The Buddhist Philosophy of Universal Flux

by Satkari Mookerjee | 1935 | 152,014 words | ISBN-10: 8120807375

A systematic and clear presentation of the philosophy of critical Realism as expounded by Dignaga and his school. The work is divided into two parts arranged into 26 chapters. Part I discusses the Nature of Existence, Logical Difficulties, Theory of Causation, Universals, Doctrine of Apoha, Theory of Soul and Problem of After-life. Part II deals wi...

Chapter V - Objections on Psychological and Metaphysical Grounds discussed

The Realist’s Objections

Kumārila contends that if all entities are impermanent and momentary, the relation of action and its result, causality, memory and the like will become unintelligible and unaccountable. Thus, the conscious moment, which discharges a meritorious or unmeritorious action, does not continue to reap the fruits of its action and the moment, which enjoys the fruit, was not responsible for the action which necessitated the production of the result. Thus there being no common agent of these necessarily subjective phenomena, the two absurd issues, viz., the loss of earned merit (kṛtanāśa) and the enjoyment of unearned deserts (akṛtāgama) become unavoidable in the theory of flux. But this is an absurd position and runs counter to universal experience and scriptural evidence as well. Certainly it is unthinkable that X would reap the fruits, favourable or unfavourable, of actions that were done by Y. Scriptural authority also debars such supposition in the following sentence: ‘who else will enjoy the fruits of an action done by another?’[1]

All these objections are urged assuming that freedom of activity is possible. But if we look deeper into the logical implications of the theory of flux, we shall find that it leaves no room for voluntary activity. When everything is momentary and a man’s span of conscious life is confined to the present moment, there can be no self or ego-principle, which can function as the active agent. All activity is inspired by a desire for some end, which the agent seeks to attain. But this desire and volitional urge cannot arise at all, as the conscious agent is persuaded of its utter doom in the very next moment and as such cannot be supposed to put forth exertion for an end, which will be enjoyed by another. No intelligent being can be expected to engage himself in any active endeavour, the result of which will not be his, but will accrue to another person. All activity, therefore, meritorious or otherwise, will be impossible and the law of retribution, of which the Buddhist is so loud in his protestations, will be an unfounded myth.

But this objection also proceeds by way of concession. We urged that voluntary action would be impossible in the theory of flux and the interpretation was likely that involuntary action could have a free play. But it will transpire that all activity, voluntary and involuntary alike, is rendered absolutely impossible by this theory. Neither the past nor the future agent can be supposed to discharge the present action and the present agent also, being momentary, cannot persist a moment longer, in which it can exert itself for the production of an effect. The future agent cannot be made responsible for the effect in question, as it has not yet come into being; nor is the past moment, which has become defunct, capable of producing any effect, as a non-existent cannot have any efficiency. The present moment too cannot have any better chance, as it occupies itself in coming into existence in the first moment and has no further lease of life in which it can struggle for the production of another entity. But this is also a concession on our part, so affirms the non-Buddhist. If we probe deeper into the problem, it will transpire that the present moment also will have no raison d’être, as it cannot have any cause which can call it into being. The immediately preceding moment has disappeared absolutely and irrevocably without leaving any trace behind as its legacy and so what is there to bring the present moment into existence? It may be contended that the cessation of the cause and the production of the effect are synchronous events like the rise and fall of the two scales of a balance; and so the cause being present intact in the preceding moment, the subsequent entity follows as the product of this positive entity and not from a void. The law of causation requires that the cause should immediately precede the effect and not synchronise with it. But this is only an eye-wash, as there is no room left for the causal operation; and how can an effect issue into being from an inert, passive, inoperative entity? The cause can operate if it is present in the moment of the effect’s production. Causation cannot be supposed to consist in mere antecedence and sequence bereft of all operative agency. Were it otherwise, the odour of the jug would be the effect of the colour that existed in the jug in the preceding moment. But odour is never regarded as the effect of colour, though one is the antecedent and the other is the consequent. By similar logic the subsequent colour of the jug also cannot be regarded as the effect of the previous colour, though temporal succession obtains between the two. It must, therefore, be conceded that mere precedence cannot be the ground of causal relation but something deeper and more fundamental, viz., causal operation. In other words, the cause is that whose active operation brings about the effect and is not one that merely precedes in time.

To sum up: if the effect is supposed to be produced from a cause that has become defunct, the effect will be destitute of a cause, as a defunct entity is a pure non-entity. And if it be conceived to be originated by a living cause, the cause must be conceded to exist for more than one moment. So the Buddhist is placed between the two horns of a dilemma. If he admits the former alternative, he cannot explain causation; if the latter alternative is accepted, he gives up his position—the doctrine of universal flux.

The difficulty of causation is not the only difficulty in the theory of flux. This theory equally fails to explain perception. If all objects are momentary, they cannot be amenable to sense-perception. Perception requires that there should be a contact of the sense-organ with the object; but the object disappears as soon as the contact takes place and so cannot be cognised, as cognition can arise only in the second moment, but by that time there is no object to be cognised. Thus perceptual cognition is rendered impossible and as a consequence causal relation is reduced to an indeterminable phenomenon. Because, causal relation is determined by the joint processes of observation and non-observation of sequence. Thus, when a particular phenomenon is observed to be invariably followed by another phenomenon and with the disappearance of the former the latter also is observed to disappear, the impression is borne in upon us that the two phenomena are causally related. But observation has been ruled out as an impossibility, and non-observation is nothing but a case of observation, in which the locus alone is cognised as unrelated to the object which rested on it.

