Whitehead and Nagaijuna

Whitehead and Nagarjuna

Mosa-Dharma and Prehension: Nagarjuna and Whitehead

by Ryusei Takeda and John B. Cobb, Jr.

Ryusei Takeda is a member of the faculty of Ryukoku
University in Kyoto. He is a priest of the Jodoshinshu sect.
John B. Cobb, Jr. is a co-editor of this journal and a
member of the faculty of the School of Theology at
Claremont. The following article appeared in Process
Studies, pp. 26-36, Vol. 4, Number 1, Spring, 1974. Process
Studies is published quarterly by the Center for Process
Studies, 1325 N. College Ave., Claremont, CA 91711. Used by
permission. This material was prepared for Religion Online
by Ted and Winnie Brock.

Dialog between Buddhists and Westerners moves back and
forth between two levels: the conceptual and the religious,
valuational, or existential. On the conceptual level
Buddhists insist on nothingness while Westerners
characteristically speak of being and think of things as
having substantial reality. Associated with this conceptual
difference are profound religious ones.

However, the traditions of being and substance are not
the only ones in the West. There are also traditions of
process with roots in the Greeks, but largely new beginnings
with Hume and Hegel. These traditions reduce the conceptual
opposition between Buddhist and Western thought. Yet even
the advocates of process philosophies rarely approximate the
Buddhist religious sensibility.

This paper undertakes to examine the conceptual relation
between Buddhism and Western process thought and to consider
whether there remain conceptual differences that explain the
continuing religious differences. Instead of characterizing
the two complex movements in general terms, we select one
spokesman of each: Nagarjuna and Whitehead. Nagarjuna, a
second century Indian Buddhist, is the single most
influential thinker of Mahayana Buddhism. Whitehead is, in
the view of many, the most penetrating and inclusive of
Western process thinkers.

Nagarjuna’s major attention was devoted to carrying
through Buddhist negation to its fullest extent. He believed
that the categories used by earlier Buddhists in the
negation of the phenomenal world were themselves left
unnegated. This led to a false hypostatizing of a reality
distinct from the phenomenal world.

Nagaijuna sees that even Buddhists fall into the view
that there are real existent things (bhava). He shows that
this is bound up with the idea that some things exist in
themselves or possess sell-existence (svabhava). A main
purpose of his argumentation is to expose the error of the
idea of svabhava, that is, of self-existence or of things
existing in themselves. When he does this, then the
emptiness or voidness (sunyata) of all things becomes

Svabhava, self-existence, is understood by Nagarjuna to
mean that by virtue of which a thing has its being. He
understands that to be svabhava is also to be unproduced,
that is, not to be constituted by something other than
itself. If things (bhava) have no self-existence (svabhava),
then they do not possess being and they are constituted from
beyond themselves.

The meanings Nagarjuna hears in svabhava are close to
those the Westerner hears in substance. Of course, the two
words are not identical in history or connotation. But the
Western common-sense attribution of substantial existence to
tables, stones, persons, and even concepts is very close to
what Nagarjuna is striving to overcome. Hereafter
substantial existence and substance will be used as
equivalent to svabhava as that is used by Nagarjuna.

Nagarjuna’s arguments are generally illustrated at
what Whitehead calls the macroscopic level. He shows that
tables and stones do not have substantial existence since
they are products of multiple factors including human
sensation and thought. But Nagarjuna’s ontological
teaching can be more fully grounded on the basis of
Whitehead’s microscopic analysis; for although
Nagarjuna does not employ this distinction, he clearly
intends to go into the realm prior to human perception and
conscious experience.

The view of substantial existence of a self is bound up
with the idea of an agent. When there is an action there is
supposed to be someone who acts. The agent is supposed to
exist prior to and apart from his act. Nagarjuna devotes
much of his attention to denying the existence of such
agents. He writes, for example: “It is said: ‘The
“goer” goes.’ How is that possible, when without the
‘act of going’ (gamma) no ‘goer’ is
produced? Those who hold the view that the ‘goer’
goes must [falsely] conclude that there is a
‘goer’ without the ‘act of going’ since
the ‘act of going’ is obtained (icchata) by a
‘goer’” (M 2:9-10). Similarly, there is no seer
who sees, no desirer who desires, and no producer who
produces (M, chapters 3, 6, and 8).

