The "Crisis" of Maadhyamika and Indian Philosophy Today
By Panikkar, Raymond

Philosophy East and West
V. 16 No. 3/4 (1966)
pp. 117-131

Copyright 1966 by University of Hawaii Press
Hawaii, USA



 

 

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MAADHYAMIKA AND INDIAN PHILOSOPHY TODAY

    Indian philosophy today stands at the crossroads, not only between East and West, but also between past and future. Aware of this problem, the Indian Philosophical Congress recently asked its members (and the philosophers of India in general) whether Indian philosophy needs reorientation, and organized a symposium on this subject. But a positive contribution to the philosophy of our times is more important than a philosophical self-examination, than making plans or spinning projects. It is with this aim of dealing with a philosophical problem (and not simply with a historical exposition of an ancient philosophy) that this paper will discuss the role of the Maadhyamika in regard to the revision of Indian philosophy today. [1]

    Two main points will be discussed. One refers to the central doctrine of Madhyamika itself; the other to the crisis it brings -- in the Greek sense of the word -- to the whole of Indian philosophy in its place in the philosophy of the world today.

 

I. CRITICISM OF MAADHYAMIKA

    Regarding the truth-claim of the Maadhyamika, nothing can be said before determining the truth-criteria to be applied to that system.

    Two questions present themselves. First, how does the Maadhyamika prove the truth, not of its contents -- sometimes it will say that it has no contents --


1. In order not to enter into mere technical details, we shall utilize for the Maadhyamika the excellent work by T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism: A Study of the Maadhyamika System (London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1955). (Pages referred to are placed in parentheses.) This paper is not concerned with the Maadhyamika as mystical or religious experience, but only as philosophy in the technical meaning of the Western world today.

 

 

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but of its claim? Secondly, is its claim at all tenable, i.e., without implying a vicious circle?

    Maadhyamika's claim. The Maadhyamika's claim to be beyond and above all views and systems of philosophy relies on a double and very logical step. (1) All "views" are false because they are self-contradictory: here is the realm of the dialectic. (2) The negation of all "views," in the sense of not being itself a "view," opens - unveils -- the intellectual intuition that transcends all "thought" and unites man with the Real.

    All systems are self-contradictory. To prove that all "views" are false, the Maadhyamika tries to prove, first, that one view is contradictory with itself, applying none but the very criteria accepted by that view. We may wonder, first of all, if its arguments against a certain system are accepted by the representatives of that system, for we see those philosophies also continue to flourish after the Maadhyamika's criticisms. But we may grant for the time being, and for the sake of argument, that such a refutation has succeeded.

    Now, if a particular "view" is false, it would seem that the opposite one is automatically true. The dialectic of the Maadhyamika explicitly denies this "consequence," a consequence which it considers false from two different points of view: first, because, according to Murti (pp. 146 ff.) the Maadhyamika rejects the "Law of Excluded Middle," on which that "consequence" rests; second, because this opposite system is subjected to criticisms analogous to the first one. Within its own dialectic, this second system is also found guilty of self-contradiction.

    To prove that all views are false, it is not enough to prove that one is false, nor even that two are contradictory. It must be proved that any view is self-contradictory. The Maadhyamika considers only four possible "views" on any subject, and it rejects all four. But how does the Maadhyamika know that among these four "possibilities," i.e., A and non-A, on the one hand, and between A and non-A and non-(A and non-A) on the other, there is not another middle possibility, except by applying the Law of Excluded Middle, which the Maadhyamika rejects? On what grounds can it be justified that "the four sets of views serve as schema for classifying all systems of philosophy?" (p. 130, italics mine). Not only logically from the Maadhyamika's own standpoint is this untenable, but, in fact, there exist middle positions between the logical alternatives granted by the Maadhyamika criticism. Moreover, this problem is important, not only because of the Maadhyamika challenge, but because the issue in itself puts the whole consistency and truthfulness of philosophy at stake. This point will be dealt with along with our second remark.

