Pagina principale Madhyamaka Schools in India: A Study of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of the Division of the System..

Madhyamaka Schools in India: A Study of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of the Division of the System into the Prasangika and Svatantrika Schools

Anno: 1995
Edizione: 2
Editore: Motilal Banarsidass Pub
Lingua: english
Pagine: 242 / 261
ISBN 10: 8120801539
ISBN 13: 9788120801530
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A Study of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of
the Division of the System into the Priismigika
and Svatantrika Schools


Delhi Varanasi Patna Madras


the late Prof. LAL MANI JOSHI
who laboured tirelessly to shed a brighter light
on the vast and profound Buddhist Tradition
and to reveal it in its rightful role as one
of the great pillars oflndian Culture




I. The Origins of the Madhyamaka Philosophy
The Principal Exponents of the Madhyamaka System in India
III. The Madhyamaka Philosophy
IV. Indian Logic and the Madhyamaka System
V. The Origin of the Division
VI. The Development of the Controversy
VII. The Development of the Controversy in Tibet
VIII. The Significance ofThese Interpretations Assessed 94
IX. The Vigrahavyavartani and the Exposition of
the Status of the Valid Instruments ofCognition 103
X. The Refutation of Origination
XI. The Refutation of the First Alternative
XII. The Controversy between B~avayiveka and
it m
XIII. Bhavaviveka's Independent Syllogism Criticised
XIV. The Refutation of the Second Alternative
XV. The Refutation of the Third Alternative
XVI. The Refutation of the Last Alternative
XVII. A Final Look at the Differences between the Pra202
sa.Iigika and Svatantrika Schools

APPENDIX A. An Abridged Biography ofthe
Teacher bSod-nams Sen-ge
APPENDIX B. English, Sanskrit, Tibetan Glossary




This book is a welcome addition to the growing literature in
English on the history and philosophy of the most famous school
of Buddhist thinkers known as the Madhyamaka. For a thou·
sand years (1 00 to 1000 A.D.) this school held aloft the banner
of Buddhist soteriology and gnosiology in India and produced
a series of technical treatises (.fiistras) in Sanskrit. Most of these
treatises were destroyed by anti-Buddhist fanaticism and vandalism carried on first by the Brahmanical Hiudus and then by
invading Muslims. Only a small number of Buddhist texts in
their original form has survived not in India but in the neigh·
bouring Buddhist lands.
Recently Professor David Seyfort Ruegg has published a
short but excellent account of the literature of this school (TM of the Madkyamaka School of Philosophy in India, Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1981 ). This book far tile first time
presents a systematic history of the Madhyamaka literature in
India. Although a history of the Madhyamaka Sc:Hol of Buddhist Philosophy is still a desideratum, a number of able scholars
have over the years contributed significantly to our knowledge
of several aspects of the Madhyamaka thought. Since the
original works of the philosophers of this school are preserved in
their Tibetan translations, most of the modern scholars interested in the study of the Madhyamaka doctrines and dialectics
are making use of Tibetan sources. Two recent doctoral dissertations in this area based on Tibetan materials are still unpublished: Language and Existence in Madhyamika Buddhist Philosophy,
Oxford University D. Phil. Thesis (1978), pp. 390 by Dr. Paul
Martin Williams, and A Question of Nihilism: Bkavaviveka' s Response to the Fundamental Problems of Miidkyamika Philosophy, Harvard University Ph.D. Thesis (1980), pp. 482 by Dr. Malcolm
David Eckel. An important and valuable work, also a doctoral
thesis, based on both the Sanskrit and Tibetan sources has
been recently published. This is called Reason and Emptiness : A
Study of Logic and Mysticism by Dr. Shotaro lida (Tokyo: The



Hokuseido Press, 1980). Japanese Buddhist scholars have been
publishing their valuable researches in the area of the Madhyamaka thought and literature mosdy in Japanese language, and
a large number of students of the subject are not able to read
their publications.
Dr. Peter Della Santina's Madhyamaka Schools in India: A Study
of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of the Division of the System into
the Priisangika and Sviitantrika Schools is based on the Tibetan
sources. He has made use also ofNagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarikii with Candrakirti's Prasannapadiiniimamadhyamakavrtti. In
his treatment of the philosophical problems which became the
centre of controversies between the PrasaiJ.gikas and the Svatantrikas, he largely follows the outlines found in the dBu ma
spyi ston of bSod nams Sen ge.
The work is well planned and well executed. In earlier chap·ters the author sets forth early history and basic doctrines of the
Madhyamaka School. Here he also discusses elements of
Indian fonnallogic which appear in the sources employed in subsequent chapters. In a series of four chapters we are then presented with a detailed picture of the rise and growth of controversy between the two groups of the Madhyamika thinkers. In
another series of subsequent four chapters, we have a brilliant
discussion of the trenchant critique of the theory of origination
of entities offered by the great masters like Nagarjuna, Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka, and Candrakirti. In course of this discussion the reader will find the differences between different sets of
arguments against the same theory advanced by the philosophers of the two schools. This section also brings to light Bhavaviveka's criticism of the views of the Prasaiigikas and Candrakirti's polemics against Bhavaviveka. The last chapter attempts
a kind of summing of the entire work.
The book of Dr. Santina is substantially based on his doctoral
dissertation approved by the University of Delhi. It is the result
of several years of his devoted study and patient intellectual
labour. In spite of his serious physical disabilities, he studied
Buddhist thought, mastered Tibetan language to a remarkable
degree, and has set an inspiring example of a heroic struggle for
conquest of ignorance and possession of the proverbial 'wisdom
eye.' I have no doubt that his book will earn for him a place of
honour in the assembly ofBuddhist scholars in general, and Tibe-



tologists in particular. Students of India's philosophical history
will find this a source of much needed knowledge about the
subtle and profound teachings bearing on the crucial conceptions of Silnya and Sil~atva. Here they will find, in readable
language and lucid style, an account of the ideas of those ancient
Buddhist sages and philosophers who sought to clear the forest
of speculative opinions by rationally examining the structure of
language and logical reasoning. As a philosophy of philosophies, the Madhyamaka System has stood the test of time and
advancement of modern thought, and is likely to become a long
lasting source of intellectual challenge to all thinking minds. I
hope this book will contribute to a better understanding of the
Madhyamaka thought and promote further studies into the
niceties of and differences between absolute negation (prasajyapratijedha) and relative negation (paryudllsaprati~edha) of any
theoretical proposition.


15 January 1983
Haverford College


Margaret Gest Visiting Professor in the
Cross-Cultural Study of Religion

The Madhyamaka systemofphilosophy, as it evolved in India
and Tibet, has not until relatively recent times received much
attention from modern Indian and Occidental scholars. The
study of the Madhyamaka, indeed, lagged far behind the study
of the Vedanta or even ofTheravada Buddhism. This is, perhaps,
not surprising, inasmuch as the Madhyamaka virtually disappeared from the land of its origin centuries ago. Though it
continued to flourish in Tibet and Mongolia, these lands were all
but inaccessible to most modern scholars. Hence, it was not
until relatively late in the history of modern Buddhist scholarship, that the existence of a vast quantity of Mahayana Buddhist
literature in Sanskrit, Tibetan and Mongolian was even discovered.
The modem study of the Madhyamaka philosophy can ther~
fore be said to have actually commenced only a scant sixty or
seventy years ago. Two great Occidental Indologists, one French
and one Russian, must be credited with initiating the serious
study of the Madhyamaka among modem scholars.1 Both these
pre-eminent figures, La Vallee Poussin and Theodor Stcherbatsky, turned their attention to the works of Nigarjuna and
Candrakirti. Stcherbatsky's The Conception of Buddhist Nirod!Jal
remains even today a valuable aid to students of the Madhyamaka philosophy.
Thereafter, the modem study of the Madhyamaka again fell
into a petiod of relative neglect, and it was not until the last two
decades that the Madhyamaka again began to receive the attention of Indian and Occidental scholars. Among these recent
contributions to the study of the Madhyamaka philosophy, Professor T. R. V. Murti's The Central Philosophy of Buddh~ stands
out as a remarkably comprehensive exposition of the Madhyamaka philosophy on the basis of authoritative texts. Recent
years have also seen the publication of two English translations
of the Mulamadhyamakakiirikii of Nagiirjuna, the fundamental
treatise of the Madhyamaka system, one by Doctor Frederick



Streng4 and the other by Dr. Kenneth K. lnada.5 Dr. K.N.
Ramanan6 and Dr. R. H. Robinson7 have also contribdted
valuable studies of the Madhyamaka based primarily U.pon
Chinese sources.
Nonetheless, the state of our knowledge of the Madhyamaka
philosophy is still far from satisfactory. Although as we noted,
the Mulamadhyamakakarikli has recently been twice translated
into English, we still have no complete translation into English
of Candrakirti's commentary on this work, the Prasannapadii.
This is a serious deficiency because the kii.rikii. is extremely cryptic
and tends to be unintelligible without the aid of an authoritative
commentary. Again, the Silnyatiisaptati and Yukti~~tikii of Nii.gii.rjuna, which are important treatises of the Madhyamaka system,
have thus far not been translated into any modem European
language. As for the works of the other principal exponents of
the Madhyamaka like Buddhapii.lita, Bhii.vaviveka, Candrakirti,
Sii.ntideva, Sii.ntarak~ita and KamalaSila, only three-the Sik~ii­
samuccayaB and Bodkicaryiivatiira9 of Sii.ntideva and the TattvaSamgrakal0 of Sii.ntarak~ita have been translated into English
while another, the Madkyamakiivatiira of Candrakirti has been
partly translated into French.U The Karatalaratna of Bhii.vaviveka has also been translated into French.12 Thus, it is evident
that our knowledge of the Madhyamaka philosophy is still fragmentary, inasmuch as a comprehensive picture of the Madhyamaka is not readily available to scholars and students.
This is perhaps why, even today, the Madhyamaka philosophy is often misunderstood by those who are only superficially
acquainted with it. The most conspicuous example of this kind
of misunderstanding is the interpretation of the Madhyamaka,
which is popular in some circles, as nihilism. This interpretation,
however, does not withstand comparison with the actual doctrine
of the Madhyamaka as it is presented in the original texts of the
system. In this connection, it must be noted that the publication of Professor Murti's work has gone a long way toward correcting this facile misunderstanding. _
Given the still rather inadequate state of our knowledge of the
Madhyamaka philosophy, it seems that modem scholars and
students who tum their attention to the study of this system would
do well to see themselves as explorers seeking to uncover new
areas of knowledge, rather than as arbiters attempting to settle



conclusively the philosophical problems which they study. This
is, in fact, the attitude which we have adopted in carrying out
this present research.
If, as we have tried to indicate, the state of our knowledge of
the Madhyamaka philosophy as such is far from complete, it
must be said, in all candour, that our knowledge of the division
of the system into the Priisangika and Sviitantrika schools is all
but non-existent. There has thus far been not even a single
volume published devoted to this problem. We have in fact seen
only two articles written by two Japanese scholars and published
in The Nava-Nalanda Mahavihlira Research Publication., Volume !13
and in Two Truths in Buddhism and Vedanta14 which take up the
question. Professor Guenther's Buddhist Philosophy in Theory and
Practice also includes some material on the two Madhyamaka
Schools.15 Professor Jeffrey Hopkins' doctoral thesis, done at
the University of Wisconsin, apparently contains quite a lot of
material regarding the philosophy of the Priisangika school and
Professor David Eckles's doctoral thesis corru>leted at Harvard
University is a study of the philosophy ofBhiivaviveka, the foun·der of the Sviitantrika school. These recent studies will undoub. tedly contribute much to our knowledge of the division of the
Madhyamaka system into the two schools, when and if, they b~­
come available to the general public. We have unfortunately
not had the opportunity to consult these manuscripts.
It may be asked why the question of the division of the Madhyamaka system into the two schools has received so little attention
from modem scholars. We may suggest that the answer to this
question is twofold. In the first place, the philosophical problem
involved in the division is an extremely difficult one, as is universally acknowledged by both classical and modem scholars.
In the second place, the original texts of the Sviitantrika school,
with only two exceptions, the Madhyamakahrdayakarikii, and Tarkajviilii16 of Bhiivaviveka, have been lost in the Sanskrit and are
preserved only in Tibetan translations. An additional difficulty
is presented by the fact that the Sviitantrikamadhyamaka
philosophy is, in fact, today virtually extinct even among
Although the Sviitantrika philosophy was taken up and preserved by a number of notable early Tibetan Madhyamaka
scholars, it steadily lost ground over the centuries in Tibet and



