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MĀDHYAMIKA . The Mādhyamika, or Madhyamaka, school is one of the four great schools of Indian Buddhism, along with the Sarvāstivāda, Sautrāntika, and Yogācāra (Vijñānavāda) traditions. The name Mādhyamika ("one who follows the middle way") is derived from the word madhyamaka, found in the title Madhyamakakārikā, perhaps the most important work of Nāgārjuna, the founder of the school. The school is referred to as Dbu ma pa ("the school of the middle") in Tibet, San-lun-tsung ("the three-treatises school") in China, and Sanronshū ("the three-treatises school") in Japan. Historically, Indian Mādhyamika may be divided into three stages, early, middle, and late.

The Early Period

This period is marked by two great figures, Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva, and a lesser one, Rāhulabhadra. Nāgārjuna (c. 150250 ce), born in South India, was the author of a number of works variously extant in Sanskrit, Tibetan, and/or Chinese (as subsequently indicated by the parenthetical abbreviations S, T, and C). He was associated with a king of the Śātavāhana dynasty, as is seen from his works, the Ratnāvalī (S partially, T) and the Suhllekha (T), both consisting of admonitions, moral as well as religious, given to the king. His main works comprise five philosophical treatises: the Madhyamakakārikā (S, T, C), the Yuktiaikā (T), and the Śūnyatāsaptati (T), all of which are written in verse and develop the philosophy of śūnyatā ("emptiness"); and the Vigrahavyāvartanī (S, T, C) and the Vaidalyasūtra (T), written in verse and in aphorisms, respectively, both of which are accompanied by autocommentaries in prose. The last two contain Nāgārjuna's criticism of the rules governing traditional Indian logic, especially those of the Naiyāyika. Another genuine work of Nāgārjuna's is, without doubt, the Pratītyasamutpādahdaya (S partially, T, C), as well as the autocommentary (Pratītyasamut-pādahdayavyākhyāna, S partially, T, C). In this last work, consisting of seven verses and a commentary in prose, the course of transmigration of sentient beings owing to defilements, deeds, and suffering is explained in the light of the theory of twelve-membered dependent co-origination. At the same time, however, the text emphasizes that because everything is devoid of own being or essential nature there is actually no one who moves from this world to another. Many other works are traditionally ascribed to Nāgārjuna; some, for example, the Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa (Chin., Ta chih-tu lun, extant only in Chinese), have influenced the development of Buddhist exegetics, and some, for example, the Daśabhūmikavibhāā (C), that of Pure Land Buddhism in China and Japan. However, nothing definite can be said as to the authenticity of authorship of these works.

The philosophy of emptiness is found in such early Buddhist sūtra s as the Ti-i-i-kung ching (T. D. 2.92c) and the Aggi-Vacchagotta Suttanta (Majjhima Nikāya, no. 72) and thus did not originate with Nāgārjuna, who declared that he revived the true teaching of the Buddha. However, Nāgārjuna also relied heavily on the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras, the Daśabhūmika Sūtra, and the Kāśyapaparivarta in forming his philosophy. His philosophy of emptiness was a criticism of Indian realism, which was represented by Indian philosophical systems of the Sākhya, the Vaiśeika, and the Naiyāyika, and by such Hīnayāna Buddhists as the Sarvāstivādas and other Abhidharma philosophers, who believed that human ideas, insofar as they are rational, have substances that correspond to them in the external world.

In speaking of emptiness Nāgārjuna meant to say not that nothing exists but that everything is empty of svabhāva ("own being"), that is, of an independent, eternal, and unchanging substance. All things are, like images in a dream or an illusion, neither substantially existent nor nonexistent absolutely. Nāgārjuna's negation of a self-dependent substance, which he holds to be nothing but a hypostatized concept or word, is derived from the traditional Buddhist idea of dependent origination (pratītya-samutpāda ), the idea that whatever exists arises and exists dependent on other things. Nāgārjuna, however, introduces into that theory the concept of mutual dependency. Just as the terms long and short take on meaning only in relation to each other and are themselves devoid of independent qualities (longness or shortness), so too do all phenomena (all dharma s) lack own being (svabhāva ). If a thing were to have an independent and unchanging own being, then it would follow that it is neither produced nor existent, because origination and existence presuppose change and transiency. All things, physical as well as mental, can originate and develop only when they are empty of own being. This idea of emptiness necessitates the truth of nonduality. Sasāra and nirvāa (defilements and liberation), like any other pair of contradictions, are nondual because both members of the pair are empty of own being.

