The Madhyamika Absolute is epistemic (Chatterjee)

The Madhyamika Absolute is epistemic (from The Yogacara Idealism, by Ashok Kumar Chatterjee, foreword by T.R.V. Murti, 1962, 1975, Delhi 2007)

Self-consciousness of Reason itself is the Madhyamika Absolute. The approach is purely negative here. Negation is not complete in the Vedanta and the Yogacara; it is in the service of an affirmation, which is really the guiding principle of these systems. Negation is simply the removal of the outer husk as it were, which hides the inner core, the affirmation. For the Madhyamika, it is bare negation, total and absolute, so far as thought goes. The Absolute is identified with nothing within thought, i.e. within phenomena. Though the Absolute in both other systems is said to be beyond thought, the transition is made easy by indicating something within phenomena themselves which is not exhausted in it and has a transcendent existence. The gulf between phenomena and noumenon is not frightfully abrupt in these systems. It is bridged by that which is itself not phenomenal but can yet be shown to work within it. This reality is pure Being in the Vedanta and pure Will in the Yogacara. But, for the Madhyamika, it is not anything within phenomena. His interest in phenomena is indirect; primarily he criticises the various views; but, as in metaphysics there can be had no neutral fact which is not coloured by one view or another, that is, which is not subject of any predication, affirmative or negative, his criticism of all views amounts to the rejection of phenomena in toto. It is not merely one aspect of it that is negated, the other being preserved and exalted as the Absolute. No aspect is preferred to any other; criticism is complete here. Avidya is not viewing things as objective which are really identical with consciousness [as it is in Yogacara], nor viewing things as different which are in reality identical [as it is in Vedanta], but it [i.e. avidya] is “viewing” as such, Reason itself.

The argument of both the other systems is that illusion is not possible without a substrate reality. For them the Madhyamika is an extreme position where there is an illusion without any underlying reality which alone makes it possible. This substrate is Consciouness for the Yogacara and Being for the Vedantin. The Madyamika does not deny the necesssity of a substrate; his contention is that it cannot be identified with anything within the context of the illusion itself; in that particular context everything is relative to each other and is therefore equally false. The substrate is the critical consciousness itself, which, when diversified by the views, becomes false. Remove all thought categories and the basic reality, the Dharmata or Tathata of things, shines forth. It has not to be led to in a particular way; it is just the cancellation of all ways.

The Madhyamika Absolute is therefore epistemic. At first sight it might seem to be utterly transcendent, but a closer inspection reveals the fact that it is nothing outside thought, not a thing-in-itself. The Vedantic as well as the Yogacara Absolute are both ontological. In the Vedanta it is one reality without a second, the only existent; it is rather existence itself. In the Yogacara also it has no other than itself, being the only reality. In the Madhyamika however, what is negated is not any second reality other than the Absolute, as in the former two systems, but rather any view about it. As has just been said, the Absolute is purely epistemic [epistemological] here. Contrasted with this, the Vedantic Absolute may be said to be ontological and the Yogacara Absolute psychological.

Embracing Physicalism in Buddhism (Siderits)

Embracing Physicalism in Buddhism (from Buddhism and Techno-physicalism: Is the Eightfold Path a Program?, by Mark Siderits, in Philosophy East and West, Honolulu 2001)

If embracing physicalism [i.e. that all that exists is physical in nature] means leaving open for the present whether or not to accept the doctrine of karma and rebirth, then we must ask how crucial this doctrine really is to Buddhism. What I would suggest is that while this doctrine has played an important role in many Buddhist cultures, it is not crucial to the central project of Buddhism. Indeed, if I take myself to live only one life instead of the indefinitely many lives promised by rebirth, then the fact of my own mortality takes on even greater significance, for I cannot then defer seeking a solution to the problem of suffering to some future life. Now within many Buddhist cultures it has been thought that some persons are unable to seek and attain Nirvana in this life. The doctrine of karma and rebirth holds out the promise to such people that if they perform karmically meritorious acts in this life, they will be reborn in more auspicious circumstances in which the attainment of Nirvana will be easier. So if karma and rebirth were rejected, then since Nirvana would not be open to all, this might make the Buddhist path seem less appealing. (Of course this would not show that the Buddhist analysis is itself false.) But we must ask why Nirvana is thought to be unattainable for some individuals in this lifetime. If this is simply because they find the path too difficult compared to the attractions of mundane life, then perhaps Buddhist need to redouble their efforts to convince these people of the truth of suffering. If, on the other hand, Nirvana is unattainable for some due to such life circumstances as extreme poverty and degradation, then it would seem incumbent on Buddhists to work to eliminate such social evils and thus make Nirvana genuinely available to all.

