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Non existence d'un soi de la personne
Vasubandhu, Pudgala-nairātmya

Révisé le 24 janvier 2011

Vasubandhu en Inde au 4e–5e siècle de notre ère se fit le champion de la thèse réductionniste selon laquelle une personne n'est rien de plus qu'une série d'états ou événements physiques et mentaux et l'ensemble des relations entre ces états. Ce réductionnisme est développé à nouveaux frais en Occident aujourd'hui par des philosophes comme Derek Parfit, dans Reasons and Persons (Oxford, 1984), qui se réfère au bouddhisme au risque d'un contresens: il assimile à tort le bouddhisme à un nihilisme.

Traduction Louis de La Vallée Poussin, L'Abhidharmakosa de Vasubandhu, [Volume V,] Septième et huitième chapitres. Neuvième chapitre ou Réfutation de la doctrine du Pudgala, Paris-Louvain, 1925, pp. 227–302.

Jonardon Ganeri, The Concealed Art of the Soul,
Oxford, OUP, 2007, Chapter 6 "The Imperfect Reality of Persons", pp. 157–184.

(Ganeri, 161) Derek Parfit rejects two claims: (i) that 'we are, or partly consist in, souls, or immaterial substances'; and (ii) that 'there are no persons, thinkers, or agents. There are only persisting bodies and related sequences of thoughts, experiences, and acts.' The first of these he calls the Cartesian View; the second, the Buddhist View.(11) He has defended a third view, Reductionism, that 'our existence consists in the existence of a body, and the occurrence of various interrelated mental processes and events. Our identity over time consists in physical and/or psychological continuity.'(12) A reductionist claims that where there had seemed to be two things, we find that in fact we have only one, but need not deny the reality of either.

(11) Derek Parfit, 'Experiences, Subjects, and Conceptual Schemes', Philosophical Topics 26 (1999): 217-70; at 260.
(12) Ibid., 218.

(Ganeri, 162) Parfit [Reasons and Persons, p. 502] refers to a passage which he claims shows that the Buddha himself said that there are no persons but only streams of experience. The text in question is a Nikâya passage from the Sutta on Ultimate Emptiness [Paramârtha], which is quoted by Vasubandhu in his famous 'Refutation of the Theory of a Self'.

[Je cite l'éd. sanskrite de Swami Dwarikadas Sastri (Bauddha Bharati), p. 1208:]

asti karma, asti vipākaḥ, kārakas tu nopalabhyate. ya imāṃś ca skandhān nikṣipati, anyāṃś ca skandhān pratisandhāty anyatra dharmasaṃketāt.

Parfit reads [from Stcherbatsky's translation]: 'There are acts, and also their consequences, but there is no agent who acts... There is no person, it is only a conventional name given to a set of elements.' A comparison with the now available Sanskrit text reveals that something has gone wrong here. First, the term saṅketa has been [translated] according to the more technical meaning 'conventional name' rather than the more natural and modest '(causal) agreement'…

Revenons à des traductions plus exactes de Vasubandhu.

Traduction Duerlinger: James Duerlinger, Indian Buddhist Theories of Persons. Vasubandhu's "Refutation of the Theory of a Self", London and New York, RoutledgeCurzon, 2005, p. 88:

'Oh bhiksus, there is action and its maturation, but no agent is perceived that casts off one set of aggregates and takes up another elsewhere apart from the phenomena agreed upon [by us to arise dependently].'

Traduction Kapstein (Matthew T. Kapstein, Reason's Traces. Identity and Interpretation in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist Thought [2001], New Delhi, OUP, 2003): pp. 349ff.; p. 362:

So it is, O monks, that there is action, there is ripening [of the effects of action], but no actor is apprehended who casts off these bundles and links up with other bundles, except for what are called regular principles.

Traduction Louis de la Vallée Poussin (Volume V, p.260):

«Il y a acte; il y a rétribution; mais, en dehors de la production causale des dharmas [qui donne l'impression d'un agent permanent], on ne constate pas l'existence d'un agent qui abandonne ces éléments-ci et prenne d'autres éléments.»

Commentaire: La Vyâkhyâ explique: dharmasamketād iti prātītyasamutpādalakṣaṇāt «en dehors de la combinaison des dharmas c'est-à-dire en dehors de la causation successive des dharmas»; et ailleurs (ad iii. 18): saṃketa = hetuphalasaṃbandhavyavasthā. — Mais [le] Paramârtha comprend samketa «désignation métaphorique», d'où la traduction: «On ne constate pas l'existence d'un agent excepté quand, conformément à l'usage mondain, on dit des dharmas qu'ils sont un Pudgala».

Pas de personne qui ne soit faite d'agrégats

(Ganeri, 163)

So the passage cited does not deny that there are persons: it says that there are no persons who are not comprised of streams. Nor does the text provide any support for the claim that the Buddha thought that persons are fictions, or that personal names are merely conventional (if by that what is meant is that they are metaphorical or fictional designations), that is, that the Buddha's attitude towards persons was the same as Hume's attitude towards selves.

