One of the six orthodox doctrines of philosophy (shad darshan) of Hinduism, founded by Kanäda. It means “difference” and organizes the world into nine dravyas or substances.
Vaisheshika or Vaiśeṣika (Sanskrit: वैशेषिक) is one of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism (Vedic systems) from ancient India. In its early stages, the Vaiśeṣika was an independent philosophy with its own metaphysics, epistemology, logic, ethics, and soteriology. Over time, the Vaiśeṣika system became similar in its philosophical procedures, ethical conclusions and soteriology to the Nyāya school of Hinduism, but retained its difference in epistemology and metaphysics.
The epistemology of Vaiśeṣika school of Hinduism, like Buddhism, accepted only two reliable means to knowledge – perception and inference. Vaiśeṣika school and Buddhism both consider their respective scriptures as indisputable and valid means to knowledge, the difference being that the scriptures held to be a valid and reliable source by Vaiśeṣikas were the Vedas.
Vaisheshika school is known for its insights in naturalism, and it is a form of atomism in natural philosophy. It postulated that all objects in the physical universe are reducible to paramāṇu (atoms), and one’s experiences are derived from the interplay of substance (a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), quality, activity, commonness, particularity and inherence. Knowledge and liberation was achievable by complete understanding of the world of experience, according to Vaiśeṣika school of Hinduism.
Although the Vaisheshika system developed independently from the Nyaya school of Hinduism, the two became similar and are often studied together. In its classical form, however, the Vaishesika school differed from the Nyaya in one crucial respect: where Nyaya accepted four sources of valid knowledge, the Vaishesika accepted only two.
Vaisheshika espouses a form of atomism, that the reality is composed of four substances (earth, water, air, fire). Each of these four are of two types, explains Ganeri, atomic (paramāṇu) and composite. An atom is that which is indestructible (anitya), indivisible, and has a special kind of dimension, called “small” (aṇu). A composite is that which is divisible into atoms. Whatever human beings perceive is composite, and even the smallest perceptible thing, namely, a fleck of dust, has parts, which are therefore invisible. The Vaiśeṣikas visualized the smallest composite thing as a “triad” (tryaṇuka) with three parts, each part with a “dyad” (dyaṇuka). Vaiśeṣikas believed that a dyad has two parts, each of which is an atom. Size, form, truths and everything that human beings experience as a whole is a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements.
Vaisheshika postulated that what one experiences is derived from dravya (substance: a function of atoms, their number and their spatial arrangements), guna (quality), karma (activity), samanya (commonness), vishesha (particularity) and samavaya (inherence, inseparable connectedness of everything).