Madhyamaka (Sanskrit: Madhyamaka, Chinese: 中觀见; pinyin:
Zhōngguān Jìan; also known as Śūnyavāda) refers primarily to the
later schools of
Buddhism philosophy founded by
Nagarjuna (150 CE
to 250 CE). According to
Madhyamaka all phenomena (dharmas) are empty
(śūnya) of "nature," a "substance" or "essence" (svabhāva) which
gives them "solid and independent existence," because they are
dependently co-arisen. But this "emptiness" itself is also "empty": it
does not have an existence on its own, nor does it refer to a
transcendental reality beyond or above phenomenal reality.
2.1 Dependent Origination
Svabhava - essence
2.3 Two truths
2.4 The emptiness of emptiness
2.5 Essentialism and nihilism
2.6 The limits of language
3 Origins and development
3.1.1 Sutta Nipata
3.2 Indian Madhyamaka
Buddhapālita and Bhāvaviveka
3.3 Tibetan Buddhism
3.3.1 Tibetan classification of schools
Shentong - Jonangpa
3.5 Western Buddhism
3.5.1 Thich Nhat Hanh
3.5.2 Modern Madhyamaka
4 Influence on Advaita Vedanta
5 Understanding in modern scholarship
6 See also
8.1 Published references
8.2 Web references
10 Further reading
11 External links
Madhya is a
Sanskrit word meaning "middle". It is cognate with Latin
med-iu-s and English mid. The -ma suffix is a superlative, giving
madhyama the meaning of "mid-most" or "medium". The -ka suffix is used
to form adjectives, thus madhyamaka means "middleling". The -ika
suffix is used to form possessives, with a collective sense, thus
mādhyamika mean "belonging to the mid-most" (the -ika suffix
regularly causes a lengthening of the first vowel and elision of the
In a Buddhist context these terms refer to the "middle path" (madhyama
pratipada) between the extremes of annihilationism (ucchedavāda) and
eternalism (śassatavāda), for example:
ity etāv ubhāv antāv anupagamya madhyamayā pratipadā tathāgato
dharmaṃ deśayati - Kātyāyana Sūtra.
Tathāgata teaches the
Dharma by a middle path avoiding both
Madhyamaka refers to the school of thought associated with Nāgārjuna
and his commentators.
Mādhyamika refers to adherents of the
Note that in both words the stress is on the first syllable.
Main article: Svatantrika-
Madhyamaka philosophy is śūnyatā, "emptiness." The term
refers to the "emptiness" of inherent existence: all phenomena are
empty of "substance" or "essence" (Sanskrit: svabhāva) or inherent
existence, because they are dependently co-arisen. At a conventional
level, "things" do exist, but ultimately they are "empty" of inherent
existence. But this "emptiness" itself is also "empty": it does not
have an existence on its own, nor does it refer to a transcendental
reality beyond or above phenomenal reality.
Nagarjuna further develops the notion of dependent arising, arguing
that every dharma, or every "thing", does not exist on its own, but
depending on other "things" and causes:
Whatever is dependent arising
We declared that to be emptiness.
That is dependent designation,
And is itself the middle way.
Svabhava - essence
Nagarjuna follows his own logic to its end, wondering what the
subsequent consequences are of his propositions. Since all "things"
are dependently arisen, how then can a non-existing "thing" cause
another "thing" to come into being? In Chapter 15 of the
Nagarjuna centers on the words svabhava [note
1] parabhava[note 2] bhava [note 3] and abhava:[note 4]
Nagarjuna's critique of the notion of own-nature[note 5] (Mk. ch. 15)
argues that anything which arises according to conditions, as all
phenomena do, can have no inherent nature, for what is depends on what
conditions it. Moreover, if there is nothing with own-nature, there
can be nothing with 'other-nature' (para-bhava), i.e. something which
is dependent for its existence and nature on something else which has
own-nature. Furthermore, if there is neither own-nature nor
other-nature, there cannot be anything with a true, substantial
existent nature (bhava). If there is no true existent, then there can
be no non-existent (abhava).
In chapter 15 of the Mulamadhyamakakarika, "
Nagarjuna is playing on
the word 'thing'".[web 1][note 6]
Nagarjuna uses the ambivalence
inherent in the term svabhava:
[T]he word "svabhava" can be interpreted in two different ways. It can
be rendered either as identity [...] or as causal independence.
