Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism.

Philosophy East and West
V. 26, no. 3
(July 1976)
pp. 339-345

(c) by The University Press of Hawaii




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Causality: The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. By David J. Kalupahana. Honolulu: The University Press of Hawaii. 1975. Pp. 265. $12.00

A philosophical work such as this one comes but once in a long while. Though it is an outgrowth of the author's thesis presented to the University of London in 1966, it has been expanded and updated. By any standard it is an important work. There is no doubt in my mind that it will be read and reread in the years to come and will become a key work in any philosophical analysis of Buddhist doctrines. I personally wish to congratulate the author for expounding on a most difficult but central conception of Buddhism and analyzing its ramifications in a very thorough, lucid, and objective manner.

    At the outset, it must be noted that Kalupahana has drawn deeply from his own personal background and culture to present the concept. Throughout the book, therefore, the Sinhalese spirit and humanistic approach is well displayed in bringing forth the early Buddhist and Theravaada understanding. This is indeed a singular contribution and an added bonus.

    I shall concern myself with two aspects of the work: (1) what it sets out to do; and (2) comments on certain problematic areas.

    The book sets out to focus on the concept of causality, which is referred to as the central philosophy of Buddhism. Kalupahana takes the historical route but looks at the concept as posed within the Buddhist tradition. Thus he starts by listing the four pre-Buddhistic causal theories found in the Pali Nikaayas and the Chinese AAgamas (pp. 5-6). They are (1) self-causation (saya.m kata.m), (2) external causation (para.m kata.m), (3) both internal or self-causation and external causation (saya.m kata~n ca para. m kata~n ca), and (4) neither internal nor external causation (asayamkaara.m aparamkaara.m). Under the second theory, there are five other subtheories: time (kaala), creation by God (II'svarak.rta), inherent nature (svabhaava), action or behavior (karman), and fate (niyati).

    Kalupahana says that where the Vedic tradition accepted self-causation or the identity theory as well as the divine creation theory, the non-Vedic tradition upheld the rest of the theories (p. 6). Thus, Chapter 1 is concerned with the Vedic theories and chapter 2 the non-Vedic theories.

    The Buddha, of course, was against self-causation theory because he was acutely aware that the problem of personal identity was intimately connected with the theory of moral responsibility (13). As to the divine creation theory, the Buddha rejected it because "they were misdescriptions of an aspect of reality that pertains to extrasensory perception" (21). Thus the conclusion is that these theories either deny moral responsibility or are detrimental to the true religious life (22).

    In the non-Vedic tradition, Kalupahana groups many of the theories under the rubric of naturalism. His analysis of materialism, an offshoot of naturalism, brings out the interesting discussion of causation through inherent nature (svabhaava). He ends by stating that "we are inclined to believe that svabhaavavaada was part and parcel of Materialism, even in pre-Buddhistic times" (26). He also labels svabhaavavaada as "natural determinism" and states that the Buddhist classified it as external causation because its workings were purely physical and that man had no power over nature. (31-32). However, it must be stated that the materialism of Saa^mkhya based on insentient matter (prak.rti) required the external spiritual principle ( to create the initial movement of matter.

    Closely allied with svabhaavavaada is niyativaada, external causation, which is best described



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as complete determinism or fatalism and whose proponents were the AAjiivikas. The examination of Paali and Chinese sources shows that for them, "once the nature of the species (sa^ngati) is determined by Destiny (niyati). that species begins to evolve (pari.naama) according to its nature (bhaava = svabhaava) (35). This is complete determinism and not indeterminism or chance occurrence (yad.rcchaa), as Kalupahana rightly observes.

    The Buddhist criticism of external causation of the deterministic type is basically that it undermines belief in moral responsibility, that psychological and moral natures are not given their due, and secondly that determinism, if carried to the extremes, will inevitably lead to annihilation of man (40-43).

    The third type, of causation, which combines both self (internal) and other (external) causations, is represented by the Jaina system. It is also referred to as the relativist theory, which assumes the nature of plurality as it necessitates human exertion internally, and time, God, nature and karman externally (47). In a word, the Jaina theory asserts that things or events are partly determined and partly undetermined. When an act is done, according to Mahaaviira, the individual is bound by that act (karman). The Buddha, of course, criticized such karman-determined nature since this would negate any attempt at future doings, that is, that all present acts are due to past acts and all future acts are due to present acts, which is an absurdity.