Vasubandhu's point, in citing the passage, is simply that he has no quarrel with someone who speaks of a 'person' (pudgala), as long as they mean nothing more by that than the stream; and, in particular, that they do not mean that what they call the 'person' is something ontologically independent of the stream.

Les adversaires de Vasubandhu sont les Pudgalavâdins qui soutiennent la thèse de l'existence d'un Soi de la «personne» (pudgala) auquel peuvent être attachés toutes sortes d'adjectifs.

(Ganeri, 165) The Pudgalavâdin is using the metaphor of fire and fuel to explain a sense in which there can be relations of conceptual and ontological dependence between two things. Parfit distinguishes, among various sorts of ontological dependence, between adjectival and compositional ontological dependence. The first is illustrated by the relation between a dent [une entaille] and a surface; the second by the relation between a tree and the cells of which it is composed.

Les Pudgalavâdins conçoivent le rapport de la personne à l'agrégat des éléments psychophysiques sur le modèle de l'entaille sur une surface ou du feu dans un carburant (relation adjectivale), tandis que Vasubandhu conçoit ce rapport sur le modèle d'un organisme (relation compositionnelle).

Traduction Duerlinger (p. 73):

[The Pudgalavâdins assert that] a person is not substantially real (dravyatah) or real by way of a conception (prajñaptitah), since he is conceived in reliance upon (upâdâya) aggregates which pertain to himself, are acquired, and exist in the present...

(74) [They say that a person is conceived] in the way in which fire is conceived in reliance upon fuel. [They say that] fire is conceived in reliance upon fuel, [and yet] it is not conceived unless fuel is present and cannot be conceived if it either is or is not other than fuel...

Similarly, [they contend,] a person is not conceived unless aggregates are present, [and] if he were other than aggregates, the eternal transcendence theory [that a person is substantially real] would be held, and if he were not other than the aggregates, the nihilism theory [that a person does not exist at all] would be held.

Traduction Kapstein (pp. 351-352):

But it is neither substantial nor conceptually constructed.
What then?
Depending upon the bundles which are inwardly held now, the person is conceptually constructed…

Then how so?
As is fire, depending upon fuel.
How is it that fire is conceptually constructed depending upon fuel?
Though the fire is not conceptually constructed without fuel, one can neither assert that fire is discrete from fuel, nor that it is non-discrete…

Just so, though the person is not conceptually constructed in the absence of the bundles, one cannot assert that it is discrete from the bundles, because that implies permanence; nor that it is not discrete, for that implies annihilation.

Traduction Louis de la Vallée Poussin (Volume V, p.233-234):

Le Vâtsîputrîya [ = Pudgalavâdin]. — Je dis que le Pudgala est; je ne dis pas qu'il soit une entité; je ne dis pas qu'il existe seulement en tant que désignation des éléments (skandhas): pour moi la désignation «Pudgala» a lieu par rapport aux éléments (skandhân upâdâya) actuels, internes, assumés.

Le Vâtsîputrîya. — Ce n'est pas ainsi que je conçois le Pudgala et ses relations avec les éléments, mais bien comme le monde conçoit le feu et ses relations avec le combustible. Le monde conçoit le feu «par rapport au combustible» (indhanam upâdâya): il ne conçoit pas le feu indépendamment du combustible; il croit que le feu n'est ni identique au combustible ni autre que le combustible. Si le feu était autre que le combustible, le combustible ne serait pas chaud; si le feu était identique au combustible, le «comburé» serait le comburant. De même nous ne concevons pas le Pudgala comme indépendant des éléments; nous tenons que le Pudgala n'est ni identique aux éléments ni autre que les éléments: s'il était autre que les éléments, il serait éternel (sâsvata) et donc inconditionné (asamskrta); s'il était identique aux éléments, il serait susceptible d'anéantissement (uccheda).

Entre nihilisme et éternalisme, la Voie du Milieu

(Ganeri, 165) The difference between the Pudgalavâdin and Vasubandhu might then lie in this: the Pudgalavâdin thinks that persons are adjectivally dependent on streams of physical and psychological elements, while Vasubandhu thinks that the relation is one of compositional dependence (a person, Vasubandhu says, is not other than the stream). For fire is essentially in the fuel it is burning, as dents are essentially in or of surfaces. We cannot say that the dent is something other than the surface, or that it is just the surface. If this way of distinguishing the views is right, then both have given textually admissible interpretations of the Buddha's words, and neither endorses the Cartesian View; but only Vasubandhu is a Reductionist. None of our Buddhists, though, holds to what Parfit has called 'the Buddhist View'. Indeed this is ucchedavâda, nihilism, one of the two extremes between which the Buddha sought a Middle Way, the other being sâsvatavâda, eternalism, the Cartesian View.