It has been proved that causation and its cognition become absolutely unaccountable in the theory of flux owing to difficulties lying in the very nature of the objective reality. But there are equally insurmountable difficulties from the subjective side also. Even granting that the object is amenable to perception, there is no constant subject who can connect the two successive events in causal relation. This relationing presupposes that there must be one subject who knows the two events successively. But there is no such subject, as all things including ego-consciousness, are believed to be momentary. The cognising subject varies with the cognitions and so relationing of two events, which is the pre-condition of the knowledge of causality, will be impossible.

Again, recognition as a psychical fact becomes equally unintelligible, because recognition means the cognition by one individual of the identity of two facts happening at different times and thus the continuous identity of the subject and the object is the necessary condition of recognition. But as there is no continuity either in the subject or in the object, recognition as a psychical fact becomes an impossibility in the Buddhist’s scheme of philosophy. The Buddhist, however, contends that recognition does not presuppose the permanent identity of an object, as recognition takes place if there is close similarity between the objects concerned as in the case of flames, growing hair and nails. But this contention is perfectly unavailing so far as Buddhist metaphysics is concerned. Granted that the continuity of the object is not necessary for recognition, how can you dispense with the continuity of the subject? When both the subject and the object are momentary, how can there be any recognition at all? Besides, how can you account for the rise of desire in a man for the taste of a fruit when he sees only the colour of it? Certainly he does not experience the taste when he sees it from a distance. It is possible if the man remembers that taste and colour were found to be associated in bis previous experience. But this presupposes the functioning of memory and memory presupposes identity of the subject of the two cognitions, which the Buddhist chooses to deny. Moreover, bondage (bandha) and liberation (mokṣa) become unintelligible fictions if this theory is adhered to; because the moment that is in the shackles of pain and passion, totally disappears in the second moment and the moment that will be emancipated, will be quite another. And there can be no legitimate aspiration or endeavour for attaining emancipation, as the spirit in bondage will eo ipso die out in the second moment and so emancipation will have no meaning as the subject is simply not. Bondage and release can bear an intelligible sense if they relate to an identical self and to say that one is in bondage and another is released is simply to talk nonsense. Bondage and emancipation, whether physical or spiritual, have the same connotation and are intelligible if they connote the successive states of a self-identical individual. By precisely the same logic, memory, determination, teleological plan and purposive activity, search for a thing lost or put in a forgotten place and such other phenomena, which necessarily presuppose the relationing of two experiences by a self-identical subject, will become absolutely impossible of explanation in the theory of flux. Obviously, therefore, a system of philosophy, which fails to render an intelligent account of the major part of our life and experience, must be a bankrupt one, and the sooner one withholds one’s allegiance from such a philosophy, the better are the chances of one’s realization of life’s purpose and meaning.[2]


The Buddhist Position

In reply to this elaborate criticism of Kumārila, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla observe that the relation of action and result, memory, bondage, emancipation and the rest are all capable of explanation in terms of causality and do not contain any logical or psychological presupposition of an underlying, continuous soul-entity. As in the material, external plane the succession of seed and sprout and the like is determined by the law of causation, so also in the spiritual plane the order and succession of psychical phenomena is precisely governed by the self-same relentless law of causality and a permanent self postulated ad hoc as the substratum of these successive states will be an idle appendage, absolutely devoid of logical necessity. Causation, which is expressed in Buddhist terminology as dependent or relative origination (pratītyasamutpāda), does not imply anything more or less than pure succession of one thing by another and no permanent substratum underlying or uniting these floating phenomena is cognisable. Good or bad results are seen to issue from actions called good or bad and this is to be set down to the natural constitutive energy of the cause itself and the hypothesis of an energising principle apart from the phenomenon itself will be an idle abstraction.

“There is action and there is the result, but no agent is found who throws over one complex and adopts another. It is nothing but a conventional formula symbolically expressed in the following terms: ‘one being, another is, on the emergence of one, another emerges into being.’”[3]

But Śrīdhara in his Nyāyakandalī contends that without a permanent substratum such as the self, the different cognitions emerging successively one after another cannot give rise to the idea of unity of consciousness. Because the cognitions being discrete and self-contained units can have no nexus between and so will fall apart. The hypothesis of a causal relation cannot explain away the unity of conscious life, as the causal relation itself is cognisable only if there is an underlying unitary principle cognising the different cognitions happening at different times. And though cognitions are self-conscious in the Buddhist theory, and as such may be supposed to cognise their own character as cause or effect, as the case may be, this character being a part and parcel of their constitution, still the causal relationship cannot be apprehended, as the idea of relation is possible only if the relata themselves are cognised in one sweep. But cognitions being self-contained and self-regarding in reference and as such absolutely out of relation with one another, there can be no cognition of a relation and consequently no determinative conception of the same (adhyavasāya), which follows only in the wake of a previous perceptual cognition.[4]

Ratnakīrti in answer to a criticism of this nature observes in the Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi that a subsequent cognition, when generated by a previous cognition, is not a simple entity, but emerges into being as impregnated with the impression of the previous cognition and so the concomitance of the two factors of causality-in-presence is easily apprehended in the form ‘one thing happening another happens.’ And there is no difficulty in the cognition of this concomitance in absence also. Thus, while a cognition cognising the ground-surface without a jug on it is followed by the subsequent cognition as its effect, the latter emerges along with an impression of the previous non-cognition of the jug and because the impression is there, there is no such thing as the loss of the previous cognition as it is present in the form of a memory-impression in the being of the subsequent cognition and for this no permanent underlying principle need be postulated. The cognitions are certainly self-contained and discrete, but by virtue of the causal relationship the subsequent cognition comes into being instinct with the memory-impression of the former cognition as its legacy. Moreover, if a single cognition is held to be incapable of referring to the previous and subsequent cognitions, how can there be a cognition of this sequence even if there are two distinct cognitions, as these are not mutually related in any wise. The supposition of a permanent substratum, holding the two cognitions in its fold, cannot explain this phenomenon either, unless and until it is supposed to cognise the two cognitions happening at different times by one simple cognition. So here too one cognition has to be postulated and, if so, you cannot legitimately object to the subsequent cognition cognising both itself and the previous cognitions existing in the form of an impression, which you too will have to admit. The only difference is this that you postulate a separate self apart from these facts of cognitions; but as cognitions are self-intuitive and can thus fully account for relational thoughts, the assumption of a unifying permanent self is uncalled for. The supposition, moreover, introduces logical complications in the shape of relations of the self with the discrete cognitions, and these relations, as we have proved before, are nothing but unwarranted makeshifts, running counter to all logical canons. The Buddhist’s theory, however, is immune from these logical difficulties. The assumption of a permanent self as a distinct category, therefore, is not only redundant but logically absurd.[5]

