Abiding in conditions means seeing things clearly—abiding calmly and peacefully in our lives and with our world. These notes outline Nagarjuna’s presentation of conditions from Chapter One of Middle Way Philosophy as explained by Jay Garfield in his commentary on that treatise (Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way). Check out Chapter One of our commentary for a more complete explanation.
Abiding in conditions, being present with awareness rather than dualistically affective stories, is seeing clearly and responding appropriately. But what are conditions? Let’s look, in skeletal form, at what Nagarjuna has to say about conditions.
If things cannot arise permanently, from themselves, another, both or neither (the tetralemma); how do things happen? They appear to happen when four appropriate conditions appear together
There Is No Cause and Effect:
When Nagarjuna uses the word “cause,” he has in mind a person, place, thing, event, process or state that has in it a power to bring about its effect, and has that power as part of its essence or nature.
This means a cause must always produce its effect; it must be permanent, which isn’t possible.
Regularity Gives the Illusion of Cause and Effect where this is none.
When he uses the term “condition,” on the other hand, he has in mind a person, place, thing, event, state, or process that can be appealed to in explaining another person, place, thing, event, state, or process, without any assumption that there is any objective connection between the two, between the explanandum and explans, to use the technical terms.
There is Nothing Metaphysical or Occult in Conditions: Nagarjuna tells us that in exploiting an event or entity as a condition in explanation, we should not thereby ascribe it any causal power—metaphysical or occult. Our desire for light does not exert some metaphysical or occult force on the light switch. Nor is there anything to be found in the flicking of the switch other than the plastic, metal, movement, and connections visible to the naked eye.
But There Is “Causality” – Conditions
Nagarjuna notes that there are four kinds of conditions that can be appealed to in the explanation and prediction of phenomena.
Only Four Conditions – example of turning on a light
The Four Conditions: 1. Initiating (the light switch, flicking the switch gets things going), 2. Supporting (the supporting connectors: switch, wires, bulb are in place and working), 3. Background (availability of electricity and its ability to emit photons), and 4. Dominant (seeing the event).
However, No Condition Has Any Inherent Potentiality
But in examining a phenomenon and its relations to its conditions, we do not find that phenomenon somehow contained potentially in those conditions.
Explanatory Interest and Language
What we are typically confronted with in nature is a vast network of interdependent and continuous processes, and carving out particular phenomena for explanation or for use in explanations depends more on our explanatory interests and language than on the nature of the conditions themselves.
Nothing Occult in Conditions
Nagarjuna emphasizes that in exploiting an event or entity as a condition in explanation, we should not thereby ascribe it any causal power. Our desire for light does not exert some occult force on the lights. Nor is there some synchronistic force at play, nor is there some propelling evolutionary force at work, nor is there anything to be found in the flicking of the switch other than the plastic, metal, movement, and connections visible to the naked eye. Occult causal forces and powers are singularly absent.