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Some Inter-related Themes of Indian Cosmology

P. K. Mukhopadhyay


The expression Bhuta is often translated in English as element. We shall see later that these two expressions are not exact synonyms. Keeping that in mind we may for ordinary purposes use the two words interchangeably. The Bhutas or the elements constitute one of the most primitive fields of human inquiry known as cosmology. Interest in the themes of this field is most pervasive and abiding. Hardly there is a culture which can claim maturity but did not develop quite early in its history cosmology of some form or other. At the same time it is still one of the developing areas of one of the most developed branches of science. Cosmology has proved itself to be one of those areas of human knowledge which can be said to be a meeting point of speculative philosophy and experimental science, traditional wisdom and modern discovery, theology and mythology on the one hand and secular positivistic inquiry on the other. Two of the most ancient and developed civilizations of human history — the Vedic and the Hellenistic -— gifted to the world very rich cosmological ideas and insights. In none of these two cultures science and philosophy seem to be as sharply distinguished as in modern European culture. While the Hellenistic culture was later on completely overthrown or overtaken by or absorbed into the culture of Christianised Europe, the Vedic culture is still maintaining its separate identity. But the cosmological ideas of the Greeks are far more widely known than the contributions the Indian seers and philosophers made in this field. Time has come when the scientists with the right frame of mind may discover useful cosmological insights which did not receive due emphasis in the hands of teachers of Indian philosophy and Puranas. Even if much meaningful use of the cosmological ideas of the Indian scholars of the classical age cannot be made, it may be found immensely interesting how in those days the scholars discovered, formulated and tackled the relevant questions and if we can add anything of significance along that line or find any constructive criticism to offer. It is in itself a very rewarding task to see if and how far we can integrate modern discoveries and advances in the field of knowledge into the everchanging and everdeveloping framework of thought which is still continuous with the classical thinking.

In different types of literature of the Vedic culture one finds discussions on or mention of bhutas. But we do not have a neat name like cosmology. Srstiprakarana (portion of text devoted to the theme of creation) is a necessary part of the type of literature called Puranas. Though in almost every system of darsana (roughly, philosophy) and in most text books of darsana the topic of bhuta finds a place, yet it does not seem to be a necessary part of darsana in the same sense of the term in which it is a necessary part of Puranas. Every distinguishable system of philosophical thought has definite view about bhuta and sarga. Even those Indian schools of thought which are non-Vedic or anti-Vedic are no exception. In this paper I shall present some of the Vedic cosmological ideas. But for this purpose I shall not reproduce accounts which are available in the Vedas, Upanisadas, Puranas or Tantras — which constitute that division of the corpus of the Vedic literature which may be called agamic and which is more strongly exhortatory and practical. I would rather draw on accounts available in the other division of the Vedic literature which may be called analytical and empirical and which is more strongly theoretical. One finds faithful elaborations and creative use of the Vedic thoughts and insights in the classical analytical literature which are not direct commentaries on the Vedas and Upanisads but are works of those philosophical schools which are known as astika school because they accept the Veda as source of knowledge and truth. Compared to these philosophical works the Vedas, the Puranas and Tantras and even the Upanisads often leave their analytical theoretical contents on many matters hidden; this one does not and perhaps cannot hope to find in independent historical and even analytical works of those recent scholars who do not belong to the tradition of the believing theoreticians and practitioners of the Vedic culture. This is bound to happen in every old civilization which in course of history has come in contact with other civilizations and myriad influences from outside as well as stress and strain from within. One respect in which the analytical works of philosophical literature are greater aid in understanding some concepts of the Vedas is that in such literature the relevant concept is presented and discussed in its proper perspective of a network of other concepts. The concept of bhuta for example is found much more clearly in its relationships to such other concepts as kala (time), dik (space), samkhya (number), kriya including all form of physical motion and movement, karanata (causality), sarga (creation), ‘chaos’ or a state prior to or after the creation) and the like. It is in the context of these other concepts or in relation to them that one can hope to discover the rich theoretical potentiality of the concept of bhuta. Such analytical elaborations of ancient ideas or of views adumbrated in ancient literature go generally by the name philosophy considered as fairly good synonym for the Sanskrit term darsana. One difficulty is it seems that in recent times particularly in the community of British and American philosophers it is believed that philosophy is necessarily non-science or pseudo-science, it is taken as speculative (in somewhat derogatory sense perhaps) or analytic whereas science, at least natural science, is necessarily empirical and factual. Besides in European theoretical tradition it seems that cosmology is either scientific or mythological. But just as science-philosophy dichotomy is generally unknown in India at least in the sense in which it is familiar in contemporary West so also the account of bhuta and sarga we are going to derive from or reconstruct along the line of classical Indian philosophical schools is not mythological; if it is not scientific it is philosophical. It may incidentally be noted that to translate Purana as mythology is inaccurate, similarly inaccurate it seems to translate the word science as vijnana. In this sense it is sometimes used in modern Indian languages as Bengali but not in classical Vedic literature. As translation of modern European science the word vijnana does not seem to have any currency in old literature.