Whitehead makes the same point. “It is fundamental to the
metaphysical doctrine of the philosophy of organism that the
notion of an actual entity as the unchanging subject of
change is completely abandoned (PR 43). He argues that “a
feeling cannot be abstracted from the actual entity
entertaining it” (PR 338). He terms this entity a
subject-superject in order to make clear the contrast to the
notion of subject in the philosophies of substance. These
“presuppose a subject which then encounters a datum, and
then reacts to the datum. The philosophy of organism
presupposes a datum which is met with feelings, and
progressively attains the unity of a subject” (PR 234). In
Whitehead’s conception, the process does not start from
the subject. Instead, the subject is, as it were, thrown up
by the process. It comes into being only in virtue of its

In contrast to earlier Buddhist philosophies Nagarjuna
does not deny the substantial character of the ordinary
world in favor of another sphere of being supposed to be
more real. In Buddhism this world of ceaseless flow and
change is known as samsara, and to samsara is opposed
nirvana, the world of nonorigination and nondestruction. The
early Buddhist tradition attributed to nirvana four
qualities denied to samsara: permanence, bliss, purity, and
substantiality. Thus nirvana was hypostatized as a mode of
reality opposite to that known in ordinary experience.

Nagarjuna, however, applies his critique of
substantialist thinking as much to nirvana as to samsara.
This leads to the denial that there is any real separation
of nirvana from samsara. The separation is made by the false
supposition that nirvana and samsara are two self-existent
things (svabhava). Hence Nagarjuna writes: “There is nothing
whatever which differentiates samsara from nirvana; and
there is nothing whatever which differentiates nirvana from
samsara. The extreme limit of nirvana is also the extreme
limit of samsara; there is not the slightest bit of
difference between these two” (M 25: 19-20).

Of course, the words nirvana and samsara continue to have
different uses even in Nagarjuna’s language. Their
relation may be clarified through a remark of Whitehead:
“Civilized intuition has always, although obscurely, grasped
the problem as double and not as single. There is not the
mere problem of fluency and permanence. There is the double
problem: actuality with permanence, requiring fluency as its
completion; and actuality with fluency, requiring permanence
as its completion” (PR 527). Accordingly, nirvana does not
reach its perfect fulfillment without full realization of
samsara; and samsara does not reach its full realization
without perfect fulfillment of nirvana. Nirvana can attain
its totality only within the fluency of samsara; and samsara
can manifest its wholeness only within the permanence of

Nagarjuna’s central thesis is that whatever is
supposed to be substantial, whether in the sphere of samsara
or in that of nirvana is actually nothing but pratitya
samutpada, which is translated as dependent co-origination.
That is, what appear to be things with substantial existence
turn out to be processes to which many elements contribute,
each of these elements being in turn nothing other than such
a process. At no point does analysis arrive at anything that
exists in itself. And dependent co-origination in its turn
must not be hypostatized as a thing or substance.

Whitehead’s doctrine is very similar. The
macrocosmic objects of presentational immediacy, which
Nagarjuna has primarily in view, are constituted in much the
way Nagarjuna supposes, with important contributions by the
human sense organs and mental activity. On the other hand,
considered apart from human experience, they are composites
of microcosmic processes. These microcosmic processes
(concrescences or actual occasions) in their turn do not
exist in themselves but only as foci of their data
momentarily unified and transmitted beyond themselves. “An
actual entity, on its subjective side, is nothing else than
what the universe is for it, including its own reactions”
(PR 234). Something very much like what Nagarjuna
understands by pratitya samutpada is expressed by Whitehead
in his account of creativity as an ultimate notion.
Creativity is that “principle by which the many, which are
the universe disjunctively, become the one actual occasion,
which is the universe conjunctively” (PR 31). For Whitehead,
as for Nagarjuna, these conjunctions in their turn “are
disjunctively ‘many’ in process of passage into
conjunctive unity” (PR 32). “The most general term
‘thing’ — or equivalently ‘entity’ —
means nothing else than to be one of the ‘many’
which find their niches in each instance of concrescence.
Each instance of concrescence is itself the novel individual
‘thing’ in question. There are not ‘the
concrescence’ and the ‘novel thing’: when we
analyze the novel thing we find nothing but the concrescence
(PR 321). In Nagarjuna’s sense, all things are sunyata,
or empty.

