Yoga-sutras (Ancient and Modern Interpretations)

by Makarand Gopal Newalkar | 2017 | 82,851 words | ISBN-13: 9780893890926

This page relates ‘Astika Darshana (2): Vaisheshika School’ of the English translation of the Yoga-sutras of Patanjali: an ancient Indian tradition spanning over 5000 years old dealing with Yoga:—Meditating the mind on the Atma leading to the realization of self. This study interprets the Yogasutras in light of both ancient and modern commentaries (e.g., Vyasa and Osho) while supporting both Sankhya and Vedanta philosophies.

Part 3b - Āstika Darśana (2): Vaiśeṣika School

The Vaiśeṣika is an atomistic pluralism, believing in a plurality of reals and regarding the physical world as consisting of things each of which is reducible to a number of atoms. The system shares a close metaphysical similarity with that of Nyāya system and soon both the systems came to be regarded as one hyphenated system Nyāya -Vaiśeṣika system. The basic text of the Vaiśeṣika system is Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda is believed to be conceived between 6th to 10th centuries BC.[1]

As far as the theory of knowledge is concerned, before its association with Nyāya system, Vaiśeṣikas accepted only perception and Inference as the only two valid sources of knowledge.

Seven categories (padārtha):

The most important doctrine of Vaiśeṣikas is that of categories (padārtha) defined as that which can be known (jñeya), validly cognized (prameya), and named or denoted (abhidheya).

The Vaiśeṣika system espouses seven categories[2]

  1. substance (dravya),
  2. quality (guṇa),
  3. activity (karma),
  4. generality (sāmānya),
  5. particularity (viśeṣa),
  6. inherence (samanvaya), and
  7. non-existence (abhāva).

1) Substance (dravya):

Substance or dravya is defined as the substance of qualities and activity and as inherent cause of a product.

Vaiśeṣikas describe nine substances[3]

  1. Earth
  2. Water
  3. Fire
  4. Air
  5. Ether
  6. Time
  7. Space
  8. Self (ātman)
  9. Mind (manas).

These 9 constitute the universe both physical and spiritual. The first four are part-less and eternal and made up of atoms. Everything in universe is created out of these four and into these four everything resolves. Ether is infinite and does not produce anything. Time and space are infinite like ether and they condition the derivative objects. Space is that which is filled by ether. Self is a spiritual entity and is omnipresent and eternal. Its attributes are cognition, desire, aversion, volition, pleasure, pain etc. Mind which is last substance is atomic and eternal. It is through the mind that ‘Self’ experiences and goes through transmigration.

2) Quality (guṇa):

Quality or guṇa is defined as that which has substance for its substratum, has no further qualities, and is not a cause of conjunction or disconjunction. Twenty-Four qualities are described,[4] some of them are material and some mental.

These are—

  1. Colour (rūpa)
  2. Taste (rasa)
  3. Smell (gandha)
  4. Touch (sparśa)
  5. Number (saṅkhyā)
  6. Measures (parimāṇa)
  7. Separateness (pṛthakatva)
  8. Conjunction (samyoga)
  9. Disconjunction (vibhāga)
  10. Remoteness (paravatva)
  11. Proximity (aparatva)
  12. Cognition (buddhi)
  13. Pleasure (sukha)
  14. Pain (duḥkha)
  15. Desire (icchā)
  16. Aversion (dveṣa)
  17. Effort (prayatna)
  18. Heaviness (gurutva)
  19. Fluidity (dravatva)
  20. Viscidity (sneha)
  21. Faculty (saṃskāra)
  22. Merit (dharma)
  23. Demerit (adharma)
  24. Word (śabda)

Some of the above qualities are common (sāmānya) and some are special (viśeṣa) of single substance.

3) Activity (karma):

Activity or karma has a special place in Vaiśeṣika system. It means physical motion and it is that which resides only in one substance, is devoid of qualities and is direct cause of conjunction and disjunction.

The motions are of five types[5]

  1. Upward (utkṣepaṇa)
  2. Downward (avakṣepaṇa)
  3. Contraction (ākuñcana)
  4. Expansion (prasaraṇa)
  5. Locomotion (gamana)

4) Generality (sāmānya):

Generality or sāmānya or jāti is the generic feature that resides in all the members of a class. It is the common characteristic by virtue of possessing which an individual becomes member of a class e.g. animality, man-ness etc. Generalities are of different grades; the highest is parā and the lowest is aparā. Sāmānya resides in substances, qualities and activities. The relation between sāmānya and the individual is inherence.

