English Section

      Buddhism Today 

Vietnamese Section


...... ... .  . .  .  .
Bhaaviveka and the Early Maadhyamika Theories of Language
By Malcolm D. Eckel

In the last fifty years, Western interpreters of Maadhyamika Buddhist   philosophy    have     worked  diligently  to devise a philosophical  vocabulary  in which the insights and techniques of the Maadhyamika, dialecticians  can  be  accurately  and  intelligibly    expressed  to Western readers.[1] This is not an easy task,  but  it  has   sometimes     been   done   quite effectively.[2] Even in the most successful  studies, however, one element is often conspicuously  lacking. Scholars have compared the work of early Maadhyamika          philosophers  with similar work in the West, but they have been reluctant  for various  reasons  to compare  the    early   Maadhyamika   philosophers    with    each other.[3] This,  of  course, has    led  to  a  certain admirable   simplicity   in  the  results     of  their comparison,  but  it  has  sacrificed    a  degree  of          sophistication  and philosophical accuracy that would enrich their results. In this article I would like to redress  the balance in one small area by considering the development of the theory or theories of language in  the  works   of  Naagaarjuna,    Bhaavaviveka,  and  Candrakiirti. By so doing, I hope to demonstrate that a sure  way  to promote  conceptual  accuracy  in the        comparative   enterprise     is   to   understand     how individual philosophers   in the Maadhyamika tradition chose to develop   and differentiate  themselves  from the work of their predecessors.

The comparison of early Maadhyamika  philosophers with each other has been hindered  in recent years by the relative scarcity of major texts translated  into Western    languages.   We  are   fortunate   to  have translations  of the basic  works of Naagaarjuna  and Candrakiirti, but we only have fragments of the works of other authors like Buddhapaalita and Bhaavaviveka, and original Tibetan works on Maadhyamika  philosophy are  almost  unknown  in  Western  languages.[4] This imbalance  has led, perhaps inevitably, to the notion that early  Maadhyamika  philosophy  was considerably more  homogeneous  than  it  actually  was.  What  is necessary  now to expand  our  understanding  of this school is greater  familiarity  with the lesser known authors,  like   Bhaavaviveka,  and  with  the  great Tibetan scholars  like Tso^n-kha-pa, who wrestled  in their  own works  with  the  diversity  of the  early philosophy.  Such  familiarity  would  show that  the homogeneity   of  the  early   tradition    is  merely apparent. In fact, Bhaavaviveka distinguished himself quite sharply from the earlier  tradition  on certain points,  and  Candrakiirti,   in  turn,  distinguished himself  from  Bhaavaviveka.   Tso^n-kha-pa   and  his successors recognized  this and, in their own efforts to  harmonize  the  differences, gave   a very  useful account of the ways in which the two disagreed.

Theories   of language  play an important  part in the Maadhyamika  philosophy  of the early period, not primarily  because the individual  philosophers  were interested    in  constructing   a  positive  semantic theory, although  that interest   did impinge somewhat on the works of Bhaavaviveka and Candrakiirti, but        Malcolm   D.    Eckel   is   Instructor,   Religion Department, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, Ohio. Philosophy  East  and  West  28,  no.  3, July 1978. reserved.Because the disputes  between  Maadhyamika  and rival Indian   schools  were often, at bottom, cast in terms of disagreements  over  the use of language.  This is perhaps   a natural  consequence  of  the  Maadhyamika critical   method.   Maadhyamika   philosophers    were interested  more in devising  a critical  scheme  for removing  their opponents'  misconceptions   than they were in building  their own positive  theory.  In the absence   of  shared  metaphysical   assumptions, their criticism  often  took  the  form  of  objections  to certain uses of language.  The Maadhyamika account of language  is  thus  useful, in the  first   case, as a mirror  of  the  relationship   between    Maadhyamika philosophers  and  their  Indian  opponents, but   its importance  is not limited just to this.  The account of language is also closely related to a central Maadhyamika   notion,  the  two   levels    of  truth.

Maadhyamika    philosophers   recognized   this as   a distinction   between   a  level   of  nonconceptual, ultimate  truth   (paramaartha) and  a level  of truth that   lay within  the domain  of concepts  and  words (vyavahaara).   The two were  distinct, but the second was understood  to function  in some way as a vehicle for the first.[5] The account  of language  given  by any particular  Maadhyamika  philosopher  necessarily affected  his notion  both of the exact nature of the distinction between the two truths and of the way one served    indirectly   to  express    the   other.   An understanding   of  the  development  of  Maadhyamika accounts of language is thus useful to us in a number of ways, both in describing the Maadhyamika   response to other  Indian  schools  and in following  internal differences  on certain fundamental  points.  It also    has  the  advantage, as  will   be  evident  later, of sharply    delineating   basic   differences    between Bhaavaviveka and Candrakiirti.

Naagaarjuna    laid   the  groundwork    for  later Maadhyamika   accounts   of  language  in  the  second century A.D., at a time when Indian philosophers were becoming conscious  in a rudimentary  way of the need to  formulate    rules  for  debate  between  opposing philosophical   schools.    Sanskrit  was  being  used increasingly as a tool for learned discourse, and the Hindu logicians  were attempting   to develop a theory of  semantics  and  syllogistic  reasoning  on  which philosophical argument could be based.  Naagaarjuna's         position   in  this  philosophical    environment   was necessarily rather ambiguous.  He was committed, as a Sanskrit  dialectician, to the process  of discussion and debate facilitated  by the developments   in Hindu logic, but  he could  not, as a Buddhist, accept  the ontology   on  which  the  theories  were  based.   In particular, he could not accept  the notion  advanced by the Hindu logicians that the meaning of a term was the   substantial  entity  to  which  it referred.   He appeared, in fact, to assert  exactly  the  opposite, namely, that  all  things  are  empty  of substantial reality, and terms  which  refer  to such things  are equally  empty  of reality, since  there  is no  real substance to which they refer.  In the terminology of the Sanskrit philosophical schools this was expressed in the  following  words: "Nothing  at all  possesses intrinsic    nature"  (sarve.saa.m   bhaavaanaa.m sarvatra  na vidyate svabhaava.h).[6] For Naagaarjuna this quasi-assertion posed a basic problem concerning the function of language. The problem is simply this: if all things are empty (`suunya) of intrinsic nature (svabhaava), then terms that refer  to them are similarly empty.  In the semantic theory of the Hindu logicians,  an  empty  term,  that  is, one  with  no reference, is meaningless.  So to say "all things are empty of intrinsic  nature"   is to say that all terms are  meaningless, including  those  in the  assertion itself.  The assertion  is thus useless as a means of argument.

Naagaarjuna   formulated  this problem for himself in the first part of the Vigrahavyaavartani.   Here an objector says: [Vs. 1] If nothing at all possesses an intrinsic  nature, then your statement  [that nothing possesses  an intrinsic   nature] itself possesses  no intrinsic  nature, and  it  cannot  refute  intrinsic        nature.[7] [Vs.  9] If there is no intrinsic  nature then    even   the   word    "no   intrinsic    nature" (ni.hsvabhaava) is impossible, because  there  can be no word without an object [to which it refers] (naama hi nirvastuka.m naasti).[8] In the second part of the work, Naagaarjuna  formulates  his reply  largely   in terms of examples.

[Commentary   on verse 223 You have not understood the emptiness  of things.  ...lf  things  existed  by virtue  of their  own intrinsic  nature.  they  would exist even without causes and conditions. But they do not.  Therefore  they have  no intrinsic  nature, and they  are  called  empty.  Similarly, because  it   is dependently   produced, my statement  has no intrinsic nature, and because it has no intrinsic nature, it is reasonable to call it empty. Now, things like a cart, a pot, or a cloth, though they are empty of intrinsic nature because  they are dependently  produced, serve their  various  functions.  For  example, they  carry wood, grass, or dirt, they  contain  honey, water, or milk, or  they  protect  from  cold, wind,  or  heat.

Similarly, my statement serves to establish  the fact that  things  have no intrinsic  nature, even though, because  it  is  dependently    produced,  it  has  no intrinsic nature.[9]

Naagaarjuna   shows  a  number  of  the  important characteristics of his method in these passages.  The first  point   to note  is that  he works  out his own       account  of words  and their  function   primarily  in response  to the challenge   of a Hindu  logician, who wants to force him to say more than he is willing  to        say.  The response   he gives is largely negative.  He refused  to be pushed by the logician  into admitting that either  his words  or the things  to which  they refer   exist  by virtue  of  their  intrinsic  nature (svabhaava).  The second point has to do with the way words actually  function, even though  they are empty of intrinsic  nature.  In fact, Naagaarjuna  does not present a positive theory of language  to account for the effectiveness of his sentence: he simply makes an appeal   to conventional  usage, His words  admittedly have    no    intrinsic    nature,   but    they   work conventionally as well as does a cart. The cart, when we examine   it, has no nature  which we can designate as its "cartness," but it still manages   to carry out its function effectively. We cannot actually say that Naagaarjuna   presents  a  coherent  theory  in  these lines.  In   his  appeal  to ordinary  usage, however, Naagaarjuna  suggests  the  direction  in which  some future Maadhyamika philosopher might go in developing a theory based on pure convention.

If this were all Naagaarjuna had to say about his philosophical   statements,  our  problem   would  be greatly simplified;  but Naagaarjuna  recognized that the   statement  "All  things  are empty  of intrinsic nature" contains  an added element of complexity.  It purports  to convey a general  truth about the nature of things: all entities, without exception, are empty of intrinsic nature.  If the statement functions this way, however, it raises a number of new difficulties.        We  might  ask,  in  particular,  whether  the  truth conveyed   in  this  statement  has, in  Naagaarjuna's terminology, an  intrinsic  nature.  If  it  does, it renders the statement  itself false.   If it does not, it is not clear what the statement is meant to convey or how it is meant to convey it. Naagaarjuna actually poses   this  question   for  himself  in  a  somewhat different   form.  He asks whether the statement  "All things  are  empty  of  intrinsic   nature"    asserts anything, and  if not, what  it is understood  to do.  His explanation is the following:

[Vs.   29] If I made any assertion (pratij~naa), I would be in error. But I make no assertion, thus I am not in error, [Commentary]  If I made  any assertion, then  the error  you describe   would  be mine.  But  I make  no assertion.  How can there   be any assertion  when all things are empty, completely at peace and isolated by nature.[10]

[Vs.   63] I do not negate  anything, nor is there anything to be negated. Therefore you slander me when you say that I negate something.  [Commentary]  If I negated something, what you say would be correct. But I do not negate anything at all, for there is nothing to be negated.  Therefore, when all things  are empty and there   are no negation  and thing  to be negated, your statement is slanderous.

[Vs. 64] You may say that something that does not exist can be negated without words.  But in this case [in our statement]  speech simply makes known that it does not exist; it does not negate it.

[Commentary]  You may say, "Something  that  does not exist  can be negated  without  words;  then what point is there in your statement that all things lack intrinsic   nature?" We reply that our statement   that all things lack intrinsic  nature  does not cause all things to have no intrinsic  nature;  it simply makes known that things lack intrinsic nature. For example, when  Devadatta  is not  in the house, someone  might say, "Devadatta  is in the house." Someone else might then say to him, "He is not." That statement does not create  Devadatta's  absence  in the  house, but only makes known his absence in the house.  Similarly, the statement, "Things  have no intrinsic  nature"   does not create the absence of intrinsic   nature;  it only makes known the absence of intrinsic nature.[11]

Naagaarjuna   makes it quite  clear  here that his statement  should  not  be understood   either  as  an assertion   (pratij~naa) or negation  of any  positive entity.   When pressed to give a positive  account  of the  function  of his  words, he again  appeals  to a conventional   example to show that, while they do not assert anything, they still have significant effect.

