I just reread Bachelor's translation of MMK.

It struck me that the argument against causation was that:

A cause has no essence in addition to what it is, else it would not be the final cause. But it must have an essence if it is to be active for more than a moment.

So everything is radically impermanent: and nothing exists long enough to be born and then cease.

And so everything that is born and ceases is empty, it is not a final cause.

Any conditioned entity is then a mere conventional designation, something which can be identified in a better way (and on forever) and so is always incorrectly identified.

But I was reading about Sautrantika-Yogacara, and the idea that "existents" which aren't unique particulars aren't causally real. This to me seems wrong, I think we can eliminate the unique particulars from a theory and be left with something which is grounded in the particulars' causal properties. This is what some scientific realists do.

My question

Assuming it true that there can be causation without causes, then is there any way to argue that the sentences of science, with their unique particulars eliminated, are not conceptually constructed?

Perhaps because only those particulars are as such, and so empty; and our ideas about the rest of the world can be grounded in them, without that structure being thereby empty.

  • i hope the question is OK, sorry if it isn't
    – user2512
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 8:15

2 Answers 2


The Enlightened One taught that there is no cause or "creator" that was eternal or has immortality, such as; a soul or supreme being that was empirically knowable. The Buddha taught that there was causal conditions that are observable in the material world of form and in the conscious dispositionally conditioned state (samskrta). Simply put, the Buddha did not teach eternalism or annihilationism but that everything/everyone is streaming headlong towards becoming. Perhaps an example might be useful. A plant seed does not have an inherent cause within it. It cannot become a tree in and of it's own. The potentiality might be there but the tree is not evident. The seed will not germinate without other causal factors; soil, water, temperature, atmosphere, and etc. It is the causal conditions of these all these things that then cause the seed to germinate. Once the seed has germinated, we now have the sprout. Where did the seed go? And, we no longer conceptualize the seed but the sprout. Eventually, we may or may not have a tree because there are other factors (causal conditions) that may effect the tree's growth and longevity.
Even emptiness is empty of a state of a substantiality. Dependent arising is not a string of "moments" but a continuous flow of becoming. If you are looking for a metaphysical cause ( "a final cause" , a "forever" something) that, is simply not evident. What the Buddha taught was the means to end the general dissatisfaction we have with life and not a metaphysical philosophy. Nibbana is that liberation from dissatisfaction.

  • I can't make sense of how you made sense of my question :)
    – user2512
    Commented Mar 14, 2015 at 13:55
  • 1
    It is true that the Enlightened One never taught that there is an eternal creator or First Cause, but neither did he teach that there is not one. In fact he taught disciples not to debate such eternal entities, and we would be skilful to avoid seeking such conclusions about them which cannot lead to closure. Commented Mar 25, 2015 at 23:20

As far as I understand there "is" a substantial underlying nature pervading the all. I say "is" with speech marks because technically the normal 'is' has the opposite 'is not' and refers to the arbitrary conception of existence vs non-existence. (For which this nature is the host and therefore cannot be subject to.) Therefore, although the existents do not fundamentally exist because they are without essence, they are composed of the fundamental substance, which is why they are visible. It is only our conception of their existence which is in error, for phenomena are truly composed of an eternal nature.

So back to the question, cause and effect refers to one inherently existent object being a prime mover to result in another, which is sheer nonsense. Since it is impossible for an inherently existent object to be created or destroyed or even change. But anyway, the true nature produces a continuum of states, no one state can be considered to be ultimate or self-possessing, however we sentient beings use conceptual constructs to point at particular( and arbitrary) definitions of the intermediate states.

It would be pertinent to mention, therefore, that there are really no causes, that is why they are called causes. In as much as the continuum is ever propelled forwards without a hint of any objects. As a result to speak of birth or cessation would be to talk relatively and within an arbitrarily defined set of parameters, a subset of the continuum, whose criteria is the presentation of a set of characteristics that correspond to somebody's idea of what things should be like. A chair is not actually a solid object, it is constantly undergoing changes, but its noticeable characteristics are still close enough to its original form that we aren't aware that it is different. It also still behaves as we would expect a chair to behave. It's birth point is when it behaves enough like a chair to pass examination, it's cessation point is when the continuum in the vicinity of the chair no longer behaves in a way that corresponds to our ideas about chairhood.

Finally then you are correct there are no causes, but there is also no causation and no ending of causation. There is only this. However 'this' closely corresponds with the ideas of 'causation' and therefore I can conventionally claim that 'causation' is true. Likewise I can conventionally claim that, since "this" does display the characteristics of "x" then I would also be wrong to say that it was different, therefore "this" is "x" and that therefore causes do exist. But the reality is that the continuum has no position where it becomes that or stops being that, it does what it does.

All of science is built upon the presupposition that an object is self-possessed, first there was a list of elements which were atoms(indivisible) then they realised it was not indivisible and posited that protons, neutrons and electrons were indivisible. Then they created the so-called fundamental particles list. And then quantum physics which seems to have no main interpretation. Take away existents and all but quantum physics falls into dust. All fabrications are empty.

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