5) Particularity (viśeṣa):

Particularity or viśeṣa is an important category for the Vaiśeṣika, for on it depends their pluralism. Particularity distinguishes one individual from the other which are otherwise alike. This means there must be a special trait in each of the selves which sets it apart from others. This is called viśeṣa.

6) Inherence (samanvaya):

Inherence or samavāya is an intimate relationship between the inseparables. It is different from samyoga, which is temporary relation between the two substances. Samavāya relates to the entities which are inseparable i.e. at least one of them cannot remain without it’s relation to the other.

Inherence obtains between five kinds of inseparables—

  1. substance and quality
  2. substance and activity,
  3. particular and generality
  4. eternal substance and particularity and
  5. whole and parts.

7) Non-existence (abhāva):

Non-existence or abhāva represents all negative facts. It is defined as that which neither has samavāya nor is samavāya. It implies negation of something somewhere.

The four kinds of non-existence are–

  1. Prāgabhāva or prior non-existence like pot before coming into existence
  2. Pradhvamsābhāva or annihilative non-existence. This is non-existence of a thing after it is destroyed.
  3. Anyonyābhāva or reciprocal non-existence like A is not B the significance of ‘not’ is reciprocal non-existence. This type is eternal.
  4. Atyantābhāva or absolute non-existence, e.g. when we say that on this ground there is no pot, or when we say horns of a hare, it is atyantābhāva. This is also eternal.

Vaiśeṣika’s doctrines include–

1) Atomism[6] -This theory says that the physical world is reducible to the minimum divisible component called atoms which are material entities without parts. There are four types of atoms i.e. water, earth, fire and air. The atoms give rise to things by coming together in various ways. The variety observed in the universe is due to number of atoms that go into making of each entity and also to the qualitative differences between the qualities of atoms. This philosophical doctrine is also shared by Nyāya.

2) Theory of Causation[7] -This is also known as ārambhavāda (doctrine of new creation) and asatkāryavāda (doctrine of nonexistent effect). The effect does not exist prior to its production. The cause and effect are quite different from each other. Every product is new. Every whole that is constructed out of parts is different from the parts. This is the justification of Vaiśeṣika’s pluralism.

As regards the nature and destiny of the individual, Vaiśeṣikas believe in plurality of souls, each going through the samsāra in accordance with the past karma. Liberation or mokṣa is attained through good conduct and knowledge.

Concept of mokṣa as per Vaiśeṣika darśana:

Vaiśeṣika darśana has close resemblance to Nyāya darśana but still has some different point of view regarding concept of mokṣa. Vaiśeṣika darśana shares the same views about the state of liberation as that of Nyāya i.e. absolute annihilation of pain. The way to attain the liberation is however different according to Vaiśeṣika.

Vaiśeṣika darśana believes that the supreme good results from the knowledge produced by a particular dharma, of the essence, of the predictable, substance (dravya), attribute (guṇa), actions (karma), Genus (sāmānya), species (viśeṣa), and resemblance (samavāya) by means of their resemblance and differences. Other way described by Maharṣi Kaṇāda in Vaiśeṣika Sūtras to attain niḥśreyas is -

When we get knowledge of any object, it results from the contact of soul (ātma), mind and object, and knowledge of the object creates pleasure or pain. The soul is able to know about any object through mind and senses. For example, during study if the mind is thinking of something else, it cannot perceive the information. On the other hand, if there is a fault in the senses e.g. dumbness or deafness then that sense organ will not transmit any knowledge. Thus, for completing the process of knowledge, there should be a contact between soul, senses and the object. If the mind is concentrated on the soul, the senses will not work, as they are under the control of the mind and mind would remain calm and still in the knowledge of the ātma. A deeper practice of Yoga leads to a meditating mind on the ātma leading to ultimate attainment i.e. niḥśreyas.

Footnotes and references:


Nandalal Sinha (Tr.), The Vaiśeṣika Sūtras of Kaṇāda, S.N. Publications, Delhi, 1986,


Ibid., I.I.4.


Ibid., I.I.5.


Ibid., I.I.6.


Ibid., I.I.7.


Ibid., VII.1.8


Ibid., IV.1.1,3

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