ABSTRACT

What emerges from the foregoing enunciation of Vaiśeṣika views ‘On Knowing and what is to be Known’ is summarised here:

The system of Vaiśeṣika, propounded by an ancient Indian sage Kaṇāda, holds an important place in Indian philosophy not only owing to its realistic standpoint, but also because it deals with the basic human predicament as to how one can both attain material progress (abhyudaya) and accomplish the highest good (niḥśreyasa) 1 .

The Vaiśeṣika school embarks upon the journey of human understanding with the simple but significant premise of explaining the nature of ‘dharma’, which is the theme of knowing but is so wide in its scope that it cannot be defined in a precise manner, nor can it be rendered precisely in any other language. 2

Accordingly the objects of knowing (padārthas) in Vaiśeṣika are discussed with the objective of ascertaining the true nature of reality. Reality in turn is so vast and variegated that it is almost impossible to know each and every object in its own nature. Therefore, all the objects of the world are classified in six categories in classical Vaiśeṣika. 3 Later a seventh category, negation or non-being (abhāva), was added to the list so as to make it more comprehensive and it was claimed that there is nothing in the universe which does not fall under any one of these categories:

The project of a comprehensive inventory, not just of a particular type of entities but of whatever there is, and the idea of an enumeration that includes and supersedes all other enumerations are central to this self understanding.

(Halbfass 1993, p. 70)

It is worth emphasising that the Vaiśeṣika list of categories envisages a co-extensive presence of each individual entity, from the innumerable and most minute atoms to the most pervasive single substances like ether, space, time and multiple number of selves as well as God.

More importantly, it has also been suggested that in the Indian philosophical 111tradition this ‘enumerative description of world constituents’ can be of a different pattern altogether:

It may be an enumerative description of cosmic schemes, that is, a ‘vertical’ enumeration of stages of evolution, or a ‘horizontal’ classification of ultimate entities and classes of entities. In the history of classical Indian philosophy, Sāṁkhya and Vaiśeṣika exemplify these different types of cosmological enumeration.

(Halbfass 1993, p. 48)

Once the scope of a study is set, the question of methods to be employed in undertaking the study must be mentioned. Kaṇāda has elucidated twin methods of knowing, similarity (sādharmya) and dissimilarity (vaidharmya), at the beginning of his discourse. These methods in turn are only suggestive, and an application of these may be extended further as has been demonstrated by Udayanācārya, an exponent of Vaiśeṣika philosophy. 4

Next comes the question of types of knowing and ways of knowing. The Vaiśeṣika philosophy, like all other schools of Indian philosophical tradition, has accepted that true knowledge of the reals (tattvajñāna) accepted here is in fact the path to perfection. Therefore defining and classifying the cognition is of paramount importance for classical Vaiśeṣika scholars. Kaṇāda classifies cognition primarily in two types; these two are again divided into four types of each:

non-veridical (avidyā):

doubt (saṁśaya);

error (viparyaya);

irresolute cognition (anadhyavasāya);

dream (svapna).

veridical (vidyā):

perceptive cognition (pratyakṣajñānam);

inferential cognition (laiṅgikajñānam);

memory (smrtijñānam);

intuitive cognition (ārṣajñānam).

Praśastapāda has simply characterised cognition (jñāna) as a synonym of knowledge (buddhi), understanding (upalabdhi) and becoming aware (pratyaya), but in the later tradition of Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika, a subtle distinction has been drawn between cognition (jñāna) and true cognition (pramā). 5 Divisions and subdivisions of these two types of knowing have already been discussed in this book according to the sources of classical Vaiśeṣika.