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Part of a series on
Hindu philosophy
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Samkhya · Yoga
Nyaya · Vaisheshika
Purva Mimamsa · Vedanta
Schools of Vedanta
Advaita · Vishishtadvaita
Dvaita · Shuddhadvaita
Dvaitadvaita · Achintya Bheda Abheda
Ancient figures
Kapila · Patañjali
Gotama · Kanada
Jaimini · Vyasa
Medieval figures
Adi Shankara · Ramanuja
Madhva · Madhusudana
Tukaram · Namadeva
Vedanta Desika · Jayatirtha
Vallabha · Nimbarka
Modern figures
Ramakrishna · Ramana Maharshi
Vivekananda · Narayana Guru
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
N.C. Yati · Coomaraswamy
Aurobindo ·Sivananda
Satyananda · Chinmayananda

Vaisheshika, also Vaisesika (Sanskrit: वैशॆषिक, IAST Vaiśeṣika), is one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy (orthodox Vedic systems) of India. Historically, it has been closely associated with the Hindu school of logic, Nyaya. The Vaisesika is primarily a metaphysics system of thought which classifies all beings into seven categories, and postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms. The exact periods of the origin of Vaisesika have not been established; it is thought to be more ancient than Nyāya, and may have preceded, but was at least contemporary with, Buddhism and Jainism. The founder of Vaisesika is considered to be Kanāda, author of the Vaishesika Sutra, written sometime after 300 B.C.E.

Vaisesika is a system of pluralistic realism, which emphasizes that reality consist in difference. The Vaisesika school admits the reality of spiritual substances—the soul and God—and also the Law of Karma; therefore, its atomism is not materialism.

Origins of Vaisesika

Vaisesika is one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy. The word “Vaisesika” is derived from “Vishesa,” which means “distinction,” or “distinguishing feature,” or “particularity.”[1] The Vaisesika is primarily a system of physics and metaphysics which classifies all objects of experience into six categories, and postulates that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to a finite number of atoms.

The founder of Vaisesika is Kanāda, also known as Kanabhuk, Aulukya the son of Ulǖka, and Kāshyapa. He was given the name Kanāda because he was an ascetic who lived on the grains picked up from the fields after the harvest.[2] The word “kana” (“grain”) also means “particle,” “particular,” or “atom,” so the name Kanāda (Kana-bhuk) literally means "atom-eater." Kanāda was the author of the Vaishesika Sutra. The exact dates of the origin of Vaisesika have not been established; it is more ancient than Nyāya, and may have preceded, but was at least contemporary with, Buddhism and Jainism.[3] The Vaishesika Sutra is thought to have been written sometime after 300 B.C.E.,[4] possibly during the second to the fourth centuries C.E.[5] Around the fifth century, Prashastapāda wrote a commentary (Bhasya) on the Vaishesika Sutra, and that was, in turn commented on by Vymasekharācārya, Udayana (984 C.E.), Srivatsācārya, and Shrīdhara.[6]

Later, Vaisesika became blended together with the Nyāya school, which accepted the Vaisesika ontology and further developed its own epistemology. The Vaishesika school accepted only perception (pratyaksha) and inference (anumāna) as valid sources of knowledge, while Nyāya recognized four sources. Over the centuries, the school merged with the Nyaya system of Indian philosophy to form the combined school of Nyaya-Vaisesika. The school suffered a natural decline in India after the fifteenth century.

Kanāda did not mention God in the Vaishesika Sutra, but later commentators recognized that the combinations of unchanging atoms and the operation of karma could not produce an ordered universe without the direction and oversight of a God, and Vaisesika came to share the same concept of God as the Nyāya school.[7]


Vaisesika is a system of pluralistic realism, which emphasizes that reality consists in difference. It classifies all objects of experience into seven padārtha, or categories. Padārtha literally means an object which can be thought (jneya) and named (abhidheya). The seven categories are: substance (dravya); quality (guna); action (karma); generality (sāmānya); particularity (vishesa); inherence (samavāya); and non-being (abhāvā). Originally Vaisesika recognized only the first six categories; the category of non-being (abhāvā) was added later, at a time when Vaisesika became more epistemological. Though Kanāda spoke of non-being in the Vaishesika Sutra, he did not give it the status of a padārtha.

Substance (dravya)

A substance (dravya) is defined as “the substratum where actions and qualities inhere.” “Substance is the basis of qualities and actions, actual or potential, present or future. Simple, ultimate substances … are eternal, independent, individual and not subject to production and destruction. All the compound substances (avayavidravya) which … arise from these simple substances are necessarily transient, impermanent and subject to production and destruction.”[8] There are nine substances, five of which are physical substances: Earth (prthivi), water (Ap), fire (tejas), air (vayu) and ether (akasha). These are called elements; the first four, earth, water, fire and air, signify the ultimate, indivisible atoms which make up the physical universe. Ether is not atomic, but is infinite and eternal and forms the medium in which the atomic elements combine with each other. The five elements each possess a unique quality, smell, taste, color, touch, and sound, respectively, which corresponds to one of the five physical senses, and each element is said to constitute that sense.[9]

