A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

by Surendranath Dasgupta | 1922 | 212,082 words | ISBN-13: 9788120804081

This page describes the philosophy of the doctrine of momentariness and the doctrine of causal efficiency (arthakriyakaritva): a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the seventeenth part in the series called the “buddhist philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 17 - The Doctrine of Momentariness and the Doctrine of Causal Efficiency (Arthakriyākāritva)

It appears that a thing ora phenomenon may be defined from the Buddhist point of view as being the combination of diverse characteristics[1]. What we call a thing is but a conglomeration of diverse characteristics which are found to affect, determine or influence other conglomerations appearing as sentient or as inanimate bodies. So long as the characteristics forming the elements of any conglomeration remain perfectly the same, the conglomeration may be said to be the same. As soon as any of these characteristics is supplanted by any other new characteristic, the conglomeration is to be called a new one[2]. Existence or being of things means the work that any conglomeration does or the influence that it exerts on other conglomerations. This in Sanskrit is called arthakriyākāritva which literally translated means—the power of performing actions and purposes of some kind[3].

The criterion of existence or being is the performance of certain specific actions, or rather existence means that a certain effect has been produced in some way (causal efficiency). That which has produced such an effect is then called existent or sat. Any change in the effect thus produced means a corresponding change of existence. Now, that selfsame definite specific effect which is produced now was never produced before, and cannot be repeated in the future, for that identical effect which is once produced cannot be produced again. So the effects produced in us by objects at different moments of time may be similar but cannot be identical. Each moment is associated with a new effect and each new effect thus produced means in each case the coming into being of a correspondingly new existence of things. If things were permanent there would be no reason why they should be performing different effects at different points of time. Any difference in the effect produced, whether due to the thing itself or its combination with other accessories, justifies us in asserting that the thing has changed and a new one has come in its place.

The existence of a jug for example is known by the power it has of forcing itself upon our minds; if it had no such power then we could not have said that it existed. We can have no notion of the meaning of existence other than the impression produced on us; this impression is nothing else but the power exerted by things on us, for there is no reason why one should hold that beyond such powers as are associated with the production of impressions or effects there should be some other permanent entity to which the power adhered, and which existed even when the power was not exerted. We perceive the power of producing effects and define each unit of such power as amounting to a unit of existence. And as there would be different units of power at different moments, there should also be as many new existences, i.e. existents must be regarded as momentary, existing at each moment that exerts a new power. This definition of existence naturally brings in the doctrine of momentariness shown by Ratnakīrtti.

Footnotes and references:


Compare MilindaPaṅha , u. i. i—The Chariot Simile.


Compare Tarkarahasyadīpikā of Gunaratna, A. S.’s edition, pp. 24, 28 and Nyāyamañjarī , V.S. edition, pp. 445, etc., and also the paper on Kṣaṇabhañga-siddhi by Ratnakīrtti in &  Buddhist Nyāya tracts.


This meaning of the word “arthakriyākāritva” is different from the meaning of the word as we found in the section “sautrāntika theory of perception.” But we find the development of this meaning both in Ratnakīrtti as well as in Nyāya writers who referred to this doctrine. With Vinītadeva (seventh century A. D.) the word “arthakriyā-siddhi” meant the fulfilment of any need such as the cooking of rice by fire (arthaśabdena prayojanamucyate puruṣasya prayojanaṃ dārupākādi tasya siddhiḥ niṣpattiḥ — the word artha means need; the need of man such as cooking by logs, etc.; siddhi of that, means accomplishment). With Dharmottara who flourished about a century and a half later arthasiddki means action (anuṣṭhiti) with reference to undesirable and desirable objects (heyopādeyārthaviṣayā). But with Ratnakīrtti (950 A.D.) the word arthakriyākāritva has an entirely different sense. It means with him efficiency of producing any action or event, and as such it is regarded as the characteristic definition of existence (sattva). Thus he says in his Kṣaṇabhañgasiddhi, pp. 20, 21, that though in different philosophies there are different definitions of existence or being, he will open his argument with the universally accepted definition of existence as arthakriyākāritva (efficiency of causing any action or event). Whenever Hindu writers after Ratnakīrtti refer to the Buddhist doctrine of arthakriyākāritva they usually refer to this doctrine in Ratnakīrtti’s sense.