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Today during reference checking I arrived at this wiki page, where the famous ancient Prasangika buddhist Chandrakirti claimed "There is no chariot which depends on its parts"?

But per the firmly established "dependent origination" Buddhism's key doctrine, every external phenomenon is conditioned and dependent on other dharmas. So we cannot say the arising of a composite is dependent on its parts? This sounds a little confusing and uncommon. For example, my car's battery is broken, until I fix it or change a new one, I cannot use the car any more as car. So for the car to have any relevance to me, I have to address even a very small part (battery), otherwise that car is essentially non-existent even at car's "conventional level". I certainly feel and experience a strong necessary karmic dependency here.

Are there any historical accounts or conventional explanation for Chandrakirti's above claim or are there any special deep meanings here from Prasangika school of thought which emphasizes to establish a position of emptiness through showing the logical consequences of the incorrect position that the questioner already accepts as a common starting ground?

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  • there's a lot of tibetan -especially - material on this (some of which i have read)
    – anon
    Mar 19 at 12:29
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This wiki page link is not a great translation and it is easy to be confused if you don't understand what is being negated/refuted by this line of reasoning: the inherent existence of a chariot. If you understand what is being negated, then the fourth point becomes: "There is no inherently existing chariot which depends on its parts" and the simile often given is of a lion in the forest.

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  • I smell the flavor of Prasangika (similar to Critical Rationalism but which is based on objective physicalism). For me if every statement (proposition) is augmented fully like a strict math statement, most confusions will disappear. Prasangika school emphasizes the correct object to be negated should be the "mistaken perception" which leads us to naturally perceive things and events as possessing some kind of inherent existence and identity. It should be translated as "The perception of chariot's existence at deepest inherent level depending on its parts at their conventional level is wrong". Mar 18 at 23:47
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I wonder if this might be helpful...

Words superimpose a vaneer-like structure over our reality and this becomes the haze of naming and forming. It is a major component of ignorance and becomes the structure from which guides the superficiality of our existence. It can be very tricky to peer outside of this structure.

When we call the chariot a 'chariot', and believe that to be so, we have essentially bastardised a part of reality. We've segmented the chariot from its surroundings, merged all its parts into a single idea and given it the name chariot.

A chariot and its function is nothing without its surroundings. It can only be defined by the ground it moves along, the passengers it accepts, the horses that pull it, the space it moves through... - in other words, to truly define the chariot the entire universe would need to be taken into consideration and this is where name and form fall apart because naming and forming have strict parameters which are heavily challenged by the truth of reality. At a push one could say the chariot is everything such that it is incomprehensible. This makes the chariot empty and therefore nothing. The word 'chariot' is a convenient placeholder to help reference objects from one another. The problem occurs when one believes the chariot to be a chariot.

Now that we've neutralized the existence of chariot, it should be much easier to apply this to the chariot's components. Let's say you began removing those components one by one. At what point do you decide it is no longer a chariot?

“What do you think, Subhuti? Are there many particles of dust in this vast universe?”

Subhuti replied: “Yes, many, Most Honored One!”

“Subhuti, when the Buddha speaks of particles of dust, it does not mean I am thinking of any definite or arbitrary thought, I am merely using these words as a figure of speech. They are not real, only illusion. It is just the same with the word universe; these words do not assert any definite or arbitrary idea, I am only using the words as words.”

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  • "Words superimpose a vaneer-like structure over our reality and this becomes the haze of naming and forming. " I totally agree, and human perception is definitely not running on words, but on images. This reminds me of Chan (Zen) traditional teaching based on action and direct communication, not textbooks. For a living person, if 1 hair is removed one is still one, but if heart is removed, one cannot be a living person, so at conventional level, there's nothing wrong to say "whole is dependent on parts" imho. I think here the author is viewing chariot and its parts at different levels... Mar 19 at 0:37
  • @Double Knot - yes, your right about mental images. There is actually more behind the use of language and words that is bound together with the aggregates of perception, feeling and consciousness. That's where things get very intriguing in terms of breaking it all down.
    – Max
    Mar 19 at 8:15
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The dependent origination is about phenomenon. One leads to other and not that one is made up of other. Example feelings lead to craving. Cessation of feeling is cessation of craving. Whereas while talking about chariot the simile applies to the idea of self. When you talk about chariot which part of chariot do you call chariot ? In modern terms we can apply it to a car. What is car ? Is it the doors ? Is it the tyres? Is it engine ? Is it the brakes ? Is the gear ? Is it the accelerator ? Question is how do you define car ? You will find you can’t ... what you have is a pointer to an undefinable idea. Similarly when you call Gautam what you have is a pointer to an undefinable idea ....

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  • Re ur " One leads to other and not that one is made up of other", this is also what I suspected my parts/whole case cannot be put into the exact verbatim syllogism of "dependent origination" as u pointed out. But as common sentence, Chandrakirti's above statement sounds very unintuitive and even nonsensical, say, if one major part is damaged then the whole chariot cannot function as "chariot" any more (or even called chariot), so apparently there's some dependency between parts and whole. In modern statistics, the probability of the whole is the multiplication of its parts' probabilities. Mar 18 at 3:18
  • You are hard binding chariot to some part... chariot can still function without that part ... try it ... Mar 18 at 3:21
  • I'm yet to understand what u mean by "hard binding" (in mind)? But this is a simple example, say, ur car's battery is broken, until u fix it or change a new one, u cannot use the car any more as car. So for the car to have any relevance for u, u have to address even a very small part (battery), otherwise that car is essentially non-existent at all. I certainly feel and experience a strong necessary karmic dependency here... Mar 18 at 3:27
  • @DoubleKnot Steam powered cars were without battery.. see the history of car Mar 18 at 3:31
  • Re your "One leads to other and not that one is made up of other", this is another perfect example of public language's limitation to fully describe our real perceived phenomena. On surface "leads to" of course isn't same as "is made up of". But like a software program, if it's missing a library as its part, there's NO causal dependency when all statically sit in hardware. While running the program it clearly depends on the missing part because CPU's instruction set "leads to" that part at run time. Same as cars, all at their usual conventional level of course as common folk talk... Mar 21 at 1:12

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