    The first step of the claim is not proved, and the Maadhyamika does not

 

 

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even have the tools to prove it; it does not have and cannot have any criterion to prove that it embraces all systems of philosophy. This criterion transcends dialectics, for "Dialectic is criticism only" (p. 208), and criticism cannot jump over itself or forget the concrete system it criticizes. The best the Maadhyamika can do is to criticize the concrete "views" that it has in view.

    The rejection of all views does not rely on the quantitative ground that it has exhausted all possible views, but on the qualitative discovery of the falsity of any view, and, in fact, the Maadhyamika is more inclined to such an attitude, namely that "the self-conscious awareness of all points of view, or reason as such, cannot itself be a view" (p. 163; cf. also p. 209). But the system can affirm this only under two presuppositions: first, leveling down all philosophies to rationalistic systems, which besides being gratuitous is not true, and secondly, transcending positively "all thought categories" (p. 208), i.e., "the competence of reason to apprehend reality" (p. 208), which a pure dialectic cannot do. For this, it should base itself on something outside that is even higher than reason. And, in fact, it does this (cf. p. 163). This is the dogma and the true tenet of the Maadhyamika, but as a real dogma it lies beyond the realm of a dialectical process.

    The Maadhyamika itself is not a system. This is already the second step alluded to, i.e., an extradialectical jump. It leaps straight from the negation of all "views," including its own "view," if it has one, to the discovery, or realization, or postulation, of the underlying real identical with the intellectual intuition. The Maadhyamika says that this intuition emerges, as it were, when all the obstacles set up by reason have been removed. How is this second step dialectically justified, since for the Maadhyamika "the Dialectic itself is philosophy?" (p. 209; cf. p. 213, etc.)

    The Maadhyamika affirms again and again that "Criticism of other views is a means, not an end itself" (p. 213; cf. p. 218, etc.), that the rejection of views is "the only means open to absolutism, to free the real of the accidental accretions with which the finite mind invests it through ignorance" (p. 234, italics mine). One cannot but first ask how the Maadhyamika knows that there is only one means to set the real free, that our mind "falsifies the real" (p. 235), and above all that "there is an underlying reality -- the subjacent ground?" (p. 234; cf. p. 237). This is the painful conclusion of many a system of philosophy, and yet, on the positive side, it seems to be the Maadhyamika's very point of departure. The reason that Murti suggests -- "If there were no transcendent ground, how could any view be condemned as false?" (pp. 234-235) -- first of all takes for granted and assumes the validity of the complete rejection by the Maadhyamika of all systems (and we are concerned here precisely with the justification of such rejection). And one must secondly observe

 

 

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that the statement that there must be a transcendent ground in order to make possible a false view is either an inference, thus presupposing the very principle of causality which is precisely the first victim of the Maadhyamika critique (pp. 121, 166 ff.), [2] or that statement is not an inference, in which case it would be a metaphysical presupposition, a non-dialectical starting point. It starts, namely, from the intuition of the real, from the realization of the Tathaagata.

    Moreover, if the dialectic (or, if we prefer, the rejection of all views) is a means, it implies that it is a means for something, for an end not given in the means. This end is "a spiritual goal" (pp. 331 ff.) of the whole system. The dialectic will occupy an honorific place as philosophy; but, like European scholastic philosophy, will be ancilla theologiae at the service of a higher wisdom. Dialectic is the means of uncovering the real; but the real is already there, and we lift the veil and pitilessly criticize all systems because "The possibility of intellectual intuition is not only accepted but is taken to be the very heart of reality" (p. 214, italics mine). The means have a consistency in themselves, of course; but they are means, because they are at the service of the end. The "higher level" does not belong to dialectics.

    Its weakness. Is the Maadhyamika's claim tenable at all, i.e., without self-contradiction ?

    The `suunyata-`suunyataa, "the Unreality of (the Knowledge of) Unreality" (p. 352), the kind of self-destruction of the Maadhyamika in the realm of "Reason" or of "thought," will not help in saving the Maadhyamika from "dogmatic" assumptions of a much more serious order than any other system.

    The Maadhyamika repeats again and again that it is not a "view," at least on the same level at which it places all other "views."