This ambiguity is easily lost in translation:
When one reads Nagarjuna's argument in Sanskrit, it is not immediately
obvious that the argument has taken advantage of an ambiguity in the
key term. But when one tries to translate his argument into some other
language, such as English or Tibetan, one finds that it is almost
impossible to translate his argument in a way that makes sense in
translation. This is because the terms in the language of translation
do not have precisely the same range of ambiguities as the words in
the original Sanskrit. In English, we are forced to disambiguate, and
in disambiguating, we end up spoiling the apparent integrity of the
The doctrine of dependent arising cannot be reconciled with "a
conception of self-nature or substance".
Nagarjuna refutes "the
commentarial doctrine of the 'own-being' of principles as contrary to
Nagarjuna had no objection to the
Abhidhamma formulation of causal
relations so long as the relata are not regarded as having a unique
nature or substance (svabhava).
The rejection of inherent existence does not imply that there is no
existence at all. What it does mean is that there is no "unique
nature or substance (svabhava)" in the "things" we perceive. This
may not necessarily be in contrast to the
Abhidhamma point of view,
given the ambivalence in the terms used by Nagarjuna:
Nagarjuna is saying is that no being has a fixed and permanent
nature. What the abhidarmikas maintained was that every thing has
features that distinguish it from other things.[note 7]
Madhyamaka discerns two levels of truth, conventional truth and
ultimate truth, to make clear that it does make sense to speak of
existence. Ultimately, we realize that all phenomena are sunyata,
empty of concrete existence. Conventionally, we do perceive concrete
objects which we are aware of. Yet, this perceived reality is an
experiential reality, not an ontological reality with substantial or
The ultimate truth of sunyata does not refer to "nothingness" or
"non-existence"; it refers to the absence of inherent existence.
According to Hayes, the two truths may also refer to two different
goals in life: the highest goal of nirvana, and the lower goal of
"commercial good". The highest goal is the liberation from attachment,
both material and intellectual.
Insight into the emptiness of "things' is part of developing wisdom,
seeing things as they are. Conceiving of concrete and unchanging
objects leads to clinging and suffering.
What is the reality of things just as it is? It is the absence of
essence. Unskilled persons whose eye of intelligence is obscured by
the darkness of delusion conceive of an essence of things and then
generate attachment and hostility with regard to them.
— Buddhapālita-mula-madhyamaka-vrtti P5242,73.5.6-74.1.2
The emptiness of emptiness
Ultimate truth also does not refer to "absolute truth," some absolute
reality above or beyond the "relative reality." On the contrary,
emptiness itself is "empty" of inherent existence:
Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the
transcendence of deception. It is critical to emphasize that the
ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for
inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found.
This absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a
room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless
substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist.
Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature,
however subtle, that everything is made of.[web 2][note 8]
Essentialism and nihilism
What remains is the middle way between eternalism and
The object of the critique is to show that the eternalist view is
untenable and further to show that the 'own-being' theory adopted by
some Buddhists did not really differ, when its implications were
strictly worked out, from the eternalist theory of
theory of an eternal 'soul' and other eternal 'substances').
These two views are considered to be the two extreme views:
Essentialism or eternalism (sastavadava) - a belief that
things inherently exist and are therefore efficacious objects of
craving and clinging;
Nihilism or annihilationism (ucchedavada) - views that lead
one to believe that there is no need to be responsible for one's
Nagarjuna argues that we naively and innately perceive things
as substantial, and it is this predisposition which is the root
delusion that lies at the basis of all suffering.
Madhyamaka represents the
Middle way between them.
The limits of language
Madhyamaka uses language to make clear the limits of our concepts.
Ultimately, reality cannot be depicted by concepts. This
creates a tension, since it does have to use concepts to convey its
This dynamic philosophical tension—a tension between the Madhyamika
accounts of the limits of what can be coherently said and its
analytical ostension of what cannot be said without paradox but must
be understood—must constantly be borne in mind in reading the text.
It is not an incoherent mysticism, but it is a logical tightrope act
at the very limits of language and metaphysics.
The ultimate aim of understanding emptiness is not philosophical
insight as such, but to gain a liberated mind which does not dwell
upon concepts. To realize this, meditation on emptiness may proceed in
stages, starting with the emptiness of both self, objects and mental
states, culminating in a "natural state of nonreferential
Origins and development
Madhyamaka school is usually considered to have been founded by
Nāgārjuna, though it may have existed earlier.  The name of the
school is perhaps related to its close adherence to Nāgārjuna’s
main work, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. The term
Madhyamaka is related
to 'madhya' ('the middle').
