Doctrine: Vaisheshika and Nyaya


The Greek philosopher Democritus (460–370 BCE) may not have been the first to propound atomism.

Debate has played an important role within Hinduism, showing that spiritual commitment was not inconsistent with philosophical inquiry. Hinduism has little time for armchair philosophy, and demands high standards of personal integrity. If a scholar lost a debate, he would often become the student-disciple of the victor. This painting shows a debate between the bhakti revivalist, Chaitanya, and a famous religious leader of the day.The scholar was defeated, and became one of Chaitanya's leading followers.


Vaisheshika, another orthodox school, was founded by Kanada (circa 600 BCE). In much the same way as the Greeks, he describes the elements, their characteristics and their interrelations. He mentions atoms and molecules and infers the existence of the atman through specific symptoms. Despite a philosophical approach, he stresses dharma as a means to both prosperity and liberation, and prescribes many traditional practices such as fasting, celibacy, and service to the guru.

Kanada states that since all material objects are constructed from atoms, they are products rather than causes, and the causes are the irreducible particles themselves. He introduces the principle of adrishta, an unknown invisible cause. Although Kanada's philosophy is non-theistic, later doctrines built upon the notion of adrishta to propose God as the remote cause of everything: it is God who orchestrates the dynamic interrelations between the innumerable atoms.


Nyaya systems trace their beginnings back to the disputations of Vedic scholars. At the time of the Upanishads, debate was cultivated as an art, following prescribed rules in which the elements of logical proof were contained. The school of Nyaya attempts to define a system of logic as a way to truth and liberation. It is a discipline aimed at reversing the folly and mistaken notions that bind the soul.The Navya-Nyaya (New School of Logic) developed from the twelfth century and specialised in epistemology. It acknowledges four legitimate means of obtaining knowledge:

  1. pratyaksha – sense perception
  2. anumana – inference or deduction
  3. upamana – analogy
  4. shabda – literally "sound," referring to scriptural authority

These four are all considered valid, but without shabda the others are considered unreliable and potentially misleading. This rationale forms much of the foundation for the epistemological authority granted to Vedic writings.

Nyaya has also developed a sophisticated syllogism that has five stages as opposed to the three of Aristotle. Unique to Indian philosophy, and found in Nyaya texts, are arguments for the existence of Ishvara (God). Many of the currently popular theistic schools draw significantly from Nyaya. Of all the Hindu systems, Nyaya enjoys the greatest respect from Western philosophers, who are beginning to realise the subtleties and intricacies of Indian logic.

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