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Madhyamaka ("Sanskrit: Madhyamaka, "Chinese: 中觀见; "pinyin: Zhōngguān Jìan; also known as Śūnyavāda) refers primarily to the later schools of "Buddhist philosophy founded by "Nagarjuna (150 CE to 250 CE). According to Madhyamaka, all "phenomena (dharmas) are "empty (śūnya) of "nature," a "substance" or "essence" ("svabhāva) which gives them "solid and independent existence," because they are "dependently co-arisen. But this "emptiness" itself is also "empty": it does not have an existence on its own, nor does it refer to a transcendental reality beyond or above phenomenal reality.
Madhya is a Sanskrit word meaning "middle". It is cognate with Latin med-iu-s and English mid. The -ma suffix is a superlative, giving madhyama the meaning of "mid-most" or "medium". The -ka suffix is used to form adjectives, thus madhyamaka means "middleling". The -ika suffix is used to form possessives, with a collective sense, thus mādhyamika mean "belonging to the mid-most" (the -ika suffix regularly causes a lengthening of the first vowel and elision of the final -a).
In a Buddhist context these terms refer to the "middle path" (madhyama pratipada) between the extremes of annihilationism (ucchedavāda) and eternalism (śassatavāda), for example:
ity etāv ubhāv antāv anupagamya madhyamayā pratipadā tathāgato dharmaṃ deśayati | - Kātyāyana Sūtra.Thus, the Tathāgata teaches the Dharma by a middle path avoiding both these extremes.
Note that in both words the stress is on the first syllable.
Central to Madhyamaka philosophy is "śūnyatā, "emptiness." The term refers to the "emptiness" of inherent existence: all "phenomena are "empty of "substance" or "essence" ("Sanskrit: "svabhāva) or inherent existence, because they are "dependently co-arisen. At a conventional level, "things" do exist, but ultimately they are "empty" of inherent existence. But this "emptiness" itself is also "empty": it does not have an existence on its own, nor does it refer to a transcendental reality beyond or above phenomenal reality.
Nagarjuna further develops the notion of dependent arising, arguing that every dharma, or every "thing", does not exist on its own, but depending on other "things" and causes:
— Nāgārjuna, Mūlamadhyamakakārikā 24:18
Nagarjuna follows his own logic to its end, wondering what the subsequent consequences are of his propositions. Since all "things" are dependently arisen, how then can a non-existing "thing" cause another "thing" to come into being? In Chapter 15 of the "Mūlamadhyamakakārikā Nagarjuna centers on the words "svabhava [note 1] parabhava[note 2] "bhava [note 3] and "abhava:[note 4]
Nagarjuna's critique of the notion of own-nature[note 5] (Mk. ch. 15) argues that anything which arises according to conditions, as all phenomena do, can have no inherent nature, for what is depends on what conditions it. Moreover, if there is nothing with own-nature, there can be nothing with 'other-nature' (para-bhava), i.e. something which is dependent for its existence and nature on something else which has own-nature. Furthermore, if there is neither own-nature nor other-nature, there cannot be anything with a true, substantial existent nature (bhava). If there is no true existent, then there can be no non-existent (abhava).
[T]he word "svabhava" can be interpreted in two different ways. It can be rendered either as identity [...] or as causal independence.
This ambiguity is easily lost in translation:
When one reads Nagarjuna's argument in Sanskrit, it is not immediately obvious that the argument has taken advantage of an ambiguity in the key term. But when one tries to translate his argument into some other language, such as English or Tibetan, one finds that it is almost impossible to translate his argument in a way that makes sense in translation. This is because the terms in the language of translation do not have precisely the same range of ambiguities as the words in the original Sanskrit. In English, we are forced to disambiguate, and in disambiguating, we end up spoiling the apparent integrity of the argument.