Madhyamaka-thought had a major influence on the subsequent development
Mahayana Buddhist tradition, although often in interaction
with, and also in opposition to, the other two major streams of
Mahayana Buddhist thought, namely
Yogacara and Buddha-nature. It had a
major impact on Tibetan Buddhism, where it became the orthodox
standard in the Gelugpa tradition, in opposition to Jonangpa's
Lama Je Tsongkhapa, of the Gelugpa, claimed there
were two division in Indian Madhyamika, creating the
Prasaṅgika distinction. It also influenced the Zen
tradition, although this influence is less often discerned in
comparison to the
Buddha-nature thought. The present day schools of
Tiantai, Tendai, Sanron, are also influenced by the Mādhyamaka
tradition, forming an
East Asian Mādhyamaka
East Asian Mādhyamaka tradition. Contemporary
Buddhism is less acquainted with
Madhyamaka thought, although
some implications have been recognized by western teachers.
The Aṭṭhakavagga (Pali, "Octet Chapter") and the Pārāyanavagga
(Pali, "Way to the Far Shore Chapter") are two small collections of
suttas within the
Pāli Canon of
Theravada Buddhism.[note 10] They are
among the earliest existing Buddhist literature, and place
considerable emphasis on the rejection of, or non-attachment to, all
Gomez compared them to later
Madhyamaka philosophy, which in its
Prasaṅgika form especially makes a method of rejecting others' views
rather than proposing its own.
Tillman Vetter, although agreeing overall with Gomez's observations,
suggests some refinements on historical and doctrinal grounds.
First, he notes that neither of these short collections of suttas are
homogeneous and hence are not all amenable to Gomez' proposals.
According to Vetter, those suttas which do lend support to Gomez
probably originated with a heterodox ascetic group that pre-dated the
Buddha, and were integrated into the Buddhist
Sangha at an early date,
bringing with them some suttas that were already in existence and also
composing further suttas in which they tried to combine their own
teachings with those of the Buddha.
Paul Fuller has rejected the arguments of Gomez and Vetter. He
... the Nikayas and the Atthakavagga present the same cognitive
attitude toward views, wrong or right.
Alexander Wynne also rejects both of Vetter's claims that the
Parayanavagga shows a chronological stratification, and a different
attitude toward mindfulness and liberating insight than do other
Madhyamaka school has been perhaps simplistically regarded as a
reaction against the development of the Abhidharma, especially the
Sarvāstivādin. In the Abhidharma, dharmas are characterized by
defining traits (lakṣaṇa) or own-existence (svabhāva), whose
ontological status is not dependent upon concepts. The problem with
Abhidharma is not that things are 'independently existent' (a
position that most
Abhidharma schools would not accept), but rather
Madhyamaka perspective) that they are independent from
notions. For the Madhyamaka, dharmas are notionally dependent, and
further more, their notional dependence entails existential dependence
and hence lack of ultimate, true existence.
The relationship between
Abhidharma is complex;
Abhidharmic analysis figures prominently in most
and authoritative commentators like
Candrakīrti emphasize that
Abhidharmic categories function as a viable (and favored) system of
conventional truths - they are more refined than ordinary categories,
and they are not dependent on either the extreme of eternalism or on
the extreme view of the discontinuity of karma, as the non-Buddhist
categories of the time did. It may be therefore important to
Madhyamaka constitutes a continuation of the
Abhidharma type of analysis, extending the range of dependent arising
to entail (and focus upon) notional dependence. The dependent arising
of concepts based on other concepts, rather than the true arising of
really existent causes and effects, becomes here the matrix of any
Madhyamaka thought is also closely related to a number of Mahāyāna
sources; traditionally, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras are the
literature most closely associated with
Madhyamaka – understood, at
least in part, as an exegetical complement to those Sūtras.
Traditional accounts also depict
Nāgārjuna as retrieving some of the
larger Prajñāpāramitāsūtras from the world of the Nāgas
(explaining in part the etymology of his name). Prajñā or ‘higher
cognition’ is a recurrent term in Buddhist texts, explained as a
synonym of Abhidharma, ‘insight’ (vipaśyanā) and ‘analysis of
the dharmas’ (dharmapravicaya). Within a specifically Mahāyāna
context, Prajñā figures as the most prominent in a list of Six
Pāramitās (‘perfections’ or ‘perfect masteries’) that a
Bodhisattva needs to cultivate in order to eventually achieve
Madhyamaka offers conceptual tools to analyze all possible
elements of existence, allowing the practitioner to elicit through
reasoning and contemplation the type of view that the Sūtras express
more authoritatively (being considered word of the Buddha) but less
explicitly (not offering corroborative arguments). The vast
Prajñāpāramitā literature emphasizes the development of higher
cognition in the context of the
Bodhisattva path; thematically, its
focus on the emptiness of all dharmas is closely related to the
Because of the high degree of similarity between
Pyrrhonism, Thomas McEvilley and Matthew Neale suspect
Nāgārjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported
Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-c. 270 BCE), who is credited with
founding this school of skeptical philosophy, was himself influenced
Buddhist philosophy during his stay in India with Alexander the
Kalupahana has argued that Nāgārjuna's intention was not to
establish an ontology or epistemology, but to free the Buddhist
soteriology from essentialist notions which obscured the Buddhist
Āryadeva (3rd century CE) emphasized the
Bodhisattva-ideal. His works are regarded as a supplement to
Nāgārjuna's, on which he commented.
