Nagarjuna and Time

Nagarjuna and Time

vitali

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/r/Buddhism on Reddit — see comments by Kyle Dixon (Krodha), very clear on the Madhyamaka’s perspective of Time

Nagarjuna and Time self.Buddhism

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[–]krodha 14 points 1 year ago 
Nāgārjuna devotes an entire chapter to “time” in his Mulamadhyamakakarika, offering three different arguments against time.
The first:

Three arguments regarding time are presented. The first argument is a reprise of the production argument and relies on the common-sense view that time is split into past, present and future. Nagarjuna argues if the “parts” of time have own-being, the conception of time quickly loses its coherence. If “the past” is considered to produce “the present” and “the future,” the latter two parts would be already “in” the past and could therefore not be properly said to have separate being. On the other hand, if the present and the future are separate from the past, then their very unconnectedness leaves them uncaused, independent and without reference to the past. But since the very notions of present and future imply a relation to the past, this is self-contradictory. Therefore, the present and future do not exist. Neither identity with nor difference from the past is sufficient to establish the reality of the present and future. In a similar fashion, the independence of any of the parts of time can be attacked on the basis of their inseparability and necessary reference to each other. The past, for example, can not be independent because it is nonsensical if it does not terminate in the present and future.

The second:

…if time is acknowledged to be continuously fleeting, there are no absolute static components of it that can be experienced (or, perhaps, “grasped” by the mind). If we propose, as the Abhidharmic metaphysicians held, that there can be a “static moment” of time, it would no longer count as time. Time in and of itself can never be grasped.

The third:

The third and final argument shows that time can not be considered to be a self-existing thing that is somehow not dependent on other existing objects. This is because, as Nagarjuna has shown, there are no independent “objects” in the world, nor could time be itself truly independent as long as it remained defined by its relation to such supposed entities. To place the argument in more contemporary terms, time is not a self-existing substratum or arena in which equally independent things endure or independent events occur.

This third argument is the most stand-out. Nāgārjuna essentially says that our perception of time is predicated upon our perception of objects, however since objects cannot actually be found when sought due to their inability to withstand keen scrutiny, time is a misconception and is a figment of delusion.

[–][deleted] 4 points 1 year ago 

This third argument is the most stand-out. Nāgārjuna essentially says that our perception of time is predicated upon our perception of objects, however since objects cannot actually be found when sought due to their inability to withstand keen scrutiny, time is a misconception and is a figment of delusion.

Ah so Nagarjuna was essentially a nominalist regarding universals but went further by claiming that everything is an illusion without denying conventional reality?
So how is “change” accounted in his views if time is a misconception? Is change only viable through experience which itself is a delusion?

[–]krodha 13 points 1 year ago* 

Ah so Nagarjuna was essentially a nominalist regarding universals

Buddhism in general denies universals both conventionally and ultimately. Particulars are allowed a conventional status but are negated ultimately.

but went further by claiming that everything is an illusion without denying conventional reality?

Phenomena are illusory according to Buddhism because they appear while lacking a substantial essence, like a mirage or a reflection. From the standpoint of relative truth, which is a species of cognition according to adepts like Candrakīrti, phenomena appear solid and real. However this perception of solidity and substantiality is considered a byproduct of ignorance [avidyā]. Once ignorance is exhausted then the veridical nature of phenomena is known and phenomena appears like an illusion – see the eight examples of illusion which attempt to communicate a perception of ultimate truth.

So how is “change” accounted in his views if time is a misconception? Is change only viable through experience which itself is a delusion?

There are also chapters on change, coming and going, movement etc., in his Mulamadhyamakakarika.
Change likewise only appears to be valid from the standpoint of ignorance which cognizes entities, once that knowledge obscuration is uprooted then one no longer perceives entities and therefore the notion of change is also realized to be a misconception.
Nāgārjuna’s deconstruction of coming and going and movement are of course far more elaborate. Many of his arguments in the MMK are being leveled at trends of substantialism that had started appearing in Buddhism during that time. Nāgārjuna believed the buddha’s intention was misunderstood and was slowly becoming lost as a result.