The account of the function of language presented in these passages  is, of course only a small part of  Naagaarjuna's  philosophy, but it can  serve  to call attention   to  some  of the  basic  features  of  his method. First, we have noted that he proceeds only in response to claims made by his opponents, and he refuses   to be drawn  by their arguments  into making positive  assertions.  In particular, he  refuses  to accept the notion that the statement  "All things are empty of intrinsic nature" functions  as an assertion of any positive entity. Second, on the positive side, he argues from conventional usage that the refusal to accept  either the intrinsic  nature or the assertive value of the statement  in no way impairs its ability to function  effectively.   His  words  do not  assert anything, but  they  do make  known   the  absence  of intrinsic nature.  In this way, Naagaarjuna  drew the outline of a Maadhyamika  account of the function  of language.   We will see that his successors  had great difficulty staying within its limits.

In the four   centuries  that  intervened  between Naagaarjuna (circa 150 A.D.) and the next Maadhyamika philosopher  we will consider, Bhaavaviveka  (500-570 A.D.) ,   Indian  philosophy  underwent  a  remarkable expansion.  The basic texts of the Hindu schools were settled  and  provided  with  commentaries,  and  the earlier dominance  of Maadhyamika  among the Mahayana Buddhist schools came to be challenged by a school of Buddhist idealists and logicians. In the face of this widening doctrinal  diversity, Bhaavaviveka  seems to have   been by temperament  and training  particularly prey   to  the  attraction    of  other   philosophical opinions.  He was apparently a brahman and retained a fondness for the diversity  of brahmanical  learning, from alchemy and palmistry  to Advaita Vedaanta, long after   his    conversion    to   Buddhism    and   the philosophical  method  of  Naagaarjuna.[12]  A  basic motivating   impulse in his philosophy, in fact, seems to be the  need  he felt  to reestablish  Maadhyamika philosophy  in a form that would  allow  room for the variety of conventional learning.  Apart from matters of  temperament,  however, there   were  good  logical reasons to reassess  Naagaarjuna's handling  of some basic questions. The rules of logical debate recorded in the  Nyaaya-suutras  seem  to have  evolved   after Naagaarjuna  and partly  in response  to his methods. This seems particularly  evident in the definition of an unacceptable form of reasoning known as vita.n.daa or "cavilling."  Nyaaya-suutra  1.2.3 defines this as "that   [sophistry    (jaati)  ]   which    lacks   the establishment     of     a      counter-position."[13] Naagaarjuna,  as  we  have  seen,  avoided  making  a positive assertion of anything and did not seem to be concerned   that  this  would  violate  the  rules  of debate.  Bhaavaviveka, on  the  other  hand, makes  a conscious  effort  in at least two places in his work to meet the objection that he is guilty of vita.n.daa  and show that it does not apply.[14] In chapter  3 of the  Tarkajvaalaa, for   instance, he raises  it as an objection.

[Objection:] Because  you  do not establish  your own  position  (svapak.sa) ,  but  only  refute  your opponent's  position (parapak.sa), are you not guilty of vita.n.daa? [Reply:] Our position is "emptiness of intrinsic nature" (svabhaava-`suunyataa);  since this is   the  nature  of  things, we  are  not  guilty  of vita.n.daa.[15]

Bhaavaviveka  manages  to deal with the objection but  only  at  serious  cost  to  the  integrity   of Naagaarjuna's  method.  He  is now  willing  to admit something   Naagarjuna   fought  hard  to  resist:  he accepts "emptiness of intrinsic nature" as a positive philosophical  assertion.  This change has formidable   significance  for the development  of the Maadhyamika  accounts  of  language.    Bhaavaviveka's  reasons   for  making   this  move  deserve    careful scrutiny.