Āryadeva (c. 170270), a direct disciple of Nāgārjuna, was also active in South India. He wrote three works: the Catuhsataka, his main work (S fragment, T, C latter half only); the Satasastra (C), which has been studied throughout China and Japan; and the Aksarasataka (T, C), a small work consisting of a hundred words and his autocommentary. Āryadeva inherited Nāgārjuna's philosophy. Nothing is known about Rāhulabhadra except that he left two hymns, the Prajñāpāramitāstotra and the Saddharmapu-arīkastotra, and a few fragmentary verses quoted in the Chinese texts.

The Middle Period

Tradition reports that eight Indian scholars wrote commentaries on the Madhyamakakārikā: Nāgārjuna himself (Akutobhayā, T); Buddhapālita (c. 470540; Buddhapālita-Mūlamadhyamakavtti, T); Candrakīrti (c. 600650; Prasannapadā, S, T); Devaśarman (fifth to six centuries; Dkar po ʾchar ba, T fragment); Guaśri (fifth to sixth centuries; title unknown); Guamati (fifth to sixth centuries; title unknown, T fragment); Sthiramati (c. 510570; Ta-sheng chung-kuan shih-lun, C); and Bhavya (also known as Bhāvaviveka; c. 500570; Prajñāpradipa, T, C).

The Akutobhayā is partially identical with Buddha-pālita's commentary, and its authenticity is doubtful. Two fragments from Devaśarman's commentary are cited with appreciation by Bhāvaviveka. A fragment from Guamati's commentary is criticized by Bhāvaviveka. The works of Devaśarman and Guamati are not extant. Nothing is known about Guaśri or his work. The fact that Guamati and Sthiramati, both well-known Yogācārins, commented on the Madhyamakakārikā shows that Nāgārjuna was revered not only by Mādhyamikas but also by philosophers of other schools. In addition, there is Ch'ing-mu's commentary extant in Kumārajīva's Chinese translation. The Shun-chung lun (C) by Asaga (c. 320400), another Yogācārin, is a general interpretation of Nāgārjuna's verse of salutation found at the very beginning of the Madhyamakakārikā.

The middle period is characterized by the split of the Mādhyamika into two subschools, the Prāsagika, represented by Buddhapālita and Candrakīrti, and the Svātantrika, represented by Bhāvaviveka and Avalokitavrata. The names Prāsagika and Svātantrika are not attested to in any Sanskrit texts and thus were probably coined by later Tibetan doxographers. However, the names so appropriately describe the tenets of the two subschools that they are widely used even by modern scholars.

In his arguments Nāgārjuna often used dilemmas and tetralemmas. In Madhyamakakārikā 1.1, for instance, he states that things produced from themselves, from others, from both themselves and others, or from no cause at all can be found nowhere. Buddhapālita, the founder of the Prāsagika school, divided this tetralemma into four different prasaga arguments, or arguments reductio ad absurdum. He pointed out that (1) production of a thing from itself would be quite useless because, having own being, the thing would already exist and such production would thus involve the logical fault of overextension (ati prasaga ), for a thing already existing by own being would, under this assumption, never cease being produced; (2) if things are produced from another, all things could be produced from all other things; (3) if things are produced from both themselves and another, the faults attached to the two preceding alternatives would combine in this third one; and (4) if things are produced from no cause, all things would be produced always and from all things.