was eventually replaced by the Prasangika philosophy which
became the orthodox philosophy of the four major sects of the
Tibetan Buddhist scholastic tradition.
This situation has in large part determined our own approach
to the study of the division of the Madhyamaka system into the
two schools. Indeed, it was our original intention to undertake a
comparative study of some of the principal texts, authored by
the foremost Indian exponents of the two schools, like the Prajiiiipradipa ofBhavaviveka and Prasannapada of Candrakirti. It, however, became immediately apparent that if we were to attempt
a direct study of texts like the Prajnapradipa and Prasannapada, it
would be extremely difficult to ascertain the actual nature of the
division into the two schools. Such texts are, properly speaking,
general expositions of the Madhyamaka philosophy, hence, the
passages contained in them which have a direct bearing on the
problem we had undertaken to study are necessarily few and far
between. The attempt to extract the relevant portions from
lengthy treatises like the two cited above would therefore obviously be most time consuming and laborious. Moreover, texts
like the Prajiiapradipa, although preserved only in Tibetan translation, have not been actively studied by Tibetans for many
years. Thus, the search for someone able to competently elucidate their meaning to us seemed little short of hopeless.
Given these considerations, we concluded that we would do
better by making use of a recognised and authoritative indigenous Tibetan exposition of the origin, nature and development
of the division between the two schools. This, it seemed clear,
would enable us to approach the philosophical problem which
we had undertaken to study more efficiently and with more satisfactory results.
The use of an indigenous Tibetan exposition for the purpose of
studying the division of the Madhyamaka system into the Prasangika and Svatantrika schools is easily justifiable, since the
controversy between the two schools which had begun in India,
was actively pursued in Tibet over the course of several centuries.
The Tibetan Madhyamakas were therefore without doubt fully
conversant with the principal issues involved in the dispute. We
selected, for the purpose of our study, the exposition of the division of the Madhyamaka system into the two schools given by
the master bSod-nams Sen-ge in the work entitled, Tke General



Meaning of Madhyamaka (dBu-ma Spyi-ston).17 bSod-nams Senge, who lived in the fifteenth century, was not too far removed
from the era during which the dispute between the Prasarigikas
and Svatantrikas was pursued with intensity on Tibetan soil.
bSod-nams Sen-ge is, moreover, widely recognised by Tibetans
as a peerless expositor of Buddhist doctrine and his explanation
of the origin, nature and development of the division between the
two schools is accepted by a not inconsiderable portion of the
Tibetan scholastic tradition.
We have not, however, confined ourselves to merely presenting
bSod-nams Sen-ge's exposition of the problem at hand. We have
sought to supplement his exposition through a careful consideration of some of the original Indian texts of the Madhyamaka
system which have direct relevance to the issues involved in the
dispute between the two schools. Inasmuch as an acquaintance
with the nature of the Madhyamaka philosophy as such is essential for a correct comprehension of the limited philosophical
problem of the division between the two schools, we have considered some of the important works of the founder of the system,
Nagarjuna. These include the Mulamadhyamakakarikll,u the
Sf1nyatasaptati,19 the Vigrahavyilvartani, 10 and the Ratnllvali. 11 In
addition, we have made use of Candrakirti's commentary to the
Mf1lamadh_-yamakakllrika, the Prasannapada,•• which takes up in
the first chapter the questions raised by Bhavaviveka's criticism
of the approach of the Prasarigika.
We have developed our interpretation of the division of the
Madhyamaka system into the Prasarigika and Svatantrika schools
along the lines suggested by bSod-nams Sen-ge. bSod-nams
Sen-ge maintains that the principal issue which divided the two
schools is an epistemological or pedagogical one. According to
him, the Prasarigikas and Svatantrikas differed over the question
of the character t.f the arguments which were to be employed by
the Madhyamak'a, in order to bring about an understanding of
the doctrine of the Madhyamaka, on the part of opposing philosophers. bSod-nams Sen-ge holds that there are no very great
ontological or philosophical differences between the two Madhyamaka schools. What distinguishes them is the character of the
arguments which they employed in order to convince their opponents of the truth of the philosophy which they mutually shared.
It must here be mentioned that there does exist another inter-



pretation of the nature of the division between the two schools;
the foremost exponent of which is the Venerable Tsm:i-K.ha-pa,
the father of the dGe-lugs-pa order of Tibetan Buddhists. According to him, the issue which divided the two schools is not that
of the character of the arguments to be employed against opponents of the Madhyamaka, but rather a philosophical difference
involving the acceptance of a particular kind of real existence of
entities on the part of the Svatantrikas. According to his interpretation, the Svatantrikas accepted the existence of entities by
virtue of their characteristic marks.113 This existence of entities
by virtue of their characteristic marks, Tson-Kha-pa holds, is not
at all accepted by Prasangikas, and this constitutes the principal
difference between the two schools. It is clear that this interpretation given by Tson-Kha-pa emphasises ontological or philosophical difference between the two schools. It is equally clear
that Tson-Kha-pa's interpretation is at variance with that offered
by bSod-nams Sen-ge.
For our part, we have not attempted to deal with the interpretation of the division between the two schools given by TsonK.ha-pa. To do so, would have required the vast expansion of
this present study; an expansion which was precluded by temporal limitations. Moreover, Tsoil-Kha-pa's interpretation of the
division between the two schools has already, to a very limited
extent, been brought to the attention of modern scholars and
students while bSod-nams Sen-ge has not. It, therefore, seemed
better to devote ourselves to bringing out an interpretation of the
division which has at least an equal claim to legitimacy and which
has thus far escaped the notice of modern Indian and Occidental
Our study of the Madhyamaka philosophy and of the division
of the system into the two schools is roughly divided into three
parts, the first, introductory, the second, general and the third,
specific. In chapters one through four, we have examined the
origins and fundamental conceptions of the Madhyamaka philosophy. The principles of Indian formal logic, which are to figure
prominently in our subsequent discussion of the arguments employed by the Prasangika and Svatantrika schools, are introduced.
Chapters five through nine deal with the origin and development of the controversy between the two Madhyamaka schools



in India and in Tibet. We have tried to focus upon and discuss
some of the principal issues around which the controversy between the two schools centred. Our discussion of the philosophical problem at hand in this and in the last part of the text by and
large follows the outlines suggested by bSod-nams Sen-ge in the
dBu-ma spyi-ston.
Chapters ten through sixteen are devoted to the examination
of the arguments advanced by the Madhyamakas against the
concept of origination or causality. The arguments advanced
by Nagarjuna, Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka and Candrakirti
against the concept of origination are presented and discussed in
detail. Through the consideration of the arguments advanced
by the principal Indian exponents of the two Madhy~,Unaka
schools against the concept of origination, the characteristic difference in the arguments employed by the Prasangikas and Svatantrikas becomes apparent. The polemics advanced by Bhava·
viveka and Candrakirti against the arguments employed by the
Prasangikas and Svatantrikas respectively are examined.
The final chapter of our study falls somewhat outside the tripartite division suggested above. This is because in it we have
attempted to recapitulate the essential points made throughout
the course of the text and to present some additional information
regarding a number of the secondary differences between the two
Madhyamaka schools. bSod-nams Sen-ge's exposition of the
method of argument advocated by the Prasaiigikas is also sum·
marised in the final chapter.
It must be stressed that we do not in the least pretend to have
offered a comprehensive study of the Madhyamaka philosophy
and of the division between the Prasangikas and Svatantrikas.
Our approach ha's been selective and we have not attempted to
examine directly the voluminous texts of the Svatantrikas preserved in Tibetan translations. Neither can our study claim to
be altogether impartial, since we have been guided throughout
by the interpretation given by bSod-nams Sen-ge who was him·
self a Prasangika. Again, no attempt has been made to settle
finally the question of the relative merits of the doctrines of the
Prasangika and Svatantrika schools. Given the present state of
our knowledge of the Madhyamaka and of the philosophies of
the two schools, any such attempt would certainly be premature.
Nonetheless, we do venture to hope that this present study does



contribute in some degree, however small, to our knowledge of
the Madhyamaka philosophy and of the division of the system
into the Prasaitgika and Svatantrika schools which has so far
remained an enigma to modern scholars and students. A viable
interpretation, based upon an authoritative original text, of the
principal difference which divided the two Madhyamaka schools
has been presented, perhaps for the first time. In the process
some light has been thrown upon the development of Madhyamaka philosophy and logic in India, particularly over the period
extending from the second to the sixth centuries C.B. It may
also be added that despite the reservations expressed above regarding the impartiality of our study, we believe that the picture
of the Svatantrika doctrine which emerges from these pages is
not a distorted one.
Mention must also be made of another problem which inevitably faces any writer who seeks to express the concepst of ancient
Indian philosophy in a modem European language. It is the
problem of terminology. The selection of terms capable of expressing adequately the concepts of Buddhist philosophy ha.~ in
the past, and continues even today, to occasion considerable
controversy among modem scholars of the subject. Indeed, another fifty or one hundred years may easily be required before an
acceptable and standardised modem lexicon is evolved capable
of satisfactorily translating the concepts of Buddhist philosophy
into English and other European languages.
Since this present study is occupied with the discussion of the
Madhyamaka philosophy, and to a lesser extent with that of
Indian formal logic both of which contain numerous technical
concepts, we have had to employ a very large number of technical
terms throughout the course of the text. In the choice of English
terms for translating the concepts of the Madhyamaka philosophy and logic, we have been guided by two principal considerations: linguistic and functional. Thus it has been our attempt
to conform insofar as possible, in our English rendering of
Sanskrit or Tibetan technical terms to the original linguistic
signification of the terms. We have, however, resorted to functional translations in cases where the literal rendering of the original terms seemed unduly awkward in English and where the
functional equivalence of the original terms with the English
terms was sufficiently clear. This was particularly found to be

desirable in the case of the translation of a number of technical
terms used to express logical concepts.
In all this, however, one point must be stressed. The use of a
technical vocabulary of any sort presupposes a certain familiarity
on the part of the reader with the universe of discourse in which
the terms are being used. Keeping this in mind, we have tried
to indicate the philosophical context in which the terms we have
employed operate. Thus, it is hoped that our use of a technical
vocabulary which was, given the nature of our subject, inevitable,
will not present an insuperable obstacle to the comprehension
of the ideas we have tried to convey. Moreover, for the benefit
of those conversant with Sanskrit and Tibetan, we have supplied
the equivalents in those languages of the technical terms used
throughout the text.
Finally, it must be admitted that we have had no training in
formal Occidental logic. We have, therefore, not attempted to
correlate our description of the logical problems taken up in
this study with any system of formal Occidental logic. Whether
or not the picture of Indian and Madhyamaka logic which
emerges from our treatment is wholly or partly comparable with
any existing system offormal Occidental logic is a question which
others may feel free to attempt to answer.
We are deeply indebted to a great many individuals for the
completion of this present study. First, and foremost, we should
like to give our very special thanks to H. H. Sakya Trizin without
whose help this study would never have been even begun. Very
special thanks are due to the Venerable Khenpo Appey Rin·
poche, Principal of the Sakya Institute of Tibetan Buddhist
Philosophy, Debra Dun, India and to the Venerable Lobsang
Dakpa and Venerable Migmar Tsering also of the Sakya Institute for the extensive instruction and assistance which they
provided us in the study of our principal original text, the dBuma-spyi-ston ofbSod-nams Sen-ge. We must thank our eminent
and able advisors from the Department of Buddhist Studies of
the University of Delhi, Dr. K. K. Mittal and Geshe G. Gyatso
for their invaluable advice and encouragement.
We should also like to thank ShriHarshKumarofSt. Stephens'
College and the Department of Sanskrit of the University of
Delhi for his gracious help in the study of the Sanskrit texts of
the Vigraharryiivartani and the Prasannapadll. Thanks are also due



toT. C. Dhongthog Rinpoche, former librarian of Tibet House,
New Delhi, for his indispensable aid in the preparation of an
English translation of the biography of bSod-nams Sen-ge.
We also owe our thanks to Mr. Sonam, Lecturer in Tibetan,
School of Foreign Languages, Ministry ofDefence, New Delhi,
for his help in the preparation of the English, Sanskrit and Tibetan
glossary found at the end of this text. I am deeply indebted
to Professor L. M. Joshi, for his constant encouragement and
valuable suggestions and for his contribution of the Foreword to
this volume. Thanks are also due to Venerable Lozang J amspal,
Venerable Ngawang Samten Chophel and Mr. Indu Dharan
for their generous help. Last, but certainly not least, I should
like to express my deepest appreciation to my wife Krishna for
the immeasurable effort, dedication and patience which she
devoted to the preparation of this manuscript.