    The fourth type of causation theory is noncausation (ahetuvaada) , variously labelled as chance occurrence (yad.rcchaa) or fortuitous origination (adhiccasamuppaada). This is, of course, the extreme position and is not subscribed to by the Buddha because it is the way to utter irresponsibility. The Buddha knew that there must be a foundation for acts in man and a way to unity of all men in society.

    With the above preliminary analysis of the pre-Buddhistic conceptions of causation well-defined and established, it becomes relatively easy to enter seriously into the discussion of the Buddhist concept of causation. Thus, with chapter 3, Kalupahana starts at the very beginning of the interpretative problematic, that is, the clarification of terms.

    The first and foremost term is pa.ticcasamuppaada or pratiityasamutpaada. Kalupahana goes through the various connotations of the term, introducing interpretations by such classical Buddhist scholars, as, Buddhaghosa and Candrakiirti. as well as, such modern scholars as Edgerton, Monier-Williams, Soothill and Hodous, Jaschke, S. Das and de la Vallee Poussin. He rightly points out that the group of conditions (hetusamuuha) referred to in the texts, both Paali and Chinese, do not refer to a difference between hetu (cause) and pratyaya (condition) as so many modern interpreters have maintained. As a matter of fact, hetu and pratyaya were synonymously and interchangeably used (57, 59). He concludes thus: "early Buddhist theory transcends the common-sense notion of causation. While recognizing several factors that are necessary to produce an effect, it does not select one from a set of jointly sufficient conditions and present it as the cause of the effect. In speaking of causation, it recognizes a system whose parts are mutually dependent. This dependence has been designated the 'dependent origination' (pa.ticcasamuppaada), which conforms with the definition given by Buddhaghosa. Thus, although there are several factors, all of them constitute one system or event and therefore are referred to in the singular" (59).

    It was later, however, that the Buddhist began to look into the several factors that cause an event to change. So in the Abhidharmika schools, notably the Sarvaastivaada, hetu and pratyaya became distinguishable aspects of the rise of events.

    In chapter 4, Kalupahana comes to grips with the heart of the matter as he expounds



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on the two important aspects of the Buddha's discovery on the nature of dhamma or dharma: (1) 'causation' (pa.ticcasamuppaada, yin yuan fa) and (2) 'causally produced dhammaa' (pa.ticcasamuppane ca dhamme, yuan sheng fa ) (68). He says, "it is a distinction between the causal relation and the causally related. The problem of causation, therefore. involves two aspects; the rule or pattern according to which things change, and the things themselves that are subject to change" (68).

    The nature of dhamma is closely connected with the theory of impermanence (anicca) and momentariness (khanavaada), that is, the manner in which a dhamma presents itself or has existential status. It is here that the concept of self-existence or own-nature (svabhbhaava) enters. The Sarvaastivaada postulated the four ways in which change takes place with respect to the dharmic analysis (74-75) . This analysis is criticized by the Maadhyamika as being untenable or inapplicable to the very concept of causality (79).

    Where the Sarvaastivaada postulated the svabhaava, the Sautraantika rejected it and did not recognize a static moment, for dharmas are constantly arising and disappearing. But they were still left with the problem of explaining the connection between two successive moments (81).

    Kalupahana's conclusion is that the causally produced dhamma (pa.ticca-samuppana-dhamma) is an empirical phenomenon which includes the mental concepts (dhammaa) as well.

    Chapter 5 is an extension of the last but here Kalupahana enters into the central conception by discussing the nature of change or the pattern by which an event takes place. According to early Buddhism, there are no accidental occurrences because everything is causally conditioned or produced (pa.ticca-samuppannam) . The Buddha, of course, discovered the conditioned nature of things. Buddhist texts are replete with assertions to the effect that he who perceives the causally conditioned nature of things also perceives the truth (dhamma), and he who perceives the truth also perceives the conditioned nature. Thus Kalupahana goes into an exhaustive analysis of the formula for the pa.ticcasamuppaada, that is, "When this exists, that exists; from the arising of this, that arises, etc." His point of departure here, which is a singular contribution to the subject at hand, is an analysis of pa.ticcasamuppada, as described in the Samyukta Nikaaya (II, 26), as synonymous with what he refers to as the causal nexus. The causal nexus has four main characteristics which are: "objectivity" (tathataa) , "necessity" (avitathataa) , "invariability" (ana~n~nathataa) , and "conditionality" (idappaccayataa). By understanding the characteristics, one is able to understand the causal nature of the concept of pa.ticcasamuppaada or popularly referred to as the Wheel of Life, for example, the connection or continuity between "ignorance" (avijjaa) and "dispositions" (sa^nkhaara) (91).