Nāgārjuna himself used prasaga as often as dilemmas and tetralemmas, but Buddhapālita, analyzing even dilemmas and tetralemmas into plural prasaga s, considered the latter to be the main method of Mādhyamika argumentation. As a form of argument, prasaga had been known among logicians since the time of the Nyāya Sūtra (codified in the third century) under the name tarka. In the eighth century it was formalized by Buddhist logicians into a syllogistic form under the name prasaga-anumāna ("inference by prasaga "). If, for example, seeing smoke on a mountain, we want to prove the existence of fire to someone who objects by denying the existence of fire there, we can argue that if there were no fire on the mountain, there would be no smoke there either. At the same time we would be pointing out the fact that smoke is actually rising on the mountain. This form of argument is known as pra-sanga, the essence of which is to indicate that an absurd conclusion would follow, given the opponent's claim. The above example can be put into the following categorical syllogism: wherever there is smoke, there is fire (p ); that mountain has smoke (q ); therefore, that mountain has fire (r ). This syllogism (pq? r ) can be transformed into the following prasaga-anumāna (p ~r? q ): wherever there is no fire, there is no smoke (the contraposition of p ); (if) the mountain has no fire (~r ), (it would follow that) the mountain has no smoke (~q ), which is contrary to fact. Likewise, Buddhapālita's prasaga may be written: production of things from themselves is useless (p ); (if) this thing is produced from itself (~r ), then (it would follow that) its production is useless (~q ). These examples of prasaga-anumāna are hypothetical syllogisms because the minor premise (~r ) is hypothesized by the advocator and only claimed by the opponent and because the conclusion (~q ), necessarily following from the two premises, is false.

Bhāvaviveka criticized Buddhapālita, saying that his argument was a mere prasaga, lacking both a true probans (i.e., minor premise) and an example (i.e., major premise). Furthermore, Buddhapālita may be understood to maintain a counterposition to the probans as well as to the example because of the nature of prasaga. This is to say, Buddhapālita's own opinion would be as follows: a thing is produced from another, et cetera (r ), and its production is useful (q ). Understood in that way, Buddhapālita's assertion would be contrary to Nāgārjuna, who denied not only production from the thing itself but also production from another, from both, and from no cause. Until some Buddhist logicians came, in the eighth century, to recognize prasaga as a form of formal inference, it was not regarded as authentic; in fact, although it had been admitted as supplementary to the categorical syllogism, it was classified as erroneous knowledge because its conclusion was false to the arguing party.

Bhāvaviveka was strongly influenced by his senior contemporary Dignāga, the reformer of Buddhist logic and epistemology. Accordingly, it was Bhāvaviveka's contention that the Mādhyamikas had to employ categorical syllogisms to prove the truth of their philosophy. In his commentary on the Madhyamakakārikā as well as in his other works, Bhāvaviveka formed innumerable categorical syllogisms, the so-called svatantra-anumāna ("independent inference"). This is why he came to be called a Svātantrika, in contradistinction to Buddhapālita, who was termed a Prāsagika.

For instance, in commenting on Nāgārjuna's denial of production of things from themselves (Madhyamakakārikā 1.1), Bhāvaviveka uses the following syllogistic form, which may be rewritten according to Aristotelian logic thus:

Major Premise: whatever exists is not produced from itself, for example, caitanya (an eternal, unchanging spirit in the Sākhya philosophy). Minor Premise: the cognitive organs (eye, ear, nose, etc.) exist. Conclusion: therefore, from the standpoint of the highest truth (paramarthatah ) they have not been produced from themselves.

In constituting this kind of syllogism, Bhāvaviveka included three unusual modifications: the word paramārthata ("from the standpoint of the highest truth") is added; the negation in this syllogism should be understood as prasajya-pratiedha ("the negation of a proposition," opposite to paryudāsa, "the negation of a term"), in which the negative particle is related to the verb, not to the nominal, so that not from themselves may not mean from another; and no counterexample is available, that is, no member of the class contradictory to the probandum is available, which means that the contraposition of the major premise (i.e., what is produced from itself is nonexisting) is not supported by actual examples.

Bhāvaviveka's logic, however, had its own difficulties, for which it was criticized by Sthiramati and Candrakīrti as well as by the Naiyāyikas. If the restrictive from the standpoint of the highest truth governs not only the conclusion but also the whole syllogism, the minor premise would not be permissible because all things, including the cognitive organs, would be nonexistent from the standpoint of the highest truth according to the Mādhyamika. If, on the contrary, the restriction governed only the conclusion and not the two premises, then the cognitive organs in the minor premise would have to be regarded as existent when seen from the standpoint of truth on the conventional level (savti, vyavahāra ), while the same organs in the conclusion would be nonexistent when seen from the highest truth. Therefore, Bhāvaviveka is to be criticized for using the term the cognitive organs on two different levels of discourse. In both cases he commits a logical fallacy.