The rejection itself is as much relative, unreal, as the rejected; because it is unintelligible without the latter. The fire of criticism which consumes all dogmatic views itself dies down, as there is nothing on which it could thrive; the medicine after curing the disease dissolves itself, and does not itself constitute a fresh disorder... But the rejection of the dialectical criticism (`suunyataa) does not mean the re-instatement of the reality of the phenomenal world; it merely means that in rejecting the unreal we have to resort to means that are themselves of the same order, like the extracting of a thorn by another thorn (p. 353)... The pronouncement that everything is `suunya (relative, unreal) is itself unreal; it is not to be taken for one more entity (p. 356)... avidyaa is itself unreal; it is Maayaa (p. 241).

    Does this mean that we are concerned with a sheer nihilism? It does not seem so, for "the Maadhyamika is spiritual to the core. His absolute is not void,


2. The "underlying reality" would then be the cause of the illusion of the views. This sounds very Vedaantin, but is inconsistent for the Maadhyamika.

 

 

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but devoid of finitude and imperfection. It is nothing but Spirit" (pp. 332-333). "`Suunyataa, as the negation of all particular views and standpoints, is the universal par excellence" (p. 333).

    Now, how does the Maadhyamika account for its position? If it were nihilism, it could be somehow consistent, at least to the extent of pseudo-destroying itself. Since it is not pure nihilism it must transcend dialectic, and with that it must transcend its claim of no presupposition and its "anti-dogmatic" attitude.

    In fact, if a philosophy is characterized not only by its method but also by its implications, its objectives, and its contents, the Maadhyamika transcends by far all dialectic; and it is to that extent misleading to present it as pure dialectic when this is only its method.

    If the Maadhyamika claims to be only dialectic free from all "dogmatic" presuppositions, if it were "the one system that is completely free from every trace of dogmatism" (p. 334), or "the impartial tribunal which alone can assess the true nature of every philosophical system" (p. 334), it should first of all unmistakably show its own credentials in such a way that no doubt could ever arise after due examination. But the history of philosophy proves that, at least de facto, it did not succeed in doing so, perhaps because the human race is still deaf and blind; and secondly, if it is to remain only dialectic, it must abolish just that which makes the Maadhyamika valuable, namely, its implications and objectives. Let us mention only some of these non-dialectical elements of the Maadhyamika.

    1. It presupposes that there is something higher and more valuable than "reason." The fact that "reason" leads us nowhere and is full of antinomies does not prove, dialectically, that there is a higher court of appeal, unless we presuppose that somehow all antinomies must be solved (cf. p. 330, etc.).

    2. It assumes, again, and in connection with the first presupposition, that beyond "thought" and "negation" there is a "subject ground," an "underlying reality." "Reason" cannot discover it, but the failure of "reason" does not justify the assumption that the "transcendental illusion" must be transcended (cf. p. 234).

    3. It identifies this "ground" with an "Intellectual Intuition," and assumes the dichotomy of two "levels," not only in the epistemological order of "reason" and "intuition," but also in the ontological one of "reality" and "appearance," the Absolute and the phenomenon. The dialectic -- and Vedanta here is more illuminating -- cannot disclose the Absolute (cf. p. 220).

    4. It identifies this "ground" with the Tathaagata (God, the Absolute, etc.) (cf. p. 224 ff.).

    5. It assumes, further, that this "ground" is uniform, universal, immutable, and the like (cf. p. 235).

 

 

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    6. The main assumption of this philosophy regarding its claim to uniqueness comes to this: it assumes that all philosophies are "dogmatic," or, explaining this taboo-word, it takes for granted that all systems of philosophy are a kind of science ("scientism") or rationalism, i.e., closed systems aiming at exhausting the real with their lucubrations and in most cases interpreting it as an empirical reality (cf. p. 210 ff.). [3] On the other hand, the Maadhyamika presupposes that it, and it alone has access to the true realm of philosophy that lies beyond thought and all its antinomies. It is hardly necessary to say that neither of these assumptions can be substantiated.

    To put the matter bluntly: A claim to uniqueness is the most common presumption of all truly "dogmatic" systems. If this uniqueness is bought at the price of condemning en bloc all other systems as not up to the mark, the aspiration, to say the least, looks far-fetched. And yet, the powerful suunyataa is somehow the climax of Indian philosophy, and the positive clue for its possible intervention in the philosophical crisis of our times.

