The problem of action at a temporal distance

Ironically, if Nāgārjuna thinks that logic can invalidate a view by exposing a contradiction, then this is exactly the kind of fixed view that Chandrakīrti says he doesn’t have. Right? :thinking:

OK. Let’s make a game of it. I’ll outline a simple challenge in which you play the role of Nāgārjuna and demonstrate how his method works in practice.

Let’s say that my view is that nirvāṇa and saṃsāra are not the same. Rather, in my view, one is either reborn or one is not reborn. Being reborn is saṃsāra and not being reborn is nirvāṇa. The two are very much not the same.

The game is that you try to demonstrate that this view, which is not itself contradictory, leads to a logical contradiction. However, we have to place some reasonable limits on how you can proceed.

(1) As Nāgārjuna, you have no view and thus you cannot introduce any new statements of fact or appeal to any axioms or presupposed facts. You may not reference any definitions or invoke any authorities because these constitute views and you, as Nāgārjuna, have no view. You must start with my statement and then use only logical operations to demonstrate that the view leads to a contradiction.

(2) I think it’s important that if you wish to attribute any additional views to me as part of your argument, then this has to be negotiated before you proceed: If you wish to attribute a view P to me, then before you attribute it to me, you have to ask about it and I have to agree that I do hold that view. This way we avoid the temptation to strawman arguments of the type, “What Jayarava really thinks is P” (by far the most common type of comment on my work in this forum).

(3) I will grant you the axiom that logic works. That is, I will stipulate that breaking the three laws of logic (identity, noncontradiction, and excluded middle) is invalid. Logical operators such as AND and OR are valid. Inferences using deduction, induction, and abduction are possible, but validating them is constrained by (1). I will also grant you the conventions of the English language. Though of course these are just views, right :wink:

Can you, can anyone, show that the view, as stated–and with these reasonable limits–leads to a contradiction?

If you impose upon me the law of the excluded middle, then I think I will have a problem. That is, if you impose on me double negation elimination ( ¬¬p⊢p ) then I will be unable to construct a non-affirming negation. Am I allowed to use the rules of constructive logic (which you will grant the a priori axioms of) and not impose upon me double negation elimination?

FWIW, I think what you are suggesting is very close to the debates that are held at places like Sera Jey monastery every day by monks who study for up to 20 years. I’ll be hard pressed to do them justice, but maybe if you are interested you should take a trip. I think you’ll be very warmly received :slight_smile:


You are the one making the proof, so wouldn’t it be to your advantage to use the strongest system possible?

Are you speaking to me or Jayarava? What I’m proposing will not entail making a proof, but rather showing that Jayarava’s assumed truths - along with the laws of constructive logic - arrive at a contradiction or an unacceptable premise aka absurdity. In constructive logic, this would not be considered an affirmative proof of P. Rather it would only be reductio ad absurdum, but crucially not an indirect proof of some P. Those indirect proofs can only be arrived at via double negation elimination. :pray:

I was addressing you, and I am still confused. You want to show that Jay’s views lead to a contradiction. If this is your goal, wouldn’t you want the strongest system possible?

I try and explain what I’m on about in this thread but basically I don’t want to be forced to use LEM. Why? Because I want to show a refutation by contradiction not a proof. If I’m forced to use LEM, then someone could rightly say that when I refute some premise ‘P’ through showing how it leads to contradiction, then I’m forced to admit that “‘P’ doesn’t exist” through indirect proof aka an affirming negation. It is my hypothesis that neither the Teacher nor Nagarjuna believed “proof by contradiction” aka “indirect proof” is a valid way of knowing. Given my recent experience, I fear derailing this thread again so maybe it is best to start a new one or take it to a PM. Think I’ll shut up now. :pray:

I think this gets to the nub of it. As far as I can see, in the 4 prose collections, there is ample evidence that the buddha makes active use of “logic” and accepts it’s validity in discourse.

I think that viz the undeclared there is again, ample evidence that the buddha critiqued then current philosophical views of mistakenly going “beyond the scope” of logic.