There is an apparent difference between Nagarjuna and
Whitehead with respect to the subject-object distinction.
Whitehead makes extensive use of this distinction whereas
Nagarjuna polemicizes against it. However, what is negated
by Nagarjuna is negated also by Whitehead. That is, contrary
to substantialist views, there is no object apart from a
subject. and no subject apart from an object. Whitehead
explains this more intelligibly through his concept of
prehension, which functions as a transaction relating an
experiencing subject to a datum as its object. The datum of
the prehension can be an actual entity, an eternal object, a
proposition, or a nexus, but in no case can it exist
independently as an object. (Even eternal objects exist only
through envisagement.) It is through being felt that the
datum becomes an object” and then it is the object of that
subject’s feeling. Insofar as the actual entity as
datum can be described without reference to a subject
prehending it, that actual entity is only potentially an
object. It is actually an object only as prehended in a
concrescing subject. Thus, the object never exists in itself
as object. As Nagarjuna never tires of pointing out,
consideration of any element of that concrete transaction —
whether of the subject, the activity, or the object — as if
it existed in itself involves abstraction and false
substantialization. In Whitehead’s terms, it is an
instance of the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.

The area of fundamental philosophical agreement between
Nagarjuna and Whitehead could readily be expanded. They both
understand that direct intuitive insight (for Nagarjuna,
prajna) is prior to discursive reasoning. Both know that
language can never grasp and embody what is intuited.

Both have doctrines of cause and effect that deny their
substantial and independent existence. Whitehead’s
doctrine of causal efficacy could illumine the Buddhist idea
of Karma. Also both insist on the importance of the causal
relation without allowing a resultant determinism or
fatalism that would imply man’s helplessness.

Both recognize that time is doubly removed from the
substantial character sometimes attributed to it. First, it
is a function of processes. In Nagarjuna’s words:
“Since time is dependent on a thing (bhava), how can time
[exist] without a thing?” (M 19:6). Second, the
things on which time depends have no substantial

If Nagarjuna and Whitehead agree so extensively in their
dissolution of all being into becoming or process, we might
expect that the religious or existential meaning of their
thought would be similar as well. But here the basic
difference of Buddhism and typical Western thought
reappears. For Nagarjuna the conclusion drawn from the
absence of substantiality is that all is sunyata, or
emptiness. Ontologically sunyata is dependent co-origination
or the inextricable interrelatedness of all things including
human experience. Its existential realization is the
enlightenment that brings freedom from attachment.

The same ontological situation Nagarjuna describes as
emptiness Whitehead calls the creative advance into novelty.
To recognize the absence of substantiality for him paves the
way for the perception of the presence of value in all
things. The direction in which Whitehead sees gain is in the
widening of horizons of concern rather than in

The contrast is not a simple one. For Nagarjuna the
existential realization of the interconnectedness of all
things leads to the compassion of the Bodhisattva who sees
that all must gain release together, although at the deepest
level there is neither release nor need for release. On the
other hand, Whitehead is aware that “Decay, Transition,
Loss, Displacement belong to the essence of the Creative
Advance” (Al 368-69), and this recognition of all things as
process leads toward viewing life as “a flash of occasional
enjoyments lighting up a mass of pain and misery, a
bagatelle of transient experience” (SMW 275). But to ward
off this final threat to the Western sense of meaning he
appeals to the consequent nature of God as the locus in
which events add up in such a way that their real value is


Hence it remains that fundamentally similar ontological
doctrines have given rise to profoundly different religious
attitudes. One interpretation of this situation could be
that Whitehead inherited a Western tradition of meaning and
value and failed to recognize that his onto-logical analysis
radically undercut this tradition. Another interpretation
would be that Nagarjuna inherited a Buddhist tradition and
simply made use of his ontological analysis to interpret it.
There is truth in both these interpretations. Fundamental
valuation is partly independent of ontological analysis, and
both Nagarjuna and Whitehead were undoubtedly shaped by
their religious traditions. But it is also true that
fundamental valuations are affected by ontological vision,
and both men were deeply sensitive to this relation within
their own thought. Hence it is appropriate to probe further
to discover the point at which their valuation divides.


Basic to Whitehead’s vision of creative advance into
novelty is his understanding of prehension. A prehension is
a process of appropriation of a particular element” by an
actual entity from its universe (PR 335). The word
prehension is a technical one devoid of valuation, favorable
or unfavorable.