Philosophical schools or darsana sampradayas of India including the Vedic or astika schools differ more in their account of sarga than in their theory of bhutas. There is a large amount of agreement also. In the second section I shall note some of these points of similarities and dissimilarities between some Indian schools of thought. In the next section I shall reconstruct some of the more specific and salient features of the old nyaya and modern nyaya-vaisesika schools which are best known for their rigorous analytical approach at least to theoretical questions.


Vedanta paribhasa is a widely read elementary text book of Advaita Vedanta. First two lines of the invocation verse with which the book begins read:

(I) yadavidyavilasena bhutabhautika srstayah

    tamnaumi paramatmanam saccidanandavigraham.

Tattvacintamani of Gangesopadhyaya is the major source book of nyaya which marked the beginning of modern age in the history of nyaya school. This book makes many references to God or Isvara at different places and stages of its development. Among these are

(II) a. yah srstisthitivilayakarmani tanute


     b. jagatnirmatrpurusadhaureyasiddhi

The first of these passages occurs in the invocation verse with which Tattvacintamani begins and the second occurs in the first sentence of the last section of the second or Anumana part of the book in which Gangesa developed the nyaya analytical theory of inference. In (I) or according to the representative view of the advaita vedanta in the matter srsti or creation of the universe has within its scope both the bhutas or the elements and bhautika, meaning things created out of bhutas or elements. In other words (I) bears evidence to the fact that according to some Indian schools of thought creation is of two types (i) creation of (all or some) bhutas themselves and (ii) creation of the bhautikas. One common point between the views (I) and (II) is that creation of anything presupposes existence of some stuff which is either the constituent and continuent cause of the created or some other kind of cause of it. The distinction between these two types of cause is not very important so long we confine ourselves to what may loosely be called material creation but what is more strictly speaking creation of matter, whether at the macro level as when a clay jar is produced, or at the micro level as when first two units of some bhuta are combined and a matter having the simplest structure is created. Unless stated otherwise, by bhautika srsti we shall mean here the creation of matter out of bhutas or out of some material parts (avayavas) which they are themselves created out of bhutas or of material parts which are and so on. That bhautika srsti presupposes ultimately the existence of bhutas is admitted by the advocates of both (I) and (II). Since it is also admitted that creation of anything presupposes some pre-existing stuff, the followers of the view (I) would not only accept that the creation of type (ii) presupposes ultimately the existence of bhutas, they would also admit that the bhutas are not the most basic or primordial stuff of creation. For creation of type (i) there must be some more basic form of matter than the bhutas. We owe it to the Samkhya philosophers that this more basic stuff out of which the bhutas are themselves created is tanmatra. Corresponding to five types of bhutas there are five tanmatras. Important point to note is that the followers of the views (I) and (II) do not disagree as to the denotation of the term bhuta. Samkhya and Advaita Vedanta philosophers for example do not mean to say that the upholders of the view (II) especially the Naiyayikas are wrong, when they think that bhuta paramanus are not created; they too are created and as such are not the basic stuff of creation or bhuta in the true sense of the term; and the basic stuff are the tanmatras out of which are produced both the bhutas and bhautika things. To put it otherwise, the advocates of the view (I) do not mean to say that paramanus, say, are not bhutas but tanmatras are bhutas. They on the other hand admit bhutas, but since in their opinion these bhutas are also created substances and every created thing presupposes existence of more basic stuff they admit still simpler constituents of creation viz., tanmatras.

Be that as it may. Unlike the Samkhya and Advaitavedanta philosophers who subscribe to the view (I), the Naiyayikas and the Vaisesikas understand by srsti type (ii) creation only. This difference among the astika schools may be taken as difference in interpretation of relevant passages of the Veda and also of other texts and passages of agamic literature. Whereas in agamic literature sarga has been talked about and almost all the different views about sarga later developed by the theoreticians in the analytical literature were adumbrated, philosophers of the group unholding the view (I) came to believe that srsti necessarily means bhautika srsti or creation ultimately out of the bhutas. While the Advaitavedantins believe that these bhutas are also created, the Samkhya philosophers maintain that the tanmatras out of which the (mahabhutas are created did not themselves exist there always, not at least in the form of tanmatras.

