14 February 2014

Niyama in the Sāṅkhyakārikā and Buddhaghosa's Commentaries.

Rice Plant
via Wikimedia
This essay will briefly outline some ideas from the Sāṅkhyakārikā, the oldest extant Sāṅkhya text, and compare this with ideas expressed by Buddhaghosa in his commentary on the Mahāpadāna Sutta in the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī,  and his Atthasālinī a commentary on the Dhammasaṅgaṇi, an Abhidhamma text. My translations of both of these texts can be found in Source Texts for the Five-fold Niyāma. We've seen that the word niyama means 'restriction' in śāstric Sanskrit (see Dharma-niyama in the Vyākaraṇa-Mahābhāṣya) and here I will reinforce this by showing how the Sāṅkhyakārikā uses the word, with a few notes on how this was taken up in the Yogasūtras attributed to Patañjali. In addition I will note certain similarities between the Sāṅkhya notion of causality and the way that Buddhaghosa uses the word niyama to highlight restrictions on the processes of causality.

The Sāṅkhyakārikā  (SK) is a sūtra style text composed ca. 350-450 CE and attributed to Īśvarakṛṣṇa. In Indian literature sūtra style generally means it is aphoristic, terse, and generally requiring a good deal of unpacking. It is partly this general meaning of the word that makes scholars consider the Buddhist use of sūtra to translation Pāli sutta to be a hyper-Sanskritisation for sukta. In any case the SK outlines the darśana or philosophy of the Sāṅkhya school of Indian thought. It is non-Vedic (indeed it is critical of the Vedas) and concerned with soteriology. The basic Sāṅkhya view was adapted by Yoga schools (they added Īśvara or god to this originally nāstika darśana for example).

The characteristic idea of Sāṅkhya is a doctrine known as satkārya which states that the product of causation already exists in the cause. The Sāṅkhya world is analysed into a hierarchy of 24 elements or tattvas which are produced when unmanifest nature is disrupted by puruṣa (literally 'man' but here meaning something like 'soul'). What results is the manifest world (vyaktam). The 24 elements result from the interactions of three qualities: sattva 'purity', rajas 'passion', and tamas 'darkness'. Kārikā 12 of the SK gives us an outline of the three guṇas that uses the word niyama.

Here the three guṇas or qualities are each said to have a particular essence (ātmaka) and a purpose (artha).
prītyapṛitiviṣādātmakāḥ prakāśapravṛttiniyamārthāḥ |
anyo’anyābhibhavāśrayajananamithunavṛttiyaśca gunāḥ ||12||
The guṇas have the essence of pleasure, pain, and apathy; and the purpose of illumination, activity, and restriction;
And their functions with respect to each other are suppressing, supporting, producing, and forming pairs.
In particular the guṇa tamas or darkness has the purpose of niyama or restriction. Kārikā 13 adds that tamas is heavy (guru) and enveloping or enclosing (varaṇaka). The weight and restriction of tamas is implicitly contrasted in kārikā 12 with the pravṛtti 'activity, energy, restlessness' of rajas. In the Yogasūtras of Patañjali, which draw on Sāṅkhya thought, niyama takes on an applied meaning of a vow to be observed. Here I want to focus on how Īśvarakṛṣṇa uses niyama alongside adjectives like "heavy" and "enveloping". Incidentally one of the more popular commentaries on SK, by Gaudapada, comments here that "Tamas is adapted to restrain, i.e. is competent at fixation." (niyamārthaṃ tamaḥ sthitau samartham ity artha). Here sthiti 'fixing, stopping, halting' (from √sthā 'to stand, to remain') is offered as a word with a similar sense (not quite a synonym): that which restricts the movement of X, causes X to stand still or be fixed. And this is the role of tamas which helps us to zero in on how the word niyama is used in śāstric Sanskrit.

This way of thinking may well have influenced Buddhaghosa when he composed the fivefold niyama not just in the sense of the word itself. Buddhaghosa seems to have some of the same concerns over the limitations of causality that we see in SK 9.
asad akaraṇād upādānagrahaṇāt sarvasambhavābhāvāt;
śaktasya śakyakaraṇāt kāraṇabhāvāc ca sat kāryam. ||9||
Because the non-existent cannot be made, because of the grasping of the material basis, and because not all possibilities exist;
Because the making is possible [only] of what is capable [to be made]; and because of existence in a cause, the product exists. 
This is the fundamental statement of the Sāṅkhya idea of causality, satkāryavāda, i.e. that the effects already exist in the cause. No causation ex nihilo is possible, a substrate (upādāna) is necessary, things cannot arise haphazardly, things can only be produced by what is capable of producing them. Whether these reasons necessitate satkāryavāda is moot, but these are the supporting arguments given in SK. 

How does this relate to Buddhaghosa? SK says sarvasambhavābhāvāt "because not all possibilities exist" which means that things cannot arise haphazardly; also śaktasya śakyakaraṇāt "because the making is possible [only] of what [the cause] is capable of" which means that a cause is only capable of producing that which it is capable of producing. The same restrictions apply in Buddhaghosa's schema of conditionality, which insists on a non-random and more-or-less inevitable relationship between cause and effect. For Buddhaghosa this restriction in a non-random process has the flavour of inevitability.

