Buddhist philosophy and psychology · Buddhist Texts · Cārvāka/Lokāyata

♦ The svabhāvavāda as expounded in the Skhalita-pramathana-yuktā-hetu-siddhi

One of the works that happens to me to deal with from time to time is the Skhalita-pramathana-yuktā-hetu-siddhi, attributed to Āryadeva. Today I’d like to put forward few considerations on the svabhāvavāda section (pūrvapakṣa only) contained in this writing. In what follows I provide the critical edition, the translation and an explanation of the section:

phyi naṅ skye mched chos rnams thams cad ni | |

ṅo bo ñid las grub pa gźan las min | |

sran zlum skyer tsher gzaṅs riṅs rno ba daṅ | |

rma bya’i mjug ma mgrin pa’i tshogs bkra daṅ | |

ñi śar chu rnams thur du ’bab pa rnams | |

ṅo bo ñid las grub ste rgyu yod min | |

The external and internal āyatanas, and all the dharmas are established by the own nature (svabhāva), they are not [determined] by [something] other. The pea is spherical, the summit of a thorny hedge of barberry bushes is sharp, the multitude [of feathers] of the neck and tail of a peacock is multicolored, the sun rises, the water flows downwards. Since [all the events] are established by means of the own nature, [it follows that] there is not a cause (hetu).

What is noteworthy here, is the fact that the svabhāvavāda appears to be assimilated to a sort of ahetuvāda. Indeed, besides the reference to some among the classical examples adducted by the svabhāvavādins in order to validate and corroborate their own theory, the last pāda of this pūrvapakṣa section explicitly states that if we admit a svabhāva, then we cannot admit any hetu. This position sounds quite inconsistent because to reject any hetu means to deny also any svabhāva, which would play the role of cause. In fact, as is well known, the classical svabhāvavāda takes the svabhāva to be the cause of everything. Therefore, it remains unclear to which kind of svabhāvavāda is Āryadeva pointing at.

The problem is, therefore: how to explain this apparent discrepancy if we don’t want to admit that Āryadeva made here a bloomer? Fortunately, Śāntarakṣita’s Tattvasaṃgraha comes in our help. The śloka 110, indeed, runs as follows: sarvahetunirāśaṃsaṃ bhāvānāṃ janma varṇyate | svabhāvavādibhis te hi nāhuḥ svam api kāraṇam || (“The svabhāvavādins describe the origin of the events as indifferent to all causes; for they do not consider even the [svabhāva] itself as [their] cause”). Kamalaśīla, while commenting on this passage, seems to testify the fact that from a certain epoch onwards, there existed at least two different versions of the svabhāvavāda – as it were – a deterministic and an accidentalistic one: pūrvakās tu svabhāvaṃ kāraṇam icchanti ete tam api necchantīti bhedaḥ || (“Then, the former ones maintain that svabhāva is the cause [of everything], these [others, on the contrary] maintain that [the cause of everything] is not even that [svabhāva]; this is the difference [between them]”). [I owe these reference to the kindness of Ramkrishna Bhattacharya].

We conclude that by the former group, svabhāva was supposed to be a sort of universal power that determines, from outside, the development of the events (hence, things cannot not be the way they are because of this outer force), whereas for the latter group, svabhāva seems to indicate nothing but the nature of the single things (hence, things cannot not be the way they are because their inner peculiar nature spontaneously makes them be that way). The “spontaneistic” perspective coincides with the abovementioned ahetuvāda because the coming into being by itself of a thing means nothing but to be without a cause. This interpretation sheds light on some apparently contradictory passages on the Lokāyata philosophy that I’ve found in Avalokitavrata’s Prajñāpradīpaṭīkā and that I’ve discussed in short here.


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