1. Poussin La Vallee, '&'jfaions', 'Buddhica', Harvard Journal qf Asian
Studies, 1937. Poussin. La Vallee, •Madkyamaka' in Hastings EncycloptJidia of
&ligion and Ethics in 1915; Stcherbatsk.y Th. Nirvd{la, Die dTci Richtungen in dn
Philosophic des Buddhismus, Rocznik Orjentalistyczny X. 1934, pp. 3-37.
2. Stcherbatsk.y. Th. The Conception of Buddhist NirvQu.a. 1927.
3. Murti, T. R. V., The Central. Philosophy ofBuddhism, London, 1955.
4. Streng, Frederick], Emptiness-A Sturzy i'n &ligious M1aning. New York,
5. Inada, Kenneth K., Nagarjuna: A translation of his .Mi1lamiidkyamikakarik4 with an Introductory Esso,y. Tokyo, 1970.
6. Ramanan, K. V., NagtJ.rjuna's Philosophy. Varanasi, 1970.
7. Robinson, Richard H., Ear(y Madkyamika in India and China. London,
8. Bendall, Cecil andRouse, W. H. D. (Tr.), Sik1a-samuccaya. Motilal
Banarsidass, Delhi, 1971.
9. Matics, Marion L. (Tr.), Bodkicaryavatlira, New York, 1970.
10. jha, Ganganath (Tr.) Tattvasamgraha. 2 Vols. Gaekwad Oriental
Series, Nos. LXXX and LXXXII, 1937, 1939.
11. Poussin, La Vallee, lA Museon, 1907, 1910, 1911.
12. Translated by Poussin, La Vallee as Mahiiyanatalaratna SIJ.stra (Le
Joyau dans la Main) in MCB ii (1932-1933).
13. Kajiyama, Y. Bhiivaviveka and the Prasarigika School. Mookerjee, Satkari
(ed.). The Nava-Nilinda-Mahavihara Research Publication. Vol. I, Patna,
1957, pp. 289-331.



14. Iida, Shotara, Till Nature of Samvrti and the Relationship ofParam4Ttha to
it in &atantrika-Matlkyamika. Sprung M. (Ed.), Two erulhs in BuddMsm and
Y1ddnta. Dordrecht-Holland. 1973, pp. 64-77.
15. Guenther, H. V., Buddhist PkiltmJP!rl in TMory and Practiu. LondQn.
16. Murti, T. R. V., The Central Philosophy of Buddhism. p. 98.
17. dBu-ma-spyi-stqn, published by Sakya College, Mussoorie, 197 5.
18. English translations ofKirikis from the Mi1lam4dkyamikak4rikil, found
in the text, are based upon a comparative study of Dr. K. Inada's translation
and the original Sanskrit text. Vaidya, P. L. (ed.) Madkyamakasdstra of Nagarjuna. Buddhist Sanskrit Texts-No. 10. Published by The Mithila Institute.
Darbhanga, 1960. pp. 1-259.
19. A thus far, unpublished English translation of the StZnyatilsaptati alongwith its autocommentary was made by the Venerable L. Jamspal and the
author from the Tibetan translation preserved in the bsTan-'gyur (mDo.
XVII. 4) in Delhi. 1973-74.
20. English translations from the Vigralurvyivartan£ and its autocommentary are based upon a comparative study of Satkari Mooke~e's English rendering of the work, published in The Nava-Nalanda Mahavihara Research Publication. Vol I. Patna, 1957 (Till Absolutist's Standpoint in Logie. pp. 1-175)
and the original Sanskrit text edited by Vaidya, P. L. Op. cit. pp. 277-295.
21. Translated and edited by Hopkins, Jeffrey and Lati, Rimpoche with
Klein, Anne entitled Till Precious Garland and the Songs of the Four Minr.f/'ultws
(The wisdom of Tibet Series-2). George Allen and Unwin Ltd. London,
22. References to this text are based upon a compa1 ative study of Professor Stcherbatsky's translation. Till Conception of Buddhist NirvtJuq. and the
original Sanskrit text edited by Vaidya P. L., Op.cit. pp. 1·259.


24. The works which nave thus far been published on the question seem
to suggest an acquaintance familiarity with Tsoil-Kha-pa.



While the Madhyamaka as a systematic philosophy arose only
in the second century c. E. with the figure of the great scholar
and saint acarya Nagarjuna, the essentials of the Madhyamaka
were anticipated by the earlier Buddhist tradition, as it developed
out of the teachings of the Buddha Sakyamuni. We may say
right at the outset that we do not subscribe to the interpretation,
offered by some, according to which the Mahayana in general,
including the Madhyamaka system, is regarded as an incongruous development within Buddhist philosophy. On the contrary,
we maintain that the Madhyamaka represents a legitimate interpretation of the original teaching of the Buddha. This contention is supported by substantial canonical evidence of quite an
early date. Our interpretation is also fully supported by certain
modem scholars, such as Professor T. R. V. Murti who goes so
far as to endorse the Madhyamaka's claim to represent the quintessence of the teaching of the Buddha.1 Due credit must be given
to Professor Murti for providing a lucid description of the Madhyamaka system which does justice to the importance of this
central philosophy of Buddhism.
The essentials of the Madhyamaka system were anticipated by
the Buddha, as is evident even from the Pali sources. The tetralemma (Catu~kop), which is so characteristic of the Madhyamaka, is met with at numerous places within the Plili canon, as
is the concept of the void or emptiness (siinyata). It should also
be recalled that the Law of interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada) is universally acknowledged by all the Buddhist
schools, including the Madhyamaka, to be the essence of the
teaching of the Buddha. Moreover, the characteristic interpretation of the law of interdependent origination in the Madhyamaka philosophy is possible in complete agreement with the
utterances of the Buddha, even as they are recorded in the Pali
dialogues. This will be shown through relevant citations.
In addition, the direct precursors of the Madhyamaka philosophy were the Prajiiaparamita Siitras. The close affinity bet-


Madhyamaka Schools in India

ween the Madhyamaka, as a systematic philosophy, and the philo~
sophy of the Prajiiaparamita literature has perhaps not escaped
anyone who has turned his attention to these matters. We shall
attempt to illustrate this affinity with the help of a number of
specific citations later in this chapter. The fact that the Madhyamaka system is obviously indebted to the Prajiiaparamita Siitras
for much of its philosophical content, also attests, in part, to the
antiquity of its origins. Indeed, it is now accepted that at least
one of the Prajnafaramita Siitras is of a quite early date.
The dialectica analysis employed by the Madhyamaka is
evident in the presentation of the fourteen inexpressibles (avyakrta) found in the Pali canon.These fourteen alternatives, which
the Buddha refused to assent to, are met with at a number of
places within the Pall dialogues. 1 The fourteen propositions which
the Buddha Sakyamuni refused to assent to are as follows :1 that
the world is eternal, 2. that the world is not eternal, 3. that the
world is both eternal and not eternal, 4. that the world is neither
eternal nor not eternal, 5. that the world is finite, 6. that the world
is not finite, 7. that the world is both finite and not finite, 8. that
the world is neither finite nor not finite, 9. that the Tathagata
exists after death, 10. that the Tathagata does not exist after
death, 11. that the Tathagata both exists and does not exist after
death, 12. that the Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist
after death, 13. that the self is identical with the body, 14. that
the self is different from the body. The Buddha refused to agree
to any of the above propositions when they were put to him by
the wanderer Vacchagotta. A.l-t ,;(,~ 1~
The structure of the presentation of the fourteen inexpressible&
is dialectic. The primary alternatives are the eternalist and the
nihilist. The former affirms the existence of a transcendental
ground of phenomena, while the latter denies the existence of
any such ground. It is quite likely that the Buddha could have
had before him the eternal matter (prakrti) of the Sankhya and
the materialist's denial of the non~perical, as ex~ple~ of; the
two primary alternatives.
The first two sets offour alternatives seek to determine whether
the world is limited in time and in space. The eternalist affirms
that the world is eternal and unlimited, while the nihilist maintains that it has temporal and spatial limits.
The propositions regarding the existence or non-existence of

The Origins of the Madhyt11111Jktz Philosophy
the Tathagata after death refer to the reality or unreality of an
unconditioned mode of being. The phrase 'after death' (para• signifies an existence apart from all phenomena. The
fonner alternative affirms the reality of unconditioned eJds.
tence, while the latter denies the possibility of such existence.
The two primary alternatives, the eternalist and the nih$1ist,
are abo reflected in the last two propositions mention:ed in the
fourteen. In this case, the eternalist affirms the existence of a
transcendental principle, i.e., the self or soul, independent of the
psycho-physical states, while the nihilist or materialist maintains
that there exists nothing apart from the psycho-physical states.
The latter view was in fact advocated, in the Buddha's own day,
b}r the p~aterialist 1\jfta Kesa Kambalin.
The fourteen propositions enumerated in the avyiikrta cons~
tute mere conceptual constructions which are superimposed Upod
the nature of reality. They are intellectual falsifications whioh
only obscure and bifurcate the real (tattvam ). They purport
to provide accurate descriptions of reality when, in fact, they
simply distort it. The fourteen propositions are, therefOre, fit to
be rejected as the useless fabrications of speculative philosophert.
The Buddha discarded all theories in the Brahmajala-Sultll of
the Dtgha .N'ikaya, as dogmatism (dinhivada), and refused to be
drawn into the net ( .3 The wanderer V acchagotta askEd the
Lord : why he did not answer the fourteen questions presen~
in the avyiktta definitely while other philosophers did 1§0 and
whether he had any theory of his own. The Lord answered ill
the Majjhima .N'ikllya I, discourse no. 72, "The Tathigata, 0
Vaccha, is free from all theories ..•Therefore the Tathagata has
attained deliverance and is free from attachment, inastnuch aa
all imaginings, all agitation, all false notions, concerning an Ego
or anything pertaining to an Ego, have perished, have faded
away, have ceased, have been given up and relinquished."'
The Lord said, "To hold that the world is eternal or to hold tlu!t
it is not, or to agree to any other of the propositions you addU6e,
Vaccha, is the jungle of theorising, the wilderness of theorisingt
the tangle of theorising, the bondage and the shakles of theorising,
attended by ill, distress, perturbation, and fever; it condued not
to detachment, passionlessness, tranquility, peace, to knowledge
and wisdom of Nirvana »5 ·
MalwikYiputta reB~~ed, " •.. that the Tathigata exist~ alter


