Language and Buddhist Theory of Origination (“Abhidhmarkośabhāṣya”, III, 28)
Keywords:Pratītyasamutpāda, Vasubandhu, language, origination, agent
The passage that will be discussed in this article (“Abhidharmakośabhāṣya”, III, 28) is a polemic dialogue between Vasubandhu and so-called grammarians. The whole disputation starts with the etymological analysis of the Buddhist theory of origination (pratītyasamutpāda), but it becomes soon evident that the main subject of disagreement between Vasubandhu and the grammarians is a rather different understanding of the nature of the language than the proper usage of certain grammatical forms in the term “pratītyasamutpāda”. To some degree, all philosophical schools in Vedic tradition share the opinion that the language (Sanskrit) can reflect reality exactly as it is. For philosophical schools like Mimaṃsa and Nyāya, the notion that Sanskrit can reflect the true nature of reality is important as it establishes the ultimate authority of Vedic literature and Vedic word. Buddhism, on the contrary, treats language as a limited tool, which sometimes, e.g., by means of conventional meaning (vyavahāra), is only able to point at a certain process or entity but is unable to express the essence of those phenomena. Vasubandhu skillfully argues that grammatically correct forms, here “[it] arises” (utpadyate), are rendered absurd when the grammatical structure is thought to reflect the real state of things.
Thus, the passage discussed in this article sheds some light not only on the Buddhist view of the nature of language but also on some important aspects of the Buddhist theory of origination and the difficulties regarding the definition of the agent (ātman) in Buddhist philosophy.