Before    we  consider   Bhaavaviveka's   reasons, however, we need to look again at another  aspect   of  Naagaarjuna's   argument.    We   saw   earlier    that Naagaarjuna   took some pains  to account  for the way the words of the sentence  "All things   are empty  of intrinsic  nature" could express a significant  truth about  the nature  of things, even  though  the words themselves   were  empty  and the truth   was  not  the object    of  an  assertion.    Those   familiar   with Maadhyamika    philosophy    will    recognize    this distinction   as the verbal  form  of the  distinction between  two levels of truth.  Naagaarjuna  says more about this distinction  in his commentary on verse 28 of the Vigrahavyaavartani.

We do not say, "All  things  are  empty," without resorting to conventional truth (vyavahaara-satya) or by rejecting conventional truth. For it is impossible to teach the Dharma without recourse  to conventional truth.  As   we said  [in  the  Maadhyamakakaarikaas]: "Ultimate   truth  (paramaartha)   cannot   be  taught without    resorting   to   conventional    expressions (vyavahaara) ;  nirvana  cannot  be  reached  without recourse to ultimate truth."[16]

The distinction between ultimate and conventional truth has many   implications   for    Naagaarjuna, particularly  in the realm of practical  behavior (as might be inferred  from the conventional  orientation of a work like Naagaarjuna's  Ratnaavali).[17] But in the philosophical works, like his Vigrahavyaavartani, Naagaarjuna   develops  the  distinction  in  only  a limited   way.   We  might  understand   ultimate   and conventional  truth  here simply  as two sides of the same verbal  strategy.  Ultimate  truth  (paramartha) might be understood  as that which the statement "All things  are empty," acting  as a verbal expedient, is meant  to convey;  but  we must  remember, of course, that Naagaarjuna  resisted any formulation that would turn  ultimate  truth  into the object  of a positive assertion.  This  account  of  the  relation  between ultimate  and conventional  truth is simple and seems to stay close to Naagaarjuna's didactic intent, which was  to  call  attention  to  the  inadequacies    and misconceptions hidden in conventional expressions and use them   as a vehicle  to realize  the emptiness   of things. Bhaavaviveka took a somewhat more complicated view of the matter.

As  we  have  seen,  Bhaavaviveka    was  inclined temperamentally   to  include    a  large  variety  of contemporary    views   and    practices   into   `his         Maadhyamika  system;  he also wanted to make room for the possibility of positive philosophical assertions. Both these  goals would have been hard to realize  if he had closely   followed  Naagaarjuna's  method, with its concentration  on conventional   truth  only  as a vehicle   for  the  expression    of  ultimate   truth. Bhaavaviveka needed a new form of interpretation, and he found it in a new grammatical analysis of the term paramaartha,   "ultimate   truth."    He   interpreted paramaartha  not  as ultimate  truth  itself  but  as knowledge   of ultimate  truth.[18] In is  way  he was able  to   change  paramaartha  from  the  content  of teaching, which Naagaarjuna discussed  purely in linguistic  terms, to a realm of experience  that  could  be severed  from vyavahaara,     conventional truth.  Paramaartha and vyavahaara could thus be separated  into two realms of existence, each of which had practices and doctrines appropriate only to it.  The two were still connected, but less in the lingustic  way   that  Naagaarjuna   outlined   in  the Vigrahavyaavartanii  than  in a temporal  and  causal way, representing  a slow progression   from one level to another along the stages of the bodhisattva  path. Bhaavaviveka   explains  this  process  in  the  third chapter of the Tarkajvaalaa.

[Vss.   10-11]  Ultimate  wisdom effects   the complete negation of the network of conceptual  thought and is motionless  moving in the clear sky of ultimate truth (tattva), which  is  peaceful, directly   experienced, without concepts  or letters, and free from unity and diversity.

