Showing posts with label Sarvastivada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sarvastivada. Show all posts

14 November 2014

Arguments For and Against Antarābhava.

One of the features of Buddhist rebirth beliefs under the microscope, is a great deal of disagreement and dissent between various Buddhist schools of thought and even internally to each school. This disagreement is seldom given sufficient attention. There is no single agreed account of rebirth or karma and I've already used this blog to highlight a number of disputes that in some cases are unresolved after more than 2000 years. In this essay I want to return to the subject of the antarābhava or interim state. I previously tackled in The Antarābhava or Interim State as a Vitalist Concept (11 July 2014) which critiqued the views of Sujato and Piya Tan. In this essay I will note some findings from an article by Qian Lin (2011) and another by Robert Kritzer (2000).

Lin points out that many of the traditional arguments for or against the existence of the antarābhava rely on lists of people who are called anāgāmin. Since this did play a central role in Piya Tan's apologetic for antarābhava and I glossed over it in my previous essay I will go into it in a lot more detail here. Lin surveys the relevant literature in Pali, Sanskrit, Gandhari, and Chinese and summarises the various lists of types of anāgāmin, giving information about the sectarian affiliations of the lists and discussing the discrepancies. He points out that even under close scrutiny, the history of the idea of antarābhava is unclear. We cannot tell which version of the antarābhava (or even no antarābhava) came first. I will make a comment on this at the end of this essay.

The word anāgāmin means "one who does not come [back]" (from ā√gam 'come') and is usually translated as "non-returner". In early Buddhist texts there are four types of noble disciples (P ariyapuggala): stream-entrants (P. sotāpanna), once-returners (sakadāgamin), non-returners (anāgāmin) and arahants. The various types are defined by which of the 10 fetters they have broken or weakened; and by how many rebirths they have yet to suffer in the kāmadhātu or sphere of sensual desire. The anāgāmin, having broken all of the five lower fetters, attains nibbāna without further rebirth in the kāmadhātu (hence they do not 'come back').

One thing to be aware of here is the Buddhist habit of working out permutations. If we have the unawakened and the awakened, the Buddhist exegetes had a penchant for listing all the possible states and treating each as if it were a real category. Another example is the paccekabuddha. It's unlikely that this category of awakened who did not teach has any basis in history (though compare Vinay Gupta), but if one is working through the possibilities, then this is one situation that can hypothetically exist. In all likelihood the anāgāmin is merely hypothetical (indeed the category is impossible to test). Thus although a lot of ink has been spilt over the interim realm based on the interpretation of this category, whatever the conclusion is, it has to be taken with a grain of salt. The discussion only makes sense within the religious parameters of Buddhism, and only follows the internal logic of Buddhism. It tells us nothing whatever about the world. That said, my task is to essay the various forms of afterlife believe held by Buddhists, so clarifying this aspect of Buddhist belief is important for a complete history of the idea.

To complicate matters there are canonical and post-canonical lists of subtypes of anāgāmin which vary in unpredictable ways: for example they may have the same list items but in a different order, and some philological problems remain with the texts, so that some terms are unclear in meaning. In these lists there are five sub-types of anāgāmin, of which one called antarāparinirvāyin which must mean something like "one who is liberated in-between". In other languages:
  • Pāli antarāparinibbāyin
  • Gāndhāri aṃtarapariṇivaï
  • Chinese 中般涅槃
Texts grouped by list type with school affiliation
(see Lin p.165)
The crux of the subsequent argument rests precisely on the question, "Between what?" The situation becomes more complicated as even the subtypes are sub-divided so that there are three kinds of antarāparinirvāyin. There are various approaches to explaining a total of seven sub-types of anāgāmin and there are three different lists of seven (the texts the different lists appear in along with their sectarian affiliation are represented in the table, right). The most prominent is the Pali Purisagati (Destination of Men) Sutta (AN 7.55; iv.70-4). This describes each type in terms of their practice, their level of realisation and uses a simile to illustrate the differences. Of the various lists all have the antarāparinirvāyin as the first member, but they are spread over a number of texts related to a range of different schools.


The Case Against Antarābhava

Lin surveys two main interpretations of the lists of anāgāmin types. The first occurs in the Aṅguttara Nikāya and the Chinese Madhyāgama and utilises the Iron Bowl Simile. In this simile an iron bowl (ayokapāle) is heated all day and struck with a hammer (Lin may have based his discussion on the Chinese counterpart in the Madhyāgama, as he discusses the simile in terms of an iron "slab": 159-60). The fate of the anāgāmin is likened to a chip or spark which flies off. For the sake of brevity, we'll stick to the similes for the antarāparinirvāyin anāgāmin. Struck by the hammer the chip...
  1. arises and is extinguished (nibbattitvā nibbāyeyya)
  2. arises, flies up, and is extinguished (nibbattitvā uppatitvā nibbāyeyya)
  3. arises, flies up, strikes the floor, and is extinguished (nibbattitvā uppatitvā anupahacca talaṃ nibbāyeyya).
The traditional Theravāda interpretation of the antarāparinirvāyin anāgāmin found in the Puggalapaññatti is that the practitioner is reborn as a deva in the rūpadhātu and achieves liberation there before mid-life. This is consistent with the Theravāda view outlined above. "In-between" here is literally taken to mean the mid-point of life (in the rūpadhātu) i.e. between deaths. The 舍利億䰓誾曇論 = *Śāriptrābhidharma (T 1548) associated with the Dharmaguptaka Sect has a similar interpretation. Note that here that nibbattitvā is from nir√vṛt and nibbāyeyya is from nir√vā, and thus despite superficial similarities (rv > bb in Pali) the two words are not etymologically related.

Theravāda exegesis, particularly the Abhidhamma text, Kathāvatthu, explicitly denies the possibility of an antarābhava (Kv 361-5; Aung & Rhys Davids 1960: 212-213). A major problem with antarābhava from the Theravāda point of view is that the word is not found in the suttas. The whole idea of an antarābhava is in conflict with models such as the khandhas and the possible destinations for rebirth (gati). It is never mentioned as a gati. There is also the huge problem of continuity. For the Theravādin Ābhidhammikas the continuity of the viññānasota or stream of consciousness can only be maintained if rebirth is instantaneous: the last moment of consciousness in the dying person (cuticitta) must be the direct condition for the arising of the first moment of consciousness (paṭisandhicitta) in the new person. The more so because the cuticitta and the paṭisandhicitta have the same object (ālambana), as does any subsequent moment of bhavaṅgacitta (resting-state mental activity). If this series is interrupted the whole Theravāda model of how karma produces rebirth, including their solution to Action at a Temporal Distance, breaks down. So, historically, Theravādins reject the antarābhava on both scriptural and logical grounds.