One sometimes hears it said that in the absence of the doctrine of karma and rebirth (or some other doctrine promising ultimate retribution for immorality), people would have no reason to obey the dictates of conventional morality. But even if this were true, it is not clear why this would constitute a reason for Buddhists to espouse the doctrine. And in fact, Buddhists have good reason to reject this claim. On the basis of the doctrine of nonself it is possible to construct an argument for a general obligation to seek to prevent pain regardless of where it occurs. That is, the doctrine that is central to the Buddhist project may itself be used to support a basic duty of beneficence, arguably the core of all forms of conventional morality. So if it is essential for a spiritual path to provide some support to conventional morality, Buddhism can do so without reliance on the doctrine of karma and rebirth.

So far we have been discussing the central project of Buddhism as taught in early Buddhism and Abhidharma. I said earlier that the Mahayana teaching of the essenceless of the elements might complicate matters. In Madhyamaka this doctrine is taken to mean that the very notion of how things ultimately are is empty. So there is no ultimate fact of the matter as to whether reality is wholly physical, both physical and mental, or only mental in nature. According to Madhyamaka we should, however, embrace at the conventional level whatever account of the world best accords with successful practice. So if physicalism should turn out to cohere better with our going theories, then Madhyamaka would grant it the status of conventional truth.

It is with Yogacara [Vijñanavada] that real difficulties arise. For this school the doctrine of the essenceless of elements is taken to indicate their ultimate nature, specifically their ineffability. And while it would of course be a mistake to say that ineffable elements are mental in nature, Yogacara does claim that it would be nearer the truth to say that they are mental than that they are physical in nature. (Note: This is because for Yogacara the path to the realization of the ineffability of the real goes through the doctrine of impressions-only as a key stage: one first realizes that there could only be inner impressions and not external objects, then sees that the notion of the mental relies crucially on the distinction between “inner” and “outer”, and thus one abandons any attempt at characterizing the reals.) So this school’s views are incompatible with physicalism. And Yogacarins claim that their idealist teaching of impressions-only represents the most effective way of realizing the truth of nonself. If this is correct, then the Buddhist project is indeed incompatible with physicalism. But Abhidharmikas and Madhyamikas deny that embracing an idealist metaphysics is required in order to attain the fruit of the Buddha’s teachings. And there are interesting and complex arguments developed on all sides in this dispute.

Nagarjuna and Madhyamika Buddhism (Potter)

Nagarjuna and Madhyamika Buddhism (from Presuppositions of India’s Philosophies, by Prof. Karl H. Potter, 1963, Westport, Conn. 1976)

Nagarjuna, the most famous exponent of the Madhyamika school of Buddhism, contends that there is no basis on which one can posit a dependence relation of the asymmmetrical sort sought by Vasubhandu and Dharmakirti. When the Buddha said that everything was interdependent he meant just what he said. He did not mean that some things depended on other things which were themselves independent, a theory which other philosophers, both Buddhist and Hindu, have espoused; he meant that all things are on a par, dependent on one another. Nagarjuna develops a rather unusual terminology for the status of all things. Since they are interdependent, he says, and since to depend on something else is to have no nature of one’s own (no svabhava, to use the technical Buddhist term), they must be without any nature, that is to say ‘void’ (shunya). Nagarjuna’s philosophy is frequently called shunyavada, the doctrine of the void.

Nagarjuna harps upon the concept of dependence. That which depends upon something else is less real than something else. This, argues Nagarjuna, is accepted by all philosophers. But all the other philosophers conclude that there must be some positive reality upon which other things depend but which does not depend on anything else.. Even among the Buddhists, the logicians think there are elements which do not depend on others but are depended on, and the idealist Yogacaras suppose that everything else depends on consciousness but not vice-versa. But these theories are all wrong, says Nagarjuna, and proceeds to show by a masterly dialectic that they are.

Is Nagarjuna a skeptic? No, since he allows that causality has a limited play: that is what the dialectic itself shows. Causality is what the dialectic demonstrates, since causality is interdependence. The skeptic, such as the materialistic Charvaka, does not even go so far as to admit the interdependence of things. Nagarjuna may with reason claim that if the empirical world were not ordered by the principle of dependent origination even the dialectic would fail. Nagarjuna is not anti-rational; in fact, he elevates reason to the position of the prime means of attaining freedom. Unlike skepticism, his is a philosophy of hope: we can achieve freedom by our own efforts, through remorseless application of the dialectic.

Yet freedom is release from the conceptual, for Nagarjuna as for all Buddhists. This seems to be an insoluble paradox. How can we free ourselves from the conceptual by indulging in a dialectical play which is conceptual through-and-through? The answer is that through application of the dialectical method we convince ourselves that everything is interdependent, and we develop a special kind of insight (prajña) into the void itself. This insight has no content, i.e. its content is the void. It is nonsensuous and nonconceptual, although it is rational in the sense that it is developed through a rational procedure.

The Nirvanic Realm, Here and Now (Inada)

The Nirvanic Realm, Here and Now (from Nagarjuna, A Translation of his Mulamadhyamakakarika, by Prof. Kenneth K. Inada, 1970, Delhi 1993)

It is sometimes said that Nagarjuna appeared at the right moment and at the right place in Buddhist history to provide the necessary corrective measures to Buddhist philosophical analysis of man’s nature and thereby initiated a ‘new’ movement within the Mahayana tradition. First of all, however, it must be remembered that he did not appear out of a vacuum but rather that he came after a long period of Buddhist activity in India proper. At least six or seven centuries had transpired between the historical Buddha (6th century B.C.) and Nagarjuna (circa 2nd-3rd centuries A.D.), a time in which Buddhists actively explored, criticized, and propagated the Buddhist truth. This is the period which produced the eighteen contending schools of the Abhidharmika system discussed earlier and also the time which saw the germs of the break in the interpretation of the nature of the summum bonum (Nirvana) between the Hinayana (inclusive of modern Theravada) and Mahayana traditions.

At the same time, secondly, it should be noted that the Mahayana tradition in its earliest phase, i.e. pre-Christian period, had already produced some of the most attractive and arresting thoughts in Buddhist history, thoughts which are considered most fundamental to all subsequent developments in the tradition. Sutras relative to this period concentrate on the universal and extensive sameness (samata, tathata) in the nature of man, his supreme wisdom (prajña) and compassion (karuna), all of which describe the concept of a bodhisattva or enlightened being. They expound ad infinitum the purity, beauty and ultimate rewards of the realization of this supreme realm of being in language which is at once esthetic, poetic and dramatic but which at times are painfully frustrating to the searching rational mind.

For example, the empirically oriented mind would not be able to accept and adapt simple identities of the order (or realm) of wordly (mundane) and unworldly (supermundane), empirical and nonempirical, common everyday life (Samsara) and uncommon enlightened life (Nirvana), pure (sukha) and impure (asukha), and finally, form (rupa) and emptiness (shunyata). In the final identity of form and emptiness, a climax in the ideological development is reached where the sutras, in particular the whole Prajñaparamita Sutras, elaborate on the point that all forms are in the nature of void (shunya). Thus, such forms in the nature of a sentient creature or being (sattva), a soul or vital force (jiva), a self (atman), a personal identity (pudgala) and separate ‘elements’ (dharmas) are all essentially devoid of any characterization (animitta, alaksana). The quest for voidness or emptiness is thoroughgoing with the aim being the nongrasping (agrahya) and at once the emptiness of the personal experiential components (pudgala-shunyata) and of the personal ideational components (dharma-shunyata). This is the final goal of the Nirvanic realm, here and now, without residues (anupadhishesa-nirvana-dhatu) and achievable to all.

Needless to say, the understanding of the above identities is the constant challenge and the most profound feature of the Mahayana, if not the whole Buddhist philosophy. Unquestionably, Nagarjuna was faithful to this lineage of ideas and he tried his hand in cristalizing the prevailing ideas. He came to bundle up the loosely spread ideas, so to speak, and gave a definite direction in the quest of man.

