interplay of substance (a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), quality, activity, commonness, particularity and inherence.
  • Vaisheshika contends that every effect is a fresh creation or a new beginning. Thus this system refutes the theory of pre-existence of the effect in the cause as does the Vedic philosophy.
  • Kanada's Vaiseshika does not discuss much on God although this system accepts that God (Ishvara ) is the efficient cause of the world. The eternal atoms are the material cause of the world.
  • According to Vaiśeṣika school, knowledge and liberation are achievable by the complete understanding of the world of experience.

Founder - Kaṇāda Kashyapa

Vaiśeṣika darshana was founded by Kaṇāda Kashyapa around the 2nd century BC.

Vaiseshika Siddhantam

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.

Vaiśeṣika school of Hinduism accepted only two reliable means to knowledge - perception and inference.

Vaisheshika espouses a form of atomism, that the reality is composed of four substances (earth, water, air, fire). Each of these four are of two types, explains Ganeri, परमाणु || paramāṇu (atomic) and composite (analogous to molecule).

An "Anu" is that which is small, indestructible (anitya), indivisible, and has a special kind of dimension. "

A composite is that which is divisible into atoms. Whatever human beings perceive is composite, and even the smallest perceptible thing, namely, a fleck of dust, has parts, which are therefore invisible. "

The Vaiśeṣikas visualized the smallest composite thing as a “triad” (tryaṇuka) with three parts, each part with a “dyad” (dyaṇuka). Vaiśeṣikas 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 atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements.

Vaisheshika postulated that what one's experiences is derived from

  1. dravya (substance: a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements),
  2. guna (quality), karma (activity),
  3. samanya (commonness),
  4. vishesha (particularity) and
  5. samavaya (inherence, inseparable connectedness of everything).

Literature of Vaisheshika

The earliest systematic exposition of the Vaisheshika is found in the Vaiśeṣika Sūtra of Kaṇāda (or Kaṇabhaksha). This treatise is divided into ten books.

  • The two commentaries on the Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, Rāvaṇabhāṣya and Bhāradvājavṛtti are extant.
  • Praśastapāda’s Padārthadharmasaṁgraha (c. 4th century) commonly known as bhāṣya of Vaiśeṣika Sūtra, this treatise is basically an independent work on the subject.
  • Candra’s Daśapadārthaśāstra (648) based on Praśastapāda’s treatise is available only in Chinese translation. The earliest commentary available on Praśastapāda’s treatise is Vyomaśiva’s Vyomavatī (8th century). The other three commentaries are Śridhara’s Nyāyakandalī (991), Udayana’s Kiranāvali (10th century) and Śrivatsa’s Līlāvatī (11th century).
  • Śivāditya’s Saptapadārthī which also belongs to 11th century, presents the Nyāya and the Vaiśeṣika principles as a part of one whole.
  • Śaṁkara Miśra’s Upaskāra on Vaiśeṣika Sūtra is also an important work.

The Categories or Padārtha

According to the Vaisheshika school, all things which exist, which can be cognised, and which can be named are padārthas (literal meaning: the meaning of a word), the objects of experience. All objects of experience can be classified into six categories as follows

1.Dravya (substance): The substances are conceived as 9 in number. They are, पृथ्वी || pṛthvī (earth), आपः || apa (water), तेजस् || tejas (fire), वायु || vāyu (air), आकाश || ākaśa (ether), काल || kāla (time), दिक् || dik (space), आत्मन || ātman (self or soul) and मनस || manas (mind). The first five are called भूत || bhūtas, the substances having some specific qualities so that they could be perceived by one or the other external senses."

2.Guṇa (quality): The Vaiśeṣika Sūtra mentions 17 guṇas (qualities), to which Praśastapāda added another 7. While a substance is capable of existing independently by itself, a guṇa(quality) cannot exist so. The original 17 guṇas (qualities) are, rūpa (colour), rasa (taste), gandha (smell), sparśa (touch), saṁkhyā (number), parimāṇa (size/dimension/quantity), pṛthaktva (individuality), saṁyoga (conjunction/accompaniments), vibhāga (disjunction), paratva (priority), aparatva (posteriority), buddhi (knowledge), sukha (pleasure), duḥkha (pain), icchā (desire), dveṣa (aversion) and prayatna (effort). To these Praśastapāda added gurutva (heaviness), dravatva (fluidity), sneha (viscosity), dharma (merit), adharma (demerit), śabda (sound) and saṁskāra (faculty)."

3.Karma (activity): The karmas (activities) like guṇas (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. Ākāśa (ether), kāla (time), dik (space) and ātman (self), though substances, are devoid of karma (activity)."

4.Sāmānya (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 sāmānya."

5.Viśeṣa (particularity): By means of viśeṣa, we are able to perceive substances as different from one another. As the ultimate atoms are innumerable so are the viśeṣas."

6.Samavāya (inherence): Kaṇāda defined samavāya as the relation between the cause and the effect. Praśastapāda 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 samavāya is not perceivable but only inferable from the inseparable connection of the substances."

Later Vaiśeṣikas (Śrīdhara and Udayana and Śivāditya) 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 budhyapekṣam (product of intellectual discrimination) and they are logical categories.

The atomic theory

According to the Vaiśeṣika school, the trasareṇu are the smallest mahat (perceivable) particles and defined as tryaṇukas (triads). These are made of three parts, each of which are defined as dvyaṇuka (dyad). The dvyaṇukas are conceived as made of two parts, each of which are defined as paramāṇu (atom). The paramāṇus (atoms) are indivisible and eternal, they can neither be created nor destroyed. Each paramāṇu (atom) possesses its own distinct viśeṣa (individuality).

The measure of the partless atoms is known as parimaṇḍala parimāṇa. It is eternal and it cannot generate the measure of any other substance. Its measure is its own absolutely.


  1. Amita Chatterjee (2011), Nyāya-vaiśeṣika Philosophy, The Oxford Handbook of World Philosophy, doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780195328998.003.0012
  2. DPS Bhawuk (2011), Spirituality and Indian Psychology (Editor: Anthony Marsella), Springer, ISBN 978-1-4419-8109-7
  3. Analytical philosophy in early modern India J Ganeri, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  4. M Hiriyanna (1993), Outlines of Indian Philosophy, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120810860
  5. MM Kamal (1998), The Epistemology of the Carvaka Philosophy, Journal of Indian and Buddhist Studies, 46(2)
  6. B Matilal (1992), Perception: An Essay in Indian Theories of Knowledge, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0198239765


  1. Chattopadhyaya, D. (1986), Indian Philosophy: A Popular Introduction, People’s Publishing House, New Delhi, ISBN 81-7007-023-6.
  2. Dasgupta, Surendranath (1975), A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I, Motilal Banarsidass, Delhi, ISBN 978-81-208-0412-8.

Further reading

  1. Bimal Matilal (1977), A History of Indian Literature - Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, ISBN 978-3447018074, OCLC 489575550
  2. Gopi Kaviraj (1961), Gleanings from the history and bibliography of the Nyaya-Vaisesika literature, Indian Studies: Past & Present, Volume 2, Number 4, OCLC 24469380