Non-phenomenal matter rejected

Critique of the arguments for non-phenomenal matter

Vasubandhu rejects both the theory of non-phenomenal matter and the theory of two special properties of the personality called acquisition and non-acquisition. Let us consider first his replies to the arguments advanced in favor of accepting non-phenomenal matter.

The first argument was that non-phenomenal matter is necessary to account for the growth of merit in a generous person. Vasubandhu argues that the increase of merit can be accounted for in other ways than by appealing to special subtle matter. One can say, for example, that it is simply the special virtues of the recipient of a gift that multiplies the good effects of that gift in the person who gave it. A monk who accepts alms, for example, uses the nourishment from his food in especially productive ways, using his energy for such things as cultivating universal love and kindness. It is because the monk cultivates love towards all beings that the food given to him has the ultimate effect of producing much good in the world, and therefore whoever offered the gift of food is indirectly responsible for doing great good to the world at large. Since the monk continues to cultivate love even when the donor of his alms has gone to sleep or has otherwise forgotten all about giving the alms, the benefits of the alms-giving grows no matter what the donor may be doing. There is no need to posit the existence of a special property in the donor to account for the increase in his merit, since the increase in merit can be explained fully by the special virtues of the recipient.

The second argument adduced in favor of the existence of non-phenomenal matter was that it is necessary to account for karmic consequences being experienced by a person who has another act on his behalf. Vasubandhu replies to this argument by saying that all that is necessary to account for a son’s ill consequences from the murder of his mother is the son’s wish to see his mother killed. It is surely just this wish for the death of his own mother that serves to transform the son for the worse. It is the wish to see one’s mother die, and not the actual carrying out of that wish by oneself or by another, that sets the karmic chain in motion. And this karmic sequence can be explained, as we shall see below, without having recourse to the theory of non-phenomenal matter. And since a more simple explanation can be found, there is no point in adopting the unnecessarily complicated theory that when an action is actually performed by a person instigated to do it, the continuum of the instigator of the action acquires an invisible property that it did not have until the instigated action was successfully carried out.

Criticism of acquisition and non-acquisition

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