Introduction to Four Hundred Verse Treatise
Berlin, Germany, June 2007
Session Three: Background to Aryadeva’s Eights Chapters on Voidness, and Discussion of Chapter Nine (Refuting Static Functional Phenomena)
We’ve been going through, in summary, the main points of the sixteen chapters of Aryadeva’s Four Hundred Verse Treatise. And we saw that the first eight chapters speak about how to rid ourselves of incorrect views concerning conventional truth. And now we’re ready to look at the second eight chapters, which talk about how to overcome or rid ourselves of incorrect understanding of the deepest truth (in other words, voidness). And, as I mentioned yesterday, this second half of the text is extremely deep, profound, and difficult to understand, and requires a great deal of background. The reason for that is that there are many different tenet systems of philosophical views about how things exist and what exists, both within the Buddhist sphere and the non-Buddhist Indian sphere, and Aryadeva refers to most of them and refutes the various assertions of them which are incorrect from the point of view of the school that he represents, which is the Prasangika school within Madhyamaka. And this is considered by all the Tibetan traditions to be the deepest and most sophisticated view, the view that is necessary for actually achieving liberation and enlightenment. Although the other schools say that you can achieve liberation with their view.
The ones that Aryadeva specifically mentions and deals with are, within the non-Buddhist schools, Nyaya-Vaisheshika – Nyaya and Vaisheshika are two schools, but they assert very similar things – then Samkhya and Vedanta. It doesn’t specify which aspect of Vedanta, but it would obviously be very, very early – what later is called Vedanta, but basically based on the Upanishads. And, within the Buddhist fold, he speaks primarily about various assertions by the Vaibhashika school, with a little bit of mention of Sautrantika, and only very brief points about Chittamatra. (Both Vaibhashika and Sautrantika are within the Hinayana systems. Chittamatra is Mahayana.) He also makes a little bit of mention of the Jain position, which is also non-Buddhist, but doesn’t go into its philosophical assertions. And, within Madhyamaka, there isn’t really a discussion specifically in terms of Prasangika versus Svatantrika, because this text could be interpreted in several ways within Madhyamaka. But one could certainly understand certain points that are being made here from the point of view of a Prasangika refutation of Svatantrika.
Now all of these are very deep, profound philosophical systems, both the Buddhist and the non-Buddhist. And, given the time restrictions of the teachings here and the teachings His Holiness will be giving, I don’t think that it’s going to be possible for either myself or His Holiness to give all the background that would be necessary to be able to really follow the text in its profundity.
Also, concerning this Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction, you should realize that it was the Tibetans who made that clear distinction by giving it those names. And they base this on Madhyamaka commentaries written by Indian masters who lived after Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. So what is taught by Nagarjuna and Aryadeva, although they can be interpreted as (and the Gelugpas certainly do interpret it as) being very strongly Prasangika, it basically predates that type of clear distinction in different Indian commentarial traditions.
Also what is often very confusing is that these various schools, particularly the Buddhist ones, will use common technical terminology concerning modes of existence, and so on, which each school will define differently. And so that makes the discussion rather complicated, because if you don’t know what definition they are using for a specific term, then you could very easily ascribe an inappropriate definition to it and get quite confused by the discussion. And there are various Tibetan interpretations of what each of the Indian schools said as well. So it makes it even more complicated.
Now, as I said, I don’t even know whether His Holiness will go into a deep explanation of the Prasangika view of voidness – he may, and he probably will, but there’s no guarantee – because the text itself basically follows what later will be called the Prasangika method, which is to take a position of a certain school and point out the absurd conclusions and inconsistencies within it. So it doesn’t try to prove (which is the Svatantrika method) something else. What it does is try to show that what the other people are asserting is absurd and self-contradictory. So, in the text itself, it doesn’t actually explain even the Madhyamaka view, let alone the Prasangika view. But His Holiness might provide that as a background.