Thinkers upholding the views (I) and (II) however agree among themselves on one point and that is this. There is or has been such a thing as creation. Even though in matters of technical details creation is to be understood differently. These philosophers agree that the universe or jagat was created and this creation of jagat as a whole is in addition to such creation as manufacturing of a clay jar by a potter or conceiving of a human baby. But there is a third view (III) na kadapi anidrsam jagat. According to this view, advocated by some Mimamsaka philosophers, there never had been a state when no universe was there or jagat was yet to be created. This difference between the two groups of philosophers lead to another difference among them. Their commitment to the view that the universe was created at a certain point of time committed the advocates of the views (I) and (II) by implication to the view that there had been a state prior to the state of creation of the universe. This is the state of pralaya or roughly speaking, chaos. The upholders of the view (III) consistently with their other views deny a state of cosmic pralaya — a state marked by future possibility of jagat as a whole. Those who believe in a state of cosmic pralaya often believe in cycles of creation and chaos. In their opinion every cosmic creation is preceded necessarily by a state of cosmic pralaya; they also believe that all but one state of cosmic creation ends with the advent of a new state of cosmic pralaya. The state of cosmic creation, which ends as it must but does not end in such cosmic pralaya as is marked by the future possibility of creation, is known as last creation, and the state of pralaya in which this creation terminates is called mahapralaya, which is defined as or is marked by the absence of every created positive thing. In the opinion of the majority of Indians though the cycles of cosmic creation and dissolution has a final termination, there is no first beginning. Ignoring this point which is of great theoretical importance for the Indian thinkers some Western physicists of recent time tend to argue what the Indians call the cycles of srsti and pralaya or cosmic creation and cosmic dissolution is essentially the same thing or the anticipation of the energy — matter exchanges of quantum physics. For our present purpose it is not necessary either to support or criticize the attempt to find a link between some classical thoughts of India and some discoveries of modern science. I have written something elsewhere about what should better be our stand in such matters. It may, however, be reiterated that the usual way in which cosmological accounts are classified, viz., that such account is either scientific or mythological — does not seem to be adequate. In fact the cosmological account we are going to reconstruct following the cue to be found in the analytical literature of the Indian philosophical school of Nyaya is not only not mythological, it is not even just speculative. It is not for that matter that we know today as scientific cosmology of astrophysics. The nyaya theory of Bhautika srsti is scientific in the sense of not being purely speculative. It is better to call it analytical in a broad sense. For without ceasing to be rigorously analytical it successfully combines in it various strands and considerations such as theological-anthropomorphic, structural-analytical and empirical-causal.

The first point to note about the nyaya-vaisesika theory of bhautika srsti or cosmic creation is that it is not a theory of material or physical creation in the narrow sense of the term. It includes creation of least complex matter such as a dyad formed out of just two simplest and smallest units of matter and also things like a clay jar and its colour on the one hand and such organic matter as a human body on the other. Further the process of creation includes both physical and chemical transformations. The second point to note is that the ultimate stuff and material component of bhautika srsti or the bhutas, are not theoretical abstractions or constructs but are believed to be actual existents. Among many actual and possible questions relating to the bhutas two deserve to be especially discussed. In the first place the two notions and expressions of bhuta and paramanu are to be distinguished. This is also very much necessary if one wants to introduce the English expression element as synonym of either or both. It is required of a bhuta that it should be structurally simple (suksma and niravayava) unit of matter (jada dravya); it is not further needed that it should be the smallest or infinitely small (paramanu-rupa). Nor it is a part of the meaning of the term bhuta that it must be a constituent part of some actual or possible created matter in the sense in which the constituent material part of a created matter is necessarily smaller in dimension (parimana) than the matter thus created. Thus structural simplicity of a bhuta is not to be confused with infinitesimally small dimension of it; it is to be understood rather as unanalysability. A bhuta cannot be structurally, physically or conceptually broken into further simpler units of matter (avayava).

The second important point for discussion in the nyaya theory of bhautika srsti is how bhutas combine and what sort of combination of what bhutas can amount to creation. Unlike philosophers of some other Indian school the naiyayikas hold that bhutas of anyone of the five types cannot combine with the bhutas of any other type; at least one bhuta of one type, say, prthivi or earth cannot combine with another bhuta of another type, say, water or ap in a way in which two bhutas of one type, say, of earth or water can combine. This tenet of nyaya-vaisesika school has a far reaching consequence; however complex internally and structurally a particular material substance may be, it is eka bhautika. But every created substance must have more than one or aneka material constituents and hence ultimately aneka bhuta as its constituents. If thus every created matter must contain aneka bhutas and also must necessarily be eka bhautika, then the bhutas must be distinguished both quantitatively numerically as well as qualitatively. Akasa is a bhuta and it is numerically one. It, however, differs qualitatively from any single bhuta of any one of the other four types of bhutas. Such qualitative difference is not there between any two bhutas of the same single type. Thus whereas any two bhutas of one qualitative group or kind such as prthivi or tejas are merely numerically quantitatively different, two bhutas of two qualitatively different kinds such as prthivi and tejas differ both numerically and qualitatively. In other words there necessarily obtains quantitative and numerical difference between two bhutas irrespective of whether or not they belong to the same class, and qualitative difference obtains only when they are of two different kinds. Be that as it may, one necessary implication of the view, that all created matter is eka bhautika, is that not only one element or bhuta cannot be changed into another bhuta, but no substance of one bhuta can be changed into substance of another bhuta. What it meant for the project of alchemy seemed to have been well understood in the classical period of nyaya also. On this theory it becomes easy to classify substances into various bhuta classes. Each substance belongs exclusively to one of the five bhuta classes; it is prthivi or parthiva or it is tejas or taijasa and so on. But those who believe that almost as a rule a created matter whether organic or inorganic is aneka bhautika, in fact pancabhautika, we need a principal to decide when a pancabhautika substance is parthiva and when it is taijasa and the like. To simplify the matter one principle is that of preponderance; a created matter is grouped in that bhuta-class, the number of constituent of which class is the greatest or most preponderant. Exact measure of preponderance has also been worked out in the theory of Pancikarana about which we have written elsewhere. A pancabhautika dravya is parthiva, as fifty per cent of its constituent bhutas or one part of it, if it is evenly broken into two matching parts, is prthivi.