Candrakīrti says that the negation used by all Mādhyamikas should be regarded as prasajya-pratiedha. When there is a defect in the counterexample, that is, when the contraposition of the major premise is not attested to in actuality, how can there be certainty with regard to the validity of the original major premise? Candrakīrti, citing one of Nāgārjuna's verses, argued that the Mādhyamikas, having no assertion of their own, should not rely on the syllogistic method and that prasaga is the only and the best way of argumentation for them.

The commentary on the Madhyamakakārikā was Buddhapālita's sole work. Bhāvaviveka, in addition to the Prajñāpradīpa, wrote the Madhyamakahdayakārikā (S, T) with his autocommentary Tarkajvālā (T), in which he discussed the truth of the Mādhyamika philosophy in chapters 1, 2, and 3 and the doctrines of Hīnayāna Buddhism, Yogācāra, Sākhya, Vaiśeika, Vedānta, and other schools in the following chapters. His Ta-sheng chang-chen lun (Karatalaratna ?) is extant only in Chinese. The authenticity of two other works ascribed to Bhāvaviveka, the Madhyamakaratnapradīpa and the Madhyamakārthas-agraha, is doubtful. In addition to the Prasannapadā, Candrakīrti left a great work entitled Madhyamakāvatāra (T), consisting of verses and an autocommentary, in which he explicated the essentials of the Mādhyamika philosophy in accordance with the ten perfections (pāramitā ) of the bodhisattva. He was a prolific writer: the Pañcaskand-haprakaraa and the commentaries on the Śūnyatāsaptati, the Yuktiaika, and the Catuśataka, all extant only in Tibetan, are known to be his works. Avalokitavrata (seventh century), a Svāt antrika, wrote a bulky and informative commentary (T) on Bhāvaviveka's Prajñāpradīpa. Śāntideva, who tended to be a Prāsagika, wrote the Śiksaāmuccaya (S, T, C), a collection of teachings about learnings and practices of the bodhisattva, and the Bodhicaryāvatāra (S, T, C), which consisted of more than nine hundred verses and which also taught practices of the bodhisattva according to the six pāramitā s. The Sūtrasamuccaya, a collection of passages from Māhāyana sūtra s, is ascribed by Tibetans to Nāgārjuna, but it is closely related to the Śiksaāmuccaya and suggests that Śāntideva may have added more sūtra passages to Nāgārjuna's original text.

The Last Period

Philosophers of the middle period of Indian Mādhyamika can be characterized as follows: they wrote their own commentaries on the Madhyamakakārikā; they were divided into the Prāsagika and the Svātantrika, according to whether they adopted either prasaga ("reductio ad absurdum" ) or svātantra-anu-mana ("independent syllogism") as a means for establishing the truth of the Mādhyamika philosophy; and they regarded the Yogācāra school as their opponent and criticized its philosophy. In contrast, philosophers of the last period were influenced by Dharmakīrti, the greatest scholar of the Buddhist logico-epistemological school, as much as they were by Nāgārjuna; with a few exceptions, almost all of them belonged to the lineage of the Svātantrika school; and they appreciated the philosophy of the Yogācāra school and even introduced it as part of the Mādhyamika philosophy. Consequently, beginning with Śāntirakita, they came to be called the Yogācāra-Mādhyamika-Svātantrika by Tibetans. In contrast, the later Tibetan scholars called Bhāvaviveka a Sautrāntika-Mādhyamika-Svātantrika, as he adopted the Sautrāntika theory of the imperceptible but real external world from the standpoint of truth on the conventional level (savti ).