Now, just as a little bit of background, what I thought to do is to just explain one particular term which is going to appear over and again in the explanation, let’s put it that way, although you don’t actually find the term in the text itself. But this is the term which is usually translated as “true existence” (bden-par grub-pa). And, just as an example, to show you how it has different definitions in each of the Indian schools – it doesn’t mean the same, but you will undoubtedly hear this term over again in the explanation – just one very, very basic difference is that, for the Vaibhashika, Sautrantika, and Chittamatra systems, they assert that truly existent phenomena really do exist; “truly existent” does mean what the word says, that it really does exist. Whereas for both Madhyamaka divisions – Svatantrika and Prasangika – truly existent existence doesn’t exist at all; you think it truly exists, but it doesn’t. So that’s clearly a very major difference in the usage of the terms.
Now, within those schools that say truly existent phenomena actually do exist, then we also have different definitions of “true existence.” But, before we get into that, I think that there is a very important point that we need to understand in order to refine our way of understanding these terms. And this is that what they’re talking about in these discussions is not actual existence itself, in most cases; what they’re talking about is what establishes that something exists, what establishes or proves or demonstrates that something exists. Therefore, I like to translate it as “truly established existence” or “non-truly established existence,” and I’ll explain what is meant by this.
Now another distinction that we need to understand, because this is discussed over and over again, and the term is used over and over again, and I don’t know how it will be translated, but I translate it as “functional phenomenon” (dngos-po) and “nonfunctional phenomenon” (dngos-med). And usually those two terms are equivalent to – “functional phenomenon” being so-called “impermanent,” and “nonfunctional” being “permanent.” However, the terms themselves very literally are “phenomenon” and “non-phenomenon,” and so sometimes they’re understood as existent and nonexistent things. So, if the translator translates it as “existent phenomenon” or just “phenomenon” and “non-phenomenon,” please understand that that’s not the level of interpretation that Aryadeva is using throughout the text; he’s speaking more in terms of functional and nonfunctional phenomena. But, for instance, in Shantideva’s text there are some places where he uses the terms and they have both meanings, and both ways of understanding it have sense in the verses referring to both levels of meaning of the term.
Question: “Phenomenon” would be a functional phenomenon?
Alex: Either it’s “functional” and “nonfunctional” (meaning impermanent and permanent), or it is “phenomenon” and “non-phenomenon” (meaning that it exists or it doesn’t exist).
Question: What do you mean by “functional”?
Alex: I will explain that.
Question: And how does Shantideva use it?
Alex: Shantideva very often in his verses will use it in both senses, so that it makes sense both ways.
Alex: I will explain that. Thank you. Now it sounds like a Socratic dialog, where the student has to ask “Well, why is it?” and then you give the answer. So, very good.
“Functional” and “nonfunctional” means basically to perform a function, which means, more specifically, to act as a cause for bringing about a result. So it performs a function; it brings about a result. And it’s something which is – a synonym for it is – it’s usually translated as “conditioned” and “unconditioned” phenomena, although I prefer “affected” and “unaffected.” It means that it is affected (or brought about) by causes, or it’s not affected or brought about by causes and circumstances. “Affected” is more broad, actually, more broad a term. So a functional phenomenon is affected by causes and conditions – it’s caused by them, brought about by them – or, even if it exists, it’s affected by them, and it brings about a result. Because of that, it’s impermanent. “Impermanent” here – remember, I always prefer “nonstatic” – in other words, it’s changing. It changes. So it comes about, it does something, it changes. It doesn’t remain static. Whereas a nonfunctional phenomenon is something which is not affected – it’s unaffected or unconditioned – by causes and circumstances. It doesn’t do anything, in the sense that it doesn’t produce an effect. It doesn’t produce anything. Therefore it is permanent, in the sense of static; doesn’t change.
Because you always have to remember that when in Buddhism we talk about static and nonstatic phenomena, some of them in both classes last forever, and some of them last for only a limited period of time. A mental continuum lasts forever, but it changes from moment to moment; it’s nonstatic. So impermanent in that sense. This point about an eternal nonstatic phenomenon – like, for instance, the mental continuum of a person – is a good example of why we need to be a bit precise in terms of it being an affected phenomenon. A mental continuum of somebody doesn’t arise from causes – it’s not created by anything – nevertheless, it is affected by circumstances. In other words, the presence or absence of certain objects affects it in terms of what that person is conscious of at any time. So it is affected, but it’s not created by anything. That’s why I prefer “affected” or “unaffected” phenomenon. I think it’s a little bit clearer than “conditioned” or “unconditioned,” although “conditioned” and “unconditioned” isn’t so bad. I have no idea how it’s going to be translated at the teachings. But these are very central terms that are going to appear over and over again. If you don’t understand them, you’re going to be completely lost.
