“I distrust the extremes. Scratch a conservative and you find someone who prefers the past over any future. Scratch a liberal and find a closet aristocrat.”
Frank Herbert

God Emperor of Dune

Vaisesika – Paramanus


The first four Eternal Realities: Earth, Water, Fire & Air are together considered Paramanus – which are the ultimate elements out of which they are composed:  anu ~ that beyond which there can be no division, parama ~ superlative. Paramanu is the smallest possible division of matter or that whole which has no parts. By definition they are without parts, which means they were not produced, cannot be destroyed (since destruction involves separation of parts), and are therefor eternal. For the same reason they have no magnitude, do not occupy space and have no inside or outside. They can only be conceived by the mind.

We do not doubt the actual existence of sensible matter of the objective world. The fact that it is something apart from ourselves is proved from the fact that it does not yield to our influence as do ideas and thoughts of the mental world which we can call into being and banish at our will. If, then, the sensible world exists, it must be made of Paramanus, which are the logical ultimates of all things.

The emptiness of matter has been proved by scientists employing western methods. They have been able to show that a block of marble contains more space than solid substance. It has been established that all mass is composed of atoms in which the distance between the nucleus and other constituents are proportionately the same as the planets of our solar system. If all sensible matter did not contain empty space, we could not accept the axiom that the Universe is pervaded by some cosmic force or power (whatever you choose to call it).

If science has shown us that matter is merely an extension of the invisible, a question arises, how can something of magnitude be produced from something without magnitude?

From Nothing to Something

Consider a point, defined as that which has neither parts nor extent, but position only. It occupies no space, has no inside or outside, no parts and is not produced and cannot be destroyed. Therefore it is eternal, has no magnitude – no length, breadth or thickness. This positional reality is what is implied by Anu and Paramanu.

If at least two points (anus) associate themselves along a common axis the resultant effect is a line which is defined as a series of related positions – in Sanskrit “Dvyanuka”.

To produce thickness (necessary for creation of all visible phenomena having magnitude), it is necessary for at least 3 lines to associate themselves in such a manner that they will combine to form an integral whole – in Sanskrit “Tryanuka”. To produce this form, 3 lines must remain apart and relate themselves on different plants so as not form a more extended line. They produce an independent unit, operating as a separate system with its own sphere of influence apart from the individual points (anus) from which it is made. Thus we have all visible forms known to us in the objective world, varying only in the degree of intensity of the association (forming anything from vaporous clouds or glittering diamonds).

So in the last analysis, everything is but an appearance of an intangible reality; that appearance is the magnitude called mass, which is only a means of measurement and not an actual reality.

Special Properties

The Paramanus are beyond the range of perception, their existence is known only by the manifestation of their inherent attributes. Some attributes are common to all Paramanus (for example: when they come together to produce forms of the objective world they are all impenetrable) – but these General Qualities do not enable us to isolate and comprehend the ultimate variables out of which all things are produced (the diversity of which assures us that there must be several types of ultimate Paramanus).

There are differentiating attributes which enable us to distinguish between different Paramanus. These attributes are so closely related with their substances – that their removal means absence of substance – if you remove wetness from water, there is no water. These are called Special Properties (Visesas) and it is by them that the Paramanus must be qualified. There are 4 such attributes: Odor, Flavor, Form & Touch. An examination of the objective world will clearly show us that there are certain forms of matter that are closely related to these special properties (removal of fragrance from perfume destroys it). These substances are Earth (Prthivi), Water (Apana), Fire (Tejas) & Air (Vayu). They are an objective manifestation of their underlying Paramanus.

Accordingly the Paramanus can be classified as:

  1. The Paramanus which originate odor.
  2. The Paramanus which originate flavor.
  3. The Paramanus which originate form.
  4. The Paramanus which originate touch.

Matter & Senses

The four substances are described in the sutras from gross to subtle:

  1. Earth has odor, flavor, form & touch.
  2. Water has flavor, form & touch.
  3. Fire has form & touch.
  4. Air has touch.

These four categories of matter make themselves know to us by means of special senses which must be made from the same essential ingredients (artificial pressure on the optic nerve produces light). We know that each sense is capable of perceiving only one of the Special Properties, for example the eye can see only forms, ever smell odors or taste flavors. Since nothing can be found that is composed by anything besides these four basic realities they are considered the foundation and the ultimate constituents of all things in the objective world of sensible matter.

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  • By Heart of Matter | iamronen on September 7, 2009 at 12:24 pm

    […] found an inspiring description of the elements in Vaisesika Philosophy. It is a practical approach that claims that the fact that are diverse materials and objects in […]

  • By Yoga Sutra – Chapter 1 Sutra 1 | iamronen on June 15, 2010 at 8:24 am

    […] into “anusasanam”. I remembered the word “anu” from reading about Vaisesika philosophy: Consider a point, defined as that which has neither parts nor extent, but position only. It […]

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