Even so, in practice many modern day Theravādins accept the existence of an antarābhava, as noted in my previous essay. Lin cites the study by Rita Langer (2007: 82-84) which records that in Sri Lanka most lay people and many bhikkhus, against Theravāda orthodoxy, believe in an antarābhava. This ties in with local folk beliefs about the afterlife. Prolific translator Bodhi also seems to accept the idea of an antarābhava in his Aṅguttara Nikāya translation (see 2012: 1782 n.1536). Blogger and writer, Sujato also seems to accept it. Sujato (2010) glosses the Theravāda arguments against antarābhava and concludes:
"These argu­ments sound sus­pi­ciously post hoc. The real reason for the oppos­i­tion to the in-between state would seem rather that it sounds sus­pi­ciously like an anim­ist or Self the­ory."
While he is correct to be suspicious of vitalist or animist theories, he does not consider impact of discontinuity between beings on viññānasota (i.e. the destruction of the whole mechanism for karma carefully worked out by the Theravāda Ābhidhammikas). For Sujato the clinching argument comes from a single reference in the Kutuhalasāla Sutta (SN 44.9)
‘And further, master Got­ama, when a being has laid down this body, but has not yet been reborn in another body, what does the mas­ter Got­ama declare to be the fuel?’ 
‘Vac­cha, when a being has laid down this body, but has not yet been reborn in another body, it is fuelled by crav­ing, I say. For, Vac­cha, at that time, crav­ing is the fuel.’ [Sujato's translation]
His note shows that at least one of the Chinese counterparts to this text does not imply any gap. They also show that this passage is overlooked by the Kathāvatthu discussion. The question, then, is did this text even exist at that time? Sujato concludes that:
"the Buddha, following ideas current in his time – for Vac­chag­otta was a non-Buddhist wanderer (parib­bā­jaka) – accepted that there was some kind of interval between one life and the next."
Apart from general caveats about what the Buddha might or might not have believed being entirely obscured by history, we must concede that this sutta is phrased in such a way as to allow for the idea that the author might have accepted a gap between death and rebirth. However note that Buddhaghosa glosses this by saying it refers to the moment (khaṇa) when between death (cuti) and arising of the paṭisandhicitta (SNA 3.114), i.e. Buddhaghosa is concerned to preserve the integrity of the viññāṇasota. 

The context here resists the interpretation of antarābhava. Vacchagotta is involved in speculation about where famous people have been reborn or even if they have been reborn at all. The question raised is about rebirth generally, about how rebirth can occur at all. Vacchagotta's doubt is specifically related to not being reborn, he is perplexed about how someone is not reborn. In the metaphor "Fire burns with fuel, not without fuel" (aggi saupādāno jalati, no anupādāno). The metaphorical distance between one fire and the next is spatial not temporal. In answer to the question, what causes fire to spread across space and ignite new fires, the answer is wind (vāto), the archetype of physical movement. The wind element causes fires to spread. To then read the question about rebirth in temporal terms, as explaining a time gap between bodies (kāya) is to misunderstand the metaphor. The question, really, is about what drives a person (satta) from body to body (note the metaphysics of the question are still not orthodox Buddhism).

On the other hand it is de rigueur for Buddhists to allow the beliefs of their interlocutors to stand in an argument without disputing them, but to turn the conversation away from the content of beliefs towards practice. Thus when in the Tevijja Sutta the Buddha declares to the two Brahmin students that, unlike their own teachers, he definitely does know Brahmā, Brahmā's world and the way to Brahmā's world, we need not take the author literally. He is using the language of the theistic Brahmins without contention because his purpose is not to dispute metaphysics, but to direct attention to experience. Now, when the author of the Kutuhalasāla Sutta puts these words in Gotama's mouth he does not waste time having Gotama refute the metaphysics of rebirth, but simply gives the standard answer as to the condition for all kinds of rebirth: if one has any kind of existence the primary condition for that is craving. It's not, as Sujato seems to imply, that craving (taṇha) is a special kind of fuel (upādāna) for existence in the antarābhava. Craving is what keeps the rounds of rebirth turning. Taṇha is always the upādāna for bhava.

So if we see the Buddha answering a general question about rebirth in terms of an otherwise absent idea of antarābhava it really doesn't make sense. We cannot from such obscure and difficult passages claim to know the mind of the Buddha. In terms of Theravāda metaphysics, another kind of being in a previously unmentioned interim state is a philosophical disaster: the whole Abhidhamma model of karma collapses (which effectively means that Theravāda Buddhism collapses because answers to so many other questions ride on the model of karma). This means that even if some Theravādins believe in an antarābhava they are left with the task of reconstructing the whole of Theravāda metaphysics to account for it. In the process they abandon Buddhaghosa. Though we can see that antarābhava is attractive, it's clear that the implications of the belief have not been thought through.


The Case for Antarābhava

The literature which argues the case for the antarābhava is more extensive than the contrary. Lin highlights the Saṅgītiparyāya as containing an important argument in favour of antarābhava. This text (T 1536) is a Sarvāstivāda commentary on the Saṅgītisūtra (= P Saṅgīti Sutta DN ) included in their Abhidharma. In this reading the antarāparinirvāyin dies in the kāmadhātu, arises in the antarābhava and attains nibbāna before being reborn in the rūpadhātu. Other types of anāgāmin are reborn in the rūpadhātu and attain nibbāna from there, slowly or quickly. This pattern is also followed in the Vibhāṣā and the *Saṃyuktābhidharmahṛdaya. The Abhidharmakośa mostly agrees and confirms the reading of antarāparinirvāyin.

Like the Theravādins, the Sarvāstivādin Ābhidharmikas had been developing Buddhist doctrine in order to solve problems in the received teachings, particularly the problem of Continuity and the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance (See Sarvāstivāda Approach to the Problem of Action at a Temporal Distance). As a result of the solution they adopted, the Sarvāstivādins ended up with the opposite problem to the Theravādins. Where the Theravādin model of continuity breaks down with an antarābhava, the Sarvāstivādins reasoned that there would be no way to maintain continuity through death without an antarābhava.