One question here is: In terms of something being eternal, does it mean that something really has no beginning nor an end, or does it mean that you can’t show a beginning or an end? This is a point that is raised in the Buddhist texts, and the particular point in which this is discussed is about Brahma. Brahma thinks that he is eternal and the creator of everything because he is unable (the mind of Brahma is unable) to see that things are without a beginning and an end, and so he looks at just his existence and the existence of the universe – this particular universe in which Brahma is born – as being without a beginning or without an end. It’s just limited, however, because he can’t see beyond it.
So there is that distinction between a limited mind that thinks that something is eternal but is not, simply because the mind makes that mistake, simply because it’s limited because it can’t see further. But here what I’m talking about is actually no beginning and no end. That’s the mental continuum from the Mahayana point of view. Hinayana says that the mental continuum does have an end, when you die in the lifetime in which you achieve liberation or enlightenment, so-called parinirvana, but Mahayana refutes that. And Aryadeva in fact mentions and refutes that point as well in this text. And, again, it says in the Mahayana sutras (or in these Mahayana commentaries) that it’s the arhats who have limited minds still and so they think that, with parinirvana, the mental continuum ends. But it’s just that their mind is limited; they can’t see beyond that.
So this term which may only be translated as “phenomenon” and “non-phenomenon” is a very crucial term that has a lot of meaning to it. So if that’s the only way that it will be translated – and, as I say, I have no idea how it will be translated – please try to fill in some meaning; otherwise, what is explained and translated might sound really much too confusing and meaningless.
Now the term “true existence” or “truly established existence.” For the Vaibhashikas this – “truly established existence” – is equivalent to the term “substantially established existence.” And please keep in mind that “substantially established existence” is not the same as what we were discussing yesterday – substantially, self-sufficiently knowable. Certain things that are – and I usually just leave out the word “substantial” there because it becomes too confusing – self-sufficiently knowable and non-self-sufficiently knowable (or imputably knowable), those are different terms, and Aryadeva won’t really be discussing that issue. So here when we hear the term – and I don’t know how it will be translated, but I translate it as “substantially established existence” – for the Vaibhashikas that’s equivalent to “truly established existence,” and everything that exists exists that way, both functional and nonfunctional phenomena. And, for the Vaibhashikas, the definition here of “substantially established existence” or “truly established existence” is that it performs a function. And so now what the Vaibhashikas are saying is that both – what I’ve called “functional” and “nonfunctional” phenomena – perform a function, in the sense that a static phenomenon may not produce something else, but it performs the function of serving as the object for a cognition of it. And so, in that sense, it’s substantially existent. It doesn’t create anything, it’s not created by something else – so it’s nonfunctional in that sense – but, nevertheless, it performs the function of serving as an object of cognition. Of course Aryadeva smashes them over the head with a hammer concerning the logical inconsistency of that. But that’s the Vaibhashika position. So everything has truly established existence by this explanation system.
By the way, all of this becomes really quite crucial in Aryadeva’s discussion, and in the general debates among all the various non-Buddhist and Buddhist Indian schools, because now they apply all of this to an analysis of such very central metaphysical themes or philosophical themes such as: What kind of phenomenon is space, and time, and the ultimately smallest particles that comprise things? These are the topics about which all of this is discussed. So you can see that very quickly it becomes even deeper. For instance, does time do anything? Well, time does do something, in the sense that it may be time for us to have our coffee break. So the time causes us to make a pause. “But now it’s not the time.” “You are out of time.” “I have no time for this.”
