Scientific Philosophy with reference
to Buddhist Thought
Early Buddhist philosophy is
very close to scientific philosophy of modern times, and many a distinguished
scientist has expressed great admiration for the clear exposition of the Buddha
on the Nature of the Universe and the interaction between its various components.
The more recent discoveries of science make it necessary to study Buddhist epistemology
in order to get a proper view of the Universe and man's position in it.
start with a classification of the Universe into three parts, a classification
which must have had an early origin but is attributed to the great Bhakti Philosopher
Ramanuja (11th century). This classification is not only scientifically appealing
but is as valid today as it was a thousand years ago. Ramanuja divides the Universe
into three parts: Achit, Chit and Isvara, and the interaction between the three
divisions, brings Science and Philosophy into a proper focus. In this classification
the original meanings of the divisions are:
Acit: Things which have no consciousness,
Things which have consciousness, and
We interpret the divisions
hopefully without any distortion in the following manner:
Acit: All material
things, and whose behaviour is best explained by modern science.
Cit: All things
which have life and exhibit biological behaviour and hence possess a consciousness.
The exhibited consciousness being higher in quality, depending on the evolutionary
status of the concerned object.
Isvara: A power which develops a consciousness
with a desire to do good to all life.
The definitions of the above classifications
and the interactions between the sets, bring philosophy and science to a common
plane. Some of the discoveries in modern science emphasise that a close interaction
is necessary if we have to understand the Universe in all its aspects. There seem
to be contradictions both mutually and internally in both aspects of knowledge
and this paper strives to analyze some of them.
It will be observed that early
Buddhist thought, based as it is on rationality and logic, comes closest to an
understanding of the Universe in all its aspects without many arbitrary assumptions
or coming into conflict with observed data.
Figure 1 shows the division of
the Universe according to Ramanuja by Venn Diagrams. S(A) stands for the Acit
set, S(C) stands for the Cit set and S(I) for the Isvara set.
We note that
in its original definition the reality of S(I) is rejected by the Carvaka materialistic
philosophers, Mechanistic Science, early Buddhism, Jainism and in general by the
Figure 1 : Universal Classification
S(I) as an Anthropomorphic
Absolute Entity isolated from the world and as a father figure, is the description
in the Jewish, and hence the Christian religions and Islam. The contact with life
and the material world is held through prophets, saints and in the case of Christianity
a Messiah (son of God).
A kind of anthropomorphic entity of a polytheistic
nature exists in Puranic Hinduism, but the entity is not isolated from ordinary
life and is one in which the God or Gods identify themselves with human weakness
and errors, much like the Greek divinities. However, Vedantic influence has brought
all these divinities together by a monism of the most comprehensive type.
Vedantic interpretation of S(I) is very abstract and as we shall see later it
interacts with the other sets in a very subtle way as interpreted by Sankara (8th
century) and Ramanuja. This interaction is denied by Madhva (14th century) and
God is completely separate from Cit and Acit and in this sense his interpretation
of Vedanta begins to resemble the conclusions of the Mediterranean religions.
Buddhism admits of the Divinity of the Buddha which seems like an obvious influence
of Hinduism. The phase of Buddhism during which the Sunyata theory was developed,
is another interesting phase of philosophy which has parallels in scientific thought.
We discuss this in some detail.
All the interpretations of the interactions
between the sets, depend on the meaning of Reality. This word is a deeply intuitive
one. Even in science the word has found no clear definition and its meaning has
been and is still being debated at great length. One would have expected that
Science with its dependence on quantification, the language of mathematics and
possibilities of experimental verification, would have no difficulty in defining
Reality, but this has not been the case.
To return to the Venn diagrams, Figure
2 gives the way the Carvaka and Mechanistic Scientists look at the interactions.
There is no Reality for S(I), and S(C) is embedded in S(A), i.e., consciousness
is created by material forces.
Figure 2 : Mechanistic and Charvaka (Pre-Buddhist)
Figure 3a and Figure 3b are shown the interactions as given in Vedanta. S(I) is
considered as the only Reality. It is, however, so pure and isolated that only
through the forces of Maya the material world has become observable/measurable.