The other four substances are time (kala), space (dik), spirit (atman), and mind (manas, or the internal organ). Time and space are, like ether, only one in number (eka), eternal (nitya), and all-pervading (vibhu). They are imperceptible, eternal, intact substances, partless and indivisible, but in ordinary discourse are spoken of as having parts and divisions. Time is the cause of our perception of past, present and future, and also of the concepts of “older” and “younger.” Space is the cause of our perceptions of the relative location of things, such as “east” and “west,” “near” and “far,” “here” and “there.” Souls are innumerable and each is an independent, all-pervading, eternal spiritual substance.[10] Mind (manas) is the internal sense (antarindriya) and is considered atomic, but it does not give rise to compound objects. Mind is also many, rather than a single substance, and each is eternal and imperceptible.[11]

Quality (guna)

Quality (guna) cannot exist independently, and possesses no quality or action itself; it is inherent in a substance, and depends for its existence on that substance. Quality is considered an independent reality because it can be conceived of, thought of, and named independently of the substance where it inheres. Kānāda identified seventeen qualities; another seven were added by Prashastapāda. They include spiritual as well as material qualities.[12]

The Vaisesika recognizes the following twenty-four qualities (including both mental and material properties): Color (rupa), taste (rasa), smell (gandha), touch (sparsa), number (samkhya), size (parimana), individuality (prthaktva), conjunction (samyoga), disjunction (vibhaga), priority (paratva), posterity (aparatva), knowledge (buddhi), pleasure (sukha), pain (dukha), desire (iccha), aversion (dvesa), effort (prayatna), heaviness (gurutva), fluidity (dravatva), viscidity (sneha), merit (dharma), demerit (adharma), sound (sabda), and faculty (samskara). A quality is a static and permanent feature of a substance

Action (karma)

Action, like quality, belongs to a substance and cannot exist separately from it. While a quality is static and permanent, an action is dynamic and transient. Actions are the cause of conjunction and disjunction. There are five kinds of action: Upward movement (utksepana), downward movement (avaksepana), contraction (akunchana), expansion (prasārana), and locomotion (gamana).[13]

Generality (samanya)

Generality (samanya) is class concept, or class-essence, comparable to the “universal” of European Scholastic philosophy. It is the universal quality or characteristic possessed by all the different individual members of a particular class. It is described as “eternal, one, and residing in many.” It is one, though it inheres in many individuals; it is eternal, though the individuals in which it inheres are subject to birth and death, production and destruction. The universal and the particular are not simple subjective concepts of the human mind; they are objective realities. The samanya reside in substances, qualities and actions. They are of two kinds, higher and lower, with the higher samanya referring to “being” (sattā), which includes everything and is not included in anything. All other generalities are “lower” because they cover only a limited number of things. Only one universal inheres in all members of a class. A quality or action that pertains to only one individual is not considered a universal. Nyaya and Vaisesika regard particulars and universals as separately real.[14]

Particularity (vishesa)

Particularity (vishesa) allows us to perceive things as different from one another. Every individual is a particular, single, unique and different from all others. Vaisesika does not use this category to refer to the individuality of compound objects, which can be distinguished by the differences of their parts. The category of “particularity” is applied to the most basic, simple, ultimate substances, which would otherwise be perceived as alike. Each partless, ultimate substance (dravya), including atoms, souls, space, time, and manas (mind), has an original peculiarity of its own, an underived uniqueness.[15]

Inherence (samavāya)

Inherence (samavāya) is one and eternal relationship susbsiting between two things inseparably connected.[16] It is defined by Kanāda as “the relationship between cause and effect,” and by Prashastapāda as “the relationship subsisting among things that are inseparable, standing to one another in the relation of the container and the contained, and being the basis of the idea 'this is in that.'”[17] It is the imperceptible, and inferred from the relation of two things which are inseparably connected: The part and the whole; the quality and the substance; the action and the substance; the particular and the universal; the particularity and the eternal substance.

Non-Existence (abhāva)

Non-Existence (abhāva) came to be regarded as a separate category later than Kanāda. The other six categories are absolute and positive; non-existence is relative and negative. The Vaisesika believes that knowledge, though it necessarily points to an object, is different from the object known, and that object exists independently. Similarly, knowledge of negation points to an object which is negated, and is different from that object. There are four kinds of non-existence: Antecedent non-existence, the non-existence of a thing before its production; subsequent non-existence, the non-existence of a thing after its destruction; mutual non-existence, the non-existence of a thing as another thing which is different from it; and absolute non-existence, the complete and eternal absence of a relation between two things that by their very nature cannot co-exist, for example, a barren woman and her child.[18]


Vaisesika professes the doctrine of Asatkāryavāda, that the effect does not preexist in its cause, but is a fresh creation. It is not contained in is cause, nor is it identical with the cause. All material objects of the universe are composed of parts which are divisible into smaller parts, which are further divisible into even smaller parts. The minutest particle of matter which cannot be further divided is eternal and partless. This particle is called an atom (paramanu). Atoms are said to be spherical or globular. Creation is the combination of atoms in different proportions, and destruction is the dissolution of such combinations. These combinations do not pre-exist in atoms nor form their essential nature. The atoms are of four kinds: Earth, water, fire, and air. Every atom is unique, and the qualities of atoms determine the qualities of the combinations they form.[19]

Atoms are the cause of the material world and are co-eternal with the souls. Atoms are inactive and motionless in themselves; motion is imparted to them by the Unseen Power of the merit (dharma) and demerit (adharma) which resides in the individual souls. The Unseen Power is the efficient cause of the material world, while atoms are its inherent cause.

