Shri Datta Swami

Posted on: 29 Mar 2020


No Cause-Effect in a Continuous Process?

Note: This article is meant for intellectuals only

[This is a conversation between Shri J. Prasad, Professor of Sanskrit, Central University, Hyderabad, Dr. Nikhil and Swami. It contains advanced concepts meant for scholars only.]

Dr. J. Prasad: A scholar is debating for the past three months with other scholars on verse 16.8 from the Gita. The second line of the verse is “Aparaspara-sambhūtām, kimanyat kāma haitukam”. Every commentator has interpreted this verse to be referring to a cause-effect relationship. However, this scholar is arguing that no cause-effect relationship is necessary in a continuous process. He quotes the grammarian, Pāṇini who has used the word ‘aparaspara’ with reference to a continuing process. Could You please clarify if all commentrators have erred in assuming a cause-effect relationship for a continuous process?

Swami: Does the scholar think that all the commentators like Śaṅkara had not read Pāṇini and that he is the only one, who has read the grammar of Pāṇini? Pāṇini came first. Thereafter, the commentators like Śaṅkara came second and the present scholar is the third. The knowledge of the first was already present with the second. The third has only come after the second. Pāṇini used this word aparaspara with reference to a continuous process (Avicchinna kriyā sāntatyam). You cannot say that the concept of cause and effect is absent in a continuous process. In a continuous flow of water, the movement of the water in the front is the cause for the movement of the water behind it. The same can be said for waves (Vīcī taraṅga nyāya). In a continuous flow of traffic, the movement of the vehicle in the front is the cause for the movement of the vehicle behind it.

This verse from the Gita presents the view of atheists on the cause of creation, which is the effect. The specific focus in this verse is the cause of the world of living beings or how awareness is born. Theists say that awareness is the individual soul that entered the womb of mother through the sperm of the father, as explained in the Brahma Sūtras. Atheists say that awareness is produced from the union of the couple and that other than this, no other cause of awareness exists. As per theism, although one item produces another item, it is the will of God that works through the first item to produce the second item. When the element ‘air’ was produced from the element ‘space’ (Ākāśāt vāyuḥ), Śaṅkara says that it was God, who produced air from space. Space did not produce air on its own. Similarly, when awareness was produced from food (Annāt puruṣaḥ), it is the will of God that produced the awareness from food. Atheists feel that food is the direct cause and that awareness is the direct effect. They do not want to give any place to God or His will in the production of awareness from food.

Aparaspara-sambhūta is used to describe the world of living beings (jagat or jīva jagat). It refers to awareness or the living beings possessing awareness that are born from the union of their parents. There are two possible ways of interpreting the word aparaspara-sambhūta: (1) The first interpretation of aparaspara-sambhūta is that, which is not born of mutual interaction or union.A-’ is a negative prefix. So, aparaspara-sambhūta is that, which is not paraspara-sambhūta (Paraspara sambhūtaṃ na iti). Paraspara means mutual or from one another. Sambhūta means ‘born of’ or ‘generated from’. (2) The second interpretation of aparaspara-sambhūta is that which is born of mutual interaction or union. It means that which is paraspara-sambhūta itself! As per Pāṇinian grammar, in the context of continuous processes (kriyā sātayam), aparaspara means paraspara itself (Aparañca parañca aparasparaṃ yat parasparameva).

Dr. Nikhil: I am unable to understand this point. How can aparaspara mean the same as paraspara? Since ‘a-’ is a negative prefix, adding it to paraspara should lead to the opposite meaning. Only if there are two negatives, can the meaning be the same as the main word. For instance, ‘not unintelligent’ can mean intelligent since the two negatives ‘not’ and ‘un-’ cancel out each other. Similarly, ‘na aparaspara’ can mean paraspara since both ‘na’ and ‘a-’ are negatives. But how can aparaspara mean paraspara?

Swami: The sense expressed by you is also acceptable. It is in alignment with the first interpretation given by Me above, according to which aparaspara means that which is not paraspara. But the second sense is also acceptable because apara also means para. Apara means the ‘next one’ and para also means the ‘next one’. So, the word apara is an alternative word for para. In this sense, the negative ‘a-’ applies only to the first word ‘para’. In this way, aparaspara = paraspara. If the negative ‘a-’ is applied to the entire next word ‘paraspara’, then it means that which is not paraspara.

Let us return to the discussion of the two possible interpretations. If you take the first possible interpretation, it means that an awareness created by God, which is not produced as a result of the union of the couple, does not exist (kim). This is the claim of atheists. According to them, only the awareness produced as a result of the union of the couple, which is called paraspara saṃbhūtam, exists. Any awareness other than it (anyat) does not exist (kim). The word aparaspara-sambhūta in the sense of that which is not paraspara-sambhūta is already accepted by Jayatīrtha, a scholar of dualism. As per this interpretation, the sentence ends with anyat (Aparaspara sambhūtam kimanyat). The next sentence is kāma-haitukam. Kāma-haitukam means, ‘as a result of desire’. It means that the awareness produced by the couple as a result of desire (paraspara-sambhūta) alone exists. The verb ‘asti’, which means to exist, is to be understood here (adhyāhāra), even though it is omitted. The complete meaning of the second line of the verse, as per this interpretation is, “Other than the awareness produced due to the mutual union of the couple, where is the existence of any other awareness? All that exists is that which is the result of desire.

If you take the second possible interpretation, aparaspara-sambhūta means paraspara-sambhūta itself, which means that which is born of mutual union. The word kāma-haitukam then becomes an adjective of aparaspara-sambhūta. This leads to a defect called samāpta-punarāptatva-doṣa. It means that the first word (noun) of a completed sentence is connected to an adjective mentioned in a later sentence. Of course, in a poem (verse), the above defect can be neglected. So, considering the word aparaspara-sambhūta to be paraspara-sambhūta is acceptable. This is the interpretation used by the three Ācāryas, Śaṅkara, Rāmanuja and Madhva, in their commentaries on this verse. The complete second line of the verse, as per this interpretation then becomes “Awareness which is born of mutual union alone exists. Where is the existence of any other? It is the result of desire.” Notice how this interpretation suffers from the defect of the last sentence qualifying the first word (awareness) of the first sentence.

The scholar mentioned by Dr. Prasad needs to understand that the context of this discussion is whether awareness is produced by the couple or by God. Atheists say that the couple is the cause, while theists say that God is the cause. Both are only discussing the concept of cause and effect. The scholar cannot negate the very idea of cause and effect saying that it is a continuous process. Śaṅkara did not bring in the idea of a continuous process because the topic of discussion here is whether awareness is created by God or by the couple. It is not a discussion comparing an isolated set of cause and effect with a continuous process in which cause and effect are repeated to form a continuous chain. Since distinguishing between an isolated cause and effect and a continuous process is irrelevant to the context of this verse, Śaṅkara and the other Ācāryas did not mention it. Everybody knows that the child produced by the couple is part of a continuous process. Children are born to their parents and they in turn produce their own children. But there is no need to mention it in this context.

| Shri Dattaswami | avicchinna kriyaa saantatyam aparaspara Shankara Panini viichii Taranga nyaaya aakaashaat vaayuh aparaspara sambhuuta sambhuutam anyat paraspara kaama haitukam annaat purushah