    Kalupahana rightly says that early Buddhism did not simply accept mere constant conjunction of two things or constant association of succession (95-96). Moreover, the early Buddhists looked upon the occurrence of events by virtue of a plurality of causes. His apt illustration is presented in Figure 2 (98) where suffering (dukkha) is shown to be the result of many diverse causes. He shows with good documentation and analysis that the Humean understanding of causation was limited, akin to the Sautraantika's attempt to understand the successive events by way of momentary experiences but which failed to account for their causal continuity (100-103). Hume, in short, only saw causation as a succession of discrete momentary impressions.

    Kalupahana's strongest contribution in this important chapter is the distinction made



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between the concepts of causation and "causal uniformity" (dhammataa) or "causality" (100) . According to him, the former is given in experience but the latter is based on inductive inference. This point will be commented on later.

    Having described the nature of causality, which holds for every sphere of existence. Kalupahana expands this in detail in chapter 6. He explains the nature of physical causation as found in the early texts, but his attention is more on the analysis of the nature of causality as it is relevant to human experience and behavior with the goal of justifying morality or moral action without resorting to determinism. It is said that the Buddha always gave different answers to different situations in regard to moral behavior (127). He concludes thus: "the effect (phala, pao) of a deed (komma, yeh) is not determined solely by the deed itself but also by the nature of the person who commits the deed and, we may add, by the circumstances in which it is committed" (131). The chapter ends with the discussion of the famous Twelve-fold Formula of Causation (pa.ticcasamuppaada) found in the early texts and the various interpretations that have arisen about it by modern and contemporary scholars.

    The next two chapters are devoted to Later Developments (7) and to Causal Correlations (8). The later developments are on the Sarvaastivaada and Sautraantika views on causality, where the former reasserts a form of satkaaryavaada or the identity theory subscribed to by the Saa.mkhya system and the latter, a form of asatkaaryavaada or the nonidentity theory subscribed to by the Vai'se.sika system. The correlation or correspondence in both may be simplistic but aids in the understanding of the respective Buddhist schools on the central conception, and also with respect to the position taken by the Maadhyamika. Kalupahana ends by stating that, "whereas in early Buddhism the theory of causation was employed to explain all types of causation available in the world of experience, including, in Maadhyamika thought it was employed to explain only the relativity of the phenomenal, the theory itself being considered transcendental" (162).

    With regard to causal correlations, Kalupahana takes up, in detail, the understanding of the twenty-four types of pratyayas, the thrust of the chapter being the comparisons of the types as presented by the Theravaadins on the one hand and by the Sarvaastivaadins and Yogaacaarins on the other. He ends by asserting that, "nearly eighteen of the twenty-four causal correlations enumerated in the Pa.t.thaana have counterparts in the Sarvaastivaada and Yogaacaara theories. We have not been able to find parallels for six of the relations enumerated by the Theravaadins. However, in addition to those mentioned, the Yogaacaara list contains thirteen more relations for which parallels are not traceable in the Theravaada Abhidhamma" (173).

    In the concluding chapter, Kalupahana cogently reasserts his empirical standpoint by analyzing the Buddha's silence, that is, with reference to the ten indeterminate or unexplained metaphysical questions. T. R. V. Murti's concern with the Buddha's transcendent reality or the unconditioned reality, which is beyond empirical descriptions and verifications, is not satisfactory. Nor is K. N. Jayatilleke's distinction that the first four questions are empirically limiting and the last six logically meaningless. Kalupahana's own answer to the famous silence is that "the Buddha confined himself to what is empirically given.... He sometimes resorted to linguistic analysis and appeal to experience to demonstrate the futility of metaphysics. As a result of his empiricism he recognized causality as the reality and made it the essence of his teachings" (185).