Nagarjuna, on the other hand, employs for this same
activity of appropriation of which the entire process, as in
Whitehead, is composed, the term mosa-dharma. He begins the
thirteenth chapter of the Mulamadhyamalcakarikas with the
statement: “A thing which is constituted by mosa-dharma is
deceptive” (translation Ours) “Mosa” is derived from the
verb stem “mus” which means to steal, rob, plunder, or carry
off (1:824). Mosa is originally an act of stealing or
plundering, but more generally, delusion and deception. It
is then easy to understand why Nagarjuna could state as
evident that whatever is constituted by mosa-dharma is
deceptive. With this conceptuality the whole creative
advance is continuous distortion. As this vision is
existentially appropriated, dis-attachment is furthered. The
negative connotations of mosa-dharma have anchored in the
world view of Buddhism a profoundly negative evaluation of
the world of process (samskara).


If mosa-dharma is identical with prehension and
prehension is a value neutral word, we must ask whether the
use of so negative a concept is a fateful accident of the
history of language or whether it has justification in what
is actually involved in the prehensive act. Clearly the
value-laden terminology does have a fateful character for
those who use it, but the full explanation does not end
there. The negative element the Buddhist emphasizes as
constituting the act of appropriation also appears in
Whitehead’s analysis of prehension.


To conceive of a prehension as mosa-dharma is to focus on
the absence of “truth” in the relation of the entity that is
prehended in a physical feeling and the way it is
objectified, that is, between the initial datum and the
objective datum. “There is a transition from the initial
data to the objective datum effected by the elimination. The
initial data constitute a multiplicity, or merely one
‘proper’ entity, while the objective datum is a
‘nexus,’ a proposition, or a ‘proper’
entity of some categoreal type. There is a concrescence of
the initial data into the objective datum, made possible by
the elimination, and effected by the subjective form. The
objective datum is the perspective of the initial datum” (PR
338). “Thus the initial data are felt under a
‘perspective’ which is the objective datum of the
feeling.” Thus the initial data “are felt under an
abstraction” (PR 353). This abstraction which objectifies
the initial datum under a perspective involves an element
which the Buddhist sees as falsification.


That this “falsification” is central to reality as
Whitehead understands it is clear from his discussion of
decision, of which the elimination effected by physical
feelings is a part. “‘Decision’ cannot be
construed as a casual adjunct of an actual entity. It
constitutes the very meaning of actuality” (PR 68). Decision
is that “whereby what is ‘given’ is separated off
from what for that occasion is ‘not given’. . .
The word ‘decision’ does not here imply conscious
judgment, though in some ‘decisions’ consciousness
will be a factor. The word is used in its root sense of a
“cutting off” (PR 68). This means that “cutting off” is the
very meaning of actuality. And cutting off has connotations
quite similar to those of mosa. Thus the Buddhist sense of
an absence of truth in that process that constitutes the
entirety of things is reinforced.


The Buddhist understanding of truth is completely neutral
to the world of morality. It is most fully characterized by
the Sanskrit term tattva, which literally means thusness or
suchness. This term has been translated as truth in Chinese.
For Buddhism, to be true means for something to be as it is
or such as it is. But nothing is ever quite as it is when it
is the objective datum of a prehension. Hence, prehension is
in fact distortion.


Whitehead recognized this problem about truth. For him,
too, the truth that matters most is the relation of the way
the world is experientially appropriated to the way it is in
itself. In Adventures of Ideas he discusses this as the
relation of appearance to reality. Reality corresponds to
the initial data, and appearance includes the objective
datum along with supplementation especially in sense
perception. Whitehead writes: “There is the Reality from
which the occasion of experience springs — a Reality of
inescapable, stubborn fact; and there is the Appearance with
which the occasion attains its final individuality — an
Appearance including its adjustment of the Universe by
simplification [i.e., elimination], valuation,
transmutation, anticipation. . . . Sense perception, which
dominates the appearance of things, in its own nature
re-arranges, and thus in a way distorts. Also there can be
no mere blunt truth about the Appearance which it provides.
In its own nature Sense perception is an interpretation, and
this interpretation may be completely misleading” (AI


