From the standpoint of Indian philosophy, the world including physical nature is a n.oral stage for the education and emancipation of individual souls.
The Vaisesika theory of the world is guided ty this general spiritual outlook of Indian philosophy In its attempt to explain the origin and destruction of the world it does indeed reduce all composite objects to the four kinds of atomsof earth, water, fire and air.
So it is sometimes cnaracterised as the atomic theory of the world. But it does not ignore the moral arid spiritual principles governing the processes of composition anc decomposition of atoms.
Further, five of the nine kinds of substances, to which all things may be reduced, are not and cannot be reduced to material atoms so the atomic theory of the Vaisesika its a background different from that of the atomism of Western science and philosophy.
The latter is in principle a materialistic philosophy of the world. It explains the order and history of the world as the mechanical resultant of the fortuitous motions of innumerable atoms in infinite space and time, different directions.
There is no mind or intelligent power governing end guiding the operations of the material atoms; these act according to blind mechanical laws. The atomism of the Vaisesika, however, is a phase of their spiritual philosophy.
According to it, the ultimate source of the actions of atoms is to be foundin the creativeor the destructive will of the Supereme Being who directs the operations of atoms according to the unseen desserts (adrsta) of individual souls and with reference to the end of moral dispensation.
On this view, the order of the world is like that of a monarchical state, which ultimately expresses the will of a wise monarch and in which all things are so ordered and adjusted that the citizens get ample opportunities for self- expansion and self-development as free and responsible beings.
The atomic theory of the Vaisesika explains that part of the world which is non-eternal, i.e. subject to origin and destruction in time.
The eternal constituents of the universe, namely, the four kinds of atoms, and the five substances of akasa, space, time, mind, and soul, do not come within the purview of their atomic theory, because these can neither be created nor destroyed.
On the other hand, all composite objects, beginning with a dyad or the first compound of only two atoms (dvyanuka), are non- eternal. So the atomic theory explains the order of creation and destruction of these non-eternal objects.
All composite objects are constituted by the combination of atoms and destroyed through their separation. The first combination of two atoms is called a dvyanuka and the combination of three atoms is called a tryanuka or triad.
The tryanuka is also called the trasarenu and it is the minimum perceptible object according to the Vaisesika philosophy.
The paramanu or atom and the dvyanuka or dyad, being smaller than the tryanuka or triad, cannot be perceived, but are known through inference.
All the finite objects of the physical world and the physical world itself are composed of the four kinds of atoms in the form of dyads, triads and other larger compounds arising out of these.
How can we account for the action or modon of atoms, which is necessary for their combination?
How, again, are we to explain ‘his particular order and arrangement of things in the world? In the Vaisesika philosophy the order of the world is, in its broad outlines, conceived like this.
The world, or better, the universe is a system of physical things and living beings having bodies with senses and possessing in intellect and egoism. All these exist and interact with one another, in time, space and akasa.
Living beings are souls who enjoy or suffer in this world accordingly as they are wise or ignorant, good or bad, virtuous or vicious.
The order of the world is, on the whole, a moral order in which the life and destiny of all individual selves are governed, not only by the physical laws of time and space, but also by the universal moral law of karma.
In the simplest form this law means ‘as you sow, so you reap’ just as the physical law of causation, in its most abstract form, means that there can be no effect without a cause.
Keeping in view this moral order of the universe, the Vaisesikas explain the process of creation and destruction of the world as follows.
The starting-point of the process of creation or destruction is the will of the Supreme Lord (Mahesvara) who is the ruler of the whole universe.
The Lord conceives the will to create a universe in which individual beings may get their proper share of the experience of pleasure and pain according to their deserts.
The process of creation and destruction of the world being begirt ningless (anadi), we cannot speak of a first creation of the worlc. In truth every creation is preceded by a state of destruction, and every destruction is preceded by some order of creation.
To create is to destroy an existing order of things and usher in a new order. Hence it is that God’s creative will has reference to Ihe stock of merit and demerit (adrsta) acquired by individual souls in a previous life lived in some other world.
When God thus wills to create a world, the unseen forces of moral deserts in the etrnal individual souls come into being to function in the direction of creation and the active life of experiences (bhoga).
And it is the contact with souls, endowed with the creative function of adrsta that first sets in motion the atoms of air.
Out of the combination of air-atoms, in the form of dyads and triads, arises the gross physical element (mahabhuta) of air; and it exists as an incessantly vibrating medium in the eternal akasa.
Then, a similar way, there is motion in the atoms of water and the creation of the gross element of waterwhich exists in the air and is moved by it.
Next, the atoms of earth are set in modon in a similar way and compose the gross element of earth which exists in the vast expanse of the gross elemental water.
Then from the Uoms of light arises in a similar way, the gross element of light and exists with its luminosity in the gross water.
After this and by the mere thought (abhidhyana) of God, there appears the embryo of a world (brahmanda) out of the atoms of light and earth.
God animates that great embryo with Brahma, the world soul, who is endowed with supreme wisdom, detachment and excellence (jhana, vairagya and aisvaryya).
To Brahma God entrusts the work of creation in its concrete details and with proper adjustment between merit and demrit on the one hand, and happiness and misery on the other.
The created world runs its course for many years. But it cannot continue to exist and endure for all dme to come.
Just as after the stress and strain of the day’s work God allows us rest at night, so after the trials and tribulations of many lives in one created world, God provides a way of escape from suffering for all living beings for some time.
This is done by Him through the destruction of the world. So the period of creation is followed by a state of destruction. The periods of creation and destruction make one complete cycle called Kalpa which has been repeating itself eternally.
The theory of cycles (kalpas) or recurring periods of creation and destruction is accepted by most of the orthodox systems of Indian philosophy.
The belief that the world in which we live is not eternal, and that at some distant time there shall be its dissolution, is supported by an analogical argument. Just earthen substances like jars are destroyed, so mountains which are earthy shall be destroyed.
Ponds and tanks are dried up. Seas and oceans being only very big reservoirs of water shall dry up. The light of a lamp is blown out. The sun being but a glorious 0rb of light must be extinguished at some distant time.
The process of the world’s dissoludon is as follows: When in lhe course of time Brahma, the world soul, gives up his body like other souls, there appears in Mahesvara or the Supreme Lord a desire to destroy the world.
With this, the creative adrsta or unseen moral agency in living beings is counteraced by the corresponding destructive adrsta and ceases to function for the active life of experience.
It is in contact with such souls, in which the destructive adrsta begins to operate, that there is motion in the constituent atoms of their body and senses.
On account of this motion there is disjunction of the atoms and consequent disintegration of the body and the senses.
The body with the senses being thus destroyed, what remain are only the atoms in their isolation. So also, there is motion in the constituent atoms of the elemental earth, and its consequent destruction through the cessation of their conjunction.
In this way there is the destruction of the physical elements of earth, water, light and air, one after the other. Thus these four physical elements and all bodies and sense organs are disintegrated and destroyed.
What remain are the four kinds of atoms of earth, water, light and air in their isolation, and the eternal substances of akasa, time, space, minds and sous with their stock of merit, demerit and past impressions (bhavani).
It will be observed here that while in the orcer of destruction, earth compounds come first, and then those of water, light and air in succession, in the order of creation, air compounds come first, water compounds next, and then these of the great eirth and light appear in succession.