A History of Indian Philosophy Volume 1

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

This page describes the philosophy of some ontological problems on which the different indian systems diverged: a concept having historical value dating from ancient India. This is the eighteenth part in the series called the “buddhist philosophy”, originally composed by Surendranath Dasgupta in the early 20th century.

Part 18 - Some Ontological Problems on which the Different Indian Systems Diverged

We cannot close our examination of Buddhist philosophy without briefly referring to its views on some ontological problems which were favourite subjects of discussion in almost all philosophical circles of India.

These are in brief:

  1. the relation of cause and effect,
  2. the relation of the whole (avayavī) and the part (avayava),
  3. the relation of generality (sāmānya) to the specific individuals,
  4. the relation of attributes or qualities and the substance and the problem of the relation of inherence,
  5. the relation of power (śakti) to the power-possessor (śaktimān).

Thus on the relation of cause and effect, Saṅkara held that cause alone was permanent, real, and all effects as such were but impermanent illusions due to ignorance, Sāṃkhya held that there was no difference between cause and effect, except that the former was only the earlier stage which when transformed through certain changes became the effect. The history of any causal activity is the history of the transformation of the cause into the effects. Buddhism holds everything to be momentary, so neither cause nor effect can abide. One is called the effect because its momentary existence has been determined by the destruction of its momentary antecedent called the cause. There is no permanent reality which undergoes the change, but one change is determined by another and this determination is nothing more than “that happening, this happened.”

On the relation of parts to whole, Buddhism does not believe in the existence of wholes. According to it, it is the parts which illusorily appear as the whole, the individual atoms rise into being and die the next moment and thus there is no such thing as “whole[1].” The Buddhists hold again that there are no universals, for it is the individuals alone which come and go. There are my five fingers as individuals but there is no such thing as fingerness (añgulitva) as the abstract universal of the fingers. On the relation of attributes and substance we know that the Sautrāntika Buddhists did not believe in the existence of any substance apart from its attributes; what we call a substance is but a unit capable of producing a unit of sensation.

In the external world there are as many individual simple units (atoms) as there are points of sensations. Corresponding to each unit of sensation there is a separate simple unit in the objective world. Our perception of a thing is thus the perception of the assemblage of these sensations. In the objective world also there are no substances but atoms or reals, each representing a unit of sensation, force or attribute, rising into being and dying the next moment. Buddhism thus denies the existence of any such relation as that of inherence (saviavāya) in which relation the attributes are said to exist in the substance, for since there are no separate substances there is no necessity for admitting the relation of inherence. Following the same logic Buddhism also does not believe in the existence of a power-possessor separate from the power.

Footnotes and references:


See Avayavinirākaraṇa, Six Buddhist Nyāya tracts , Bibliotheca Indica, Calcutta, 1910.

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