Microcosmology: Atom In Jain Philosophy & Modern Science: [2.5.4] Atom In Jain Philosophy - Paramanu - Exposition

Published: 01.02.2008
Updated: 13.08.2008

The Ultimate Indivisible Unit Of Physical Existence


  1. Nomenclature
    Its full name is paramanu pudgala or dravya paramanu, but is generally called 'paramanu '. Etymologically, the word paramanu is made up of two terms parama and anu. The extreme limiting unit of the process of division of any material object is anu. Such ultimate anu is paramanu. Thus, paramanu is an ultimate or primary atom.
  2. Substantially
    Paramdnu is the substance pudgalasti-kaya, which is one of the six ultimate substances comprising the Universal Reality. It is a substance because it possesses qualities and modes. There are infinite numbers of individual paramanus, each numerically different from one another. Since each paramanu is a substance, number of pudgala - substance is infinite.
  3. Spatially
    A paramanu occupies a single space-point and can never extend to more than one, a body composed of infinite number of densely packed paramanus may also occupy a single space-point. There is not a single space-point in the whole of the loka, which is not occupied by paramanus Thus, paramanus pervade the whole of the loka, and are confined within their boundary.
  4. Temporally
    Paramanu existed in the infinite past, exists in the present and shall exist in the infinite future, it is eternal.
  5. Qualitatively
    Paramanu possesses colour, taste, smell and touch. These four are innate characteristics of paramanu.

    1. Colour
      Each paramanu possesses one of the five primary colours (black, blue, red, yellow and white). More than one colour or a mixture of two or more primary colours does not subsist in a free paramanu. The intensity of the colour possessed by a paramanu could be one unit, two units and so on up to innumerable (asamkhyata) units and even infinite (ananta) units.
    2. Taste
      What has been said about colour and its intensity in the preceding paragraph holds true about taste also. There are five primary tastes viz., sweet, acidic (sour), acrid, astringent and bitter, and each paramanu possesses one of them.
    3. Smell
      There are two primary smells - pleasant and unpleasant. For the rest, every word of para (a) holds true by substituting 'smell' instead of 'colour'.
    4. Touch
      A free paramanu possesses anyone of the following four combinations of touches,

      1. hot and dry
      2. hot and gluey
      3. cold and dry, and
      4. cold and gluey.

      Heaviness or lightness and softness or hardness are not the innate qualities of paramanu. These four subsist only in composite bodies with gross structure. The intensities of dryness etc., possessed by paramanu could be one unit up to infinite units. On the basis of these four innate qualities of paramanu, there are (5x5x2x4)-200 primary classes of paramanus. And on the basis of intensities of these qualities, there would be infinite subclasses of each of these 200 classes.

