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.