True existence – truly established existence – for the Sautrantikas: there are two interpretations. The Jetsunpa textbook interpretation – this is only in Gelugpa – the Jetsunpa textbook tradition says that “truly established existence” means the ability to perform a function, and so only functional phenomena have truly established existence, and only they have substantial existence. The Jetsunpa position is held by Sera Jey and Ganden Jangtsey monasteries, so the Geshes who come from there will usually explain this position. So “truly established existence” from this point of view of being synonymous with “substantially established existence” is used in the same way – I mean as synonyms – in both the Vaibhashika and Jetsunpa Sautrantika, except that the Sautrantikas say that this is limited to only functional phenomena – because, come on, how can you say that nonfunctional phenomena are nonfunctional, yet the fact that they serve as an object of the cognition of them counts as actually doing something? Everybody has problems with that Vaibhashika system, in terms of this assertion. So, for the Sautrantikas (according to Jetsunpa), the so-called nonstatic impermanent phenomena (functional phenomena) are truly existent; and the static nonfunctional phenomena (or permanent phenomena), they’re not truly existent, because they don’t perform a function.
The other interpretation of Sautrantika within Gelugpa, the Panchen system, which is followed by Drepung Losel-ling monastery, and that His Holiness was basically trained with – and it’s also asserted by Ganden Shartsey. Well, His Holiness’s two senior and junior tutors come from those monasteries and so, often, His Holiness will explain from this position. According to their definition, “truly established existence” within Sautrantika means something is established from its own side. And, because of that, both functional and nonfunctional phenomena, both static and nonstatic, both permanent and impermanent phenomena have truly established existence. In other words, they really do exist. Jetsunpa agrees that both static and nonstatic phenomena exist from their own side, but they don’t call that “truly established existence.”
Chittamatra. Chittamatra says that – now we get into the Mahayana schools in Buddhism – Chittamatra defines “truly established phenomena” (truly established existence) as those phenomena whose existence is established by findable individual defining characteristic marks on the side of the object. And that includes both functional phenomena (that’s nonstatic or impermanent phenomena) as well as voidness. They include voidness there – defined in their own way of defining voidness, which is very different from the Madhyamaka ways of defining voidness. And they say that voidness, despite being a static, nonfunctional phenomenon, is also truly existent, because it has – its existence is established by the fact that it has individual defining characteristics on its own side.
Voidness has – its existence is established by an individual defining characteristic (rang-gi mtshan-nyid-kyis grub-pa) on its own side. Other static phenomena, like space, don’t have that on their own side. That sounds like the definition of inherent existence? I didn’t want to complicate this by getting into further terminology, so let’s leave inherent existence aside. “Inherent existence” (rang-bzhin-gyis grub-pa) literally means existence established by something’s self-nature. Self-nature is something on its own side, an individual defining characteristic. But I don’t remember the exact logical pervasions – if everybody has these three terms as synonymous: established by individual defining characteristics, by self-nature, and from its own side. So let’s not complicate this further. For example: For Svatantrika, existence established by self-nature is not equivalent to truly established existence. For Prasangika, they are synonyms. So it gets complicated.
Now, when we get to the Madhyamaka schools, Svatantrika and Prasangika, truly established existence is a false way of existing. It doesn’t exist. Nothing can be established truly. Then Svatantrika and Prasangika define that differently. For both of them – the common aspect here is that truly established existence is unimputedly established. So it is established not by the fact that it is imputed on something or labeled onto something, but established… Truly established would be unimputed.
So everything is established in terms of what labels or concepts or words refer to. So we have a basis. Let’s say the aggregates (body, mind, emotions, etc.). Then there is the word, or concept, or label “person,” and that’s labeled on these aggregates. And it refers to something – a person. A person is not a word or a label. It refers to something – a person. There is a person, although imputed on the basis of continuity of body and mind. So true existence, truly established existence, for Madhyamaka would be something that’s not like that. Not just imputed. And this would include whole imputed on parts.