The idea of unity of conscious life, Śāntarakṣita contends, is generated by the homogeneity of the contents of the series, the apparent continuum, which, however, is a false abstraction in its turn and as such cannot be pressed into requisition in the philosophical determination of the ultimate nature of things. And this psychical continuum is to be understood as absolutely devoid of an underlying unitary principle in exact parallelism to the continuum of material bodies, which, too, has no existence outside the successive units. Uddyotakara, however, sees a continuity of the causal substance in the effect; he opines that the component parts of the seed-substance, when conjoined with water and soil, enter a new phase and the water and soil too by a process of fermentation produce the juicy substance and this with the seed-components in question culminates in the germinating sprout. So it cannot be said that there is no continuation of the causal substance in the effect.[6] But Śāntarakṣita points out that Uddyotakara’s position is absolutely untenable and is based on unwarranted assumptions. Now, Uddyotakara assumes that there is both a continuity and a change and this involves a contradiction in terms. If the soil, water and components of the seed-substance and the like do not suffer any change in their constitution, the sprout and the seed will be identical, as no case for distinction can be made out. And if they are distinct, they must be invested with distinctive characters. Change means difference of nature and this cannot be reconciled with identity. Uddyotakara’s contention lays the axe at the very root of the conception of causality. If distinction of the cause and the effect is to be explained, you must say that there is no continuity. You cannot argue by halves.[7]

The contention of Kumārila, that if the cause does not continue and synchronise with the effect, the cause will be defunct and no positive effect can result from a defunct cause, is evidently based on a misconception. The truth of the matter is that the effect is produced in the second moment under the generative influence of the cause, which existed in the immediately preceding moment. The cause in the first moment is a substantive entity and remains unimpaired before the effect is produced. It does not assuredly continue up to the second moment that the effect is produced, being momentary. And if it is supposed to continue, it will be perfectly useless as the effect is already produced and the continuing cause will be of no further consequence to it. Certainly the continuing cause cannot be supposed lo originate the effect, as the effect has already come into existence and origination means the coming into existence of one that was non-existent. If an existent fact can again be brought into existence, there will be no end of the process. Now the vicious infinite will not be the only issue; there will be no means of distinguishing a cause from an effect, as previous non-existence, which is the characteristic of the effect, can no longer be pressed. In our view of causation, however, no such contingency arises. An effect comes into being in the second moment under the generative efficiency of the cause which exists in the previous moment unimpaired and intact. If the effect was supposed to be produced in the third moment, the objection of defunct cause could be advanced; but this is not admitted by us. Nor does the contingency of the cause synchronising with the effect arise in our position, which could arise if the effect were supposed to be produced in the first moment and if we admitted a co-existent cause (sahabhū hetu) like the Vaibhāṣikas. But we do not hold any such position, which is logically absurd.[8] Kumārila only commits the blunder of the Vaibhāṣikas by making the cause and the effect synchronous. But synchronism and co-existence of the cause and the effect involve a contradiction in terms. If the cause is non-existent what could produce the effect? If the effect is co-existent with the cause, what will the causal efficiency avail?[9]

It has, however, been urged that the relation of cause and effect is one of subject and object, of agent and product, like that of the potter and the pot and so there is no contradiction in the cause being synchronous with the effect. But this is an unwarranted assumption and only seeks to obfuscate a plain situation. Neither experience nor logic gives us a warrant to suppose that the cause seizes hold of the effect after the fashion of a pair of pincers and then operates upon it; or that the effect comes into being with the cause lovingly caught up in its tight embrace.[10] There is again no logical necessity for postulating the existence of a causal operation as something distinct and apart from the causal entity. If the exercise of causal operation, on which Kumārila lays so much emphasis, is supposed to connote the existence of something distinct from the causal entity, then we must emphatically declare that the whole world of reality, material and spiritual alike, though subject to the relentless operation of the law of causation, is absolutely inert and passive and inoperative. The cause and the effect are equally passive entities in this sense. There is nothing except a succession of moments, one moment following closely upon another moment with a clock-like regularity without the slightest exchange of services. When one moment follows another moment, the previous entity is spoken of as generating the subsequent entity and the two entities are respectively called the cause and the effect. There is no such thing as functioning of one thing into the other and when we speak of one thing as producing another thing, we mean nothing more than their pure succession. Our expressions cannot be held to represent the real state of things. Language does not conform to the rigorous nature of truth; on the contrary, it follows the guidance of convention which is traceable ultimately to nothing but the speaker’s habitual predilection for a particular mode of speech.[11]