  6. Rupatva / Murtatva i.e. Corporeality
    though paramanu is beyond sensible cognition, it is rupi - (corporeal) because it can be cognised by extra-sensory perception (such as avadhi jnana or kevala jnana). it is not arupi, because it possesses sensible qualities of colour, etc. and when synthesized in a composite body, it acquires the quality of samsthana (shape) also.
  7. Quantitatively
    The total number of paramanus in the universe (loka) never changes. Not a single paramanu is destroyed - not a single new one is created. Under all circumstances and for all times, the total remains constant.
  8. Metaphysically
    Paramanu is real and a constituent of the physical reality. It is subject to the principle of permanence-through-change, and therefore, has an objective real existence. It is neither a figment of mind nor merely a postulation.
  9. Geometrically
    Paramanu (by itself) is extensionless, but not arupi. It is a true point and, therefore, has neither length nor breadth nor thickness; extension is a quality of composite bodies only.
  10. Parinama (mutation)
    Paramanu being a substance undergoes mutation. Its four innate qualities viz., colour, taste, smell and touch undergo mutation. In the free state, all mutations are of the visrasa type i.e. self-generated. Also in the free state the mutation is only in the intensities of colour, etc., i.e. X unit black changes to Y unit black but black does not become white or red etc., but during and after union with others, change in colour (black changing to blue) etc., may also take place.
  11. Non-transmutation
    Not a single paramanu can be destroyed or transmuted into another substance nor another substance be transmuted to create a new paramanu. But paramanus unite together to form composite bodies and the latter may again dissociate into paramanus.
  12. Agurulaghu
    Paramanu is agurulaghu i.e., it is neither heavy nor light this is another way of emphasizing that it has no mass. The qualities of gurutva and laghutva are acquired later by composite bodies of certain groups and structures.
  13. Permanence-through-change
    Paramanu as a substance is indestructible and therefore, permanent or eternal. But from the point of view of its qualities, which undergo modifications, it is changing. That is why it has been called permanent as well as impermanent.[Bhagavati Sutra, 14-4-49.]
  14. Interaction with Jiva
    Paramanu by itself, that is, in its free State, is agrahya, i.e., not attracted or transformed by jiva [Bhagavati Sutra, 20-5-38]and, therefore, serves no useful purpose [Bhagavati Sutra, 18-4-86] in its free statefor the jiva.
  15. Singularity-Plurality
    Paramanuis a primordial singularity. It has an eternal existence of its own and is determinate by its own qualities and modes. Paramanuas a substance is not a composite body; it is truly indivisible singularity. But as a substratum of many qualities, it does possess plurality. Spatially again, because it occupies a single space-point, it is singularity.
  16. Gati (motion) and Kriya (dynamic activity)
    Paramanu has a propensity to become dynamically active. This does not mean that all paramanusare active everywhere and at all times under all conditions. There is an dement of uncertainty in the origination and cessation of the dynamic activity of paramanu. A paramanucan remain at rest on a single space-point for sometime. Maximum period of inactivity is innumerable (asamkhyat)samaya, after which it must move. On the other hand, maximum period of activity is innumerable portion (asamkhyatamsa)of an avalikaMinimum period of activity and inactivity is one samaya. In short, the dynamic activity of Paramanuis not continuous, that is, there are alternate periods of rest and motion.

    The Bhagavati Sutra describes the variety of dynamic actions of a paramanu; some of these are as follows:

    1. Siya eyati
    2. Siya veyati
    3. Siya calai
    4. Siya phandai
    5. Siya ghattai
    6. Siya kouvayai
    7. Siya udirai

      and so on...

Thus, more than one type of motion could be simultaneous. Temporally, all these motions may be regular or irregular.

Paramanu may be self-activated i.e. may undergo self-interaction without any external influence. It may also be acted upon by other paramanu(s) or composite bodies. (It may be recalled that jiva can never influence the activity of a single paramänu.)

At what speed does a paramanu move? At what frequency does it vibrate or if it revolves, at what rate? It is clearly mentioned in the Bhagavati Sutra that a paramanu can move from one end of the loka to the other in one time-point.[Bhag. Sut. 16/8/116.] This is the maximum velocity of a paramanu. Its minimum velocity is one time-point for its linear motion from one space-point to the adjacent one.

Whether it moves to an adjacent space-point or crosses the whole loka from one end to the other, if the time taken is a samaya, the motion will be in anusreni i.e. straight and without changing the direction. If there is a turning, the time will be more than one samaya. Turning is always due to external forces.

  • Jain Vishva Barati Institute, Ladnun, India
  • Edited by Muni Mahendra Kumar
  • 3rd Edition 1995

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Page glossary
Some texts contain  footnotes  and  glossary  entries. To distinguish between them, the links have different colors.
  1. Agurulaghu
  2. Ananta
  3. Anu
  4. Arupi
  5. Asamkhyata
  6. Asamkhyatamsa
  7. Avadhi Jnana
  8. Bhagavati Sutra
  9. Body
  10. Dravya
  11. Gati
  12. Jiva
  13. Jnana
  14. Kevala Jnana
  15. Kriya
  16. Loka
  17. Murtatva
  18. Para
  19. Paramanu
  20. Paramanus
  21. Parinama
  22. Pudgala
  23. Samaya
  24. Sutra
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