And, according to Madhyamaka, nothing exists unimputedly; nothing truly exists. I mean, put it this way: The existence of things cannot be truly established. It’s only established in terms of labeling. Mental labeling. Mentally labeling it doesn’t create the object though, just how do you establish – How do you know that something exists? What establishes that it exists? Well, it’s the reference of a word. That last point is an important point that is very frequently misunderstood, in terms of mental labeling. My mentally labeling you a “person” doesn’t create you as a person. Whether I mentally label you a “person” or anybody else mentally labels you a “person” is irrelevant. What is a person though? A person is just what the word “person” refers to, on the basis of continuity of body and mind; that’s all. That establishes what is a person, but doesn’t create a person. It is what the word or concept refers to on a basis. It’s neither the word, nor is it the basis.
Question: This sounds as though we’re talking about everything existing in relation to language, and then the question is: If I label you “you,” although it doesn’t create you, is there a you? What am I labeling?
Alex: Yes, there is a conventionally existent you or a person. And this becomes a big further topic of investigation. The Madhyamaka view is not a nihilist view. They are always being accused of being nihilist. They are not nihilists. There is a conventionally existent me, but what establishes that there’s a conventionally existent me? It is what the word “me” refers to.
Now, although we’re going a little bit past the time for the tea pause, I’d like to bring in the distinction between Svatantrika and Prasangika, so that we finish this. Otherwise, after the tea pause, you might have forgotten already what was said before. So, within this context, there is a difference between Svatantrika and Prasangika in the context of true existence not existing at all and meaning unimputed existence. Then the Svatantrika says yes, that it’s correct that you can’t establish the existence of something independent of what words and concepts refer to but, nevertheless, there is a findable individual defining characteristic on the side of the basis of labeling that, in connection with mental labeling, allows for a correct mental labeling. And so it’s not that this defining characteristic by its own power establishes that something exists, or that just the mental labeling itself by its own power establishes that it exists; you need the two of them. And Prasangika says, “No such thing” – that there is no findable defining characteristic mark; there’s nothing on the side of the object that establishes its existence through its power. Now existence established from the side of the object (rang-gi ngos-nas grub-pa), by its own power, is the same as inherent existence that is established by a self-nature. So, for Svatantrika, that by itself doesn’t establish it; it has to be in combination with mental labeling. For other schools, it could establish it by itself – this individual defining characteristic. So that’s the basic difference. And I’ll give an example for this, after this is translated, that perhaps will make it a little bit clearer.
Let’s use the example of the color orange. The color orange. The universe doesn’t exist with colors, all by itself – you know, light existing with orange light, and yellow light, and red light, and so on. What establishes that there is such a thing as orange, yellow, or red? Well, it’s the words “orange,” “yellow,” and “red.” You can’t have, from the side of the universe, a meaning of a word independent of their being words. The meaning of a word only exists in relation to a word. So orange, yellow, red – their existence is established in terms of what the words “orange,” “yellow,” and “red” refer to, on a basis of light. So then the question is, well, what’s the definition? Are there defining characteristics on the side of the light or not?
And Svatantrika says yes: wavelength from this to that point is orange, wavelength from that to that point is red, and so on. So, in combination with that, with that findable defining characteristic, by its power in connection with the power of a mental label “orange,” “red,” or “yellow,” then you establish the existence of something.
And Prasangika says, “Hey, wait a second. That can’t be so.” Defining characteristics. That was made up by somebody – by a concept – who wrote it in the dictionary that orange is from this wavelength to that wavelength, red is from this wavelength to that wavelength. That’s a mental label as well. It isn’t that, from the side of the object, there’s boundaries, and there’s the little mark that you find on a graph of the wavelength. There’s a certain phenomenon and we’ve called it a “wavelength”; somebody made up the concept of a wavelength to refer to this. And, even within that, there’s the measurements, and so on. All of that is based solely on concepts and words. In terms of establishing its existence, there’s nothing on the side of anything that you can find.
When they talk about “you can’t find anything,” they’re talking about that. You can’t find, on the side of an object, something that either by its own power, totally independently, or in conjunction with mental labeling, establishes or makes something what it is. Even words aren’t truly established. Some people took meaningless acoustic patterns and decided that that was a word and gave it a meaning. There’s nothing inherent in this pattern of sounds. Let alone the fact that we imagine that, no matter how it’s pronounced, and what volume, and what voice, all of it’s the same word. That’s also pretty weird.
