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Kamalaśīla

Kamalaśīla (c.740–95 CE). Indian Yogācāra-Mādhyamaka pupil of Śāntarakṣita, who significantly determined the form of Buddhism in Tibet during its ‘first diffusion’ (snga.dar) there. During Śāntarakṣita's time in Tibet, many Chʾan teachers were arriving from China, whose ‘sudden attainment’ (ston.min.pa.) understanding of enlightenment contrasted with Śāntarakṣita's own ‘gradualist’ (rtsen.min.pa) approach to realization. On Śāntarakṣita's recommendation, King Trisong Detsen invited Kamalaśīla from India to debate with the Chinese Hua Shang Mahāyāna at Samyé (792–4 CE), on the understanding that the teachings of whichever school won the debate would be established as the religion of Tibet. Although there are Chinese accounts to the contrary, there is little doubt that Kamalaśīla won. In 795 CE, however, Kamalaśīla was murdered, though whether by his defeated opponents or by followers of the native Bön religion is not clear. It has been suggested that Chʾan Buddhism did not completely leave Tibet as a result of the debate, and that elements of it remain in present Nyingma and Bön teachings.

Kamalaśīla was an illustrious scholar who also influenced the development of Tibetan Buddhism by his writings. His most important work, Madhyamakāloka (Light on the Middle Way), presents the Madhyamaka doctrine of emptiness (śūnyatā) and incorporates Tathāgata-Garbha (Essence of Buddhahood) theory perhaps for the first time in the Madhyamaka school; his commentary (Skt., pañjikā) on Śāntarakṣita's Madhyamakālankāra (Ornament of the Middle Way) remains an important assessment of Buddhist philosophy (though a few Geluk scholars doubt its authenticity); his commentary on Śāntarakṣita's Tattvasaṃgraha (Compendium of Reality, tr. G. Jha, 1937–9) contains the first known Buddhist consideration of the Indian Advaita school. In addition to this, Kamalaśīla's three texts on meditation, the Bhavanakrama (Stages on the Meditative Path) represent his own position taken in the debate.

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