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.