The Sāṃmitīyanikāyasśāstra (associated with the Sāṃmitīya Sect) argues that vijñāna without rūpa (i.e. a body) is not possible and that some kind of body is required to carry vijñāna from one rebirth to the next (Kritzer 2000: 241). This is significant, because wrapped up with antarābhava is the idea of the manomayakāya the so-called "mind-made body". Although neither Lin nor Kritzer mention this entity it is crucial in some accounts of the afterlife and thus at some point we will need to consider what it is and how it functions (I'll return to this idea in a forthcoming essay).

For a further detail of the Yogacāra arguments for antarābhava we can turn to Kritzer (2000). His article examined the views of Vasubandhu, especially as found in the Abhidharmakośabhāṣya (Vasubandhu's auto-commentary on the Abhidharmakośa) but also crucially the Viniścayasaṃgrahaṇi. The Bhāṣya is both the most systematic and one of the most influential accounts of the subject, as much for its portrayal of Vasubandhu's opponents as for his own views. Much of the contemporary scholarly writing on antarābhava is based on the Bhāṣya, and in many ways it has been over used as a source text on schools whose own literature is lost, fragmentary or only preserved in Chinese (especially the Sarvāstivādins). Kritzer points out that despite commonalities with the Sarvāstivāda account, the two should not be equated as he shows by examining arguments in the Vibhāṣā, one of the foundation texts of the Sarvāstivāda.

I want to write a separate summary of Kritzer (2000), since it will be quite long, but for now will try to give a flavour of the arguments. The crux seems to be a development of the idea vijñāna supported by rūpa mentioned above. Vasubandhu returns to an agricultural metaphor for the life-cycle of humans comparing us to rice plants (cf. comments on the fivefold-niyāma in Experience and Free Will in Early Buddhism). Vasubandhu's interpreters have read this different ways, but what he seems to be getting at is that the rice seed provides continuity between rice plants. What we do not see is one rice plant becoming another rice plant with no interval. Vasubandhu imagines that humans produce "seeds" when they die (though here he seems not to be referring to the karmic seeds stored in the ālayavijñāna). These seeds provide us with an interim body of a sort that sustains vijñāna until it can connect with rūpa again in rebirth (it's here that the idea of a mind-made body is both relevant and paradoxical because it suggests that a manokayakāya is the manas playing the role of rūpa in order to be a condition for the arising of vijñāna - i.e. it involves circularity that is disallowed by other doctrines of how conditionality works). The Viniścayasaṃgrahaṇi contains a series of questions and answers including this one:
Question: how does one know that there is an intermediate existence? Answer: because [when a being] dies here, there is no way for his citta and caittas to go without support to another place. It is not like an echo because [an echo] is merely an illusion. It is not like a reflected image because that [object] does not perish. And it is not like grasping an object because there is no movement [of consciousness in the case of perception]. Because these similes are inappropriate, the intermediate existence must be understood to exist. Thus, one must contemplate the arising of rūpaskandha in accordance with this”. (Kritzer 247)
This ties in with another image related to rice. Vasubandhu uses the example of a load of rice being transported from one village to another. It does not simply disappear from one village and appear in another, but goes on a journey through a series of stages. In other words Vasubandhu is, unlike many of his predecessors, thinking explicitly and abstractly about causation. Change or movement, as Vasubandhu observes it, is not instantaneous but gradual and thus rebirth cannot be instantaneous either. This may well hark back to Nāgārjuna's abstruse discussions of change in the first chapter of the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā.

Sujato may well argue here that this metaphor is analogous to the fire metaphor in the Kutuhalasāla Sutta: that the transportation through space is the root metaphor for rebirth, and that as transit through space is not instantaneous then rebirth cannot be instantaneous. Something must effect the transit between bodies. In response we might question whether reifying the metaphor is helpful. Is the transmission of certain crucial (moral) information about the actions of the previous life onto the next life so as to determine the realm and circumstances of rebirth simply a physical process, like spreading fire or transporting rice grain? Or does the metaphor allow for differences? For advocates of substance dualism the mind is clearly a different stuff to the body and cannot be subject to physical laws or it would not work. One of the features of ESP, a feature of many Buddhist discourse, is that it works with no regard for physical distance: in clairvoyance for example, one knows the thoughts of others as they think them. For advocates of substance monism the idea of an afterlife is so unlikely that it is hardly worth thinking about, but presumably a substance monist would insist that information transfer must take an appreciable time: like downloading a file from the internet. However, no Buddhist metaphysics excludes miracles, magic or ESP.

Vasubandhu is clearly trying to avoid the charge of eternalism by making the antarābhava analogous to other states of being: vijñāna arises in dependence on the manifestation of rūpaskandha in the antarābhava. The scriptural argument against this is simple and was stated in the Kathāvatthu more than 2000 years ago: if there is a an interim state of being, then why is it not included in traditional lists of such states? If there is rūpa then this is (effectively) a rebirth. Why is it not listed as a rebirth destination (gati)?

Vasubandhu's main argument is similar in form to Xeno's paradox. The counter argument is that if some interim state between rebirths (even transition from kāmadhātu to the rūpadhātu) is definitely required, then the same argument holds for the transition from the kāmadhātu to the antarābhava. By Vasubandhu's reasoning we are forced to postulate an antarā-antarābhava and along with it some even more subtle form of being. And so on ab absurdum. Every transition requires an interim state between the original state and the changed state with infinite regress. So the idea of an antarābhava does not solve Vasubandhu's observed problem with causality.


Conclusion

The logic of the arguments outlined is entirely bound up with versions of the Buddhist worldview. As with all afterlife beliefs, there is no way to argue about the antarābhava from first principles. How we view the antarābhava is entirely dependent on what we stipulate at the outset. On traditional arguments, it is either required or forbidden depending on our starting assumptions about how karma and rebirth work. For religious Buddhists this has meant, essentially that religious arguments (based on scripture) carried considerable weight and that reasoned arguments were always constrained by religious arguments.

And thus it is all the more curious that contemporary religious figures such as Theravāda bhikkhus and scriptural commentators reject the religious arguments of their own tradition and adopt the antarābhava, even though it invalidates their own model of karma and rebirth. Such doctrinal conflicts have clearly never bothered the religious lay people very much. Lay Buddhism has always been a religion of faith and propitiation rather than intellect and theology.

My earlier essay pointed out some of the philosophical problems that the antarābhava entails: it seems to involve a form of eternalism. This is something that the Continuity problem cannot ever avoid: either there is discontinuity or there is continuity. In the former the problem of how to transmit information karma is unsolved, in the latter the solution is inevitably eternalistic. The idea of dependent arising doesn't actually solve this dilemma, it only disguises it. There are any number of problems with using pratītyasamutpāda as a Theory of Everything. One cannot take a description of the phenomenology of mental activity presenting itself to awareness and turn that into a general metaphysics and especially not into a physics without creating problems.

