On Being And What There Is (Classical Vaisesika and The History of Indian Ontology)

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Item Code: NAD772
Author: Wilhelm Halbfass
Publisher: Sri Satguru Publications
Edition: 1992
ISBN: 8170303648
Pages: 311
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 9.0 inch X 6.0 inch
Weight 470 gm
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About the Book

"It is a comprehensive study of some of the most difficult and poorly understood-yet central-issues of classical Indian philosophy. It covers an amazingly broad range of texts, explaining and analyzing some.materials that has never been studied. It offers a synthetic picture of Vaisesika ontology and convincingly explicted its -genius'.

"No one has ever explained the concepts of substance, being, and universal in Vaisesika as comprehensively and accurately as Halbfass has done. No one has ever fccussed on "the conceptualization of being', as he has done here. Nor has anyone ever analyzed the writings ofVyomsiva, Sridhara, and Udayana as thoroughly and completely. No one has brought in the rich Jaina materials to this extent.

"To me, it is fascinating - one of the best books on Indian Philosophy I have ever read. It is splendid work of constructive scholarship, an authoritative source of information about Indian philosophy that will be consulted for many years to come. "

John Taber, University, of New Mexico. Albuquerque

"This work is characteristic of the kind of scholarship we have come to expect from Halbfass-learned, Insightful, and Comprehensive. and authoritative:

Richard W. Lariviere. University of Texas

“I strongly believe this is going to be a most valuable addition to the literature on Vaisesika. It will also be a much needed text for courses on Indian Philosophy at undergraduate and graduate levels."

J.N. Mohanty, Temple University

"This is undoubtedly an insightful work from the pen of an outstanding scholar; it is extremely interesting, rich in ideas and arguments, and thoroughly documented."

D.P. Chattopadhyaya, Jadavpur University

About the Author

Wilhelm Halbfass is Professor of Indian Philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of India and Europe: An Essay in understanding and Tradition and Reflection: Explorations in Indian Thought.


The following chapters are fragments of a much larger project, a comprehensive history of Indian thinking about "being" and "what there is." In the course of more than twenty years I have learned to scale down this impossible dream. Appropriately, I am now presenting some preliminary results of my work on one single system, the Vaisesika system, which is commonly considered the lowest and, in a sense, crudest of the "orthodox" systems of Hindu thought. However, I still hope to be able to complete a corresponding volume on the concepts of being, or the forms of transcendence of such conceptualization, in Advaita Vedanta. Even within the development of the Vaisesika school, I have focused on the older period up to Udayana, whose work paves the way for Navyanyaya. In spite of many references to Nyaya literature, this is primarily a study of the classical Vaisesika system as such and not of later forms of combination or integration of the Nyaya and Vaisesika systems. More specifically, it is an attempt to uncover movements of thought and unanswered questions under the petrified surface of the classical system.

Over the years, my methodological positions and philosophical allegiances have changed. The result has been a certain eclecticism and growing doubts concerning the meaning and relevance of the topic it- self. We do not know whether the "question of being" is a meaningful question. But once this question is gone, or reduced to certain linguistic, semantic, or logical technicalities, what else could provide us with a comparable sense of philosophical wonder and perplexity? What would happen to philosophy itself?

The book combines specialized philological and conceptual investigations with general philosophical and comparative reflections. Someof its sections may seem easily accessible to the general reader; others may appear remote even to the specialist. But we may repeat here what we said in an earlier publication (Tradition and Reflection, p. VIII): "Such differences reflect the nature of the sources and our state of research. In some central instances, the resolutions of technical problems, and the attention to minute philological details, are indispensable in order to approach the broader issues. Philology and philosophical reflection can- not be separated in such cases."

For several sections of the book, I have used and reworked materials published before. In particular, parts or preliminary versions of Chapters 5, 6, 7, and 8 have appeared in WZKS 19 (1975), 20 (1976), 24 (1980); Adyar Library Bulletin 50 (1986); lAOS 109 (1989); and elsewhere. The responses to these preliminary publications, as well as to numerous oral presentations, have been encouraging and stimulating. At important junctures, my work on the Vaisesika system and on Indian ontology in general has received generous financial support from different sources. Specifically, I want to mention a combined fellowship of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the American Institute of Indian Studies in 1982-83. Most of the final draft of the book was completed during the academic year 1989-90, while I was a fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin. Here, I enjoyed excellent working conditions, stimulating intellectual environment, and the competent secretarial help of Firooza Kraft. Some final additions were made after my return to the University of Pennsylvania, with the support of David Fern and the Department of South Asia Regional Studies.


1Introduction: The Question of Being1
2The Question of Being in India: General Historical Perspectives21
3Genesis, Enumeration, and the Question of Being47
4The Vaisesika Categories: An Introductory Survey69
5The Vaisesika Concept of Substance89
6The Vaisesika Concept of Guna and the Problem of Universals113
7The Conceptualization of Being in Classical Vaisesika139
8Genesis and Temporal Existence in Early and Classical Vaisesika169
9The Vaisesika Concept of Time205
Appendix 1: Selected Ontological Texts237
Appendix 2: The Concept of Visesa and the Name of the Vaisesika System269
Glossary: Ontological Terms in Classical Vaisesika277
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