Has anyone read Nagarjuna as claiming only that an effect can never be conceived of as its cause?

I'm asking because it would neatly fit my own views on how to understand science, as well as I think rendering annihilation a conceptual impossibilty (for reasons other than that thesis assuming a person).

  • i want to delete the question
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 26, 2017 at 23:34
  • Why do you want to delete it? Might it be possible to improve the question or the answers, instead?
    – ChrisW
    Commented Jul 28, 2017 at 7:37
  • @ChrisW hm not sure. the question makes sense, as it is, it's just that it's not a very interesting / good one. i thought the reply may have same bearing on textual understanding, but my motivation was silly
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 21:51
  • rarely a good question with depth here, nice! i recall in Madhyamaka: 穀子中芽無所從來 (the sprout comes from nothingness of the grain) [slit the grain found no sprout in it]... 若果非有生 亦復非無生 亦非有無生 何得言有緣 (if the effect is not a production [生], neither non-production, nor production and non-production, how renders it there the cause)... rendering annihilation a conceptual impossibilty that is very insightful :) you may like to read about the Zeno's Paradoxes as well. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:17
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    usually the one who doesn't understand Nagarjuna will refute him, or those who never read his works will; or read the bad translations. Anyone who caught a spark will be so captivated by an extra-ordinary mind. Nag's original texts (his very original was lost) exist only in Chinese translated by Kumarajiva. The later Sanskrit was back-translated from Chi. Seemed Kum (my personal reading of his works) was so fascinated by and admired Nag he particularly wrote a biography for him, only 2 pages very easy to read but very interesting storylines I wonder if anyone translated it. Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 18:40

5 Answers 5


See "Mula-madhyamaka-karika" by Nagarjuna:

Neither from itself nor from another,

Nor from both,

Nor without a cause,

Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.

Later Chandrakirti wrote detailed explanations of these ideas.

The purpose was to demonstrate the middle way between extremes of eternalism and nihilism regarding causes.

Otherwise causes could be viewed as "substance of self" of phenomena.

For practical purposes, we can meditate thusly:

  1. Realize that all things depend on causes,

and therefore they lack independent existence.

For example, my feelings depend on causes. All my thoughts depend on causes. Also my wishes and my actions all depend on causes.

Therefore, is there anything in "me" this moment, not dependent on something else?

  1. Then realize also that causality itself is illusory.

For example, we can contemplate that causality is rather our assumption than reliably known truth.

We guess that this is the cause of that. But it's just our guess, conventional truth. In the absolute sense, we can not ultimately know it.

"Absolute truth" is understood here as something that appears directly (phenomena, dharmas). Any judgments - e.g. views about causality - are just guesses.

For practical purposes, we take such guesses to be "true", but we should realize that's just a convention in our mind.

This understanding helps to see the selflessness of phenomena, and thus to liberate from samsara.

  • I just want to remark that this answer should not be regarded as a true understanding of Nagarjuna's 中論. Your understanding is far from Nag's. Suggest to read the orginal work 1st, only 68 pages incl. 青目(Chandrakriti?) in Kumarajiva's translation. Also recommend reading Sutra 摩訶般若波羅密多. Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 8:55
  • Not sure who did good eng translation, very unfortunate the contemporary eng tranl. of almost all Mahayana Sutras (Chinese) were done by Theosophical scholars, they were twisted (erroneous), you shouldn't believe them don't read them as the 1st if you could read Classical Chinese. Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 9:20
  • These scholars promote what they called early (authentic) Buddhism recorded in - ONLY - Pali, they promote "Mahayana Sutras were great - a later invention (not originally taught by the Buddha, or Buddha not a person, Sutras were group creation". This is a forum that adores Pali Canon, with most of the moderators trumpeting that one voice, you get what I meant ;) Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 9:20
  • @Mishu米殊, multilingual edition is here: www2.hf.uio.no/polyglotta/index.php?page=volume&vid=27 So what is incorrect in my understanding, and what is correct understanding? I respectfully beg you to explain.
    – chang zhao
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 12:12
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    @Mishu米殊 it would be very good if you could post your own answer, much better for other readers than a thread of comments.
    – Andriy Volkov
    Commented Nov 6, 2017 at 15:27

An effect is a cause because it is an effect that is the cause of a cause being defined as a 'cause'. In other words, since a cause is dependent upon an effect to be defined as a 'cause', an effect is the cause of a cause & an effect and is therefore a cause. A cause is similar. Since a cause is also an effect and since an effect is also a cause, there are not really any true causes & true effects.

