Pratitya-samutpada (Tachikawa)

Pratitya-samutpada (from An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nagarjuna, by Prof. Musashi Tachikawa, 1986, Delhi 1997)

In the doctrine of dependent co-arising (pratitya-samutpada) belonging to the period of Primitive (or Early) Buddhism, the question of whether or not the individual members of the causal nexus possess any perduring and immutable reality (svabhava) hardly arose. This was because when considered from the viewpoint of the early doctrine of dependent co-arising, maintaining as it did that the ‘world’ had not been created by some eternal and imperishable god or similar entity, it was only natural that human ignorance, cognition and action, all pertaining to the world of transmigration, should be impermanent and without intrinsic reality.

But by the time of Nagarjuna the doctrine of dependent co-arising, with its denial of any eternal and immutable reality, was no longer fulfilling its purpose. This was because, as a result of the emphasis placed on the reality of the individual constituent elements of the world in the course of developments within Abhidharma philosophy in the period succeeding that of Early Buddhism, the doctrine of dependent co-arising, which ought to have been an expression of the negation of own-being (svabhava), had become instead an expression of the affirmation of own-being. According to Abhidharma philosophy, dependent co-arising means that a certain constituent element or combination of elements of the world (x) arises, or is arising, from another constituent element or combination of elements (y) in accordance with a consistent relationship obtaining between cause and effect. In other words, dependent co-arising in Abhidharma philosophy represents the causal relationship obtaining among a limited number of constituent elements of the world. In this case, x is considered to act as the cause from which y is born, and this presupposes the fact that x and y must exist each with their separate own-being. In Abhidharma philosophy a certain thing possessing within itself its own existential base enters into a relationship with another thing, different from itself, also possessing within itself its own existential base. Thus the causal relationship posited by Abhidharma philosophy is a relationship between a certain thing endowed with own-being and another thing also endowed with own-being. On the basis of such ideas, Abhidharma philosophy further systematized and disseminated the doctrine of the twelvefold chain of dependent co-arising.

In the view of Nagarjuna, this interpretation of causal relationships in Abhidharma philosophy ran counter to the spirit of Early Buddhism.. Although Abhidharma philosophy had not abandoned the basic thesis of Buddhism which declared that “all things are impermanent”, in the view of Abhidharma philosophy it was ‘man’ (pudgala, the centre of personality considered to reside within the individual) as a complex of constituent elements that was impermanent, but the individual elements constituting ‘man’ were eternal and unchanging. Nagarjuna, on the other hand, held not only ‘man’ but also the individual elements (dharma) of which he is composed to be impermanent. This is why Nagarjuna’s standpoint has been defined as advocating that “both pudgala and dharma are without self”. Seeking as he did to attain to emptiness through the radical negation of the profane, he could not admit the reality of the constituent elements.