Explain in detail the Vaiseshika metaphysics and the categories.

Vaisesika Metaphysics

Vaisesika metaphysics is pluralistic because it claims that variety, diversity, and plurality are the essence of reality. It is also claimed as real for the reason that particulars exist independently of our perceptions. Thus, Vaisesika metaphysics is pluralistic realism. But it is not materialistic pluralism. This is so because its pluralism includes not only material but also non-material entities, for example: time, souls (selves).

The vaisesika used the term “padartha” for categories. Padartha literally means “the meaning of a word” or “the thing or object referred to or signified by a word”. It is an object of knowledge, and capable of being named. Thus, it is
knowable (jneya) and nameable (abhidheya).


According to the Vaisesika system, all objects of valid knowledge come under seven categories. These are:

  1. Substance (Dravya)
  2. Quality (Guna)
  3. Action (Karma)
  4. Generality (Sâmânya)
  5. Particularly (Vaioeesa)
  6. Inherence (Samavâya)
  7. Non-existence (abhâva)

The first six categories are mentioned by Kanada and the last category ‘nonexistence’ is added later by his commentators. The above categories, with the exemption of abhava are all existence and are included in being. The nature of the categories is elucidated in details in the following subsections.

Substance (Dravya)

According to the Vaisesika, substance as an entity possesses qualities and action. It is the inherent or material cause of an effect. The genus of substance (dravyatva) inheres in it. It is not mere conglomeration of qualities and actions. It has a real and objective existence. It differs from qualities and actions because it is their substrate. They inhere in it. It is their substratum. Thus, it is said that a substance is the substrate of qualities and actions. Qualities and actions can be separated from substance. The reason is, they exist in a substance.

A substance is the material cause of its effect. This features states that a substance can have existence without qualities and actions. Qualities and actions in this sense are considered as the non-inherent cause of substance. For example, green colour of threads, which is a quality, is the non-inherent cause of a cloth.

Quality (Guna)

According to the Vaisesika philosophy, quality is that category which subsists in substance but in which no other quality or action can inhere. Qualities cannot exist without substance. A quality cannot belong to another quality or action, but only to a substance. Qualities are completely passive and don’t produce any objects.

A quality is devoid of quality. For example, colour is a quality of the substance. It is not a quality of its odours, tastes, and other qualities. Hence, qualities have no qualities. A quality is devoid of action. An action is caused by a substance. But the quality of a substance is incapable of doing actions. For example, a bird is flying. Here, fly as a motion is caused by the bird but not by the colours of its feathers. Hence, the colours are devoid of motion. Therefore, a quality has no motion. But it seems to be in motion because its substrate is in motion.

Action (Karma)

Action is physical motion. It resides in a substance like quality. It is dynamic and transient, and not like quality which is static and passive. An action cannot possess another action or quality. Substances are conjoined and separated because of action.

The existence of action is independent of being known. It is expressed by a word because it is known, and therefore nameable. Its existence is independent of its knowledge and expression. It resides in a substance which is its substrate.

Generality (Sâmânya)

According to the Vaisesika, generality is that category by virtue of which different individuals are grouped together and called by a common name indicating a class, e.g. bird, table, fruit, etc. The members of such groups have some properties in common. They have some general or common qualities which are to be found in the entire class. For example, the term ‘bird’ is a general name. It does not refer to this or that bird, but bird in general. Thus, objects or individuals possess similarity because they belong to a general class.

Particularity (Vaioeesa)

Particularity is referred to ‘individuality’ and understood as the opposite of generality. It indicates to the unique and specific individuality of eternal substances which have no parts. These substances are space, time, mind, ether, sound and the atoms of these elements. Thus, it is ultimate and eternal. It is because of particularity that individuals are differentiated and distinguished from each other.

This also causes the atoms of the same substances considered separately. Hence, each particular is unique in its nature. A particular is partless, and therefore cannot be divided further. Since each particular is unique in its nature and distinguishable from other particulars, there are enumerable particulars found. Thus, the particulars are eternal, part less and enumerable. They are invisible because we cannot have perceptional cognition to them.

Inherence (Samavâya)

Inherence is an inseparable and intimate relation between two entities, one of which is incapable of existsing separately or independently apart from the other. Inherence relation is eternal. It cannot be separated from its substrate. For example, colour of a flower, motion in water, smell of earth, etc. Inherence should not be understood mistaken as ‘conjunction’. In conjunction, the relation between two substances can be separated. It is momentary and non-eternal, while inherence is eternal.

Non-existence (Abhâva)

Non-existence as the seventh category of vaisesika substance is not mentioned by Kanada. It is added later by his commentators. The Vaisesika upholds that non-existence, like existence is perceivable. Non-existence is the absence of an object. For example, no one can deny the absence of the sun on the dark cloud of a rainy day. Hence, it is a necessary category in Vaisesika system.

(Source: BPY005/Block 1/Unit 2/Vaisesika Philosophy/Page 21)

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