I have read here argumentation for the continuity of mind, coming from a Geshe in Tibetan Buddhism.

From what I have learnt it is asserted that:

  • Consciousness could not arise from matter (could not have matter as its substantial cause).
  • It could not arise from nothing.
  • It could only arise from another moment of consciousness.

Note: the definition of "substantial cause" above comes from Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika.

Has anyone come across a Buddhist argument why something could not have nothing as its substantial cause? What faulty logical consequences would follow?

More specifically, I have in mind a situation when due to a higher being's act/wish, something comes into being. What comes into being is not transformed from another previous entity, but emerges "from nothing" merely due to the higher's act/wish.

I would like to understand whether there are logical contradictions that would follow from the asserting this to be possible.

  • Now that I properly understand the question I'll note that I once asked a similar question. buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/26081/… This question here is much better than my old question.
    – user13375
    Commented Jun 7, 2021 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


The origin of this whole line of reasoning in Tibetan Buddhism comes from Dharmakirti's Pramanavarttika. There have been extensive commentaries and teachings on this from numerous great masters of Tibetan Buddhism. You can find commentaries on it from all the extant schools of Tibetan Buddhism. For an extensive set of discussions on this line of reasoning see this accomplished Tibetan master here.

Let's look at some of the verses in the Pramanavarttika where Dharmakirti sets out his definitions and arguments:

Without a transformation of the substantial cause
The substantial result would be unable to change.
[This is] like, [for] example, without the transformation [61]
Of the clay [there would be no transformation of a clay] vase, and so forth.

Without the transformation of some functioning entity [of the cause]
It is not reasonable that [the cause which] transforms some functioning entity
[Of the result] is the substantial cause of that [result]
It is like an ox and a wild ox. [62]
The mind and the body are also like that.

Verses 61 and 62 of the Pramanavarttika

How should we understand this? I'm no expert so the following comes with a big warning that I might be entirely wrong. This is how I make sense of it...

Things necessarily arise from the transformation of a substantial cause into a substantial result. The example given is of unformed clay (the substantial cause) transforming into a clay vase (the substantial result). The nature of unformed clay is matter and the nature of a clay vase is also matter. That is... the transformation from unformed clay into a clay vase is the transformation of matter from one thing into another.

The second verse is a bit harder to read, but it is basically saying that if we notice that the result has undergone some transformation - say the clay vase has broken apart - then it is necessary to say that some functioning entity of the substantial cause also transformed - ie., the matter of the clay vase that was part of the functioning entity of the unformed clay.

Both of these are intuitive and in accord with how I perceive the world to work. With the arising of things there is generally a transformation that occurs. Unformed steel and glass and rubber transform into a car. Cars rust and break apart and transform back into unformed steel and glass and rubber. Glass breaks apart and transforms back into silica, et cetera, et cetera.

What's important for showing that the body cannot act as the substantial cause for the mind is that the latter can transform without a corresponding transformation of the body. Similarly, the mind cannot be the substantial cause of the body since the latter can transform without a corresponding change of the mind. Sometimes changes in the two coincide, but it is not necessarily so.

I'll leave the discussion about a higher being to others, but note that it is said in Tibetan Buddhism (and in many other traditions) that God's and so forth do eventually die and transform into beings of the lower realms.

Finally, I'll mention that I do have some qualms with this whole line of reasoning as it seems to be bound up with notions of the hypostatic existence of mind and matter. That is, if the reasoning is valid it can only be a conventional truth with the nature of illusion.

I hope this is helpful.

  • You assert that the mind can transform without a corresponding transformation of the body, and vice versa. Can you give example\s for these?
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 8, 2021 at 14:50

nothingness is nonexistent so there is the absurdity of referring to it as a functioning thing and an existing thing.

also from the pov of substantial causes, mental factors such as intention are not main minds ie. consciousness/mind itself, meaning they cannot function as substantial cause for the production of a mind.

  • The non-existence of square circles is an existent fact (square circles do not exist, but their non existence does). The non existence of square circles can be validly known. Imho, in just the same way, non-existence/nothingness in general does exist as it can be validly known.
    – Sam
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 11:37
  • We say that it is the mental conception of the absurdity of a square circle that is an existent and can be validly known. Therefore it is not true that the non-existence of the square circle exists. That would be contradictory and absurd.
    – user13375
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 13:33
  • Further, the existence of the mental conception of the absurdity of a square circle is a thoroughly dependent one. That is, it is only in dependence upon the thought that apprehends that mental conception that it exists. Thus the existence of the mental conception of the absurdity of a square circle cannot be inherently existing. It is just a conventional truth.
    – user13375
    Commented Jun 12, 2021 at 13:36
  • 1
    if a produced thing didnt need a substantial cause it means it would arise from itself
    – bw tho
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 15:21
  • 1
    produced things are made up of parts. that is what is dependent on substantial causes, and if they did not they would arise from themselves. contributing conditions are secondary and its not even clear what purpose they would serve to a functioning thing that could arise from itself without depending on substantial causes
    – bw tho
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 5:22

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