Nyaya – Vaisesika Hinduism

Nyaya - Vaisesika Hinduism

The Nyaya-Vaisesika schools of thought founded by Maharshi Gautama and Kanada, respectively, advocate a plural, realistic worldview. These schools focus on the reality of time as vital to their total conceptual framework. Their philosophical outlook regarding the role of time is distinctly dif­ferent from that of other schools of the Indian tradition.

Time, in the context of the Nyaya-Vaisesika philosophy, has been studied in its various aspects. The question of its existence and how it is related to different ontological issues like causality, motion, and space are all highlighted in the Nyaya-Vaisesika system. This system believes in the theory of Creation. Kala, or Time, is consid­ered as the eternal, unique, all-pervading back­ground of the creative process. All events derive their chronological order through time. But time possesses no specific physical quality like color and thus cannot be an object of external percep­tion. Neither is it perceivable internally, as the mind has no control over external or internal objects independently of a physical sense organ. But the question of its existence is arrived at by a series of inferences. The notions of priority (paratva) and posteriority (aparatva), of simulta­neity (yaugapadya) and succession (ayaugapadya), and of quickness (ksipratva) and slowness (ciratva) constitute the grounds of inference for the exis­tence of time.

It is a recognized fact that priority and posteri­ority are related with the movement of the sun. When using the term now, it is natural to refer to the motion of the sun above or below the horizon by so many degrees. But a pertinent question is raised by the Nyaya-Vaisesika philosopher: How can any object be related at all with the motion of the sun? It is not possible to establish any direct relation of inherence, as the motion of the sun inheres in the sun alone, and not between the object in question and the sun, which are far apart. There must be a connecting medium that joins the two and that is capable of transmitting the quality of one to the other. This fact leads to the inference of time. Regarding the question of whether time is perceived or inferred, there is a philosophical debate among the Indian realists. The main voice in denouncing the view of the Nyaya-Vaisesika is the Bhatta-Mimamsaka school. In reply to the Nyaya-Vaisesika view that time cannot be said to be perceived as it has no sensible qualities such as color and form, the Bhatta-Mimamsakas maintain that sensible qualities are not the criteria of per­ceptibility. However, they do acknowledge that time as such is never an object of perception, though it is always perceived as a qualification of sensible objects. It is for this reason events are per­ceived as slow or quick, which involves a direct reference to time. The Nyaya-Vaisesika philoso­phers answer that a directly perceived time would point to only a limited, divided time, which is not absolute time but conventional temporal time. Sridhara in his Nyaya-KanDalíi and Jayata Bhatta in his Nyaya-Manjari take up the issue in a bril­liant manner. According to them, time cannot be established as objects of ordinary perception, as time does not possess any finite dimension.

There are certain typical terminologies in every Indian philosophical system that are unique within their field; the Nyaya-Vaisesika system is no exception. Besides normal perception, extraordi­nary perceptions are also accepted by this school. One of the extraordinary perceptions is known as Jnanalaksana. This is the type of perception where the perceived object is given to the senses through a previous knowledge of it. For example, when someone says, “I see the fragrant sanDalíwood.” Here one visualizes fragrance due to a prior knowledge of it from past experience. Similarly, the perception of “the present pot” is composed of two elements. “The pot” is an object of ordi­nary perception, whereas the time element indi­cated by the word present is derived from previous prior knowledge of time, resulting in the extraor­dinary perception of “the present pot.”

So the sense perception of time as a qualifying element of the object is analyzed by the Nyaya- Vaisesika philosopher as based on the previous inferential knowledge of time. Moreover, the Nyaya-Vaisesika system believes that time must be of unlimited magnitude as it has to determine the priority and posteriority of all finite substances of the world. In other words, it must be a ubiqui­tous substance. Time is also conceived as nimitta karana or the instrumental cause of all objects of the world. This causation also leads to the point that time is eternal.