Āryadeva also refuted
the theories of non-Buddhist Indian philosophical schools.
Buddhapālita and Bhāvaviveka
Buddhapālita (470–550) has been understood as the origin of the
prāsaṅgika approach. He was criticized by Bhāvaviveka
(ca.500–ca.578), who argued for the use of syllogisms "to set one's
own doctrinal stance". Bhāvya/
Bhāvaviveka was influenced by the
The opposing approaches of
Buddhapālita and Bhāvya are explained by
later Tibetan doxographers as the origin of a subdivision of
Madhyamaka into two schools, the Prāsaṅgika and the Svātantrika.
Candrakīrti (600–c. 650) wrote the Prasannapadā (Clear Words), a
highly influential commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. This
commentary is central in the understanding of
Madhyamaka in Tibetan
Śāntideva (end 7th century – first half 8th century) is well known
for his Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of
Life. He united "a deep religiousness and joy of exposure together
with the unquestioned
Yogācāra and Mādhyamaka synthesis was posited by Shantarakshita
in the 8th century[note 12] and may have been common at Nalanda
University at that time. Like the Prāsaṅgika, this view approaches
ultimate truth through the prasaṅga method, yet when speaking of
conventional reality they may make autonomous statements like the
This was different from the earlier
Svatantrika in that the
conventional truth was described in terms of the theory of
consciousness-only instead of the tenets of Svatantrika, though
neither was used to analyze for ultimate truth.
For example, they may assert that all phenomena are nothing but the
"play of mind" and hence empty of concrete existence—and that mind
is in turn empty of defining characteristics. But in doing so, they're
careful to point out that any such example would be an approximate
ultimate and not the true ultimate. By making such autonomous
Madhyamaka is often mistaken as a
Yogācāra view, even though a Prāsaṅgika approach
was used in analysis. This view is thus a synthesis of Madhyamaka
Tibetan classification of schools
Main article: Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika_distinction
Madhyamaka thought has been categorized variously in India and
Tibet.[note 13] In
Tibetan Buddhism a major difference is being made
between "Svātantrika-Madhyamaka" and "Prasaṅgika-Madhyamaka." Yet,
the classification is more complicated, and is described by Guy Newman
Rangtong, a term introduced by Dolpopa, which rejects any inherent
existing self or nature. This includes:
Madhyamaka - Bhāviveka
Kamalaśīla, the oldest Buddhist teachings to be introduced in
Prasaṅgika, based on
Buddhapālita and Candrakīrti. Within
prasangika, a further division can be made:
Intellectual emptiness, which is realized by mere negation. This is
the view of Tsong Khapa and the Gelugpa school, which rejects any
statements on an absolute reality beyond mere emptiness.
Experiential emptiness, which is realized when the understanding of
intellectual emptiness gives way to the recognition of the true nature
of mind, c.q. rigpa. This is the view of
Nyingma (Dzogchen) and
Shentong, systematised by Dolpopa, and based on Buddha-nature
teachings and influenced by Śāntarakṣita's Yogacara-Madhyamaka. It
states that the nature of mind shines through when emptiness has been
realized. This approach is dominant in the
Jonang school, and can also
be found in the
Kagyu (Mahamudra) tradition.
The Madhyamika philosophy obtained a central position in all the
Tibetan schools, but with two distinct variations, namely shentong,
and the later Gelugpa emphasis on a strict
Shentong is a further developed Yogacara-Madhyamaka
Buddha-nature teachings, and states that the
reality which is laid bare by understanding emptiness is luminous
awareness and truly existing.
Shentong teachings are still transmitted
in the Nyingma, Kagyu, and
Jonang school. Tsongkhapa, and the
subsequent Gelugpa tradition, opposes this notion of self-luminous
awareness, and sees its own interpretation as the final truth on
Although presented as a divide in doctrines, the major difference
between svātantrika and prasangika may be between two style of
reasoning and arguing, while the division itself is exclusively
Tibetan. Tibetan scholars were aware of alternative Madhyamaka
sub-classifications, but later Tibetan doxography emphasizes the
nomenclature of prāsaṅgika versus svātantrika. No conclusive
evidence can show the existence of an Indian antecedent, and it is not
certain to what degree individual writers in Indian and Tibetan
discussion held each of these views and if they held a view generally
or only in particular instances. Both Prāsaṅgikas and Svātantrikas
cited material in the āgamas in support of their arguments.
