Theory of causation in Indian Vedic philosophies

The basic question involved in any theory of causation is: “Does the effect pre-exist in its material cause?” Those who answer this question negatively are called Astkaryavadins (Nyaya, Vaisesika, Buddhism and some followers of Mimansa) while those answering it in positive are called Satkaryavadins (Samkhya, Yoga, Mimansa and Advait).

Nyaya (and Vaisheshik) theory of causation
They believe in Asatkaryavada i. e. the effect does not pre-exist in its material cause but is a new creation, a real beginning. They said, if the cloth already exists in the threads, then why should not the threads serve the purpose of the cloth?

A cause is defined as an unconditional and invariable consequent of a cause. The same cause produce the same effect and the same effect is produced by the same cause. Plurality of causes is ruled out. The essential characteristics of a cause are its
1. antecedence: the fact that it should precede the effect,
2. invariability: it must invariably precede the effect and
3. unconditionality

Antecedence is immediate and direct antecedence and excludes the fallacy or remote cause.
Thus, the Nyaya definition of a cause appears to be the same as that in western inductive logic. Hume defines a cause as an invariable antecedent. Carveth Read points out that unconditionally includes immediacy. A cause, therefore, is an unconditional, immediate and invariable antecedent of an effect. Nyaya recognizes five kinds of accidental antecedents which are not real causes.

  1. The qualities of a cause are mere accidental antecedents. The color of a potter’s staff is not the cause of a pot.
  2. The cause of a cause or a remote cause is not unconditional. The potter’s father is not the cause of a pot.
  3. The co-effect of a cause are themselves not causally related. The sound produced by the potter’s staff is not the cause of a pot, though if may invariably precede the pot. Night and day are not causally related.
  4. Unnecessary things like the potter’s ass are not unconditional antecedents; though the potter’s ass may be invariably present when the potter is making a pot, yet it is not the cause of the pot. A cause must be an unconditional and necessary antecedent. Nyaya emphasizes the sequence view of causality. Cause and effect are never simultaneous.
  5. Plurality of causes is also wrong because causal relation is reciprocal. The same effect cannot be produced by the other cause. Each effect has its distinctive features and has only one specific cause.

Like Western logic, the Nyaya regards a cause as the sum-total of the conditions, positive and negative, taken together. The cause is an aggregate of the unconditional or necessary and in variable antecedent conditions which are called karanasamagri. The absence of negative counteracting conditions is called pratibandhaka bhava. An effect is defined as the counter-entity of its own prior non-existence. It is the negation of its own prior-negation. It comes into being and destroys its prior non-existence. It was non-existent before its production. It did not pre-exist in its cause. It is a fresh beginning, a new creation.

Thus, Nyaya-Vaishesika view of causation is directly opposed to the Samkhya-Yoga and Vedanta view of Satkaryavada. It is called asatkaryavada or arambhavada. The effect is non-existent before its creation and is a new beginning (arambha), a fresh creation, an epigenesis. It is distinct from its cause and can never be identical with it. It is neither an appearance nor a transformation of the cause. It is newly brought into existence by the operation of the cause. There are three kinds of causes – samavayi, asamavayyi and nimitta.

1. Samavayi or the inherent cause: It is also called as the. It is the substance out of which the effect is produced. For example, the threads are the inherent cause of the cloth and the clay is the inherent cause of a pot. The effect inheres in its material cause. The cloth inheres in the threads. The effect cannot exist separately from its material cause, though the cause can exist independently of its effect. The material cause is always a substance. upadana or the material cause.
2. Asamavayi or non-inherent cause:. It inheres in the material cause and helps the production of the effect. The conjunction of the threads which inheres in the threads is the non-inherent cause of the cloth of which the threads are the material or the inherent cause. The color of the threads is the non-inherent cause both co-inhere in the material cause. The non-inherent cause is always a quality or an action.
3. Nimitta of efficient cause: It is the power which helps the material cause is nimitta of efficient. It is the power which helps the material cause to produce the effect. The weaver is the efficient cause of the cloth. The efficient cause includes the accessories, e.g., the loom and shuttle of the weaver or the staff and wheel of the potter. The efficient cause may be a substance, a quality or an action.

Sometimes a distinction is made between a general or an ordinary and a peculiar or an extraordinary cause.
Eight general causes are space, time, God’s knowledge, God’s will, merit, demerit, prior non-existence and absence of counteracting factors.
The extraordinary cause is called the Karma or the instrumental cause and is included in the efficient cause. It is the motive power which immediately produces the effect, e.g., the staff of the potter. The modern Nyaya ( Navya-Nyaya) regards the efficiency itself which inheres in this cause as the real instrumental cause.

The inherent cause, the non-inherent cause, the efficient cause and the purpose seem to correspond to Aristotle’s material, formal, efficient and final causes.

“Causes” or “karanas” are divided into two categories by all: “nimitta” and “upadana“. You need earth or clay as a material to make a pot. So earth is the upadana for the pot. But how does it become a pot? Does it become a pot by itself? It has to be shaped by a potter. So the potter is the cause- he is the nimitta.