 

II. THE CRISIS OF PHILOSOPHY

    "'That everything exists' is, Kaccaayana, one extreme; 'that it does not exist' is another. Not accepting the two extremes, the Tathaagata proclaims the truth (dhammam) from the middle position. Naagaarjuna makes pointed reference to this passage in his Kaarikaas, declaring that the Lord has rejected both the 'is' and 'not-is' views -- all views" (p. 51).

    In fact, Indian philosophy in its entirety rests on the tension and polarity between the aatman-view and the anaatman-view. The Maadhyamika is the ingenious attempt to transcend both views by denial, by `suunya. Could not Indian philosophy in its present stage, after a full elaboration of its implications and a deeper contact with other philosophical traditions of mankind, be aware of another possible solution by eminence, by transcending both views equally, i.e., not by mere denial, but by a positive synthesis, which is not a simple mixture or a syncretistic compromise, but a third and yet qualified affirmation? Is there not that middle way which the Indian mind has always been passionately looking for as the path of salvation, the via media of a philosophical path that is aware of the itinerant character of being, the contingent feature of ourselves, including our philosophy? Is there not a middle way between the static being that cannot move and change and become, and the perennial flux that has no consistency, no identity, no being? But it must be a way and not a denial of all ways, because we are still pilgrims here on


3. It is very easy to draw up a caricature of philosophy, and then believe we have accomplished the most stupendous revolution.

 

 

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earth and our philosophizing is still itinerant. Could not Indian philosophy become aware of what the metaphysical tradition of the European Middle Ages called the analogy of being? There would be no need for India to copy it or to adopt it uncritically; but could she not discover something of this kind that would enable her to follow her best absolutist trends, without losing the sense of the relative?

    Perhaps such questions may sound somewhat naive in their generality; and perhaps, too, the benevolent answer would be that in India there is already this synthesis, for no serious system is so one-sided as to deny Being to save the beings, or vice versa. And yet a mere glimpse at the philosophical discussions among the different schools in India is enough to make us realize that the antinomy aatman-anaatman has not been overcome in the sober realm of pure metaphysics; or, in other words, that between the Parmenides of India and her Heraclitus no Aristotle has yet emerged to produce a realistic and ultimate insight into that being which moves, changes, is not yet Brahman, though, equally, it is not nothing. A study of the deep differences between the Saa^mkhya system and Greek-Scholastic conceptions of act and potency, in spite of external similarities, would throw light on this theme (cf. pp. 168-169). The itinerant being is not "partly actual and partly potential" (p. 169, italics mine). Needless to say, we are not pleading now for an Aristotelian way, but for a philosophical overcoming of the main Indian antinomy. It is not enough to say that we may choose either way or none. Philosophical inquiry has always been a pioneering search for a pathway, without neglecting any sign, even if those hints may happen to come from the Stagirite.

    Here let us bring out the general tenor of our present remarks with the aid of three concrete examples.

    1. The Problem of change. Let us take the problem of change, first (and very briefly), regarding the general theme of causality (pp. 74-75, 121, 166, ff.), and secondly (in some more detail), regarding the conception of motion and rest (pp. 178 ff.).

    To begin with, if change could not be explained rationally, this would not mean at all that change is unreal, unless we assume that rationality is the criterion of reality. Nor would it prove that reason is unreal, but only that both are incommensurable and heterogeneous, at least so far as no rational explanation can be given. In short, the problem of reality should be carefully distinguished and dealt with on its own merits.

    Secondly, rational explanation does not mean full intellectual evidence. The former means to find, to be aware of, the "rational" laws by which the thing in question is governed. The latter means the awareness of the thing itself, transparent, as it were, to our intellect. We can rationally explain quite a

 

 

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number of mathematical theorems or physical processes without having the intellectual evidence for them. No rational explanation can stop or satisfy, as it were, all the "whys" we are capable of putting. It must stop somewhere, because its function is not ultimate. So, to criticize a rational explanation because it does not exhaust all the "whys" is out of the question. The contrary would presuppose that the realm of reason is absolute and illimited. The critique then would be very easy; but this assumption is not even rational.