Madhyamaka Schools- in India

death, that the Tathagata does not exist after death, that the
Tathagata both exists and does not exist after death, that the
Tathagata neither exists nor does not exist after death-these
the Blessed one does not explain to me. " 8 Again Vacchagotta
asked the Lord, "Gotama, where is the monk reborn whose mind
is thus freed? (The Lord replied)-Vaccha, it is not true to
say that he is reborn.-Then, Gotama, he is not reborn. Vaccha,
it is not true to say that he is not reborn. -Then, Gotama, he is
both reborn and not reborn. -Vaccha, it is not true to say that
he is both reborn and not reborn. -Then, Gotama, he is neither
reborn, nor not reborn. -Vaccha, it is not true to say that he is
:pcither reborn nor not reborn."'
The Buddha was aware that the fourteen propositions, presented in the avyakrta, reflect the primary alternatives of etemalism
and nihilism. He explains the reason for his silence to Ananda,
after Vacchagotta had departed. "If, Ananda, when asked by
the Wanderer: ~Is there a self?' I had replied to him~ 'There
is a self', then Ananda, that would be siding with the recluses
and Brahmins who are etemalists. But if, Ananda, when asked
~Is there not a self?' I had replied that it does not exist, that,
Ananda, would be siding with thpse recluses and Brahmins who
are annihilationists."B
The structure as well as the content of the fourteen inexpressibles of the Pili canon is exacdy paralleled in the MiJlamadky4m(lkakarika and other works of Nagarjuna. Thus, he writes, "If the
world has limits, how could there be another world? Again, if
the world has no limits, how could there be another world?
The continuity of the function of the aggregates (skandhas) is
like the continuity of a flame, and so it is not possible to speak of
limits and non-limits. " 9 Again, in the Ratnavali Nagarjuna writes,
"Sights, sounds and so forth were said by the conqueror neither
to be true nor false. . .. Thus ultimately this world is beyond truth
and falsehood. Therefore, he does not assert that it really exists
or does not. These in all ways do not exist, how could the omni~cient-one say they have lunits or no limits, or have both or neiPter. " 10 Again, in the M ulamadlgarrtakakarika it is stated, "Since
all entities are of the nature of emptiness ( siinyata), where, by
whom and in what manner could such false views on eternity etc.
• un
. -,v'
. ~ '"' . . . . .
Regarding the status of the Tathagata after death, Nagarjuna

The Origins of the Madhyamaka Philosophy


writes, "It cannot be said that the Blessed one exists after Nirv~a
or not or both or neither."11 Indeed, Sariputta had questioned
Yamaka whether the true self of the Tath.agata is his material
form and had receiYed a negative reply. Yamaka replied in a
similar manner to the questions whether the Tathagata is in the
material form, or it in him, or different from it and so on with
respect to the four other aggregates which make up the empirical
individual. Yamaka admitted that the Tathagata is not in the
five aggregates collectively, nor is he without the five aggregates.
Sariputta then confronted his interlocutor with the conclusion
that even in life Yamaka cannot comprehend an essence, the
Tathigata. Even in life Yamaka cannot demonstrate that the
Tathigata really exists.18 Nagarjuna writes, "It cannot be said
the Blessed one exists in life, or not, or both, or neither."U
. Regarding the questions concerning the identity or difference
ef the self and the psycho-physical states, Nagarjuna writes that
the self is neither identical with nor different from the body, nor
both nor neither.lG
The Buddha, indeed, taught that there are two primary views,
etemalism· (bhavadiUhi) and nihilism (vibhavacliUW). No one
adhering to either of these views can hope to be free of the .world.
Those who realise the origin, nature and contradiction of these
two views can be free from the grip of existence (sarllsaia). The.
lord said, the world is used to rely upon duality, it is and it is
not, but for one who sees, in accord with truth and wisdom, how'
phenomena arise and perish, fur him there is no is or is not. That
everything exists, is Katyayana, one alternative. That it does
not is another alternative. Not accepting either of the alter-'
natives, the Tathagata proclaims the truth from the middle
Nagarjuna has expounded essentially the same idea. "The
Lord" he states, "has taught the abandonment of the concep-·
tions of existence and non-existence. "17 "One who conceives of
the mirage-like world that it does or does not exist is consequently. ignorant. When there is ignorance, one is not Iibera-'
ted."18 "Ask the worldly ones, the Sankhyas, Vai8e,ikas and the·
Nirgranthas, the proponents of a petson and aggregates, if they
propound what passes beyond existence and non-existence,·
Hence know that the nectar of the Buddha's teaching is called-·
the profound-, an uncommon doctrine passing far beyond exis-'



Schools in India

tence and non.existence."18 Nagarjuna makes specific reference
the instructions given by the Buddha to Katyayana in the
following stanza. ' 1J\ceording to the instructions of Katyayana,
the two views of the world in terms of existence and nonexistence were criticised by the Buddha for similarly admitting
the bifurcation of entities int('l existence and non-existence."10
We have suggested that the Madhyamaka philosophy is founded upon an interpretation of the fundamental Buddhist doctrine
of interd~ndent origination. While the Abhidharmika schools,
the Vaibha~ikas and the Sautrantikas understood the doctrine
of interdependent origination propounded by the Buddha Siikyamuni to mean the temporal succession of momentary and discrcrte existences which were in themselves real, the Madhyamaka
interpreted the doctrine of interdependent origination to signify
the universal relativity and unreality of all phenomena. According to the Madhyamaka, the doctrine of interdependent origination is meant to indicate the dependence of all entities upon
other entities. This is equivalent to their lack of self-existence
(svabhava) and emptiness (siinyata).
The interpretation advocated by the Madhyamaka is in complete agreement with some of the utterances of the Buddha recorded in the Pall canon. The following passage from the Majjkima Nikaya may be offered as evidence of this fact. The Buddha
declared that form, feeling and the like are illusory, mere bubbles.
"Dependent on the oil and the wick" (Buddha declared) "does
light in the lamp burn; it is neither in the one nor in the other,
:Q.Or anything in itself; phenomena are, likewise, nothing in themselves. All things are unreal, they are deceptions, Nibbana is the
Qnly truth. " 11
In the $o.nyatdsaptati Nagarjuna writes, "Since the own-being
of all ent~ties is not in (the individual) causes and conditions,
nor in the aggregati9n ofcauses and conditions, nor in any entity
whatsoever, i.e., not in all (of these), therefore, all entities are
empty in their own being.''• In the Ratnllvali it is also stated,
£'when this exists that arises, like short when there is long. When
this is produced, so is that, like light from a flame. When there
it long there must be short; they exist not through their own
qature, just as without a flame light too does not arise."t3 Again
N~gif.juna poipU out that the Buddha declared that elements
~e. deceptive and unrea.l. Therefore, he says, "The Buddha

The Origins ofthe Madhyamaka Philosophy


simply expounded the significance of emptiness (sfinyata)."
He has also said in the Siinyatilsaptati that whatever originates
dependently as well as that upon which it depends for its otigination do not exist. 16 Nagarjuna precisely indicates the standpoint of the Madhyamaka in the following stanza found in the
Mulamadhyamakakarikii. "We declare that whatever is interdependently originated is emptiness (siinyata). It is a conceptual
designation of the relativity of existence and is indeed the middle
path. ••• "No element can exist, he writes, "which does not
participate in interdependence. Therefore no element which is
not of the nature of emptiness can exist ...1'
Moreover, even on the evidence of the Pili canon, the Buddha
appears to have regarded the doctrine of emptiness ( sfinyata)
as the real essence of his teaching. The Buddha spoke of the
monks of the future period in the following way in the Samyutta
Nikii:Ja. "The monks will no longer wish to hear and learn the
suttiintas proclaimed by the Tatha.gata, deep, deep in meaning,
reaching beyond the world, dealing with the void (sui!.fiata•
papsamyutti.), but will only lend their ear to the profane suttiin•
tas proclaimed by disciples, made by poets, poetical, adorned
with beautiful words and syllables ... • This passase found in the
Pili canon clearly supports the Madhyamaka contention that
the doctrine of emptiness represents the real heart of the teaching
of Siikyamuni.
Although the Buddha undoubtedly formulated a doctrine of
elements (dharma), it is evident that the Buddha meant it to
have only provisional utility. In the Alaguddupama Sutta, the
Buddha compares the doctrine of elements to a raft. Once the
goal has been attained and the ocean of existence has been
crossed, the doctrine ought to be discarded since its utility has
then been exhausted.II
Indeed, Professor Murti has rightly indicated that while the
doctrine of elements can be without difficulty subordinated to
the doctrine of emptiness, the reverse is not possible.3• The
statements of the Buddha which speak of emptiness and of the
unreality of all phenomena cannot be understood in any other
way than as the ultimate teaching. These considerations suggest
the division of the truth into the phenomenal (samvrti) or
conventional (sarilvyavahara) and the ultimate (paramiirtha)
which is employed by the Madhyamaka. A similar distinction


Madhyamaka Schools in India

is suggested with respect to the canonical scriptures which may
be divided into those of expedient import (neyirtha) and those
of direct import (nitartha).
· Mention must here be made of another important element
present in the teaching of the Buddha from its very inception.
·This is the concept of ignorance (avidya) which is regarded as
the cause of illusion and bondage. A concept closely associated
with that of ignorance is that of imagination or conceptualisation (vikalpa) which according to the Buddhist view is responsible for the character of one's perception of reality. As it has been
suggested, these concepts were central to Buddhist philosophy
fi·om the outset, though it must be admitted that the full extent
of their significance did not become apparent until the advent
of the Madhyamaka.
Even the Abhidhannika philosophy which attempted the first
'Systematic synthesis of the Buddha's teaching in conformity with
a realistic and pluralistic ontology attributed the notions of substance, permanence, the whole and the universal to subjective
-conceptualisation (vikalpa). According to the Abhidharmika
philosophy, these conceptualisations are uncritically imposed
by ordinary people upon what are in reality momentary and
particular elements. Imagination conditioned by ignorance
fashions the notions of the self and the permanent, which in tum
result in attachment, aversion and delusion.
· The Sautrantika school of the Abhidharmika philosophy was
a very vigorous form of the critical attitude of early Buddhism
consistent with realism and pluralism. The Sautrantika declared
'many of the elements which the Vaibhal}ikas had accepted as
real to be merely subjective and ideal.31 The Madhyamaka
pursued the critical attitude already evident in the doctrines of
the Abhidharmika schools to its logical conclusions. For the
Madhyamaka, not only the notions of substance, permanence
and so on were subjective thought constructions imposed upon
reality by the mind, but also causality, existence, non-existence,
motion and the like were mere conceptualisations.
· The Buddha indeed, in order to indicate that existence is
conditioned by imagination and is nothing in itself referred to a
'parable of the demon Vepacitta who was bound or freed according to the evil or good nature of his thoughts. 31 In short imagination (kalpana) was bondage for the Buddha and the cessa-