The greatest figure of this last period is Śāntirakita (c. 725784), a disciple of Jñānagarbha (eighth century), of whom very little is known except that he was the author of the Satyadvayavibhaga (T), his autocommentary the Satyadvayavibhagavtti, and the Yogabhāvanāmārga (T). A scholar at Nālandā Monastery, Śāntirakita was invited to Tibet by a Tibetan king. There he established the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery (at Bsam yas) in cooperation with Padmasambhava, and ordained the first six Tibetan monks. He wrote two works, the Tattvasagraha (S, T) and the Madhyamakālakāra (T), and a commentary on the Satyadvayavibhaga, the main work of his master. The Tattvasagraha, written in 3,645 verses, introduces the philosophies of various Indian schools, non-Buddhist as well as Buddhist, and also provides a criticism of them. Accompanied by a large commentary by Kamalaśīla, his worthy disciple, this work is extant in Sanskrit and is extremely valuable for the information it imparts on the world of Indian philosophy at that time. In the Madhyamakālakāra, to which there exist his autocommentary, the Madhyamakāla-kāravtti (T), and Kamalaśīla's subcommentary, the Madhyamakālakārapañ-jika (T), he criticizes the Buddhist philosophies of the Sarvāstivāda, Sautrāntika, and Yogācāra schools as well as non-Buddhist philosophies, and proclaims the Mādhyamika as the last and highest doctrine of all. The principle underlying his criticism against all other schools that regard specific entities as ultimate metaphysical realities is that they are empty of reality because they are devoid of both singular and plural own beings.

Like the Mīmāsā, Vaiśeika, Naiyāyika, and other schools, the Sarvāstivāda holds that knowledge, like a clean slate, is pure and is not endowed with the image of an object and that cognition takes place through the contact of mind, a cognitive organ, and an external object, all of which exist at the same moment. Epistemologically, this is a copyist theory of knowledge, called in India nirākārajñānavāda ("the theory of knowledge not endowed with the image of the object"). On the other hand, like the Sākhya, Vedānta, and Yogācāra schools, the Sautrāntika contends that what is cognized is not an external object but an image thrown into knowledge by the external reality, which always remains something imperceptible. Knowledge is an effect of an external object that is its cause and that has already disappeared at the moment the knowledge arises. This is the representationalist's theory of knowledge and is called sākārajñānavāda ("the theory of knowledge endowed with the image of the object"). But the Sautrāntika, unlike the Yogācāra, does not deny the existence of the external reality. For it, an external reality, though never perceived, must be postulated as existing. According to the Yogācāra, it is unnecessary to postulate the existence of the external reality because what knowledge cognizes is an image that is given not by an external object but by the immediately preceding moment of the knowledge. The mind is a stream of moments containing impressions of experiences accumulated since the beginningless past. The world is nothing but the representations of mind; external objects are in reality nonexistent. Yogācāra holds, as does the Sautrāntika, that knowledge is endowed with an image (sākārajñāna ). However, the Yogācāras are divided into two groups as regards the nature of that image. One maintains that the image is as real as the self-cognition (svasavedana ) of knowledge. The other contends that the image is unreal, although self-cognition is real. We often grasp an erroneous image, say of a silver coin that we realize a moment later is nothing but a shell. According to the latter opinion, this means that all images can be unreal, while the illumination (prakāśa ) itself, which exists with both the silver coin and the shell, is real. This illumination or self-cognition is the only reality. This view is called alīkākāravāda ("the theory of the unreal image of cognition"). According to the former opinion, however, the illumination alone is never cognized separately from the image. The image of a silver coin is as real as the illumination because it is not contradicted by the image of a shell. This is because the latter exists not at the same moment as the former but a moment later. What is unreal is not the image but the conception that interprets the image as something other than what it is. This is called satyākāravāda ("the theory of the real image").

Śāntirak ita preferred the Sautrāntika to the Sarvāstivāda and the Yogācāra to the Sautrāntika. As for the Satyākāravādins and Alīkākāravādins, Śāntirakita holds that both parties are unable to explain the reason why knowledge, which is unitary, has an image that always appears as a gross or a plural thing. So long as it appears with a dimension, even an image of cognition can be analyzed and broken down into parts or, ultimately, into "atoms of knowledge" (jñāna-paramānu ) and therefore is plural. If the image is real, knowledge must be plural; if self-cognition alone is real, why is it not cognized separately? But both cases are not true because, after all, knowledge has neither a single own being nor a plural one and it is empty of own being. Thus the Yogācāra is superseded by the Mādhyamika, which points out that all things, external as well as internal, are empty.

