Brahma Sutras – According to Shankara 2-2-3

Topic 3 - Refutation of the atomic theory of the Vaiśeṣikas

Having answered the objection against the Vedāntic view, the author of the Sutras now proceeds to refute the Vaiśeṣika philosophy.

 Sutra 2,2.12

उभयथापि न कर्मातस्तदभावः ॥ १२ ॥

ubhayathāpi na karmātastadabhāvaḥ || 12 ||

ubhayathāpi—In either case; na—is not; karma—activity; ataḥ—therefore; tat-abhāvaḥ—negation of that.

12. In either case (i.e. the Adriṣṭa, the unseen principle, inhering either in the atoms or in the soul) the activity (of the atoms) is not (possible); therefore the negation of that (i.e. of creation through the combination of atoms).

If the world is created by the combination of atoms, the question is, what causes this combination?

If it is a seen cause, it is not possible before the creation of the body. A seen cause can either be an endeavour, or an impact, or the like.

Unless there is the connection of the soul with the mind, there can be no endeavour on the part of the soul, according to the Vaiśeṣika assumption. And since before creation there is no body and therefore no mind, endeavour cannot take place. Similarly with impact etc.

If the cause is Adriṣṭa (the unseen principle), does it inhere in the soul or in the atoms?

In either case, it cannot be the cause of the first motion of the atoms; for this Adriṣṭa is non-intelligent and so cannot act by itself.

If it is inherent in the soul, the soul being then inert, there is no intelligence to guide this Adriṣṭa. If it is inherent in the atoms, it being always present, a state of dissolution would be impossible, for the atoms will be always active.

Again, the soul is without parts like the atoms, and so there is no possibility of any connection between the soul and the atoms. Consequently, if the Adriṣṭa inheres in the soul, it cannot influence the motion of the atoms not connected with the soul.

So in all cases original activity in the atoms is not possible, and in the absence of that there can be no combination of atoms, as the Vaiśeṣikas say. Consequently, the theory that the world is created by the combination of atoms is untenable.

 Sutra 2,2.13

समवायाभ्युपगमाच्च साम्याद् अनवस्थितेः ॥ १३ ॥

samavāyābhyupagamācca sāmyād anavasthiteḥ || 13 ||

samavāya-abhyupagamat—Samavâya being admitted; ca—also; sāmyāt—equality of reasoning; anavasthiteḥ—‘regressus in infinitum’ would result.

13. (the Vaiśeṣika theory is untenable) also (because if involves) a regressus in infinitum on similar reasoning, since it accepts Samavāya.

Samavāya or inseparable inherence is one of the seven categories of the Vaiśeṣikas.

They say it is this that connects the dyad with its constituents, the two atoms, since the dyad and the atoms are of different qualities.

In that case Samavāya (inherence) itself also being different from these dyads and atoms, which it connects, another Samavāya will be required to connect it with these, and that in its turn will require another Samavāya to connect it with the first Samavāya and so on without an end.

Hence the argument would be defective, and consequently the atomic doctrine, which admit Samavāya for combination, is inadmissible.

Sutra 2,2.14

नित्यमेव च भावात् ॥ १४ ॥

nityameva ca bhāvāt || 14 ||

nityam-eva—Permanently; ca—and; bhāvāt—because existing.

14. And because of the permanent existence (of the tendency to act or otherwise of the atoms, the atomic theory is inadmissible).

The atomic theory involves another difficulty.

If the atoms are by nature active, then creation would be permanent, for dissolution would mean a change in the nature of the atoms, which is impossible.

If on the other hand, they are by nature inactive, then dissolution would be permanent, and there will be no creation for the same reason.

Their nature cannot be both activity and inactivity, they being contradictory.

If they are neither, their activity and inactivity would depend on an efficient cause, like Adriṣṭa, which being always connected with the atoms, they will always be active, and creation would be permanent.

If on the other hand, there is no efficient cause, there will be no activity of the atoms and hence no creation.

Consequently the atomic theory is again inadmissible.

Sutra 2,2.15

रूपादिमत्त्वाच्च विपर्ययो, दर्शनात् ॥ १५ ॥

rūpādimattvācca viparyayo, darśanāt || 15 ||

rūpādimattvāt—On account of possessing colour etc. ca—and; viparyayaḥ—the opposite; darśanāt—because it is seen.

15. And on account of (the atoms) possessing colour etc., the opposite (of what the Vaiśeṣikas hold would be true), because it is seen.

The atoms are said to have colour etc., for otherwise the effects will not possess these qualities, since it is the qualities of the cause that are found in the effects.

In that case the atoms would cease to be atomic and permanent. For whatever possesses colour etc. is found to be gross, not minute, and impermanent as compared with its cause.

So the atoms also, which have colour etc., must be gross and impermanent, and this contradicts the Vaiśeṣika tenet that they are minute and permanent.

So the atoms cannot be the ultimate cause of the world.

Sutra 2,2.16

उभयथा च दोषात् ॥ १६ ॥

ubhayathā ca doṣāt || 16 ||

ubhayathā—In either case; ca—and; doṣāt—because of.

16. And because of defects in either case (the atomic theory is untenable).

The four gross elements earth, water, fire, and air are produced from atoms. Now these elements are different as regards qualities.

Earth, for example, has the qualities of touch, taste, smell, and colour, while water has only three of these, fire only two, and air one.

If we suppose that their respective atoms also possess the same number of qualities as they, then while an atom of air has one quality, an atom of earth will have four qualities.

Possessing four qualities it will be bigger in size, for our experience says that an increase of qualities cannot take place without an increase of size, and consequently it would cease to be atomic.

If, on the other hand, we take them all to possess the same number of qualities, then there cannot be any difference in the qualities of the products, the elements, according to the principle that the qualities of the cause are reproduced in its effects.

In either case, the Vaiśeṣika doctrine is defective and therefore inadmissible.

Sutra 2,2.17

अपरिग्रहाच्चात्यन्तमनपेक्षा ॥ १७ ॥

aparigrahāccātyantamanapekṣā || 17 ||

aparigrahāt—Because it is not accepted; ca—and; atyantam—completely; anapekṣā—to be rejected.

17. And because (the atomic theory) is not accepted (by any authoritative persons like Manu and others) it is to be completely rejected.