The Khandana Khanda Khadya is a work by the 12th century Advaitin philosopher Shri Harsha which seeks to demonstrate that all supposed means of knowledge are invalid. As I discuss in this question, in Hindu philosophy there are three main Pramanas or valid means of knowledge: Pratyaksha or sensory evidence, Anumana or reasoning, and Shabda or revelation/scripture. This terminology was developed by the Nyaya school (which I discuss here and here), and it's accepted by all schools of Hindu philosophy. But Advaitins believe that these Pramanas are only valid in the perspective of someone still living under Maya. So the purpose of Shri Harsha's work is to show that all these Pramanas are ultimately unreliable, as a means of demonstrating the Advaita view that the world is an illusion (which I discuss here).

Now in this excerpt from the Khandana Khanda Khadya, Shri Harsha tries to refute the Nyaya school's view of cause and effect. For those who don't know, the Nyaya school believed that something is a cause of a phenomenon if the appearance of the phenomenon requires that thing to exist. So for instance, fire is the cause of smoke because if we see smoke, then we know that fire must exist. But Shri Harsha, since he subscribed to the Advaita theory of Maya, believed the exact opposite: instead of the appearance of an effect being based on the existence of the cause, he thought the appearance of an effect is based on the non-existence of the cause! So for instance, he thought that the appearance of smoke was caused by non-existent fire, not existent fire (because he thought all fires were ultimately illusory).

In any case, here is Shri Harsha's argument for why the cause of a phenomenon can never have real existence:

Causal efficiency cannot belong to that which has real being.

I. ‘If a cause be that into the nature of which real existence (sattā) enters as an essential element, then, for this very reason, the cause has no real being.'
II. 'If, on the other hand, real being does not essentially enter into the nature of the cause, then, for this very reason, the cause has not real being.'

The meaning of this stanza is as follows:—

I. If the nature of the cause be such that it implies as an essential element real existence, then to say that the generic character ‘real existence' (sattā) belongs to the cause would involve the absurdity of something (real existence) residing partially in itself (i. e. that real existence which goes to constitute the nature of the cause). Even if the thing qualified by real existence (i.e. the cause with such existence as an essential element of itself) were considered as something different from real existence (sattā) (so that the said absurdity would not arise), we could not accept the sattā (in the latter sense, i. e. the sattā which is predicated of the cause) to be the same with the real being that enters into the nature of the cause; for it is a recognised principle that no more than a thing can reside in itself, can it reside in that of which it already is an essential attribute. It would therefore be necessary to assume another existence as residing in the cause qualified by existence ; and as this would mean that existence does not enter into the nature of the cause, the cause would have to be regarded as ‘not really existing.' And if, in order to avoid this, we were to assume a series of existences, one after the other, there would be no end of such assumptions.

Nor will you escape from this predicament by taking the long step of assuming an infinity of different kinds of real existence. For if you assume different kinds of real existence, you relinquish the very foundation on which the generic conception of ‘existence' rests, and hence lose the idea of even the first existence. Seeking to establish the notion of existence you thus have lost the basis of it, and are worse off than before! ...

II. Let us then consider the second alternative stated in para. 44, viz., that that which really is constitutes the cause, without ‘real being' entering into it as an essential element.—On this view, we point out, that which has no real being also may be a cause, since real being and non-being equally do not enter into the nature of the cause.

My question is, what is the logic of Shri Harsha's argument that the cause of a phenomenon cannot have real existence?

He seems to find some kind of contradiction between the statement "The nature of the cause is such that it implies as an essential element real existence." and the statement "The generic character ‘real existence' (sattā) belongs to the cause." But I can't seem to even tell the difference between the two statements, let alone see a contradiction between them. What is the difference between saying that real existence is an essential element of the cause and saying that real existence belongs to the cause? To my mind, both of these statement are obviously true. But Shri Harsha seems to believe that if both statements are true, that leads to a contradiction, and that if the first statement is false, then there is no compelling argument why the second statement must be true. None of this makes much sense to me, so does anyone know of any commentaries which shed light on this?