The Universe has become observable because of our consciousness. In this way S(A)
is a subset of S(C). The relationship of the abstract Isvara set to that of S(C)
and S(A) is one of projection through maya. The interesting aspect of the Vedantic
theory is that Brahman is in all living things. In fact it leads to the famous
aphorism 'Thou Art That'. It implies that S(C) and therefore S(A) are a part of
S(I). An important aspect of this interpretation is that it points to a unification
of the entire Universe. Just as all the laws of Physics will presumably be unified,
the Brahman takes the role of that Unification. The interpretation of Brahman
and Maya is due to Sankara (8th century) but it is clearly enunciated in the Vedanta.
theory has, however, been modified by Ramanuja by denying that the Isvara set
is an abstract one. He believes that the set interacts with human consciousness
in a direct way through Bhakti, i.e., love and affection. It is in this way the
love of fellowmen and mankind in general arises. In Advaita Vedanta, S(I) is the
only set having Reality, the rest is a projection of that Reality through Maya.
The Madhva version of Vedanta insists that God and the rest are separate (Dvaita)
and thus S(I) is separate from the other sets. In this way it resembles the Mediterranean
Supreme, Symmetric, Pure, Unchangable
Projection or Illusion
to Unchangability to Supreme Brahman)
Evolution: Symmetry to Symmetry (Chandyogya
"..... though some held that chaos alone was before a second,
and order come ot it, how can it ever be so. Order indeed was alone in the beginning...."
3 (a) : Advaita (Shankara, 8th century)
Consideration to express human feelings possible in this process
: From Chaos to Symmetry
Figure 3 (b) : Visista-Advaita (Ramanuja, 11th century)
Figure 4 the view of the Mediterranean religions is shown
S(I) represents a
fatherly anthropomorphic entity whose relationship with the rest of the world
is through parental concern and fear.
God as Father
: Act of God
Social Forces, Fear, Inherent Love of Humanity
Figure 4 : Mediterranean
Religions & Madhav (Dvaita)
In Figure 5 the Buddhist view is given. To
be as accurate as possible we quote from Stcherbatsky's1 book on Buddhist Logic,
which effectively summarises the Buddhist standpoint.
At the time of Buddha,
India was seething with philosophic speculation, and thirsty of the ideal of Final
Deliverance. Buddhism started with a very minute analysis of the human personality
into the elements of which it is composed. The leading idea of this analysis was
a moral one. The elements of a personality were, first of all, divided into good
and bad, purifying and defiling, propitious to salvation and averse to it. The
whole doctrine was called a doctrine of defilement and purification. Salvation
was imagined and cherished as a state of absolute quiescence. Therefore life,
ordinary life, was considered as a condition of degradation and misery. Thus the
purifying elements were those moral features, or forces, that led to quiescence.
The defiling ones were those that led to, and encouraged, the turmoil of life.
Apart from these two classes of conflicting elements, some general, neutral, fundamental
elements were also found at the bottom of every mental life, but nothing in the
shape of a common receptacle of them could be detected: hence no Ego, no Soul,
no Personality. The so-called personality consists of a congeries of ever-changing
elements, of a flow of them, without any perdurable and stable element at all.
is the first main feature of early Buddhism, its Soul-denial. The No-Soul theory
is another name for Buddhism.
The external world was also analysed in its component
elements. It was the dependent part of the personality, its sense-data. There
were other systems of philosophy which preceded Buddhism and which envisaged the
sense-data as changing manifestations of a compact, substantial and eternal principle,
the Matter. Buddhism brushed this principle away and the physical elements became
just as changing, impermanent and flowing, as the mental were found to be. This
constitutes the second characteristic feature of early Buddhism: no Matter, no
Substance, only separate elements, momentary flashes of efficient energy without
any substance in them, perpetual becoming, a flow of existential moments.
instead of the abandoned principles of a Soul and of a Matter, something must
have come to replace them and to explain how the separate elements of the process
of becoming are holding together, so as to produce the illusion of a stable material
world and of perdurable personalities living in it. They were in fact, substituted
by causal laws, laws of physical and moral causation. The flow of the evanescent
elements was not a haphazard process. Every element, although appearing for a
moment, was a 'dependently originating element'. According to the formula 'this
being, that arises' it appeared in conformity with strict causal laws. The idea
of moral causation, or retribution, the main interest of the system, was thus
receiving a broad philosophic foundation in a general theory of Causality. This
is the third characteristic feature of early Buddhism. It is a theory of Causation.
find the place where Buddhist philosophy can be included in the diagram given
in Figure 5 involves the following modifications. Buddhism does not explicitly
assume the existence of a God. Therefore the interpretation of the Isvara state
is not that of a God, but all the unifying forces based on causal laws which includes
the status of Nirvana. Cit and Acit are clearly defined except that the overlap
between the Cit and Acit takes into account the dynamics involved in the state
of the universe and evolution in the state of conscious matter.