Buddhism is about Solving a Problem (Garfield)

Buddhism is about Solving a Problem (from Taking Conventional Truth Seriously, by Jay L. Garfield, in Moonshadows – Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy, by The Cowherds, Oxford 2011)

Buddhism is about solving a problem – the problem of the omnipresence of suffering – and the central intuition of Buddhism is that the solution to that problem is the extirpation of ignorance. Epistemology is located at the foundation of morality and gets its point just from that location. The mechanism of the extirpation of ignorance is the competent use of our authorative epistemic instruments. What that use delivers is hence, at least indirectly, always of soteriological significance – always instrumental to liberation. Inasmuch as that is the central moral virtue, and inasmuch as epistemology is so tightly bound to the soteriological project, it is also the central epistemic virtue, and what we call the goal of epistemic activity is truth. Conventional truth is hence no to truth as blunderbusses are to buses or as fake guns are to real guns but rather is simply one kind of truth.

One of the Buddha’s deepest insights was that there are two truths and that they are very different from one another. They are the objects of different kinds of cognition, and they reflect different aspects of reality. They are apprehended at different stages of practice. Despite the importance of the apprehension of ultimate truth, one can’t skip the conventional. Despite the soteriological efficacy of ultimate truth, even after Buddhahood, omniscience and compassion require the apprehension of the conventional.

Nagarjuna’s deepest insight was that, despite the vast difference between the two truths in one sense, they are, in an equally important sense, identical. We can now make better sense of that identity and of why the fact of their identityis the same fact as that of their difference. Ultimate reality is, as we know, emptiness. Emptiness is the emptiness not of existence but of intrinsic existence. To be empty of intrinsic existence is to exist only conventionally, only as the object of conventional truth. The ultimate truth about any phenomenon, on this analysis, is hence that it is merely a conventional truth. Ontologically therefore, the two truths are absolutely identical. This is the content of the idea that the two truths have a single basis: That basis is empty phenomena.Their emptiness is their conventional reality; their conventional reality is their emptiness.

Nonetheless, to know phenomena conventionally is not to know them ultimately. As objects of knowledge – that is, as intentional contents of thought, as opposed to mere phenomena – they are objects of different kinds of knowledge despite the identity at a deeper level of those objects. Hence the difference. But the respect in which they are different and that in which they are identical are, despite their difference, also identical. A mirage is deceptive because it is a refraction pattern, and it is the nature of a refraction pattern to be visually deceptive. The conventional truth is merely deceptive and conventional because, upon ultimate analysis, it fails to exist as it appears – that is, because it is ultimately empty. It is the nature of the conventional to deceive. Ultimately, since all phenomena, even ultimate truth, exist only conventionally, conventional truth is all the truth there is, and that is an ultimate and therefore a conventional truth. To fail to take conventional truth seriously as truth is therefore not only to deprecate the conventional in favor of the ultimate but also the deprecate truth per se. That way lies suffering.

Pratitya-samutpada (Tachikawa)

Pratitya-samutpada (from An Introduction to the Philosophy of Nagarjuna, by Prof. Musashi Tachikawa, 1986, Delhi 1997)

In the doctrine of dependent co-arising (pratitya-samutpada) belonging to the period of Primitive (or Early) Buddhism, the question of whether or not the individual members of the causal nexus possess any perduring and immutable reality (svabhava) hardly arose. This was because when considered from the viewpoint of the early doctrine of dependent co-arising, maintaining as it did that the ‘world’ had not been created by some eternal and imperishable god or similar entity, it was only natural that human ignorance, cognition and action, all pertaining to the world of transmigration, should be impermanent and without intrinsic reality.

But by the time of Nagarjuna the doctrine of dependent co-arising, with its denial of any eternal and immutable reality, was no longer fulfilling its purpose. This was because, as a result of the emphasis placed on the reality of the individual constituent elements of the world in the course of developments within Abhidharma philosophy in the period succeeding that of Early Buddhism, the doctrine of dependent co-arising, which ought to have been an expression of the negation of own-being (svabhava), had become instead an expression of the affirmation of own-being. According to Abhidharma philosophy, dependent co-arising means that a certain constituent element or combination of elements of the world (x) arises, or is arising, from another constituent element or combination of elements (y) in accordance with a consistent relationship obtaining between cause and effect. In other words, dependent co-arising in Abhidharma philosophy represents the causal relationship obtaining among a limited number of constituent elements of the world. In this case, x is considered to act as the cause from which y is born, and this presupposes the fact that x and y must exist each with their separate own-being. In Abhidharma philosophy a certain thing possessing within itself its own existential base enters into a relationship with another thing, different from itself, also possessing within itself its own existential base. Thus the causal relationship posited by Abhidharma philosophy is a relationship between a certain thing endowed with own-being and another thing also endowed with own-being. On the basis of such ideas, Abhidharma philosophy further systematized and disseminated the doctrine of the twelvefold chain of dependent co-arising.