On a side note, what is the origin of the "If a cause be that into the nature of which ..." verse given in the beginning of the quotation? Is that just a verse composed by Shri Harsha, or is he quoting some other work? If he is quoting some other work, perhaps that work might clarify the logic of his argument.


2 Answers 2


The boldface passage is easy to understand, the rest of the argument, not so much. Sri Harsha seems to deal with a one-level ontology similar to scholastics', where attributes (essential properties) are things in their own right. His "nature" seems to correspond to scholastic "essence", the sum total of attributes. To untangle the argument let us abbreviate "real existence" by the scholastic Latinism esse, which, like most scholastics (except Thomists), Sri Harsha considers an attribute.

Boldface argument: What he says in the boldface passage is that cause=(esse,...), where I list the constituting attributes in parentheses, and we can not have esse=cause because then esse=(esse,...). And this is not allowed because a thing can not be its own attribute ("the absurdity of something (real existence) residing partially in itself").

"Recognized principle": Then it gets murky. Sri Harsha allows that the thing, which is the cause, is not the esse itself but something more: thing=(esse,...). We also have cause=(esse,...), and I see no problem with thing=cause=(esse,...). But he does. For some reason the same esse can not underlie the thing both as a thing and as a cause, or rather it has to underlie it/them twice, thing=cause=(esse,esse,...) ("It would therefore be necessary to assume another existence as residing in the cause qualified by existence"). But according to the "recognized principle" nothing can be an attribute of the same thing twice ("no more... can it reside in that of which it already is an essential attribute").

Accidental esse: After that it gets even murkier. Apparently, we are now envisioning non-essential properties, perhaps what scholastics called accidentals, so we have to refine the notation. I will list accidentals after the vertical line. So we have something like thing=cause=(esse,...| esse,...), and while esse can not underlie the thing as a thing and the thing as a cause both essentially, it can apparently underlie one essentially, and the other, say the cause, only accidentally. That is not good enough though, "but then the cause would have to be regarded as ‘not really existing'".

Multiple esses: Finally, the splitting of esse is allowed, say into esseT and esseC (actually, it seems that it was already done previously, and we tacitly had thing=cause=(esseT,...| esseC,...), but ok). Now we can have thing=cause=(esseT, esseC,...), which again I see no problem with. But Sri Harsha thinks that to get it to "really" exist we need to "unify" the two esses. So we get something like thing=cause=(esseT, esseC, esseTC...), and then an infinite regress. This does not deter him in itself, but even taking the "long step" of creating the requisite esses all at once does not work for another reason. Because the esse was supposed to be the "generic conception" of existence, and so had to unify all existences including all our specialized esses, which are thereby revealed as not esses at all, "seeking to establish the notion of existence you thus have lost the basis of it".

Summary: Try as I might I can not see a reading of this argument upon which it is not badly circular at a key juncture. To apply the "recognized principle" Sri Harsha must claim (and appears to) that the same single esse can not be the attribute of the thing and the cause, both as such. But on his interpretation of real existence as an attribute this just rephrases the conclusion. Namely, that nothing really existent can be a cause, which is what he set out to prove. The rest of the argument seems superfluous.

This answer is cross-posted from a related thread on Philosophy SE.


You don't have a clear understanding of the text and the argument is not just an advaita argument, but is also supported by Ramanuja in his Sri-Bhasya. The original argument that Harsha is explaining appears in Brahma Sutras. The argument is given by Vyasa in Brahma Sutras 2.1.26-33. Both Sankara and Ramanuja support Vyasa's view in this text.

Here is the text from the Brahma Sutras with Sankara's commentary (Swami Vireswarananda translator, available here - http://www.wisdomlib.org/hinduism/book/brahma-sutras/d/doc62753.html):

  1. (Brahman’s being the cause of the world involves) either the possibility of the entire (Brahman being modified) or the violation of the scriptural statement that Brahman is without parts.