The Ishvar in views of Nayaya and Samkhya
Nyaya and Vaisesika believe that Isvara created the universe with the ultimate particles called “anu-s (atoms)”. Here Isvara is considered as the nimitta-karana and the “anus” are the upadana-karana. To shape the clay into a pot a potter is needed. Without him there is no earthen pot, or in other words, the pot without the potter is non-existent. So when he shapes it out of clay he is the cause and the pot the effect. This is called “arambha-vada” or “asat-karya-vada”. “Sat” means that which exists (the real) and “asat” that which does not. There is no pot in mere clay. The non-existent pot is produced from the clay. It is in similar fashion that Isvara created the universe with the “anu-s” – what he created did not exist in the particles. This is the doctrine of Nyaya.

Samkhya does not believe in an Isvara. According to them Prakrti itself exfoliated into the universe. Such a belief is not to be mistaken for the contemporary athestic view because Samkhya also postulates a Purusa who is jnana, similar to the Nirguna-Brahman. According to it the inert Prakrti can function in such an orderly fashion only in the presence of Purusa. The presence of Purusa is the cause but he is not directly involved in creation. Crops grow on their own in the sunshine. Water dries up, clothes become dry and it is all because of the sun. Does the sun worry about which crop is to be grown or which pond is to be dried up? Your hand becomes numb when you hold a lump of ice in it. Is it right to reason that it is the intention of ice to benumb your hand? Similar is the case with Purusa for he is not attached to creation. But with the power received from him, Prakrti creates the world out of itself. There is no Isvara as a nimitta-karana. According to Samkhya, Prakrti has transformed itself as the created world. This is called “parinama-vada”.

Creation in views of Nayaya, Samkhya and Advaita
While asat-karya-vada is the principle on which the naiyayikas base their view of creation, supporters of Sankhya base their theory on sat-karya-vada.

Nyaya-Vaisheshik argues that the clay is the upadana (material cause) for the making of the non-existent pot while the potter is the nimitta or efficient cause.

Samkhya sat-karya-vadins argue thus: “The pot was there in the clay in the beggining itself. The oil-monger presses the sesame seeds to extract the oil that is already present in them. Similarly, the pot concealed in the clay emerged as a result of the work of the potter. It is only by using the clay that you can make the pot. You cannot make a pot with sesame seeds nor do you get oil by pressing the clay. To this Nyaya points out that the pots are all anu-s of the clay; they came into existence by the anu-s being shaped. ”

Advait-vadin sat-karya-vadins says: “There is neither arambha-vada nor parinama-vada here. It is the Brahman, with its power of Maya, that appears in the disguise of creation. For the potter who is the Paramatman there is no other entity other than himself called clay. So the arambha-vada is not right. To say that Paramatman transformed himself into the cosmos is like saying that the milk turns into curd. The curd is not the same as the milk. Would it not be wrong to state that the Paramatman became non-existent after becoming the cosmos? So the parinama-vada is also not valid. On the one hand, the Paramatman remains pure jnana, as nothing but awareness, and, on the other, he shows himself through the power of his Maya as all this universe with its living-beings and its inert objects. It is all the appearence of the same Reality, the Reality in various disguises. If a man dons a disguise he does not become another man. Similar is the case with all these disguises, all this jugglary of the universe, with all the apparent diversity, the one Reality remains unchanged.” This argument is known as “vivarta-vada”. There is vivarta in the phenomenon of a rope appearing to be a snake. The upadana-karana (material cause) that is the rope does not change into a snake by nimitta-karana (efficient cause). So the arambha-vada does not apply here. The rope does not transform itself into a snake; but on account of our nescience (avidya) it seems to us to be a snake. Similarly, on account of our ajnana or avidya the Brahman too seems to us as this world and such a vast plurality of entities.

Contribution of Nyaya
Nyaya lays the steps by which we may go further to realize the truth on which our Acarya has shed light. Nyaya and Vaisesika teach us how we may become aware of padarthas (categories) through reasoning and become detatched from them to realise “apavarga” in which there is neither sorrow nor joy. But they do not take us to a higher realm. Dualism also has it’s limitations thus. To grasp the One Reality that is non-dual and realise inwardly that we too are that Reality is to experience absolute liberation. It must be said as one of the distinctive features of Nyaya that it inspires us to go in quest of apavarga by creating discontent in in our worldly existence. Another of its distinguishing features is that it employs all its resources of reasoning to contend against the doctrines of the Buddhists, the Sankhyas and Carvakas to establish the principle of Isvara as Karta (Creator).


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2 Responses to “Theory of causation in Indian Vedic philosophies”

  1. Apurva Tripathi Says:

    very nice. There is need to work on the causation in context of indian philosophical schools. I’m working on the topic Vedantic theory of causation. I find your article useful. I can see your hard work indirectly by reading your article.

  2. Ritesh smith Says:

    Really , very well explained

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