Main article: Svatantrika
Bhavaviveka (c. 500 – c. 578) is the first person to whom this view
is attributed, as they are laid out in his commentaries on Nāgārjuna
and his critiques of Buddhapalita.
Sanskrit refers to
autonomy and was translated back into
Sanskrit from the equivalent
Svātantrika states that conventional phenomena are understood to
have a conventional essential existence, but without an ultimately
existing essence. In this way they believe they are able to make
positive or "autonomous" assertions using syllogistic logic because
they are able to share a subject that is established as appearing in
common - the proponent and opponent use the same kind of valid
cognition to establish it. The name comes from this quality of being
able to use autonomous arguments in debate.
Ju Mipham explained that using positive assertions in logical debate
may serve a useful purpose, either while debating with non-Buddhist
schools or to move a student from a coarser to a more subtle view.
Similarly, discussing an approximate ultimate helps students who have
difficulty using only prasaṅga methods move closer to the
understanding of the true ultimate.
Ju Mipham felt that the ultimate
non-enumerated truth of the
Svatantrika was no different from the
ultimate truth of the Prāsaṅgika. He felt the only difference
between them was with respect to how they discussed conventional truth
and their approach to presenting a path.
Main article: Prasaṅgika
The central technique avowed by
Prasaṅgika Mādhyamaka is to show by
prasaṅga (or reductio ad absurdum) that any positive assertion (such
as "asti" or "nāsti", "it is", or "it is not") or view regarding
phenomena must be regarded as merely conventional (saṃvṛti or
The Prāsaṅgika hold that it is not necessary for the proponent and
opponent to use the same kind of valid cognition to establish a common
subject; indeed it is possible to change the view of an opponent
through a reductio argument.
Candrakirti are noted as the main proponents of this
approach. Tibetan teacher
Longchen Rabjam noted in the 14th century
Candrakirti favored the prasaṅga approach when specifically
discussing the analysis for ultimacy, but otherwise he made positive
assertions. His central text, Madhyamakavatāra, is structured as a
description of the paths and results of practice, which is made up of
positive assertions. Therefore, even those most attributed to the
Prāsaṅgika view make positive assertions when discussing a path of
practice but use prasaṅga specifically when analyzing for ultimate
Prasaṅgika according to Tsongkhapa
Gelug school was founded by Je Tsongkhapa's reforms to Atisha's
Kadam tradition in the 14th century.[note 14] Tsongkhapa emphasized
compassion and insight into emptiness.
In his Ocean of Reasoning, Tsongkhapa comments on the
Mulamadhyamakakarika. According to Tsongkhapa,
Nagarjuna uses the
term svabhava to refer to sunyata as the nature of reality:
Their nature of emptiness is their reality nature.
This is in line with the Eight Thousand Stanza Perfection of Wisdom
Subhuti, since the five aggregates are without nature, they have a
nature of emptiness.
Although Tsongkhapa argued in favour of
Yogacara views early in his
career his later understanding is derived from Candrakirti,
who states that conventionally there are entities with distinguishing
characteristics, but ultimately those qualities are not independent
essences. But since this emptiness is true for everything that exists,
this emptiness may also be regarded as an essence, though not in the
sense of an independent essence.
Candrakirti formulates a final
negation by stating that even the denial of svabhava implies ...
...that either oneself or one's audience is not entirely free from the
belief in svabhava. Therefore, ultimate truth, truth as it is for
those who are free from misknowledge, cannot be expressed by asserting
either the existence or nonexistence of svahbava.