In the view of Nagarjuna, this interpretation of causal relationships in Abhidharma philosophy ran counter to the spirit of Early Buddhism.. Although Abhidharma philosophy had not abandoned the basic thesis of Buddhism which declared that “all things are impermanent”, in the view of Abhidharma philosophy it was ‘man’ (pudgala, the centre of personality considered to reside within the individual) as a complex of constituent elements that was impermanent, but the individual elements constituting ‘man’ were eternal and unchanging. Nagarjuna, on the other hand, held not only ‘man’ but also the individual elements (dharma) of which he is composed to be impermanent. This is why Nagarjuna’s standpoint has been defined as advocating that “both pudgala and dharma are without self”. Seeking as he did to attain to emptiness through the radical negation of the profane, he could not admit the reality of the constituent elements.

Being-determined and Self-determination are One (Nishitani)

Being-determined and Self-determination are One (from Religion and Nothingness, by Prof. Keiji Nishitani, translated with an introduction by Prof. Jan van Bragt, and with a foreword by Prof. Winston L. King, 1982, Berkeley 1983)

An attempt has been made in the preceding to explain that our existence, our behaviour, and our becoming all come about within a world-nexus that is unlimited not only with regard to time but also with regard to space. Already on the standpoint of karma as well, the Dasein of the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming comes about within time without beginning or end, while opening up the infinite openness of nihility directly beneath the present. But inasmuch as this dynamic nexus appears only as a perpetual relating to something, our Dasein, in being determined by that world-nexus, becomes one with it in ‘fate’.

Dasein is always and at each occasion becoming manifest as one particular roll of the waves that gathers up into itself the whole ebb and flow of the world-nexus since time without beginning or end. Our doing in that context is free with the freedom of attachment determined by causal necessity within the total nexus and, at the same time, is also free with the arbitrary freedom that contracts the total nexus into the one center of the self.

That is why our doing is karma standing on nihility. In that doing, nihility, even as it becomes manifest from the ground where self and the world are one, nullifies the being of the self, sets the self adrift in transitory becoming, and transforms the self and all other things into a samskrta [samskrita, interdependently conditioned = pratityasamutpada] existence.

It was noted earlier in this chapter that being-determined in the world-nexus and self-determination are one. But on the standpoint of karma this self-determination makes the infinite drive that originates from the self-centered elemental source of avidya its essence and becomes manifest in taking the form of will as attachment and control. And being-determined means being conditioned through causal necessity in that total, unlimited nexus.

Further, it was noted that the free exercise of will, consisting of attachment and control in its relations with any given thing, is in its very freedom a configuration determined by ‘fate’ – which is after all what karma is. In this karmic mode of being, then, nihility becomes manifest from the ground where self and world are one. And the reason for this, as we went on to explain, is that avidya, as an infinite self-enclosure elemental to karma, rises to awareness only in unison with the nihility on which it stands. In karma we can only have our being through being constantly engaged in doing something. That is, in order to be, we are obliged to be relating to something. This means that our being is a debt unto itself, and that our doing as a settlement of that debt is equivalent to the direct instatement of a new debt. This means, on the one hand, that our being is passing away and coming to be at every fleeting instant and that therein the nihility that is constantly nullifying our being is revealed. On the other hand, at the same point that the continuous cancellation of debt is a continuous reinstatement, there appears something that urges us on endlessly from within. In that infinite drive, our Dasein is never able to divest itself of its own home-ground, and our self within that dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is always itself – in incessant becoming.

