A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the main doctrine of the nyaya-vaisheshika philosophy: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighth part in the series called the “the nyaya-vaisheshika philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 8 - The main doctrine of the Nyaya-Vaiśeṣika Philosophy


The Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika having dismissed the doctrine of momentariness took a common-sense view of things, and held that things remain permanent until suitable collocations so arrange themselves that the thing can be destroyed. Thus the jug continues to remain a jug unless or until it is broken to pieces by the stroke of a stick. Things exist not because they can produce an impression on us, or serve my purposes either directly or through knowledge, as the Buddhists suppose, but because existence is one of their characteristics. If I or you or any other perceiver did not exist, the things would continue to exist all the same. Whether they produce any effect on us or on their surrounding environments is immaterial. Existence is the most general characteristic of things, and it is on account of this that things are testified by experience to be existing.

As the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣikas depended solely on experience and on valid reasons, they dismissed the Sāṃkhya cosmology, but accepted the atomic doctrine of the four elements (bhūtas),

  1. earth (kṣiti),
  2. water (ap),
  3. fire (tejas),
  4. and air (marut).

These atoms are eternal; the fifth substance (ākāsa) is all pervasive and eternal. It is regarded as the cause of propagating sound; though all-pervading and thus in touch with the ears of all persons, it manifests sound only in the ear-drum, as it is only there that it shows itself as a sense-organ and manifests such sounds as the man deserves to hear by reason of his merit and demerit. Thus a deaf man though he has the ākāśa as his sense of hearing, cannot hear on account of his demerit which impedes the faculty of that sense organ[2]. In addition to these they admitted the existence of time (kāla) as extending from the past through the present to the endless futurity before us. Had there been no time we could have no knowledge of it and there would be nothing to account for our time-notions associated with all changes. The Sāṃkhya did not admit the existence of any real time; to them the unit of kāla is regarded as the time taken by an atom to traverse its own unit of space. It has no existence separate from the atoms and their movements.

The appearance of kāla as a separate entity is a creation of our buddhi (buddhinirmāna) as it represents the order or mode in which the buddhi records its perceptions. But kāla in Nyaya-Vaiśeṣika is regarded as a substance existing by itself. In accordance with the changes of things it reveals itself as past, present, and future. Sāṃkhya regarded it as past, present, and future, as being the modes of the constitution of the things in its different manifesting stages of evolution (adhvan). The astronomers regarded it as being due to the motion of the planets. These must all be contrasted with the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika conception of kāla which is regarded as an all-pervading, partless substance which appears as many in association with the changes related to it[3].

The seventh substance is relative space (dik). It is that substance by virtue of which things are perceived as being on the right, left, east, west, upwards and downwards; kāla like dik is also one. But yet tradition has given us varieties of it in the eight directions and in the upper and lower[4]. The eighth substance is the soul (ātman) which is all-pervading. There are separate ātmans for each person; the qualities of knowledge, feelings of pleasure and pain, desire, etc. belong to ātman. Manas (mind) is the ninth substance. It is atomic in size and the vehicle of memory; all affections of the soul such as knowing, feeling, and willing, are generated by the connection of manas with soul, the senses and the objects. It is the intermediate link which connects the soul with the senses, and thereby produces the affections of knowledge, feeling, or willing. With each single connection of soul with manas we have a separate affection of the soul, and thus our intellectual experience is conducted in a series, one coming after another and not simultaneously. Over and above all these we have Īśvara.

The definition of substance consists in this, that it is independent by itself, whereas the other things such as quality (guna), action (karma), sameness or generality (sāmānya), speciality or specific individuality (viśeṣa) and the relation of inherence (samavāya) cannot show themselves without the help of substance (dravya). Dravya is thus the place of rest (āśraya) on which all the others depend (āśrtd).

Dravya, guṇa, karma, sāmānya, viśeṣa, and samavāya are the six original entities of which all things in the world are made up[5]. When a man through some special merit, by the cultivation of reason and a thorough knowledge of the fallacies and pitfalls in the way of right thinking, comes to know the respective characteristics and differences of the above entities, he ceases to have any passions and to work in accordance with their promptings and attains a conviction of the nature of self, and is liberated[6]. The Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika is a pluralistic system which neither tries to reduce the diversity of experience to any universal principle, nor dismisses patent facts of experience on the strength of the demands of the logical coherence of mere abstract thought. The entities it admits are taken directly from experience. The underlying principle is that at the root of each kind of perception there must be something to which the perception is due. It classified the percepts and concepts of experience into several ultimate types or categories (padārtha), and held that the notion of each type was due to the presence of that entity. These types are six in number—dravya, guṇa, etc.

If we take a percept “I see a red book,” the book appears to be an independent entity on which rests the concept of “redness” and “oneness,” and we thus call the book a substance (dravya)] dravya is thus defined as that which has the characteristic of a dravya (dravyatva). So also guṇa and karma. In the subdivision of different kinds of dravya also the same principle of classification is followed. In contrasting it with Sāṃkhya or Buddhism we see that for each unit of sensation (say whiteness) the latter would admit a corresponding real, but Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika would collect “all whiteness” under the name of “the quality of white colour” which the atom possessed[7]. They only regarded as a separate entity what represented an ultimate mode of thought. They did not enquire whether such notions could be regarded as the modification of some other notion or not; but whenever they found that there were some experiences which were similar and universal, they classed them as separate entities or categories.

Footnotes and references:


I have treated Nyāya and Vaiśesika as the same system. Whatever may have been their original differences, they are regarded since about 600 A.D. as being in complete agreement except in some minor points. The views of one system are often supplemented by those of the other. The original character of the two systems has already been treated.


See Nyāyakatnialī, pp. 59-64.


See Nyāyakandalī, pp. 64-66, and Nyāyamañjarī , pp. 136-139. The Vaiśeṣika sūtras regarded time as the cause of things which suffer change but denied it of things which are eternal.


See Nyāyakandalī, pp. 66-69, and Nyāyamañjarī, p. 140.


Abhāva (negation) as dependent on bhāva (position) is mentioned in the Vaiśeṣika sūtras. Later Nyāya writers such as Udayana include abhāva as a separate category, but Śrīdhara a contemporary of Udayana rightly remarks that abhāva was not counted by Praśastapāda as it was dependent on bhāva—

abhāvasya pṛthaganupadeśaḥ bhāvapāratantryāt na tvabhāvāt .”

     Nyāyakandalī, p. 6, and Lakṣaṇāvalī, p. i.


Tattvato jñāteṣu bākyādhyātmikeṣu viṣayeṣu doṣadarśanāt viraktasya samīhānivṛttau ātmajñasya tadarthāni karmāṇyakurvataḥ tatparityāgasādhatiāni śrutismṛtyuditāni asaṅkalpitaphalāni upādadānasya ātmajñānamabhyasyataḥ prakṛṣṭanivarttakadharmopacaye sati paripakvātmajñānasyātyantikaśarīraviyogasya bhāvāt.

     Ibid . p. 7.


The reference is to Sautrāntika Buddhism, “yo yo vimddhādhyāsavān nāsāve-kah.” See Paṇḍitāśoka’s Avayavinirākaraṇa, Six Buddhist Nyāya tracts.

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