These are the topics that are behind the word “truly existent,” and what’s usually translated as “inherent existence,” and “functional phenomenon” or just “phenomenon” and “non-phenomenon.” And these words will just be thrown out like that in the discussion, in the explanation, and it might sound completely beyond our ability to deal with, and meaningless. But when you have all this background that can be filled in, and you’re familiar enough with that background so that you can apply it very, very quickly, then we understand the profundity of this text and the discussion. So, with this type of background, even just an introductory talk, it at least gives us an idea of what is needed in the process of being able to approach a meaningful study of this type of text. It’s a very advanced text.
Being “findable” means that when you investigate – either from the point of view of the conventional truth of what things are, or the deepest truth of what things are – that you can actually point to something that’s sitting there on the side of light itself, for example, that has some power to establish the existence of something. What is a vibration? Well, a vibration of light is made up of many little nanoseconds. So, at one nanosecond, you can only point to one. And then, at another nanosecond, you point to another. And you’re measuring things, and so on. I mean, there isn’t anything that you can actually point to that’s there. And this energy. Well, what is energy? What are you pointing to? Or is it a particle? There’s nothing that you can actually… His Holiness uses all these different terms which are very descriptive and sometimes they are not really translated. They’re all translated as the same thing – “inherent existence” or “findable existence.” But His Holiness uses very descriptive terminology. “As if there was something establishing the existence, on the side of an object, that you could point your finger to,” for example. That there is a place that the finger points to; that something is established from the place that the finger points to. This is the type of terminology that you find in Tibetan. Not so easy to translate in an elegant way.
Participant: The person and the finger, and all these things, do conventionally exist.
Alex: Well, this is the whole point. The non-Prasangika schools say, “Hey, you’re nihilists. The consequence of what you’re saying is that nothing exists.” And this is not at all the Prasangika position. The Prasangika position is – this is why Gelugpa says Prasangikas actually are saying something, asserting something – that, well, but there is the conventional existence of things; there is convention and words do refer to something. And then the others will accuse them, “Well, if you say they refer to something then you mean that there is something findable.” And so then they accuse them of going to the other extreme.
And this gets into the whole next topic, which I didn’t really plan to go into at all, and I don’t want to go into because we don’t have time, which is “everything is like an illusion.” And what does that actually mean? Things that don’t exist – like truly established existence, from a Madhyamaka point of view – are an illusion; they don’t exist at all. Conventionally existent things are like an illusion; they appear to exist in a way in which they don’t actually exist. That’s an important distinction to keep in mind. Because some schools will say that everything is an illusion, which is referring to the appearance of true existence – that’s an illusion – true existence is an illusion; it doesn’t exist at all. Some non-Gelugpa schools will speak like that. Gelugpa always says like an illusion – that there’s a deceptive appearance. Deceptive appearance. The conventional truth of something, actual conventional truth of something, appears to exist in a way in which it doesn’t exist, like an illusion does. But let’s not go further into this discussion.
So, as I said, we can’t guarantee how deeply and how profoundly His Holiness will discuss all of this. If we can project from previous discourses of His Holiness, His Holiness likes to go into extreme complicated depth about all of this. And, since he loves his discussions with the scientists so much, he might bring in quantum physics, which is very much related to this whole topic of the interaction of a mind that is measuring things, or observing things, and the actual existence of things. So be prepared that His Holiness might speak on an incredible high level.
Now let’s go briefly through the content of the eight chapters on voidness. As I said, mostly what Aryadeva does is refute, by showing the absurd conclusions that would follow from them, the various assertions of this wide variety of non-Buddhist and Buddhist schools that we mentioned. So what I think to do is to – I just chose some of the points in each of these chapters to give you a little bit of an idea. There really isn’t any time to explain any of them in depth, and I doubt that His Holiness will do that either. If I can extrapolate from previous discourses of His Holiness, His Holiness is likely to give a detailed explanation of voidness itself – a little bit like what I was doing, although maybe not going into the various schools, just sticking to Prasangika – and then go quickly through the verses without explaining each of the points, and maybe just explaining a few here and there that he finds of interest. But, by going through some of these examples of the points raised in the verses here, at least I think you’ll get some idea of the scope of topics that Aryadeva addresses.