If Brahman is without parts and yet the material cause of the world, then we have to admit that the entire Brahman becomes changed into this multiform world. So there will be no Brahman left, but only the effect, the world. Moreover, it would contradict the scriptural text that Brahman is immutable. If on the other hand it is said that the whole of It does not undergo modification, but only a part, then we shall have to accept that Brahman is made up of parts, which is denied by scriptural texts. In either case it leads to a dilemma, and so Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.

  1. But (it cannot be like that) on account of scriptural texts (supporting both the apparently contradictory views) and on account of (Brahman) being based on the scripture only.

‘But’ refutes the view of the former Sutra.

The entire Brahman does not undergo change, though the scriptures say that the world originates from Brahman. Witness such texts as, “One foot (quarter) of Him is all beings, and three feet are what is immortal in heaven” (Chh. 3. 12. 6). And as in matters supersensuous the Srutis alone are authority, we have to accept that both these opposite views are true, though it does not stand to reason. The thing is, the change in Brahman is only apparent and not real. Hence both the views expressed by the Sruti are true. It is on this basis that the apparently contradictory texts become reconciled and not otherwise.

  1. And because in the individual soul also (as in the case of magicians etc.) diverse (creation exists). Similarly (with Brahman).

This Sutra establishes the view of the former by citing an example.

In the dream state there appears in the individual self, which is one and indivisible, diversity resembling the waking state (See Brih. 4. 3. 10), and yet the indivisible character of the self is not marred by it. We see also magicians, for instance, producing a multiple creation without any change in themselves. Similarly this diverse creation springs from Brahman through Its inscrutable power of Mâyâ, though Brahman Itself remains unchanged.

  1. And on account of the opponent’s own view being subject to these very objections.

If the Pradhâna is taken to be the First Cause, as the opponents of the Vedântic view (the Sânkhyas) hold, in that case also, as the Pradhâna too is without parts, the Sânkhyan view will be equally subject to the objections raised against Brahman as the First Cause, The Vedânta viewpoint has, however, answered all these objections, while the Sânkhyas and Vaiseshikas cannot answer them, the changes being real according to them.

  1. And (Brahman is) endowed with all (powers), because it is seen (from the scriptures).

Generally we see that men endowed with a physical body possess such powers. But since Brahman has no body, it is not likely that It can possess such powers—so says the opponent.

This Sutra gives proof of Brahman’s being endowed with Mâyâ Sakti, the power of Nescience. Various scriptural texts declare that Brahman possesses all powers. “The great Lord is the Mâyin (the ruler of Mâyâ)” (Svet. 4. 10). See also Chh. 8. 14. 4 and 8. 7. 1.

  1. If it be said that because (Brahman) is devoid of organs (it is) not (able to create, though endowed with powers), (we say) this has (already) been explained.

As Brahman is devoid of organs. It cannot create. Moreover, It is described as “Not this, not this”, which precludes all attributes; so how can It possess any powers? This Sutra replies that it has already been explained in 2. 1. 4. and 2. 1. 25 that with respect to Brahman the scripture alone is authority and not reason. The scripture declares that Brahman, although devoid of organs, possesses all capacities. “Grasping without hands, moving swiftly without feet” etc. (Svet. 3. 19). Though Brahman is without attributes, yet on account of Mâyâ or Nescience It can be taken to possess all powers.

  1. (Brahman is) not (the creator of the world) on account of (every activity) having a motive.

Granting that Brahman possesses all powers for creation, a further objection is raised against Its being the cause. Nobody engages himself in anything without a motive or purpose. Everything is undertaken by people to satisfy .some desire. But Brahman is self-sufficient, therefore It has nothing to gain by the creation; hence we cannot expect It to engage Itself in such a useless creation. Therefore Brahman cannot be the cause of the world.