The theory of eka bhautika dravyas of the naiyayikas should be carefully understood. The naiyayikas do not deny that a gross material body whether organic or inorganic does contain more than one kind of bhuta or bhautika dravya as constituent. Thus a normal and common material substance of the macro world contains usually all the five bhutas. So far in a loose sense all types of bhuta are found in a state of conjunction or combination in the body of one gross substance. But suppose in such a substance S there are two prthivi or parthiva elements and also constituents which belong to other four bhuta or bhautika class, how are we to decide whether the substance is parthiva or jaliya and the like? A human body is a case in point; it certainly has as constituent water, air, fire, akasa and prthivi. How does a naiyayika decide that the organic matter called human body is parthiva? We shall return to this soon. But we must first clarify a bit further what type of material or physical substance the bhutas are and what are other types of substances.

All the actual and possible things that may be found to be there in the universe or constitute it have been broadly divided into seven fundamental kinds or seven padarthas by the naiyayikas. Of these the first is called dravya or substance which again has been subdivided into nine classes: ksiti (earth), ap (water), tejas (fire), marut (air), and vyoma, kala (time), dik (space), atma (soul), and manas (internal sense-organ). There are various ways or principles of classification according to which these substances may be classified or grouped. By choosing different principles at the same time we may even produce cross divisions of these substances. One important principle according to which these are distinguished into different groups is whether or not a substance is available in a form in which it is created. Each one of these nine substances is available in eternal or uncreated form. But the first four are also found in created form. The fact that the first four substances are available both in created and uncreated forms and that in their uncreated form they are not only partless but can themselves form parts of created substances make this distinction most important from the point of view of the theory of bhautika srsti. In their uncreated or eternal form these substances are known as paramanu. So whereas there are five bhutas, there are only four types of bhuta paramanus. The fifth bhuta or akasa is only available in the eternal and uncreated form. Hence so far as this bhuta is concerned there is no distinction between nitya and janya. The other bhutas are available in the nitya or paramanu form and in the janya or created form. Strictly speaking no bhuta is itself caused.

A created substance is necessarily created ultimately out of the (nitya) paramanus of one of the four bhutas. When a substance is thus created we call it an instance of janya bhuta of the respective type. Eka bhautika substances are really the only janya bhutas. Now since every janya dravya is eka bhautika and since the model of creation is combination of paramanus of respective type, there must be admitted indefinite number of paramanus of each of the four types. The number of paramanus to be admitted in the case of any single bhuta or substance of anyone of the first four is related to such other questions as whether the paramanus can really be partless, and this in its turn is related to the question whether the paramanus can really combine to create a bhautika substance of the same bhuta kind. In addition to these we shall not have a fully worked out rational and analytical theory of bhuta and cosmic creation till we can clarify the nature of the combination, its effectiveness and possibility which is supposed to create a whole universe out of tiny bits of matter known as bhutas. One thing is clear: if bhutas are to combine to produce a bhautika substance and only the substance that can be produced is bhautika, every bhuta must be an actual or possible constituent of some bhautika dravya. But by the principle that paramanus of different bhutas cannot combine, combination of paramanus or bhutas means necessarily combination of paramanus of one bhuta only. Unless therefore a bhuta is numerically many or at least two, it cannot enter into effective combination that can explain creation. A bhuta, which is numerically one, cannot participate in any bhautika srsti as constituent of created substance. Akasa or vyoma for this reason cannot be the constituent of any bhautika substance and it cannot combine with any substance in the sense or in the way in which two paramanus of anyone of the first four bhutas can combine. But for all that, akasa is counted among the bhutas and it is also admitted to be capable of combining with other bhutas and substances in some sense.