So despite the fact that Theravādins settled on their explanation (until recently) and Māhāyānikas settled on Vasubandhu's explanation, in fact neither the problem of Continuity, nor the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance, were definitively solved by either party. The problems were simply shelved as original intellectual contributions dried up. In India, Buddhist exegesis became a competition with non-Buddhists traditions on matters previously considered inconsequential to the Buddhist project; while in Sri Lanka and Burma it turned into increasingly elaborate restatements of old ideas. I'm not well enough informed about Buddhism outside Indian to form definition opinions, but my impression is that the problems of assimilating Buddhism into a culture like China presented such massive problems that Buddhist theology went in entirely different directions. The Chinese seem to have deified the Buddha, whereas the Tibetans were constantly occupied with managing the massive proliferation of teachings. Modern Buddhism largely ignores discontinuities and is mainly concerned with presenting Buddhism as a transcendent truth with no visible flaws, a panacea that applied to everything, results in Utopia, emerging fully formed from a singularity we call Buddha. Could we be any further from the historical nature of our own religion?

At the outset I mentioned that it was unclear from Lin's account whether antarābhava was part of the original narrative of Buddhism or not. I now think it is clear that it is a late addition. Awareness of problems like Continuity and Action at a Temporal Distance only emerge in the post-sutta literature of the Abhidharma. Antarābhava simply doesn't occur in any early text, even when the concept of punabbhava is prominent. The single reference which seems to point to a poorly defined belief in at least a spatial distance between lives, hardly changes the picture. The fundamental disagreement about antarābhava means it can only have emerged once Buddhism had began to fragment into sects. The arguments evinced by the various sides rely on mature Abhidharma theories. The Theravādins only consider it as a reaction to the Abhidharma theories of other schools. So antarābhava was not part of the original Buddhist narrative about the afterlife. That said, the problems which led to antarābhava being proposed as a solution were in place early on.

~~oOo~~


Bibliography

Aung, Shwe Zan & Rhys Davids, C. A. F. (1960) The Points of Controversy: or, Subjects of discourse being a translation of the Kathāvatthu from the Abhidhammapiṭaka. Pali Text Society. First published 1915.
Bodhi. (2012) The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha. Wisdom.
Kritzer, Robert. (2000) 'Rūpa and The Antarābhava.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 28: 235–272.
Langer, Rita. (2007). Buddhist Rituals of Death and Rebirth: Contemporary Sri Lankan Practice and its origin. Routledge.
Lin, Qian. (2011) 'The antarābhava Dispute Among Abhidharma Traditions and the List of anāgāmins.' Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 34(1-2): 149–186.
Sujato (2010) Rebirth and the In-Between State in Early Buddhism. http://santifm.org/santipada/2010/rebirth-and-the-in-between-state-in-early-buddhism

09 May 2014

Where and Why Did the Sarvāstivādins Go Wrong?

image: wisegeek
It's widely thought that both the Perfection of Wisdom texts and the writings of the Madhyamaka School attack the Realist position taken by the Sarvāstivāda School. The difficulty we have at 2000 years remove is understanding how any Buddhist could adopt a Realist position in the first place. Surely the Middle Way would have ruled this out?

However, as I showed in my essay about Action at a Temporal Distance, early Buddhists inherited a major problem: pratītyasamutpāda and karma as outlined in the early Buddhist texts are inconsistent with each other. I showed that Buddhist schools modified the doctrine of pratītyasamutpāda to preserve the doctrine of karma more or less as it was.  In the case of Sarvāstivāda, this solution required that dharmas be able to function as conditions -- tantamount to being real -- in all three times: present, future and past. But this was not the only influence pushing Sarvāstivādins towards Realism.

As with other early Buddhist schools, the Sarvāstivāda focus moved onto the Abhidharma project, with Abhidharma texts quickly attaining canonical status. Each of the surviving Abhidharma texts is distinct in it's content, if not in its overall project and methods. Thus Abhidharma is a product of sectarian Buddhist schools which often see each other as rivals. 

The key task of the Abhidharma is to identify dharmas, to catalogue and describe them and to explore the dynamic relationships between them. Colette Cox, one of the leading writers on the Sarvāstivāda, calls these two functions: evaluative and descriptive (2004). Ābhidharmikas evaluated dharmas for their contribution to liberation and used the descriptive analysis of dharmas to deconstruct perceived structures and realities (particularly the self). Cox notes that this analysis became increasing fine grained and abstract. This in turn created the conditions for treating dharmas as real entities (dravya). This essay will explore this second Realist influence on early Buddhism, again focussing on the Sarvastivāda as representative of Indian Buddhism.


Taxonomies

Collette Cox (2004) sets out the process by which Sarvāstivādins grew into the idea of dharmas as real entities (especially 558-565). Since one of the main functions of the Abhidharma was to create a taxonomy it had to take the approach that all taxonomy projects must: it had to create categories, and criteria by which any dharma might fit into any category. The Sarvāstivādins concentrated on a method called "inclusion" (saṃgraha) in which for each dharma, they outlined what categories it fit into. Each dharma might fit into multiple categories, but it either fit or did not. 

All taxonomic projects have to proceed in a particular way in order to create meaningful and useful categories. And one of the main features of such projects is well defined categories, "...invariable criteria are demanded as the basis of unambiguous classification" (Cox 59). Human beings think about the world using categories. Contemporary understanding of these categories shows them to be based on resemblance to a prototype that sits somewhere in the middle of the taxonomic hierarchy (Lakoff 1990). The edges of such categories are fuzzy and membership is by degrees.

Categories are an efficient way of dealing with large amounts of information and also to assessing the potential of a new entity or event by seeing it's similarity to familiar entities or events. And Lakoff argues that the categories we use are in part defined by how we interact with the members of the category - either physically or metaphorically (where the source domain for the metaphor is itself a physical interaction).

The categories used by Ābhidharmikas, by contrast, seem to have been hard edged and made up of simple, artificial binaries and trinaries. For example a dharma was either samskṛta or asamskṛta; either kuśala or akuśala; etc. A Buddhist needed to know kuśala from akuśala dharmas for the purposes of pursuing liberation (cf Cox's two functions above). Kuśala dharmas are to be cultivated and akuśala dharmas to be abandoned. Matrices (mātṛka) of binary and trinary categories are thought to have made up the earliest Abhidharma "texts". Lists were memorised by the mātṛkadhāra (the counter part of the sūtradhāra and vinayadhāra) and the whole structure of Abhidharma categories could be (re)constructed from such lists. The descriptive enterprise of deconstructing apparent entities, particularly the self, into constituent dharmas gave rise to an encyclopaedic attempt to list all possible dharmas and the possible relations between them. Categories multiplied until we get the lists of 85 dharmas in the Theravāda and 75 in the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharmas respectively.