The Origins of the Madhyainaka Philosophy


·tion of imagination and false notions was liberation. This doc-trine is further elaborated in the Prajftiiparamita literature and
is one of the fundamental conceptions of the Madhyamaka philosophy.
The semicritical philosophy of the Abhidharmika schools~
the Vaibha~ikas and the Sautrantikas was only a preliminary
step. The inadequacy of the doctrine of elements became increa3ingly apparent to critically minded philosophers like the Buddhists. It is, thus, not surprising that the earlier phase ofBuddhist
systematic philosophy should have in time led to the wholly
critical philosophy of the Madhyamaka.
The following passage is contained in the Kasyapaparivarta
portion of the Ratnakiila Sfltra, one of the earliest texts of the
Mahayana. "Oh Kasyapa, substance (atma) is one alternative•
.Insubstantiality (nairatmya) is another alternative. That which
is the middle path avoiding these two alternatives is formless,
unperceivable, non-abiding, unapprehendable, indescribable
end uncontainable. It is, Oh Kasyapa, called the middle path." 83
Nagarjuna expresses the same idea in the Ratnavali. He states
that there is a position (pak~Ja), hence there is a counterposition
·(pratipak~a). Neither of them is real. 3' This conception of the
inconceivable and indescribable nature of reality which
transcends the categories of thought is further amplified in the
Prajiiaparamita literature.
The oldest of the Prajnaparamita Sutras was probably the
Aitasahasrika Prajnaparamita. It is likely that the Satasahasrikii
Prajnaparamita, the Pancavimsatisahasrika Prajnaparamita, the
Saptaiatika Prajnaparamita and the Prajnaparamitahrdaya Sutras,
were expansions and abridgements of the fonner. This is con·
trary to the opinion often held according to which the Sahasrikii.
Prajnaparamita Sutra is thought to have been abridged into the
Aitasahasrika and so on. Professor Murti however cites the
evidence afforded by Haribhadra's 'conunentary to the Abhisamayalankara in support of the above interpretation.
The Aitasahasrika Prajnaparamita was translated into Chinese
in 172 C.E. by Lokarak~a. This fact leads Professor Murti to
suppose that the Aitasahasrika probably dates from the first century B.c. if not earlier. 36
The predominant theme of the Prajiiaparamita. literature is
that there is no change or decay, no origination, extinction, coming


Madhyamaka Schools in India

or going, no identity, no differentiation, no self, not-self, existence, non-existence and so on. All the above are merely imagined by the ignorant. The reality of the aggregates, elements and
the like is rejected. The doctrine of interdependent origination
is interpreted to mean the essential relativity of all phenomena
which exist dependently. The insubstantiality of the person
(pudgalanairatmya) which was central to the Abhidharmika
systems is extended to include all entities (dhannanairatmya).
All phenomena, therefore, according to the Prajiiiparamita
literature, are devoid of self-existence (nil}.svabhava) and empty
(Jtinya). The division into the two truths, conventional and
ultimate is also suggested in the Prajiiaparamita literature as is
the doctrine of the non-differentiation of the phenomenal and
the ultimate.
We shall now proceed to consider a number of passages from
the Prajiiiparamita literature and to compare them with some
of the statements of Nigarjuna. Inasmuch as the Prajiiipara•
mita literature is admittedly voluminous, we have for our purposes chosen to consider only the verse summary ofthe A!tasakalrika PrajMpilramita and the PrajMparamitdhrdaya Sfltra which
in themselves provide a reasonably comprehensive representation of the philosophical content of the Prajiiapa.ramiti literature as a whole.
In the verse summary of the Aitasiihasrik4 PrajMpilramita-SfJtra
it is stated, "The Bodhisattva finds that all these dharmas are
entirely empty......When the Bodhisattva does not course in
fonn, in feeling, or perception, in will, or consciousness, but
wanders without home, remaining unaware of coursing finn in
wisdom, his thoughts on non-origination-then the best of all
the calming trances cleaves to him.'' 38 In the above passage the
rejection of the reality of the aggregates alluded to earlier is
abundantly clear. The importance of one of the principal themes
of the Madhyamaka philosophy, i.e. the negation of origination
is also indicated. In the Prajiiapilramitahrdaya-SfJtra it is also
stated that in emptiness neither the aggregates (skandhas),
sense-spheres (ayatanas) nor elements (dhatus) exist.
Nagarjuna indeed rejects the reality of the aggregates in the
fourth chapter of the Mfllamadhytl11Uikakarik4 as well as in the
$tinyatasaptati. His criticism in both works is directed against
the notion of the reality of fonn (riipa) and is intended to be

Tlu Origins of tlu M~aka Philosophy


applied to the remaining four aggregates. Nagirjuna argues
that form cannot exist disassociated from its material cause, i.e.
the four great elements (catvarimahabhiitani).37 Form is therefore devoid of self-existence and is thus empty.
Also in the Siinyatasaptati Nagarjuna writes, "If form were
originated from the great elements, form would originate from
an imperfect (cause). " 38 Again the four elements also do not
exist, because though it may be thought that their existence is
proven through their characteristic marks, their characteristic
marks do not exist before the elements themselves. Therefore,
inasmuch as the characteristic marks are unproven, the characterised elements are also unproven.38 Here too the application of
the logic ofthe equivalence of interdependence and emptiness
i~ evident.
Again Nagarjuna says that form does not exist, because it is
altogether not apprehended.•o Though it may be thought that
the existence of form is proved by the perception of it, that perception does not exist in reality because it originates from causes
and conditions. Again, whatsoever originates from causes and
conditions, i.e. originates dependently, is devoid of self-existence
and hence it is ultimately not existent. 41
Nagirjuna argues further that inasmuch as the intellect whioh
ie thought to perceive form as well as form itself are impermanent,
i.e. momentary, the latter cannotbeapprehendedbythe formel'. 41
Just as form and the other aggregates which originate depen·
dently do not exist in reality, so also all elements or entities are
empty. The verse summary of the Atlasdhasrika states, "All elements (dharmas) are not really there, their essential original
nature is empty. "U The text further states that the Bodhisattva
comprehends all elements as empty, signless, unimpeded and
without any duality." The fundamental contention of the
Madhyamaka is indeed that all entities are essentially empty.
Again the independent reality of the four cardinal tenets of
the Abhidharmika philosophy, i.e. impermanence, suffering,
notself and impurity is rejected in the Prajfiaparamita literature.
Thus, it is stated in the verse summary that impermanence and
permanence, suffering and happiness, the self and notself, the
pure and the impure, are ofjust one suchness (tathata) in empti-

Nagarjuna refening to the same four doctrines makes the


Madhyamaka Schools in India

following statement in the Mulamadl!)lamakakllrikil. "If atman,
purity, permanence and bliss are not to be admitted, then likewise anatman, impurity, impermanence and suffering are not to
be admitted."" Here also inasmuch as purity, impurity, and
so on are only relative concepts which originate dependent upon
one another, 47 they are declared not to exist ultimately.
Furthermore the view that notions like existence and nonexistence as well as all entities are mere concepts originated from
the conceptual ising activity of the mind is explicitly expressed in
the Prajiiaparamita literature. The verse summary contains
the following statement. The foolish imagine existence and nonexistence. Non-existence as well as existence they fashion. As
facts, both existence and non-existence are not real.48 AR"ain
it is stated that the fool who has admitted into himself the notion
ofl and mine is forced by that quite unreal notion of I to undergo
birth and death again and again ..s It is further said in the same
text, "As many beings as there are in the low, middle and high
(regions of the) world, they have all, so has the Sugata said,
been brought about by ignorance."60
Nagarjuna also argues that inasmuch as existence and nonexistence are notions which are only obtained relative to each
other neither are reaJ.51 He also writes in the Ratnlluali, "By
him who speaks only to help beings, it was said that they all have
originated from the conception of I and are enveloped with the
conception of mine." 61 Again he has said, "The wheel of existence (bhavacakra) originates from the propensity for false conceptualisation. "63
The ultimate truth as it is described in the Prajnaparamita
literature transcends thought and is inexpressible. Thus, it is
stated in the verse summary, that wisdom is free from construction and non-discriminating. 11' Again, it is said in the same text,
"All words -for things in use in this world must be left behind.
All things originated and made must be transcended. The deathless, the supreme, incomparable gnosis is then won. " 115
Nagarjuna writes in the Mulamadkyrpnakakilrikil, "Unconditioned, quiescent, non-conceptualised, non-discriminated and
non-differentiated, these are the characteristics ofreality." 116
The division into the two truths, conventional and ultimate
which is so characteristic of the Madhyamaka system is also
suggested in the Prajiiaparamita literature. As it is stated in the

The Origins of the Matlhyamaka Philosophy


verse summary of the Ai/asakasrikii, "As mere talk, the Bodhisattva cognizes all these elements which the Buddha has demonstrated, practised and revealed."• 7 In the Millamadhyamakakiirikii
Nag~juna states, "The teaching of the Dharma by the
various Buddhas is based on the two truths. Mainly the conventional and the ultimate. Those who do not know the distinction
between the two truths, do not comprehend the profound nature
of the Buddha's teaching. " 68 The various statements of the Buddha are expressions of conventional reality (vyavaharasatya).
They have no ultimate reality. Thus, Nagarjuna indicates that
from the ultimate standpoint not any dharma with respect to
anyone at any place was ever taught by the Buddha. 68
Nonetheless, according to the doctrine of the Prajfiapii.ramitii.
literature and the Madhyamaka phenomena and ultimate reality are essentially non-differentiated and identical. As it is stated
in the verse summary, "The space-element in the eastern direction, and iil the southern, and so in the western and northern
direction is boundless; above and below, in the ten directions,
as far as it goes there is no multiplicity, and no difference is
attained. Past Suchness, future Suchness, present Suchness, the
Suchness of the Arhats, the Suchness of all dharmas, the Suchness
of the Jinas-all that is the Dharma-Suchness, and no difference
is attained. "to Thus, the Enlightenment of the Sugatas, is free
:&om differentiated dharmas. In the Prajniipiiramitakrdaya-Sutra
it is also stated, form is not different from emptiness. Emptiness
is not different from form.
Nagarjuna writes in the M ulamadkyamakakarika, "Saxilsara is
nothing essentially different from Nir~. is nothing
essentially different from Sarilsara. " 81 He also states, "The nature
of the Tathagata is also the nature of this worldly existence. The
Tathii.gata is without any self-existence (svabhava) and this
worldly existence is likewise so. "89
Thus, it may be said that the essential teaching of the Prajfiaparamita literature is that all entities which originate dependently are ultimately unoriginated, unextinguished and empty.
This idea is predsely expressed in the following passage contained
in the verse summary of the Aflasiikasrikii, "The Bodhisattva
who understands interdependent origination (pratityasamutpada) as non-origination and this wisdom as non-extinction, as
the rays of the sun free from the covering of the clouds, so he has


Madkyamaka Schools in India

dispelled the covering ofignorance."83 Nagarjuna likewise states
that interdependent origination is characterised by the negation
of origination and extinction.•' He has also declared that inasmuch as all entities are interdependently originated they are
empty, and that since no entity which is not interdependently
originated exists, so also no entity exists whose nature is not
Among the other canonical works which almost certainly influenced Nagarjuna and the formulation of the Madhyamaka
philosophy were the SaddharmapU1)¢arika Siltra and the Samadhiraja Siltra. Nagarjuna quotes from the former and he seems also
to have been familiar with at least the gatha portions of the
latter." Candrakirti at any rate quotes very freely from the
Samadhiraja Sutra in the Prasannapada and it was undoubtedly
held in very high esteem by the exponents of the Madhyamaka
Another canonical work of a relatively early date which could
well have influenced Nagarjuna is the Ratnakilla Siltra. About
forty Siitras including the KaJyapaparivarta, Pitaputrasamagama,
Upalipariprccha and so on are included in the Ratnakiita class in
the Tibetan and Chinese collections.
Thus, it is evident from our consideration of the philosophical
content of the Prajfiiparamita literature that the doctrine of
Siinyata which was systematically expounded by the Madhyamaka was central to it. Yet this §iinyata should also not be thought to be anything in itself. It should not be seized upon as a
position or view. The Samadhiraja Sutra indicates that while
emptiness is the middle path avoiding the two alternatives of
e...Ostence and non-existence, the wise should also not abide in the
middle.•7 The standpoint of the Madhyamaka is properly speaking not a position at all, but a philosophically critical attitude.
Naga.rjuna has also declared, "The wise ones have said that
emptiness is the relinquishing of all views. Yet it is said that
those who adhere to the idea of emptiness are incorrigible. "18
It is also significant that among the twenty types of emptiness
listed by Haribhadra in his commentary to the .A.bhisamayalaftkara, the fourth is the emptiness of emptiness.111 It is, therefore,
clear that the emptiness of the Prajfiipa.ramiti literature and of
the Madhyamaka system cannot be interpreted as a philosophical position among other philosophical positions. It is qualitative-

