The plan of the Vaiseshika is similar to that of Nyaya. The word is derived from visesha, and means "special, distinguished, etc."; and, as the two systems are closely allied, it may be regarded as a special form of presentation of the same ideas of Nyaya.
Division into Chapters: The whole work is divided into ten chapters, with two parts to each chapter; and, as in the case of Nyaya, the opening Sutras give us an idea of its subject-matter. It is said to be Dharma, which is defined to be that which brings about the highest good; and this highest good is said to consist in the knowledge of six things, substance, attributes of a substance, action, the common properties of things, the special properties of things, and the intimate relation of objects by means of their similarities and dissimilarities; and the whole work is devoted to a detailed examination of each one of these questions in the same manner as in Nyaya.
In the first part of the first chapter we are told of the subject-matter of the Vaiseshika, and the six "categories" of things, the knowledge of which makes for the highest good; and then the author proceeds to describe three of these, substance, attributes of a substance, and action. In the second part he goes on to consider the fourth, the common properties of things. In the second chapter he deals with the fourth and fifth "categories", the common and special properties of things.
In the third chapter he examines the relation of objects through their similarities and differences, the last "category" of knowledge. In the fourth chapter he again examines the attributes of substances, and attempts to classify them; while in the fifth, he deals with the factors of action; and the sixth is devoted to a consideration of intelligent and good actions. In the last four chapters we have a further examination of the attributes of things; and that completes this system. It may now be summarized as follows:-
The subject matter of the Vaiseshika; six categories of things: The subject-matter of the Vaiseshika is Dharma, and Dharma is that which makes for the highest good. The highest happiness or good arises from a knowledge of the real nature of six things, substance, attributes of a substance, action, common properties of things, special properties of things, and the intimate relation of objects by means of their similarities and dissimilarities.
It is necessary to understand all this; and so let us deal with the characteristics of the first three, substance, attributes of a substance, and action.
Dharma: The subject-matter of the Vaiseshika is Dharma; and Dharma is that which enables us to ascertain the nature of prosperity and of the highest happiness or good.
Source of highest happiness: The highest happiness or good arises from a knowledge of the real nature of six things, substance, attribute, action, common properties of things, special properties of things, and the intimate relation of objects by means of their similarities and differences.
Substances: Substances are of nine kinds; Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether, Time, Space, Soul, and Mind.
Attributes: The attributes of things are color or form, taste, smell, touch, name, measure or value; individuality, union and division, priority and posteriority, intelligent ideas, pleasure and pain, desire and aversion, and efforts.
Action: Action consists in throwing a thing up or down, bending, stretching out, and the manner of going.
Characteristics of substance, attribute and action: The common characteristics of substance, attribute and action are that they exist, are not eternal, inhere in an object, are effect and cause, and possess general and special properties.
If a substance and attribute have the same origin, they are identical in character. Substances produce substances and attribute other attributes; but action cannot produce action.
A substance cannot destroy effect or cause; attributes can destroy both; and action can counteract effect.
The marks of a substance are that it is characterized by action and attributes, and is the material cause of other substances. The marks of an attribute are that it abides in a substance, is devoid of other attributes, is not the cause of combinations and divisions, and is the same in all cases. The marks of an action are that it abides in a single indivisible substance, and is the cause of combinations as well as divisions.
Substance and attribute are a common cause of substance, attribute and action; while action is the common cause of combination, separation, and quick motion, and is not a cause of substance.
One substance may be the common effect of many substances; but one action cannot be the effect of a number of actions.
Color or form can be the joint effect of a number of colors or forms.
An act of throwing up implies weight, effort, and direct material contact.
Combinations and divisions are characteristic of action; but action is not the cause of substance or action.