Kanada (Sanskrit: कणाद); was a sage and philosopher who founded the philosophical school of Vaisheshika and authored the text Vaisheshika Sutra. He probably lived around the 2nd century BCE,while other sources claim he lived in the 6th Century BCE. It is believed that he was born in Prabhas Kshetra (near Dwaraka) in Gujarat,India.
His primary area of study was Rasavādam, considered to be a type of alchemy. He is said to have believed that all living beings are composed of five elements: water, fire, earth, air, ether. Vegetables have only water, insects have water and fire, birds have water, fire, earth and air, and Humans, the top of the creation, have ether—the sense of discrimination (time, space, mind) are one. He theorized that Gurutva(Hindi/Sanskrit for Gravity) was responsible for the falling of objects on the Earth.
He is recognized as the founder of atomic theory, and classified all the objects of creation into nine elements (earth, water, light or fire, wind, ether, time, space, mind and soul). He stated that every object in creation is made of atoms that in turn connect with each other to form molecules nearly 2,500 years before John Dalton. Further, Kanad described the dimension and motion of atoms, and the chemical reaction with one another.
These Indian ideas about atom and atomic physics could have been transmitted to the West during the contacts created between India and West by the invasion of Alexander.
Many believe that Kanada originated the concept of atom. An interesting story states that this theory occurred to him while he was walking with food in his hand. As he nibbled at the food in his hand, throwing away the small particles, it occurred to him that he could not divide the food into further parts and thus the idea of a matter which cannot be divided further came into existence. He called that indivisible matter as ‘ Anu ‘ .i.e. atom.
It was Kanada who originated the idea that paramanu (atom) was an indestructible particle of matter. An interesting story states that this theory occurred to him while he was walking with food in his hand. As he nibbled at the food in his hand, throwing away the small particles, it occurred to him that he could not divide the food into further parts and thus the idea of a matter which cannot be divided further came into existence. He called that indivisible matter anu, i.e. atom.
Adherents of the school of philosophy founded by Kanada, considered the atom to be indestructible, and hence eternal. They believed atoms to be minute objects invisible to the naked eye which come into being and vanish in an instant. Vaiseshikas further held that atoms of same substance combined with each other to produce dvyanuka (biatomic molecules) and tryanuka (triatomic molecules). Kanada also put forward the idea that atoms could be combined in various ways to produce chemical changes in presence of other factors such as heat. He gave blackening of earthen pot and ripening of fruit as examples of this phenomenon.
This Indian conception of the atom was developed independently and possibly prior (depending on which dates one accepts for the life of Kanada) to the development of the idea in the Greco-Roman world. Indian theories about the atom are greatly abstract and enmeshed in philosophy as they were based on logic and not on personal experience or experimentation. Thus the Indian theories lacked an empirical base, but in the words of A.L. Basham, the veteran Australian Indologist “they were brilliant imaginative explanations of the physical structure of the world, and in a large measure, agreed with the discoveries of modern physics.”
According to author Dilip M. Salwi, “if Kanada’s sutras are analysed, one would find that his atomic theory was far more advanced than those forwarded later by the Greek philosophers, Leucippus and Democritus. Kanada founded this system. This system is believed to be as old as Jainism and Buddhism. Kanada presented his detailed atomic theory in Vaisheshika-Sutra. Basically, Vaisheshika is a pluralistic realism. It explains the nature of the world with seven categories:Dravya (substance), guna (quality), karma(action), samanya(universal), vishesha (particular), amavaya(inherence) and abhava (non-existence). Vaisheshika contends that every effect is a fresh creation or a new beginning. Thus this system refutes the theory of pre-existence of the effect in the cause. Kanada does not discuss much on God. But the later commentators refer to God as the Supreme Soul, perfect and eternal. This system accepts that God (Ishvara ) is the efficient cause of the world. The eternal atoms are the material cause of the world. Vaisheshika recognizes nine ultimate substances : Five material and four non-material substances. The five material substances are: Earth, water, fire, air and akasha. The four non-material substances are: space, time, soul and mind. Earth, water, fire and air are atomic but akasha is non-atomic and infinite. Space and time are infinite and eternal. The concept of soul is comparable to that of the self or atman. This system considers consciousnessas an accidental property. In other words, when the soul associates itself to the body, only then it ‘acquires’ consciousness. Thus, consciousness is not considered an essential quality of the soul. The mind (manas) is accepted as atomic but indivisible and eternal substance. The mind helps to establish the contact of the self to the external world objects. The soul develops attachment to the body owing to ignorance. The soul identifies itself with the body and mind. The soul is trapped in the bondage of karma, as a consequence of actions resulted from countless desires and passions. It can be free from the bondage only if it becomes free from actions. Liberation follows the cessation of the actions.