One, Oneness, and Separateness

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The following is an excerpt from the Vaiśeṣika Sutras, that describes the three principles of One, Oneness, and Separateness, which create two paradoxes—unity in diversity and diversity in unity. Many things emerge out of the One, therefore, they must have existed in the One previously; this is the paradox of diversity in the unity. Similarly, when the many things have emerged from the One, Oneness is immanent in the many things; this is the paradox of unity in the diversity. These three principles are called Bhagavān, Paramātma, and Brahman in the Bhāgavat Purāna. Bhagavān is One, Paramātma is Oneness, and Brahman is many things (which create a “space” of individual locations). One, Oneness, and Separateness are therefore general principles based on which diversity and unity are understood.

Sutra 7.2.3

एकत्वैकपृथक्त्वयोरेकत्वैकपृथक्त्वाभावो ऽणुत्वमहत्त्वाभ्यां व्याख्यातः

‘ṇutvamahattvābhyāṃ vyākhyātaḥ

ekatva—oneness; eka—one; pṛthaktvayoh—in the separateness; ekatva—oneness; eka—one; pṛthaktva—separateness; abhāvah—absence; aṇutva—atomism; mahattvābhyāṃ–from greatness; vyākhyātaḥ–is explained.


The absence of oneness, one, and separateness in the oneness, one, and separateness is explained by atomism arising from greatness.


The sutra describes a paradox and its solution. The paradox is that there is simultaneous diversity and oneness. The existence of diversity is the absence of the oneness, and the existence of oneness is the absence of diversity. The diversity exists because the whole truth is divided into parts. And the oneness exists because the whole truth is immanent in the parts. Since both unity and diversity exist, therefore, the separateness and oneness are absent. Similarly, the “one” is transcendent to the parts, therefore, the “one” is absent from the diversity.

The “one” from which the diversity expands, comprises all the diversity, and yet, the diversity is not separated in the “one”. Therefore, there is no separateness (as there is oneness), and there is no oneness (because there is diversity). Similarly, the “one” is absent from the “one” because It has the desire for self-knowledge; that desire can exist only when the “one” doesn’t know itself. This desire for self-knowledge is called abhāva due to which the self misses itself and desires to unite with itself; that union creates self-knowledge.

Thus, paradoxically, there is one (the source of everything), there is diversity (or separateness), and there is unity in the diversity (the oneness). And yet, in another sense, the one is missing from the diversity and itself, the diversity is missing in the one, and unity—even though present—is apparently missing because it is not perceived in the material condition. This leads to the paradox of one, oneness, and separateness, namely that they are at once present and absent. The resolution of the paradox is that oneness counters separateness, the separateness counters oneness, and yet both are reconciled in the one. This one expands into many due to the one missing from itself; therefore, another paradox of presence and absence is created, but the paradox is resolved if we understand this “one” as a personality with the desire for self-knowledge.

Once we understand the paradox and its resolution, then we can understand the role of atomism and greatness. Greatness is the transcendent whole truth, and atomism is the immanent representation of this whole truth within all partial truths. Just like a mammal is present within a cow, and in one sense mammal is transcendent, and in another sense immanent, in the same way, the Absolute Truth is transcendent as greatness and immanent as atomism. Thus, He is both the greatest and the smallest. His immanence in everything is the unity in everything; His transcendence being divided into parts is the diversity, and His transcendental personality is the one. Thus, the Lord is inside everything, outside everything, and everything. These three realizations about the Absolute Truth are called Paramātma, Bhagavan, and Brahman, respectively. Brahman is everything; Paramātma is the immanent truth inside everything; and Bhagavan is the transcendent truth outside everything.

If we only acknowledge diversity, then there would be no unity, and there would be no origin. If we say that there is one source for everything, but that source is transcendent, then there would be no way to know that source from the things. Such a postulate would become indistinguishable from arbitrary hypotheses. Hence, in addition to diversity, and a single source of diversity, we must acknowledge a unity that is immanent inside the diversity. This immanent truth creates unity in diversity, and is the means to know the transcendent one: We can look deep inside anything, and know the source of everything.


Sutra 7.2.4

निः संख्यत्वात् कर्मगुणानां सर्वैकत्वं विद्यते
niḥ saṃkhyatvāt karmaguṇānāṃ sarvaikatvaṃ na vidyate

niḥ–without; saṃkhyatvāt—from number-like; karma—activity; guṇānāṃ–qualities; sarva—all; ekatvaṃ–unity; na–not vidyate—known.


Without being manifested from number-like, the unity of all activities and qualities cannot be known.


This sutra states the Sāñkhya position in which all qualities and activities are essentially numbers, but these numbers are meanings. Their interaction is based on the logic of meaning interaction, and their successive manifestation is the manifestation of one number from within another. Based on the nature of numbers, their manifestation and interaction can be studied scientifically. Logic and numbers are therefore applicable to the study of qualities and activities because the qualities are activities, which are themselves numbers. But these are not quantitative numbers; each number rather symbolizes a type of meaning.