  1. But (Brahman’s creative activity) is mere pastime, as is seen in the world.

Even as kings without any motive behind are seen to engage in acts for mere pastime, or even as men breathe without a purpose, for it is their very nature, or even as children play out of mere fun, so also Brahman without any purpose engages Itself in creating this world of diversity. This answers the objection raised in the previous Sutra against Brahman’s being the cause of the world.

Ramauja makes similar arguments in support of Vyasa in his commentary. For example, in his commentary to verse 2.1.27, Ramanuja says (Sri-Bhasya, Swami Vireswarananda translator):

'But' refutes the view of the former Sutra.

There is no dilemma whatsoever for scriptures declare that Brahman is without parts and yet the material cause of the world is multiform. It may be said that even scripture cannot say what is absurd as for example, 'water with fire'. But in matters supersensuous scriptures alone are authority and ordinary standards of reasoning do not apply there. Whatever this is established by the proper means of knowledge with respect to it must be taken to be of a nature as declared by that particular source of knowledge. Brahman is unique and beyond ordinary comprehension. It is quite unlike everything we experience in this world and possesses infinite powers. You cannot apply here the reasoning which holds good in our ordinary experience and with respect to things of finite power. The rule of invariable concomitance of two qualities or things (vyapti) which holds true in the worldly experience cannot be applicable in the case of Brahman. In the world we know that those who have eyes and ears see things and hear sounds and vice versa those who do not have eyes or ears do not see things or hear sounds. So we conclude that those who see and hear have eyes and ears. To conclude from this that because Brahman sees and hears It must have be having eyes and ears will not be correct, for texts like, 'without eyes It sees, without ears It hears' etc. clearly declare that Brahman has no eyes, ears etc. though It sees, hears, etc.

So also the principle that causal things which produce effects have parts is not applicable in the case of Brahman; for texts declare It to be without parts and yet the material cause of the world. So we have to accept this view expressed by texts and there is no room for any doubt as to how Brahman without parts could become many. This is already explained in Sat Vidya....

You also quote Harsha as saying "And if, in order to avoid this, we were to assume a series of existences, one after the other, there would be no end of such assumptions." This statement is in support of Brahma Sutras 2.2.13, Vyasa's argument against the Vaisesika theory.

Hope this clarifies Harsha's arguments.

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    No, this has nothing to do with what Sri Harsha is talking about in this passage. Here is the full section the passage is from: gdurl.com/H71Q Sri Harsha isn't refuting the argument that Brahman cannot be the material cause, he's talking about something else entirely. The Nyaya school believes in 16 Padarthas or categories. The Nyaya school argues that these 16 categories must be real, because they are the cause of all philosophical discussion. Sri Harsha's response to that is that he agrees that they're the cause of all philosophical discussion, but he denies that they are real. Aug 21, 2016 at 13:46
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    Sri Harsha's justification of his claim is based on two statements: A. "The non-real can have causal efficiency", i.e. just because something is a cause does not mean it has real existence. And B. "Causal efficiency cannot belong to that which has real being", i.e. that which has real existence can never be a cause. My question is about the argument that Sri Harsha gives for statement B. Aug 21, 2016 at 13:51
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    "God [Brahman] is both the material and efficient cause through maya, but not in reality. God has not become this universe, but the universe is not, and God is." - Swami Vivekananda Aug 22, 2016 at 16:08
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    Oh, but he is. Read Sankara's introduction to his Bhasya on the Brahma Sutras titled "Adhyasa" (link provided in answer) and also Gaudapada's Karika, chapter 3. Of the 7 categories mentioned, 6 are unreal and 1 is real. Dravya, substance, is real and has an independent existence. The other 6 are dependent on it and therefore unreal. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:27
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    Vivekananda makes the following illustration. If you see a mirage in the desert, is the desert responsible for the mirage? It can be thought of as the 'cause' of the mirage insofar as you would not see any mirage without the existence of the desert in the background. But you, yourself, are the one responsible for creating the mirage and seeing it, and it is only within you in the context of seeing the mirage that you can ask where did the mirage come from, what is its nature, etc. Aug 24, 2016 at 15:37

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