Vaiśeṣika is the philosophy of pluralistic realism and is closely related to Sāṁkhya philosophy with regard to knowledge. Vaiśeṣika lays emphasis on seven types of padārtha-s. Padārtha means meaning of a word or an object or a substance. The seven padārtha-s are dravya, guṇa, karma, sāmānya, vaiśeṣa, samavāya and abhāva.

Dravya is the substance where all qualities and actions exist. Dravya has nine substances and they are the five principle elements like ākāśa, air, fire, water and earth along with mind, time, space and soul. The five primary elements known as pañcabhūta-s have their own inherent qualities and are distinct from each other, though traces of each element is present in all the five elements. As per Sāṁkhya, Vaiśeṣika also admits the existence of innumerable souls that are independent. Each soul has desire and knowledge and these qualities are reflected through emphasis on “I” for example, I am here or I am fond of this, etc. The emphasis on I is due to the combination of indestructible factors such as pañcabhūta-s that act externally in a gross body to make the soul say “I”. When I is said there has to be some substance to identify that I. These substances are called dravya. For example, a gross body is formed with pañcabhūta-s which exist as soul and bound by mind, time and space. It is the mind which is the cause to make the soul bound under time and space. These nine substances are classified as gross, spiritual and objective experience. Gross is the physical body formed out of five elements and mind, spiritual is the soul and objective experience arises due to time and space. Existence of a soul becomes possible only due to the combination of five material substances (pañcabhūta-s) and four non-material substances such as mind, time, space and soul. Only because of the mind, perception becomes possible.

Guṇa also known as qualities, can exist only in dravya or substance and cannot exist independently as in the case of nine components of dravya. For example fire or water can exist independently but a guṇa cannot. The guṇa mentioned here is not the three guṇa-s that we often discuss about – sattva, rajas and tamas. Vaiśeṣika talks about 24 guṇa-s such as desire, aversion, efforts, merit, etc. Guṇa can act only if substance is present and the quality of a person is known by predominance of certain guṇa-s. For example a person is jealous, a person with good qualities, a short tempered person, etc.

Karma means action and like guṇa can exist only in dravya or substance. There cannot be any action (karma) without a body (dravya or substance). The significant difference between guṇa and karma is that the latter is active and the former is passive. Karma is of five types and they are upward movement, downward movement, expansion, contraction and locomotion. Karma that is discussed here is not the one that is studied in detail advaita philosophy. However, Vaiśeṣika also accepts karmic theory of Advaita, which is briefly described at the end of this article. First, there is a substance which gets endowed with guṇa-s and the substance acts (karma) according to various guṇa-s.

Sāmānya is generality or foundational notion. For example, human race is sāmānya, as all the humans come under human race irrespective of their nationality, caste, creed, etc. Similarly all that exist in the universe is sāmānya. Therefore, sāmānya or universal existence is possible only if the previous three are already present. Essence of humanity, essence of animal kingdom, essence of plant kingdom, essence of five elements, etc together form sāmānya.

Vaiśeṣa means specifics and individuality as opposed to sāmānya which spoke about generality. Individuality here means individual existence of substances that are not indivisible. For example, ākāśā, air, space, time and soul cannot be divided. In other words those that are eternal and indivisibles of the five mentioned here does not apply to other objects.

Samavāya is perpetual co-inherence, which is unique to Vaiśeṣika. If two conjoined objects are separated, after removal, their nature does not change. For example, an apple can be removed from the fruit shelf without changing the nature of either the fruit shelf or the apple. But, Vaiśeṣika talks about a product that gets destroyed after separation. For example, an apple plucked from a tree decays with time. Apple and its tree are inseparable and if separated, it leads to destruction of one of the conjoined objects and in this instance, the apple becomes rotten. This is known is samavāya.

Abhāva means non-existence or negation and according to Vaiśeṣika, non-existents are also perceivable through four kinds such as preceding non-existence (before production), subsequent non-existence (after destruction), correlative non-existence (non-existence of a thing as another object that is different from it) and absolute non-existence (devoid of relationship between the two at any point of time – past, present and future). Following are the examples: The apple is not there in the tree before flowering. The same apple is not there after plucking from the tree. An apple tree cannot produce an orange. An apple tree cannot produce a golden apple.

Thus if we look at these seven padārtha-s discussed above, it can be inferred that as in any other philosophy Vaiśeṣika also accepts perception and inference and many of the philosophical terms such as comparison and testimony can be brought under the broader perspective of perception and inference. As with any other philosophy, ultimate aim of Vaiśeṣika is also God realization and liberation. This philosophy also accepts the omnipresence of God and that He rules the universe through the “Law of Karma”. The significant factor about Vaiśeṣika is about the importance of atom (tiny piece of anything). Various combinations of atoms cause creation and dissolution of atoms cause destruction or death. These atoms are known as paramāṇu (the atomistic system of the Vaiśeṣika). It is also said that these atoms have different qualities that are based on one’s karmic account, certain atoms come together to form a body to undergo karmic expereince (this is as per Advaita). Atoms, like prakṛti are the material cause and souls are the efficient cause and they co-exist always to give rise to creation (This is more like conjugation of soul with prakṛti as in the case of Advaita). It is only the God who initiates the first movement and then atoms take over (like prakṛti taking over).

Vaiśeṣika also says that liberation is not possible without spiritual knowledge (knowledge about the soul) and lack of spiritual knowledge leads to karmic impressions. God transfers these karmic impressions in select atoms, known as adṛṣṭa (unseen, unforeseen, invisible, not experienced) during the formation of foetus and these atoms cause the experience of karmic impressions. Karmas can cease only if the soul detaches itself from the mind. This soul is a liberated soul and is freed from all experiences.

This is a very brief and simple summary of Vaiśeṣika philosophy, has number deficiencies and this could be the reason for its unpopularity today and stands ostracized.

(next article will be on Nyāya philosophy)