    So, the fact of the incapacity of our reason to explain causality would mean only that causality is not a "rational" category; it would not mean anything else.

    The Maadhyamika is absolutely convinced of this from the very beginning, but it puts it only as a result of its critical analysis.

    Here we shall only sketch the structure of this critique; for, if we entered into its details, they would overshadow what we intend to bring out, and distract us from our central point. The analysis of this structure shows a certain mental scheme that is repeated in all Maadhyamika analysis.

    The four possible alternatives already mentioned are here reduced to two. This fact will show how this rational critique cannot comprehend any middle position, paradoxical as this may sound in a system called the Maadhyamika.

    According to the general scheme, A, in this case the effect, may be considered "as the self-expression of the cause, or as caused by factors other than itself, or both, or neither. The last alternative amounts to giving up the notion of causation... The third alternative is really an amalgam of the first two" (p. 168). Now, with the same mental scheme of identity, the second alternative will be reduced to the first one. If the effect were different from the cause, then there would be a lack of relation between the two. Under this circumstance "anything should be capable of being produced from anything" (p. 172), unless some other factor were the real cause, in which case we should have fallen into the first alternative. But the first alternative, the satkaaryavaada (the doctrine that the effect exists in the cause), is easily refuted. Causality would mean here merely self-duplication, because the sufficient reason for its own self-reproduction is already present in the effect, which would have to produce a second effect, and so on and on without end. Moreover, "if the cause and effect were identical, how is one to function as cause and the other as effect" (p. 169). So, there is no explanation possible, as far as the dialectical criticism in its structure is concerned.

    Now, the first role of any sound criticism is to understand what the other wants to say. The mental scheme of identity of the Maadhyamika reduces the most different conceptions to a logical pattern which other systems do not accept and recognize as their own. In the example we are now considering, the

 

 

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dismissal of the third alternative and the mode of dealing with the second one are typical of the Maadhyamika procedure.

    The Maadhyamika makes the most strenuous efforts to resolve any position into a relation of absolute identity or absolute non-identity. Either the effect is equal to the cause or it is not. If it is, there are no cause and effect; if it is not, no relation is possible -- because it again levels down any relation to identity and non-identity (partly identical, partly non-identical -- and thus there is no effect at all). This blindness to relations is the most characteristic feature of the Maadhyamika dialectic. But this two-dimensional critique misses the point altogether, because the very object of its attack is a three-dimensional reality. Even mere reason is something more than the power of the yes and no. It is also the passing from one to another, from the yes to the no, or vice versa. Along with the two extreme positions that our reason can think of, and equally immediate and valid as they are, there is their "relation"; that is to say, there is also a "middle."

    If, for instance, the third alternative is significant at all, it is not in any way an "amalgam" of the two extremes, but a real third position that tries to explain as far as possible the peculiar phenomenon under study, causality, which is neither identity nor non-identity.

    The same happens with the second case, which is not so naive as to pretend that the cause is not the "cause" of the effect. Precisely because they are not the same, there is a special relation that constitutes the very problem of causality.

    Up to now we have purposely avoided judging which of the views is consistent. It was our purpose, first, to show the structure of the dialectic.

    2. The Question of movement. Let us now turn to the criticism of the notions of movement and rest. We know how the Maadhyamika dialectic works. Besides making a criticism of its critique, we should also be able to answer its charges.

    The Maadhyamika works here in the following way: the notion of movement is self-contradictory, and that of rest fares no better. Both are equally inexplicable.

    What is motion? The Maadhyamika seems blind to the reality of movement, for obviously it is neither identity nor non-identity. In consequence, it analyzes, not movement, but only "Three factors [that] are [considered] essential for the occurrence of motion" (p. 178, italics mine).

    The first observation to make here is that we have lost sight of motion, in order to consider certain factors, conditions, ingredients, and the like which we nevertheless assume to be "essential," not for the nature of motion, but for its "occurrence." It is as if we were to examine the two factors 2 and 3

 

 

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that produce the number 6. None of the factors alone will give us the product, and 6 is the very destruction of the 2 and of the 3. The Maadhyamika would dismiss the 6, because the 2 is not the 6, but, rather, contradictory to it (the 6 is the non-2); and the same happens with the 3.

