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Sunday, June 1, 2014

Causes and Conditions

Buddhist teaching tells us that causes and conditions have to be present for anything to exist in this universe. Vedic teachings tell us about requirements for actions and knowledge. Aristotle defines four conditions for all human activities.

Any action requires FIVE things says Gita. They are: Abidhana (place), karta (doer), karanam (implement), cheshta ( the activity itself) and daivam ( destiny, providence or Divine Grace). The point is that our actions alone, however well-meaning and well-planned, cannot assure favorable results. There is an element of chance or destiny and of uncertainty.  Destiny is a translation. The original word in Gita is daivam.  The real meaning of the word daivam is that which is mediated by the Divine. In essence, it is something that is not in our hands.

The concept of destiny leads to concepts of fate and providence and of chance and luck. Chance is just a chance. We do not know why it is so. If it is favorable, we call it luck; and we call it fate, if unfavorable.

But, Boethius had an interesting idea. He used the term Providence for God’s will that ensures stable order. It is akin to Dharma of Vedic and Buddhist ideas on cosmic order. He uses the word fate as providence but at the individual level. He sees that fate is too far removed from the Center, and so appears to be random.  He says that the closer you get towards the Center (God), the less are the effects of fate. Divine Grace takes over. This is akin to oriental idea of God’s will.

Aristotle had a different idea about chance.  He says: “if you do a particular thing for a particular end and for a particular reason and some result other than that designed ensues, that is called chance”. But this result could not have happened “without a concurrence of causes where the several factors had some definite end”. He gives an example of a farmer plowing a land and finding a pot of gold. The farmer was plowing to sow his land with the seed. But the pot could not have been found if someone had not buried it there in the first place, for whatever reason. Causes and conditions have to be there for anything to happen.

At another place, Gita divides actions on the basis of actions and the mental activity behind the actions. The mental aspect has three components; gnana, gneya and gnatha. That is the knowledge, knowable and the knower. The action has three components: karma, kaarana and kartha. That is: the action itself, the implements needed and the doer.

This division is more complete than Aristole’s classification of material cause, efficient cause, formal cause and final cause.  Mortimer Adler redefines them as follows. That out of which something is made is the material cause. That by which something is made is the efficient cause. That into which something is made is the formal cause. That for the sake of which something is made is the final cause.

But one can see how the definition of the formal cause (into which something is made) implies someone with an idea of what the final product is going to be and for what purpose. This classification works well for man-made actions. What about things that occur in Nature? Although Aristotle was aware of it and discussed it, the Vedic ideas on the knower, the knowable and the knowledge are deeper.

The gnana (knowledge) includes knowledge about the purpose (final cause), materials and implements needed and the skills required. The knowable or gneya includes the knowledge of the materials and the implements and the (gnatha) knower is the efficient cause. On the action side, the doer is the efficient cause with a purpose, ability to act and knowledge to act on. The karma is just that, action. Kaarana is the efficient cause again and includes the material and the implements.

Buddha ideas are even deeper. Buddha talks about causes and conditions in the description of the wheel of life . He says that the ideas of beginning and end are due to wrong perception. Everything is dependent on everything else as is summarized in the maxim: “This is, because that is”. In his concept of 12 links in the Wheel of Life, Buddha talks of cycles and interdependent co-arising.

According to one school in Buddhism (Vignanavada school), there are four conditions, all of which must be present for something to exist. They are 1.“cause conditions” also called hetu pratyaya;  2.conditions for development, also called adhipathi pratyaya; 3. conditions for continuity, also called samantara pratyaya and 4.object as condition, also called aalambana pratyaya.

The Cause condition (hetu pratyaya) has several subsections. They are 1. Kaarana hetu or motivating, creative force. 2 Sahabhu hetu or concurrent condition with examples such as fire-heat, ice-cold, lamp-light. 3. Sabaga hethu or seed condition which is of the same kind as the result (examples such as rice seed for rice and rose seed for rose). 4.samprayukta hethu, or associated condition primarily applicable to mental events such as anger or enthusiasm. 5. Sarvatraga hethu, or universal condition and 6. Vipaka hethu or ripening condition such as time or heat.

Nyaya system says that the “as yet” non-existent comes from the existent just like oil from the seed. The effect has to be in the cause and therefore it was NOT non-existent. (aramba vadam or asat-karya-vadam)

Vaiseshika system says that the effect is inherent (samavaya) in the cause and therefore "existent" is produced from the "existent". Something cannot come from nothing. (parinaama vadam)

Vedanta says that the effects are emanations and phenomenal and illusory (maya).

Obviously, we do not really know. Otherwise, why would we have so many explanations?  Or, may be causes and conditions for observable natural phenomena are different from those of the metaphysical. Indeed, this seems to be the position of Sri Gaudapada, who happens to be Adi Sankara's teacher (guru).

Gaudapada takes up various philosophical systems and shows that none of them can explain the idea of cause and effect in this cosmos. This problem of not being to explain the cause and effect puzzle is the reason for him to state that the very idea of cause and effect is absurd in a cosmological sense. This also leads to the Advaitic position that Brahman or the Unborn, eternal, immutable first principle just exists always in every object and in every living thing.  It is neither born nor made. It appears to be born because of our ignorance.

Gaudapada’s Karika 3:39 (of the Mandukya Upanishad), says that “in reality it cannot be established that anything has any causal relationship in any way whatever”.

That was hundreds of years back. Now read what Bertrand Russel has to say in one of his talks in 1913. (Papers read before the Aristotelean Society 1912-1913.  1. On the notion of cause  Bertrand Russell).  

“All philosophers of every school, imagine that causation is one of the fundamental axioms or postulates of science, yet, oddly enough, in advanced sciences such as gravitational astronomy, the word “cause” never occurs. …….the reason why physics has ceased to look for causes is that, in fact, there are no such things. The law of causality, I believe, like much that passes muster among philosophers, is a relic of the bygone age, surviving, like the monarchy, only because it is erroneously supposed to do no harm.”