[Vss.   12-13] It is impossible  to mount the pinnacle of  the  palace  of  truth  without   the  ladder  of conventional   truth.   For  this  reason,  the  mind, isolated   in conventional  truth, should become clear about the particular  and general characteristics  of things.[19]

Bhaavaviveka  did  not consider  the   process  of climbing through conventional truth to be either easy or  quick, as he says  in   his  commentary  on  these verses.  "It  is  impossible  to  climb  this  palace suddenly.   For  without  ascending   the  ladder  of conventional   knowledge for seven countless eons, the completion    of    the   perfections,   powers,    and         super-knowledges  is impossible."[20] Progress  along the path could be quite leisurely  and there was much time  along  the way to enjoy  the subtleties  of the conventional world.[21]

By separating paramaartha and vyavahaara into two different  realms  of experience   in this way, linked only  by  a  gradual  progress    along  the  path  to perfection, Bhaavaviveka  succeeded in the first part of his program.  He created a realm of experience  in which  he could  concentrate  on the subjects   of the conventional  world that caught his interest, without having  to  worry  at  every  moment  about  applying Naagaarjuna's critique.  That part of the Maadhyamika method  belonged  to the realm of ultimate  truth and could be postponed indefinitely  while one considered problems   in  the  mundane    realm.   Bhaavaviveka's fascination    with   this    realm    had   important consequences for historians of Indian philosophy; his diligence   in  collecting    the  details   of  other philosophical systems provided important evidence for the development  of some  of the Indian  schools.[22] But  what  was the  cost   of this  rehabilitation  of conventional   truth? Naagaarjuna achieved great power and   simplicity   in  his  philosophical   method   by treating  every question rigorously, as if it were an ultimate question. In doing this he showed that there were no areas of existence  that were not subject  to the corrosive effect of his critique. By separating a particular   realm   in  which   this  critique,  for  practical   purposes,   did  not  apply,  Bhaavaviveka appears   to have damaged  the unity  of Naagaarjuna's method and engaged  in a subtle absolutizing  process in which conventional truths are again established in their  own  right,  The  full  consequences  of  this process will not be seen until we  consider   the    efforts   by  Tso^n-kha-pa    and         Candrakiirti  to explore  its im-  plications, but at least  one problem  will be apparent  when we examine Bh~vavi-veka's treatment of his second philosophical concern, the  fashioning  of  positive  philosophical assertions.

We saw earlier that Bhaavaviveka  was troubled by the accusation that he, as a Maadhyamika philosopher, was  guilty  of vita.n.daa.   Now  that  we have  seen Bhaavaviveka's  method for separating  the two levels of   truth, we  are  in  a  position  to  examine  the justification  for  his  peculiar  response  to  this charge.   As we saw, Bhaavaviveka  responded by saying that he, in fact, did maintain a positive position of his own, namely, the emptiness of all things.  In the scheme of Bhaavaviveka's separation of the two levels of truth, this claim  would  be quite  reasonable  if confined  only to the first level;  for it was on the conventional   level   that  Bhaavaviveka   permitted himself the liberty of investigation into the maze of worldly knowledge.  The difficulty  is, however, that Bhaavaviveka  eventually  must  bring  himself, as  a Maadhyamika  philosopher, to discuss ultimate  truth. This presents him with a dilemma. Does he continue to make  his  positive  assertions  into  the  realm  of ultimate, nonconceptual knowledge, or does he confine his assertions  to the conventional   realm  and again risk the charge  of being guilty   of vita.n.daa--this time  on the matters  of greatest  importance  to his philosophical   school?  If  we  look   in  both   of Bhaavaviveka's  major  works,  the  Tarkajvaalaa   and Praj~naapradiipa, we  find  that  he  takes  a rather ambivalent position on this question.

