Essay on Paramanuvada (Atomism) inVaisesika Philosophy

Paramanuvada or Atomism:

According to the Vaisesika thinkers, all composite objects of the universe are composed of the atoms of earth, water, air and fire. Hence the view of the Vaisesika concerning creation is called atomism or paramanuvada.

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Atomism postulates the cycle of creation and destruction of the non-eternal or temporary substances of the universe. The eternal categories or substances of the universe namely, ether, space, time, mind, earth and physical elements are neither created nor destroyed.


Creation and God:

The Vaisesika atomism is spiritual. God is the one who directs the motion of atoms. God is the guiding principle controlling the motion of atoms. He creates motions in the material particles in order that the living beings may be rewarded or punished according to their past tendencies.

Creation and destruction of the universe takes place in agreement with the wishes of God. Maheswara is the ruler and owner of the entire universe which is all he surveys. This cycle of creation and destruction is continuing over entire time.

Creation of Atoms:


Creation is the name given to phenomenon where by the old order is destroyed and the new created. Upon God deciding to create the universe, the bodies and external substances appear as the means of rewarding the past tendencies of the living being and they are even formed according to these past tendencies of the souls. These past tendencies then start instigating the souls in those directions.

All these are the result of the universe, its four substances which are effects, the daid, the traid and its various conjuctions. Atoms combine because of their motion. This motion is due to adrsta or past tendency and the activity of the adrsta is inspired by God. The combination or conjuction of two atoms is inferred.

Being microscopic or infinitesimal it cannot be perceived. The triad or the trianuka is the smallest particle of matter that can be perceived. It is formed by the conjuction of three diads. Then, in this sametime period, the elements have their origin. The elements formed out of these atoms are air, water, earth and fire.

Once air is created it starts flowing in the external ether. Water is also mixed with the air and starts flowing. In the same way, earth and fire live in water. In this way, the entire universe comes into existence by the mere thought process of the God. It is the seed form of the material and fiery atoms.


This universe in guided by Brahman or the World Soul, who is ‘the very manifestation of knowledge, detachment and excedence. Brahman guides the creation in such a manner that the individual souls continue to experience pain and pleasure according to their previous action. All this vast machinery is put into action by the desire of God.


The circle of creation and destruction has no beginning. The souls get rest and space in destruction only after they have passed through many births and deaths, continually experiencing pain and pleasure. One creation between two destruction is called ‘Kalpa’. When the time is ripe, the World soul also relinguishes its body like the common souls.

God desires to bring destruction on the universe. The moment Maheswara so desires the past tendencies of the souls vanish for some time and their bodies break up into their composite atoms. Similarly, the physical elements also vanish when their composing atoms are dispered.

In the residuam are the atoms of the four elements, five eternal substances and tendencies created by the meritorious or notorious activities of the souls. They form the constitutive elements of the following creation. The Nyana Vaiserikas are asatkarya vadins and their view is also called the arambhavada or Paramanu Karanavada.

Vaisesika and Greek Atomism:

The Vairesikas are agreed with the Greek atomism of Leucippus and Democritus that the atom is indivisible partless, imperceptible, ultimate and eternal and it is the material cause of this physical universe. But further the two views differ in the following respects:

(i) According to the Greek atonism, the atoms are similar in quality, but they differ in respect of quantity or number. The Vaisesikas attribute a difference of both quantity and quality in the atoms.

(ii) Greek atomists do not attribute any secondary qualities to atoms but the Vaiserikas accept these qualities in the atoms.

(iii) The Greek atomists believe that atoms are by their nature dynamic but the Vaiserikas accept them as static by nature.

(iv) According to the Greek view, souls are composed of these atoms but according to the Vaiserikas souls and atoms are different and both are individually but equally eternal and independent.

Criticism of Atomism:

Samkara has criticised the Vaiserika atomism in the following manner: –

(i) If there is qualitative difference in the atoms there should also be some difference in their weights.

(ii) If the atoms have qualitative, then how can they be eternal? If the qualities of atoms are also eternal then how can it be accepted that were no qualities in free souls and substances etc.?

(iii) If the qualities of the cause are transferred to the effect then why is it that the spherical nature of the atom is not transferred to the dyad and the minuteness and destructibility of the dyad is not transferred to the triad ?

(iv) If the effect is not in the cause then anything should be caused by anything else and not by some particular cause?

(v) Atoms are neither active nor inactive nor both nor neither. If they are active then creation will become permanent. If they are inactive creation will be impossible. They cannot be both active as well as inactive since these qualities are mutually contradictory and cannot stay together, as is the case with light and darkness. If atoms are neither active nor inactive, then mothen or activity should be introduced by some external cause.

(vi) Now is this external cause past tendency (drsta) or present tendency (adrsta)-? If it is past tendency then it cannot have existed before creation. If it is present tendency then it will always accompany the atoms and creation will become permanent, and if the atoms are not postulated to be in close proximity with past tendency creation becomes impossible. In this way, it is impossible for there to be creation with atoms in any manner.

The Jaina conception of the atom, like that of the Greeks and the Vaisesika, regards it as one, eternal and indivisible unit of the material elements. But it differs from the Vaisesika view and agrees with the Greek view in that it maintains no qualitative differences among the atoms. The atoms are all homogeneous and become differentiated into heterogeneous elements by different combinations. More ever the Jainas do not regard the qualities of the atoms as permanent, while the Vaisesika does.

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