I think that it is incoherent to think that the buddha, or nagarjuna, denied the validity of logic or the possibility of knowledge, there was already a skeptical school after all, and DN1 and DN2 single it out as the worst of the lot.

so the question is exactly how and why the line was drawn, both in the phenomenological, empirical world of experience, and in the logical, linguistic world of thoughts about said experience.

we have a repeated list of what the buddha said didn’t/couldn’t logically hold; that entities could be eternally existent, that entities could be destroyed, that the person could be identical to thier body, that the person could be different to their body that the person could have parts both identical and non identical to their body, that the person could be something neither identical to nor different from their body, that the universe could be finite, infinite, have both finite and infinite parts, etc etc…

we have a repeated list of things that the buddha thought could hold too, that consciousness must depend on an object, that fire must depend on a fuel, etc etc…

we also have the beginnings of a sort of interpretation along the lines of fictionalism with regard to persons in SN5.10 SN22.85 SN22.90 etc that appears to be a development at the very tail end of the pre-sectarian period, and then pursued with fervor in particular by the Theravada.

it looks like nagarjuna, in reinstating the primacy of the undeclared tetralemma form, is attempting to return to an “original” buddhism, and show how the buddhist insight was not in fact confined only to (not really existing anyway) individual persons.

All that said I can still not really make much sense of nagarjuna, and am really still trying to martial the sutta material that could underwrite my reading of him.

tldr, the buddha critiqued logic only when it went too far, and did not defend complete skepticism but rather attacked it.

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I know that this is not a thought experiment for me and I am not playing nagarjuna but

this is explicitly rejected by the buddha, in dozens and dozens of suttas, across all the 4 principle prose collections, in the pali, in the chinese and in the sanskrit.

other than jhana and the gratification danger escape pericope theres practially nothing in early buddhism more certain than that the buddha rejected the idea that “they are either reborn or not reborn” applies to an enlightened person.

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So to play the game, lets look at the relevant part of MMK;

na saṃsārasya nirvāṇātkiṃcidasti viśeṣaṇam|
There is no specific characteristic distinguishing Samsara from Nirvana,

na nirvāṇasya saṃsārātkiṃcidasti viśeṣaṇam||19||
And there is no specific characteristic distinguishing Nirvana from Samsara.

sarvopalambhopaśamaḥ prapañcopaśamaḥ śivaḥ|
The pacification of all grasping and the pacification of all elaboration is auspicious,

na kvacitkasyacitkaściddharmo buddhena deśitaḥ||24||
But nowhere is any characteristic taught by the Buddha.

So Nagarjuna is careful NOT to assert that “Nirvana and Samsara are the same.” what he DOES assert is that it is not possible to say specifically what about them is different.

the (implicit) argument is that to give a specific difference or characteristic difference would be to define a condition that nirvana would have to meet in order for it to be nirvana, i.e give nirvana some feature that could identify it. But this would not be nirvana, as we have said that nirvana is UNconditioned, so there can’t be a condition that it has to meet to be nirvana.

(the question then becomes can we coherently indicate nirvana at all, that is is the concept itself self defeating, and i take it that the buddha and nagarjuna both say no, but it’s certainly a riddle as to exactly what their reasoning would be)

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The very fact that you want to embrace the law of non-contradiction and reject the law of the excluded middle shows that your method is predicated on fixed views.

You want to make a metaphysical argument about the nature of logic and inference at the outset.

And this was my point. Nāgārjuna relied on hidden assumptions that no one bothers to talk about.

Thanks for playing.

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And yet there are dozens of stories of arahants exclaiming things like: “Knowledge and vision arose in me: ‘My freedom is unshakable; this is my last rebirth; now there are no more future lives.” (‘akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’ti. MN 26)

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yes, this is very true, it’s a dilly of a pickle to be sure.

basically my reading is that

khīṇā jāti, vusitaṁ brahmacariyaṁ, kataṁ karaṇīyaṁ, nāparaṁ itthattāyā’ti pajānāti.
destroyed is birth, lived is the holy life, done is what had to be done, there is no further ‘this’ in ‘that’.

is the earlier saying, while

akuppā me vimutti, ayamantimā jāti, natthi dāni punabbhavo’ti

is somewhat later

to break it down:

nāparaṁ itthattāyā occurs
V 5
D 16
M 41
S 162
A 30
K 10
B 2

while (whoops, edit incoming not khīṇā jāti ) natthi dāni punabbhavo occurs

V 1
D 2
M 4
S 9
A 7
K 66
B 2

In DN it is confined to DN16.

So I guess my point is that by far the more common statement is by far the more ambiguous one, while the more definitive one re rebirth is entirely absent from the IMO early silakhandhavagga of DN, and is pretty rare everywhere else except for the Theri, Thera and Apadana.


Where or how did you get this?

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The law of non-contradiction was agreed upon by Nagarjuna’s interlocutors. Nagarjuna used it as a tool against the further views of his opponents. It was not hidden.