The doctrine of "dependent arising cannot be reconciled with "a conception of self-nature or substance". Nagarjuna refutes "the commentarial doctrine of the 'own-being' of principles as contrary to the "Tripitaka":
The rejection of inherent existence does not imply that there is no existence at all. What it does mean is that there is no "unique nature or substance ("svabhava)" in the "things" we perceive. This may not necessarily be in contrast to the Abhidhamma point of view, given the ambivalence in the terms used by Nagarjuna:
Madhyamaka discerns "two levels of truth, conventional truth and ultimate truth, to make clear that it does make sense to speak of existence. Ultimately, we realize that all phenomena are sunyata, empty of concrete existence. Conventionally, we do perceive concrete objects which we are aware of. Yet, this perceived reality is an experiential reality, not an ontological reality with substantial or independent existence.
The ultimate truth of sunyata does not refer to "nothingness" or "non-existence"; it refers to the absence of inherent existence.
According to Hayes, the two truths may also refer to two different goals in life: the highest goal of nirvana, and the lower goal of "commercial good". The highest goal is the liberation from attachment, both material and intellectual.
What is the reality of things just as it is? It is the absence of essence. Unskilled persons whose eye of intelligence is obscured by the darkness of delusion conceive of an essence of things and then generate attachment and hostility with regard to them.— Buddhapālita-mula-madhyamaka-vrtti P5242,73.5.6-74.1.2
Ultimate truth does not point to a transcendent reality, but to the transcendence of deception. It is critical to emphasize that the ultimate truth of emptiness is a negational truth. In looking for inherently existent phenomena it is revealed that it cannot be found. This absence is not findable because it is not an entity, just as a room without an elephant in it does not contain an elephantless substance. Even conventionally, elephantlessness does not exist. Ultimate truth or emptiness does not point to an essence or nature, however subtle, that everything is made of.[web 2][note 8]
What remains is the middle way between eternalism and annihilationism:
The object of the critique is to show that the eternalist view is untenable and further to show that the 'own-being' theory adopted by some Buddhists did not really differ, when its implications were strictly worked out, from the eternalist theory of "Brahmanism (the theory of an "eternal 'soul' and other eternal 'substances').
These two views are considered to be the two extreme views:
Madhyamaka represents the "Middle way between them.
Madhyamaka uses language to make clear the limits of our concepts. Ultimately, reality cannot be depicted by concepts. This creates a tension, since it does have to use concepts to convey its teachings:
This dynamic philosophical tension—a tension between the Madhyamika accounts of the limits of what can be coherently said and its analytical ostension of what cannot be said without paradox but must be understood—must constantly be borne in mind in reading the text. It is not an incoherent mysticism, but it is a logical tightrope act at the very limits of language and metaphysics.
The ultimate aim of understanding emptiness is not philosophical insight as such, but to gain a "liberated mind which does not dwell upon concepts. To realize this, meditation on emptiness may proceed in stages, starting with the emptiness of both "self, objects and mental states, culminating in a "natural state of nonreferential freedom."[note 9]
The Madhyamaka school is usually considered to have been founded by "Nāgārjuna, though it may have existed earlier.  The name of the school is perhaps related to its close adherence to Nāgārjuna’s main work, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. The term Madhyamaka is related to 'madhya' ('the middle').
Madhyamaka-thought had a major influence on the subsequent development of the Mahayana Buddhist tradition, although often in interaction with, and also in opposition to, the other two major streams of Mahayana Buddhist thought, namely Yogacara and Buddha-nature. It had a major impact on "Tibetan Buddhism, where it became the orthodox standard in the Gelugpa tradition, in opposition to Jonangpa's "Mahā-Mādhyamaka". Lama "Je Tsongkhapa, of the "Gelugpa, claimed there were two division in Indian Madhyamika, creating the "Svatantrika-Prasaṅgika distinction. It also influenced the "Zen tradition, although this influence is less often discerned in comparison to the Buddha-nature thought. The present day schools of "Tiantai, "Tendai, "Sanron, are also influenced by the Mādhyamaka tradition, forming an "East Asian Mādhyamaka tradition. Contemporary western Buddhism is less acquainted with Madhyamaka thought, although some implications have been recognized by western teachers.