TM Origins ofthe Mtldkyamaka Philosophy


ly different from the doctrines advanced by dogmatic philosophers.
In this opening chapter we have attempted to indicate the
philosophical origins of the Madhyamaka system and to illustrate
the continuity of the philosophical development within the Buddhist tradition from the time ofSakyamuni up to that of Nagarjuna. From the evidence we have aduced, it ought to be abundantly clear that the Madhyamaka philosophy represents a
logical and perhaps inevitable development out of the earlier Buddhist teachings. Thus, the emergence of the Madhyamaka as
a systematic philosophy within the Buddhist tradition is by no
means inexplicable or incongruous. Indeed, there is ample evidence as we have shown to support the Madhyamaka's claim to
represent the profound and essential import of Buddhist philosophy as a whole.
I. Murti, T. R. V., Th4 Central PhilosoplrJ of Butlibism, p. 55.
2. References for avyikrtas from the Pili sources: Mqjjlaima Niktqa I
pp. 426-32 (Sutta 63); pp. 483 fF (Sutta 72); &myukta Nik4ya III, pp. 257 fF
(VIl«hagotta Samyuttam); Samyukta Nik4ya IV, pp. 374-403 (tJVyllkata Sll7hyuttam);
Malr4nid4na Bralimajila Sutta (Digha Niki{'P4) ; Mahdlisutta (Digha-N'Jkaya )Pot/hap41/a Sutta (Digha-Nik4ya); Milinda Paflho, pp. 144 fF.
3. Murti, T. R. V., Th4 Cmlral P'hilosoplrJ of Budd'hism, p. 40.
4. Ibid, p. 45.
5. Ibid, p. 47.
6. Robinson, R. H., EarlY Madi!Yamika in India and C'hinll, p. 54, cites
Ma.ii'bima Nikiya, 63.
7. Robinson, R. H. ibid, cites M4fj'hima Nik4ya, 72.
8. ~ Nlkdya, pp. 400-401.
9. Millamad'hyamakakarika, XXVII. 21, 22.
10. Ratniival£, II. 104-6.
11. M~a, XXVII. 29.
12. Ibid. XXV. 17.
13. Murti, T. R. V., Th4 Cdntral Philosophy of Buddhism, pp. 53-54.
14. Millamflll'hyarnakakarika, XXV. 18.
15. Ibid. XXVII. 15, 16, 17 and 18.
16. Majj'hima Nikdya I, p. 65; Udilna, p. 33; Itivuttaka, pp. 43-44; Samyutta
N'Jrayaii, p. 16 and 61 fF.
17. M~, XXV. 10.
18. Ratnaval£, I. 56.
19. Ibid., I. 61-62.
20. MUla:rntJd/rJamakakarik4, XV. 7.
21. Murti, T. R. V., Th4 Central Philosop!rJ ofBuddhism, p. 50.
22. SiJIUatilsajJtati, Stanza 3
23. Ratn4valr I. 48, 49.


Madhyamaka Schools in India

MiJlamatlhyamakak4rikd, XIII. 1, 2.
SiJnyat4saptati, 14 commentary.
Op. cit. XXIV. 18.
M illamadhyamakakt1rika, XXIV. 19.
Murti, T. R. V., TM Cmtral Philosophy ofBuddhism, p. 51.
Ibitl, p. 52.
SO. lbitl. p. 53.
31. Ibid, pp. 81-82.
32. Ibid. p. 52.
33. Qp.oted in the Prasannapad4 commentary to Millamadhyamakakarika
34. Ratnavali, II. 104.
35. Murti, T. R. V., TM Central Philosoplr,y of Buddhism, pp. 83-84.
36. adapted &om Conze, Edward: The Perfection qf Wudom in Eight Thousand Lines and Its Verse Summary, Chapter I, 8-10, p. 10.
37. Millamadkyamakakarika, IV. 1-3.
fi1Uat4saptati, 45
39. Ibitl. 27 and commentary, Millatnad/plamakakarikt!, V.
40. Sfi1Uat4saptati, 47.
41. SiJnyat4saptati, 47 commentary.
42. SiJnyatasaptati, 49 and commentary.
43. adapted from Conze, Edward, Verse Summary I. 28, p. 12.
44. Ibid. XXVI. 3, p. 57 •
... 45. Ibid. II. 2, p. 13.
46. MiJlamadkyamakakt!rikil XXIII. 22.
47. Ibid.· XXIII. 10, 11.
48. Conze, Edward. Verse Summary I. 13, p. 10.
49. Ibid. XXII, 6. p. 51.
50. adapted from Verse Summary XXVIII. 5, p. 61.
51. SiJnyat4saptati 19 and cormnentary;also MiJlamad/rlamo.kakt!rika, XV. 5,6.
52. Ratnavalr, I. 27.
53. Pratftyasamutpt!dal)rtkrlakt!rikdvrtti, .Stanza, 5.
54. Conze, Edward, Verse Summary, X. 10, p. 28.
55. adapted from Verse Summary I. 27, p. 12.
56. MiJlamadkyamakakt!rikt1, XVIII. 9.
57. adapted from Conze, Edward, Verse Summary, XVIII. 7, p. 42.
58. Op. cit. XXIV. 8, 9.
59. Mulamadhyamakakt!rikd, XXV. 24.
60. adapted from Conze, Edward, Verse Summary, XVI. 1-2, p. 38.
61. Op.cit., XXV. 19.
62. M~rikil, XXII. 16.
63. adapted from Conze, Edward, Verse Summary, XXVIII. 7, p. 62.
64. Op. cit. Madgalicara~;~aril.
65. Millamadhyamakak4rik4, XXIV. 18, 19.
66. Murti, T. R. V., TM Cmtral Philosop4? ofBuddkism, p. 85.
67. Ibid. Footnote 3 to p. 85.
68. Millamadhyamakakarika, XIII. 8.
69. Murti, T. R. V., TM CmtralPhilosophy ofBuddllism. Appendix, p. 352,




As we noted at the outset of the foregoing chapter, the Madhyamaka as a systematic philosophy was initially formulated by the
great Buddhist scholar and saint acarya Nagarjuna. A great
many episodes of perhaps a legendary character have been naturally associated with the life of this outstanding religious figure.
The popular and traditional accounts of the life of acarya Nagarjuna invariably include at least some of these legends. Nonetheless,
it is beyond doubt that Nagarjuna was an historical personality.
A number of facts about the acarya's life can be established
with relative certainty. Modern scholars have for the most part
tended to believe that Nagarjuna lived some tim~ during the
later part of the second century. This, however, does not accord
with recent archeological finds which indicate that Nagarjuna
more probably lived during the last quarter of the first and first
quarter of the second centuries c.E.l
Nagarjuna was born in the south, in what is now Andhra and
was the son of a Brahmin. He travelled to Nalanda where he
received ordination from Rahulabhadra1 and where he apparently remained for some time. The later portion of his historical
life seems to have been largely spent at Sriparvata3 in Andhra
at the monastery built for him by his friend and patron King
Gotamiputra of the Satavahana line of Andhra. Indeed, it was
for the King Gotamiputra that Nagarjuna wrote the Suhrllekha
and Ratniivali.
Among the most important and popular legends associated
with the life of the great acarya are those concerning his birth
and conversion and his procurement of the Prajnaparamita.
Siitras. It is said that at the time ofNagarjuna's birth a prophet
foretold that if the child lived he would achieve unsurpassed
greatness, but that unfortunately he would not live for more
than seven days. By making appropriate offerings to Brahmins
and Monks, his parents succeeded in extending his life to a period
of seven years. However, it was foretold that beyond that period


Madhyamaka Schools in India

nothing could be done to prolong his life. Thus, his parents who
were unwilling to behold his eminent death sent him away from
their abode along with attendants and provisions for a long
It is said that eventually he came to Nalanda where he became
acquainted with the great Brahmin Saraha.' Nagarjuna related
the prophecy concerning his impending death to Saraha11 who
advised him that his life might be saved if he renounced the world.
It is said that Nagfu:juna then agreed to do so and was initiated
by Saraha into the mandala of Aparamitayus. Through reciting
the dharani of the latter, Nagarjuna was saved from the early
death which had been prophesied for him.
Nagfujuna's evident association with the Prajiiaparamita
literature is explained through the following legend commonly
associated with his life. It is said that one day while he was engaged in teaching the doctrine to an assembly of listeners, he noticed that two of the youths who had been listening to his discourse
disappeared beneath the ground when he had finished. The
two youths were Nagas1 who invited the acarya to their kingdom
where he is said to have been presented with several volumes of
the Prajiiaparamita literature. 7
Acarya Nagfujuna produced works of unequalled excellence
in all areas of Buddhist philosophy and religion. Even excluding
those works traditionally ascribed to Nagfujuna the authenticity
of which cannot be definitely established, Nagarjuna's literary
and philosophical contribution to the Buddhist and Indian intellectual tradition was immense.
Among the works definitely authored by Nagarjuna perhaps
the most important are the Mulamadhyamakakarikii, 8 the Silnyatiisoptati;' and autocommentary, The TuktifQ!!ikai 0 and the Vigrahavyiivartaniu and autocommentary. The first three are predominantly expositions of the Madhyamaka philosophy. In them
Nagfujuna systematically criticises the independent reality of all
entities and concepts through a variety of analytical and critical
arguments. Thus, he expounds the principal elements of the
Madhyamaka philosophy like : interdependent origination
(pratityasamutpada), insubstantiality (ni}.tsvabhavata), emptiness (siinyata) and the middle path (madhyamapratipada).
The Vigrahavyiivartani is an extremely interesting and valuable
work which defends the Madhyamaka philosophy against the

The Principal Indian Exponents


objections advanced by realists. From it a clear picture of the
standpoint of the Madhyamaka in the ar~a of epistemology and
logic emerges. Inasmuch as the Vigraluutyavartani is particularly relevant to our study, an entire chapter has been devoted
to it later in the text.
In addition to these works, Nagarjuna almost certainly wrote
the Vaida?Jiasiltra and PrakarflT)Il, the Vyavaharasiddki, the Sukrllekka,
the Ratniivali, the Catu!.zstava (Nirupama, Lokatita, Cittavajra and
Paramartha Stava), the Pratityasamutpadakrdayakarikii and Sfltrasamuccaya. Among these works, the Vaidalyasiitra and PrakarfJ1)a,
the Ratniivali and Sukrllekka, the Catu/.Lrtava and the Siitrasamuccaya perhaps deserve additional mention. The Vaidalyasiltra and
PrakaraT)IJ is devoted to the refutation of the charges levelled by
the realist logicians against the Madhyamaka. The Ratniivali,
Sukrllekka and Siitrasamuccaya are interesting in that in them
Nagarjuna devotes his attention to the exposition of the practical
· application of Buddhist philosophy in religious discipline. The
Catu!.zstava is composed ofdevotional stanzas of the highest quality
which indicate that Nagarjuna in addition to being a philosopher
par excellence was also possessed of a highly developed religious temperament.
In addition to these works, the Prqjiilldar)¢a, the Mahayiinavimsaka, the Upayakrdaya, the MakiiprajiiiipiiramitiJJiistral1 and the
DaJabkiimivibk~iiJiistral3 are said to have been written by Nagarjuna. The authenticity of all these works is hard to establish
beyond doubt, however all of them could well have been composed by Nagarjuna. The Makiiprajiiiipiiramita!iistra is not included in the Tibetan collection, however the DaJabkimivibkaIIJJiistra is included. Nagarjuna is also traditionally believed to
have authored a great many works in the areas of medicine,
alchemy and Tantra.
Nagarjuna's immediate disciple and successor was Arya.deva.
He merits a place among the great classical exponents of the
Madhyamaka system which is second in importance only to
that accorded to Nagarjuna. Indeed, he must be said to share
with the latter the honour of having founded the Madhyamaka
As in the case of the life of his master Nagarjuna, the life of
Aryadeva as it is traditionally retold is embellished with a great
many attractive legends. Nonetheless, in the case of Aryadeva