Now the uncreated bhutas which admit of numerical difference and are numerically many are paramanu in nature. What about the bhuta which is even numerically one? The naiyayikas hold that this bhuta is infinitely vast or is ubiquitous. By contrast the paramanus are minutest parts of bhautika substances. Thus while part of the meaning of paramanu is that it is the simplest material constituent or avayava of the smallest ever substance to be produced, being material part of a substance is no part of the meaning of bhuta. Bhutas are therefore available in two forms, infinitely large (vibhu rupa) and infinitely small (paramanu rupa); the former type of bhuta cannot be constituent of any created matter also because a constituent matter must be smaller than the matter it constitutes. But since akasa is not smaller than any substance it cannot be a constituent matter. Nor for that matter can it be a constituted substance; a constituted matter must ultimately be the result of the combination of numerically distinct bhutas of the same kind, i.e., paramanus of the same single bhuta. But since there are no two even numerically distinct akasas, there cannot be janya akasa constituted by smaller bits of akasa. All these matters of detail deserve to be separately discussed. But that is not possible within the limited length of hence I shall discuss as many of these points as possible together, though that is not the way to ensure clarity or accuracy; paradoxically enough attempt to save space in this way often makes certain amount of repetition unavoidable. The terminological clarifications achieved so far may be remembered. We cannot use interchangeably the two expressions of bhuta and paramanu and none of these expressions can be used as synonym of element. We shall see how inaccurate it is to translate paramanu as atom.


Paramanus of any one bhuta is believed to be indefinite in number. But whatever may be their exact total number it remains permanently fixed. The total number of bhutas is also fixed; we know the number is five. But the number of individual bhautika substances such as clay jars and of kinds of such substances, e.g., ghata or sarira (organic matter of, say, human body) is theoretically speaking infinite. Any two bhautika things and any two paramanus of two distinct bhutas differ both numerically and qualitatively. Two paramanus of any single bhuta differ only numerically. Paramanus are actual or possible constituents of some bhautika substance. The number of paramanus which constitute any given bhautika substance is finite. From this point of view the universe though created is not one bhautika substance as a clay jar is. For then the total number of paramanus in the universe would have been finite. The universe is regarded as the totality of effects including all the created substances, and ultimate material constituents total of all the created matters is bhuta including bhuta paramanu the number of which is, we have seen, infinite. We shall soon return to the question why the number of any single created substance is indefinite rather than infinite. But let us first note another feature of the paramanus and the consequence of that so far as the theory of bhautika srsti is concerned.

Any two paramanus of the same or different bhutas are independent of each other. The same is true of any two bhutas also. Anyway, two paramanus may or may not stand combined; and even when they stand combined they do so contingently, i.e., they may fall apart again. The paramanus therefore can remain unrelated and once they come to be related they can become separated later; and once separated they can recombine. When two substances are contingently combined in this way the naiyayikas say they are combined or related by way of conjunction, i.e., the relation that binds together any two substances — whether two paramanu bhutas or two bhautika dravyas or two abhautika dravyas or any permutation or combination of them — thus contingency is called by the naiyayikas samyoga; we translate this as relation of conjunction. There are other relations like inherence the relata of which are not so contingently related. The contingent relation of conjunction presupposes that the terms to be related by its means must previously be in a state of disjunction. In other words this relation presupposes or implies a prior state of disjunction between the items which now stand conjoined. It is also true on Nyaya theory that any state of conjunction between any two substances must be followed by a state of disjunction or loss of at least effective conjunction.

Though there are no two sorts of conjunction yet we must distinguish between the conjunction which bind together two constituent substances — whether two bhuta paramanus or material parts or avayava dravyas constituted ultimately by the bhuta paramanus — within a single substance constituted by them from the conjunction which obtain between two substances which are not constituents of the same (gross) substance. At the macro level also we distinguish between the conjunction which hold together the threads of a piece of cloth and the conjunction that obtains between a book and a table if we happen to place the former on the latter. The threads are so conjoined as to bring into existence another substance with an identity of its own. Such substances are called avayavin and they alone have proper parts or avayavas. Where the conjunction between certain substances fail to bring forth an avayavin the conjunction accounts for there being a mere collection or heap of matter. When a conjunction or set of conjunctions is effective in bringing about an avayavin or avayavi dravya, that is, a new substance with its own identity, it is called effective conjunction or dravyarambhaka samyoga. But when the same samyoga or conjunction (same because as conjunction, all the conjunctions are the same) accounts for a mere collection we must distinguish it as ineffective. It is clear that here being effective means being causally effective or effective in bringing about a new single substance rather than only a collection of a (the same) number of substances.

We are now in a position to answer a question which we left unanswered. On Nyaya theory every created substance is necessarily eka bhautika by which is meant that any such substance is created ultimately through effective conjunction of paramanus of one bhuta only. When in a gross created substance at the macro level, such as, say, an organic human body, we say all the bhutas are somehow present, what we mean is that in such a gross body different bhautika or created substances are present as parts not in the sense of avayavas. An organic body is not strictly speaking a single substance, nor again it is a mere collection of many unassorted substances. A body has a unity but not the identity of a single avayavin. What are ordinarily called parts of a body can hardly be said to be the avayavas of the body. Thus the eyes of a human body are not the avayava of the latter. For the eyes are teja dravya or belong to the class of substances made out of the paramanus of the bhuta known as fire, whereas the human body is parthiva; and no two paramanus of two different bhutas or of substances, created through effective conjunction of paramanus or parts of two different bhutas, can be proper parts or avayavas of the same single eka bhautika dravya. The eyes of a body are not even strictly speaking upadana in the sense of samavayi karana. They are better called angas. Thus anga of a created or gross substance is to be distinguished from the avayava of it. We need so far to distinguish between three types of situations. Two paramanus of the same bhuta may stand effectively conjoined as parts of an avayavi dravya. Two paramanus of two different bhutas or a number of bricks or a number of human bodies may be made into a heap in which these substances stand conjoined though not effectively. These are two extreme cases where terms conjoined stand respectively as intimately related and barely related. Conjunction, which obtains between the limbs of a body, or between certain limbs and the body of which they are the limbs, seem somehow to fall between the two extreme cases. A human body is called deha indriya samghata.