    Murti gives the example of Zeno. May I remark that Zeno's argument is not valid at all, being a kind of reversed "ontological argument." It passes from the rational, logical sphere to a reality, an existence outside it. It only proves that the notion of movement, as conceived by Zeno, is untenable or contradictory. It does not even touch the motion outside his mind (Achilles is the proof), and very few other conceptions of motion either. Besides, we know today that his imagining space to be divided into an indefinite number of parts is not only practically but theoretically impossible. But we are not now concerned with the Eleatic.

    Indeed, there is a fundamental difference between Zeno and Naagaarjuna, which does not lie in the fact that the former "did not disturb rest" (p. 178) whereas the latter "denies both motion and rest" (p. 178), but in the peculiar significance of negation in the Maadhyamika system. Here, "Negative judgement is the negation of judgement" (pp. 155, 160). This amounts to saying that the Maadhyamika negation of movement is, properly speaking, the negation of the affirmative judgment about movement. But, strikingly enough, the whole criticism of the notion of movement does not deal with the judgment about motion, but about motion taken in the most "realistic way."

    The three essential factors for the Maadhyamika's critique of motion are: "... the space traversed (moved in), the moving body and the movement itself" (p. 178). Again, at first sight the heterogeneity of these three factors is striking: The simple and naively realistic imagination (of space), the physical entity (of a body), and the abstracted notion (of movement). If they are going to be "factors," it will presumably be on very different levels.

    The first factor puts up but small resistance to criticism. First of all, the implied notion of space is untenable. It makes a substance out of it and manipulates it as if it were a "thing," cutting it down, dividing it, and comparing it with "other spaces." And then, again it applies its identity-scheme: the "space" is either already traversed (gatam) or not-traversed (agatam). "... there is no third division of space as the 'being traversed' (gamyamaanam)" (p. 178). And only this one would make motion possible; hence, motion is impossible. The logical argument is clear: any point of that "space," even in the supposed moving thing, has been either traversed or has to be traversed. In short, the body may move, but "space" cannot move -- and does not allow movement. Even the "traversed" "space" lies peacefully there. Being blind to movement, the Maadhyamika leaves everything frozen. Reason

 

 

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sees the static picture and from there cannot conceive motion. It would be another picture. And, again, the implied conception of space is untenable. It is an idea, like those of the people who ask what is there after the last star, or whether the antipodeans walk upside down.

    The same scheme is applied to the second factor: What is the moving body? No effort is made to grasp the mover as such. It kills the moving body at once to distinguish -- and substantialize -- a (static) mover and the "motion" inherent in it. "The mover is either motionless by himself apart from the motion, or he has a motion other than the motion which inheres in him" (p. 180). The first alternative is a contradiction, and in the second one there are two motions which oblige us to accept either two movers or a disembodied motion; both possibilities unacceptable. The "reason" for introducing a second motion is clear: if mover and motion were identical, "the mover would always be moving" (p. 180).

    We cannot go into details here on this subject (to which we have devoted over two hundred pages elsewhere). [4] The climax of the Greek mind, represented in Aristotle, consisted precisely in overcoming the static and the purely dynamic conception of beings by a right analysis of moving being. Movement is the characteristic and irreducible aspect of things. Moving being is essentially and existentially becoming.

    The motion of the mover is only an abstraction. It is the mover that moves and anagke steenai (it is necessary to stop -- somewhere). It is the moving mover we have to consider, and whose condition we have to explain -- or reject -- without recurring to abstractions which as such are intrinsically incapable of explaining the concrete fact of movement. Even a critique must know its own limits.

    The third factor, the movement itself, is also easily dismissed with no attempt to understand the idea, but asking for the where and when of such an idea, again substantialized as a thing.

