Absolute and Becoming in Indian Philosophy

Added by Professor Charles Ess, Drury College

[From Hajime Nakamura's The Notion of Time in India]

In Indian philosophy the Absolute is generally explained as a Being beyond all temporal appearances. These exist and change in time; the Absolute, in contrast, is essentially static. In the Upanisads, the Absolute is repeatedly expressed as "Imperishable."(7) "Atman is imperishable for it cannot be destroyed.... It is unfettered, it does not suffer, it is not injured."(8) "This is that great unborn Self who is imperishable, incorruptible, eternal, fearless, Brahman."(9) Early Buddhism does not lay emphasis on a metaphysical Absolute as such, but the same habit of mind is found in the principle of pratltyasamutpada, later developed in Mahayana Buddhism, which states that nothing can disappear or arise. In Indian thought, as in the Sanskrit language, it is the idea of Being which receives central consideration.

Indian philosophers in general replace the concept of Becoming by three aspects of temporal existence: Appearance, Extinction, and Continuance. All three states are clearly conceived as static. They are referred to early in the Upanisads and are generally accepted by the orthodox schools of Brahmanism and Jainism. Buddhism also designates these as the three aspects of the conditioned or phenomenal being (10). Other words which are considered equivalent to "becoming" (vikara, vikriya, parinama, viparinama, etc.) in fact express the specialization of the simple into the complex and should be understood as meaning "evolution" or "development," rather than "becoming." Indian philosophy contains a number of variations on the three basic states, and the Sarvastivada school, the most eminent of Abhidharma Buddhist schools, added a fourth, namely jara or "decaying," which was interpreted as "changing to the other" (anyathabhava, anyathatva).ll This might seem to come close to "becoming"; the theory, however, was not accepted by all Buddhist schools, and Decay is no real analogue of Becoming as the idea appears in Western philosophy.

[Postcolonial] [Indian Subcontinent] India OV

Last modified 15 December 2000