--> Skip to main content

Asatkaryavada - Theory Of Causation

Asatkaryavada is the theory of causation propounded by the Nyaya-Vaisheshika system of Hindu philosophy. It is a key conception that encompasses the entire epistemological as well as ontological implications of the Nyaya-Vaisheshika system. Traditionally, it is known as Arambhavada, which signifies the central thesis of this theory, which identifies the pragabhava (prior absence) of effect in its cause or causal conditions. Thus, Asatkaryavada interprets the causal relation in such a way that effect is not produced out of the cause, but rather comes in existence in the cause. Cloth, for example, is an effect that is not produced out of its material cause but produced in its material cause, that is the yarn, after causal operations.

The basic problem of the Hindu theories of causation is to consider the essence of the effect and its relation with material cause. There are only two possibilities in this regard: either an effect derives its essence from its cause or it does not. If an effect derives its essence from its cause, this means, as far as the essence of effect is concerned, that it is existent in some form in its cause even prior to coming into formal existence. This is the position of the Samkhya Yoga system. If an effect does not derive its essence from its cause, it means that it is not existent in any form whatever prior to its coming into formal existence. Nyaya-Vaisheshika philosophers hold this second position, and offer a number of arguments against the Samkhya Yoga standpoint.

Samkhyavadins advocate the relation of identity between cause and effect with a creationist viewpoint, whereas Naiyayikas approach the problem with a pragmatic attitude that there must be a real difference between cause and effect in the objective world.

Asatkaryavada is thus a theory of non-existent effect, which maintains that when a number of substances are conjoined, in some cases there appears, as a result of their connection, a new entity that was altogether non-existent before. This model of cause and effect is ontologically rooted in the atomic theory of the Nyaya-Vaisheshika system.

In principle, causation implies that things change and also that change is subject to laws. There are different theories of change under which different theories of causation operate in Hindu philosophy. The followers or Asatkaryavada interpret change as rearrangement, so that we speak here not so much of change in the real sense of the term as in the sense of reshuffling the same unchanging elements, that is, atoms, so as to form new combinations.

This theory of causation was later shared by Mimamsakas and Buddhists to some extent. Much of the Mimamsaka view on causation is borrowed from Nyaya-Vaisheshika. The differences between Mimamsaka and Nyaya Vaisheshika are insignificant except in the case of shakti (potency or causal power), which is accepted by Naiyayikas but is not considered something distinct from the nature of substance.

The Buddhist departure from Asatkaryavada begins with an inquiry into what happens to the cause when its effect comes into existence. Is the cause annihilated, or does it continue to exist with the effect? Naiyayikas maintain that after the appearance of the effect, the parts, which are to inherent cause, are not destroyed but continue to exist side by side with the effect. The Buddhists, on the other hand, declare that the cause is completely annihilated after giving rise to its effect. In fact, the Buddhist theory of pratityasamutpada (dependent origination) is an extreme version of Asatkaryavada.