We have seen that the hypothesis of separate function from the causal entity is not logically tenable. We cannot also discover any logical necessity for this assumption and we do not find what particular purpose may be served by this distinctive causal operation. The causal operation has been postulated to make the immediate production of the effect possible. But this is not at all necessary. The actual precedence of the cause is sufficient to account for this production; then why should you insist on its separate functioning, which is an unnecessary and uncalled for assumption after all? If, however, causal functioning or operation is thought to satisfy an intellectual curiosity, why do you suppose that it should be necessarily distinct from the cause itself? The cause and the causal operation can be regarded as the same thing—its very struggle to come unto itself, its very existence can be construed as its operation.[12] In fact, the Buddhist is an advocate of the dynamic constitution of things and he seriously maintains that there is no reality which is static and stationary. Everything in his view is in perpetual motion and there is no rest and no cry for halt. What he objects to is the affirmation of a causal energy as distinct from, the causal entity originally inert and passive. The thing moving cannot be abstracted from motion—the two are one indivisible whole and the idea of abstract motion is but an intellectual fiction. It may, however, be urged that if there is no causal functioning, then how could the idea of dependence be explained? The effect is said to depend upon the cause for its origination and the cause is regarded as conditioning the effect. Quite so; but this dependence is nothing but the invariable sequence of the cause and the effect. The fact that an effect invariably follows the cause is construed into a relation of dependence; but this is only our interpretation of this invariable sequence and is no argument for its objective existence.[13]

Again, what is the factual basis of this supposition of causal functioning as a distinct factor in causation? Certainly, it is the invariable sequence of the cause and the effect, on which this hypothesis is grounded. You posit a separate causal operation when you see that a particular effect invariably accompanies another entity called the cause and you assume that without this causal operation functioning independently or as an integral part of the basal cause, the causal factor is inefficient regarding the effect to be produced. But the fundamental datum of this assumption is not anything more or less than the invariable concomitance of the two factors in question attested in a number of instances under observation. In the circumstances we do not see any necessity for postulating the existence of a tertium quid, a separate causal operation apart and distinct from the basal cause. Nor do we visualise any harmful issue if we. suppose that it is the cause in question, which produces the effect; on the other hand, we have the full sanction of experience on our side. When the full complement of causes and conditions is present, the effect is seen to be produced invariably and without fail. We certainly do not pretend to any occult powers whereby we can envisage the existence of the functioning or operation distinct from the entities themselves. Nor do we see any logical necessity for inferring this additional factor. But the naive realist may assert that a cause, static and inoperative, is as good as non-existent and if it is to be efficient, it must energise and this is possible if there is an energising operation over and above. We admit the plausibility of the hypothesis. But we elect to enquire of Kumārila if this ‘energising function’ produces the effect independently of another operation or not. If it requires another operation, that will require a third and the third will require a fourth and so on to infinity; it must be admitted for avoiding this contingency that ‘energising’ is self-sufficient and independent of any external help. And if this be so, what is the harm if you think the causal entity to be the self-sufficient cause of the effect? On the contrary, you will not have to posit any invisible agency—an altogether gratuitous assumption. Certainly you do not gain anything by positing the existence of an unnecessary tertium quid, but on the other hand, you offend the Law of Parsimony which requires us to suppose the fewest possible factors for explanation of a phenomenon. We, however, demur to subscribe to the Naiyāyika’s contention that causal operation can be distinctly envisaged. We forswear all pretentions to any such extraordinary powers of vision.

The logical absurdities of the position of the naive realists can be brought home by a dilemma. Is this causal operation or energising, which has been heralded by Kumārila with such a flourish of trumpets, something distinct or non-distinct from the causal factors themselves? If it is something distinct, you should believe this to be the cause and not the pievious entity, say, the seed. It may, however, be contended that the previous entity as informed with this energising is the cause and neither the cause nor the energising in isolation has any efficiency. So neither of the two is superfluous. But this interpretation will only make the hypothesis open to dialectical difficulties. If these two factors, to wit, the basal cause and the energising, are really two distinct entities as you posit, how could there be any relation between them? For the relationing of the cause and the effect you had to assume a tertium quid, viz., the energising, as the connecting link. But as this energising is equally a distinct fact, it will also hang loose unless there is another ‘energising’ to bring them together. And so an infinite number of causal operations or energisings will have to be assumed and yet the effect will not be produced. If, on the other hand, this energising or operation is supposed to be something non-distinct, it will be an idle appendage to the causal entity. So neither logic nor experience gives any warrant to postulate the existence of causal operation in contradistinction to the causal entity and so no case has been made out against the fluxional entity becoming a cause in its own right.

Moreover, Kumārila cannot consistently insist upon the proposition that an unfunctioning cause cannot have any efficiency, since he admits that our cognitions do not require a separate functioning or operation to cognise their objects. These cognitions apprehend their objects as soon as they are born, since

our states of consciousness are momentary and so cannot last a moment longer, in which they could exercise their operative efficiency. Kumārila has to make an exception in favour of cognitive states, which he admits in common with the Buddhists to enjoy only a moment’s existence. But the argument applies to all causes alike, as the momentary nature of all entities has been proved to the hilt and so causal functioning or energizing, by which Kumārila laid so much store, is only an inconsequential hypothesis without any bearing whatsoever upon causality.[14] The next objection of Kumārila—that if mere antecedence bereft of operative efficiency is regarded as the determinant of causal relation, it will make the odour of the jug an effect of the colour preceding it—has no force against the Buddhist theory of causation. If the whole series of successive moments be ideally comprehended as a continuum, the colour and the odour can be believed to be causally related. We do not, however, regard mere antecedence as the determinant of causal relation, but invariable and unconditional antecedence. So there is absolutely no necessity for supposing that an antecedent as exercising a causal operation in the second moment is the cause of the subsequent entity so operated upon, since an invariable and unconditional antecedent will meet the situation.