Madhyamaka Sclwols in India

also there is no reasonable doubt that he was an historical personality. Nor is there any reason to doubt that he studied at the
feet of Naga.juna. Thus, it may be said with relative certainty
that Aryadeva was a younger contemporary of Nagarjuna.
We are told by both Candrakirti16 and Taranatha that Aryadeva was the son of King Paiicasrnga16 of the island of Sirilhala.
Aryadeva, though he ascended to the throne of the land, was
strongly inclined toward religion and so was moved to renounce
the world. He received his monastic vows according to Taranatha from the abbot Hemadeva.16 He completed the study of
the entire Tripitaka in his native land and then travelled to India
on pilgrimage to visit the holy places of the various regions.
Taranatha says that he met Nagarjuna shordy before the latter
left for Sriparvata from the land of King Uc;layana.17 Then
at Sriparvata he stUdied under Nagarjuna. Bu-ston says that he
became proficient in all the branches of science and in all the
heterodox and orthodox philosophical systems.18
According to Taranatha's account,19 after the death of Nagarjuna, Aryadeva assumed the responsibility for preserving and
furthering the doctrine. He worked for the benefit of living be·
ings through study and meditation in the area around Sriparvata.
He constructed twentyfour monasteries and made all of them
centres of the Mahayana.
Again, according to Taranatha, there was at that time a Brahmin called Durdhar!iakala,10 who lived in the city of Khorti
in Nalani in the east. Thi'l Brahmin was at that time going about
engaging Buddhists in philosophical debates and contests of
miraculous powers and defeating them. When he reached
Nalanda, the monks there were unable to face him and so they
sent for help to Aryadeva.u
Aryadeva, it is said, thought the time was right to meet the
Brahmin in a contest of knowledge and power, and so he set out
for Nalanda. On the way, according to Taranatha's account, he
came upon a woman who required his eye in otder to accomplish
her religious practice. It is said that Aryadeva then gave her
one of his eyes.II
When he reached Nalanda, Aryadeva through his skill in debate and miraculous powers, defeated the Brahmin Durdhar~a­
kala in a public contest. Eventually, the Brahmin was converted
and became a master of Buddhist teaching.

The Principal Indian Exponents


Bu-ston's account of these incidents of Aryadeva's life differs
slightly from that given by Taranatha. The name of the Brah·
min for instance who Aryadeva is said to have defeated is given
as Also, according to Bu-ston, the monks of Nalanda
sent a message to Nagarjuna who was then residing at Sriparvata, but it was Aryadeva who went in his place.~&
According to Taranatha,21 Aryadeva then remained at
Nalanda for a considerable period of time after which he again
·returned to the south. Taranatha says that in Ranganatha near
Klii'ici he entrusted Rahulabhadra with the responsibility for the
teaching and passed away.
Taranatha's account mentions that it was during the reign of
King Candragupta, son of King Salacandra that Aryadeva resided at Nalanda. His account also mentions a legend which gained
great popularity in Tibet according to which Aryadeva was
miraculously hom of a lotus in the pleasure garden of the King of
the island of Sirllhala. The King, according to the legend, raised
Aryadeva as his son. Taranatha, however, rejects this story on
the evidence supplied by Candrakirti in the introductory portion
of his commentary to Aryadeva's Catui)Sataka and other Indian
Aryadeva's most important literary production is the Catu~­
Jataka. The work expounds the doctrine of insubstantiality (nil;Lsvabhavata). It is arranged in sixteen chapters of twenty-five
~tanzas each. The first half of the text is concerned with the
religious discipline advocated by the Madhyamaka system, while
the second is devoted to the refutation of opposing philbsophical
doctrines. Another work, the Sataiiistra attributed to A.ryadeva
was translated into Chinese by Kumarajiva in c.E. 404. It
however according to Professor Murti seems to be an abridgement
and rearrangement of the contents of the Cotui)Sataka. The SataJiistra is incidentally also not found in the Tibetan collection.
Among the other important works of A.ryadeva according to
Bu-ston are the HastavalaprakoraT)a, the Skhalitapramt.Ithanayuktihetusiddhi, the ]MnasarasamucclfJa and so on.
Aryadeva followed the philosophical method of Nagarjuna.
We have Candrakirti's authority for the fact that there exists
no difference in the philosophical standpoints of Nagarjuna and
Aryadeva. 27 Thus, they are considered the founders of the
Madhyamaka system. Aryadeva in his works devoted more

Madhyamaka Sclwols in India
attention to the criticism of heterodox philosophical systems,
especially those of the Saiikhya and Vaise~ika. Although Nagarjuna was also certainly familiar with these systems, he criticises
their doctrines less frequently in his works than he does those of
the Abhidharmika philosophy. It seems that Nagarjuna was
first concerned to establish the Madhyamaka as the ultimate
essence ofBuddhist philosophy. Aryadeva demonstrated that the
philosophical method of the Madhyamaka could be systematically and successfully applied to the doctrines of the heterodox
schools. Thus, it is certainly true to say that the Madhyamaka
philosophy owes much of its stability to the contributiQil of Aryadeva.28
With the advent of the masters Buddhapalita and Bhavaviveka
the Madhyamaka system entered a new phase. It was then that
the Madhyamaka system was divided into the Prasaii.gika and
Svatantrika schools. The division in fact occurred as the result
of the different interpretation'! offered by these two acaryas of the
philosophy of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva.
Buddhapalita is considered the founder of the Prasatigika-madhyamaka school because he held that the essence of the Madhyamaka philosophy could only be revealed through arguments ad
absurdum (prasatigavakya). He probably lived during the first
half of the third century c. E. According to Taranatha's88 account,
Buddhapalita was born in a place known as Hamsakric;la, in
Tambala in the south. He renounced the world and became
vastly learned in the scriptures.
Buddhapalita studied under the master Samgharak~ita, a
disciple of Arya Nagamitra, and learned from him the original
works of Nagarjuna. It is said that he attained the highest knowledge through intense meditation and that he had a direct vision
of Arya Maiijusri.
He is said to have taught the doctrine at the Dantapuri monastery in the south. There he expounded the works of Nagarjuna,
Aryadeva, Aryasiira and others. It is said that at last Buddhapalita practised the gupkasiddhi and attained success.
The only work of Buddhapalita which has been recorded is the
Mulamadhyamakavrtti, the commentary which he wrote on the
Mulamadhyamaka Kiirika of Nagarjuna. This work although lost
in the original, is preserved in Tibetan translation. 30
The master Bhavaviveka to whom the credit of founding the

The Principal Indian Exponents


Svitantrikamadhyamaka school belongs may well have been a
younger contemporary of Buddhapalita. 31 Be that as it may,
Bha.vaviveka according to Taranatha311 studied the works of
Buddhapalita only after the latter had passed away. The master
Bhavaviveka advanced his own interpretation of the thought of
Nagarjuna and refuted the opinion expressed by Buddhapalita.
He maintained that independent syllogisms could be legitimately
used by the Madhyamaka to convince opponents of the truth
of the philosophy of emptiness.
According to Taranatha, Bhavaviveka was born in a noble
K~atriya family in Malya-ra in the south. There he renounced
the world and became a scholar of the Tripitaka. Later, he travelled to Madhyadesa and studied under the master Samgharak~ita. From the latter he learned many Mahayana sutras as
well as the works of the master Nagarjuna.
It is said that when he returned to the south he had a vision of
Vajrap~i and that he attained extraordinary meditative powers.
He became the head of about fifty monasteries in the south and
delivered numerous discourses on the doctrine. Finally, he too
practiced gutikasiddhi and attained success.33
Taranatha adds that while Buddhapalita did not have many
followers, Bhavaviveka had thousands of disciples and monks who
followed him. As a result Taranatha says his views were spread
more extensively than those of Buddhapalita.
Bhavaviveka composed a number of works of which perhaps
the most important is his commentary to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakiirikii entitled the Prajniipradipa. 3' In addition, he is
said to have composed the Madhyamakiivatiirapradipa, 35 the
Madhyamokapratityasamutpiida, the K aratalaratna, the Madhyamokahrduyakiirikii and its commentary the Tarkajviilii. 38 Bha.vaviveka
was undoubtedly well versed in the contemporary philosophical
systems of his day, since the Tarkajviilii contains detailed expositions of the doctrines of the Sazikhya, Vaise!fika and Vedanta. 37
Another outstanding exponent of the Madhyamaka system
was the master Candrakirti. He was, indeed, the foremost exponent of the Prasangikamadhyamaka school and his rigorous
formulation of the orthodox Prasaxigika standpoint is accepted
even today by the living Buddhist traditions of Tibet and Mongolia. Candrakirti severely criticised Bha.vaviveka and the method
of argument which he advocated for the Madhyamaka. He


Madhyamaka Schools in India

followed the method of argument suggested by Buddhapaliia in
his approach to the Madhyamaka philosophy, however the quantity and quality of his literary works in time earned him a place
among the classical exponents of the Madhyamaka of even greater importance than that occupied by Buddhapalita.
Candrakirti certainly lived later than Bhavaviveka and Dhinaga and was probably contemporaneous with Dharmakirti.
According to Taranatha's account, he was born in Samanta in
the south. He mastered all the branches of science at an early
age and was ordained in his native land. He mastered all the
Pit~as as well as the Sastras and Upade8as of Nagarjuna. He
studied under many disciples ofBhavaviveka and under Kamalabuddhi, a desciple of Budhapalita. 88
It is said that Candrakirti became supreme among the scholars
of his time and was made the abbot of Na.Ianda. He popularised
the teaching ofBuddhapalita through composing many important
works. 89
It is said in addition that he often exhibited miraculous powers.
He is, for instance, said to have supplied the entire Sangha with
milk by milking the cow portrayed in a picture. Stone pillars and
walls could not obstruct the movement of his hand or body. It
is said that he defeated many opponents and eventually went
again to the south.
In the country called Kori-ku-na, he is said to have defeated
many opponents of the doctrine and converted most of the Brahmins and householders to Buddhism. He established many
large centres of the doctrine.
According to one account mentioned by Taranatha, Candrakirti again spent a long time at the Manubhariga hill. There it
is said he strove to attain the highest siddhi and achieved success.
Bu-ston's account40 of the life of Candrakirti is in substantial
agreement with that given by Taranatha.
Candrakirti's contribution to the philosophical literature of
the Madhyarnaka system was immense. Best known of his works
are the Mulamadhytl1TUJkavrttiprasannapad1Jn6ma, a commentary on
the Mulamadkyamakakarikii of Nagarjuna and the Madhyamakiivatiira an independent work on the Madhyamaka system. He
also wrote an autocommentary on the Madhyamakiivatiira as well
as commentaries on the Tukti!tz~likii and Sunyatiisaptati ofNagarjuna and on the Catu}J,sataka of Aryadeva. Candrakirti was evi-

