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(9,511 words)

Author(s): Karin Preisendanz
The Sanskrit term mahābhūta (lit. great being) mostly occurs in the plural and is generally used as a noun with the neuter gender. It is commonly translated as “great element,” sometimes also as “material element,” or just as “element,” and in the classical period of South Asian thought it comprises the following: 1. earth ( pṛthivī); 2. water ( āpaḥ); 3. fire ( tejas); 4. wind ( vāyu); and 5. space/ether ( ākāśa).  The Sanskrit terms given here are the most commonly used ones. As can be seen from the sample passages treated below, the terms for earth, water, and w…


(14,523 words)

Author(s): Karin Preisendanz
The Sanskrit term vaiśeṣika, as a neuter noun, has been attested since the classical period as the designation of a vibrant philosophical tradition with a distinctive and central interest in issues of philosophy of nature; as a masculine noun, the term is also used to refer to an adherent of this tradition. Originally, the adjective vaiśeṣika may have literally meant “relating to or concerned with differences, specific features, particularities, or distinctions ( viśeṣa),” that is, “differentiating” or “specific.” For example, in the Mahābhārata ’s Mokṣadharma section, in t…