Again, the objection that perception of external reality will become impossible of explanation, because the object and its cognition are not synchronous, does not affect the Buddhist position in particular. It is a common epistemological difficulty and its solution will be of a piece with that proposed by other schools of thought. The problem of perception as to how the mind can take stock of the external abjective reality is an eternal problem and is neither enhanced nor minimised whether the reality is regarded as permanent or fluxional. There are two possible theories which have been advocated by different schools of thought. One theory maintains that our consciousness is clear like a clean slate and does not depart an inch from its intrinsic purity even when it apprehends the external reality. Consciousness is an amorphous substance and remains so in all its activities. It is like light and reveals the object with its form and qualities without undergoing any morphological articulation in its constitution. This is called the theory of formless perception (nirākāra-jñāna)[15] It may be designated for the sake of convenience as the theory of presentative perception. There is another theory, which may be called the theory of representative perception (sākāravi jñānavāda). The latter theory holds that knowledge of external reality is made possible by virtue of the objective reality leaving an impress of its likeness on the mirror of consciousness. The Sāṅkhya, Vedānta and the Sautrāntika Buddhists are advocates of the latter theory. It appears, however, from the Tattvasaṅgrahapañjikā that there was a class of Buddhist thinkers who held the opposite theory of presentative perception. Kumārila and the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika school regarded perception as non-representative in character, as they thought that the representational theory gave a convenient handle to the subjective idealists for denial of external reality altogether. Perception is held to be direct awareness of the reality and to be without any content on the subjective side. The contention of the idealist, that awareness and its content arc one inseparable whole and so are intuited together, was thus made out to be a groundless assumption. All external perception is thus awareness of something, distinct from and external to the subjective awareness, which was held to be amorphous (nirākāra) in nature. The form and configuration perceived belong to external reality and these have no representative or counterpart in the psychosis, which is formless and amorphous.[16]

Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla observe that both these theories have their advocates in the camp of the Buddhists and the theory of flux has no special difficulty in either case. If perceptual knowledge, or all knowledge for the matter of that, is regarded as a contentless, pure, amorphous awareness and as taking stock of the objective reality directly and immediately, the Buddhist can accept this theory without; prejudice to his metaphysical position, viz., the doctrine of momentariness of things. The particular cognition of an object is to be supposed to be engendered by a common set of causes and conditions, which ushers into existence the object and the cognition as coproducts at one and the same time. The cognitive relation between the two factors is to be explained by a law of harmony or mutual affinity inherent in the constitutional peculiarity of the subjective and the objective factor. And this is the only possible explanation of the etiology of perceptual knowledge and the Buddhist shares the difficulties or advantages of this theory equally with the non-Buddhist schools. If, on the other hand, perception is believed to be representational in character, it would be a perception of the likeness or image of the objective reality as imprinted on the perceptual cognition by the reality itself. In this case, however, the perceptual knowledge will be cognisant of the likeness or the mental portrait of the objective reality in the first instance and this perception of the likeness forming the mental content is to be vicariously regarded as perception of the objective reality itself. The so-called perception of the external object will be nothing more than a perception of the likeness or the copy of the object imprinted on the mental canvas and as such may be regarded as mediate and indirect in character.[17] Moreover, it has been urged that this theory of representative perception not only makes perception vicarious and indirect, but it also degrades consciousness into the position of a variegated canvas, impressed as it will be with all the forms and colours of the external objects. And in the opposite theory also, the relation of awareness and the object cannot be explained, as there is no connecting medium between the two. Awareness will be pure, indeterminate awareness and not awareness of this or that, unless the two are supposed to be brought together. If you seek to explain the difficulty by an appeal to the specific individuality of the two factors and by postulating the operation of a law of harmony or fitness, the Buddhist philosopher will also have recourse to some such theory. And if the difficulties of the representational theory are sought to be explained away by regarding the likeness or the portrait to be a fictitious articulation, or by holding the two factors, viz., the awareness and its content, as one and the same thing being essentially spiritual alike, the Buddhist also will offer this explanation. The objection, that the object of cognition has passed out of existence when the cognition is supposed to come into being and so the cognition will have no reference to the object, is based on a misconception of the representative theory itself. In this theory the object of direct perception is no longer the external uncompromising reality, but only a likeness or image of the same imprinted on the consciousness. So what is perceived is a content of consciousness itself and the existence of the external object at the time of perceptual cognition does not give any advantage. The presence of the content is only necessary for perceptual knowledge and not of the external object, which will have served its purpose if it has left an impress of itself on the mind. And so even if the object is believed to persist and thus to synchronise with the perceptual knowledge, this synchronism, apart from the question of its logical relevancy, will have no bearing on the psychology of perception, as explained by us. So Kumārila only fights with a shadow.

