The term Vaisesika is derived from the Sanskrit word “visesa” – which means the characteristics that distinguish a particular thing from all other things. As a system of philosophy it teaches that knowledge of nature is obtained by knowing the distinguishing properties that distinguish 9 eternal realities: earth, water, fire, air, ether, time, space, soul and mind.
When we have knowledge of the distinguishing characteristics of reality, objects of perception will no longer awaken within us the feeling of attraction or aversion which is the source of all misery. This liberation from suffering cannot be attained by only the cessation of pain because the memory (Samskara) of past pains and the ever-present potential of future pains. This potentiality is an echo of consequences of past actions in the soul. It can be neutralized by practicing Yoga. But the prime requisite is claimed to be an intellectual insight into the true nature of reality.
The founder of Vaisesika was known, amongst other names, as Kanada: kana ~ atom, ad ~ eat = atom-eater. He was given this name because he resolved reality to it’s smallest possible division – “anu” in Sanskrit, commonly translated as “atom”.
Vaisesika accepts the universe as it is found in space, changing in time, displaying a medley of sounds, colors and forms of the phenomenal world. By the process of reason it organized this chaotic mass into a coherent and intelligible whole, and exhibits a system that sets forth the cosmic plan which shows the interrelation of all its parts into a synthetic whole, operating with such perfection that its very conception is spiritually exhilirating.
The principal question of the Vaisesika is “What are the basic realities of nature?”. There is no desire to indulge in intellectual speculation about the origin of things, but only to seek out the means of philosophical insight.
Vaisesika contains references to the laws which have served as the means of all ancient knowledge of the composition and transformation of substances, the action of forces on moving bodies, sciences dealing with heat, light, sound, electricity and magnetism. Even ethics, sociology and psychology are intimated.