Each school of early sectarian Buddhism took a slightly different approach to constructing categories, placing dharmas in them, and elaborating their relations. This suggests that the impetus itself is pre-sectarian and indeed we can see examples of Abhidharma style thinking in the early sūtras, as well as as a common core in early Abhidharma texts. However, the manifestations which survive as canonical texts and commentaries are a product of sectarian Buddhism.

A dharma fits into a particular category because it has a particular function or nature which is referred to as svabhāva. This term originally had no ontological implications. Initially svabhāva is simply what enables us to distinguish one dharma from another (Cox 561-2).


Dharmas

The early Buddhist worldview centred around the idea that experience is a flux of conditional processes, arising and passing away as our minds and sensory apparatus are impacted by objects, mental and physical. In this view a dharma was primarily the object of the mind sense (manas), though of course the word dharma is confusingly used in at least six main senses (see Dharma: Buddhist Terminology). But in relation to Buddhist thinking about experience, a dharma is a mental object. In this sense, perhaps, dharma comes closest to it etymological meaning of "support, foundation" - a dharma is the "objective" support process for a mental event to arise (i.e. for an experience to be conscious) when it interacts with the "subjective" perceiving processes. 


The first step on the road to seeing dharmas as real seems to have been the fixed categories into which they were put.
As such we know that dharmas were all impermanent, unsatisfactory and insubstantial. I've already outlined the Sarvāstivādin argument for the "existence" of dharmas in the part and future as well as the present. Arguably one could maintain this kind of view without insisting that dharmas are absolutely real. The first step on the road to seeing dharmas as real seems to have been the fixed categories into which they were put. Whereas in the early Buddhist worldview everything was process, the introduction of fixed categories introduced an artificial reference point into the picture. A dharma was a member of a category in an absolute sense (pāramārthika) and thus a dharma had an identity (ātmabhāva) which was not contingent (Cox 560). It was not inevitable that Buddhists would come to think of their categories as territory rather than map, but it was a slippery slope.

We suffer a similar problem today. For example physicists who study the regularity and similarity of experience can produce highly sophisticated mathematical models which describe the motion of bodies at difference scales and they may or may not be naive realists who believe they are describing reality (in fact most distinguish the map from the territory). But a few tiers down, those doing undergraduate physics are more likely to be unsophisticated about the distinction and to be naive realists. I know this from experience, for as one reproduces the results of, say, Isaac Newton and derives the laws of motion from first principles, the compelling conclusion is that one is describing reality (no one who has not done this can really understand how compelling it is). Once the information goes through the hands of science journalists and into the general public, most of the potential sophistication is lost. Most of us are naive realists with respect to experience, even when we intellectually espouse various philosophies about ontology, in practice we feel ourselves to be in contact with reality.


It is all too easy for human categories to start to seem natural.
Sectarian Buddhist intellectuals were still pre-scientific and produced a variety of speculative views about the world of experience with varying degrees of realism and idealism. In such a milieu the critique of views was simply a clash of opinions. It is all too easy for human categories to start to seem natural, that is to be an aspect of the world rather than something we impose on the world to help us make sense of it.

Think of categories like large and small. These are defined on the basis of prototypes of various kinds of item. When we mention, say, 'dog' each of us has a prototype image of what a representative dog looks like. From this we know that great-danes are large dogs, and chihuahuas are small dogs. We don't usually stop to wonder why, or even pause to apply the label for extreme cases like these. To us it just seems natural. And so, mostly like, the Ābhidharmikas began to think of their artificial categories as natural and therefore real. They begin to blur the distinction between map and territory because the map is an internal, almost a priori construct, that transparently structures the way we interpret experience. Thus began the reification of dharmas by Ābhidharmikas.


Putting Dharmas Into Categories

Colette Cox, with respect to the Sarvāstivāda, and Noa Ronkin, with respect to the Theravāda, both argue that ontological thinking is not obvious well into the Abhidharma project - into what Cox calls the mid-period texts. However dharmas were thought to fit into categories by virtue of their svabhāva - which early on means their 'particular nature'. It is the svabhāva of the dharma that gives it a particular quality and/or function and allows us to categorise it. At first it is simply that we are able to perceive certain regularities in our experience and thus to conceive of different kinds of dharmas. There is something particular about the the experiences that we learn to recognise and give a name to.


By fixing the definition of categories one almost cannot avoid fixing the members of the category.
The problem is that when the category is fixed and hard-edged, then the quality which qualifies any item for membership in that category can also come to seem fixed. Just as categories that move around and are not fixed don't make for very useful taxonomies, it is also practically unhelpful if the members of the categories are able to move around at random. By fixing the definition of categories one almost cannot avoid fixing the members of the category. And thus the meaning of the word svabhāva drifts from 'particular nature' towards 'intrinsic existence' and dharmas start to become real entities (dravya). 


Conclusion

It is the inherent dynamics of encyclopedic projects that, almost inevitably it seems, causes those who pursue such a project to first see their categories as real, and then to see the distinctions they make to fit objects into their categories as real, and in the Buddhist case to see the members of categories, i.e. dharmas, as real. despite the fact that the real/unreal distinction is specifically said to be unhelpful by early Buddhist texts. Be that as it may, the Abhidharma project has had a massive influence on Buddhism and leaves us with a legacy of ontological thought that frequently obscures the true intent of pratītyasamutpāda, i.e. explaining the arising and passing away of mental processes.

It may be that this is why the anti-Realist and anti-Idealist ideas epitomised in the Kaccānagotta Sutta feature in the first chapter of the Aṣṭasāhasrika Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra as well as in Nāgārjuna's Mūlamadhyamaka Kārikā. The early Prajñāpāramitā sūtras tackle Realism head on with an uncompromising anti-Realism. Where Sarvāstivādins proposed real dharmas, authors of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras said "no dharmas". The seem to have meant "no real dharmas", but the polemic is phrased in apparently nihilistic terms, presumably for rhetorical purposes. No dharmas. No arising. No ceasing. No pure dharmas. No defiled dharmas. And so on. This approach is sampled and remixed in the Heart Sutra.

