Tathataa, Tathyam, Satta and Satyam – Their Interrelations

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When we seek to understand ultimate concepts like truth, reality, existence, and Being, etymologies can be of help. In Indian philosophy, including Jainism and Buddhism, the relevant words are sat (existent, existence), sattaa (existence, Being), satyam (truth, reality), tathyam (truth), and tathataa (truth, thusness, reality).

Both tathyam and tathataa are derived from the same word tathaa, meaning ‘so' and ‘thus', which is adverbial in its significance. Tathyam is not generally used in philosophical literature of even Buddhists, who alone use tathataa in its important metaphysical meaning. As for reality, for the Buddhists, it is that which goes ‘so and so' and ‘thus and thus', and which we cannot fix by definition. No school except Buddhism has an adverbial reference to reality.

The words sattaa, sat, and satyam, related to reality, are derived from the verb as (corresponding to ‘is') but not from any noun. Sat is the present participle of as (is), sattaa is the abstract form of sat, and satyam means what is meant for, or agrees with, sat. What is important to note is that there is implicit reference to the verb, process and activity. This supports the view of some Nairukta philosophers that all nouns are derived from verbs, and support action.

Even the word brahman of the Upanisads means the ever-growing, ever-developing, ever-active, but self-active in the sense of self-producing. The nature of the Brahman is itself activity.

It is of interest to note that the parts of speech are related to the categories of the Ultimate Reality. The qualities (adverbs) of action (verb) are considered distinct from qualities (adjectives) of substantives (nouns). It is a moot question while the classification of Being (sattaa) has been made only into substances (nouns), actions (verbs), and qualities (adjectives).

The Buddhists do not appear to have developed the idea of the adverb as one of the classifications. But their use of tathataa in the adverbial sense raises the question why it should not be so developed. Ultimately, if linguistics can be a guide in this connection, the primary categories ought to be Being and Becoming, or noun and verb. Both again become one, the verb as (to be), in which the distinctions of noun and verb, substantive and action, become unified and lose their difference.

In Buddhism, there appears to be an over-emphasis on becoming as the concept of tathataa (thusness) signifies. Nagarjuna, in his concept of suunyataa (which he refuses to treat as a concept), rejects Being, Becoming, and Non-being even as expressive of Reality.

The above analysis shows the difficulty into which thought is led in attempting to answer the ultimate question, and indicates that we cannot understand it except by living, or by realizing that we are living the metaphysical truth. There is no other way to understand or being aware of it. Incidentally, this finds support in the orthodox Indian contention that metaphysical truth is meant for spiritual or religious life and practice. Physical truth is corroborated by application while spiritual or metaphysical truth is corroborated by living.

 

K. R. Paramahamsa is an author of book Buddhism In Scripture and Practice

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