Shentong - Jonangpa
Dolpopa, the founder of the
Jonangpa school, called his synthesis the
Mahā-Mādhyamaka, the "Great Middle Way". He regarded the
tathagatagarbha to be the true emptiness. This view was opposed by
See also: Sengzhao
The Chán/Zen-tradition emulated Madhyamaka-thought via the San-lun
Buddhists, influencing its supposedly "illogical" way of communicating
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh explains the
Madhyamaka concept of emptiness through
the related concept of interdependence. In this analogy, there is no
first or ultimate cause for anything that occurs. Instead, all things
are dependent on innumerable causes and conditions that are themselves
dependent on innumerable causes and conditions. The interdependence of
all phenomena, including the self, is a helpful way to undermine
mistaken views about inherence, or that one's self is inherently
existent. It is also a helpful way to discuss
Mahayana teachings on
motivation, compassion, and ethics. The comparison to interdependence
has produced recent discussion comparing
Mahayana ethics to
Madhyamaka forms an alternative to the Perennialist and essentialist
(neo-)Advaita understanding of nondualism or modern spirituality.[web
3][web 4][web 5] The classical Madhyamaka-teachings are complemented
with western (post-modern) philosophy,[web 6] critical sociology,[web
7] and social constructionism.[web 8] These approaches stress that
there is no transcendental reality beyond this phenomenal world,[web
9] and in some cases even explicitly distinguish themselves from
(neo-)Advaita approaches.[web 10]
Influence on Advaita Vedanta
Advaita Vedanta and Ajativada
Gaudapada, who was strongly influenced by Buddhism, borrowed the
concept of "ajāta" from Nagajurna's
which uses the term "anutpāda":
"An" means "not", or "non"
"Utpāda" means "genesis", "coming forth", "birth"[web 11]
Taken together "anutpāda" means "having no origin", "not coming into
existence", "not taking effect", "non-production".[web 12]
The Buddhist tradition usually uses the term "anutpāda" for the
absence of an origin or sunyata.[note 15]
"Ajātivāda" is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of
Gaudapada. According to Gaudapada, the Absolute is not subject to
birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal.
The empirical world of appearances is considered unreal, and not
Gaudapada's perspective is quite different from Nagarjuna.
Gaudapada's perspective is based on the Mandukya Upanishad. In the
Mandukya Karika, Gaudapada's commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad,
Gaudapada sets forth his perspective. According to Gaudapada, Brahman
cannot undergo alteration, so the phenomenal world cannot arise from
Brahman. If the world cannot arise, yet is an empirical fact, then the
world has to be an unreal[note 16] appearance of Brahman. And if the
phenomenal world is an unreal appearance, then there is no real
origination or destruction, only apparent origination or destruction.
From the level of ultimate truth (paramārthatā) the phenomenal world
As stated in Gaudapada’s Karika Chapter II Verse 48:[web 13]
No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can
produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.[web 14]
Understanding in modern scholarship
Western scholarship has given a broad variety of interpretations of
Over the past half-century the doctrine of the
Madhyamaka school, and
in particular that of
Nāgārjuna has been variously described as
nihilism, monism, irrationalism, misology, agnosticism, scepticism,
criticism, dialectic, mysticism, acosmism, absolutism, relativism,
nominalism, and linguistic analysis with therapeutic value.
Jay L. Garfield likewise rephrases Ruegg:
"Modern interpreters differ among themselves about the correct way to
read it as least as much as canonical interpreters.
Nagarjuna has been
read as an idealist (Murti 1960), a nihilist (Wood 1994), a skeptic
(Garfield 1995), a pragmatist (Kalupahana 1986), and as a mystic
(Streng 1967). He has been regarded as a critic of logic (Inada 1970),
as a defender of classical logic (Hayes 1994), and as a pioneer of
paraconsistent logic (Garfield and Priest 2003)".
These interpretations "reflect almost as much about the viewpoints of
the scholars involved as do they reflect the content of Nāgārjuna's
Most recent western scholarship (Garfield, Napper,
Hopkins, Huntington, and others) have, after investigation, tended
to adopt one or another of the Gelugpa collegiate interpretations of
Kalupahana's interpretation sees Madhyamaka, along with Yogacara, as
an antidote against essentialist biases in
Richard P. Hayes is critical of the works of Nagarjuna:
Nagarjuna’s writings had relatively little effect on the course of
subsequent Indian Buddhist philosophy. Despite his apparent attempts
to discredit some of the most fundamental concepts of abhidharma,
abhidharma continued to flourish for centuries,
without any appreciable attempt on the part of abhidharmikas to defend
their methods of analysis against Nagarjuna’s criticisms.
According to Hayes,
Nagarjuna makes use of two different possible
meanings of the word svabhava, and uses those two meanings to make
statements which are not logical. In doing so, Hayes regards
[A] relatively primitive thinker whose mistakes in reasoning were
eventually uncovered as the knowledge of logic in India became more
sophisticated in subsequent centuries.
William Magee strongly disagrees with Hayes. He points out the
Nagarjuna in Tibetan Buddhism, and refers to
Tsonghkhapa's interpretation of
Nagarjuna to argue that
Hayes is misidentifying Nagarjuna's intended meaning of svabhava. In
contradistinction to Hayes' belief that
Nagarjuna speaks equivocably
of an identity nature and a causally independent, non-existent nature,
Dzong-ka-ba feels that in chapter XV.1-2
Nagarjuna uses the term
svabhava to refer to an existent emptiness nature.