However we should not look down on the Sarvāstivādins. No other Buddhist school did much better. Theravāda ontology is scarcely more tenable. The predominant Mahāyāna solution to the problem of action at a temporal distance (the Yogacāra ālayavijñāna) involved the invention of metaphysical entities that only disguised the problem. While the Abhidharma was very intellectually productive, it was ultimately a dead end in terms of practice and soteriology.

This essay started by arguing that understanding the Sarvāstivāda was important for seeing Prajñāpāramitā in context. However it also highlights that we are not yet able to say how Prajñāpāramitā deals with the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance. The solution widely adopted by Mahāyāna schools is from the Yogacāra, but there were several centuries between the composition of the Prajñāpāramitā and Yogacāra texts. Nāgārjuna's proposed solution is to treat the everything as an illusion (!) which seems an even less successful answer than the pudgala. I hope in the near future to explore if and how the early Prajñāpāramitā dealt with Action at a Temporal Distance.

We've always known that Buddhism splintered into sects and that the sects had different doctrines. I hope that this trilogy of essays on the Sarvāstivāda has shed some light on how and why sectarian Buddhist developed in the way it did. The early Buddhists were struggling to make sense of the legacy of confusion in the early texts.

~~oOo~~


Bibliography

Cox, Collett. (2004) 'From Category to Ontology: The Changing Role of Dharma in Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma.' Journal of Indian Philosophy 32: 543-597.
Lakoff, George (1990). Women, Fire and Dangerous Things:  What Categories Reveal About the Mind. University of Chicago Press.
Ronkin, Noa. (2005) Early Buddhist Metaphysics. Routledge.

02 May 2014

Sarvāstivāda Approach to the Problem of Action at a Temporal Distance.

In recent weeks I've become a bit more involved in a distributed discussion about  the twin Buddhist doctrines of karma & rebirth. This has been in response to apologetics defending traditional articles of faith with respect to karma & rebirth.

Of course I have blogged about karma & rebirth (together and separately) quite often, mainly exploring the challenges that 400 years of empiricism raise for traditional belief. But one of the other topics I write about is the nature of religious belief and I have become increasingly aware that the discussion about karma & rebirth was in danger of becoming bogged down. It's all too easy to see the discussion as a contest between pejorative and polemical accounts of fideism and scientism. The two sides are already talking past each other. 

So I began to explore a new tack. I was aware that the Buddhist tradition itself had a history of modifying these doctrines and some explorations of this have appeared as essays on this blog (see e.g. How the Doctrine of Karma Changes). I'd also been exploring some of the metaphysical problems in early Buddhism. I realised that it might be fruitful to dive into the history of Buddhism and develop this a bit more. I wrote an essay for our Order journal which can be found on my static website: Some Problems With Believing in Rebirth. In that essay I briefly outlined eight problems that people who believe in karma & rebirth ought to have thought about and tried to resolve. These problems are not reasons to disbelieve in karma & rebirth, but they are quite serious problems most of which have historically troubled Buddhists and resulted in doctrinal innovations. 

In discussing karma & rebirth our frame of reference is usually quite narrow: for most of us circumscribed by what is available in our bookshops. As a result our discussion of the history of Buddhist karma & rebirth seems to me to be rather constrained. This essay will attempt to broaden it out a little. In addressing the problem of karma & rebirth I've tried to show that it is (at least) three sided:
1. Inconsistent Early Buddhist accounts.
2. Later Buddhist adaptations and innovations.
3. Knowledge from 400 years of empiricism.
Buddhists themselves found the earliest received versions of karma & rebirth unsatisfactory and changed them. Ignoring this aspect of Buddhism results in a lopsided discussion. The equivalent would be like discussing British history in terms of the Celts and the Industrial Revolution, but missing out the Romans, Saxons, Vikings and Normans. Importantly, the Pali suttas cannot solve the problems we encounter, because they (along with their counterparts in other scriptural languages) are the source of the problem as I will try to show.

cetanāhaṃ, bhikkhave, kammaṃ vadāmi


One of the key issues related to karma & rebirth that unsettled Buddhists is what I call the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance: the ability for short lived mental processes to have consequences spanning multiple lifetimes. This problem has two main aspects:
  1. Karma, according to the Buddha, is cetanā (AN 6.63) and cetanā is a short-lived mental event. 
  2. Pratītya-samutpāda requires that when the condition ceases the effect must also cease (imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhati).
Thus, on face value karma cannot coexist with pratītya-samutpāda because it requires the possibility of an effect long after the cessation of the condition, usually with no effect in the intervening time - in other words the effect only arises long after the condition has ceased. Ancient Buddhists noticed this and the result was a raft of doctrinal innovations attempting to reconcile the two, usually by artificially prolonging the action of conditions long after they cease i.e. Buddhists adjusted pratītya-samutpāda to accommodate karma. Of the many responses, this essay will focus on the Sarvāstivāda. 

The Sarvāstivāda School has a far better claim to be representative of early Indian Buddhism than does the Theravāda School. It dominated the North Indian Buddhist scene for several centuries while the Theravada School was relatively isolated in Sri Lanka: having little influence and being little influenced. The Theravādin Kathāvatthu, which is an account of the Vibhajyavādin's dispute with the mainstream of Buddhism, does not engage with the arguments found below (Bronkhorst 1989).  There were of course other schools, but they all seem to have defined themselves at least to some extent in opposition to the Sarvāstivāda, or have subsequently been found to be part of the same movement (like the Sautrāntikas). We tend to ignore the Sarvāstivāda because of Mahāyāna polemics, and because their texts have yet to be translated into English. However, the Sarvāstivādins were very much alive to this problem and canny in their response to it.

With respect to the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance, Dundee philosopher David Bastow (1995) believes that he has discovered the earliest argument for the existence of dharmas in the past, future and present - the characteristic idea that gave the Sarvāstivāda School its name. The argument is found the Vijñānakāya, a Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma text dated to perhaps 200 BCE and available only in Chinese translation.