In his use of the word niyama, Buddhaghosa was most at pains to emphasise the inevitability of karmic retribution. The inevitable production of vedanā by karma is mirrored in the natural processes of plants coming to fruition and the arrival of the monsoon rains in season. For Buddhaghosa, the production of cognitions from sense contact was a perfectly analogous process. In his commentarial texts which employ the fivefold niyama, Buddhaghosa spends most time illuminating the process of karma and insisting on the inevitability of it. This is the focus of his use of the concept of niyama, it is what the commentaries insist on. The restriction on karma is that the fruits of actions must inevitably ripen. Later commentators using the fivefold niyama schema focus more on the production of cognitions. 

We can see then that restriction and inevitability are two sides of the same coin. If a process can only unfold in a restricted way, then there is a certain inevitability to it. If one plants a rice seed then the restriction on cause and effect says that one a rice plant can grow from it. In other words it is inevitable that a rice plant comes from a rice seed. Buddhaghosa calls this bījaniyama - the restriction on seeds, or the inevitability of seeds. Of course elsewhere in the Buddhist world they began to treat actions as more literally creating seeds that are held in a receptacle (ālaya) in some part of the mind (vijñāna), but that is another story. 

Buddhaghosa adds that the miracles accompanying the main events of the life of a Buddha are said to be of the same type of inevitability as these natural processes (dhammatā). They are things that inevitably happen when a Buddha is conceived, born, becomes awakened and dies. This he calls dhammaniyama

So when Buddhaghosa reads: imasmin sati idaṃ hoti he does not see this an optional or contingent on any other fact. For Buddhaghosa there is a restriction on the way causation happens: when the condition is present (imasmin sati) then it is inevitable (niyama) that the conditioned must exist (idam hoti). This is particularly so in the case of the restriction on karma (kammaniyama). Having acted the results of the act follow one unerringly. To illustrate this point in the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī Buddhaghosa uses the Dhammapada verse 127.
Not in the sky, nor the middle of the ocean,
Nor in a mountain cave;
Though terrified there is nowhere on earth,
Where one might escape from an evil action.
Furthermore in the Atthasālinī niyama passage he expands on this using the commentarial back story to this same verse. In this text about one half is given over to the discussion of restrictions on karma, about one quarter to the restrictions on the processes of the mind, and one quarter to the rest. In both cases dhammaniyama solely refers to the miraculous events during the life of a Buddha.

At the very least, Īśvarakṛṣṇa, the author of the Sāṅkhyakārikā, and Buddhaghosa, author of the pañcavidha niyama, shared an interest in the limitations or restrictions which were observed in relation to causation. Neither man accepted that causation is random or completely unpredictable. On the contrary both see the universe as having an order to it that places limitations on how change occurs. Buddhaghosa's notion of utuniyama and bījaniyama would have been obvious to Īśvarakṛṣṇa. We too can see that if we plant rice we must get a rice plant and not an oak tree; and that the monsoon does not come at random, but at roughly the same time each year. The use of such analogies is widespread in Indian literature.

So if the universe has an order, and that order imposes restrictions on the functioning of causation, then is it not acceptable to speak of "orders of conditionality"? I still think this is not the case. Primarily because Buddhaghosa is at pains to describe a single type of restriction than manifests in five different ways. This is why Buddhaghosa, unlike modern exegetes, uses the singular "fivefold niyama" and not the plural "five niyamas". This is in contrast to the Yogasūtras of Patañjali (though the attribution is disputed and the date uncertain) which speak of pañca niyamāḥ 'five niyamas'. (Sūtra 32). In the YS niyama is often translated as 'observance', but it means 'a restriction on behaviour'. The five restrictions are: cleanliness (śauca), contentment (santoṣa), austerity (tapas), study (svādhyāya), and devotion (praṇidhāna).

So, there are not five restrictions on causality, but only one. This one restriction can be observed in five different areas of experience (if we count the supernatural aspects of dhamma-niyama as experiential, which is moot). Because of this there is in fact no implied hierarchy in Buddhaghosa's fivefold schema and the number five is arbitrary. The schema is neither systematic nor comprehensive. Though Buddhaghosa himself placed differing emphasis on each of the five aspects, we can see that this emphasis was purely rhetorical. Buddhaghosa was addressing a particular set of problems when he employed this schema, not speculating about causation more generally. Later Pāli commentaries placed a different emphasis.

Of the five aspects of restricted causation the seed (bīja) and seasonal (utu) restrictions are obvious to anyone (the same restrictions occur to Īśvarakṛṣṇa). The action (karma) and mental (citta) restrictions are obvious enough to a person who is well versed in the metaphysics of karma and rebirth, and in the Buddhist account of cognition. Or perhaps one might argue that they become obvious to anyone willing to examine their experience using Buddhist practices. The dharmic restriction is just something we have to take Buddhaghosa's word for. It is a supernatural belief, and thus not amenable to empirical study. Though it might make an interesting foil to these people who pop up from time to time claiming to be "the second Buddha."* If the "10,000 world system" did not shake when you were born, then you are not a Buddha, because this is what inevitably happens. And maybe that was Buddhaghosa's point too?


* As a little aside, Liverpuddlian musical comedian Mitch Benn is currently touring a show called Mitch Benn is the 37th Beatle. An edited version is on BBC iPlayer [UK only] until 21 Feb. He counted up all the "5th Beatle" candidates and got to 36. Then added himself. I wonder how many "second Buddhas" there might have been so far? 

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