Furthermore, this recognition that prehension involves
deception is by no means religiously neutral to Whitehead.
He sees it as tending to cut the nerve of striving, and for
him this would involve the abandonment of all worthwhile
goals. ‘A feeling of dislocation of Appearance from
Reality is the final destructive force, robbing life of its
zest for adventure. It spells the decadence of civilization,
by stripping from it the very reason for its existence” (AI


Nagarjuna and Whitehead thus agree that prehensions are
deceptive, indeed necessarily so. For Nagarjuna this
reinforces the dis-attachment from the activity of creating
appearances and from the products of that activity. It thus
leads to the release that as a Buddhist he seeks. For
Whitehead it constitutes a problem, a threat to the beauty,
adventure, and peace that are his ultimate goals. Hence
Whitehead distinguishes between the inevitable element of
difference between appearance and reality and the
destructive dislocation of appearance from reality. He needs
some grounds for assurance that the latter can be avoided.
He asks, therefore, about the existence of a “factor in the
Universe constituting a general drive towards the
conformation of Appearance to Reality. This drive would then
constitute a factor in each occasion persuading an aim at
such truth as is proper to the special appearance in
question. This concept of truth, proper to each special
appearance, would mean that the appearance has not built
itself up by the inclusion of elements that are foreign to
the reality from which it springs. The appearance will then
be a generalization and an adaptation of emphasis, but not
an importation of qualities and relations without any
corresponding exemplificaton in the reality” (AI 378).


Whitehead’s struggle with the existential
implications of his own ontological vision bears witness to
the profound connection that exists in Nagarjuna between the
ontological analysis and its religious issue. Whitehead
senses a strong pull in the same direction. Unlike Nagarjuna
Whitehead feels that a move in that direction would mean
anaesthesia or sleep. He might have said also emptiness, but
he would then have heard only the negative meaning in the
word. The religious, in distinction from the systematic,
importance of God for Whitehead appears clearly in this
light. God as the “adventure of the universe as one” (the
Consequent Nature), in which the passing flux finds
permanence, grounds the importance of life. God as the
“factor in each occasion persuading an aim at such truth as
is proper to the special appearance in question” (the
Primordial Nature) assures that appearance need not be
destructively dislocated from reality. Because of God man
can affirm the creative advance in spite of perpetual
perishing and the inevitable deceptiveness of


Thus for Whitehead, as in the Western tradition
generally, belief in God, perception of intrinsic value in
events, and finding meaning in a forward movement, belong
together. It is not possible to say whether Whitehead
primarily perceives intrinsic value in events and finds
meaning in a forward movement because he believes in God or
whether he primarily posits God to ground the otherwise
threatened value and meaning. Both procedures seem to
characterize his thought. In any case he rightly recognizes
that value and meaning are bound up with his belief in God
as an ontological reality.


Concern for value and meaning in events in their
discriminable particularity also moves Whitehead’s
total enterprise in a direction quite different from that of
Nagarjuna. In rejecting the notion of svabhava or substance
in favor of emptiness or dependent co-origination, it is not
Nagarjuna’s purpose to explain how things are
dependently co-originating. He intends instead to help one
obtain that way of looking at the world that reveals things
as they are. His consuming concern is to observe reality as
it is in its totality and wholeness, svabhava or substance
in favor of emptiness or dependent co-origination, or
creative flux as the occasion for probing into reality by
the analytic and anatomical methods that have been so
successful in the sciences. Recognizing that the actual is
beyond expression in language, he nevertheless undertakes to
make it as intelligible as possible through novel verbal
characterizations. Thus he elaborates a conceptuality for
improved interpretation of the flux, whereas Nagarjuna is
content to show the inadequacy of all conceptualization.


The Buddhist rightly sees that Western belief in God is
at the center of the difference between the two traditions.
The Buddhist objection to such belief is not primarily that
of the skepticism generated in the West by empiricism,
phenomenalism, and scientism. Buddhist thought is full of
entities that are similarly vulnerable to these approaches.
Neither is the Buddhist objection the Nietzschean refusal to
tolerate a superior being because of its repressiveness to
men. The Buddhist objects that God is viewed as substantive
and that belief in him leads to attachment to the world.