The Aṭṭhakavagga (Pali, "Octet Chapter") and the Pārāyanavagga (Pali, "Way to the Far Shore Chapter") are two small collections of suttas within the "Pāli Canon of "Theravada "Buddhism.[note 10] They are among the earliest existing Buddhist literature, and place considerable emphasis on the rejection of, or non-attachment to, all "views.
Tillman Vetter, although agreeing overall with Gomez's observations, suggests some refinements on historical and doctrinal grounds. First, he notes that neither of these short collections of suttas are homogeneous and hence are not all amenable to Gomez' proposals. According to Vetter, those suttas which do lend support to Gomez probably originated with a heterodox ascetic group that pre-dated the Buddha, and were integrated into the Buddhist Sangha at an early date, bringing with them some suttas that were already in existence and also composing further suttas in which they tried to combine their own teachings with those of the Buddha.
Paul Fuller has rejected the arguments of Gomez and Vetter. He finds that
Alexander Wynne also rejects both of Vetter's claims that the Parayanavagga shows a chronological stratification, and a different attitude toward mindfulness and liberating insight than do other works.[note 11]
The Madhyamaka school has been perhaps simplistically regarded as a reaction against the development of the "Abhidharma, especially the "Sarvāstivādin. In the Abhidharma, dharmas are characterized by defining traits (lakṣaṇa) or own-existence (svabhāva), whose ontological status is not dependent upon concepts. The problem with the Abhidharma is not that things are 'independently existent' (a position that most Abhidharma schools would not accept), but rather (from a Madhyamaka perspective) that they are independent from notions. For the Madhyamaka, dharmas are notionally dependent, and further more, their notional dependence entails existential dependence and hence lack of ultimate, true existence.
The relationship between Madhyamaka and Abhidharma is complex; Abhidharmic analysis figures prominently in most Madhyamaka treatises, and authoritative commentators like Candrakīrti emphasize that Abhidharmic categories function as a viable (and favored) system of conventional truths - they are more refined than ordinary categories, and they are not dependent on either the extreme of eternalism or on the extreme view of the discontinuity of karma, as the non-Buddhist categories of the time did. It may be therefore important to understand that Madhyamaka constitutes a continuation of the Abhidharma type of analysis, extending the range of dependent arising to entail (and focus upon) notional dependence. The dependent arising of concepts based on other concepts, rather than the true arising of really existent causes and effects, becomes here the matrix of any possible convention.
Madhyamaka thought is also closely related to a number of Mahāyāna sources; traditionally, the Prajñāpāramitāsūtras are the literature most closely associated with Madhyamaka – understood, at least in part, as an exegetical complement to those Sūtras. Traditional accounts also depict Nāgārjuna as retrieving some of the larger Prajñāpāramitāsūtras from the world of the Nāgas (explaining in part the etymology of his name). Prajñā or ‘higher cognition’ is a recurrent term in Buddhist texts, explained as a synonym of Abhidharma, ‘insight’ (vipaśyanā) and ‘analysis of the dharmas’ (dharmapravicaya). Within a specifically Mahāyāna context, Prajñā figures as the most prominent in a list of Six Pāramitās (‘perfections’ or ‘perfect masteries’) that a Bodhisattva needs to cultivate in order to eventually achieve Buddhahood. Madhyamaka offers conceptual tools to analyze all possible elements of existence, allowing the practitioner to elicit through reasoning and contemplation the type of view that the Sūtras express more authoritatively (being considered word of the Buddha) but less explicitly (not offering corroborative arguments). The vast Prajñāpāramitā literature emphasizes the development of higher cognition in the context of the Bodhisattva path; thematically, its focus on the emptiness of all dharmas is closely related to the Madhyamaka approach.
Because of the high degree of similarity between Madhyamaka and "Pyrrhonism, "Thomas McEvilley and Matthew Neale suspect that Nāgārjuna was influenced by Greek Pyrrhonist texts imported into India. "Pyrrho of Elis (c. 360-c. 270 BCE), who is credited with founding this school of "skeptical philosophy, was himself influenced by Buddhist philosophy during his stay in India with "Alexander the Great's army.