This is merely intellectual gymnastics & not the experience of meditation.

In meditation, the mind sees causes creating effects, such as feelings causing craving or feeling & craving stimulating attachment or refined smooth long breathing causing calmness.

These ideas of Nagarjuna are from thinking rather than from observation.

In meditation, the mind does not really see 'causes' & 'effects'. Instead, the mind sees one 'phenomena' stimulating another 'phenomena'.

To think in the manner of Nagarjuna is alien to contemplation (observation) meditation.

If there was not the belief X causes the effect Y the path would never be practised because it would not be believed practising the path causes liberation.

In fact, the only reason Nagarjuna must have formulated his idiosyncratic philosophies was for those philosophies to cause a positive effect.

If Nagarjuna was actually not seeking to cause a positive effect from his idiosyncratic philosophies then that philosophizing was in vain & for no purpose.

Nagarjuna was often very illogical why Nagarjuna is so easy to refute.

The refutations of Nagarjuna could be as lengthy as his idiosyncratic philosophies.

  • hm well, he was quite an important monk. i've seen very many people try and refute him, and i guess it just seems that they read whatever they like into his terse arguments.
    – user2512
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 21:52
  • See my answer. "Manner of Nagarjuna is alien to contemplation" presents your experience of meditation: not distinguishing between original phenomena (sense perception) and their supposed relations (conceptualizing perception). Without such distinction we generalize our limited experience and come to incorrect conclusions. "If there was not the belief X causes the effect" is eternalism. See chapter 1 of "Mula madhyamaka karika": Nagarjuna doesn't refute dependent origination, but explains the correct view on it.
    – chang zhao
    Commented Aug 6, 2017 at 13:29

You're right. An effect is never its cause. However, the action that one does due to the effect will create a new cause, and to an untrained mind, it always happens.


If a plant were a seed, or the totality of a plant was in a seed, then where's the plant not, and hence cause what and effect what?

Annihalationism is not possible because 'nothing', 0, is more concrete than 'no thing', and the laws of nature follow the 'valley of the world', so to steal a Tao Te Ching expression. Action settles at the lowest energy level it can, 0 is as much effort as 1 in the end.


I haven't read about Nagarjuna's claims nor I have read or heard anywhere about such claims, but I know Nagarjuna is speaking the truth.

What is the truth?

An effect always arises independently of the cause.

A cause always arises independently of the effect which produced the cause.

All causes and effects arise completely independently.

There are no causes, nor effects.

Everything arises and ceases independently.

Thus, everything being independent:

  • Nothing ever can be made to be annihilated.

  • Nothing ever can be made to last forever.

This is the truth. This is how it was said. This is how it was seen. This is what I know.

If a fire is burning due to fuel, it is not burning due to fuel, but it burns independent of the fuel. In other words: the fire does not burn due to fuel.

If a castle of cards is made, then a card is removed and that castle crashes to the ground, the crashing of that castle has not started due to the card being removed, but it started independent of the "removal of the card". In other words: the removal of the card did not cause the crashing of the castle.

If a red marble hits a blue marble and the blue marble moves due to being hit, the movement of the blue marble was not produced by the red marble hitting the blue marble, but the movement was produced independently. In other words: the hit of the red marble into the blue marble did not cause the movement of the blue marble.

If a truck crashes into a car and the car gets shattered to pieces, the car is not shattered to pieces by the forces the truck exerted on the car, but the forces were produced independently of the truck. In other words: the truck is not the cause of forces that shattered the car.

If you were to build a house, no matter what technology you would use, no matter what hi-tech materials you would use, no matter how you would built it, no matter what you would do, that house would be subject to decay.

If you were to knew and understood in its entirety why things are subject to decay, no technology nor any actions you would perform on things to eliminate their decay, would made things last forever. They would be subjected to decay no matter what you do.

If you destroy something, you destroy nothing. You can only dismantle an object to many pieces, but you destroy nothing. Everything rebuilds, no matter if you destroy it. If you were to destroy the universe, it would be rebuilt again. Everything in the universe is independent from everything. You can't destroy anything.

If you kill somebody, you kill nobody. You can only dismantle a being to many pieces, but you destroy nothing. All ignorant beings are reborn, no matter if you kill them. If you were to kill all the ignorant beings in the universe, they would be reborn again. All beings are independent from all beings. You can't destroy anything.


I guess you're not bewildered by this nonsense. Good my friend, good. Does your understanding come from ignorance or from wisdom?

What is the cause of all this nonsense?

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