[–][deleted] 5 points 1 year ago* 
Interesting. Is this also related to the no-self doctrine? The self is an illusion and a byproduct of ignorance manifested from our inability to comprehend our interconnected psychological elements lacking genuine essence and thus, creating an illusory entity? Would that be something close to what dependent origination means in that context? Of course i assume that nirvana is needed for that ignorance to subside.
I guess that makes rebirth somewhat plausible in the sense that the summation of our elements are transferred without an actual identity since our identities are illusion, which is in stark contrast to Pythagorean or Platonic ideas of transmigration of the soul. So children remembering their past lives isn’t as implausible as previously thought.
[–]krodha 13 points 1 year ago* 

Interesting. Is this also related to the no-self doctrine?

Yes, phenomena ultimately lack a substantial essence [svabhāva] and therefore lack an essential identity, this is the real meaning of selflessness or no-self [anātman].

The self is an illusion and a byproduct of ignorance manifested from our inability to comprehend our interconnected psychological elements lacking genuine essence and thus, creating an illusory entity?

Precisely, although I would say the self merely “appears” as a result of our inability to recognize its genuine nature as insubstantial and illusory. “Appear” being the operative term because if we understand that the perception of identity results from a failure to recognize a lack of essence in phenomena, then it is equally understood that the misconception of identity is a mere appearance and thus nothing is ever truly “created” at any point.
When we perceive identity in persons and phenomena we are only ever relating to our own ignorance, like seeing a rope in a dark room and mistaking it to be a snake. The snake merely “appears” as a result of our failure to recognize the rope, the snake never actually originates or is created at any point in time, and when we recognize the actual nature of the alleged snake, then we see it never originated in the first place.

Would that be something close to what dependent origination means in that context?

Yes this is exactly what dependent origination means. Phenomena only appear to originate in dependence upon our ignorance regarding their actual nature. Nāgārjuna is very clear about this, for example in his Yuktiṣāṣṭikakārikā he states:

When the perfect gnosis sees that things come from ignorance as condition, nothing will be objectified, either in terms of arising or destruction.

And,

Devoid of locus, there is nothing to objectify; rootless, they have no fixed abode; They arise totally from the cause of ignorance, utterly devoid of beginning, middle and end.

This has large scale implications as well, which is why Nāgārjuna sometimes uses the example of the world itself. From the same text:

Since the Buddhas have stated that the world is conditioned by ignorance, why is it not reasonable [to assert] that this world is [a result of] conceptualization? Since it comes to an end when ignorance ceases; why does it not become clear then that it was conjured by ignorance?

The unreality of the world is also mentioned in his Acintyastavaḥ and Lokātītastava, where it is said it manifests due to the imagination, likened to a mirage, or a child that is born, lives and dies in a dream.
This is why many adepts are explicitly clear that dependent origination [pratityasamutpada] is synonymous with a lack of origination [anutpāda], because phenomena that originate in dependence on ignorance as a cause, never actually originate at all. We see many adepts state that they are equivalent, Candrakīrti for example:

The perfectly enlightened buddhas-proclaimed, “What is dependently created [dependently arisen] is uncreated [non-arisen].”

Or Mañjuśrī:

Whatever is dependently originated does not truly arise.

Nāgārjuna, once again:

What originates dependently is unoriginated!

Moving on…

Of course i assume that nirvana is needed for that ignorance to subside.

Yes, nirvana is defined as the total cessation of ignorance, or the total cessation of cause for the arising of samsara.

I guess that makes rebirth somewhat plausible in the sense that the summation of our elements are transferred without an actual identity since our identities are illusion,