Kalupahana has argued that Nāgārjuna's intention was not to establish an "ontology or "epistemology, but to free the Buddhist "soteriology from essentialist notions which obscured the "Buddhist Middle Way:
Nāgārjuna's pupil "Āryadeva (3rd century CE) emphasized the "Bodhisattva-ideal. His works are regarded as a supplement to Nāgārjuna's, on which he commented. Āryadeva also refuted the theories of non-Buddhist Indian philosophical schools.
"Buddhapālita (470–550) has been understood as the origin of the prāsaṅgika approach. He was criticized by "Bhāvaviveka (ca.500–ca.578), who argued for the use of syllogisms "to set one's own doctrinal stance". Bhāvya/Bhāvaviveka was influenced by the "Yogācāra school.
"Candrakīrti (600–c. 650) wrote the Prasannapadā (Clear Words), a highly influential commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā. This commentary is central in the understanding of Madhyamaka in Tibetan Buddhism.
"Śāntideva (end 7th century – first half 8th century) is well known for his "Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, A Guide to the "Bodhisattva's Way of Life. He united "a deep religiousness and joy of exposure together with the unquestioned Madhyamaka orthodoxy".
A "Yogācāra and Mādhyamaka synthesis was posited by "Shantarakshita in the 8th century[note 12] and may have been common at "Nalanda University at that time. Like the Prāsaṅgika, this view approaches ultimate truth through the prasaṅga method, yet when speaking of conventional reality they may make autonomous statements like the earlier Svātantrika and Yogācāra approaches.
This was different from the earlier Svatantrika in that the conventional truth was described in terms of the theory of "consciousness-only instead of the tenets of Svatantrika, though neither was used to analyze for ultimate truth.
For example, they may assert that all phenomena are nothing but the "play of mind" and hence empty of concrete existence—and that mind is in turn empty of defining characteristics. But in doing so, they're careful to point out that any such example would be an approximate ultimate and not the true ultimate. By making such autonomous statements, Yogācāra-Svatantrika-Madhyamaka is often mistaken as a Svātantrika or Yogācāra view, even though a Prāsaṅgika approach was used in analysis. This view is thus a synthesis of Madhyamaka and "Yogācāra.
Madhyamaka thought has been categorized variously in India and Tibet.[note 13] In Tibetan Buddhism a major difference is being made between "Svātantrika-Madhyamaka" and "Prasaṅgika-Madhyamaka." Yet, the classification is more complicated, and is described by Guy Newman as follows:
The Madhyamika philosophy obtained a central position in all the Tibetan schools, but with two distinct variations, namely "shentong, and the later Gelugpa emphasis on a strict "Prasangika interpretation of emptiness. Shentong is a further developed Yogacara-Madhyamaka which incorporates Buddha-nature teachings, and states that the reality which is laid bare by understanding emptiness is "luminous awareness and truly existing. Shentong teachings are still transmitted in the "Nyingma, "Kagyu, and "Jonang school. Tsongkhapa, and the subsequent Gelugpa tradition, opposes this notion of self-luminous awareness, and sees its own interpretation as the final truth on sunyata.
Although presented as a divide in doctrines, the major difference between svātantrika and prasangika may be between two style of reasoning and arguing, while the division itself is exclusively Tibetan. Tibetan scholars were aware of alternative Madhyamaka sub-classifications, but later Tibetan doxography emphasizes the nomenclature of prāsaṅgika versus svātantrika. No conclusive evidence can show the existence of an Indian antecedent, and it is not certain to what degree individual writers in Indian and Tibetan discussion held each of these views and if they held a view generally or only in particular instances. Both Prāsaṅgikas and Svātantrikas cited material in the āgamas in support of their arguments.