Avidya comes to awareness as the home-ground of the self, where the self is caught in incessant becoming and unable to take its leave, that is, as the outermost extreme of self-centeredness. As a result, in avidya, the persistence of the self at being itself and emerging into the nature of self-centered being, always comes about as a simultaneous whole with the disclosure of nihility in avidya in its very process of nullifying the being of the self. The inability of the self to detach itself from the home-ground of its own transitory becoming – or, conversely, the self’s being ever itself, while its being is nonetheless in constant change – also has its base here. That is what karma means. Dasein in the dynamic nexus of being-doing-becoming is but the being of the self being constituted directly beneath the present as an emergence from nihility into the nature of avidya.

The Philosophy of Emptiness (Abe)

The Philosophy of Emptiness (from Zen and Western Thought, by Prof. Masao Abe, edited by Prof. William R. LaFleur, 1985, Honolulu 1989)

In early Buddhism the theory of dependent origination and the philosophy of emptiness were still naively undifferentiated. It was Abhidharma Buddhism which awakened to a kind of philosophy of emptiness and set it up in the heart of Buddhism. But the method of its process of realization was to get rid of concepts of substantiality by analysing phenomenal things into diverse elements and thus advocating that everything is empty. Accordingly, Abhidharma Buddhism’s philosophy of emptiness was based solely on analytic observation – hence it was later called the ‘analytic view of emptiness’. It did not have a total realization of emptiness of the phenomenal things. Thus the overcoming of the concept of substantial nature or ‘being’ was still not thoroughly carried through. Abhidharma fails to overcome the substantiality of the analysed elements.

Beginning with the Prajñaparamita-sutra, Mahayana Buddhist thinkers transcended Abhidharma Buddhism’s analytic view of emptiness, erecting the standpoint which was later called the ‘view of substantial emptiness’. This was a position which did not clarify the emptiness of phenomena by analysing them into elements. Rather, it insisted that all phenomena were themselves empty in principle, and insisted on the nature of the emptiness of existence itself. The Prajñaparamita-sutra emphasizes ‘not being, and not not being’. It clarified not only the negation of being, but also the position of the double negation – the negation of non-being as the denial of being – or the negation of the negation. It thereby disclosed ‘Emptiness’ as free from both being and non-being, i.e. it revealed prajña-wisdom.

But it was Nagarjuna who gave this standpoint of Emptiness found in the Prajñaparamita-sutra a thorough philosophical foundation by drawing out the implications of the mystical intuition seen therein and developing them into a complete philosophical realization. Nagarjuna criticized the proponents of substantial essence of his day who held that things really exist corresponding to concepts. He said that they had lapsed into an illusory view which misconceived the real state of the phenomenal world. He insisted that with the transcendence of the illusory view of concepts, true Reality appears as animitta (no-form, or non-determinate entity). But Nagarjuna rejected as illusory, not only the ‘eternalist’ view, which took phenomena to be real just as they are, but also the opposite ‘nihilistic’ view that emptiness and non-being are true reality. He took as the standpoint of Mahayana Emptiness an independent stand liberated from every illusory point of view connected with either affirmation or negation, being or non-being, and called that standpoint the ‘Middle Way’.

Two Types of Negation (Huntington)

Two Types of Negation (from The Emptiness of Emptiness, by Prof. C.W. Huntington Jr., with Geshe Namgyal Wangchen, 1989, Delhi 1992)

Within the Madhyamika system, soteriology plays an integral role as the practical application of philosophical reflection. Although things do not bear their individual existence within themselves, as they appear to do, they are nevertheless quite real insofar as they are efficacious. The eminent Tibetan scholar Tsong kha pa has referred to the concept of causal efficacy – the sole determining criterion for conventional truth and reality – as “the most profound and subtle matter within the Madhyamika philosophy”. One needs, then, to appreciate the interdependent nature of appearances and to adjust attitudes accordingly in order to avoid a considerable amount of suffering.

Indian philosophers traditionally define two distinct types of negation: (i) Negation which indirectly affirms the existence of something else (paryudasa); and (ii) Negation which leaves nothing in its place (prasajya). The Madhyamika has assigned a particular significance to each of these. The first type of negation is “relative”, “implicative”, or “presuppositional” negation. Taken as a philosophical principle, it leads to the opposed ontological positions of nihilism and absolutism. The second type, “nonimplicative” or “nonpresuppositional” negation, is used by the Madhyamika to express the radical, deconstructive negation effected through application of the concept of emptiness. When one negates the reality of a reflection he necessarily affirms the reality of the reflected entity, but when the Madhyamika philosopher negates the reality of the world, he affirms neither a “something” nor a “nothing” in its place. In other words, he does not supply the old, reified concept “reality” with a new, more refined and abstract referent, a metaphysical substrate of some novel and convincing variety. On the contrary, in order to know and accept the world as it is both in its everyday appearance and in the paradox and mystery of this appearance, he steps entirely outside the language game that can be played only by holding onto propositions (pratijñas) and views (dristis). In taking this step he makes the first critical move away from a form of life caught up in the anxious and generally manipulative attitude associated with this way of thinking and acting.