The conjunction between a body and the sense-organ is also causally effective — it is what makes sense experience of the soul possible — only it is not effective in the sense of bringing about another substance; in other words conjunction between a body and its sense-organ is not an instance of dravyarambhaka samyoga. Another instance of causally effective samyoga which is not dravyarambhaka is the conjunction between manas, not as the internal sense-organ but as the last of the nine substances, and soul. Like the conjunction between the deha and sense-organ this conjunction between soul and manas is effective in bringing about experience of sentient creatures like man. But there are instances of conjunction which are not effective in either of these two senses; take for instance the conjunction between kala and ghata. So far as we the finite beings are concerned, such conjunctions cannot even cause awareness of them as object. But in the case of a heap of unassorted substances the conjunction, which accounts for this heap, is not effective in bringing about a new substance, or causing an experience, except of itself and as the object of the experience concerned.

An effective conjunction, which causes a new unit substance to occur, i.e., dravyarambhaka samyoga, obtains between either two paramanus of the same bhuta or two gross matter parts or avayavas, provided they are created out of the paramanus of the same bhuta. One question is why do the naiyayikas admit two types or levels of dravyarambhaka samyoga? Since much samyoga between two created matter, which are avayavas of the same avayavi dravya, presupposes necessarily and ultimately dravyarambhaka samyoga between paramanus, we could, it seems dispense with one of these two types of causally effective samyogas, which account for the material creation in the narrow sense of the term.

In the nyaya conception creation through combination is a process rather than an one-time single event or occurrence. If even all the actual-effect substances were created as a result of effective combination of the simplest material constituent or paramanus, then they would be produced in one go. In that case there would not have been a good rational explanation to why created substances do display different structural complexities. But once these complexities are hierarchically arranged, and we admit two types of dravyarambhaka samyoga and the corresponding two levels of creation, which may respectively be called, risking a small inaccuracy, micro and macro level creation — creation out of paramanus and creation out of smaller and less complex avayavi dravyas — we can account for what is experientially evident, namely, that substances of different structural complexities are there, and that the substances of higher and higher or more and more complex structures are produced gradually. But there seems to be a theoretical or conceptual difficulty here. If both paramanu dravya and avayavi dravya can be constituent or avayava of respective higher-order created substance, then the distinction of dravyas into those, which are avayavin and those which are not avayavin, becomes rather unnecessary complication. If on the other hand this distinction is to be maintained on independent and rational consideration, then the nyaya theory of gradual creation with level distinction should appear to have both rational and empirical support in its favour.

We shall argue in favour of the nyaya theory rather negatively. We shall show why we cannot say that no avayava dravya must itself be an avayavin, or that every avayavin must be an avayava of some actual or possible avayavin of higher complexities. If this can be shown then it will be demonstrated that there must be two types of avayava and two types of avayavin. If every avayava dravya were itself an avayavin, then it would itself be the result of effective combination of two or more avayavas; so far as each of these avayavas is itself an avayavin, it must be made out of further avayavas, each of which must be an avayavin of lesser structural complexity. If this logic is followed then every created substance will admit of being broken into parts or substances of lesser and lesser structure ad infinitum. Every finite structure would be infinitely divisible. Apart from logical paradox of such a position the predictable observable consequence of it will be empirically disconfirmable. The predictable consequence of infinite divisibility of every created matter is that all material structures will be of same size. There will be neither measurable nor visible difference in size between a mountain and a mustard seed. Since the thesis of infinite divisibility of created matter is both logically inconsistent and empirically false, then the opposite thesis must be true. Analysis of matter must stop somewhere. The logical and physical end point of the analysis or breaking of a finite or created matter, in our language, avayavin or janya dravya, must be a unit matter which is not further divisible; it is antya avayava. However simple a structure must be the number of the avayava into which it can be broken, must be more than one. The number of antya avayavas into which any finite matter gets divided is usually very large. Be that as it may, the antyavayavas could not be antyavayavas if they were themselves avayavins. For then analysis of matter would not terminate with them. This therefore is the reason why we must admit some avayava or constituent matter, which are themselves not constituted by other matters of smaller structure. As such these are simplest and not further analysable matter. Though these antyavayavins have no avayavas of their own, they are themselves avayavas, i.e., constituent material structure or unit matter which are parts of other matter. These other matters by contrast have parts or avayavas, and as such they are avayavins or constituted matters; and since to be constituted in the sense of being brought about by effective combination of parts is to be caused, the avayavins are necessarily created matter.

