By Swami Harshananda
Asatkāryavāda literally means ‘the theory of non-existent effect’.
The relationship between a cause (like clay) and its effect (like the pot) has provided enough material for discussion in philosophy. Several theories have been advocated in which this relationship has been sought to be explained.
‘Asatkāryavāda’ is the theory that has been put forward by the schools of Buddhism and Nyāya Vaiśeṣikas. When the pot, the effect, is produced from clay, its cause, two explanations are possible. The effect, which already existed in its cause in a subtle form, was manifested when favorable circumstances were created; because a real effect cannot be produced from an unreal or non-existing cause. This theory is called ‘satkāryavāda’ and is advocated generally by the Sāṅkhya system.
The other explanation is that the effect, which is something new, is produced as a result of the efforts of the potter and his implements, even though it did not exist earlier. If the clay and the pot were not different from each other, we should have used the same name for both and they should have served the same purpose. But this is not so. Hence according to this view, a real effect (‘kārya’) is produced from the cause though it did not exist earlier (hence unreal or ‘asat’) in that cause. Therefore it is named as 'asatkāryavāda.’
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore