The Inherent Existence of God

I published an article on October 20th indicating that I was finally beginning to understand Nagarjuna, and if my test results from my Buddhism class aren’t completely based on nepotism, I apparently have a firm grasp on the other concepts of this religion as well. Therefore, I feel confident moving forward with this discussion, at least as confident as I’ll ever be, and turn towards why I disagree with Nagarjuna regarding inherent existence.

To recap, Nagarjuna states that nothing inherently exists because such a concept is absurd. To inherently exist means to be eternal, to never change, and Nagarjuna states that something which never changes can never change anything else either. If something inherently existed, it could not move, could not feel, could not be moved, and could not move anything else. It would also have to be unconditional, which is to say that nothing would cause that which inherently exists. Likewise, that which inherently exists cannot cause anything else.

The logical conclusion of this line of argument is that if something does not possess inherent existence–that is to say, it is capable of change–it will die. Likewise, everything that is temporary and going to die is also conditional; everything is caused by something else. Nothing exists on its own.

That which is temporary and conditional is “empty,” Nagarjuna would say. It has no inherent existence; it is conditional on something else, and is itself a condition for other states. It only exists, is only defined, by its conditions. It is empty.

You may have already surmised my response, which is that Nagarjuna’s perception was limited. He observed the world around himself with the same assumptions everyone in Asia made at the time and came to these logical conclusions, but they’re only logical based on that limited perception.

It should be stated here that, within Buddhist theology, there are gods. I had previously always believed it an atheistic religion, or philosophy, but there are certainly gods within Buddhism. And these gods are the same as everything else: susceptible to change, death, and rebirth.

I believe strongly that I serve a God who is both the beginning and the end, however; who has always existed and always will. Despite that, I do not believe that God inherently exists as Nagarjuna would define it.

The Christian God “inherently exists” in that His existence is not conditional. God does not depend on anything else for His existence. However, inherent existence, to my mind, does not preclude the inability to change or to affect change. Nagarjuna took a step from “not caused” to “unable to cause” that I cannot quite comprehend. The only arguments he offers is that if something is not caused, it cannot exist, and therefore cannot cause anything else. But what if something existed without being caused? Could it not then affect change?

Our God exists without being caused, and this fact alone leads to the unraveling of Nagarjuna’s chain of logic. Beyond this, we know that God can change, else He would have wiped out the Israelites during the time of Moses, left them in exile in Babylon, or left humanity dwelling in sin. The story of Jesus is a story of changing times, and it was our God who changed them.

God doesn’t need us for His existence. God just is. But He presses into us as we press into Him, He shapes and teaches us, and we must therefore recognize that God affects change. God claims to be the beginning and the end, and I cannot dispute His claim. I have met God, and know His face. It smiled, and in this, I saw God move.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 2 – Understanding Nagarjuna

I need to recant yesterday’s blog entry because, after a long lecture in my Buddhism class tonight, I understand what Nagarjuna was saying now.

The statement that plagued me over the weekend was “A non-moving thing is not stationary,” so let us begin with that.

First, Nagarjuna doesn’t necessarily redefine words, but he was certainly using them in a manner I did not understand. The key phrase is “inherent existence,” and the important thing to understand is that nothing possesses inherent existence. Inherent Existence means, essentially, that something exists without condition, without cause or effect, and this thing is permanent. It cannot change, and as such, it can be neither interacted with nor can it interact with anything else.

Let us therefore use the example of a ball. There are two things we might say about a ball. First, that it is made of various components; its existence is conditional upon being put together of different pieces, chemicals, what-have-you by various people in various places. It does not purely exist without cause; something and someone had to make it. Second, balls roll. They can bounce and go places.

If a ball is not moving, it is stationary, but when Nagarjuna states that a non-moving thing is not stationary, he’s not really talking about something so simple as “not moving.” Rather, he is referring to its conditional existence. In referring last time to potential motion, I wasn’t far from the mark of understanding a ball’s conditional existence. Because the ball does not inherently exist, it is capable of change. It is not permanent. And because it is capable of change, it is capable of rolling. It can be affected, and it can affect other things.

To be stationary would be to inherently exist, or to be incapable of change. A non-moving thing is simply not-moving, but it is capable of being moved, conventionally speaking.

About an hour and a half into tonight’s lecture, it all clicked for me, and I find Nagarjuna far more intriguing now. I really look forward to finishing this book and digging into the commentary. The problem was that I had come at this text from a very Western perspective, with a preconceived definition of the word “emptiness.” Nagarjuna states that everything is empty and that nothing inherently exists; I interpreted that as a very negative statement, and if you walked up to a person and told them that they are empty, they probably would too.

But Nagarjuna didn’t mean it as an insult, just as an observation. Inherent existence means permanence; it means that the thing in question had no cause and subsequently is incapable of acting on anything else. Inherent existence means that the thing in question cannot change. To be capable of change, to be impermanent, to not have inherent existence… that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing to me now. And certainly, within Buddhism, it was not; inherent existence, permanence, would mean that one is incapable of nirvana.

Later I will have to write, however, about my disagreement with the view that nothing inherently exists. But for now, it is enough that this text makes a bit of sense to me, and I’m excited to read more.

Thoughts on Buddhism – Logic – Part 1 – Confused about Nagarjuna

Just as a moving thing is not stationary,
A non-moving thing is not stationary.
Apart from the moving and the non-moving,
What third thing is stationary?

Mūlamadhyamakakārikā by Nagarjuna

Like I’ve mentioned before, there seem to be some fundamental flaws in Buddhist logic and theology, largely due to a lack of explanation concerning various doctrinal points. It has been stated that several facets of their beliefs are simply taken as natural laws, prima facia with no further consideration. Karma is a law, as is reincarnation, and that’s all there is to it.

Reading Nagarjuna, though I’m not far into it, feels like reading Ayn Rand. Attempting to redefine words and twist them so they support one’s philosophy seems fundamentally wrong to me. It simply doesn’t work.

A definition is, to be fair, simply what a word or thought means according to the majority. The majority of a society has settled upon what the word/idea means, and agreed upon it. We agree that “two apples” means that we have one apple and another apple. Putting these together gives us two. Just the same, we agree that the word stationary in the context of discussing motion means not moving.

So stating “a non-moving thing is not stationary” just seems nonsensical to me. One might argue that it has potential energy, but the entire point of potential is that it’s not happening now.

Nagarjuna is attempting to prove that everything is empty, that there is neither existence nor non-existence. I’m familiar with the style of logical argument he is using, building upon previous statements, but at certain points he makes assumptions that fail, in my opinion. You can’t get halfway in and then redefine a term.

It’s like saying, “Let apple pie equal the world. Because apple pie has a crust, the earth has a crust, and this we know from science. Therefore, just like apple pie is filled with apples, the earth must be filled with apples.”

A non-moving thing is not stationary? Sorry, but unless you suddenly shifted gears to begin talking about posting letters and birthday cards, I don’t think that argument works.