Kala (time) is treated in the Nyaya-Vaisesika system as the substratum of motion. The state­ment “I am at present writing” clearly points out that time is the substratum of objective motion. Not only is time the substratum of objective motion, it is the cause of the origination, mainte­nance, and destruction of all objects of the world.

Time and Causality

In Nyaya-Vaisesika literature, the role of time comes to the forefront in discussions of causality. For any causal operation the idea of absolute time is accepted as a necessary presupposition. The distinction between the eternal and the contingent is clearly mentioned in their writings. An object that is ever-present cannot be amenable to cre­ation or destruction. The contingent is defined as that which does not exist prior to its creation and ceases to exist after its destruction. An object like akasa (i.e., ether) is never nonexistent whereas an absolute nonentity like a hare’s horn is ever non­existent. Any causal operation is necessarily an event in time. No event is conceivable without time as its adhara or receptacle. According to Nyaya-Vaisesika philosophy, to deny time an objective reality is to face a static universe where there is no room for any change or movement.

The theory of causality known as asat karya- vada presupposes time in the Nyaya-Vaisesika sys­tem. The theory is so called because the effect is conceived as asat, that is, nonexistent prior to the causal operation. Cause is defined as that which is an invariable and necessary antecedent to an event. Here, the idea of antecedence has an immediate temporal reference. The idea of time always follows when it is said that the effect succeeds the cause.

Another characteristic of time is that, though time is a dravya (substance) it does not presuppose any substratum for its existence, as it is something undivided and eternal. Time is svatantra, or inde­pendently real. As time is all-pervasive, it has no form. The main argument that the Nyaya-Vaisesika proposes is that time, being a necessary condition of all movement and change, must itself be free from general attributes.

Divisions of Time

But here a question arises: If time itself is free from general attributes, are divisions of time real? The Nyaya-Vaisesika does accept the conventional time divisions. Generally, time is divided into past, present, and future. This division does not affect the inherent nature of time. These conventional time divisions can be explained with the help of limiting adjuncts, which are of finite duration. It is only with relation to events that time takes on these distinctions. Saying that something is hap­pening refers to an event that has already begun but has not yet ended. Similarly, the past is the time related to an event that completed its cause of action, and the future is related to an event that has yet to begin. It is only the actions that are labeled as past, present, and future. Real time is never affected by these upadhis, or external adjuncts, namely, different solar motions.

This conception of absolute time in the Nyaya- Vaisesika system has been criticized by all the schools of Indian philosophy. Here is the view of one of the major systems: The Advaita Vedanta school maintains that this argument is not plausi­ble because all the three divisions of time are related in the same way with the same solar motion. For example, a particular day is under­stood as the present with reference to a particular solar motion. But it must be admitted that the same solar motion is responsible for past and future days. The day referred to above is under­stood as present on the day itself, as past on the days that follow, and as future on coming days. Here the three time determinations, namely pres­ent, past, and future, have the same conditioning factor, namely, solar motion.

The Nyaya-Vaisesika answer is that the above position has come about due to the absence of cer­tain necessary qualifications regarding relationship. When the time of an event is in “actual” relation­ship to solar motion we cognize it as present. A thing is cognized as past when the particular relationship “has been” and “is no more,” and when the relationship in question “will be” and “is not yet,” it is recognized as future. But the vedantin does not accept this position and says this argu­ment is merely tautologous. The terms actual, has been, and will be are synonyms of present, past, and future, respectively.

In answer to his opponent, the Nyaya-Vaisesika suggests a modified definition of time division. The time that is conditioned by a particular action is present in respect to that action alone and not in relation to other actions.

