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Abhava – The Concept Of Absence Or Non-Existence In Hinduism

Abhava is absence, non-being, nullity, negation; an ontological object in the Nyaya Vaisheshika System in Hinduism.

Abhava is of four kinds,
  1. prak (prior),
  2. pradhvamsha (posterior),
  3. itaretara (reciprocal) and
  4. atyantra (absolute)
When an object like a pot is yet to be made, it has no existence. This prak-abhava (prior non-existence) has no beginning. When the same pot, after it comes into existence, is broken into shards, it is said to pass into non-existence again. This is its pradhvamsha abhava (posterior non-existence), which thus has a beginning but has no end, according to the adherents of Nyaya and Vaisheshika Schools of thought.

Advaitins such as Dharmaraja differ saying that when the shards are reduced to powder, the posterior non-existence of the pot ends and this does not entail the re-emergence of the pot.

Destruction (or posterior non-existence) of anything is non-eternal as nothing is eternal in the world, at least according to the advaitins.

If, however, the locus of an object is eternal, then the destruction will necessarily be eternal. For example, the world, according to Advaita, has its locus in Brahman, which is eternal. When the world appearance comes to an end by right knowledge, the destruction of the apparent world is final. This is the stand taken, however, only by advaita. The logicians do not subscribe to this view.

When two things differ, there is reciprocal non-existence, mutual exclusion (itaretara-abhava) between them. Here again, if the loci are temporal, the mutual non-existence is also temporal. If the loci were without beginning, as is the case with the difference that obtains in Advaita between the self and Brahman, the mutual non-existence also would be without beginning, though this non-existence could end in the attainable merger.

Non-existence is said to be atyanta-abhava (absolute) when something is always absent, in any locus. For example, there is non-existence of color in air. In the Nyaya tradition however, the statement, “Here there is no pot” is also an example of atyanta abhava.

Among Advaitins, Nrismhavami in his bheda-dhikkara accepts only absolute non-existence. The other three can be reduced to this class, he argues. For instance, the coginition “The ground is not pot” is the same as saying “There is no pot on the ground”.

Vishvanatha in his Siddhanta Muktavali says that non-existence (abavatvam) is the reciprocal non-existence of the six padarthas (ontological categories) – substance, quality, action, generality, particularity, and inherence. Kanada did not mention abhava as a separate category in his Vaisheshika Sutra. But later it came to be added as the seventh category.

Vatsyayana in his Nyaya Bhashya admits only two kinds of non existence, the prior and the posterior. Vachaspati Mishra in his Nyaya Vartika tatparya tika, re-classifies abhava into one of identity (tadatmya – abhava) or mutual non-existence and one of relation (samsarga – abhava), which again is further divided into prior, posterior and absolute.

Among the Mimamsakas and the Prabhakaras, the followers of Prabhakara Mishra (8th and 9th century AD) do not admit non-existence as a category as, in this philosophy, the object is perceived to be the same as the locus. For instance, the non-existence of the pot on the ground is the same as the existence of the bare ground.

Bhattas, the followers of Kumarila Bhatta (8th-9th Century AD), however, admit the category of abhava.

Source - Encyclopedia of Hinduism Volume I page 4 IHRF 
The Wisdom of Nyaya, 1988, by K P Bahadur 1988 Sterling Publishers
Advaita Epistemology, 1984, P. K. Sundaram, published by University of Madras.