    We are indeed indebted to Kalupahana for keying on the principal doctrine and present-



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ing a thorough accounting of it in both the Buddhist and non-Buddhist traditions. But in so doing, it was inevitable that there would arise certain problematic areas in interpretation. The first is with respect to the explicatory language in use. The strains on any translator are ever present, but it is even more so with the philosopher. This is quite evident with Kalupahana in focusing on the doctrine and cognate ideas. 

    A simple term, such as, hetu, translated as "cause," is more than a simple idea of cause in Buddhist thought, and this is even more implicated by the conjunctive phrase, hetu-pratyaya, which is a unique concept. Thus, when it comes to the principal doctrine, pa.ticcasamuppaada, the uniqueness knows no bounds. Kalupahana has rendered it as causality, the term equated or identified with reality (dhamma), according to the Buddha. In advancing his understanding, he makes the bold distinction that "only causal uniformity or causality is based on inductive inference and that causation itself is given in experience" (100). The distinction is either unclear or confusing. If he is to interpret everything from the empirical approach, how is the distinction justified? It seems to me that inductive inference and experience are two aspects of the same reality, unless one is making an illicit introduction of the mind in the experiential process, but that would not be buddhistic at all. At times, he is careless and identifies pa.ticcasamuppaada as causation (54-55, 68. 131) and so the reader sometimes sees the distinction between causality and causation and sometimes not. In general, we may say that causation is a generic term while causality is more specific; in his distinction, however, the understanding seems to be reversed. Yet, due to our set Western orientation, the use of cognate terms, such as, causes, causal principle, causal connection, causal necessity, causal condition, causal continuity, causal efficiency, causal process, etc., becomes very clear on the one hand but increasingly nebulous on the other, that is, as referred to Buddhist reality. Granted that the terms are to be seen or used in quotes, it is difficult to know when the quotes are on and when they are not. Our Western orientation is even more fired and pursued when he invokes Western thinkers, such as, Bunge, Russell, Stebbing, Collingwood, etc. to analyze the causal nature of things in an attempt to focus on the Buddhist nature of things. The introduction of these thinkers is good, but at the same time effort should have been made to reveal the limitations on the subject matter at hand. It should be noted, however, that he is on the right track in analyzing Hume, but perhaps he failed to go far enough. The crucial point in Hume is not that he considered causation as "nothing but a succession of discrete momentary impressions" (101) but that he pointed out persuasively that, in strict empiricism, the necessary connection between two events cannot be asserted.

    In rendering pa.ticcasumuppaada as causality, Kalupahana is naturally not abandoning its original meaning; as a matter of fact, throughout the book, he is discharging extreme care to reveal the original meaning on the basis of a strict empiricism. It is only when set Western terms are applied to depict the phenomenon that the problem arises. For example, his definition of a cause as, "the sum total of several factors that give rise to a consequent" (59) is general and fair enough to normal understanding of the term. Yet the definition must be pursued in a strict manner. Following Western thinkers, especially J. S. Mill, he supports the view of a many-one rather than the one-one relationship, that is, cause effect, in early Buddhism. This is reasonably acceptable. However, the question arises whether the many-one relationship is applicable to the central concept. In many respects, it is either a logical view of the sequence of events or a mere description of the consequent event; it does not really describe the manner in which the many factors or conditions



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come into play to produce the particular consequent. As such, it falls short of the Buddhist understanding. In other words, granted that the early Buddhists referred to the various conditions (paccayas) in the singular to denote the causal relation to the effect or consequent, still, the problem of bringing the plural factors or conditions together into a sum total is not answered; nor is the necessary connection between the sum total conditions and the consequent. Strictly speaking, the answer can neither be found in empiricism.

    Again, following Stebbing's account of experience in which we "distinguish between occurrences that we regard as being regularly connected and occurrences that we consider to be accidentally or casually conjoined" (67) , Kalupahana finally draws a correspondence between the distinction and the Buddha's discovery of pa.ticcasamuppaada on the one hand and the causally produced dhammaa on the other (67-68). This is the difference between the causal pattern (or rule) and the causally conditioned entity. The correspondence is, of course, in question. In so doing, there seems to be a search for or a reading in of a pattern, or rule at the expense of the process involved in the experiential events. Moreover, it would seem again from the linguistic standpoint, which indeed influences the final epistemological acceptance, that the phrase, "causally produced dhammaa," may tend to be interpreted in such a manner that the dhammaa may be separated from the pa.ticcasamuppaada. It is my understanding that the dhammaa is an instance, a manifestation, of pa.ticcasamuppaada; for indeed the Buddha made the famous assertion, "He who sees pa.ticcasamuppaada sees the dhammaa."

