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BHĀVAVIVEKA (c. 490570 ce), also known as Bhavya or (in Tibetan) Legs ldan ʾbyed pa; Indian Buddhist philosopher and historian, and founder of the Svātantrika-Mādhyamika school. Born to a royal family in Malyara, in South India (although some Chinese sources claim it was in Magadha, in North India), Bhāvaviveka studied both sūtra and śāstra literatures during his formative years. Having excelled in the art of debate, especially against Hindu apologists of the Sākhya school, he is said to have been the abbot of some fifty monasteries in the region of Dhanyakata, in South India. His chief influences were the writings of Nāgārjuna (second century ce), the founder of the Mādhyamika, and treatises on logic from the traditions of Buddhism (especially Dignāga's works) and Hinduism (especially the Nyāyapraveśa ). His chief philosophical contribution was his attempt at formulating a synthesis of Mādhyamika dialectics and the logical conventions of his time.

As all of Bhāvaviveka's works are lost in the original Sanskrit and preserved only in Tibetan translations, the scholarly world came to know of him only through Candrakīrti (c. 580650 ce), who refuted Bhāvaviveka's position in the first chapter of the Prasannapadā. It could therefore be argued that current understanding of the Mādhyamika in general has suffered from a one-sided perspective that relies solely on Candrakīrti's rival school, the Prāsagika-Mādhyamika. However, contemporary scholarship no longer neglects Tibetan sources, and thus a more balanced approach has ensued, one that reads Nāgārjuna's seminal writings through the commentaries of both the Prāsagikas and the Svātantrikas.

Nagarjuna, especially as read through the commentaries of Buddhāpalita (c. 470550 ce), was characterized by many Indian philosophers as a vaitaika, a nihilist who refused to assume any thesis (pratijñā ) in the course of the ongoing dialogue between Hindu thinkers of various schools and the Buddhists. While Mādhyamika thought had not asserted any claim about ultimate truth/reality (paramārthasatya ), Bhāvaviveka's independent reasoning (svatantra-anumāna ) was applied to conventional truth/reality (samvtisatya ) as a means of rescuing logico-linguistic conventions (vyavahāra ) from a systematic negation (prasaga ) that opened the school to charges of nihilism. While Bhāvaviveka accepted the Mādhyamika view that ultimately (paramārthata ) no entities could be predicated with any form of existence, he was willing to employ such predication on a conventional level. In order to maintain the reality and utility of traditional Buddhist categories for talking about the path of spiritual growth while denying the ultimate reality of such categories, he employed a syllogistic thesis (pratijñā ), a philosophic strategy that was nearly incomprehensible to scholars of the Mādhyamika, who knew this school only through Candrakīrti's Prāsagika systematization.

In order to affirm a thesis on the conventional level while denying it ultimately, Bhāvaviveka creatively reinterpreted the key Mādhyamika doctrine of the two truths (satyadvaya ). In his Madhyamārthasagraha, he propounds two levels of ultimacy: a highest ultimate that is beyond all predication and specification (aparyāya-paramārtha ), in conformity with all Mādhyamika teachings, and an ultimate that can be inferred logically and specified meaningfully (paryāya-paramārtha ); this latter level was a bold innovation in the history of Mādhyamika thought. Of course, such a distinction was operative only within the realm of conventional thought. Again one must employ Bhāvaviveka's crucial adverbial codicil, paramārthata, and follow him in claiming that such a distinction, like all distinctions, is ultimately unreal although conventionally useful.

Bhāvaviveka's two main philosophic contributionshis affirmation of a thesis on a conventional level and his reinterpretation of the two-truths doctrineare evaluated diversely by contemporary scholars. Those unsympathetic to him see his work as an unhappy concession to the logical conventions of his day, a concession that dilutes the rigor of the Mādhyamika dialectic. Those with more sympathy see his contributions as a creative surge that rescued Buddhist religious philosophies from those dialectical negations that threatened the integrity of the Buddhist path itself.

Within the evolved Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Bhāvaviveka is especially known for two other contributions. His refutations of the rival Yogācāra school are considered to be among the clearest ever written. The fifth chapter of his Tarkajvālā, the "Yogācārattvaviniścaya," refutes both the existence of the absolute and the nonexistence of the conventional, both seminal Yogācāra positions.

He is also the forerunner of the literary style known as siddhānta (Tib., grub mthaʾ ), which became enormously popular within Tibetan scholarly circles. A siddhānta text devotes ordered chapters to analyzing the philosophic positions (siddhānta s) of rival schools, both Buddhist and Hindu. His Tarkajvālā contains systematic critiques of the positions held by the Hinayana and the Yogācāra, both Buddhist schools, and the Sākhya, Vaisesika, Vedānta, and Mīmāsā schools of Hindu philosophy.

Bhāvaviveka was also a keen historian. His Nikāyab-hedavibhagavyākhyāna remains one of the most important and reliable sources for the early history of the Buddhist order, and for information on the schisms within its ranks.

See Also

Buddhist Philosophy; Mādhyamika; Śūnyam and Śūnyata.


The most important philosophical works by Bhāvaviveka are his commentary on Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, the Prajñāpradīpa; his verse work, the Madhyama-kahdayakārikā, with the autocommentary the Tarkajvālā; his Madhyamārthasagraha; and his Karatalarana. All these works can be found in volumes 95 and 96 of The Tibetan Tripiaka, edited by D. T. Suzuki (Tokyo, 1962). Bhāvaviveka's work on the history of the Buddhist order, the Nikāyabhedavibhagavyākhyāna, is included in volume 127.

Bhāvaviveka's biography can be found in Khetsun Sangpo's Rgya gar pa chen rnams kyi rnam thar ngo mtshar padmoʾi ʾdzum zhal gsar pa (Dharamsala, India, 1973). Perhaps the most definitive study of Bhāvaviveka is Malcolm David Eckel's "A Question of Nihilism: Bhāvaviveka's Response to the Fundamental Problems of Mādhyamika Philosophy" (Ph.D. diss., Harvard University, 1980). Shotaro Iida's Reason and Emptiness: A Study in Logic and Mysticism (Tokyo, 1980) studies Bhāvaviveka from the perspective of medieval Tibetan sources. Louis de La Vallée Poussin's essay "Bhāvaviveka," in volume 2 of Mélanges chinois et bouddhiques (Brussels, 1933), pp. 6067, is the statement of classical Buddhology on the subject. Kajiyama Yuichi's "Bhāvaviveka and the Prāsagika School," Nava-Nalanda-Mahavihara Research Publication 1 (n.d.): 289331; my own "An Appraisal of the Svātantrika-Prasamgika Debates," Philosophy East and West 26 (1976): 253267; Peter Della Santina's "The Division of the Madhyamika System into the Prāsagika and Svātantrika Schools," Journal of Religious Studies 7 (1979): 4049; and Ichimura Shohei's "A New Approach to the Intra-Mādhyamika Confrontation over the Svātantrika and Prāsagika Methods of Refutation," Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 5 (1982): 4152, exemplify contemporary scholarship. One important source was unavailable to this author: Donald Lopez's "The Svātantrika-Mādhyamika School of Mahāyāna Buddhism" (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 1982).

Nathan Katz (1987)

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