One Citta at a time


Consider a mental moment of greed, a "greed citta". It is axiomatic (for all Buddhist schools) that there can be only one citta at a time, though it may be accompanied by mental factors (cetāsika) such as attention, volition and so on (each citta and cetāsika being a "dharma"). This imposes a temporal sequence on experience. Cittas arise one after another in sequence, each lasting a fraction of a second.

imasmiṃ sati idaṃ hoti
imass' uppādā idaṃ uppajjati
imasmiṃ asati idaṃ na hoti
imassa nirodhā idaṃ nirujjhati


Knowing that what we are experiencing is "greed", is itself a citta. So the knowledge that a citta was greed can only follow after the fact of the greed. Knowledge follows from experience. If we know we have experienced a greed citta then that greed citta cannot be non-existent, since, imasmin sati, idam hoti. Sati is a present participle from √as 'to be' while hoti is a dialectical variant of bhavati from √bhū 'to be, to become'. The phrase says "while this exists; this exists" (the pronoun in both cases is the deictic idam which is conventionally translated as 'this' and indicates something present to the speaker).

sense object + sense organ + sense discrimination = contact


It is also axiomatic in Buddhist psychology that for vijñāna to arise there must be a sense object (ālambana) and sense faculty (indriya). Thus the greed citta must "exist" in some form (imasmin sati). We don't need to get bogged down in defining in what way it exists, only to acknowledge that like any sense object it functions as a condition for vijñāna to arise, so it cannot be non-existent. And since the greed citta must sequentially precede the knowledge citta, the greed citta must exist (in some way) in the past. The same is true of all cittas.

Furthermore, it is essential to both Buddhist ethics and karma that a greed citta has future consequences. The classic pratītya-samutpāda formula informs us that if the condition has ceased then the effect ceases. The corollary is that if there is a future effect, then a future condition must exist. Thus, in our example, the greed citta must exist (in some form) in the future or it could not have future consequences. In order for karma to work as advertised the citta must potentially continue to exist over several lifetimes. The same is true of all cittas.

Thus, dharmas exist in all three times: present, past, and future.


To summarise: a citta "exists" (in some form) in the present, but in order for us to have knowledge of it, the citta must also "exist" (in some form) in the past; and in order for it to have consequences at a later time it must "exist" (in some form) in the future. Minimally "exist" means that it must at least be able to function as a condition for the arising of mano-vijñāna (i.e. as a dharma); it must be consistent with the imasmin sati formula. Thus, cittas (i.e. dharmas) exist in all three times: present, past, and future. And this, according to the Vijñānakāya, is what sarva-asti means. 

This view, and developments of it, dominated the first phases of sectarian Buddhism in Indian from around the 2nd century BCE until it was replaced by the metaphysical speculations of the Yogacārins in about the 5th century CE. The sarva-asti view emerges from the application of standard Buddhist axioms to karma and, unlike the Yogacāra view, it does not introduce further speculation or further axioms. It is a plausible solution to the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance, certainly no less plausible than suggesting the existence of seeds in a storehouse. Thus, we should not dismiss the Sarvāstivāda view lightly. If we are going to dismiss it, then it ought not to be on the basis of further metaphysical speculation. More importantly, we ought to offer a better solution to the problem of Action at a Temporal Distance.

~~oOo~~


Bibliography
Bastow, David. (1995) 'The First Argument for Sarvāstivāda.' Asian Philosophy 5(2):109-125. Text online
Bronkhorst, Johannes. (1993) 'Kathāvatthu and Vijñānakāya'. Premier Colloque Étienne Lamotte. Bruxelles et Liège 24-27 septembre 1989). Université Catholique de Louvain: Institut Orientaliste Louvain-la-Neuve. 1993. Pp. 57-61)

25 April 2014

Sarvāstivāda and the Chinese Sarva Sūtra

The Sarvāstivāda School ostensibly forms part of the background against which the Prajñāpāramitā literature developed. Indeed many see the early Prajñāpāramitā texts as taking the time to refute certain Sarvāstivādin ideas. Nāgārjuna appears to be in a conversation with Sarvāstivādins. This suggestion of a conflict between Prajñāpāramitā and Sarvāstivāda is an important one for understanding the Prajñāpāramitāhṛdaya. This is because, despite the received tradition about when it was composed, and despite various late sectarian commentaries, the Hṛdaya is largely made up of chunks of texts from the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra and thus has more in common with the outlook of early rather than late Prajñāpāramitā thought.

The Sarvāstivādins are also intrinsically interesting in that they seem to have been the dominant Buddhist school in India for a considerable length of time. There seem to be two main reasons we know less about them than we do about the Theravādins. Firstly their texts mainly only survive in Chinese translation and until relatively recently Westerners have not been very interested in these texts (possibly influenced by the linguistic demands of having to know at least Sanskrit, Pali and Classical Chinese in order to study the literature); or in fact interested only where Sanskrit "originals" are known to exist (Cf. Which Mahāyāna Texts?). Secondly, the focus has long been on Theravāda as representative of early Buddhism. But if any Buddhist school "represents" early Indian Buddhism it is the Sarvāstivāda.

A third reason we might not think of them as representative is that early Buddhist was eventually eclipsed first by Mahāyāna Buddhism (though very often on the basis of the Sarvāstivādin Vinaya) and then Tantrism. So that even where monks follow a rule based on the (Mūla)Sarvāstivāda Vinaya and study Abhidharma through commentaries on the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma (cf. Nietupski 2009), they don't identify themselves as Sarvāstivādins.

In her discussion of the Sarvāstivādin school Professor Collett Cox makes an interesting point about the name of the school. She says:
As encapsulated in the name 'Sarvāstivādin,' the Sarvāstivādins are characterized as maintaining that "everything exists" (sarvam asti). However, the simplicity of this ontological assertion contains the seeds of doctrinal divergence because the referent of the term 'everything' and the manner in which this "everything" is considered to "exist" must be specified. Certain early Abhidharma texts identify the term 'everything' in the declaration that "everything exists" as referring to the twelve sense spheres including the six sense organs and their corresponding object-fields. So also the *Mahāvibhāṣā, in a discussion of the twelve sense spheres, cites a sūtra passage in which the term everything' is defined by the Buddha as "precisely the twelve sense spheres from the form sense sphere (rūpāyatana) up to and including the factor sense sphere (dharmāyatana).
I want to make a short digression to point out that Buddhists very often use the word asti not as a verb (3rd person singular indicative) 'it exists' but as an action noun meaning 'existing, being'. Thus we don't need to syntactically derive sarvāsti in Sarvāstivāda from the sentence sarvam asti 'it all exists', with an awkward silence over why sarvam loses it's case ending; but can treat the word as a karmadhāraya compound sarva-asti 'everything existing'.