The Principal Indian Exponents


dently conversant with the philosophical developments of his
time for he undertakes to criticise the doctrine of the Vijiianavada, which had no doubt gained in popularity since the time of
Nagarjuna. Candrakirti also comments on the worth of the
logical innovations introduced by Dilinaga.'l He is also said to
have written a number of works on Tantra among which the
most important is the Pradipa-uddyotana42 , a commentary on the
Another great exponent of the Prasatigikamadhyamaka school
was the master Santideva. He composed works of the highest
value concerning the spiritual discipline of the Madhyamaka.
He is perhaps the last of the great Indian exponents of the Prasatigika school.
Santideva lived perhaps a half century later than Candrakirti.43 According to the accounts given by both Taranatha"
and Bu-ston Santideva was hom as the son of the king Kalyatiavarman ofSaura~tra. He was then given the name Santivarman.
Bu-ston says that he learned the methods of propitiating Maiijusri, and as a result he had visions of the deity in his dreams from
his early youth.45
When he was about to ascend to his father's throne, he had
visions of Maiijusri and Tara in a dream on the night before his
coronation was to take place.441 Both deities strongly advised him
not to accept the kingdom and so that very night he fled.
It is said that eventually he came to a spring at the edge of a
forest where he met a woman who led him to a Yogi who was
residing in a cave in the forest. Santideva is said to have been
instructed by theYogi and to have attained extraordinary knowledge through meditation. It is said that the woman and the
Yogi were emanations of Tara and Manjusri. Thereafter he
continuously had visions of Maiijusri. 47
According to both Taranatha and Bu-ston, SanticJ,eva was
ordained by the abbot Jayadeva who was the foremost of five
hundred scholars residing at Nalanda in Madhyadesa. 48 It was
then that he received the name Santideva.
For some time he remained at Nalanda and it was there that
he composed two of his most important works, the Sutrasamuccaya
and the Si/qiisamuccaya. When he was asked by the assembled
scholars to recite a siitra, he taught the Bodkicaryiivo.tara. When
he came to the stanza at the outset of the ninth chapt~ of the


Madkyamaka Schools in India

work which runs, "When existence and non-existence cease to
be present before the intellect", he rose into the sky. Though
his body became invisible, his voice continued to be heard until
his recitation was completed.
According to the Tibetan accounts, Siintideva then went to
the south to Sridak~ii.ta and remained in the city of Kali.Iiga in
Trili.Iiga. Envoys were sent there to persuade him to return to
Nalanda, however the master refused. Nonetheless, he told them
where copies of the Sutrasamuccaya and Sik,asamuccaya could be
found. The Botlhicaryavatara was preserved in a version of one
thousand stanzas as it was retained in the memory of the scholars
of Nalanda. It is said that he then renounced the marks of a
monk and lived as naked ascetic. Among the marvellous feats
attributed to him the story of his defeat of the heretics led by
Saiikaradeva somewhere in the south of India is widely recounted.49 It is said that an enormousmaJ;u;iala of the god Mahesvara
was constructed in the sky by the heretics. Through his miraculous powers Santideva called up a great blast of wind which
scattered the heretics and their mat;1c;lala.
Siintideva is also said to have converted five hundred ascetics
who were followers of the Pa~at;1l;1ika teaching through sustaining
them with food and drink when they had been deprived of their
livelihood. It is also said that he converted a thousand beggars
by similarly supplying them with sustenance when a famine
befell the region in which they were living.
As it has been said, Santideva's most important works are the
Botlhicaryavatara and the Siktiisamuccaya. The former is a work of
the highest merit which takes up, among other topics, the creation
of the enlightenment thought (bodhicitta). The ninth chapter
of the Bodhicaryavattira is particularly interesting for its exposition
of the standpoint of the Madhyamaka philosophy. Like
Candrakirti, Sintideva rigorously criticises the doctrine of the
The Siktasamuccaya is a compendium of excerpts from Mahayana Siitras which illustrate the practical religious discipline of
the Madhyamaka. Sintideva supplies twenty seven stanzas
which serve as the headings under which the excerpts are collected.&O The Sutrasamuccaya is an abridged exposition of the contents of the Siktiisamuccaja.
Among the other classical Indian exponents of the Madhya-

Tke Principal Indian Exponents


maka system, the masters Srigupta, Jfl.anagarbha, Santarak~ita
and KamalaSila deserve mention. All of them were followers of
the Sviitantrikamadhyamaka, or Ycgaciirasviitantrikamadhyamaka schools. Bu-ston remarks that while Buddhapiilita and
Candrakirti are the two principal representatives of the Priismigikamadhyamakas, or the Lokaprasiddhivargaciirimadhyamakas,
the teacher Bhiivaviveka is a follower of the Sautrantikamadhyamakasvatantrika school. According to Bu-ston Srigupta, Jiianagarbha, Santarak~ita and KamalaSila are adherents of the Yogaciiramadhyamakasvatantrika system.61 These various schools
within the Madhyamaka system gave their own interpretations
of the thought ofNagarjuna and Aryadeva.
The Master Srigupta was an adherent of the Sviitantrika
philosophy. It is said that he was worshipped by King Vimalacandra. Srigupta was a disciple of Sampradiita61 and s~ to
have resided in Bhamgala. 53 Srigupta composed the Tattvaloka,"
a work on Madhyamaka philosophy and logic.
The mastet Jiiinagarbha was born in Odivisa.66 It is said that
he resided in the east during the time of King Gopiila. He studied
under Srigupta in Bhari:lgala and attained fame as a great Sviitantrika scholar. It is said thatJiianagarbha defeated opponents
in debate and could recite numerous siitras from his memory.
He propitiated for a long time Arya Avalokitesvara and at last
had a vision of the deity moving the cintiimal}.icakra. Jiianagarbha composed the Madhyamakasatyadvayakarika and wrote his
own commentary on the work.68
The Madhyamaka master Santarak~ita is the foremost representative of the Yogaciiramadhyamaka or the Yogaciiramadhya·
makasvatantrika school. It was he and his immediate disciple
Kamalasila who introduced systematic Buddhist philosophy into
Tibet. Santarak~ita apparently lived sometime between King
Gopiila and King Dharamapala.
Santarak~ita composed the Tattvasamgraha, a compendium of
the doctrines ofphilosophical systems and the respective criticisms
appropriate to them. He also wrote the Mad4Jamo.kalankarakarika
on which he composed his own commentary. In addition he is
credited with the composition of a number of works on Tantra
and on Prajiiapiiramita.
According to Bu-ston, Santarak~ita belongs to the philosophi·
cal tradition which included before him : Jiiiinagarbha, Sri-


Madkyamalca Schools in India

gupta, Bhavaviveka, Naga.tjuna, Rahula and Sariputra. The
portraits of these were painted on the walls of the monastery of
bSamyas which was established in Tibet by Santarak~ita."
Santarak~ita's immediate disciple was KamalaSila. Like his
master, he too went to Tibet. He composed the Matl4JamakalokaU
expounding the Madhyamaka philosophy in accord with the
interpretation favoured by the Svatantrikas. He also wrote the
Bhdvanakrama as well as a commentary on the Madkyamakalankara of Santarak~ita.
Kamalasila met Hva-shan Mahayana, an exponent of the
Chinese school of Buddhism in a philosophical debate in Tibet,
the outcome of which largely determined the subsequent character ofTibetan Buddhism. Eventually, he met his death in Tibet
at the hands of assasins.
Thus, in this chapter we have attempted to survey briefly the
lives and works of some of the outstanding classical Indian
Madhyamaka scholars. In addition, we have tried to indicate
their respective places in the development of the Madhyamaka
philosophy. Nagarjuna, Aryadeva, Buddhapalita, Bhavaviveka,
Candrakirti, Santideva, Srigupta, Jiianagarbha, Santarak~ita
and KamalaSila were selected for discussion in this chapter either
because of their overall importance to the development of the
Madhyamaka philosophy, or because we shall have occasion to
consider their views in greater detail in subsequent chapters.


1. Ramanan, V., Nagarjuna's Philosophy, pp. 27-28.
2. Bu-ston, History ofBuddhism. Translated by Obermittet, E., II, p.123.
3. Op. cit., p. 25.
4. According to Tibetan tradition the Great Brahmin Saraha and
Rihulabhadra appear to be identical.
5. Bu-ston, History of Buddhism, II, pp. 123.
6. Nagas are semi-divine beings who dwell beneath the earth.
7. Bu-ston, History of Buddhism, II, p. 124.
8. rTsa-ba-ses-rab.
9. Ston-iiid-bdun-cu-ba. bstan-'gyur-mdo. XVII. No. 4.
10. Rigs-pa-drug-cu-pa. Tg. mdo. XVII. No. 2.
11. rTod-pa-bzlog-pa. Tg. mdo. XVII. No. 5.
12. Chinese Tripitaka Nanjio, II 69.
13. Ibid. 1180.

TM Principal Indian Exponents


14. Murti, T. R. V., TM Central Philosopl!J of Buddhism, p. 92.
15. Tiranatha, HIStory qf Buddhism. Translated by Lama Cbimpa and
Chattopadhyaya, Alaka, p. 124.
16. Ibid.
17. Ibid.
18. Bu-ston, History ofBuddhism, II, p. 130.
19. Tiranatha, HIStory of Buridkism, p.124.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid. p. 125.
22. Ibid. p. 126.
23. Bu-ston, Histlwy qfBurldkism, II, p. 130.
24. Ibid.
25. Tiranatha, Histlwy of Buridkism, p. 126.
26. Tiranatba, Hi:lory of Buddhism, pp. 123-124. Bu-ston follows the
legendary account. Bu-ston, HIStory qf Buddhism, II. p. 130. Professor Murti
also refers to the account given by Candrakirti. Murti, T. R. V., The Central
Philosop4J! of Buddhism, p. 92.
27. Murti, T. R. V., 1M Central Philosopl!J of Buddhism, p. 92.
28. Ibid.
29. Tiranatha, HutrJry of Buddhism, p. 186.
30. Tg. mdo. XVII. 20. Tiranatha, History of Buddhism, p. 186.
31. Murti, T. R. V., The Central Philosopl!J of Buddhism, p. 95.
32. Tiiranatha, History of Buddlaism, p. 186.
33. Ibid. pp. 186-187.
34. Tg. mrlo. XVIII. 8.
35. Tg. mrlo. XVII. 1.
36. Tg. mrlo. XIX. 2.
37. Murti, T. R. V., The Central Philosophy of Buddlaism, p. 98.
38. Taranatha, Histlwy qf Buridkism, p. 198.
39. Ibid. pp. 198-199.
40. Bu-ston, Hutory qf Buddhism, II, pp. 134-135.
41. Murti, T. R. V., The Central Philosopl!J of Budriilism, p. 100; Stcherbatsky, Tb., TM Conuptifm of Buddhist, pp. 211-215.
42. Tg. Rgyud. XXVIII. I.
43. Murti, T. R. V., 1M Central Philosophy of Buddlaism, p. 87 and footnote 6 to p. 100.
44. Tiiraniitha, History qf Buridkism, p. 215.
45. Bu-ston, Hislory of Buridkism, II. p. 162.
46. Op.dt. p. 215.
47. Tiiranitha, History qf Buddhism, p. 216.
48. Ibid. p. 217; Bu-ston, Hislory ofBuddhism, II, p. 162.
49. Bu-ston, Hislory qfBuddhism, II, 165; Tiiraniitba does not mention the
name of Sankaradeva.
50. Murti, T. R.V., The Central Philosophy of Buddllism, p. 101.
51. Bu-ston, Hislory of Buddhism, II, p. 135.
52. Tiranatha, Hislory of Buddhism, p. 225.
53. Ibid. p. 253.

Madhyamaka Schools in India


54. De-kho-na-nid-snail·ba. quoted by bSod-nams Sen-ge in the dBu-

tntN/J7i-sttm, p. 267.
55. Taranitha, Hutory of Buddhism, p. 259.
56. According to Sikya mChog-IDan Jiiinagarbha visited Tibet during
the reign of K.hri-sron-IDe-bTsan and it was there that he composed the
Madkyamakasatyadvayak4rik4. The comjllete works of SikytHnC/ulg-IDan, Vol.
14, p. 517.
57. Du-ston, History of Buddhism, II, p. 190.
58. dBu-ma·snan-ba. According to Sakya mChog !Dan the Matli!Yamak4loka was composed in Tibet. Op.cit. Vol. 14, p. 517.



In this chapter we attempt a general introduction to the
Madhyamaka philosophy as it was formulated by Nagarjuna and
some of the other principal exponents of the system. We shall
attempt to indicate the fundamental philosophical orientation of
the Madhyamaka and its approach to philosophical problems.
The discussion therefore inevitably proceeds from the general
to the particular. It is hoped that this chapter will supply an
overall picture of the Madhyamaka philosophy which will facilitate an understanding of the subsequent chapters which