Saying that, “the rejection of LEM is itself a positive view” is itself an application of LEM. Which has not been agreed upon for that very reason. This is hard to discern, but if you look carefully I think you’ll find it is true. :pray:

Okay I think I understand the situation better. Let me highlight two things:

  1. Can you demonstrate Jayarava’s system leads to a logical contradiction?
  2. If you do so, can Jayarava show that you introduced any new assumptions?

If you accept the LEM, then 1 is potentially easier for you, but 2 is also potentially easier for Jayarava. If you do not accept LEM, then 1 may be harder for you, but 2 will also be harder for Jayarava. I initially did not understand why you wouldn’t want 1 to be as easy as possible, but it looks like it is because you also do not want 2 to be easy. Is that accurate?

Also some things worth considering:

  1. Is it valid for Yeshe to use the LEM when he derives a contradiction within Jayarava’s views, but also hold that Jayarava cannot use the LEM to derive a contradiction in Yeshe’s views?
  2. Is it valid for Yeshe to use the LEM when he derives a contradiction within Jayarava’s views, but also hold that Jayarava cannot use the LEM to show that Yeshe introduced a new view?
  3. Is it valid for Yeshe to use the law of non-contradiction when he analyzes Jayarava’s views, but also hold that Jayarava cannot use the LEM to show that Yeshe introduced a new view?

Right now 3 is up for debate.

  1. With regards to 3 being up for debate, can Jayarava concede this point about using the LEM, but instead shift gears and use the law of non-contradiction to show that Yeshe has already introduced a new view at this point in this debate?

Anyway, it would be a shame if the game never got properly started because 3 was debated.

I don’t know, but that was the proposal. To my mind, I haven’t started. Jayarava thinks the game has already been played and that he has won. I have no hope, desire, or motivation to try again.

It was my hypothesis that he could not unless he invoked LEM. I do not accept LEM as a premise. Saying that by my not accepting LEM I am therefore committed to a ‘fixed view’ is itself an invocation of LEM to my mind. It is equivalent to this:

  1. “All statements are either true or false.” ← LEM
  2. “That statement itself is either true or false.” ← App LEM
  3. “By not accepting 1 you must conclude 2 is false.” ← NEG
  4. “Therefore it is true that your fixed view is that LEM is false.” ← DNE

I don’t want to occupy or play in this binary world.

I do not think this is true.

No. I do not want a conclusion - a non-affirming negation - to be turned into an affirming negation by my opponent at the end. By showing that the view he puts forth is contradictory I am thus forced to conclude the opposite of his view as affirmatively true by indirect proof.

I don’t want to use LEM. I don’t want Jay to use LEM. LEM is not a part of what I’d agree to. Why? Because the rules are the rules we come to by mutual agreement. Jay says that by playing with the rule of non-contradiction that I’m somehow agreeing to the fixed view of non-contradiction and making it my own. That’s not at all how I define “fixed view.” I simply see no way that the law of non-contradiction can be omitted and still have any chance at communication. Jay’s foisting of this upon me as a “fixed view” is tantamount to saying that the only way I can truly have no fixed views is to stay completely silent. Since I have not stayed completely silent, then I have already lost. That simply is not what I think of as a fixed view. Jay and others are perfectly welcome to disagree.

No. I do not want to use LEM nor assert that I need to.

Only if Jay agreed would this have been acceptable. If he did not, then I would not have played. We could have just disagreed respectfully.

Jay states that he has won already. There is no point in playing again. Nor do I think it would be beneficial for anyone. :pray:

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Except itthattāya means existence (literally “such an existence” or “state of existence”), with the phrase pointing to no further rebirth. Same as the phrase cited by @Jayarava.

I made it up @Raftafarian ! ChatGPT3.5 helped me, and the Digital Pali Reader dictionary,

ChatGPT said;

nāparaṁ itthattāyā’ti: “no further identity with regard to this (existence)” - “nāparaṁ” is a negation meaning “no further,” “itthattāyā” is a compound noun meaning “identity with regard to this (existence),” and “ati” is a particle indicating quotation. This phrase suggests a realization or understanding that there is no further identification or attachment to the concept of self in this existence.

and then this;

Me: the itthattāyā compound, what are the parts of this compound?

The compound “itthattāyā” consists of the following parts:

itthā: This is the base form and represents “this” or “such.”

tattā: This is derived from the base “tad” and means “that” or “thus.”

When combined, “itthattāyā” forms a compound that can be translated as “identity with regard to this (existence)” or “self-identification in this.” It reflects the idea of recognizing or understanding one’s identity or sense of self in the context of the present existence or situation.

ME: could there be another way to analyze itthattāyā?