Buddhism, through the work of Nagarjuna (around 2nd century a.d.), Dignaga (5th
century), Dharmakirti and Dharmottana (8th century), has many interesting contributions
to make towards the philosophy of causality (Sunyavada) and logic.
in a most general way shows in his Sunyavada that while one can have ontological
monism, it is possible for dual states to exist in epistemology - a conclusion
of great implications to science.
In order to be as accurate and at the same
time concise, a note from the Encyclopaedia Britannica2 on Nagarjuna and Sunyavada
is given in the appendix. The note also includes Buddhist views on ego-consciousness
and memory, and pure sensation as perception. All these have a bearing on what
follows on physical reality.
(A) Early Buddhism
1. No God
2. No Soul
3. Interaction purely by Causal Laws
4. S (C) mainly dealing with Good
and Evil and prosper knowledge as part of Causal Laws. Origin big bang or bangs.
5. Existence of Nirvana (as absorption into nothingness)
: Middle Period
S (I) now represents the Buddha as a Divine personality
(A), S (C) interaction dealing with individual salvation
Nirvana - close to
the idea of Vedantic Brahman
(C) Buddhism : Final Period
Theory of Sunyata
5 : Buddhist View
One would have expected that in Science there could hardly
be any conflicting views on Reality, but as we shall see from what follows this
is not the case and problems of philosophy enter the domains of pure science in
no uncertain way.
We now consider the problems of Physical Reality.
to the credit of physics that all words used have a meaning defined within the
framework of mathematics. However, in recent times the foundations of physics
and the foundations of mathematics have been rudely shaken by new discoveries
which not only make the older definitions ambiguous but lead to inconsistencies
which would just not have been allowed in the past.
The two problems which
have caused this situation are in the Foundations of Quantum Mechanics and the
discovery of the Godel Theorem in mathematics. We consider here only the first
of the problems, since it involves the concept of Reality, a concept which as
we have seen has been discussed over the ages.
Most scientists are very happy
with the successes of new Quantum Mechanics, (Q.M. for short), as opposed to Newtonian
mechanics, in explaining a wide and complex range of physical phenomena. This,
however, has been possible by not only introducing new laws of physics but even
revising basic concepts concerning Reality itself. The scientists are so satisfied
with the way Q.M. has worked, that if any blemish in its foundations is pointed
out, they would rather call the questioner a person of unsound mind than take
the criticism seriously. Even the great Einstein himself was treated in this manner,
when he objected to the claim that quantum theory was a complete theory of all
matter, and pointed out some inconsistencies which could lead to a paradox of
a serious nature. His criticisms, however, require a clear understanding of Reality
which has, as we know, metaphysical overtones.
The other great scientist of
the period Niels Bohr, believed that the inconsistencies pointed by Einstein were
the result of an obsolete method of viewing the methods of Physics. In order to
clarify the new approach, Bohr proposed a principle, known as the Complementarity
Principle which permits different (even contradictory) aspects of physical phenomena,
particularly in the microscopic world to exist. To support this, Bohr suggested
that in the description of phenomena, inconsistencies are bound to come up, when
Quantum effects dominate, but this has to be pictured in a classical sense. The
principle of complementarity envisages situations where a system can exhibit particle-like
properties and wave-like properties, though they are opposite descriptions of
nature. However, it is expected that both the descriptions never appear simultaneously.
scientists have supported the interpretation of Bohr, since it provided an epistemological
base to describe many observed phenomena quantitatively, particularly in the atomic
and nuclear regime. While most scientists were happy with the new mechanics even
if it contained inconsistencies, only Einstein, Schroedinger and a few others,
though impressed by the predictive successes of Q.M., were never convinced of
the validity of the principle of complementarity. In recent times, more people
have come out against the views of Bohr. One of the ways of raising objections
is to discuss the problem with the aid of 'imaginary experiments' and interpret
it, based on Q.M. which would show up the parodoxes, if any. This was the method
used by the above-mentioned scientists. The use of imaginary experiments is a
method of creating idealised situations for the sake of discussion to show the
consistency of the assumptions that have been made. However, in recent time technologies
have greatly advanced, such that these idealised experiments can now be actually
performed and their results are used to clinch issues.