    We do not, strictly speaking, have a solution to the problem of causation from the traditional point of view. The concept of pa.ticcasamuppaada is buddhistically unique and, so far, no amount of causal analysis has done it justice. It seems to me at least that the elements of scientific philosophy, especially those oriented in process phenomena or ontologies, have exhibited the closest affinity to Buddhist thought and thereby have shown the greatest promise in comparative analysis. But at the moment we do not have the methodology nor the linguistic tools to fully account for the concept. Empirically, it is difficult to describe the concept because the concept itself is part and parcel of the very empiricism that we set out to define and understand. Yet, this does not mean that the concept is impotent or meaningless, since it is really the very process by which we individually live. This then brings us to the second problematic area, which is empiricism.

    It has long been my view that the concept of empiricism requires reassessment, redefinition, and enlargement. More specifically, the nature and extension of the empirical realm needs to be reexamined, and it might be added that the nature and extension are not unrelated.

    With regard to the nature, we believe, for the most part, that we comprehend and apprehend its total character at all times. There are serious doubts about this. For example, the so-called causal nexus that Kalupahana discusses pointedly (91-95) is an important empirical concept. He expounds on the four main characteristics which were delineated earlier. They present the "morphological" nature and are all important components or phases of the empirical process. Separately, the role of each may be understood to a large extent but compositely in process, they defy our understanding. The conclusion to be derived here is that the underlying nature of the empirical realm is rendered somewhat clear, but, at the same time, the clarity is infinitely cmplicated by the unaccounted areas or realms within empiricism.

    It can be said that, on the whole, we are limited to visible and manipulable matters, be they tangible or nontangible, such as, sense impressions, concepts, psychological phe-



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nomena. and even the elements of logic. These are clear and distinct to our senses as well as to the conscious mind. But we know very well that in Buddhism, the mind or consciousness does not exist or preexist independently of perception, nor do the sense faculties. Moreover, all that is clear and distinct does not make up reality. There are truly nonperceptual realms of existence in the subtle process of our experiences, which, in many ways, make those clear and distinct realms possible. Taking a pet example, we do not only see the islands but feel the waters and skies that surround them as well. All are in the state of inviolable contiguity and all mutually define each other, plus the fact that all are in constant movement. This is the meaning of dependence or interdependence in the rise of events. It is the depiction of pa.ticcasamuppaada as such. Thus the nature of the empirical realm must be viewed more closely or in minute detail, leaving out nothing, in order to account for every phase of the experiential development.

    All this brings us to the extensional character of empiricism. From time to time Kalupahana resorts to the Buddha to advance the idea that the inductive inference of pa.ticcasamuppaada at play must come by way of extrasensory perception (104-109, 129). He says categorically that "even extrasensory perceptions and emancipation are not considered supernatural occurrences in Buddhism. They are natural causal occurrences" (42). He then goes on to quote from the Anguttara Nikaaya (V. 3, 313) to prove his point. The quote, of course, is subject to different interpretations. Where he takes it undeniably to refer to a case of extrasensory perception, other readers, myself included, would not go to that extent. For them, it is still possible in the state of concentration, still within the natural empirical realm, "to know and see what really is" or "to realize the knowledge and insight of emancipation." To introduce at this conjuncture such extrasensory perception, as psychokinesis, clairaudience, telepathy, and retrocognition, is really to undermine all that has been said about the strength and cogency of empiricism. It would be difficult to square empiricism with the transempirical nature of things. This is indeed the weakest part in the exposition of the central concept. Perhaps, it is time to demythologize some of the obvious accounts presented in the early (or even later) works on Buddhism and focus on a wider empirical context in which the doctrines could all be accommodated. Such terms as lokuttara, for example, need to be reappraised in the light of a wider and more extensive system of empiricism.

State University of New York at Buffalo