The Doctrine of Pratitya-samutpada (Narain)

The doctrine of pratitya-samutpada (from The Madhyamika Mind, by Prof. Harsh Narain, Delhi 1997)

The doctrine of universal relativity (pratitya-samutpada) is the stepping stone to the doctrine of sunyata. The knowledge of the former at once leads to the knowledge of the latter. Their relation is so intimate that Nagarjuna has no hesitation in identifying the two. He observes, “What is relativity we call sunyata. It [sunyata] is relative being (upadaya prajñapti). It is the middle path”. This proposition is pregnant with implications. The Madhyamika turned pratitya-samutpada, literally and originally conditioned/dependent origination, into pratitya-samutpada as dependent or relative being, as relativity. He had better replace the term with pratitya-samutpapada. In this sense, however, he expresses pratitya-samutpada otherwise as upadaya-prañapti (relative appearance, relative being, relativity). In fact, pratitya-samutpada, which emerged in the Pali canon as a theory of causation, became at the Madhyamika´s hands tantamount to a veritable denial of causation. Indeed, Nagarjuna´s verdict is that what has come into being through causes and conditions has in fact not come into being at all, and, since it has not come into being, it is sunya, void, pure and simple. It is significant that Candrakirti interprets pratitya-samutpada to mean ´non-origination by nature´ (svabhavenanutpadah).

Nagarjuna’s suggestion is that his denial of the world does not imply belief in another order of reality like the Absolute, immanent in or transcendent to phenomena. It is quite in conformity to the spirit of the Prajñaparamita texts, which refuse to set sunyata over against the dharmas and to acknowledge positive knowledge of any such reality in the highest wisdom conceived by them. Nagarjuna himself expresses the view that sunyata is nothing other than existents and that there is no existent without sunyata. Advayavajra follows suit. Prajñakaramati expresses himself categorically against the attempt to install sunyata over against the realm of being: “Sunyata is not different from being, for being itself is of the nature of that; otherwise, in the event of sunyata’s being different from being, there would be no essencelessness of the dharmas.”