In order to show that
the Quantum Theory was at best only a working theory but incomplete, and would
one day have to be modified, Einstein and two of his collaborators Podolsky and
Rosen in 1956, published a paper (usually referred to in literature as EPR), to
show that Q.M. has in its structure inconsistencies which if properly interpreted
could lead to a serious paradox. The paper generated heat at the time when it
was published some forty years ago, but it was not taken as too serious an objection,
because much of it centered round the almost metaphysical problem as to what is
Reality, and metaphysics is not popular among physicists. Further, the arguments
on both sides relied on idealised experiments. They could only be discussed at
a philosophical plane and not actually performed and the best bet then was that
the results of the experiment would confirm the ideas of Bohr.
Now that new
technologies have made difficult experiments possible, the results of the experiments
have to be taken into account and they do not seem to support the Theory of Complementarity
Through this paper, we state the foundations of physics, first
in the way a classical physicist would like to have it. They have now had to be
given up, in view of all the information we now have on microscopic phenomena,
which has clearly shown that classical theory is untenable. The latest experiments,3
also seem to suggest all is not well with the definition of Reality as proposed
in Q.M. also.
We start by summarising the relevent differences between the
classical (Newtonian) approach to physical problems with that of Q.M., if at least
to show that the latter is an entirely new theory, with a very different epistemology.
Later we indicate why the Complementarity Principle of Bohr was introduced - in
an effort to bridge the gap between the classical and the quantum views - taking
note of the fact that while microscopic phenomena are governed by Q.M., the observer
is however a macroscopic object and thus guided by the earlier concepts.
main differences between the two theories can be summarised as follows:
1. The theory is deterministic. Given the initial conditions and the
laws of motion, it is in principle, even in the most complicated of cases, possible
to predict the behaviour of the system at a subsequent time and place.
Systems and Theory
1. The theory is basically probabilistic and abstract.
It requires the intervention of an observer to determine its state, and this intervention
suddenly makes the observation deterministic.
3. Objects under examination
can behave in a contradictory manner from the point of view of classical theory,
e.g. an object can exhibit itself as either a particle or a wave. Such descriptions
are mutually contradictory in the framework of classical physics but it is this
duality that gives Q.M. its flexibility to explain phenomena.
4. A measurement
interferes with the state of the object under measurement. A measurement of one
of the parameters, of the object under study, can make the measurement of an associated
parameter uncertain, to the extent that a simultaneous measurement of both parameters
is impossible. This is known as the Uncertainty Principle.
Since finally the
measurement has to be made by an observer - eventually a macroscopic being, the
principles of the two theories come into conflict. Thus we have a situation where
Classical Theory which at first sight seems to be rational is unable to explain
all observed phenomena. At the same time, we have Quantum theory able to explain
nearly all observed phenomena, but with assumptions which are at variance from
the observer's point of view.
We now take up the question of what is Reality.
According to Classical Physics a system is real if the parameters of the system
under consideration for example Position, Momentum etc. have a definite value
even before it is actually measured. Further the process of measurement should
not, in principle, affect the system.
In Q.M. every observable is somewhat
abstractly connected with a mathematical operation. When this operation is carried
out, specific rules tell one what its likely values are. The moment the measurement
is made the wave aspect of the system collapses and the system assumes a particular
value, which it may not have had earlier (Figure 6).
It is with a view to interpreting
these abstract processes, Bohr proposed his Principle of Complementarity. Essentially
it states the wave-particle duality is something that nature follows. This duality
forces on us the fact that the theory can only give the probabilities of the parameter
that are being measured. But only a measurement determines the value of the parameter.
In this way, we can say that prior to measurement the system had no particular
predetermined value and it is the measurement process that created the value of
the concerned parameters. All these aspects of Q.M. lead up to a Reality which
states that nothing that is not directly observable (measurable) has an existence.
