Concept of Atom in Ancient Indian Philosophy

It has become a tradition to believe that science originated in the Greek con-federation. Not only this, they take Dalton as the pioneer.

[Dalton’s atomic theory states that matter consists ultimately of indivisible, discrete particles (atoms), and the atoms of the same element are identical. Chemical action takes place as a result of attractions between these atoms, which combine in simple proportions ]

The great Indian sages working scientifically and logically awakened their rtambhara prajHd (purest intellect). not only to propound the philosophy about the self, but also to prescribe the proper technology to achieve the desired aim. In this pursuit, they did not ignore the study of the world of outside, but their enquiries were confined to the fields which helped them to understand self.

Maharshi Kanada (महर्षि कणाद) is associated with the atomic theory.

The smallest state of matter is Parmanu (atom) and the largest state is called ‘mahat‘ (self sense). So he considered atom to be indivisible, a point source, without magnitude, a concept nearer the Boyles’ concept. It has potentialities which come into play when it is combined with others. Before be-coming manifest in the form of matter, atoms make primary combinations to make diads and triads.

Maharshi Charaka (महर्षि चरक) postulated that “atom is the smallest particle of matter and air and action (energy) are responsible for the combination and separation of atoms”.

Vaisesika Darshana takes atom as the cause, but Vyas considers atoms to be action and as such believes that they can be further sub-divided, a concept which is much nearer the modern concept of atom.

Some Buddhist thinkers conceive of atom as the minutest particle capable of occupying space (Van der Waal’s concept). According to them it also remains for the minutest duration of time, coming into being and vanishing almost in an instant only to be succeeded by another atom caused by the first. This concept resembles Planck’s quantum theory.

Buddhists and Ajivikas believe that in normal condition, no atom exists by itself; rather they exist in a variety of combinations Samghata or Kalapa.

Every unit of combination contains one atom of all the four types of elements (they do not take “Akasha” as an element) and obtains its character from the predominance of an elemental character. This accounts for the fact that matter shows characteristics of more than one element. Thus, wax may melt and also burn, because it is a samghata of elements of water and fire. The elements cohere in a samghata by virtue of the atoms of water acting as an adhesive.

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