There are a few theoretical problems here. A theory of creation is designed to explain the phenomenon of creation. But the phrase ‘explanation of creation’ is ambiguous in many ways. A theory may begin by accepting the phenomenon of creation, not just as a fact of experience but also as the starting point of theory building. For such a theory explaining creation may consist in answering the question, "What are the conditions which must have been realised in the past, as otherwise there could not have been the universe as we see it today?" If such a presupposition is granted, then we can begin by actual existence of structured and created matter and arrive at simplest matter, which is paramanu by physically and/or conceptually analysing or breaking matter till the end. If paramanus are arrived at in this way, then in the same act in which we prove the existence of such simplest matter as paramanu, we also prove that it is an avayava and hence antyavayava. But if in spite of granting full objective and experiential reality to the phenomenon of creation, one does not make its reality a presupposition of the theory of creation being developed, then explanation of creation cannot start from the acceptance of avayavi dravyas. It would not be a part of the meaning of simplest matter that it is avayava or antyavayava. We now see that the two parts of the meaning of paramanu, (i) that it is the simplest matter or that it is not an avayavin, and (ii) that it is avayava or avayava of the least complex matter to be first created, are not analytically or necessarily related. So the question remains, though it did not surface because of the particular approach we adopted above, wherefrom comes the necessity for the partless and simplest units of matter to combine effectively? It is in its ability to answer this question posed in the way we have done just now that the utility and strength of a theory of creation seems to lie. Some theories which begin with this perspective takes the existence of matter or primordial matter or stuff to be a presupposition and limit of scientific explanation. The question under reference gains further strength in the Nyaya school of thought from the fact that the naiyayikas do not admit that everyone of the simple unit of matter is an avayava. They admit among the bhutas akasa which is as much partless as any bhuta paramanu, but akasa is not a constituent or part of any actual or possible created material substance. To put it differently, its being a bhuta or its being partless and hence structurally simple may not be enough to qualify or compel any unit of matter to be an avayava.


To return to the question we were discussing, why must one or must a naiyayika admit two types of avayava — one which is both an avayava and an avayavin and the other which is only avayava but not also an avayavin. It was argued that if infinite divisibility is an unacceptable position, and therefore if we are to accept only finite divisibility of gross or structured matter, then we must admit paramanus which are not avayavins. It was perhaps hoped that to be able to show this is to show that there are or must be admitted to be such matter, which are not avayavin but are nonetheless avayava. Then some doubt and critical points were raised to the effect that there may be other reasons for admitting uncreated and even simple substance, such that it would not necessarily follow that such substance, is an avayava. Thus the proof given so far in favour of the existence of partless substance, which is in itself part of some other substance, is not fully satisfying. Leaving this question unanswered and postponing another question to be raised shortly we may address ourselves to the other proof.

