Indian Concentration on Universality and Conceptions of Causality

Added by Professor Charles Ess, Drury College

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

The concentration on the universality behind and beyond the variety of concrete phenomena of our experience is in its essence contemplative. Language again provides a key to thought; the meditative character of Indian thought is forcibly illustrated in the concept of causal relations as expressed in the forms of Sanskrit itself. To indicate the causal relation between two notions, Sanskrit forms a compound which suggests that the natural order of thought is to begin with the effect and trace it back to the cause. Accordingly, the expression "effect and cause" (phalahetu) occurs instead of the familiar "cause and effect." The contemplative attitude thus erases time: one can only speak of "effect and cause" if the effect is already known and both effect and cause present to the contemplative mind sub specie aeternitatis. Although the Latin phrase suggests that this habit of thinking is not wholly foreign to the West, the natural order of Western thought is clear: it is to proceed temporally from cause to effect. Even though the relationship is seen, it is seen in time. In Sanskrit, in contrast, many expressions emphasize this meditative view in which progressive phenomena are seen as already complete. Karyakaranabhava means, not "the relation of cause and effect," but of "effect and cause." What would in Western languages appear as the "relation of the knower and the knowable" is in Sanskrit "the relation of the knowable and the knower (gamyagamakabhava)" (17) We find similar reversals of Western order in the "relation of the generated and the generative (janyajanakabhava)"; "the relation of the proved and the prover (sadhyasadhakabhava)"; "the relation of the established and the establishing (vyayasthapyavyavas-thapakabhava)"; (18) "the relation of the activated and the activator (pravartyapravartayitrtva)" (19). Each of these expressions appears reversed to Western minds, and even to other Orientals. Accordingly, when scholars translated the original texts into Chinese they changed the word order. Tibetan scholars also understood the causal relationship differently from the Indian; they translated phalahetu ("effect and cause") into rgyu dan hbras-bu ("cause and effect"). This way of thinking, in which the notion of effect is formed first and that of the cause inferred and stated afterward, is retrospective, and is basically different from the approach which starts from the cause. The retrospective, contemplative attitude is in further contrast to the thinking processes of natural science, through which, with the help of inductive and deductive reasoning, the cause of an effect is investigated and ascertained by functional correlation without giving primacy either to cause or effect.

[Postcolonial] [Indian Subcontinent] India OV

Last modified 15 December 2000