All this happens only because of the dual nature of matter which gets more prominent
as the object becomes smaller. These effects become negligible as we go into the
Interaction to allow for:
a. Collapse of wave function
c. Holistic Approach
S (C) U S (A)
: Molecular and Symmetry Process
Figure 6 : Quantum Mechanics
scientists of the period, like Einstein and Schroedinger to name only a few, were
unhappy with the principle of Complementarity. They believed Quantum theory can
only be an incomplete theory and one day a new theory would arise in which determinism
would return and duality would disappear.
Reality in Q.M. is thus at variance
with Classical Reality which insists that the system can exist before one noticed
it. In Q.M., it acquires its quantitative existence only after measurement which
itself is restricted by many constraints, e.g. the Uncertainty Principle. In this
way Q.M. Reality depends not only on the system but the measuring instrument and
In order to show that Q.M. is an incomplete theory, Einstein,
Podolsky and Rosen (EPR) proposed the following experiment. If performed, the
experiment would show that the assumptions of Quantum Theory would lead to a situation,
where interactions can take place between systems, which are so far away that
the signal from one to the other will have to travel at a speed faster than the
velocity of light, or one has to invoke a "mysterious superfast interaction
at a distance". Both these possibilities would be untenable to a physicist.
The rejection by the physicist is based on a fundamental principle known as Causality,
which means that there is a physical cause for every-thing. A principle of deep
significance in a discussion in early Buddhist philosophy. A more restricted Causality
called Local Causality is one when something is real only if it changes within
a system and can be measured within it or sufficiently near it, so that the principle
of the Theory of Relativity, i.e., no signals can travel faster than the velocity
of light, is not violated.
To understand the implications of the 'imaginary
experiment' and its consequences requires a knowledge of physics. However, a very
sketchy description of it is given as it introduces the concept of Local Causality.
a system which emits two photons, i.e., light simultaneously in opposite directions.
Such systems are now available. Q.M. states that the position of each of the particles
(x), (y) can be determined by some suitable experiment and another experiment
can determine the momenta (p), (q) of each of the particles. However (x) and (p)
cannot be measured simultaneously, because of the Uncertainty Principle. Similar
is the case with (y) and (q). The paradox appears when we take into account that
the distances between the particles are always known and the total momenta of
the two particles are fixed. If this is so, by measuring (x) of the first particle
and later the momentum (p) of the same particle, one can know all about the second
particle without having made any measurements directly on the second particle
and not disturbing it in any way. In this way we have already violated the principles
If however, the supporter of Q.M. objects to the fact that the parameters
(x) and (p) have not been measured at the same time, and what was measured earlier
would have lost its validity, the paradox worsens in that the second particle
somehow seems to have got to know the sequence of measurements made on the first
particle, [since any change in (x) and (p) has to show itself on (y) and (q),
because x-y and p and q are fixed]. With Q.M. as it is presently formulated, this
effect on the other must take place however far off the distance between the photons,
perhaps even thousands of kilometres or more and the interaction must be instantaneous.
This can happen only if the information is travelling faster than that of light!
epistemological problems of Q.M. involve the dual behaviour of matter. In a measurement,
the wave function representing the particle has to collapse. How or why this happens
has never received a proper explanation. It has been pointed out that one may
have to accept the existence of a human consciousness on the completion of a measurement,
which is responsible for the collapse of the wave function, and to make the measurement
deterministic. These are complex issues but are stated here only to show even
physicists wedded to physical reality are forced to invoke the physical existence
The comparison with Buddhist philosophy becomes relevant
if we consider ontological monism as the situation before measurement and epistemological
dualism as equivalent to wave-particle dualism. These ideas require greater study
especially using the original works of Nagarjuna. Physicists who are interested
in Reality must take these earlier works into account because of their generality.
stated earlier the complementarity principle has come under severe scrutiny in
recent years. Some new experiments3 using optical methods seem to indicate that
a particle can be observed to be both wave-like and particle-like simultaneously
and not one or the other as assumed by complementarity. Figure 7 gives the experimental
set-up based on an earlier experiment done by J.C. Bose, a hundred years ago,
to demonstrate the wave nature of micro-waves.