Kamalaśīla (c. 740797), a great student of Śāntirakita's, wrote the Tattvasagrahapañjikā (S, T) and the Madhyamakālakāravrttipañjikā (T), commentaries on two main works of his teacher. Kamalaśīla entered Tibet after his master had passed away there and was victorious at the famous Bsam yas debate between himself and Mahāyāna Hwa-sha, a Chinese Chan monk who had considerable influence on Tibetan Buddhism at that time. In order to introduce Tibetans to Buddhism, he wrote three books, all entitled Bhāvanākrama (The Steps of Buddhist Meditative Practice; 1 and 3 in S; 1, 2, and 3 in T; and 1 in C). He also wrote the Madhyamakāloka (T), his main work; the Sarvadharmanisvabhāvasiddhi (T), a résumé of the Madhyamakāloka; and the Tattvāloka (T). Because of his victory in the debate at Bsam yas and his great effort thereafter, Mādhyamika Buddhism became firmly established in Tibet. His three Bhāvanākrama s were considered by the Tibetans at that time to be the best introductions to the Yogā-cāra-Mādhyamika form of Indian Buddhism; the same can be said even for modern students of Buddhism. In them, the necessity for the gradual training toward enlightenment is stressed and the sudden enlightenment proclaimed by Chinese Ch'an is denounced.

Vimuktisena (eighth century), the author of the Abhisamayālakāravtti (S partially, T), and Haribhadra (eighth century), the author of the Abhisamayalamkaraloka (S, T) and its résumé, the Abhisamayālakāraśāstravtti (T), claimed a close relationship between the Yogācāra-Mādhyamika philosophy and the Abhisamayālakāra, a synopsis of the Pañcaviśatisāhasrikā-prajñāpāramitā Sūtra ascribed to Maitreyanātha. They developed their philosophies in commenting on the Abhisamayālakāra.

Jitāri, Bodhibhadra, Advayavajra (all eleventh to twelfth century), and others were Mādhyamikas whose interest extended to either Tantric Buddhism, logico-epistemology, or both. Jitāri, Bodhibhadra, and Advayavajra are known for having written the compendia of the four great Buddhist schools, the Sugatamatavibhaga (T), the Jñānasāras-samuccayanibandhana (T), and the Tattvaratnāvāli (S, T), respectively. In these works, the specific doctrines of the four schools are introduced, and in the case of Bodhibhadra, non-Buddhist Indian philosophical schools are included. The schools are arranged in order from lowest to highest, according to their respective estimations. This style of compendium became the model after which later Tibetan Buddhists composed numerous grubmtha' (Skt., siddhānta ) or compendia of doctrinal classification of Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) schools.

Kambala (Lwa-ba-pa or La-ba-pa; date uncertain) wrote the Prajñāpāramitānavaśloka and the Ālokamālā, and, according to Sahajavajra, belonged to the Alīkākā-ravāda-Yogācāra-Mādhyamika school. Ratnākaraśānti (eleventh century), an Alīkākāravādin, disputed with Jñānaśrīmitra (eleventh century), a Satyākāravādin. Ratnakarasanti claimed that the Yogācāra and the Mādhyamika were not different; consequently, he is counted sometimes as a Yogācāra-Mādhyamika and others as a Vijñaptimatra-Mādhyamika. He was a great logician as well, and introduced the theory of antar-vyapti (internal determination of universal concomitance) into Buddhist logic.


Two or three decades after the debate at Bsam yas (794), Ye shes de, the first Tibetan Mādhyamika scholar, wrote the Ltabʾ'i khyadpar (Differences in doctrines), in which he described the history of Indian Mādhyamika, its divisions into the Yogācāra- and Sautrāntika-Mādhyamikas, and other important Buddhist doctrines. During the ninth and the tenth centuries, Buddhism, as represented by Jñānagarbha, Śāntira-kita, and Kamalaśīla, flourished in Tibet. After the persecution of Buddhism by King Glang dar ma and the fall of the Tibetan dynasty, Atisa, a great scholar of Vikramaśīla Monastery, entered Tibet in 1041 to reestablish Buddhism there. He revered Candrakīrti and Śāntideva, rather than Bhāvaviveka and Śāntirakita, and founded the Bkaʾgdams pa school. He also erected the Gsang phu Temple, which became the center of Tibetan Buddhism under the guidance of Phywa pa Chos kyi Seng ge (11091169). Ñi ma grags (1055?) translated all Candrakīrti's works. He was probably the first to use the names Prāsagika and Svātantrika. Tsong kha pa (13751419), the greatest Mādhyamika in Tibet and the first abbot of Dgaʾ ldan Monastery, founded the Dge lugs pa order, wrote many works, including the Lam rin chen mo (Great work on the gradual way), and synthesized Mādhyamika philosophy with the Tantras. The so-called grubmtha' literature, written by such scholars as Sa skya Paita (11821251), Dbus pa Blo gsal (fourteenth century), ʾJambyangs Bshad pa (16481722), and Dkon mchog ʾJigs med Dbang po (17281791), in which Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools are arranged as gradual steps culminating in Mādhyamika thought, is unique to Tibetan Buddhism.