According to Magee, both
Candrakirti and Dzong-ka-ba "see
consistently referring to emptiness with the word svabhava".
Schools of Buddhism
East Asian Mādhyamaka
Two Truths Doctrine
^ 'Own-beings', unique nature or substance, an identifying
characteristic; an identity; an essence,
^ A differentiating characteristic, the fact of being dependent,
^ 'Being', 'self-nature or substance'
^ Not being present; absence:
^ Stephen Batchelor, Verses from the Centre, Chapter 15 (Investigation
of Essences), note for verse 3: "There is a problem here with the
Tibetan translation from Sanskrit.
Svabhava is translated as rang
bzhin, but parabhava rather clumsily as gzhan gyi dngos po [the term
first appears in I:3]. A Tibetan reader would thus lose the
etymological connection between "own-thing" (svabhava) and
"other-thing" (parabhava), which then link up with "thing" (bhava) and
Nagarjuna is playing on the word "thing".[web 1]
^ Warder: "From Nagarjuna's own day onwards his doctrine was subject
to being misunderstood as nihilistic: because he rejected 'existence'
of beings and spoke of their 'emptiness' (of own-being), careless
students (and critics who were either not very careful or not very
scrupulous) have concluded that he maintained that ultimately the
universe was an utter nothingness. In fact, his rejection of
'non-existence' is as emphatic as his rejection of 'existence', and
must therefore lead us to the conclusion that what he is attacking are
the notions or assertions themselves as metaphysical concepts imposed
on ultimate reality, which is entirely beyond any possible concept or
^ Susan Kahn further explains: "The emptiness of emptiness refutes
ultimate truth as yet another argument for essentialism under the
guise of being beyond the conventional or as the foundation of it. To
realize emptiness is not to find a transcendent place or truth to land
in but to see the conventional as merely conventional. Here lies the
key to liberation. For to see the deception is to be free of
deception, like a magician who knows the magic trick. When one is no
longer fooled by false appearances, phenomena are neither reified nor
denied. They are understood interdependently, as ultimately empty and
thus, as only conventionally real. This is the Middle Way."[web 2]
^ See also Atthakavagga and Parayanavagga, for early, Madhyamaka-like
texts from the Buddhist canon on freedom from views.
^ In the
Pali canon, these chapters are the fourth and fifth chapters
of the Khuddaka Nikaya's Sutta Nipata, respectively.
^ Wynne devotes a chapter to the Parayanavagga.
^ Alex Trisoglio: "In the 8th century,
Shantarakshita went to Tibet
and founded the monastery at Samyé. He was not a direct disciple of
Bhavaviveka, but the disciple of one of his disciples. He combined the
Svatantrika and Cittamatra schools, and created a new
school of Madhyamika called Svatantrika-Yogachara-Madhyamika. His
disciple Kamalashila, who wrote The Stages of Meditation upon
Madhyamika (uma’i sgom rim), developed his ideas further, and
together they were very influential in Tibet."Khyentse Rinpoche,
Dzongsar Jamyang (2003). "Introduction". In Alex Trisoglio.
Introduction to the Middle Way: Chandrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with
Commentary (PDF) (1st ed.). Dordogne, France: Khyentse Foundation.
p. 8. Retrieved 7 January 2013.
^ In his Tattvaratnāvalī, the Indian scholar Advayavajra classified
Madhyamaka into "those who uphold non-duality from the simile of
illusion" (māyopamādvayavādin) and "those who uphold non-placement
into any dharma" (sarvadharmāpratiṣṭhānavādin); furthermore, in
the Madhyamakaṣaṭka he envisaged a specifically Vajrayāna type of
^ Alexander Berzin: There was a very famous
Nyingma lama at the time
called Lhodrag Namka-gyeltsen, and this
Nyingma lama had, continually,
visions of Vajrapani. And he invited Tsongkhapa, and they became
mutual teacher and disciple. It is from this
Nyingma lama that
Tsongkhapa got his main lam-rim transmissions from the Kadam tradition
— two of the main Kadam lineages. There are three
that had split. He got two of them from this
Nyingma lama and one from
Kagyu lama. The
Kadampa was divided into three: One was the lam-rim
teachings, one was the textual teachings, and one was the oral
guideline teachings. So he got the lam-rim and the oral guideline
lineages from this
Nyingma lama, and the textual tradition from a
Kagyu lama. This I find very interesting. One always thinks that he
got them from
Kadampa lamas; he didn’t. And that Gelugpa was so
separate from all these other traditions; it wasn’t. Look at this
Lama Umapa, that Tsongkhapa studied
Madhyamaka with; he
Madhyamaka with Sakya. The Sakyas were the main Madhyamaka
people of those days.Berzin, Alexander (December 2003). "The Life of
Tsongkhapa". Munich, Germany. Retrieved 20 June 2016.