Chapter nine: Indicating the Meditations for Refuting Static Functional Phenomena. In other words, this whole issue that there can be certain things which are static, yet nevertheless can do something – can produce an effect. This is asserted by various schools in various different ways and concerning various different things that they consider to be both static and functional. And, in addition, with truly established existence. And whenever Aryadeva – I mean, Aryadeva doesn’t use the word “truly established existence” in the text. But, when it’s explained, what will be behind the explanation is, in addition to everything that all of these non-Prasangika schools say, is that they are asserting everything on the basis of truly established existence the way that Prasangika defines it.
Functional phenomena, Aryadeva says, functional phenomena that arise from causes and circumstances – that’s the definition of functional phenomena – cannot be static with truly established existence.
They depend on causes and circumstances, and they don’t just exist anywhere at anytime.
No functional phenomenon exists without a cause, and therefore it’s impossible to have a static one.
And the example for this that Aryadeva has in mind – he doesn’t say it explicitly – is the whole assertion of a creator god. This is asserted by the Nyaya school, non-Buddhist school, for example. And they assert that there is a creator god who is static, not affected by anything, but nevertheless creates; so a functional phenomenon. And there can’t be such a static functional phenomenon like a creator god, because anything that’s functional arises from causes and conditions.
Then Aryadeva goes on to refute the logic of other faulty systems. The Vaisheshikas argue that if something is produced, it’s impermanent; and if something is not produced, then it is permanent and static. And, by this line of reasoning, they say since an atman (or a “soul”) is not produced, that means that it is permanent – it is static. And Aryadeva refutes this by arguing that: if something is produced, it exists; but if something is not produced, it’s not pervasive that it exists as static, because nonexistent things are also not produced.
So here you have an actual line of reasoning that is being used: Just because something is not produced by causes and circumstances, doesn’t mean that it exists as static; because nonexistent things are also not produced. So your line of reasoning for proving that the atman or “soul” exists is a faulty line of reasoning. And we shall not go into deep discussions in arguing about the validity of the logic on either side of this. Also, please be aware that general Indian logic does not follow the exact same rules and structure as Aristotelian logic. That also is a very deep and extensive topic of study which we have no time to go into.
Then Aryadeva goes on to speak about static space. And he says that it can’t be considered substantially existent based on the argument that it performs the function of acting as an object of cognition of it, he says – this whole Vaibhashika assertion – because static things can’t do anything. So to say that serving as an object of the cognition of it therefore proves that it is substantially existent – because it does something – this is faulty.
Also, static space can’t be all-pervasive and partless, as Vaisheshika asserts. Vaisheshika asserts, and a lot of schools assert this, that space is all-pervasive (it’s everywhere) and static, of course, and it doesn’t have any parts. And the reason why this is illogical is because there are always directional parts: you can always divide it into east, west, south, and north.
Then the next point concerns time: And it’s also contradictory for time to be both static and to allow functional phenomena to appear now or not to appear now, as Vedanta asserts. In other words, there’s a certain time, let’s say it’s spring, and it allows for flowers to appear. Or it’s winter, and it doesn’t allow flowers to appear. It says that this is contradictory because, again, you would be asserting that something static, namely time – because they assert that time is static – would be performing a function.
Time and the seasons are two different things? I don’t know. A season; that is a certain time. Like it is 12 o’clock; it’s time for lunch. It allows for us to eat. Or it’s 1 o’clock; it’s time for lunch. Or it’s 10 o’clock; it’s not time to eat. A point in time, we’re talking about, would allow something to happen or not. Or in general.
As I said, I don’t think we have time to go into depth or discussion of all these individual arguments. But obviously I think you get the idea that each of them, one could spend an entire class on, if not more than one class.
Then concerning ultimately smallest particles: they can’t be both static and also constitute objects, as the Vaisheshika asserts. This is because the meeting of such particles functions as a cause for material objects – Vaibhashikas even say that – and therefore such particles are functional phenomena. (Vaibhashika does assert that various objects are made up of these ultimately smallest particles.) So how can they be static if their coming together – you’d have to say – causes the material object?