This is a very subtle point, and it lies at the heart of the Madhyamika philosophy for, as Candrakirti and others have often indicated, no matter what ingenious things may be written or said about emptiness by the cleverest philosopher, ultimately it must be “seen by nonseeing” and “realized by nonrealization”. It is not an epistemic or ontic fact dissociated from everyday life, ensconced “out there” somewhere waiting to be discovered and possessed through the power of critical rationalism. “Emptiness” is a conventional designation (prajñapti), an ordinary word used, like all words, to accomplish a specific purpose registered in the intention of the speaker. In accordance with what the texts say, it is perhaps best understood as a way of being, a way of existing, knowing, and acting with complete freedom from clinging and antipathy. In the direct (noninferential) realization of emptiness, the claims of the part or individual are immediately experienced as harmonious with the claims of the whole world of sentient and insentient being. The direct realization of emptiness, what I call the “actualization” of emptiness, is the source of the bodhisattvas’s universal compassion.

The Doctrine of Karman in Candrakirti (Kragh)

The Doctrine of Karman in Candrakirti (by Ulrich T. Kragh, in an email presentation, 2001)

In Buddhist texts, one finds detailed debates on the problem of continuity and change. As the Buddhists generally rejected the concept of a self, there arose certain difficulties in explaining the link between stages in a causal process. If A is the cause of B, and there is no continuous entity, such as a self, that binds them together, what is then the link between them?

The Abhidharma schools came up with a number of different explanations for this question, which were strongly opposed by Nagarjuna, the founder of the Madhyamaka tradition. His critique is found in its most concentrated form in chapter seventeen of the Madhyamakakarika and verses 33-44 of the Shunyatasaptati. Among the various Madhyamaka commentaries to these passages, those of Candrakirti are the most interesting in relation to the above-mentioned problematic, since Candrakirti presents the most radical interpretation of the matter. I have therefore selected the seventeenth chapter of Candrakirti’s commentary (entitled Prasannapada), which comments on the seventeenth chapter of Madhyamakakarika, as one of the main sources for this study. A study and French translation of this chapter was published by Lamotte in MCB 1935-36.

In this chapter, Candrakirti, along with Nagarjuna, first briefly presents the Abhidharma theories of karman along with a critique of these models. Thereafter, their own Madhyamaka presentation of karman is given. It is, of course, important to notice at this point that the Madhyamikas indeed accept the theory of karman. In the view of Candrakirti, causality is possible in the manner of [inter]dependent arising, which is understood as a causal process involving no independently existing elements and which is therefore empty of self-existence. In other words, unlike the Abhidharma models, Candrakirti presents an understanding of causality that involves no concrete basis linking cause and effect. This is done based on the argument that cause and effect do not exist as separate entities in need of being linked. It is a profound process-oriented way of thinking that allows causality to function without introducing any existential ground for it.

At the end of the chapter, Candrakirti refers the reader for further details to the Madhyamakavatara, another of his Madhyamaka-related works. Although Candrakirti does not directly cite a particular passage, this general reference must be taken as indicating verse 14-97 (and its auto-commentary) of the sixth chapter of this text. In this section, Candrakirti criticises the concept that an effect arises from a cause which is different from itself. This in turn has strong bearing on the general Buddhist understanding of causality or karman-theories.

Candrakirti here focuses his polemic against the Yogacarin’s understanding of the karman-theory, in which alayavijnana is posited as the necessary base for causality; i.e. it is consciousness that binds cause and effect together and ensures the individual continuity of the process. Candrakirti’s critique further underlines his understanding of causality as being [inter]dependent arising, involving no individually existing elements and requiring no existential basis for it to function. The Madhyamakavatara thus adds this critique of the Yogacara position on the debate.