China and Japan

It was Kumārajīva (350409) who introduced Nāgārjuna's philosophy into China by translating the Madhyamakakārikā, the Shih-erh-men lun (Dvāda-śamukha?), the Po lun (an interpretation of Āryadeva's Ca-tuśataka ), and the Ta-chih-tu lun (Mahāprajñāpāra-mitopadeśa ?). However, the authenticity of the second and fourth works, ascribed to Nāgārjuna, is doubtful. The third is not a direct translation of Āryadeva's work.

Chi-tsang (549623) of the Sui dynasty, regarding the thoughts of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva as the core of Buddhist doctrine, founded the San-lun tradition. San-lun ("three treatises") refers to the first three of the above-mentioned works. Chi-tsang wrote the San-lun hsüan-i (Deep Meaning of the Three Treatises) and also commented on the three treatises. He propagated the Middle Way and the eight kinds of negation that appear in the salutation verse of Nāgārjuna's Madhyamakakārikā. The tradition flourished during the early T'ang period but began to decline after Hsüan-tsang's transmission of the works of the Yogācāra school to China. Ekan, a Korean monk, introduced the San-lun doctrine to Japan, where, as the Sanronshū, it enjoyed a brief efflorescence as one of the six schools of the Nara period (seventh century). In China as well as in Japan, the school was short-lived and was overtaken by popular Buddhism as propagated by such traditions as Pure Land, Zen, and others.

See Also

Āryadeva; Atīśa; Bhāvaviveka; Buddhapālita; Buddhism, Schools of, article on Tibetan and Mongolian Buddhism; Candrakīrti; Dharma, article on Buddhist Dharma and Dharmas; Dharmakīrti; Dignāga; Jizang; Kamalaśīla; Kumarajiva; Nāgārjuna; Pratītya-samutpāda; Śāntideva; Śāntarakita; Sarvāstivāda; Sautrāntika; Sthiramati; Śūnyam and Śūnyatā; Tsong kha pa; Yogācāra.


Bhattacharya, Kamaleswar, trans. The Dialectical Method of Nāgārjuna. New Delhi, 1978. An English translation of Nāgārjuna's Vigrahavyavartani with the romanized text.

Iida, Shotarō. Reason and Emptiness: A Study in Logic and Mysticism. Tokyo, 1980. A study of Bhāvaviveka's philosophy with partial translations of related documents.

Matics, Marion L., trans. Entering the Path of Enlightenment. New York, 1970. An English translation of Śāntideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra.

Murti, T. R. V. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. 2d ed. London, 1970. A readable account of the Mādhyamika philosophy based mainly on the Prasannapadā of Candrakīrti.

Ruegg, David S. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India. Wiesbaden, 1981. A valuable conspectus, containing the history, philosophers, doctrines, and documents of the school and a detailed bibliography of studies by modern scholars.

Sopa, Geshe Lhundup, and Jeffrey Hopkins. Practice and Theory of Tibetan Buddhism. New York, 1976. An English translation of Dkon mchog ʾJigs med Dbang po's compendium of the four great schools of Indian Buddhism.

New Sources

Berger, Douglas L. "The Social Meaning of the Middle Way: The Madhyamika Critique of Indian Ontologies of Identity and Difference." Journal of Dharma 26, no. 3 (2001): 282310.

Burton, D. Emptiness Appraised: A Critical Study of Nagarjuna's Philosophy. Richmond, VA, 1999.

Candrakirti, and Mi pham rgya mtsho. Introduction to the Middle Way: Candrakirti's Madhyamakavatara with Commentary by Ju Mipham. Boston, 2002.

Garfield, J. L. Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation. New York, 2002.

