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A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 1

Works and suffers the cycles of rebirth sa@msara


is sometimes objected to this doctrine that if all appearances


are false, then they do not exist at all. There are then no good or bad works and no cycle of existence, and if such is the case, then it may be argued that no philosophical discussion should be attempted. But the reply to such an objection is that the nihilistic doctrine is engaged in destroying the misplaced confidence of the people that things are true. Those who are really wise do not find anything either false or true, for to them clearly they do not exist at all and they do not trouble themselves with the question of their truth or falsehood. For him who knows thus there are neither works nor cycles of births (_sa@msara_) and also he does not trouble himself about the existence or non-existence of any of the appearances. Thus it is said in the Ratnaku@tasutra that howsoever carefully one may search one cannot discover consciousness (_citta_); what cannot be perceived cannot be said to exist, and what does not exist is neither past, nor future, nor present, and as such it cannot be said to have any nature at all; and that which has no nature is subject neither to origination nor to extinction. He who through his false knowledge (_viparyyasa_) does not comprehend the falsehood of all appearances, but thinks them to be real, works and suffers the cycles of rebirth (_sa@msara_). Like all illusions, though false these appearances can produce

all the harm of rebirth and sorrow.

It may again be objected that if there is nothing true according to the nihilists (_s'unyavadins_), then their statement that there is no origination or extinction is also not true. Candrakirtti in replying to this says that with s'unyavadins the truth is absolute silence. When the S'unyavadin sages argue, they only accept for the moment what other people regard as reasons, and deal with them in their own manner to help them to come to a right comprehension of all appearances. It is of no use to say, in spite of all arguments tending to show the falsehood of all appearances, that they are testified by our experience, for the whole thing that we call "our experience" is but false illusion inasmuch as these phenomena have no true essence.

When the doctrine of pratityasamutpada is described as "this being that is," what is really meant is that things can only be indicated as mere appearances one after another, for they have no essence or true nature. Nihilism (_s'unyavada_) also means just this. The true meaning of pratityasamutpada or s'unyavada is this, that there is no truth, no essence in all phenomena that


appear [Footnote ref 1]. As the phenomena have no essence they are neither produced nor destroyed; they really neither come nor go. They are merely the appearance of maya or illusion. The void (_s'unya_) does not mean pure negation, for that is relative to some kind of position. It simply means that none of the appearances have any intrinsic nature of their own (_ni@hsvabhavatvam_).

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