Nagarjuna's Middle Way The Mulamadhyamakakarikas
By Mark Siderits
Wisdom Publications Copyright © 2013 Mark Siderits
All right reserved. ISBN: 9781614290506
1. An Analysis of Conditions
This is the first of several chapters investigating the concept of causation. It is important to note at the outset that in classical Indian philosophy causation is usually understood as a relation between entities (the seed, together with warm moist soil, is the cause of the sprout”) and not, as in modern science, between events (the collision caused the motion of the ball”). It begins with a statement of the thesis: that existing things do not arise in any of the four logically possible ways that causation might be thought to involve. The Abhidharmika opponent then introduces their conditions-based analysis of causation, which is a version of the second of the four possible views concerning causation. The remainder of the chapter consists of arguments against the details of this theory that entities arise in dependence on distinct conditions. In outline the chapter proceeds as follows:
1.1 Assertion: no entity arises in any of the four possible ways: (a) from itself, (b) from a distinct cause, (c) from both itself and something distinct, or (d) without cause
1.2 General refutation of arising on possibilities ad
1.3 Opponent: entities arise (b) in dependence on distinct conditions of four kinds
1.4 Refutation of relation between conditions and causal activity
1.56 Definition of condition” and argument for the impossibility of anything meeting the definition
1.710 Refutations of each of the four conditions
1.1114 Refutation of thesis that effect arises from conditions
* * *
na svato napi parato na dvabhyam napy ahetutah |
utpanna jatu vidyante bhavah kva cana ke cana ||1||
1. Not from itself, not from another, not from both, nor without cause,
never in any way is there any existing thing that has arisen.
This is the overall conclusion for which Nagarjuna will argue in this chapter: that existents do not come into existence as the result of causes and conditions. There are four possible ways in which this might be thought to happen, and he rejects all of them. According to the first, when an effect seems to arise it does so because it was already in some sense present in its cause; its appearance is really just the manifestation of something that already existed. The second view claims instead that cause and effect are distinct entities. The third has it that cause and effect may be said to be both identical and distinct. The fourth claims that things originate without any cause; since there are thus no causes, an originating thing could not be said to originate either from itself or from something distinctit does not originate from
We follow Ye (2011), and accordingly diverge from translations that follow the La Vallée Poussin edition, in reversing the order of the second and third verses of this chapter. (This ordering is clearly attested to by Akutobhaya
and the commentaries of Buddhapalita and Bhaviveka.) On this reading, general arguments against all four views are given in the next verse. But in his comments on this verse Bhaviveka anticipates by giving arguments against the four views. He says, for instance, that the fourth view would mean that anything could be produced from anything at any time, something we know is false.
catvarah pratyaya hetur arambanam anantaram |
tathaivadhipateyam ca pratyayo nasti pañcamah ||2||
2. The intrinsic nature of existents does not exist in the conditions, etc.
The intrinsic nature not occurring, neither is extrinsic nature found.
According to the Akutobhaya
, 2ab gives the argument against the first possibility mentioned in verse 1, that an existent arises from itself. The argument is that if that out of which the existent arose were really that existent itself, then it should have the intrinsic nature (svabhava
) of the existent. But this is simply not the case. Indeed as all the other commentators point out, if this were the case then arising would be pointless. For instance we want to know the cause of fire because we want to produce something with its intrinsic nature, heat. If that nature were already present in its cause, then it would be pointless to produce fire. For then in order to feel heat we would only need to touch unignited fuel.
Again according to the Akutobhaya
, 2cd gives the argument against the second possibility mentioned in verse 1, that an existent arises from something distinct from itself. This would mean that the existent must borrow its nature from its cause, thus making its nature something that is extrinsic (parabhava
). The argument is that in the absence of the intrinsic nature of the existent in question, its extrinsic nature is likewise not to be found. This is because in order for something to exist its intrinsic nature must occur: There is, for instance, no fire without the occurrence of heat. And something cannot be in the position of borrowing a nature from something else unless it exists. So an existent cannot arise from something distinct.
The third possibility is to be rejected on the grounds that it inherits all the faults of the first and second. And according to Akutobhaya
the fourth is false because it is one of the extreme views rejected by the Buddha. (Other commentators give more philosophically respectable reasons to reject this view.)
na hi svabhavo bhavanam pratyayadisu vidyate |
avidyamane svabhave parabhavo na vidyate ||3||
3. There are four conditions: the primary cause, the objective support, and the proximate condition,
and of course the dominant condition; there is no fifth condition.
The commentators represent this as the view of a Buddhist opponent, someone who holds the second of the four possible views about the relation between cause and effect mentioned in verse 1. Candrakirti has this opponent begin by rehearsing the reasons for rejecting the first, third and fourth views. On the first, origination would be pointless, since the desired effect would already exist. We seek knowledge of causes because we find ourselves wanting to produce something that does not currently exist. The third view is to be rejected because it is the conjunction of the first and second, and we already know that the first is false. The fourth view, that of causelessness, is one of the absurd extremes said to be false by the Buddha (M. I.408, A. I.173). But, the opponent claims, the second view was taught by the Buddha and so should not be rejected.
