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Discussion of Frederick Streng's "Reflections on the Attention Given to Mental Construction in the Indian Buddhist Analysis of Causality" and Luis O. Gomez' "Some Aspects of the Free-Will Question in the Nikaayas"
By Alex Wayman

In his own words, Streng's article would (I) describe some key elements of the formulations on causality in both Hiinayaana and Mahaayaana Buddhism in India, (2) analyze the role of thought (Imaging) itself in some important Buddhist statements on causality, and (3) discuss the notion of the twofold truth in Buddhism as a way of understanding different expressions of causality within the Buddhist effort for release from suffering. Under (1) he raises what he calls two existential questions: Is a person simply a product of a force (or forces) independent of human activity? If human beings are not totally determined by an external force, is there a regulatory order to which one is responsible when exercising freedom? In contrast, Gomez' paper appears entirely concerned with these two questions of Streng's part (1). It might be concluded that Streng is trying to cover too much in his article. I shall revert to this point later. In any case he makes a number of points which, to me, are indeed valid. It was proper for him to stress the role of images, both for right and wrong views. It was also germane to introduce the two levels of truth, which in Naagaarjuna's system validate all establishments of sa.msaara and nirvaa.na, according to Tibetan traditions. It was proper for him to stress the role of images, both for right and wrong views. He is, of course, correct in employing hetu as 'cause' and pratyaya as condition,’ thus with different meanings. Streng makes only one paali scriptural reference, namely the Discourse to Kaccaayana (Sanskrit, Kaatyaayana), followed by some citations from Mahaayaana scriptures. The Paali passage is in the Samyutta-nikaaya (nidaana-vagga), a discourse which criticizes the views that the world exists or that the world does not exist, and sets forth a middle view, which is the view of dependent origination. But the same nidaana-vagga of the Samyutta-nikaaya has other passages on causality that are celebrated and important; and fully deserving of discussion with appropriate comparisons on the very issues which Streng tried to cover.

In contrast, Gomez' article restricts itself to the free will question, along with good structuring of the evidence and a proper number of scriptural references from the same class of scripture the Paali sources. In this type of approach, the individual links of the argument should be strong.

In the course of his argument, Gomez considers two passages from the Samyutta-nikaaya. As the first of these, Gomez cites the Natu.mhasutta of the nidaana-vagga, and asserts that it represents the notion of nonself in terms of detachment. Gautama explains, in Gomez' rendition: "This body, monks, is not yours, nor does it belong to others. It should be known it should be considered, monks, as former deeds purposefully performed and thought out...." (and so on, with attention to dependent origination) . Let us consider the terms abhisa^nkhatam abhisa~ncetayitam. In a similar context, the teacher Asa^nga, in his Abhidharmasamuccaya, defines volition (cetanaa) as the mental deed (manaskarma) which is the instigation of the mind (cittaabhisa.mskaara), the activity inciting the mind to virtue, vice, and the undefined. Now the passage in question does not seem to portray nonself, as Gomez claims, but rather non-belonging to self. It sets up a riddle. "This body, monks, is not yours, nor does it belong to others." former karman (that is, mental karman, or volition), what was instigated (abhisa^nkhatam), what was purposely thought out (abhisa~ncetayitam). This reminds us of Epictetus, the freed slave, who taught in his Stoic philosophy that his body was not his own, because it was not in his power and belonged to the Giver. The Buddhist passage agrees with Epictetus that the body does not belong to oneself, but does not agree that it belongs to another, for example, the Deity. In Buddhism the body is the slave of the former karman, wherefor karman (that is, manas-karman, or volition) is not a slave but rather the master. Thus the passage anticipates the Paali commentarial tradition which assigns the first two members of dependent origination, avijjaa and sa^nkhaara, to the previous life, with sa^nkhaara explained as the former karman. When dependent origination is identified with the metaphorical tree or suffering a term that occurs in the Da`sabhuumika-suutra the first two members are the manure (that is, Sanskrit avidyaa) and the ground (that is, Sanskrit sa.mskaara). The third being the seed (that is, Sanskrit vij~naana). Here the metaphors are consistent with the old Paali passage: "This body, monks, is not yours, nor does it belong to others." Ah, then, what does it belong to? The ground, or sa.mskaara, which I translate as 'motivations'. The ground was also Gautama's witness during the assault of Maara. Gomez had previously cited the Devadahasutta of the Majjhima-nikaaya where `Saakyamuni explains how he argued against the niganthas who wrongly held that pleasures or pain, or the two mixed, are all caused by former deeds. As Gomez points out, here Gautama affirms the effectiveness of human effort and stresses right attitude. Of course, such passages as that of the Devadahasutta are not in conflict with the dependent origination passages of the Samyuttanikaaya. Feelings in dependent origination are No. 7, having as condition 'contact' (of sense organ, sense object, and perception). The Buddha explains in the Bhuumija-sutta of the nidaana-vagga that feelings have not been caused by oneself, another, both or neither. In any case, one should be dispassionate which Gomez mentions. I suppose this is consistent with Streng's point about views, in his part II, where he makes much ado about `attachment'.

What I miss in Gomez' paper is any utilization of the actual arguments about causation which the great Buddhist teachers had who of course were quite familiar with the scriptures of the Samyutta-nikaaya's nidaana-vagga (or the equivalent section in the Sanskrit Samyuta-aagama) which obviously color Naagaarjuna's Madhyamaka-kaarikaa.

In this matter, Streng's article is hardly better, because he only refers to Naagaarjuna en passant. In the first verse of his Madhyamaka-kaarikaa, Naagaarjuna denies that a dharma ever arose without a cause (or by chance) (ahetuka.h). And since causality is such an important topic, other teachers have had to deal with it; for example, the argument set forth by Vasubandhu in his Abhidharmako`sa concerns the validation of the karmapatha (path of karman) in the stream of consciousness.

Finally, what I miss in Streng's article is any utilization of metaphorical language in the manner of the Buddhist scriptures, such as I have employed above with the word 'ground'. The Samyutta-nikaaya,

nidaana-vagga, in its latter half, also resorts to metaphors and similes to get the point across. According to Buddhist tradition the celebrated Wheel of Life (the bhavacakra) was devised as a pictorial device to communicate the Buddhist theory of causation, since purely declarative sentences may simply obscure the very theory they aim to clarify. However, I am not insisting that such metaphoric language be utilized in a discourse on causality. The two articles being discussed illustrate thevarying relevance. In Gomez' case, since the treatment was restricted to a given topic (free will) in a restricted stretch of the paali canon, straightforward language was feasible, but examples were resorted to. In Streng's case, since he jumped from the Paali scripture to Mahaayana, and tried to cover many facets of the problem in one article, then if it be granted that such crowding of points no matter how valid does nor permit a marshalling of evidence necessary for conviction in each case, I suppose it is because he did not know the technique: of symbols. In a forthcoming article in History of Religions (May 1974), on mirror symbolism in Buddhism, I show how it is possible to pass from an early to a later period, from one Buddhist school to another from one country to another all in one article, provided one does it in terms of a symbol in this case, the mirror.

Therefore, I do not criticize Streng for trying to cover so much in one article, but rather for trying to do it with discourse mostly unrelieved by examples; perhaps what the Indian logicians called the internal pervasion (antarvyaapti) the mere thesis and reason without the illustration agreed upon by all the parties.

Transcribed for Buddhism Today by Bhikkhuni Lien Hoa


Updated: 1-11-2000

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