I encountered this line: 色生,生故計是我,非不生。and as an amateur, I was confused by the two negatives in a row (非不), which was followed by 生, and when I tried to figure out what it might mean, I figured it might be a rhetorical way of saying "no [this, referring to what was just talked about,] without 生".

Someone more learned than I corrected me and said 非不生 was, instead, "not without 生". Forgive me if I ask too basic a question, but is this a common usage for 非不?

2 Answers 2



the logic is: if a=true, then b=true

非 is used to indicate condition a = false, 不 is to show that condition b = not true.

so, rūpa, (色, one of pañca-skandha 五蕴) appears (生), by this clinging (生), hence (故) one think (計) "i am" occurs (是我).

非 - if the condition is false --> rūpa doesn't appears

then 不生 (one would not think that "i am" occurs).

it's my best try, the buddhism terms might not be proper.

an other example:


for example (譬如)

a man (士夫) helds (手執) a mirror (明鏡),

he sees 自見 his own face (面) appeared (生) in the mirror,

the clinging of a mirror (生) causes (故) the seeing (見) of one's face.

非 : if no mirror in hand,

then, one cannot see his own face appeared (不生)

imo, "不" is not "non" (such as "non-stick pan") in this sentence.

based on reading experience: "buddhism text" is closely related to literary chinese, but, it has its own styles, grammars, and developments. you used "hybrid", middle (?) to decorate it, very nice try :)


"生法計是我﹒非不生" is "upādāya asm-ti hoti no anupādāya"


This statement comes for a Buddhist Sutra, Saṃyukta Āgama (雜阿含經). It is not easy to understand if one has no training in Buddhism.

As these words contains lots of logic in Buddhism translated from Pāḷi language, it is pretty obscure to most people. But it is required to distinguish everything in the logic of Buddhism.

You can view 非不生 this way. These is 不生 and one negates it to 非不生. It is like English, "impossible" and "not impossible".

Those double negatives are quite common in Buddhist writing. If you know 心經, there is a phrase 無無明,亦無無明盡,乃至無老死,亦無老死盡。無無明 is the negation of 無明.

  • I flagged this as answering my question, but then something occurred to me as to if I understood you correctly. If 非不生 means something like "not impossible 生", then it is in contradiction to what it is supposed to be translating "not without [this] dependency". If 非不 is a double-negative, then does the sentence make sense, when the Prākrit would have read "It is by clinging to form that ‘I am’ occurs, not without clinging." Is this usage of 非不 as "not without" very unusual for Chinese?
    – Caoimhghin
    May 8, 2017 at 19:53
  • It is not [非不], it is [非]+[不生]. with 不生 as a term on it's own. It is like [not] + [unborn] = [not unborn].
    – Tang Ho
    May 8, 2017 at 21:10
  • Another similar example: [not]+[nonstarter]
    – Tang Ho
    May 8, 2017 at 21:17

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