The Vaisesika school admits the reality of spiritual substances—the soul and God—and also the Law of Karma; therefore, its atomism is not materialistic.[20]


The existence of the soul is inferred form the fact that consciousness cannot be a property of the body, sense-organs or the mind.[21] There is a separate soul (atman) for each person.[22]The innumerable souls are the substratum of the quality of consciousness. The qualities of pleasure and pain, knowledge, feeling and desire pertain to the soul. Consciousness is not considered as the essence of the self, or even an inseparable quality of the self, because the self does not possess consciousness during deep sleep. Instead, consciousness is viewed as an adventitious attribute of the self. The self also possesses qualities such as affection and desire (ichchhā), volition (yatna), and cognition (jnāna); this is known because human beings use expressions such as “I want,” “I know,” and “I am happy.” Each self has a mind (manas), the organ through which the self comes into contact with the objects of reality. The existence of the mind is inferred from the fact that, just as the body perceives external objects through its physical senses, it must have an internal sense through which to perceive internal states such as cognition and desire. Mind is also active in the perception of external objects; though all the physical senses of the self are may be in contact with an object, the self must fix the mind on that object before actual perception of it takes place. Mind is regarded as an atomic substance and can come into contact with only one physical sense at a time.[23]

All affections of the soul are generated through the connection of the soul with the physical senses and external objects through manas. By means of manas, the soul knows not only external things, but also its own qualities. Though the soul is all-pervading, its life of knowing, feeling and activity resides only with the physical body.[24]

Liberation of the soul

According to the Vaisesika, ignorance keeps the soul in bondage, and knowledge brings liberation. In its ignorance, the soul performs actions which attach merit or demerit to the soul, depending on whether or not those actions are in accordance with the Veda, and the soul, by the Law of Karma, must reap the fruits of those actions. The merits and demerits of all the individual souls make up an unseen moral power (adrsta), which, guided by God, imparts motions to the atoms and leads to the creation of the physical circumstances in which the individual enjoys or suffers the consequences of the actions of the soul. In order to be liberated from bondage, the soul must stop actions and allow all accumulated merits and demerits to wear themselves out. The liberated soul is separated from the fetters of mind and body and realize its own pure nature, free of knowledge, bliss, pain, consciousness and all the other qualities an attributes which are associated with the mind (manas) and the physical body. The liberated soul retains its own individuality and particularity, and remains, knowing nothing, feeling nothing, doing nothing. [25]The individuality of a soul is derived from its connection with manas and a physical body. The individual soul (jiva) is similar but not identical to the supreme soul (Isvara).


  1. Chandrahar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2003, ISBN 8120803647).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore (eds.), A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1973, ISBN 0691019584), p. 386.
  5. Vaisesika Garbe, in Hastings, op. cit. Vol. XII, p. 569.
  6. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1973, ISBN 8120804120).
  7. Radhakrishnan, A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy, p. 386.
  8. Chandrahar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p. 176-177.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid., p. 177.
  11. Ibid., p. 178.
  12. Chandrahar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p. 178-179.
  13. Ibid., p. 179.
  14. Ibid., p. 179-180.
  15. Ibid., p. 181.
  16. Ibid., p. 182.
  17. Ibid., p. 181.
  18. Ibid., p. 182-183.
  19. Ibid., p. 183-184.
  20. Ibid. p. 184.
  21. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and Charles A. Moore (eds.), A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1973, ISBN 0691019584), p. 386.
  22. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I (Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1973, ISBN 8120804120).
  23. Chandrahar Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy, p. 178.
  24. Surendranath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I (1973), p. 311.
  25. Ibid. p. 186

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath. 1973. A History of Indian Philosophy, Vol. I. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120804120.
  • Embree, A.T. 1972. The Hindu Tradition. New York: Modern Library. ISBN 0394717023.
  • Garbe, Richard. “Vaisesika.” In Hastings, James, John A. Selbie, and Louis H. Gray. 1925. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics. New York: C. Scribner's Sons.
  • Hay, Jeff. 2006. Hinduism. Religions and Religious Movements. Farmington Hills, MI: Greenhaven Press. ISBN 0737725699.
  • Mittal, Sushil, and Gene R. Thursby. 2004. The Hindu World. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415215277.
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli. 1998. Indian Philosophy, Volume I. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195638190.
  • Radhakrishnan, Sarvepalli, and Charles A. Moore (eds.). 1973. A Sourcebook in Indian Philosophy. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0691019584.
  • Sharma, Chandrahar. 2003. A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. ISBN 8120803647.

External links

All links retrieved May 3, 2023.

General philosophy sources


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