As regards the objection of loss of earned merit and enjoyment of unearned deserts, it must be stated that no such contingency arises in the Buddhist theory of causation. There would be loss of earned merit if the productive efficiency of the previous agent was absolutely lost with the disappearance of the agent, which, however, is not the case. The productive efficiency, whether of good or evil, is transmitted in and through the series of moments until it matures and exhausts itself in the production of the effect in question. It is not necessary that the agent should continue in order to make the production of the effect possible, as the continuity of the series will serve the purpose. But the effect actually takes place as soon as the causal efficiency reaches maturation and so there is no loss of earned deserts. Similarly, the argument of enjoyment of unearned deserts could be brought home if there had been no productive factor in the series. But this is denied by us, the Buddhists. No effect is produced unless there has been a potent cause for it in any one of the constituent moments of the series. Though the particular moment, which discharged the meritorious action, has disappeared, it leaves behind a legacy of its merit in the shape of an unconscious driving impulse (vāsanā) which runs down in and through all the moments of the consciousness-series until finally it exhausts itself in the production of the expected result. The moments of our conscious life are not simple entities, but have unsuspected powers and potencies, which discover themselves only by their results. Śrīdhara urges that an unstable consciousness, existing only for a moment, cannot either receive or retain this vāsanā in its being and so we have to postulate a permanent, continuous substratum, which can hold and retain this for an indefinite length of time. But this objection cannot stand examination. We do not see how a permanent substratum can be of any help. Certainly the supposed permanent agent, when it discharges a meritorious act, does not continue to be the same unchanged entity as before. On the contrary, it must be supposed that the permanent agent has come to ba vested with a different property by reason of which it ultimately enjoys the fruits of its meritorious action. But this can be possible of explanation if the conscious agent undergoes material change of nature, and if, on the other hand, it continues in its previous unblest condition, no explanation of the enjoyment of reward can be offered. Paradoxical though it may appear, it is the theory of flux which can explain the law of retribution—this theory of reward and punishment. If the agent is supposed to be a permanent, unchanging soul-entity, there can be no activity, voluntary or involuntary, on its part, far less the enjoyment of fruits of its labour. The theory of reward and punishment, a corollary of the law of retribution, which has been postulated by all schools of thought as the only explanation of the variety and inequalities of the world-order, will thus collapse like a house of cards, if the doctrine of a permanent, unchanging self is adhered to, as the permanent is not amenable to any activity.

Kumārila, however, pleads that the complaint of loss of earned merit and enjoyment of unearned deserts is not based on the loss of merit acquired by an agent, as the Buddhist does not recognise any agent at all. The objection rests on the fundamental assumption that the action, responsible for the result, is lost completely and irrevocably and the result is supposed to emerge without a causal basis. But we, Buddhists, plead guilty to the charge and our apology is that no such continuity is either logically necessary or defensible. The law of causality governing a particular psychical continuum is adequate to explain this phenomenon and the continuation of the agentive moment does not facilitate, nor does its discontinuation frustrate, the operation of this causal law. It will do if a particular result has a predecessor in the series, possessing generative efficiency for the same. What is necessary is this generative efficiency and it continues unimpaired in the series, being born anew with each resultant factor. That the two moments, the agentive and the enjoying factors, are distinct and discrete entities is acknowledged by us and if this be the gravamen of his complaint, we welcome the issue as an inevitable consequence of the law of causality. If you seek to avoid this consequence, you can do so on the pain of denial of the law of causality, which is tantamount to denial of all attempts at a philosophical explanation of experience and reality.

The next objection of Kumārila is that voluntary activity will be impossible if all things, the subjective consciousness included, are momentary, because the subject, convinced of his utter doom in the next moment, will have no incentive for action, as the consequences will not be enjoyed or suffered by him. But this objection is devoid of all substance. Now, there are two classes of persons, who engage in a voluntary action, to wit, in the first place, the enlightened, who have realised the fluxional nature of all existence, and, in the second place, the unenlightened, who have not yet attained to this transcendental knowledge. So far as the latter are concerned, there is absolutely no ground of apprehension of any such crisis. The unregenerate person is in the grip of delusion and is absolutely persuaded of the unity and permanence of his ego-consciousness. And this idea of a permanent ego-principle is due to his mistaking the apparent continuum of the conscious states for an undivided unitary self. In reality, however, our consciousness does not possess any unity at all; it is nothing but an ever-flowing, unimpeded procession of unique conscious moments, each sharply divided from the other. The unity of consciousness is only an illusion, generated by the homogeneity of the conscious units coupled with their uninterrupted career, their ceaseless continuum, which experiences no check and never comes to an abrupt end. But the unregenerate person, deluded by the surface-appearance of things, is not convinced of the illusory nature of his egoism and so engages in all pursuits with a view to ulterior results, which he hopes to enjoy for himself. To him it makes no difference whether the ego-consciousness is a momentary phantom or a permanent fixture, because he is under the hypnotic spell of ignorance (avidyā) and is not in a mood to philosophise. As regards the enlightened soul, who has realised that all existents are momentary and the ego-consciousness is an unreal phantom, for him, too, there is absolutely no difficulty or bar to be engaged in active pursuits for the deliverance of unregenerate persons. He is aware that the world of reality, both subjective and objective, is governed by the inexorable law of causality, under the influence of which a good and meritorious action eventually results in the good and well-being of all sentient beings and it is out of a super-abundance of love and an innate irresistible charity of heart that the enlightened being engages himself in this active humanitarian mission. Such a spirit, though free and illuminated himself, does not feel happy so long as the world is unfree and is caught up in the eddy of universal misery. He takes up the burden of the misery of the entire world upon his own shoulders and throws himself heart and soul into a long drawn-out campaign against this universal suffering. Though personally (if we can use such an expression regarding the enlightened being who has seen, through the illusion of personalised existence), the Bodhisattva has no cause of misery, he identifies himself with the whole order of suffering creatures and poignantly feels the sting of misery that is tormenting the whole world. So far from enjoying the blessedness of isolation and peace of impersonalism, which is his due, he becomes one of the busiest and the most miserable of all living beings. Personal motivation plays no part in his mission of universal love and he is the antithesis of the wicked person who feels an impersonal pleasure in doing evil. The wicked man scatters misery all over the world and makes it a mission of his life. The Bodhisattva is his counterpart and his mission of universal love and selfless service is equally an impersonal motivation.[18]

As regards the objection respecting memory, recognition, and the like, there is absolutely no difficulty in the theory of flux. These psychical phenomena are strictly governed by the law of causation and they appear in that psychical continuum (santāna), in which a previous cognition took place at some past moment. It is neither logically nor psychologically necessary that the remembering moment must be identical with the cognising moment, as the identity of the subjective continuum will do. That the said memory does not appear in a different subjective centre is due to the regulative power of this law of causality and for this a permanent ego-principle need not be postulated, as the ego-principle logically fails to connect these phenomena in the unity of a whole.[19] And when an explanation, consonant with the principles of logic, is possible, it is certainly unwarranted that an illogical hypothesis should be entertained. Memory therefore is not impossible of explanation in the theory of flux and recognition, enquiry and such like psychical phenomena, which presuppose a relationing of two independent cognitions and thus proceed from memory, are likewise explicable in the light of causality.

