In Book 2, chapter 1 of Nyaya Sutras commentary, in line 85, I have a doubt.

  1. The mind too has not been omitted from our definition inasmuch as we have spoken of non-simultaneity of acts of knowledge. -24.

    Perception has been defined as knowledge. An essential characteristic of knowledge is that more than one act of knowing cannot take place at a time. This characteristic is due to the mind, an atomic substance, which is conjoined with the sense, when knowledge is produced. Hence in speaking of knowledge we have the implication mentioned the mind as a condition of perception.

Nyaya Sutra commentary says that Mind is an atomic substance so it can perceive only one knowledge at a time. I want to know what does it mean that mind can perceive only one knowledge at a time because it is "atomic" in nature? How can being atomic stop us from having more than 1 knowledge at a time?

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  • @Sarvabhouma Thanks for telling me. Now I have edited it. – user17858 Jun 5 '19 at 7:36

In his translation of this verse, Swami Maddhavananda writes (Bhasa Pariccheda with Siddhanta-Muktavali by Visvanatha-Nyaya-Pancanana, translation by Swami Madhavananda):

85. The instrument of the cognition of pleasure etc. is called the mind. In this system it is considered to be atomic, since states of consciousness are not simultaneous.

[and at the end of a long commentary on the verse:] ...It cannot also be urged that since the mind is possessed of expansion of contraction, both (simultaneity and its opposite) may be explained; for it is cumbersome to assume multiple parts (of the mind), their destruction and so on, and simpler to assume that the mind is atomic and without any parts. This is the long and short of the matter. The category of substance has been explained.

The Nyaya school were materialists. The verse is, by the use of the word substance is saying that the mind is a material substance, not non-material. And since it can only perceive one object at a time, it must be atomic (meaning not composed of anything smaller in substance). It attaches to one organ of perception at a time. It differs from the Samkaya and Vedanta philosophies as it posits no Purusha behind the mind.


In Nyaya darshan, ATma is vibhu, that is it is of infinite dimension and pervasive, not limited. So it cannot have samyoga (in nyaya, there are two relationships samyoga=conjunction, and samvaya=inherent) with another pervasive substance. However, atma -manah samyoga is necessary for knowledge. Thus mind has to be of lesser dimension than vibhu. It cannot be medium size (dehaparimana) also, because we do not have simultaneous cognition of different kinds of sensations (at least according to Nyaya) but have a sequential cognition of each sensation. We can understand this better by their theory of perception. Each indriya is the special cause (karan=asadharna karana=vyaparavan karana is karan=tadjnayate sati tad janyajanakatwam is vyapara) of a particular kind of sensation. When this indriya is in conjunction with mind and mind is in conjunction with atma we have the various sensations. But as mind is atomic it combines with each indriya only simultaneously. Nyaya is not materialist because they believe in jivatma and paramatma. Even In sankhya and vedanta mind is material, for example in vedanta, mind is produced by the combined sattva parts of the five elements etc.

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