In  the  Praj~naapradiipa,   he  was   writing    a commentary on Naagaarjuna's  root text, and this fact alone  seems to have restrained  Bhaavaviveka  in his treatment   of assertions  at the ultimate level.  The particular  passage of interest   on this point is the commentary   on  verse  18: 9  in  which  Naagaarjuna purports  to give a "definition"  of ultimate  truth.        Bhaavaviveka  uses  this  as  an opportunity  to deal again with the question of vita.n.daa.

[Objection:] If you  think  that  ultimate  truth (tattva) can be realized by completely  rejecting the intrinsic  nature of things which others conceptually construct, then you must  state  a definition  of it. Otherwise you are refuting someone's position without establishing your own; and that is vita.n.daa.

[Reply:] If the definition  of ultimate truth can be expressed, it should  be expressed.   But it is not an object  to be expressed  (abhidheya).  However, in order   to give  confidence  to  those  who  are  just beginning,   the  following   is  said  in  terms   of conceptual, discriminative knowledge.

[Vs.    18:  9]  Not  caused  by  anything   else, peaceful,  not   expressed   by    verbal   diversity, non-conceptual, not diverse  in meaning this  is the definition of ultimate truth (tattva).

[Commentary]  Since  it  is non-conceptual, it is not  expressed  by verbal  diversity.  Since  it  not expressed by verbal diversity, it is in the sphere of non-conceptual  knowledge.  Since it is in the sphere of non-conceptual knowledge, it is not known by means of anything  else.  Words  do not apply   to something that is not known by means of anything else. For this reason,  the  nature  of  ultimate  truth  completely surpasses  words.  It  cannot  be  an  object  to  be expressed, but the statement  which negates   both the intrinsic nature and the specific characteristics  of all things   can make known  the nature  of ultimate truth.   It [the statement]  is produced by a    superimposition  of syllables  which  conform  to the nonconceptual  knowledge  produced  by the method  of non-production.   Therefore,   since  ultimate  truth which  is actually  directly  known (svasamvedya), is taught    here     in    an    expedient    way     way (upaaya-dvaare.na) ,  we  do,  in  fact,  express   a definition   of ultimate  truth.  Thus  we are  not guilty   of vita.n.daa, and your  criticism  does  not apply.[23]

Here,   with   some   equivocation,   Bhaavaviveka manages to stay close to Naagaarjuna.  He admits that ultimate truth (tattva) cannot be directly expressed, but he says that one can, as an expedient, appear to give  a definition  of it.  This, in his  opinion, is enough to rebut the charge of vita.n.daa.

In the third  chapter  of the Tarkajvaalaa, where he  lays   out  his  own  independent   philosophical position, Bhaavaviveka  allows  himself  more liberty with   Naagaarjuna's   method.   In  this  chapter  he formulates  some of the more characteristic  elements of  his  own  technique  by considering   a series  of objections    to    a   syllogism    of     the    type (svarantra-anuma~na)  for   which    his   school   of Maadhyamika  Svaatantrika   is named.  The example  he uses is a syllogism  denying the intrinsic  nature of the gross elements. We can formulate the syllogism in four steps:

        (1) earth, and so on.
        (2) do not have  the  intrinsic  nature  of elements, from the point of view of  ultimate    truth (paramaarthata.h),
        (3) because they are produced,
        (4) like consciousness.

Steps    1  and   2    constitute   the   assertion (pratij~na) which Bhaavaviveka  uses to deal with the accusation  that he is guilty   of vita.n.da.  Step 2, however, raises another  difficult  question.  As the syllogism  is formulated  in this  example, the  conclusion   belongs  not  to the  realm  of conventional truth, where  words and concepts   are appropriate, but to the realm  of ultimate  truth.  How, then, can Bhaavaviveka  allow  himself  to carry  on conceptual thought  in the ultimate  realm? He deals   with  this problem in the following surprising way:

[Objection:   ]   Paramaartha    transcends    all [conceptual] thought. and a negation of the intrinsic nature  of things is in the domain  of language.  For this reason your negation fails.