As regards bondage and emancipation, they, too, do not relate to an identical subject. Bondage is nothing but consciousness in the grip of ignorance, the fountain-head of passions and defilements which vitiate the conscious life in the phenomenal plane. Emancipation is the dissociation of consciousness from these overgrowths of avidyā (ignorance or nescience), and once disentangled from the shackles of these imperfections, consciousness shines in its undimmed glory and absolute purity and this is emancipation in our view.[20] Furthermore, there is no example which shows that bondage and emancipation are the successive stages of one and the same person, as every thing is subject to change and so physical bondage and physical release even relate to two distinct entities. On the contrary, the very idea of bondage and emancipation is incompatible with the idea of a permanent ego-principle, because the permanent self will not be subject to any change, which this difference of condition involves and indicates. If liberation connotes an appearance of a novel character, it will not relate to the permanent unchanging soul. If, however, the soul is conceived to be identified with this novel phenomenon, it will be momentary like the latter. If, on the other hand, it is conceived to hang apart and not to relate to the soul, the soul will continue in its pristine inglorious and unregenerate condition and will not be emancipated. So the opponent is compelled to accept our theory of universal flux if he attempts to give a rational explanation of the theory of bondage and emancipation, which we have proved to be absolutely incompatible with the idea of a permanent self, that was trotted out by the opponent as the fundamental presupposition of this universal doctrine of religion. The interests of religion and metaphysics are therefore safe in the keeping of this doctrine of universal flux and the theory of permanent cause and permanent self is only a false guardian and a false philosophy.

To sum up: we have seen that the difficulties and objections, advanced by the philosophers of rival schools against the theory of universal flux, are imaginary and fanciful and are based upon a short-sighted logic and surface-view of reality. They do not at all affect the solid foundations of the doctrine of flux; on the contrary, they find their solution in it, which other systems have failed to afford.



  1. Tattvasaṅgraha and the Pañjikā, śls. 476-545, pp. 166-85.
  2. Kṣaṇabhaṅgasiddhi in the six Buddhist Nyāya tracts, pp. 20-77 (28-32 pages particularly relevant).
  3. Nyāyakandalī. pp. 71-82.
  4. Nyāyamañjarī, pp. 444-67.
  5. Śloka-Vārtika, pp. 728-845.

Footnotes and references:


tathā hi yenai’va kṛtaṃ śubhādikaṃ tenai’va tatphalaṃ bhujyata iti loke pratītam. Na hi Devadattena kṛte karmaṇi śubhādike Yajñadattas tatphalam iṣṭam aniṣṭañ co’pabhuṅkta iti prasiddham. nā’pi śāstre, yatho’ktam, “anenai’va kṛtaṃ karma ko’nyaḥ pratyanubhaviṣyatī”’
      ti. T. S. P., p. 166.


T. S. and pañjikā, Śls. 476-500


asti karma, asti karmaphalam, kārakas tu nopalabhyate ya imān skandhān ākṣipati, anyāṃś ca skandhān upādatte, anyatra dharmasaṅketāt. tatrāyaṃ dharmasaṅketo yadutā’smin satī’dam bhavati, asyotpādād idam utpadyata iti.
      T. S. P., p. 173.


pūrvottaradhiyau svamātraniyate kutas tasyāḥ kāraṇam aham, asyāś cā’smi kāryam iti pratīyotām, parasparavārtānabhijñatvāt. tābhyām agṛhītaṃ kuto’dhyavasyati, tasyā’nubhavānusāritvāt.
      N. K., pp. 71-72.


ekāvasāyasamanantarajātam anya-
vijñānam anvayavimarśam upādadhāti |
evaṃ tad-ekavirahānubhavodbhavānya-
vyāvṛttidhīḥ * prathayati vyatirekabuddhim ||
evaṃ sati gṛhītānusandhāyaka evā’yaṃ vikalpaḥ, upādānopādeyabhūtakramipratyakṣadvayagṛhītānusandhānāt.
“yadi nāmai’kam adhyakṣaṃ na pūrvāparavittimat |
adhyakṣadvayasadbhāve prākparāvedanaṃ katham ||” 
    iti. SBNT., p. 32.

* The reading ‘vyāvṛttadhīh’ has been emended by me as ‘vyāvṛttidhīḥ.’


yatho’ktam Uddyotakareṇa, tatrā’pi ye bījāvayavās to pūrvavyūhaparityāgena vyūhāntaram āpadyante, vyūhāntarāpattau ca pṛthivīdhātur abdhātunā saṃgṛhītam āntareṇa tejasā pacyamāno rasadravyaṃ nirvarttayati. sa rasaḥ pūrvāvayavasahito’ṅkurādibbāvam āpadyata iti. tat kathaṃ tatra sūkṣmo’pi nāṃśo’stī’ty ucyate.
      T.S.P., p. 174.


yadi pṛthivyādaya uttarasmin sanniveśe varttamānā aparityaktaprāktanasvabhāvā eva varttante, tadā na teṣāṃ pūrvavyūkatyāgo vyūbāntarāpattiś co’papadyate, tādātmyāt, pūrvavat.......... atha bhedo’ṅgīkriyate’ṅkurādinām, tadā niyamena prāktanasvabhāvaparityāge sati kṣityādīnāṃ pūrvavyūhatyāgo vyūhāntarāpattiś cā’ṅgīkartavyā, anyathā bheda eva na syād.
      T.S.P., p. 174, ad, T. S., Śls. 507-508.