    Similar considerations, which lack of space here compels us to omit, could be applied to the critique of the notion of rest. It is not asked what rest is or might be, but simply who rests? And the baffling answer comes: "Not the mover, nor the static -- the non-mover; and there is no third who could rest. The static does not rest, for it is already stationary..." (p. 182). Nor the mover, for it would be contradiction; it would no longer be mover. Besides philosophical considerations of another kind, even logically speaking the argument is weak. It takes "rest" in a twofold sense: as "stationary" and as "coming to rest." It applies the second sense to the first part of the dilemma


4. El concepto de naturaleza (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas, 1951), pp. 95 ff.

 

 

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and the first sense to the second. The static does not come to rest, because it is already at rest. The mover cannot be stationary for it would no longer be mover. But it already recognizes that the static is at rest, and it is not a contradiction that the mover comes to rest.

    3. The aatman-anaatman schema. We should like to deal at length with a second example of paramount importance: the aatman-anaatman problem; but we shall have to limit ourselves to the central issue at stake here, overlooking many other points that would make our contention more plausible.

    Indian philosophy in its entirety rests on, or rather moves in, the internal tension and polarity of the aatman-anaatman thematic.

    Something must undergo change. In the rich variety of this world that changes and moves there must be something that sustains and maintains all this show, this (divine) display. This is the ground, the substance, the aatman. Now, this aatman cannot change, can neither increase nor decrease. It is Being and, as such, is the ultimate core of everything. Aatman is the foundation of the world and the substance that "understands" everything.

    Now, there are many "possible" ways of interpreting this aatman: e.g., in a pluralistic way (there are many dharmas, elements, the combination of which produces the world); or in a dualistic manner (only two principles give account for reality, be they on a cosmological (prak.rti-puru.sa) or on an ethical (good-evil) or metaphysical (prime Mover-beings) plane); or in a monistic fashion (Brahman, pantheism, Absolutism, etc.). The summit of philosophical speculation has found a fourth possibility -- the advaitic answer: God and the world, the Absolute and the relative are "not two" (two examples of what? -- the what would be higher, more supreme than the Absolute). The effort to solve this dilemma constitutes the metaphysical problem par excellence, not only of the Indian mind, but of philosophy as such. Indian absolutisms have struck at the problem and deepened it in such a way that no philosophical speculation is possible now without taking into account the problems raised by the Indian systems. And yet, owing to the absence of an immediate intuition of the contingent being, Indian advaitisms fall again and again into one form or another of monism.

    One thing remains common to all these systems. Being is Being and does not tolerate gaps, becomings, potentialities, imperfections, changes, movements. The "other," or other "side" (whatever it may "be"), cannot impinge against the unconditioned, for that would amount to saying that it is not more Absolute, if Being could ever be dependent on what is not Being.

    The whole criticism of the previous view by the second pole of Indian thought consists in destroying the rational or intellectual presupposition on which the

 

 

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first group relies entirely: There must be a ground, otherwise nothing is understandable. Why this craving to under-stand, to creep under the only standing of reality; i.e., change, movement? Paradoxically enough, change is also denied, because there is nothing that changes. Being is the great illusion; and, if we speak here of becoming, we must discard the interpretation of a coming to be.

    Pure dialectics must needs be inclined toward this second group. Pure metaphysics cannot give up at least some of the requirements of the first systems. The Maadhyamika cuts the Gordian knot, but at the same time it throws the baby away with the bath water.

    Is there not possible, and perhaps even already existing as a philosophical approach, a via media, a positive solution to this aatman-anaatman dilemma? Could not Indian philosophy overcome this impasse positively, and discover that being is certainly one but also that, somehow, precisely because it is the fullness of being, of one, it is life, plenitude, silence, and even word and love? Could not Indian philosophy try to "accept," at least as a working hypothesis, that the Absolute (still a relative concept solutus ab, that is, a nobis: loosened from us), is rather, an "In-solute," a fullness in itself that has somehow life, consciousness, love -- of which the little aatmans of this earth are nothing but shadows, participations, creatures, callings?

    This is no plea for the supra-philosophical conception of the Godhead as Trinity. Nor am I saying that the pre-philosophical Indian wisdom, as we find it in the "scriptures," is very much along this line. I want only to state that the recognition of a dynamic fullness of Being, which does not destroy its unity and simplicity, alone can somehow give an answer to the philosophical problem of change.