The sūtra passage referred to in the Mahāvibhāṣā (Cox's asterisk means the Sanskrit title is reconstructed from Chinese) probably corresponds to the Pāli Sabba Sutta (SN 35.23). This sutta has a Chinese parallel from one of the two Saṃyuktāgama translations (T 99 #319, 91a24-b03) this one being attributed to the Mūlasarvāstivāda School. "T 99 is widely considered to have been translated in the period 435-443 CE from a Sanskrit Saṃyuktāgama brought to China from Sri Lanka." (Bucknell 2011). Since I see this as a seminal text, and as it seems directly related to the Sarvāstivāda School, I will present my rough translation of the Taisho Tripiṭaka version.
*Sarva Sūtra (Title not given in Chinese).

如是我聞。一時。佛住舍衛國祇樹給孤獨園。
Thus have I heard, one time, the Buddha was staying in Śravāsti (舍衛國) in the Jeta Grove of Anathapindada.

時。有生聞婆羅門往詣佛所。共相問訊。問訊已。退坐一面。
Then, Jānussoṇī, the brahmin, approached the Buddha, exchanged greetings, and retreated to one side.

白佛言。瞿曇。所謂一切者。云何名一切。 
He said to the Buddha, "Gautama, 'all' (一切 yīqiè = Skt. sarvaṃ) is said, what is 'all'?"

佛告婆羅門。一切者。謂十二入處。眼色.耳聲.鼻香.舌味.身觸.意法。是名一切。
The buddha answered the Brahmin, "'All' is namely the 12 āyatanas: eye & form (colour), ear & sound, nose & smell, tongue & taste, body & touch, mind & dharmas. This is called 'all'.

若復說言此非一切。沙門瞿曇所說一切。
Even if the words were said 'this is not all', Śrāmana Gauatama says this is 'all'.

我今捨。別立餘一切者。
I will explain the rejection. A different 'all' does not stand.

彼但有言說。問已不知。增其疑惑。所以者何。
He who speaks this. Asked, does not know. His doubts increase. So who and where?

非其境界故。
Because this is not the proper domain (Skt. viṣaya 境界 jìngjiè )."

時。生聞婆羅門聞佛所說。歡喜隨喜奉行。
Then, Jānussoṇī. the brahmin having heard the Buddha was delighted and rejoiced.
~o~

Compare the Pāli Text:
Sabba Sutta (S iv.15)
At Sāvatthi: I will teach you the whole, monks. Listen to this. What, monks, is the whole? The eye and forms, the ear and sounds, the nose and smells, the tongue and tastes, the body and touches, the mind and mental phenomena: this, monks, is called ‘the whole’. If anyone says ‘I reject this whole, I will declare another whole’ that would just be hot air. Questioned about it, they wouldn't be able to explain, and would become exasperated. Why is this? Because that, monks, is in the wrong location (avisaya).
~o~

Clearly there is very little different between these two, except in the nidāna or setting. But the existence of these texts begs the question why the Buddha might have wanted to define 'all', 'the whole', or 'everything' (all translations of Skt sarvam, Pāli sabbaṃ)? In fact the idiom is one that derives from Vedic literature. For example in Ṛgveda (RV 8.58.2):
éka evā́gnír bahudhā́ sámiddha
ékaḥ sū́ryo víśvam ánu prábhūtaḥ
ékaivóṣā́ḥ sárvam idáṃ ví bhāti
ékaṃ vā́ idáṃ ví babhūva sárvam
Only one fire kindles many times.
One sun is all penetrating.
Dawns as one, shine on all this.
From this one, unfolds the whole.
I've cited this verse previously in relation to the Fire Sermon. Another key text for understanding the idiom is Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad, for example:
brahma vā idam agra āsīt | tad ātmānam evāvet | ahaṃ brahmāsmīti | tasmāt tat sarvam abhavat | (BU 1.4.10)
At first there was only Brahman, and it only knew itself "I am Brahman". From that it became everything (sarvam).
So, sarvam means 'the created world'. Sometimes the idiom is idam sarvam meaning "this whole [world]". For the Ṛgveda it seems to mean Creation in a fairly literal sense. In BU sarvam begins to take on a more mystical sense, it is the manifest aspect of Brahman. And it is through identifying oneself with the world, i.e. with Brahman, that one attains (re)union with Brahman. And this may be why Buddhists called the meditation in which one identifies with all the beings in the world, brahmavihāra 'the dwelling of Brahmā (or Brahman)'.

The Sarva Sūtra almost certainly reacting to the Vedic usage, sets all this aside. The whole from this point of view is the six senses and their objects. In another Pāḷi text, the Dvayam Sutta (SN 35.92) this same formula is referred to as "the pair" (dvayam). But it is not the objects or the senses per se that concern the sutta. The alternate term dvayam reminds us that the two together form the basis for the arising of sense-consciousness. The beginning and end of the interest of the text is the sense objects and sense organs. All experience begins with these, there is no other source of experience. It is through observing experience that we are liberated. Any speculation which lies outside of these, particularly any metaphysical speculation about the nature of the objects of the senses, is out of bounds (avisaya).

Cox (1995: 134 ff.) goes on to outline some of the arguments between Saṅghabhadra and Vasubandhu about the interpretation of this sūtra and the implications each drew from it. The story is far from simple. "The very sutra passage that defines the term 'everything' as the twelve sense spheres is cited by both Vasubandhu and Saṅghabhadra as scriptural justification for their divergent ontological positions." (1995: 134).

But one thing that the text does not say, in either Pāḷi or Chinese, is that the āyatanas "exist". They represent the whole of the Buddhist's field of interest and, citing the Kaccānagotta Sutta, we believe the early Buddhists were not interested in the issue of whether or not they exist. However since the phrase imasmin sati idam hoti "this existing, that exists" is so central to Buddhist we must allow that the sense object and sense organ cannot be non-existent if they are to act as conditions for the arising of viññāna and phassa etc. And this leads into a discussion about how the Sarvāstivāda got its name and its eponymous doctrine which will be covered in a forthcoming essay. 


~~oOo~~

Bibliography

Bastow, David. (1995) 'The First Argument for Sarvāstivāda.' Asian Philosophy. 5(2): 109-125. txt online.
Bucknell, Roderick S. (2011) 'The historical relationship between the two Chinese Saṃyuktāgama translations.' Chung-Hwa Buddhist Journal. 24: 35-70. pdf.
Cox, Collett. (1995) Disputed Dharmas Early Buddhist Theories on Existence: An Annotated Translation of the Section on Factors Dissociated from Thought from Sanghabhadra's Nyāyānusāra. Tokyo The International Institute for Buddhist Studies. pdf.
Nietupski, Paul K.  (2009) 'Guṇaprabha’s Vinayasūtra Corpus: Texts and Contexts.' JIATS, no. 5 (December 2009), 19 pp.