Vide T. S., Śls. 509-514. Cf. tathā hi yadi tṛtīyādiṣu kṣaṇeṣu kāryaṃ bhavatī’ty abhyupetaṃ bhavet, yathā Vaibhāṣikair aṅgīkṛtam “eko’tītaḥ prayacchatī”’ti, tadā vinaṣṭāt kāraṇāt kāryotpādo’ṅgīkṛtaḥ syāt. na cā’yaṃ pakṣo’smākam, ayuktyupetatvāt. Yaugapadyaprasaṅgo’pi kadācid bhavet, yadi prathama eva kṣaṇe kāryam iṣyate, yathā tair eva Vaibhāṣikaiḥ sahabhūr hetur iṣyate, tac cai’tad ayuktam. T. S. P., p. 175.

For a detailed exposition of the nature of ‘ sahabhū hetu,’ see Systems of Buddhistic Thought by Yamakami Sogen, p. 310, and A.K., II., 49-50.


asataḥ prāg asāmarthyāt sāmarthye kāryasambhavāt |
kāryakāraṇayoḥ spaṣṭaṃ yaugapadyaṃ virudhyate || 
    T. S., Śl. 535.


na hi tat kāryam ātmīyaṃ saṃdaṃśene’va kāraṇam |
gṛhītvā janayaty etad yaugapadyaṃ yato bhavet ||
nā’pi gāḍhaṃ samāliṅgya prakṛtiṃ jāyate phalam |
kāmī’va dayitāṃ yena sakṛdbhāvas tayor bhavet || 
    T. S., Śls. 516-17.


niyamād ātmahetūtthāt prathamakṣaṇabbāvinaḥ |
yad yato’nantaraṃ jātaṃ dvitīyakṣaṇasannidhiḥ ||
tat taj janayatī’ty āhur avyāpāre’pi vastuni |
vivakṣāmātrasambhūtasaṅketānuvidhāyinaḥ || 
    T.S., Śls. 518-19.

Cf. janayatī’ty upalakṣaṇam, tattad āśrityo’tpadyata ity api vijñeyam. 
    T. S. P., sub voce.


janmātiriktakālena vyāpāreṇā’tra kiṃ phalam |
sattai’va vyāpṛtis tasyāṃ satyāṃ kāryodayo yataḥ || 
    T. S., Śl. 520.

Cf. also a Buddhavacana,
tatre’dam uktaṃ Bhagavatā,
’kṣaṇikāḥ sarvasaṃskārā asthirāṇāṃ kutaḥ kriyā |
bhūtir yai’ṣāṃ kriyā sai’va kārakaṃ sai’va co’cyato || 
    Quoted in the T.S.P.

(The reading ‘ yeṣām’ is obviously a misprint or a scribe's error. The reading ‘ yai’ṣā’ found in some books is also sensible, p. 11.)


ya ānantaryaniyamaḥ saivā’pekṣā’bhidhīyate |
kāryodaye sadā bhāvo vyāpāraḥ kāraṇasya ca || 
    Ibid, Śl. 521.


buddher yathā ca janmai’va pramāṇatvaṃ nirudhyate |
tathai’va sarvabhāveṣu taddhetutvaṃ na kiṃ matam ||
kṣaṇikā hi yathā buddhis tathai’vā’nye’pi janminaḥ |
sādhitās tadvad evā’to nirvyāpāram idam jagat ||
      T.S., Śls. 528-29.


Cf. “ākāravān bāhyo ’rtho nirākārā-buddhiḥ.”


Cf. “All the sciences united are nothing but the human understanding, which remains one and the same however varied be the objects to which it applies itself, and which is no more altered than is the light of the sun by the variety of the objects it illumines.” Regulae, I (XI, p. 202). Quoted in “Studies in the Cartesian Philosophy,” by Norman Smith, p. 22.


“na hi mukhyato yādṛśam jñānasyā’tmasaṃvedanaṃ tādṛg evā’rthasye’ṣṭam, kiṃ tarhi? svābhāsajñānajanakatvam evā’rthasya saṃvedyatvam.”
      T.S.P., p. 570. under Śls. 2034-2035.

Also, “sākārajñānapakṣe ca tannirbhāsasya vedyatā.”
      Loc. cit.


ahīnasattvadṛṣṭīnāṃ kṣaṇabhedavikalpanā |
santānaikyābhimānena na kathañcit pravartate |
abhisambuddkatattvās tu pratikṣaṇavināśinām |
hetūnāṃ niyamaṃ buddhvā prārabhante śubhāḥ kriyaḥ |
      T.S., śls. 541-42.

cf.’yāvac cā’tmani na premṇo hāniḥ sapadi naśyati |
tāvad duḥkitvam āropya na ca svastho’vatiṣṭhate |
mithyādhyāropahānārthaṃ yatno’saty api bhoktarī’ ti |
      Pañj., ad ibid.


The failure of a permanent soul to cement all the diverse experience units by a common bond lies in the dialectical difficulties of reconciling permanence with change, continuity with diversity. This will become manifest in our examination of the different soul-theories.


kāryakāraṇabbūtāś ca tatrā’vidyādayo matāḥ |
bandhas tadvigamād iṣṭo muktir nirmalatā dhiyaḥ |
      T.S., śl. 544.

cf. cittam eva hi saṃsāro rāgādikleśavāsitam |
tād eva tair vinirmuktaṃ bhavānta iti kathyate |
      T.S.P., ad ibid.

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