Certainly, let’s break down the compound “itthattāyā” in another way:

  1. itthā: This is a demonstrative pronoun meaning “this” or “such.”
  2. tattā: This is derived from the base “tad” and means “that” or “thus.”
  3. -yā: This is a suffix often used to form abstract nouns or concepts. In this context, it may be related to the idea of “-ness” or “having the nature of.”

Considering these components, an alternative interpretation could be:

  • itthattāyā: “the quality or nature of being this” or “the state of being such”

In this analysis, the compound emphasizes the inherent nature or quality of being identified with “this” or “such,” suggesting a focus on the present existence or situation and one’s sense of self in that context.

ME: what does demonstrative pronoun mean?


A demonstrative pronoun is a pronoun that is used to indicate or point to a particular noun or pronoun. Demonstrative pronouns help clarify which specific person, place, thing, or idea is being referred to in a sentence. In English, the most common demonstrative pronouns are “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” They are used as follows:

  • This: Used to point to a singular thing or person that is close to the speaker.
    • Example: “This book is interesting.”
  • That: Used to point to a singular thing or person that is farther away from the speaker.
    • Example: “That movie was fantastic.”
  • These: Used to point to multiple things or people that are close to the speaker.
    • Example: “These shoes are comfortable.”
  • Those: Used to point to multiple things or people that are farther away from the speaker.
    • Example: “Those buildings are impressive.”

Demonstrative pronouns replace specific nouns in a sentence and indicate the relative distance of the referred object or objects from the speaker. They play a crucial role in providing clarity and avoiding ambiguity in language.

ME: is tattā another demonstrative pronoun?

No, “tattā” is not a demonstrative pronoun. While it is related to demonstrative pronouns in terms of indicating something, “tattā” is specifically used as a third-person pronoun in Pali, an ancient Indian language. It is translated to English as “that” or “he/she” depending on the context.

In the context of the Pali compound “itthattāyā,” “tattā” contributes to the overall meaning of the compound, which refers to the quality or nature of being identified with “this” or “such.” It does not serve as a standalone demonstrative pronoun but rather plays a role in creating a compound term with a more specific meaning.

and DPR said;

Itthatta1 (nt.) [[ittha](javascript:void(0)) + *[tvaṃ](javascript:void(0)), abstr. fr. [ittha](javascript:void(0)). The curious BSk. distortion of this word is icchatta M Vastu 417 being here (in this world), in the present state of becoming, this (earthly) state (not “thusness” or “life as we conceive it”, as Mrs. Rh. D. in K. S. i.177; although a confusion between [ittha](javascript:void(0)) & [itthaṃ](javascript:void(0)) seems to exist, see [ittha](javascript:void(0))); “life in these conditions” K. S. ii.17; expld. by itthabhāva C. on S i.140 (see K. S. 318). – See also freq formula A of [arahatta](javascript:void(0)). – D i.18, 84; A i.63; ii.82, 159 203; Sn 158; Dhs 633; Pug 70, 71; DA i.112.

So I thought, why translate itthattāyā to “any state of existence” as @sujato does, when it could be much more in keeping with the given meanings of the parts of the word, and as a bonus give the “th”, “th” sounds and as another bonus not have “existence” which usually is bhava or atthi neither of which are actually there, and as yet another bonus not take a position on the whole rebirth debate, which as I am sure you are aware, many scholars have doubts about.

ChatGPT 3.5 is already better at translating than I will ever be, it also has the advantage of not having opinions informed by religious views, and I am pretty sure that within a year or so it will be vastly more capable of translating texts than any human alive, that’s just the nature of large language models.

So it’s a great time to be a student of Buddhism! no more need to wait for our betters to tell us what words mean!!

Of course, LLM’s do hallucinate and make things up, so it’s a risky business, but the humans make things up too, or at least they talk sententiously about what they say as if they a certain of things about which they are almost certainly not certain :slight_smile:

I would also mention that the context here appears to be this one sentence, that is this is the only sentence in the prose nikayas that uses this word, although I haven’t actually checked thoroughly, so by all means find counter examples.

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except that no it doesn’t. bhava means existence, atthi means existence, hoti means existence, itthattāyā means “that this” or “this that” or something like that, if we are being “literal”.

and that’s the problem really, so many people here take monastic renderings into english as “literal” when they are most decidedly not, and so many people here really struggle with the idea that the claim that word or phrase X “points” to word or phrase Y is precisely begging the question. whether or not a given term or phrase “points” to and is therefore equivalent to some other, different word or phrase, is what is at issue.


Sure. But that doesn’t mean that itthattāya in the context your quoting doesn’t point to this existence.
Check the DPD. Check Ven. Bodhi.