Sutra 7.2.5

भ्रान्तं तत्
bhrāntaṃ tat

bhrāntaṃ–confusing; tat—that.


That (unity due to manifestation from number-like) is confusing.


In modern science, we think of the world as matter and force, not as numbers. Matter is understood in terms of its properties like mass and charge, energy, and momentum. Forces are similarly conceived as gravity, electromagnetism, etc. How can all these things be just numbers? Despite the successes of modern science and its reliance on numbers and equations, we still don’t understand why mathematics can be so successful in describing the nature of reality. This confusion is the result of thinking of numbers as quantities, rather than types of meaning. Conversely, those who don’t feel confused about this success, use that success to proclaim materialism when factually all that science does is numbers and equations. This sutra answers the twin confusions about why science works, as well as why materialism is false despite its success.

The answer to the question about why science works is that nature is numbers, and the equations of science treat reality as numbers. The successes of science are owed to the fact that it has gotten one idea correct—namely, that nature should be described using mathematics. By capturing some properties of the number aggregates, science has become successful. However, the aggregation of numbers doesn’t necessarily produce a number that would be obtained by the addition of constituent numbers.  Numbers also have complex contextual properties due to the inverted-tree like structure in which they are produced.

A number, for instance, can be treated in three ways—an object, a quality, and an activity. A number like 10 can sometimes refer to a particular individual—e.g., employee number 10. Then, it can refer to the quality of tenness. And it can refer to an activity (e.g., if numbers are used as instructions in computers). Whether a number is an object, quality, or activity cannot be determined independently of context. But since each number is some quality, activity, or object, therefore, the result of number aggregation cannot simply be obtained by the addition of numbers. Such addition amounts to adding qualities to activities to objects—which cannot be added since they are entities of different types.

Just as apples and oranges can be added to obtain the total number of fruits, but not the total number of apples or oranges, similarly, sometimes number addition works if it pertains to a more abstract concept. And sometimes it doesn’t work if we think that the addition pertains to the total number of oranges or apples. As a result, modern science is a mixture of some successes and many failures. The successes are not due to materialism; they are due to the fact that reality is numbers. And the failures are due to the fact that numbers are not quantities but types. Each number, therefore, has a unique type, which includes the type of being an object, quality, or activity. The qualities, activities, and objects are further subdivided into many subtypes. And the combination of these types requires an alternative system of type combining. That system will simultaneously undermine materialism, and produce a science that is far more powerful than current science because it accounts for the typed nature of reality.


Sutra 7.2.6

एकत्वाभावाद्भक्तिस्तु विद्यते
ekatvābhāvādbhaktistu na vidyate

ekatva—unity; abhāvāt—from the absence; bhakti—attachment; tu—but; na—not; vidyate—known.


But from the absence of unity (between objects, qualities, and activities), the attachments (between them) cannot be known.


The last sutra stated that the unity between objects, qualities, and activities is very confusing, and this sutra counters—but, if we don’t consider this unity then we cannot explain how these things are combined. This is the doctrine of similar things combine with similar things, and dissimilar things cannot interact. Therefore, if activities are disparate from qualities, then they cannot be produced from qualities, nor can they modify objects. Hence, even though the unity between objects, qualities, and activities is confusing, it must be accepted because the alternative makes it impossible to understand the nature of reality.


Sutra 7.2.7

कार्यकारणयोरेकत्वैकपृथक्त्वाभावादेकत्वैकपृथक्त्वं विद्यते
kāryakāraṇayorekatvaikapṛthaktvābhāvādekatvaikapṛthaktvaṃ na vidyate

kārya—effect; kāraṇayoh—and the cause; ekatva—unity; eka—one; pṛthaktva—separateness; abhāvāt—from the absence; ekatva—unity; eka—one; pṛthaktvaṃ–separateness; na—not; vidyate—known.


The oneness, unity, and separateness of cause and effect are not known from the absence of oneness, unity, and separateness.


This sutra revisits the paradox we have discussed earlier. To recall, the paradox is that (a) there is one cause for everything, (b) there are many things produced from that cause, and (c) all these varied things have unity. The last two create the paradox of unity in diversity, and the first two create the paradox of diversity in the unity. If diversity did not exist in the unity, then many things could not be created from that unity. Similarly, if unity did not exist in the diversity, then the many produced things could not interact with each other.

The previous sutras have elaborated on the nature of the unity—namely, that they are all numbers, and hence they can combine and interact. But this unity is qualitative—we are talking about the property of numerosity and then treating all the individual numbers as the subclasses of that numerosity. If we remove either of the above three—oneness, unity, and separateness—then we cannot explain (a) the single source for everything, (b) many manifested things, and (c) the basis for interaction between these things. Thus, a pure singularity of cause doesn’t work because it leads to only one effect, rather than many effects. A pure plurality of causes and effects doesn’t work because we cannot explain why these things are able to interact with each other without a similarity, which requires a single source of causation. Hence, by removing any one of these three principles of unity, oneness, and separateness, we lose the basis for all three.

Cite this article as:

Ashish Dalela, "One, Oneness, and Separateness," in Shabda Journal, May 1, 2021,