"Bhavaviveka (c. 500 – c. 578) is the first person to whom this view is attributed, as they are laid out in his commentaries on Nāgārjuna and his critiques of Buddhapalita. Svātantrika in Sanskrit refers to autonomy and was translated back into Sanskrit from the equivalent Tibetan term.
The Svātantrika states that conventional phenomena are understood to have a conventional essential existence, but without an ultimately existing essence. In this way they believe they are able to make positive or "autonomous" assertions using syllogistic logic because they are able to share a subject that is established as appearing in common - the proponent and opponent use the same kind of valid cognition to establish it. The name comes from this quality of being able to use autonomous arguments in debate.
"Ju Mipham explained that using positive assertions in logical debate may serve a useful purpose, either while debating with non-Buddhist schools or to move a student from a coarser to a more subtle view. Similarly, discussing an approximate ultimate helps students who have difficulty using only prasaṅga methods move closer to the understanding of the true ultimate. Ju Mipham felt that the ultimate non-enumerated truth of the Svatantrika was no different from the ultimate truth of the Prāsaṅgika. He felt the only difference between them was with respect to how they discussed conventional truth and their approach to presenting a path.
The central technique avowed by "Prasaṅgika Mādhyamaka is to show by prasaṅga (or "reductio ad absurdum) that any positive assertion (such as "asti" or "nāsti", "it is", or "it is not") or "view regarding phenomena must be regarded as merely conventional (saṃvṛti or lokavyavahāra).
The Prāsaṅgika hold that it is not necessary for the proponent and opponent to use the same kind of valid cognition to establish a common subject; indeed it is possible to change the view of an opponent through a reductio argument.
"Buddhapalita and "Candrakirti are noted as the main proponents of this approach. Tibetan teacher "Longchen Rabjam noted in the 14th century that Candrakirti favored the prasaṅga approach when specifically discussing the analysis for ultimacy, but otherwise he made positive assertions. His central text, Madhyamakavatāra, is structured as a description of the paths and results of practice, which is made up of positive assertions. Therefore, even those most attributed to the Prāsaṅgika view make positive assertions when discussing a path of practice but use prasaṅga specifically when analyzing for ultimate truth.
Their nature of emptiness is their reality nature.
This is in line with the Eight Thousand Stanza Perfection of Wisdom Sutra:
Although Tsongkhapa argued in favour of "Yogacara views early in his career his later understanding is derived from Candrakirti, who states that conventionally there are entities with distinguishing characteristics, but ultimately those qualities are not independent essences. But since this emptiness is true for everything that exists, this emptiness may also be regarded as an essence, though not in the sense of an independent essence. Candrakirti formulates a final negation by stating that even the denial of svabhava implies ...
...that either oneself or one's audience is not entirely free from the belief in svabhava. Therefore, ultimate truth, truth as it is for those who are free from misknowledge, cannot be expressed by asserting either the existence or nonexistence of svahbava.
"Dolpopa, the founder of the "Jonangpa school, called his synthesis the Mahā-Mādhyamaka, the "Great Middle Way". He regarded the "tathagatagarbha to be the true emptiness. This view was opposed by Tsongkhapa. 
"Thich Nhat Hanh explains the Madhyamaka concept of emptiness through the related concept of interdependence. In this analogy, there is no first or ultimate cause for anything that occurs. Instead, all things are dependent on innumerable causes and conditions that are themselves dependent on innumerable causes and conditions. The interdependence of all phenomena, including the self, is a helpful way to undermine mistaken views about inherence, or that one's self is inherently existent. It is also a helpful way to discuss Mahayana teachings on motivation, compassion, and ethics. The comparison to interdependence has produced recent discussion comparing Mahayana ethics to environmental ethics.
