Maha Prajnaparamita Sastra

by Gelongma Karma Migme Chödrön | 2001 | 940,961 words

This page describes “a reflection (bimba) in a mirror (adarsha)” as written by Nagarjuna in his Maha-prajnaparamita-sastra (lit. “the treatise on the great virtue of wisdom”) in the 2nd century. This book, written in five volumes, represents an encyclopedia on Buddhism as well as a commentary on the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita.

Ninth comparison or upamāna: A reflection (bimba) in a mirror (ādarśa)

The reflection in the mirror is not produced by the mirror (ādarśa), nor by the face (vaktra), nor by the person holding the mirror (ādarśadhara), nor by itself (svataḥ); but it is not without causes and conditions (hetupratyaya).[1]

i) Why is it not produced by the mirror? Because there is no reflection if the face does not come in front of the mirror. Thus it is not produced by the mirror. ii) Why is it not produced by the face? Because there is no reflection without the mirror. iii) Why is it not produced by the person holding the mirror? Because there is no reflection without mirror or face. iv) Why is it not produced by itself? Because in the absence of the mirror and the face, there is no reflection. To be produced, the reflection depends (apekṣate) on the mirror and the face. Thus the reflection is not produced by itself. How is it not lacking causes and conditions? If it were without causes and conditions, it would exist eternally. If it existed eternally, it would be produced even in the absence of the mirror and the face. Thus it is not without causes and conditions.

It is the same for the dharmas: they are not produced by themselves (svataḥ), nor by another (parataḥ), nor by both together (ubhayataḥ); but they are not without causes and conditions.[2]

i) Why are they not produced by themselves? They are not produced by themselves because the ātman does not exist, because all dharmas come from causes and are not sovereign and because dharmas depend (apekṣante) on causes and conditions. ii) They are not produced by another. [104c] If they do not themselves exist, their neighbor would not exist either. Creation by another would suppress the efficacious rôle played by sins and merits (pāpapuṇyabala). Creation by another is of two types, good (kuśala) or bad (akuśala); the good must produce happiness (sukha), the bad must produce unhappiness (duḥkha). If there is a mixture of bad and good, what is the cause and condition from which the happiness arises and what is the cause and condition from which the unhappiness arises? If both are absent, the self and other are likewise absent. iii) If happiness and unhappiness arise without causes and conditions, the person would be eternally happy and free of all unhappiness. If there is neither cause nor conditions, the person could not realize the cause of happiness or escape the cause of unhappiness. All dharmas are necessarily from causes and conditions. It is stupid to ignore that. Thus a person gets fire (agni) from wood (dāru), water (udaka) from earth (pṛthivī), and wind (anila) from a fan (vījana). Each of these things has its causes and conditions. The causes and conditions of this mass of unhappiness and happiness are the following: the actions (karman) of the past lifetime (pūrvajanma) are the causes and the good or bad behavior (sucaritaduścarita) of the present lifetime (ihajanma) are the conditions from which suffering and happiness come. These are the different causes and conditions of suffering and happiness. In truth, there is no agent (kāraka) or any enjoyer (vedaka). The five aggregates (pañcaskandha) are without activity (kriyā) or enjoyment (vedanā). The ignorant person who finds happiness enjoys it and clings to it; if he finds unhappiness, he feels irritation; when his happiness disappears, he tries to recover it.

A child, seeing [its] reflection (bimba) in a mirror (ādarśa), is happy and becomes infatuated with it; but when this well-loved reflection has disappeared, the child breaks the mirror to try to recover it; wise people make fun of it. In the same way, those who, having lost their happiness, try to regain it, are mocked by the āryas who have found the Path. This is why dharmas are like a reflection in a mirror.

Moreover, the reflection in a mirror is truly empty (śūnya), without arising (utpāda), without cessation (nirodha), but it deceives the eyes of fools (bāla). In the same way, dharmas are empty, without arising, without cessation, but they deceive the eyes of worldly people (pṛthagjana).

Question. – The reflection in the mirror is the result of causes and conditions. If there is a face, a mirror, a person holding the mirror and a light, provided these causes are brought together, the reflection is produced. Thus the reflection is both cause (hetu) and result (phala). Why do you say then that it is empty of reality, without arising or cessation?