Napper, E. Dependent-Arising and Emptiness: A Tibetan Buddhist Interpretation of Madhyamika Philosophy Emphasizing the Compatibility of Emptiness and Conventional Phenomena. Boston, 2003.

Ruegg, D. S. Studies in Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka Thought. Wien, 2000.

Thupten, J. Self, Reality and Reason in Tibetan Philosophy: Tsongkhapa's Quest for the Middle Way. New York, 2002.

Viévard, L. Vacuité (Sunyata) et Compassion (Karuna) dans le Bouddhisme Madhyamaka. Paris, 2002.

Kajiyama YŪichi (1987)

Revised Bibliography


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Mādhyamaka (‘middle way’; Chin., San-lun; Jap., Sanron; Korean, Samnon). The ‘Middle School’, a system of Buddhist philosophy founded by Nāgārjuna in the 1st cent. CE, extremely influential within the Mahāyāna. The school claims to be faithful to the spirit of the Buddha's original teachings, which advocate a middle course between extreme practices and theories of all kinds, and it applies this principle to philosophical theories concerning the nature of phenomena. Thus the assertion that ‘things exist’ or that ‘things do not exist’ would be extreme views and should be rejected; the truth lies somewhere in-between and is to be arrived at through a process of dialectic, as opposing positions are revealed as self-negating. The adoption of any one position, it was argued, could immediately be challenged by taking up its opposite, and the Mādhyamaka therefore adopted a strategy of attacking their opponent's views rather than advancing claims of their own (which is not to deny that they might none the less hold their own philosophical views).

The scene for the appearance of the Mādhyamaka was set by the debates among the schools of the Theravāda over such basic doctrines as that all phenomena (dharmas) are impermanent (anicca) and without self (anātman). This gave rise to philosophical difficulties concerning questions such as causation, temporality, and personal identity. The scholastic solution was to posit a theory of instantaneous serial continuity according to which phenomena (dharmas) constantly replicate themselves in a momentary sequence of change (dharma-kṣaṇikatva). Thus reality was conceived of as cinematic: like a filmstrip in which one frame constantly gives way to the next, each moment, none the less, being substantially existent in its own right.

The Mādhyamaka challenged this notion of the substantial reality of dharmas, arguing that if things truly existed in this way and were possessed of a real nature or ‘self-essence’ (svabhāva), it would contradict the Buddha's teaching on no-self (anātman) and render change impossible. What already substantially exists, they argued, would not need to be produced; and what does not substantially exist already could never come into being from a state of non-existence. Thus real existence cannot be predicated of dharmas, but neither can non-existence, since they clearly present themselves as having a mode of being of some kind. The conclusion of the Mādhyamaka was that the true nature of phenomena can only be described as an ‘emptiness’ or ‘voidness’ (dharma-śūnyatā, i.e. ‘emptiness of self’); and that this emptiness of self-nature is synonymous with the principle of dependent origination (see PATICCA-SAMUPPĀDA) as taught by the Buddha. This process of reasoning is fully set out in Nāgārjuna's concise verses in the Mūla-Mādhyamaka-Kārikā, the root text of the system.

There were implications also for soteriology: since emptiness is the true nature of what exists there can be no ontological basis for a differentiation between nirvāna and saṃsāra. Any difference which exists must be an epistemological one resulting from ignorance and misconception. Accordingly, the Mādhyamaka posits ‘two levels of truth’: the level of Ultimate Truth (paramārthasatya), i.e. the perception of emptiness of the true nature of phenomena (the view of the enlightened); and the level of ‘relative’ or veiled truth (samvṛtisatya), i.e. the misconception of dharmas as possessing a substantial self-existent nature (the view of the unenlightened). The gaining of enlightenment is the passage from the latter to the former.

After Nāgārjuna the work of the school was carried forward by his disciple Āryadeva, but subsequently two schools divided, the Svatantrika, led by Bhāvaviveka; and the Prāsaṅgika, championed by Candrakīrti, which adhered to the negative dialectic of the founder. The Mādhyamaka system was transmitted from India to Tibet and China (where it flourished, particularly in Tibet, as a central school of Mahāyāna philosophy), and to Japan, where it is known as Sanron. See also SAN-LUN.


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Mādhyamika. An adherent of Mādhyamaka.