In fact, the criticisms that the opponent offers are applicable only to the time division of the Nyaya-Vaisesika system. But time division is not inherent in the nature of time; hence it does not at all affect time-in-itself. Thus the criticisms do not really affect the reality of absolute time. These time divisions belong only to the events that are in time. The Nyaya-Vaisesika does not agree that the time series is the “schema” of the understanding and is formed by the conceptual fusion of discrete movements. The reason behind this view is the fol­lowing: It is not possible to encounter the objective existence of a momentary entity. “The jar exists for many moments.” This perceptual judgment cannot prove the objective existence of moment. It is a common experience shared by us all that a moment is supposed to vanish just after its contact with the sense organs; it cannot synchronize with perceptual judgment. A question, therefore, arises: Is not the use of the term moment superfluous? The Nyaya-Vaisesika system maintains that it is not superfluous, it is part of the whole cognition procedure. Moreover, every cognition presupposes a determinant datum, hence a particular datum in this case should be pointed out. It is said that the datum in this case is a particular motion and the pre-nonexistence of disjunction caused by it as the determining factor of motion. Each of the moments covers a definite duration; hence they cannot sepa­rately be the datum. These two, taken together, form the datum of cognition.

Moment, Time, and Space

In the Prasastapadabhasyam, one of the major authentic books of the Nyaya-Vaisesika system, the unique character of time is brought out in rela­tion to space. Time has only one form of mensura­tion. The point is elaborated by saying that the temporal order of events is such that it does not allow for reversibility, whereas the spatial order does allow that. Thus, in the realistic framework of Nyaya-Vaisesika, another question crops up: How are they related? It is said that every cogni­tion acquires them at the same time; hence cogni­tion itself is the connecting link. The moment itself is the datum of such cognition. Therefore the concept of moment arrives indirectly in the frame­work of cognition. A moment is the point of time that refers to the final phase of cause and the ini­tial phase of effect. Vallabha, a famous commen­tator, in one of his books defines moment as that intervening span of time that comes between the completion of the totality of caused conditions and the production of effect. This discussion reflects the realistic attitude of the Nyaya-Vaisesika system. These two—space and time—are charac­terized as niravayava (noncomposite), avibhajya (indivisible), and vibhu (ubiquitous). All objects are in space and time, but space and time cannot be said to be contained in anything.

This traditional view of absolute time is ques­tioned by the later school of the Nyaya-Vaisesika system. Raghunath Siromoni, one of the famous philosophers of the Nabya-Nyaya system, chal­lenged the entire conceptual framework of the pluralistic metaphysics of Maharshi Gautama. In his book Padarthatattvanirupanam, he criticized the traditional understanding of time. He does not find enough justification for accepting these two all-pervasive substances that require adjuncts in order to account for spatial and temporal divi­sions. He wants to identify space and time with God, who is also characterized as an all-pervading substance. Regarding time, he gives up the notion of absolute time and introduces a new category called ksana (moment). But he rejects the notion of moment in relation to motion as inadequate. Instead he sets up a new category consisting of things that are not motions but that share the uni­versal repeatable property of momentariness.

This version of Raghunatha Siromani was not approved, however, by the later adherents of the school. In fact, the idea of absolute time is integral to the whole fabric of Nyaya-Vaisesika thought as all the concepts are woven together against the background of this particular concept; that is, absolute time. Therefore, in the Nyaya-Vaisesika system, time is a reality per se, the very presup­position of the reality of change.

Debika Saha

See also Causality; Cognition; Eternity; Hinduism, Mimamsa-Vedanta; Hinduism, Samkhya-Yoga; Materialism; Metaphysics; Perception; Time, Absolute

Further Readings

Bhadhuri Sadananda. (1947). Studies in the Nyaya- Vaisesika metaphysics (Series 5). Poona, India: Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute.

Chatterjee, S. C. (1939). The Nyaya theory of knowledge. Calcutta, India: University of Calcutta.

Jha, G. (1916). Padarthadharmasangraha of Prasastapada: With the NyayakanDalíi of Sridhara. (English Translation). Beneras, India: E. J. Lazarus.

Niyogi Balslev, A. (1999). A study of time in Indian philosophy. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers.

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