Madhyamaka forms an alternative to the Perennialist and essentialist (neo-)Advaita understanding of "nondualism or modern spirituality.[web 3][web 4][web 5] The classical Madhyamaka-teachings are complemented with western ("post-modern) philosophy,[web 6] "critical sociology,[web 7] and "social constructionism.[web 8] These approaches stress that there is no transcendental reality beyond this phenomenal world,[web 9] and in some cases even explicitly distinguish themselves from (neo-)Advaita approaches.[web 10]
Taken together "anutpāda" means "having no origin", "not coming into existence", "not taking effect", "non-production".[web 12]
"Ajātivāda" is the fundamental philosophical doctrine of "Gaudapada. According to Gaudapada, the Absolute is not subject to birth, change and death. The Absolute is aja, the unborn eternal. The empirical "world of "appearances is considered unreal, and not "absolutely existent.
Gaudapada's perspective is quite different from Nagarjuna. Gaudapada's perspective is based on the "Mandukya Upanishad. In the Mandukya Karika, Gaudapada's commentary on the Mandukya Upanishad, Gaudapada sets forth his perspective. According to Gaudapada, Brahman cannot undergo alteration, so the phenomenal world cannot arise from Brahman. If the world cannot arise, yet is an empirical fact, then the world has to be an unreal[note 16] appearance of Brahman. And if the phenomenal world is an unreal appearance, then there is no real origination or destruction, only apparent origination or destruction. From the level of ultimate truth (paramārthatā) the phenomenal world is "Maya.
As stated in Gaudapada’s Karika Chapter II Verse 48:[web 13]
No jiva ever comes into existence. There exists no cause that can produce it. The supreme truth is that nothing ever is born.[web 14]
Western scholarship has given a broad variety of interpretations of Madhyamaka:
Over the past half-century the doctrine of the Madhyamaka school, and in particular that of Nāgārjuna has been variously described as nihilism, monism, irrationalism, misology, agnosticism, scepticism, criticism, dialectic, mysticism, acosmism, absolutism, relativism, nominalism, and linguistic analysis with therapeutic value.
"Jay L. Garfield likewise rephrases Ruegg:
"Modern interpreters differ among themselves about the correct way to read it as least as much as canonical interpreters. Nagarjuna has been read as an idealist (Murti 1960), a nihilist (Wood 1994), a skeptic (Garfield 1995), a pragmatist (Kalupahana 1986), and as a mystic (Streng 1967). He has been regarded as a critic of logic (Inada 1970), as a defender of classical logic (Hayes 1994), and as a pioneer of paraconsistent logic (Garfield and Priest 2003)".
These interpretations "reflect almost as much about the viewpoints of the scholars involved as do they reflect the content of Nāgārjuna's concepts".
Most recent western scholarship (Garfield, Napper, Hopkins, Huntington, and others) have, after investigation, tended to adopt one or another of the Gelugpa collegiate interpretations of Madhyamaka.
Richard P. Hayes is critical of the works of Nagarjuna:
Nagarjuna’s writings had relatively little effect on the course of subsequent Indian Buddhist philosophy. Despite his apparent attempts to discredit some of the most fundamental concepts of abhidharma, abhidharma continued to flourish for centuries,
without any appreciable attempt on the part of abhidharmikas to defend their methods of analysis against Nagarjuna’s criticisms.
According to Hayes, Nagarjuna makes use of two different possible meanings of the word svabhava, and uses those two meanings to make statements which are not logical. In doing so, Hayes regards Nagarjuna...
[A] relatively primitive thinker whose mistakes in reasoning were eventually uncovered as the knowledge of logic in India became more sophisticated in subsequent centuries.
William Magee strongly disagrees with Hayes. He points out the influence of Nagarjuna in Tibetan Buddhism, and refers to Tsonghkhapa's interpretation of Nagarjuna to argue that
Hayes is misidentifying Nagarjuna's intended meaning of svabhava. In contradistinction to Hayes' belief that Nagarjuna speaks equivocably of an identity nature and a causally independent, non-existent nature, Dzong-ka-ba feels that in chapter XV.1-2 Nagarjuna uses the term svabhava to refer to an existent emptiness nature.
According to Magee, both Candrakirti and Dzong-ka-ba "see Nagarjuna as consistently referring to emptiness with the word svabhava".
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