Both objections reflect a correct understanding of most
Western thinking — Jewish, Islamic, Christian, and modern
philosophical. However, in Whitehead a nonsubstantialist
view of God has been developed. God, too, is an instance of
creativity, or process, or dependent co-origination. God
cannot be abstracted as subject from the world that is his
object or as object from the world that subjectively feels
him. God is, or exists, for Whitehead, not in some eminent
sense, but in just the sense in which any other actual
entity is or exists. Hence the objections Nagarjuna raises
against tendencies to attribute substantial reality to the
Buddha M, chapter 22), and which apply a fortiori to
traditional Western doctrines of God, do not apply to
Whitehead’s doctrine. Since the notion of substantial
existence is a vacuous one, questions about the existence or
nonexistence of God, when existence is supposed to be
substantial, are meaningless questions, as Nagarjuna shows.
Whether among the processes of dependent co-origination is
one that has the character Whitehead affirms of God is
ontologically an open question for the Buddhist.


Indeed, in the Shin tradition, the strongest in Japan,
where Nagarjuna is highly respected, there is a doctrine of
Amida Buddha which has interesting affinities with
Whitehead’s doctrine of God. Amida does not have
substantial existence, but Amida’s vow to save all
sentient beings is affirmed as an ultimately potent force in
reliance on which salvation occurs.


Whitehead remarks that “what is done in the world is
transformed into a reality in heaven, and the reality in
heaven passes back into the world. By reason of this
reciprocal relation, the love in the world passes into the
love in heaven, and floods back again into the world” (PR
532). That reciprocal relation is affirmed as the foundation
for “faith” in Shin Buddhism. The two processes of
“transforming” and “passing back” characterize the content
of the karuna (compassion) embodied in Amida.


This suggests that ontologically even Whitehead’s
doctrine of God need not be a final block to the
appropriation of his thought by Buddhists. The term, of
course, is too fraught with objectionable connotations to be
acceptable. But Whitehead is not wedded to the word. In the
passage just quoted he speaks of a “reality in heaven”
rather than of God. In Adventures of Ideas, the primordial
nature of God is called “eros,” and the consequent nature is
termed the “adventure of the universe as one.” Given this
fluidity of language, there remains no necessary conceptual
obstacle to Buddhist appropriation of aspects of
Whitehead’s thought even about God. Perhaps it may be
Christians whose traditional understanding of the divine is
more seriously challenged.1


There remains the religioexistential question. For
Nagarjuna, as for Buddhism generally, the conceptual
analysis serves the end of release through nonattachment and
nondiscrimination. Whitehead discerns a drive toward novelty
or appearance without dislocation from reality and a unified
adventure that “embraces all particular occasions but as an
actual fact stands beyond any one of them” (AI 380). This
encourages him to seek peace, not through nonattachment but
as “a positive feeling which crowns the ‘life and
motion’ of the soul” (AI 367).


Is the peace Whitehead seeks finally alien to the
Buddhist, and if it is, is this bound up with features of
his doctrine of God which the Buddhist must accordingly
reject? We do not know the answer to this question, but we
are sure it should not be given hastily. Nagarjuna’s
understanding of the realization of sunyata differs from
Whitehead’s understanding of peace. But sunyata is not
the anaesthesia against which Whitehead warns, and peace is
not the attachment opposed by Buddhism. To suggest the
possible fruitfulness of further work from both sides this
paper concludes by presenting quotations from Streng’s
book about Nagarjuna and from Whitehead’s Adventures of
Ideas, and adding a few further comments.


“Nagarjuna’s answer to the problem of negating
sorrow was a form of therapy which sought to clarify the
basis for self-understanding at the most profound level. . .
. Being aware of emptiness was sarvajuata (all-inclusive
understanding) because it expressed the real nature of
knowing (as being empty) and remedied the harmful
misapprehension of self-existent things. Thus to know
emptiness was to perceive things as empty of independent and
self-established selves. Such an awareness, when fully
developed, was felt as a tranquility arising out of the
indifference to distinctions” (2:163-64).


“The awareness of ‘emptiness’ is not a blank
loss of consciousness, an inanimate empty space; rather it
is the cognition of daily life without the attachment to it.
It is an awareness of distinct entities, of the self, of
‘good’ and ‘bad’ and other practical
determinations; but it is aware of these as empty
structures. Wisdom is not to be equated with mystical
ecstasy; it is, rather, the joy of freedom in everyday
existence” (2:159-60).