Question: In Sautrantika as well? The smallest particles?
Alex: Well, no this isn’t – this gets to the next point. He’s asking: Is this Sautrantika? No. Because, in the Vaibhashika and Sautrantika system, the ultimately smallest particles are nonstatic. They’re not asserted as static.
Do you understand this position of the Vaibhashikas [correction: Vaisheshikas]? It’s the assertion that there’s a certain number of particles in the universe, and that’s it. And they come together to form this object or that object, and then they come apart, and then the same particles come together again and form some other object, and then come apart. But actually there’s just a certain number of particles and that’s static, and they don’t change. That’s the position. And so that is self-contradictory, because if they come together and actually constitute and form an object, they’re doing something. So you can’t say that they’re nonfunctional and static.
Participant: But you said Vaibhashika, and it should be Vaisheshika.
Alex: I meant Vaisheshika. I’m sorry if I said Vaibhashika.
Then Aryadeva goes on to say that such particles cannot be partless, either, as Vaisheshika asserts, because if they were partless they couldn’t meet on one side. So, for them to meet, they have to meet on one side.
And Shantideva repeats this last argument in refutation of the Vaibhashika assertion of ultimately smallest particles that are partless but are functional phenomena. So the same argument can be used to refute either static nonfunctional partless particles, or nonstatic functional ones. If they constitute something, they have to meet at one side. Shantideva gives many, many arguments in terms of this, and so does Aryadeva, actually. This is an important point in terms of science as well. Can you find the ultimately smallest particle or the ultimately smallest constituent of matter, energy, etc.? And Buddhism says no – that no matter how small you get, you can still divide it into parts.
Then Aryadeva goes on to refute as illogical both the Samkhya and then the Nyaya positions concerning liberated “self,” or truly existent permanent liberated “self.” So he’s not talking here so much about such a “self” doing something, but just the concept in general. And the Samkhyas say that a self is “conscious” (has awareness of things); and Nyaya says that it doesn’t, in general.
And so, in terms of a Samkhya position, when you achieve liberation according to Samkhya, then that “self” becomes totally removed or isolated from all of the universe, yet it still has consciousness. And so this, Aryadeva says, is ridiculous. You cannot have consciousness without being conscious of something, and so your assertion of a liberated permanent “soul” that is conscious but not conscious of anything is contradictory.
And then the Nyaya position is that the “soul” or “self” doesn’t have any consciousness, whether it’s liberated or not. And so then it just is some sort of little thing that comes into somebody’s head and then activates a brain, and activates things, and uses that in order to know anything.
And so he says, well, if you’re talking about a “soul” that in itself has no consciousness, then how could it ever have the thought to work to gain liberation? It couldn’t do anything, couldn’t have that type of thought. Because you are asserting that it could exist all by itself, independent of any mind or any brain.
So you have to understand that he actually is talking here about assertions of a static “self” that nevertheless is doing something. According to the Samkhyas, the static “self” when liberated still has consciousness. So if there’s consciousness, the consciousness must be doing something; it has to be knowing something. And if it’s not knowing something, then your assertion is absurd. And for the Nyaya position, he’s saying that: You say that a “soul” or an atman doesn’t know anything, and it can be liberated and not know anything. So how can you say that the “soul” knows or is conscious that I want to work toward liberation? To say that the “soul,” by itself, doesn’t know anything, and then we connect it to a mind, and a mind knows or wants to gain liberation, that’s ridiculous – then you’d have to say that the mind wants liberation and not the “soul” wants liberation. So you can’t have a “soul” that does anything, like want to gain liberation, and yet is static.
These are the major points, then, in chapter nine.
Join us in trying to benefit others.
Support our work!
This website relies completely on donations. Its maintenance, preparation of the remaining 70% of our planned material, and further translating is costly. Although we currently have 80 volunteers, 23 essential team members require payment. Help us raise the 100,000 euros (US $150,000) required each year
to continue providing our website free of charge.
Reaching Our Goal (25%)