Let us admit for the present that we have proved that there are avayavas which are not avayavin. Let us now see if we can prove that there are avayavins which are avayavas also. There does not seem to be any necessity for a structured substance to be the part of another material substance. But if there is no logical inconsistency or empirical disconfirmation against the hypothesis that every avayavin must also be an avayava, then that may be thought to be enough. But we must remember that the naiyayikas do admit certain avayavins which according to them are not avayava in relation to any actual or possible complex matter. These they call antyavayavin. Secondly the pattern of proof we decided to offer compel us to find if and what argument may be there, why we cannot say that every avayavin is an antyavayavin. If we cannot find any such argument, then we may have to end up so far with only two types of substance — the bhuta paramanus on the one hand, which are avayavas but not avayavins, and on the other the avayavi dravyas which are not avayavas. In that case there will not be two types of avayava but only one type. We have argued earlier if no avayavin were avayava, then every unit of matter of every degree of complexity would be constituted in the same way, directly by the bhuta paramanus standing in effective conjunction. Every created thing would be caused simultaneously. One way in which we can avoid this and make the observed succession among created things theoretically possible is to propose the hypothesis that material substances of higher, and more complex structure do not emerge till the substances of immediately lower degree of complexity are produced. If this is not to be a gratuitous assumption but a reasoned position, it is to be founded on some sound principle. One way of founding it in this sense is to make it a matter of causal necessity. If higher structures are causally dependent on lower structures, then gradually higher structures will be produced only temporally successively. Since at this level of creation of material substance ‘causing’ means effective combination of parts, gradually higher structures will be produced as a result of combination of preceding complex structures. The latter therefore must be parts or avayavas; and as complex structures they are avayavins also. So some avayavins are also avayavas. The question remains, why cannot all avayavins be like this or be avayavas themselves? Why there has to be higher limit of avayava? Why there must be antyavayavin? We shall leave this question unanswered here and say in conclusion that we have found, if not conclusive yet adequately convincing, argument why there should be antyavayava or bhuta paramanu, and why every avayavin cannot fail to be an avayava, or why every avayavin cannot be an antyavayavin. If however antyavayavin is at all admitted, then we find that matter would be available in four different forms. These four forms are, as the naiyayikas call them, (a) antyavayava e.g., bhuta paramanus, (b) avayavins which are also avayavas such as threads of a piece of cloth or pot halves, (c) antyavayavins such as a clay pot or jar or a piece of cloth, and lastly (d) the bhuta dravya which is neither an avayava nor an avayavin. Akasa is a case in point. This akasa is similar to bhuta paramanus in respect of being partless. It resembles antyavayavins insofar it never constitutes as part of another material body. It is easier to find a justification why akasa cannot be an avayava. No infinite substance can be a part of another material body, or we would have to admit a body which has a dimension greater than that of an infinite body. But this argument is not available in case of antyavayavin like a jar or earthenpot which has only a finite dimension. Existence of akasa renders another simpler and more neat classification of nine substances impossible. If akasa like other bhutas (or as it is more usual to call them bhuta paramanus) were avayava of some material body, or if it were not considered as a bhuta, then we could divide substances into those which inhere (in other matter which would be its part), or are samaveta and those which do not inhere or are not samaveta. Then asamaveta dravyas could be divided into bhutas and those which are other than bhutas according to the principle, the former cause as constituent some created material body, while the latter type of asamaveta dravya do not form part of any other matter. All samaveta dravyas in that case would be bhautika, though all asamaveta dravyas would not be bhutas. As it is, while all bhautika dravyas are considered by the naiyayikas to be finite in dimension, abhautika dravyas whether bhuta or not include both the variety. Among the bhuta dravyas akasa is infinite, whereas other bhutas (or bhuta paramanus) are finite; among dravyas that are neither bhuta nor bhautika manas is finite but all the rest are infinite.

We have seen why we cannot accept the hypothesis of infinite divisibility of any complex bit of matter. But it has been pointed out that the other thesis of finite divisibility is not free from difficulty. In fact the Bauddha philosophers have argued that the nyaya-vaisesika conception of paramanu is inconsistent. But the way they argue brings it out clearly that they find fault not so much with the conception of a matter which is partless or simple, as with the conception that a piece of matter can be both partless and combine effectively with other (partless) matter to create or cause a material body having minimal complexity. They seem to argue that if paramanus were partless, then their conjunction could not constitute a larger material body. If parts to be combined are not infinitely small but have (however small) finite dimension, then we can distinguish between conjunction with one part from the conjunction with another part or matter. It can be visualized this way. We place a book b on the table or bring it in conjunction with the table then we place another book b* on the first book. Because b has a finite dimension, it relates while it keeps separate the two — the table and the book b*. We can say now that the book is the seat of two conjunctions or is conjoined with two substances on two sides of it. We could hardly say this if the b did not have any finite dimension or different sides so to say to be conjoined with different substances simultaneously. Greater the number of things with which a thing is simultaneously and directly conjoined, greater is the dimension of it. In other words a substance gains in dimension by the number of direct simultaneous and distinguishable conjunctions of which it is the seat. But the direct and simultaneous conjunctions to be distinguished, the thing which is the seat of these conjunctions must have finite dimension or parts. Different bodies parts or units of matter should be conjoined with different parts of the same thing; the thing must have different distinguishable points in its body where different particles of matter can touch it. This line of argument shows that if paramanus are to cause higher structure of matter to emerge through effective combination among themselves, then every single paramanu must have at least, as they say, six different points on its surface so to say; or it must have six parts or sad amsa. It is believed to be a very strong way of arguing against the notion of matter, which is the partless part of another matter which has not only a part but also a larger dimension, consisting in greater number of distinguishable and countable parts. The nyaya reply to this objection is very subtle and extremely beautiful. The naiyayikas question a number of assumptions which remained unnoticed behind the Bauddha criticism. The Bauddhas have assumed that increase in dimension of material body is to be explained only in terms of addition of parts of lower dimension. This assumption is weak as it makes very difficult to take infinite magnitude to be objective. For infinite body on this view must be an infinitely divisible body. In other words the line of argument the Bauddhas offer to disprove partless paramanu has the consequence of making it necessary that every infinite substance is infinitely divisible. The weakness of this position is well-known from the time of Zeno or even before. Their second assumption that the only way to distinguish the direct and simultaneous conjunctions of which a certain body is the seat is to refer those conjunctions to different distinguishable parts of that body. It has been shown by the naiyayikas, how without referring them to different parts of the substance which is their seat, these conjunctions can be distinguished in terms of different direction or dik, which are related to the body in question, not as distinguishable parts of it but as what may be called different avacchedakas. A single partless paramanu can have different conjunction in different dik avaccheda. These are important points of technical detail which however we cannot discuss in this paper.


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