Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science ► 02 ► [2.5.2] Atom In Jain Philosophy - Paramanu - Characteristic Attributes

Posted: 26.01.2008

The Ultimate Indivisible Unit Of Physical Existence

Characteristic Attributes

Earlier, it had been stated that colour, smell, taste and touch are the characteristics (laksana) of physical substance (pudgala). This means that these qualities are innate in all forms of pudgala. Paramanu, being a form of pudgala, therefore, must possess these qualities. Thus four sense-data viz., touch, taste, odour and colour are intrinsic qualities of a paramanu. Sound, being an attribute of skandhas, is not the characteristic quality of paramanu.

The qualities possessed by a paramanu are: one of the five primary colours, one of the two smells, one of the five tastes and two of the four touches i.e. either hot or cold and either dry or gluey [ Tat. Raj. 5/25/1]. However, it can never be an object of sense- perception. By itself it transcends the sense-experience though it is the basic constituent of the entire perceptible physical universe.

It can be perceived only by its effects i.e. a single free paramanu is invisible not only to the naked eyes but also to any other physical instrument. Its existence is to be inferred by the collective action and reaction of infinite paramanus. Only the omniscient (kevala jnani) and those who possess superlative visual intuition (paramavadhi jnani) can perceive and cognise the nature of a free paramanu [Tat. Sut. Sarva, 5-25].

Although the four qualities are permanently possessed by a paramanu, the intensity or the potency of the qualities does not remain constant. A paramanu, possessing one unit of blackness at any moment, may sometimes later possess two, three or many units of blackness. It follows from this that at any given moment there would be paramanus with different intensities of blackness etc. In the same way there would be paramanus with various degrees of other qualities.

The term paramanu is the short form of dravya paramanu or paramanu-pudgala. The Bhagavati Sutra [Bhag. Sut. 20/6/37-41.] enumerates four types of paramanus - indivisible units, just as paramanu pudgala is the indivisible unit of pudgala. The four types are:


dravya paramanu

the indivisible unit of pudgala substance.


ksetra paramanu

the indivisible unit of space i.e. space-point or akasa-pradesa,


kala paramanu

the indivisible unit of time or time-point called samaya.


bhava paramanu

the indivisible unit or quantum of intensity of sensuous qualities, viz. colour, odour, taste and touch.

Thus, paramanu is the direct unit of the physical substance (pudgala) and also the indirect unit of space, time and modification. The quantitative difference in matter-space-time as well as the qualitative difference in physical objects may ultimately be traced to constitution of paramanu. Thus, being the constituent element of physical composite bodies, it may be considered to be the determinant of the difference of aggregates, and for the same reason, it is also their substantial cause. By its own motion (vibration, oscillation, etc.), it becomes the measure of time, i.e., a samaya (time-point) corresponds to a unit shift of a paramanu from one position to the immediately next. (It should be remembered that time itself is quantized, and a samaya a quantum of time and is, therefore, indivisible.)

Since its associated space-point is the constitutive element of space, it is indirectly the cause of quantitative difference of space (ksetra-samkhya).

Since its motion from point-to-point corresponds to duration of time, it is also the basis of quantitative difference of time (kala-samkhya).

Again, because it is the basis of modification of physical objects through combination or separation, it is also the condition of the quantitative difference of modes (bhava-samkhya) [Pan. Sdr. verse 80, with Pradipikd Vrtti, p. 69.].

It may be added here that inter-dependence of matter, space and time as described above is comparable to the representation of the movement of a physical object, say, a particle by so-called space-time diagrams in modern physics. We shall discuss this in more detail in the subsequent chapter.

On ultimate analysis, the whole physical universe is paramanu. As we have seen, paramanus have the innate capacity of uniting with one another to form composite bodies. The union is subject to certain definite rules, as all types of paramanus are not eligible to participate in the union. The composite bodies are liable to the process of disintegration (again subject to rules) and the united paramanus may become free atoms and thus the association and dissociation goes on eternally. The paramanu is the ultimate cause 'karana anu’ - as well as the ultimate end-product - 'antya anu.'

The following verse succinctly summarizes the fundamental nature of paramanu:

Karanameva tadantyam, suksmo nityasca bhavati paramanuh /
Ekarasa-gandha-varno, dvisparsah karyalingasca //

  1. It is karana i.e. the cause of the creation of the physical universe.
  2. It is antya i.e. the ultimate end-product of the physical universe.
  3. It is suksma i.e. infinitesimally subtle.
  4. It is nitya, i.e. indestructible. It does not lose its individuality even when participating in a union.
  5. It possesses one rasa, one gandha and one varna.
  6. It is dvisparsi ie. it possesses two sparsa - either dryness or glueyness and hot or cold i.e. it is either dry-cold or dry-hot, or gluey-cold or gluey-hot.
  7. It is karyalinga i.e. it can be cognised by inference only through the effects of collective actions. Its qualities can also be cognised through the qualities of the composite bodies. In short, by itself it is not an object of sensuous cognition. Only transcendental and extra-sensory perception can cognise its qualities
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