In conclusion, by
referring to Figure 7, we note that the registrations by the counter 2 to measure
the tunnelling rate pertain to a propagation of light pulses which is consistent
with a classical wave picture. However, at the same time let us consider the rates
measured by the coincidence counter (connected to detectors 1 and 2) when the
incident light pulses are in states that are close approximations to single photon
states. If the coincidence rates are found to be lower than the minimum bound
derived from the classical wave picture (perfect anti-coincidence for 'ideal'
single photon states), as reported by Mizobuchi and Otake,3 the propagation cannot
be comprehended using a classical wave-picture, but is amenable to a description
in terms of the particle picture. We, therefore, contend that an understanding
of this experiment in terms of classical pictures [which Bohr's complementary
principle (BCP) necessarily requires] can only be obtained by using both particle
and wave-pictures; in other words, the experimental data recorded in the three
counters of Figure 7 contain both wave-like and particle-like information about
the propagation of light pulses. It is in this sense that the experiment 'confronts'
BCP by showing that there is a situation allowed by the formalism of quantum mechanics
where the notion of 'mutual exclusiveness of classical pictures' is not applicable.
purpose of referring to the experiment is to show the methods of science to decide
on the complexities of interpretation. Even then one cannot be sure that the last
word has been said about the subject because one is never sure how ontology affects
epistemology which is basically a philosophical question.
Philosophy has always
had a place in science. The following quotation from Einstein4 on 'pre-established
harmony' shows how science cannot quite depend on epistemology alone:
task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which
the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these
laws; only intuition, resting on sympathetic understanding of experience, can
reach them. In this methodological uncertainty, one might suppose that there were
any number of possible systems of theoretical physics all equally well justified;
and this opinion is no doubt correct, theoretically. But the development of physics
has shown that at any given moment, out of all conceivable constructions, a single
one has always proved itself decidedly superior to all the rest. Nobody who has
really gone deeply into the matter will deny that in practice the world of phenomena
uniquely determines the theoretical system, in spite of the fact that there is
no logical bridge between phenomena and their theoretical principles; this is
what Leibnitz described so happily as a 'pre-established harmony'. Physicists
often accuse epistemologists of not paying sufficient attention to this fact.
Monism and Epistemological Dualism
Developments in Mahayana, Nagarjuna and
Sunyavada. Though the beginnings of Mahayana are to be found in the Mahasangikas
and many of their early sects, Nagarjuna gave it a philosophical basis. Not only
is the individual person empty and lacking an eternal self, according to Nagarjuna,
but the dharmas also are empty. He extended the concept of sunyata to cover all
concepts and all entities. 'Emptiness' thus means subjection to the law of causality
or 'dependent origination' and lack of an immutable essence and an invariant mark
(nihsvabhavata). It also entails a repudiation of dualities between the conditioned
and the unconditioned, between subject and object, relative and absolute, and
between samsara and Nirvana. Thus, Nagarjuna arrived at an ontological monism;
but he carried through an epistemological dualism, i.e., a theory of knowledge
based on two sets of criteria between two orders of truth: the conventional (samratti)
and the transcendental (paramartha). The one reality is ineffable. Nagarjuna undertook
a critical examination of all the major categories with which philosophers had
sought to understand reality and showed them all to involve self-contradictions.
The world is viewed as a network of relations, but relations are unintelligible.
If two terms, A and B, are related by the relation R, then either A and B are
different or they are identical. If they are identical, they cannot be related;
if they are altogether different then they cannot also be related, for they would
have no common ground. The notion of "partial identity and partial difference"
is also rejected as unintelligible. The notion of causality is rejected on the
basis of similar reasonings. The concepts of change, substance, self, knowledge,
and universals do not fare any better. Nagarjuna also directed criticism against
the concept of pramana or the means of valid knowledge.
is also called Madhyamika, because it claims to tread the middle path, which consists
not in synthesizing opposed views such as "The real is permanent" and
"The real is changing" but in showing the hollowness of both the claims.
To say that reality is both permanent and changing is to make another metaphysical
assertion, another viewpoint, whose opposite is "Reality is neither permanent
nor changing". In relation to the former, the latter is a higher truth, but
the latter is still a point of view, a drsti, expressed in a metaphysical statement,
though Nagarjuna condemned all metaphysical statements as false.
used reason to condemn reason. Those of his disciples who continued to limit the
use of logic to this negative and indirect method, known as prasanga, are called
the prasangikas; of these, Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, and Candrakirti are the most
important. Bhavaviveka, however, followed the method of direct reasoning and thus
founded what is called the svatantra (independent) school of Madhyamika philosophy.
