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FOUNDATIONS AND DISSERTATIONS: RENEWED SKEPTICISM IN EARLY INDIAN PHILOSOPHY

ITHACA

 

By revisiting the notions of skepticism, Candrakirti proposes that the occurrence of a phenomenon is not limited to its concrete state or composition at a moment in time, but almost “enlightened” by its abstractified, ontological properties in that very same moment­­ for example, through a simultaneous or existential counterpart. As Candrakirti describes, if the same condition occurs for the phenomenon yet is counter to the situation, it is dependently co­arisen, or absent of its own stateness and physical qualities. Because it is occurring as a simultaneous happening or in regards to a simultaneous happening, Candrakirti re­introduces the logics of skeptics through an argument that is actually, quite lacking in beliefs. Although he establishes his position in the ontological object as an existential, infinite essence, subjugated by an interdisciplinary investigation of its opponents (such as the explanatory logic of Metaphysics and Nagarjuna’s earlier discussions about substances in Buddhist foundationalism) and by challenging the issue through counter­intuitive claims, to what extent do all forms of skepticism in early Indian philosophy merge?

 

Before understanding how the exploratory roots of these issues merge, it is crucial to understand how philosophers were quite divided between understanding the motives skepticism. The root upon which Candrakirti criticizes Nagarjuna (as described above) is in claiming that śūnyatā, or “emptiness” can be described as the essence of “nothingness” of all things (Arnold, 122). On the other hand, the position of the Madhyamika philosophy, one which Candrakirti openly advocates for, suggests that one should seek to explain the conventions of ordinariness as a “constant reference to to their embeddedness in other regularities” (Arnold, 118). Furthermore, by critiquing Buddhist foundationalism and the theory of sunyata, a problem of induction occurs in the position in which no amount of observation in fact proves a causal link. Although this can be used to establish a sense of probability, this is quite similar to the universal logic of smoke (Franco, 112)­­ innately associated as a direct result of a fire yet also able to exist without a fire, which, is acknowledged beyond what one is usually conscious of. In this way, Candrakirti tries to fulfill his position by reducing the availability of common sense­­ and thus results in a very, unconditional critique of Buddhist foundationalism and its ultimate divisions between the ultimate truth versus the deconstructionist truth (Franco, 269)­­ for example, the skepticism behind metaphysics in questioning the way matter aggregates into one total form while consciousness rises directly through the physicality of its object.

 

Contrary to Candrakirti, Jayarāśi furthers the Cārvāka’s school of thought particularly in being more materialist­­ understood to omit the existence of gods and karma. As Jayarāśi denies the existence of various phenomenal subjects and because previous Cārvākas claimed to believe that the world was made up of four elements, Jayarāśi also asserts that in regards to the realm of skeptics, “Even the view of world as elements is not well established. How much less are all the others?” (Franco, 277). Surprisingly, the similarities between Candrakirti and Jayarāśi can thus be measured as an intrinsic logic of skepticism. Furthermore, as Jayarāśi is an established vaitaṇḍika (one who relies entirely on vitaṇḍā arguments), a vitanda is also the same as a prasaṅga­­ an argument from which the Prāsaṅgikas establishes their name at the expense of interfering with others’ positions, yet without disrupting or referencing one’s own (negative claims). Although this methodology of skepticism can be seen to be weak, there is also a clear distinction between Jayarāśi and Candrakirti rooted in the most critical question of what type of answers these type of skepticisms are supposed to accomplish (and propel).

 

A powerful theoretical difference between the skepticisms of Candrakirti and Jayarāśi certainly exists­­ this is rooted in the distinction yielded by the Tibetan Gelug school of Tsong kha pa between theoretical ignorance (kun brtags kyi ma rig pa) and innate ignorance (lhan skyes ma rig pa) (Arnold, 233). Tsong kha pa conveys that theoretical misconceptions may be bestowed on oneself through the process of a pre­set, philosophical system (for example, through the Upaniṣads’ eternal ātman) in which there is a deeper misconception: for example, what one is inevitably influenced by as they grow (such as intrinsic motivation). Because Jayarāśi’s skepticism segments theoretical ignorance, he relies on the actions of the common sense too heavily. Candrakirti, on the other hand, criticizes innate ignorance and in doing so acknowledges (quite backhandedly) that his philosophical opponents indeed hold true to the fact that, whatever misconceptions they may advocate, those misconceptions spread by “common sense” are at least as unfavorable. Candrakirti thus advocates that even without philosophy, we are mired in ignorance far more deeply than we are ruled by it (Stcherbatsky, 139­42).