Right, essentially all that is reincarnating (or being ‘reborn’) are causes and conditions, which is the only thing that is ever occurring. Afflicted aggregates beget afflicted aggregates, each serving as simultaneous cause and effect. So there is no individual ‘soul’ or entity as such that is being reborn… and ironically, the fact that there is no inherent soul or permanent entity is precisely why rebirth is possible.
Causes and conditions proliferate ceaselessly where there is a fertile basis for said proliferation. These factors create the illusion of consistency in conditoned phenomena (phenomena capable of existing and/or not-existing), and the illusion of an enduring entity which was allegedly born, exists in time and will eventually cease. Ultimately, the so-called entity is simply patterns of afflicted propensities, habitual tendencies etc. however over time, these factors become fortified and solidified creating the appearance of an autonomous sentient being. The point of the buddhadharma is to cut through this dense build up of conditioning and ideally dispel it altogether.
Rebirth is the result of unceasing karmic (cause and effect) activity. If ignorance of the unreality of that activity is not uprooted, then said activity simply persists indefinitely. An easy example is the fact that we wake up in the morning with the feeling that we are the same individual who fell asleep the night before, however all that has persisted are aggregates that appropriate further aggregates, ad infinitum. We as deluded sentient beings do not realize that there is no actual continuity to the appearance of these so-called aggregates, and so that ignorance acts as fuel for further unfolding of the illusion of a substantiated, core, essential identity in persons and phenomena (and the habitual behavior and conditioning predicated upon that ignorance serves as the conditions for the continual arising of said illusion). If these causes and conditions are not resolved then the process simply goes on and on through apparent lifetimes, the entire process being akin to an unreal charade.
Nāgārjuna is also very clear about this, for example from his Pratītyadsamutpādakarika:

Empty (insubstantial and essenceless) dharmas (phenomena) are entirely produced from dharmas strictly empty; dharmas without a self and [not] of a self. Words, butter lamps, mirrors, seals, fire crystals, seeds, sourness and echoes. Although the aggregates are serially connected, the wise are to comprehend nothing has transferred. Someone, having conceived of annihilation, even in extremely subtle existents, he is not wise, and will never see the meaning of “arisen from conditions.”

and In his Pratītyasamutpādakarikavhyakhyana, Nāgārjuna states in reply to a question:

Question: “Nevertheless, who is the lord of all, creating sentient beings, who is their creator?”
Nāgārjuna replies: “All living beings are causes and results.”

And in the same text:

Therein, the aggregates are the aggregates of matter, sensation, ideation, formations and consciousness. Those, called “serially joined”, not having ceased, produce another produced from that cause; although not even the subtle atom of an existent has transmigrated from this world to the next.

It is a completely agentless process driven by affliction.

which is in stark contrast to Pythagorean or Platonic ideas of transmigration of the soul.

Yes, it is also in contrast to the Hindu definitions of reincarnation that involves a substantial essence.

So children remembering their past lives isn’t as implausible as previously thought.

Certainly not implausible, karmic imprints on the mindstream persist.

[–][deleted] 3 points 1 year ago 
Thanks for the clarification, that was a fantastic answer. I will ask more once i encounter something that i have trouble with.
[–]sruffian 3 points 1 year ago 
/u/krodha gave a wonderful answer.

Is this also related to the no-self doctrine?

Madhyamaka holds that objects have no inherent being. The same applies to what we tend to perceive as the self – it does not exist independently of anything. It may appear that way to us, but as we begin to investigate it’s nature, we see will see that it has no independent existence. This is, indeed, firmly rooted in the idea of dependent origination.
Other schools will have different interpretations of the ‘no-self doctrine’ that you allude to. Some see the self falling apart under scrutiny. Madhyamaka sees the self and all other objects as lacking any inherent independent existence under scrutiny.

Of course i assume that nirvana is needed for that ignorance to subside.

Madhyamaka would probably state that seeing the nature of things is necessary to rid oneself of delusion
Finally, while I’m not going to get in on Madhyamaka ideas on the basis for rebirth, you’re heading the right direction in moving away from western ideas of transmigration of the soul. Good job getting outside that framework.
There’s a great Lam Rim teaching by HHDL where he talks in depth about Madhyamaka and Nagarjuna. Very accessible, and helps set up the context for Nagarjuna’s work well. It was published as “From Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Tsong-kha-pa’s Classic Text The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”

[–][deleted] 2 points 1 year ago 

There’s a great Lam Rim teaching by HHDL where he talks in depth about Madhyamaka and Nagarjuna. Very accessible, and helps set up the context for Nagarjuna’s work well. It was published as “From Here to Enlightenment: An Introduction to Tsong-kha-pa’s Classic Text The Great Treatise on the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment”

Excellent. I’ve been looking forward to obtaining introductory information regarding Tsong-kha-pa’s epistemology as well so this could be very useful.

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