“The importance of ‘emptiness’ for transforming
action (karma) from a binding force to a liberating one is
seen when we realize that emptiness does not destroy
everyday life but simply perceives its nature as being
empty. Thus the ideal is not dissolution of the structures
of existence, but the awareness that these structures are
empty, i.e., that they exist in mutual dependence. The
ability for the notion of karuna (compassion, pity) to play
a growing role in the expression of Mahayana Buddhism is not
so surprising if we remember Nagarjuna’s cosmology of
relatedness which was a correlate to the denial of
self-sufficient entities. It is also important here to
emphasize that this relatedness is not a static principle;
rather, ‘relatedness’ is the situation of active
change. This understanding of sunyata, expressed from the
mundane point of view, is the basis of a
‘becoming’ ontology which moves either for the
binding, polluting, and illusory activity, or for the
releasing, purifying, and enlightening activity. Thus the
bodhisattva, i.e., one whose being consists in enlightenment
(bodhi), can be seen to have an awareness of emptiness while
directing the spiritual energy of the dis-integrating
character of emptiness toward all beings” (2:168).


Whitehead describes peace as follows:


“. . . Peace . . . is not the negative conception of
anaesthesia. It is a positive feeling which crowns the
‘life and motion’ of the soul. It is hard to
define and difficult to speak of. It is not a hope for the
future, nor is it an interest in present details. It is a
broadening of feeling due to emergence of some deep
metaphysical insight, unverbalized and yet momentous in its
coordination of values. Its first effect is the removal of
the stress of acquisitive feeling arising from the
soul’s preoccupation with itself. Thus Peace carries
with it a surpassing of personality. There is an inversion
of relative values. It is primarily a trust in the efficacy
of Beauty. It is a sense that fineness of achievement is, as
it were, a key unlocking treasures that the narrow nature of
things would keep remote. There is thus involved a grasp of
infinitude, an appeal beyond boundaries. Its emotional
effect is the subsidence of turbulence which inhibits. More
accurately, it preserves the springs of energy, and at the
same time masters them for the avoidance of paralyzing
distractions. The trust in the self-justification of Beauty
introduces faith, where reason fails to reveal the


“The experience of Peace is largely beyond the control of
purpose. It comes as a gift. The deliberate aim at Peace
very easily passes into its bastard substitute, Anaesthesia.
In other words, in the place of a quality of ‘life and
motion,’ there is substituted their destruction. Thus
peace is the removal of inhibition and not its introduction.
It results in a wider sweep of conscious interest. It
enlarges the field of attention. Thus Peace is self-control
at its widest — at the width where the ‘self’ has
been lost, and interest has been transferred to
co-ordinations wider than personality” (AI 367-68).


Surely the similarities are striking, but differences
remain. Nagarjuna finds release from selfhood and its
accompanying bondage through the cessation of a false
activity. Whitehead loses “self” by expanding the range of
interest to wider co-ordinations. It is true that when the
Buddhist following Nagarjuna gains release from self he has
compassion toward all sentient beings, but he would probably
not invest himself in the particular co-ordinations of value
of which Whitehead speaks. Discrimination of particular
patterns of value is not characteristic of Buddhist
enlightenment. Whether nondiscrimination in this sense is
essential to Buddhism or only a profound, but inessential,
consequence of its negative evaluation of process remains to
be seen.




M — Nagarjuna. Mulamadhyamakakarikas Trans. in Frederick
I. Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning,
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.


1. Monier-Williams. A Sanskrit-English Dictionary. New
Delhi: Matital Banarsidoss, 1970.

2. Frederick J. Streng. Emptiness: A Study in Religious
Mcaning. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1967.




1Additional comment by Ryusei Takeda: “I would like to
make one more statement with respect to the religious
relevance of Whitehead’s philosophy. Through the
comparison of Whitehead and Buddhism I have come to the
point where one question has occurred to me: Would it be too
far out of place to argue that Whitehead’s
philosophical achievement could be more relevant to Buddhism
than to traditional Christianity? Of course we cannot ignore
the fact that Whitehead himself comes from the Christian
tradition, nor the fact that he has brought severe, although
sporadic, strictures against Buddhism. But, despite these
facts, I have been so much impressed by Whitehead’s
philosophy as to be willing to hazard a bold assumption: The
religious aspect of Whitehead’s philosophy is the kind
of religion which Buddhism has been seeking for.”

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