 

In his Pramāṇasamuccaya, Dignāga, another skeptic, claims that there are two means of knowledge: (pramāṇas) perception and (pratyakṣa) and inference (anumāna) (Arnold, 223). As perception has as its object the particular (svalakṣana) and inference has as its object the universal (sāmānyalakṣana), the chief distinguishing feature between the two is that “perception is free from kalpanā (imagination, or conceptual construction)” (Arnold on Pramāṇasamuccaya, 232­36). This is an exclusive (and disarming) dichotomy because any means of knowledge must thus, either be of perception or inference, but not both. Despite this, Candrakirti still offers the following counter­argument against Dignāga: “… If it is said that there are two means of knowledge (pramāṇas) through adherence to two characteristics – particular and universal, then that characterized thing, of which there are two characterizing marks (i.e., particular and universal), does that exist, or on the other hand, does it not exist? If it exists, then there is another third object of knowledge (prameya) than those two, so how are there two means? On the other hand, if that which is characterized does not exist, then the characterization is also without a basis, so how could there be two means of knowledge?” (Arnold on Prasannapāda, 238­43).

 

In reference back to Jayarāśi, he firmly establishes his argument by obliterating the possibility of simultaneity (as proposed by Candrakirti) in the impossibility of considering the duality argument. First, Jayarāśi begins with the concept that, like perception, inference apprehends itself, but agrees that neither can apprehend the other (according to Dignāga). Jayarāśi further concludes that “Thus, talking or thinking about the number [of means of knowledge] being two is impossible” (Stcherbatsky, 219­21).

 

As he philosophizes that phenomena can be divided between the conceptual kind versus the error­prone conceptual kind, in his essay of Perception, Knowledge, and Disbelief, Eli Franco raises the question of what exactly is conceptual awareness, and in doing so attacks the idea that there indeed can be a cognition about the element of an object that does not exist at all. Connecting back to Candrakirti’s skeptical critique of this very foundationalism, like contemporary philosopher, John Searle, Candrakirti furthers his argument in a structured way of 4 explaining things yet, in essence, has no beliefs at all. In this way, the problems of conceptual construction interfere (and renew) the roots of skepticism which formulate his very “views.” How does one understand the lack of this conceptual contraction, for example (as mentioned above), “How is the object apprehended… By itself, nor is it an apprehended form of cognition” (Stcherbatsky, 209). To identify with this, presumption becomes isolated from inference, in the way that it is not based on something prior experienced­­ in other words, conclusions are not made based on preserved reservations. Like Candrakirti, philosopher Kant is also troubled by the critiques of the skepticism behind inductive knowledge, particularly in regards to synthetic a priori judgement, in which judgements are either synthetic or analytic. For example, a different verbalization of something that is “logically” equivalent is synthetically, anything that is not true by definition­­ and in this way, judgement is thus further divided between the concepts of a priori (from the earlier) versus a posteriori (from the later), which regard earlier judgements in Buddhist epistemology (Arnold, 219). To explain this concept, A priori knowledge can be explained by the inference that, “All bachelors are unmarried,” versus a posteriori knowledge which would claim, “Some bachelors I have met are very happy.”

 

In reference back to Eli Franco, he elaborates on the following presupposition to make the following argument valid:

In order to determine the number of means of valid cognition, one has to have them all as the object of one and the same cognition. However, according to the Buddhists, a cognition is not apprehended by another cognition, but only by itself. Nor is there an ātman which could coordinate the dif erent cognitions. Thus, one may perceive perception by perception, and inference by inference, but never both at the same time. Consequently, whatever the number of means of valid cognition may be, there is no way of knowing it (263).

As Jayarāśi’s argument rules out the possibility of the Buddhist thesis (Nagarjuna) that there are two means of knowledge, Franco ends on Buddhist epistemology with the following: “And when this (i.e., there being two means of knowledge) is not possible, saying ‘There are only two means of knowledge’ is the gesticulation of a fool” (289).

 

In regards to language, Nagarjuna skeptically claims that from the standpoint of “nonexistence,” words, for example, can only be seen as nominally true. For example, one’s own thesis has the ability to deny their own ground in being self­defeating, as this objection would be valid against the view that (asserted in its own inherent existence), the grounded truth is revealed on an ontological basis. However, as Nagarjuna suggests that this is not the case for the account (Arnold, 189) and that rather, according to his analysis, everything (including this very assertion), has only a nominal truth, nothing is either inherently existent or true in virtue of designating an inherently existing fact (Arnold, 192). Skeptical of the notions of emptiness, Nagarjuna seems to seek to toggle at extirpating the roots of suffering, yet, in doing so, seems to become nihilistic (pessimistic­­ life ends up having no means) and the basis of his very own argument becomes emptied­­ in this way, the action itself becomes senseless his realization “amounts to nothing,” as Nagarjuna suggests himself (Arnold, 164).

 

Although at this this point the skeptic paradox may seem to loom, one might argue if emptiness itself, is empty (an issue also brought to light by Nagarjuna), and if “to be empty” is to be merely be “conventional.” In that case, would the emptiness of any phenomenon be, merely, a conventional fact (Arnold, 171)? As though it would appear optional (as all conventions are), it would further seem more liberal to say that things are in fact nonconventional, and therefore nonempty. This would be incoherent with Nagarjuna’s system although the paradox is merely apparent. In this way, the appearance of paradox derives from seeing “conventional” as functioning logically like a negation operator­­ a subtle version of the nihilistic (as mentioned above) reading that Nagarjuna is at pains to avoid the very same conduit.