    What is the underlying presupposition common to both the aatman and the anaatman views? That change is not possible, that becoming is contradictory because Being is immutable. Either what "is" is and then cannot become, come to be, because it already is; or what "is" is not, because we can nowhere find such an "is." The moment that we "imagine" we have caught it, it vanishes away -- it "is" no more, there exists no such "is." Ultimately aatman and nairaatmyavaada present the same structure: There is only one way of being a "being." No "phenomenon," no "thing" in this world fulfills its requirements. The "is" lies beyond this world, devoid of anything that might contaminate it. It is pure transcendence. And this is the aatman as well as the anaatman. It does not matter at all if pure unrelatedness is or is-not. It is not only that we have no way to prove it, or to speak about it, it also makes no difference. The "thing" -- i.e., the cow, the house, my soul, my thoughts, this earth -- is not. Either it is-not, for the aastikas, because it, the cow, etc., insofar as it is, is

 

 

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Brahman; or for the naastikas it is-not, because it, the "thing" is, neither as "thing," nor as something else.

    What "is" it, then? It "is" certainly not "being"; but it is not "not-being" either. In the analysis of that "thing" that changes lies the whole business of philosophy; and in finding a balanced answer consists the real "crisis" of Indian wisdom.

    Aatman and nairaatmyavaada lie here together on the one side of a higher dilemma for which Indian philosophy has no terminology of its own, and for which it will not find Western concepts adequate. That "pollachoos" of Aristotle, that analogia of the Scholastics, that fieri, the becoming, of some moderns, could well be the provisional tools for overcoming this crisis of Indian philosophy. And it is here that one of the pivots of the whole Indian life should prove its astonishing vitality: the concept of karman (and even in a sense of dharma), common to both Indian traditions. They would face then a third rising tradition that could solve harmoniously the dilemma and polarity of Indian thought. Karman is much more than crystallized action, or stored time. It is something that becomes, comes to be and yet is not the Being.

    The dilemma is not aatman nairaatmya, but identity and difference: in one word, relation. It is Brahman-aatman, or Absolute-relative, or Being and beings, or in Platonic terms the One and the manifold, or again reality and appearance, or eternity and time.

    Quite rightly, the Maadhyamika puts all dialectic problems of philosophy on one side; all belong to the relative, to the contingent, to the sphere of reason, it will say. On the other hand, there is intuition, `suunyataa, nirvaa.na, the real, Being. It provides us also with the internal dialectics to recognize the inefficiency, the insufficiency of the first side. Moreover, it will never again allow us to "substantialize" the first side, as if it were something of its own. Naagaarjuna says quite forcefully that "Nirvaa.na is the reality of sa^msaara, or conversely, sa^msaara is the falsity (sa^mv.rti) of Nirvaa.na" (p. 162). Its only internal defect would be that it imagines that we can jump from the first shore to the second, out of the frustrations and contradictions which we find in the realm of the contingent. The jump is certainly possible; but it is, first of all, an existential pass-over, in which we really do not jump, but are taken over, by the other side. The grace of God, the gift of intuition, the higher knowledge of faith, and the like are here more or less adequate terms expressing this existential situation of ours. And this is quite a common opinion among the Indian systems, the Maadhyamika not excluded. It is not a dialectical maneuver that saves us, or that saves philosophy, but a descending

 

 

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redemption, the obedience to a higher "calling," the realization of, or, rather, the being "realized" by, the real.

    Everything is transitory; all philosophy is only provisional, all constructions relative -- and false in consequence the moment they claim some absoluteness. All our being is a shadow, a would-be thing; and yet, though the Maadhyamika seems to forget it, this, our "being," is a will-be being, a being-to-be, an ex-sistence of the only consistency.

    And here lies the "crisis" of Indian philosophy and its challenge to the world today: to turn back, or, rather, to turn upward, to dispose ourselves in an expectant mood, not to our reason, or our possible faculties or efforts, but toward the Source, of which reason and our whole self are a humble and weak, but yet somehow a real, spark; because in it we breath, move and are.