^ The term is also used in the Lankavatara Sutra. According to D.T
Suzuki, "anutpada" is not the opposite of "utpada", but transcends
opposites. It is the seeing into the true nature of existence, the
seeing that "all objects are without self-substance".
^ C.q. "transitory"
^ Williams 2000, p. 140.
^ Brunholzl 2004, p. 70.
^ Brunholzl 2004, p. 590.
^ a b c d e f g Cheng 1981.
^ a b c Garfield 1994.
^ a b Garfield 2012.
^ a b Warder 2000, p. 360.
^ a b c Kalupahana 1994, p. 162.
^ a b c Hayes 1994, p. 317.
^ a b c d e Warder 2000, p. 361.
^ a b c Kalupahana 1994, p. 165.
^ Hayes 1994, p. 316.
^ Harvey 1995, p. 97.
^ a b Hayes 2003, p. 4.
^ Hayes 2003, p. 10.
^ Warder 2000, p. 363.
^ a b Brunholzl 2004, p. 73.
^ Chenh 1981.
^ Hayes 2003, p. 8-9.
^ Tsong Khapa 2002.
^ a b c d Garfield 1995, p. 88 footnote.
^ a b Garfield 1995, p. 102.
^ Brunholzl 2004, p. 295-310.
^ Brunholzl 2004, p. 310.
^ Warder 2000, p. 358.
^ Tsongkhapa, Lamrim Chenmo V3 P116
^ Ng 1990, p. 1.
^ Gomez 1976.
^ a b Vetter 1988.
^ Fuller 2005.
^ Fuller 2005, p. 151.
^ Wynne 2007, p. 75.
^ Adrian Kuzminski, Pyrrhonism: How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented
^ Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought 2002 pp499-505
^ Kalupahana 1994, p. 169.
^ Warder 2000, p. 368.
^ a b Rizzi 1988, p. 2.
^ Rizzi 1988, p. 3.
^ Rizzi 1988, p. 4.
^ Rizzi 1988, p. 5.
Shantarakshita 2005, p. 117-122.
^ Cornu 2001, p. 146-147.
^ Cornu 2001, p. 138.
^ a b Cornu 2001, p. 145.
^ Hookam 1991.
^ Brunnhölzl 2004.
^ Cornu 2001.
^ Gombrich 1996, p. 27-28.
^ a b c d
Shantarakshita 2005, p. 131-141.
^ rJe Tsong Kha Pa 2006.
^ Magee 1999, p. 125-127.
^ a b Magee 1999, p. 32.
^ Tsongkhapa 1993.
^ Magee 1999.
^ Rizzi 1988, p. 19.
^ Magee 1999, p. 103.
^ Magee 1999, p. 103-115.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh 1988.
^ a b Renard 2010, p. 157.
^ Comans 2000, p. 35-36.
^ a b Bhattacharya 1943, p. 49.
^ Renard 2010, p. 160.
^ Suzuki 1999.
^ Suzuki 1999, p. 123-124.
^ Suzuki 1999, p. 168.
^ a b c Sarma 1996, p. 127.
^ a b c Comans 2000, p. 36.
^ Ruegg 1981, p. 2.
^ Garfield and Samten 2006, p. xx.
^ Daye 1971, p. 77.
^ Garfield 1995.
^ Napper 1989.
^ Hopkins 1996.
^ Kalupahana 1992.
^ Kalupahana 1994.
^ Hayes 2003, p. 2.
^ Hayes 2003, p. 3-5.
^ Hayes 2003, p. 7.
^ Magee 1999, p. 126.
^ Magee 1999, p. 127.
^ a b Stephen Batchelor: Verses from the Center. Romanization and
Literal English Translation of the Tibetan Text
^ a b Susan Kahn, The Two Truths of
Buddhism and The Emptiness of
^ Emptiness. Buddhist and Beyond
^ The Non-Buddhist
^ Emptiness teachings
^ Review of Richard Rorty's "Philosophy and Social Hope"
^ Patrick jennings (2014), Tsongkhapa: In Praise of Relativity; The
Essence of Eloquence Archived 2015-05-18 at the Wayback Machine.
^ emptiness.co, Review of Kenneth J. Gergen's "An Invitation to Social
^ Susan Kahn, The Two Truths of
Buddhism and The Emptiness of
^ emptiness.co, Coming from the Advaitic/Awareness Teachings? Special
Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit, Utpāda
Sanskrit Dictionary for Spoken Sanskrit, Anutpāda
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