With him Buddhist logic comes to its own, and during his time the Yogacaras split
away from the Sunyavadins.
Ego Consciousness and Stored Consciousness
of Vasubandhu and Asanga. Converted by his brother Asanga to the Yogacara, Vasubandhu
wrote the Vijnaptimatratasiddhi ("Establishment of the Thesis of Cognitions
Only"), in which he defended the thesis that the supposedly external objects
are merely mental conceptions. Yogacara idealism is a logical development of Sautrantika
representationism: the conception of a merely inferred external world is not satisfying.
If consciousness is self-intimating (svaprakasa) and if consciousness can assume
forms (sakaravijnana), it seems more logical to hold that the forms ascribed to
alleged external objects are really forms of consciousness. One only needs another
conception: a beginningless power that would account for this tendency of consciousness
to take up forms and to externalize them. This is the power of kalpana, or imagination.
Yogacara added two other modes of consciousness to the traditional six: ego consciousness
(manovijnana) and storehouse consciousness (alaya-vijnana). The alaya-vijnana
contains stored traces of past experiences, both pure and defiled seeds. Early
anticipations of the notions of the subconscious or the unconscious, they are
theoretical constructs to account for the order of individual experience. It still
remained, however, to account for a common 'world-which' in fact remains the main
difficulty of Yogacara. The state of Nirvana becomes a state in which the alaya
with its stored 'seeds' would wither away (alayapravrtti). Though the individual
ideas are in the last resort mere imaginations, in its essential nature consciousness
is without distinctions of subject and object. This ineffable consciousness is
the 'suchness' (tathata) underlying all things. Neither the alaya nor the tathata,
however is to be construed as being substantial.
Vasubandhu and Asanga are
also responsible for the growth of Buddhist logic. Vasubandhu defined 'perception'
as the knowledge that is caused by the object, but this was rejected by Dignaga,
a fifth-century logician, as a definition belonging to his earlier realistic phase.
Vasubandhu defined 'inference' as a knowledge of an object through its mark, but
Dharmottara, an eighth-century commentator pointed out that this is not a definition
of the essence of inference but only of its origin.
Pure Sensation as Perception
of Dignaga and Dharmakirti. Dignaga's Pramanasamuccaya ("Compendium of the
Means of True Knowledge") is one of the greatest works on Buddhist logic.
Dignaga gave a new definition of 'perception': a knowledge that is free from all
conceptual constructions, including name and class concepts. In effect, he regarded
only the pure sensation as perception. In his theory of inference, he distinguished
between inference for oneself and inference for the other and laid down three
criteria of a valid middle term (hetu), viz., that it should 'cover' the minor
premise (paksa), be present in the similar instances (sapaksa), and be absent
in dissimilar instances (vipaksa). In his Hetucakra ("The Wheel of Reason"),
Dignaga set up a matrix of nine types of middle terms, of which two yield valid
conclusions, two contradictory, and the rest uncertain conclusions. Dignaga's
tradition is further developed in the seventh century by Dharmakirti, who modified
his definition of perception to include the condition 'unerring' and distinguished,
in his Nyayabindu, between four kinds of perception: that by the five senses,
that by the mind, self-consciousness, and perception of the yogins. He also introduced
a threefold distinction of valid middle terms: the middle must be related to the
major either by identity ("This is a tree, because this is an oak")
or as cause and effect ("This is fiery, because it is smoky"), or the
hetu is a non-perception from which the absence of the major could be inferred.
Dharmakirti consolidated the central epistemological thesis of the Buddhists that
perception and inference have their own exclusive objects. The object of the former
is the pure particular (svalaksana), and the object of the latter (he regarded
judgements as containing elements of inference) is the universal (samanyalaksana).
In their metaphysical positions, Dignaga and Dharmakirti represent a moderate
form of idealism.
Notes & References
1. F. Th. Stcherbatsky, Buddhist
Logic, Vol. 1, Oriental Books Reprint Corporation. pp, 3-5, 1984.
2. The New
Encyclopaedia Britannica, Chicago, Vol 21, pp 201-02, 1992.
3. Partha Ghose,
Dipankar Home and G. S. Agarwal, An Experiment to Throw More Light on Light Implications,
4. Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Rupa and Co, Calcutta, pp
226, 277, 1992.