The classification of four kinds of condition is the Abhidharma elaboration of the Buddha’s teaching of origination. (See Abhidharmakosabhasya
II.64a.) (1) The primary cause is that from which the effect is thought to have been producedfor example, the seed in the case of a sprout. (2) Only a cognition has an objective support, namely its intentional object, that of which it is conscious. A visual cognition has a color-and-shape as its objective support, an auditory cognition has a sound, etc. (3) The proximate condition is that entity or event that immediately precedes the effect and that cedes its place to the effect. (4) The dominant condition is that without which the effect would not arise. After criticizing the basic notion of causation, Nagarjuna will take up each of these four types in turn: primary cause in verse 7, objective support in verse 8, proximate condition in verse 9, and dominant condition in verse 10.
Candrakirti sets the stage for verse 4 by having the opponent answer the question raised by 3cd as follows: Then, those who claim that origination is by means of conditions having been refuted, it is said that origination is by means of an action (kriya
). The conditions such as vision and color-and-shape do not directly cause consciousness [as effect]. But conditions are so called because they result in a consciousness-producing action. And this action produces consciousness. Thus consciousness is produced by a condition-possessing, consciousness-producing action, not by conditions, as porridge [is produced] by the action of cooking.” (LVP p. 79) (For more on satkaryavada
see chapters 10 and 20.)
kriya na pratyayavati napratyayavati kriya |
pratyaya nakriyavantah kriyavantas ca santy uta ||4||
4. An action does not possess conditions, nor is it devoid of conditions.
Conditions are not devoid of an action, neither are they provided with an action.
This action” is supposed to be the causal activity that makes the cause and conditions produce the right kind of effect. It is supposed to explain why only when a seed is planted in warm moist soil does a sprout appear (and why a sprout doesn’t arise from a stone). But if this action is the product of the co-occurrence of the conditions, and thus may be said to possess the conditions, then presumably it occurs when these conditions are assembled. But is this before or after the effect has arisen? If before, then it does not perform the producing activity that makes an event an action. If after, then since the effect has already been produced, the producing activity is no longer to be found. And, adds Candrakirti, there is no third time when the effect is undergoing production, since that would require that the effect be both existent and nonexistent, which is a contradictory state.
If, on the other hand, one were to say that the action occurs independently of the conditions, then we would be unable to explain why the productive action takes place at one time and not at others. The action, being free of dependence on conditions, would be forever occurring, and all undertakings like trying to make a fire would be pointless.
Given that one cannot specify a time when this action occurs, it follows that it does not ultimately exist. And from this it follows that it cannot be ultimately true that conditions either possess an action or do not possess an action.
utpadyate pratityeman itime pratyayah kila |
yavan notpadyata ime tavan napratyayah katham ||5|
5. They are said to be conditions when something arises dependent on them.
When something has not arisen, why then are they not nonconditions?
naivasato naiva satah pratyayo ’rthasya yujyate |
asatah pratyayah kasya satas ca pratyayena kim ||6||
6. Something cannot be called a condition whether the object [which is supposedly the effect] is not yet existent or already existent.
If nonexistent, what is it the condition of? And if existent, what is the point of the condition?
These two verses explain in greater detail the argument of verse 4. The supposed conditions for the arising of a visual cognitionfunctioning eyes, presence of an object, light, etc.cannot be said to be conditions at the time when the visual cognition does not yet exist, since they have not yet performed the productive activity required to make them be what is properly called conditions.” But when the visual cognition does exist, no productive activity is to be found. We might think there must be a third time between these two, a time when the visual cognition is undergoing production. But while we could say this about a chariot, it could not hold of something ultimately real such as a cognition. A chariot might be thought of as something that gradually comes into existence when its parts are being assembled. But precisely because we would then have to say that during that process the chariot both exists and does not exist, we must admit that the chariot is not ultimately real. That we can say this about a chariot shows that it is a mere useful fiction.
This pattern of argumentation, which we might call the argument of the three times,” will figure prominently in chapter 2. The point of the argument as applied to the present case of origination is that for those who hold that cause and effect are distinct (proponents of the view known as asatkaryavada
), the producing relation can only be a conceptual construction. According to asatkaryavada
, cause and conditions occur before the effect arises. To claim that the effect originates in dependence on the cause and conditions, we must take there to be a real relation between the two items. But that relation is not to be found in either of the two available times. As for the third time, it holds only with respect to conceptually constructed entities such as the chariot. It follows that the relation of production or causation must be conceptually constructed. It is something that we impute upon observing a regular succession of events, but it is not to be found in reality.
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by Mark Siderits
Copyright © 2013 by Mark Siderits.
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