 

If this were the case, each iteration of the “conventional” would cancel the previous occurrence, and the conventional quality of the fact that things are conventional would amount to the claim that they are really not (or at least that they might not be). Yet, in Nagarjuna’s philosophical approach, the sense of his term is more ontological than logical: for example, to say if a phenomenon or if a fact is conventional enough to characterize its mode of subsistence, is to say that it is without an independent nature. The fact that a phenomenon is without an independent nature is, to be sure, a further phenomenon. But that fact, too, is without an independent nature. It, too, is merely conventional­­ in this way, Chandrakirti’s Madhyamika philosophy is also, in a way, nationalistic. For example, a follower of Plato might advocate (and perhaps Madhyamika would agree) that the elements of a perceptible phenomenon such as its emptiness and its conventional reality (as she or he would assert that these, as properties) are ultimately real. This is exactly where Nagarjuna parts company with all forms of realism. As he gives the properties a nominalistic construal, he asserts that they (including the properties of emptiness and conventionality) are (like all phenomena) merely nominal, merely empty, and merely conventional (Arnold, 283). In terms of their emptiness and conventionality, the nominalism thus undercuts the negative interpretation of “conventional” and thus renders the regress almost harmless, in regards to the realm of skeptics.

 

After a certain amount of observation, Nagarjuna claims that all elements of a claim become empirical. To clarify, the Buddhapalita and Dignaya are followers of the Nagarjuna, as the Bhavaviveka argues that one can use elements derived from the fact as justifiable (yet still unprovable) elements in the argument. Finally, Candrakirti commentates on the Nagarjuna, by attacking other Buddhists but defending glimpses of arguing against everything the opponent says, claiming the logic of his skeptics his seemingly logical. For example, if one can see that opponent is absurd or self­contradictory, one can attack them, while, in the end, one has no positive claims of their own (“Entities do not arise from themselves, such that…”, 99). Here, the word “such” refers to that, though Candrakirti says as soon as one tries to make a positive claim, the method is to attack the opponent and distract the opponent from their own actual views at all.

 

If earlier Buddhists are not skeptics, finding solace in upaya­kaushalya, for example (or finding the “skill in means”)­­ in a certain respect, one can still agree with Jayarāśi that skepticism leads one to accept everyday practice, such as conventional inclinations and habits. Yet, foundational Buddhism escapes those everyday inclinations and habits, and in turn, mires the notion of suffering as mentioned above. If foundational Buddhism is a critique of the everyday life and common sense, this is what Jayarāśi’s skepticism enshrines­­ for Jayarāśi, 8 skepticism is valuable in the way that it rids theoretical fragmentation in enjoying the nuances of ordinary life: “When knowledge is destroyed in this way, everyday practices are made delightful because they are not deliberated” (Franco, 266). This leaves the opponent to re­interpret common sense, yet in the problematic sense of prejudices in which one begins their own inquiries. More importantly, for Candrakirti, everyday life itself is part of the harmful conduct of which skepticism allows itself to transcend.

 

As skepticism can be a way of enshrining one’s own, existing habits without belief, that person also has no way of challenging their natural practices concretely. In this way, skepticism can be seen as a way of measuring what one is already doing. Then, the utmost importance to any prospective skeptic is: what kind of life is one living when one becomes a skeptic? If one adopts skeptical beliefs without a change in habit, would one wind up where Jayarāśi is – something that Candrakirti would consider a disaster? If one has already been carefully practising the bodhisattva path and then becomes a skeptic, can skepticism still keep them on that habitual path? As Candrakirti’s argument is thus more rooted in defeating the opponent’s claim through negative arguments, in the end, where does this leave the audience, and where does this leave the status of ultimate truth? Indeed, although the dissertation between early Indian philosophers still leave these questions unanswered, the renewal of skepticism between these theories merge in the actualization of wanting to claim a phenomenon existential versus non­existential­­ and whether existentialism means for the object (or theory) to be concrete of physical quality, or means for an object of “emptiness” to endure in regards to a specific life span. The notions of simultaneity still abstractify the very proposition that Candrakirti makes in attacking his opponents: to what extent of knowing and not knowing validate the impending means?

 

REFERENCES

Arnold, Daniel Anderson. “Chapters 5­7.” Buddhists, Brahmins, and Belief: Epistemology in South Asian Philosophy of Religion. New York: Columbia UP, 2005. 117+. Print.

Jayarāśi, and Eli Franco. Perception, Knowledge and Disbelief: A Study of Jayarāśi’s Scepticism. Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden, 1987. Print.

Shcherbatskoĭ, F. I., and Candrakīrti. The Conception of Buddhist Nirvāṇa. The Hague: Mouton, 1965. Print.

FOUNDATIONS AND DISSERTATIONS: RENEWED SKEPTICISM IN EARLY INDIAN PHILOSOPHY

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