Answer. – Being the result of causes and conditions, the reflection is not independent; therefore it is empty (śūnya). A truly existent dharma cannot be the result of causes and conditions. Why? If the cause (kāraṇa) pre-exists in the cause, there is no effect (kārya); if the cause does not pre-exist in the cause, there is no result either. Thus, if cream (dadhi) pre-exists in milk (kṣīra), the milk is not the cause of the cream, for the cream pre-exists. If the cream does not pre-exist in the milk, everything would happen as in water (udaka) where there is no cream: the milk is not the cause of the cream. If the cream existed without cause, why would water not produce cream?[3] If the milk is the cause of the cream, the milk, which itself is not independent, also comes from a cause; it derives its origin from the cow (go); [105a] the cow takes its origin from water (udaka) and grass (tṛṇa), and thus there are infinite (ananta) causes. This is why it cannot be said that the result (kārya) exists (bhavati) in the cause (kāraṇa), or that it does not exist (na bhavati) in the cause, or that it both exists and does not exist (bhavati ca na bhavati ca), or that it neither exists nor does not exist (naiva bhavati na na bhavati) in the cause. Dharmas resulting from causes and conditions (pratītyasamutpanna) do not have self- nature (svabhāva). They are like a reflection in a mirror. Some stanzas say:

If dharmas come from causes and conditions,
They are truly empty of self-nature;
If these dharmas were not empty.
They would not be the result of causes and conditions.

It is like reflections in a mirror;
They do not come from the mirror, nor from the face,
Nor from the person who holds the mirror,
Nor from themselves; but they are not without cause.

[Dharmas] are neither existent nor non-existent,
Not both existent and non--existent:
To refuse to accept these theses
Is what is called the Middle Way.

That is why dharmas are like the reflection in the mirror.

Footnotes and references:

1.

This is the canonical doctrine; cf. Selāsutta in Saṃyutta, I, p. 134; Tsa a han, T 99 (no, 1203), k. 45, p. 327b–c; T 100 (no. 219), k. 12, p. 455a: nayidam attakataṃ bimbaṃ na … hetubhaṅgā nirujjhati.

Kośa, III, p. 34–36, denies the real existence of the reflection because two things do not exist in the same place, because there is no series, because it arises from two causes.

2.

This is the essence of the Nāgārjunian doctrine given in the first stanza of the Madh. kārikā (Madh, vṛtti, p. 12; Tchong louen, T 1564, k. 1., p. 2b):

na svato nāpi parato na dvābhyāṃ nāpy ahetutaḥ |

utpannā jātu vidyante bhmavāḥ kvacana ke cana ||

“Never, anywhere in any case, do substances exist that are born from themselves, or from another, or from both, or without cause.”

In conformity with this point of the initial argument, causality by way of itself (svakṛtatva) where the identity of cause and effect has been refuted in Madh. vṛtti, p. 13 and Madh. avatāra, p. 82 (tr. LAV., Muséon, 1910, p. 280); causality by way of another (parakṛtva), in Madh. vṛtti, p. 36 and 78; combined causality (ubhayakṛtatva) in Madh. vṛtti, p. 38 and 233; absence of any causality (ahetusamutpannatva) in Madh. vṛtti, p. 38, 182; Madh. avatāra, p. 207 (tr. LAV., Musśeon, 1912, p. 260).

3.

According to Nāgārjuna, modification (anyathātva) of substances is impossible. He establishes this thesis (Madh, vṛtti, p. 242) in the following way:

tasya ced anyathābhāvaḥ kṣīram eva … bhāvānāṃ prasetsyatīti na yuktam etat.

“If the modification [of substances] were possible, milk would be identical with cream. Our adversary will say that it is by the disappearance of the state ‘milk’ that the state ‘cream’ is produced. But if our adversary does not want the milk to be identical with the cream because they are opposite to one another, it will follow that the cream can arise from anything that is not milk. But how is that? Could the cream arise from water? It is therefore unreasonable to claim that the cream comes from that which is different from it. Since the modification of substances is impossible, it is wrong to claim that substances have an essence because changes are observed.”