[Reply:] Paramaartha occurs in two forms.  One of them is free   from  volition, transcendent, pure, and free from verbal diversity.  The other is volitional, accords with the accumulation of knowledge and merit, clear, and possessed of the verbal diversity known as "worldly knowledge."[24]

Bhaavaviveka's   interpretation   of    the   word paramaartha allows him to do something that he did not   permit  himself  with  the  word  tattva  in the         passage   just quoted  from  the Praj~naapradiipa.  He interprets    paramaartha   as   a  compound   meaning "knowledge  of  ultimate  truth."   This  allowed  him earlier  to  separate  it  from  the  experience    of conventional truth; here it allows him to separate it into two different  levels of experience  of the same thing.   One level is free from verbal diversity;   the other is not. In this way, Bhaavaviveka can maintain that,  while  ultimate  truth  (tattva) is  one,   the knowledge of ultimate truth (paramaartha) is not. The resulting distinction  in levels of experience allows him to carry on positive  philosophical  activity  at the "ultimate"  level without   being concerned  about the  fact  that  such  activity  involves  words  and concepts.    Bhaavaviveka's   analysis   of  the  word paramaartha   is thus a powerful  tool in allowing him to  carry  out  his  philosophical   program.  He  can maintain   nominal  adherence  to the written   text of Naagaarjuna's  Kaarikaas  and still permit himself to make  positive  philosophical  assertions   up to  and  within the realm of ultimate truth.

Bhaavaviveka   can  claim  a  certain  amount  of success  in   adapting  Naagaarjuna's  method  to  the  requirements of his own philosophical milieu. He gave up   Naagaarjuna's   prohibition    against   positive assertions, but he might  well claim  that this was a minor   sacrifice    made   to  keep   the   rest    of Naagaarjuna's critique intact. A more damaging charge against  Bhaavaviveka.   however,  might  be  that  he violated  the  serious  and  fundamental  prohibition against  attributing  intrinsic  nature either to the words of a statement  or to the things   to which they refer.   Bhaavaviveka  did  not  discuss  this  point explicitly    in  either   the  Tarkajvaalaa   or  the Praj~naapradiipa  on anything other than the ultimate level;  perhaps  he was not aware that it would be an issue. In any case, it is sufficient for our purposes in tracing the development  of the early theories  of language  to know that a substantial  portion  of the Maadhyamika    tradition   did  consider  Bhaavaviveka guilty of this more serious charge.  Candrakiirti and

Tso^n-kha-pa   both    felt   that,  by   establishing conventional   truth   as    an   independent   realm, Bhaavaviveka  had violated the most fundamental point of Naagaarjuna's  method he had refuted  intrinsic nature   on the  ultimate  level, only  to let it back into  his  account  of language  on the  conventional level.

In sorting out Candrakiirti's  arguments  against Bhaavaviveka's  view  of language, we are   critically dependent  on Tso^n-kha-pa's  analysis  of the issues between   them.    In   the   key    passage   in   the Prasannapadaa,  where   he   attacks    the   use   of svalak.sa.na   or    "intrinsic   identity"   on    the conventional  level, Candrakiirti   fails  to identify his opponent.  This has led Western  interpreters   to the quite  reasonable  supposition  that the opponent

Candrakiirti  had in mind  was  not Bhaavaviveka, who does  not  explicitly   develop   svalak.sa.na   as  a substratum   for his use of language, but the Buddhist logicians  who  do.[25] In the  Legs-b`sad-s~ni^n-po, however, Tso^n-kha-pa  argues on the basis of certain passages  in the Praj~naapradiipa  that  Bhaavaviveka made  a  tacit  assumption  of  svalak.sa.na   on  the       conventional leve1.[26] Candrakiirti actually attacks the common  idea that language  requires  a realistic basis in the world to function effectively.  It would not be unreasonable  to assume  that the argument  is meant  to oppose  any  Buddhist  who  thinks  he  can analyze language on a conventional level and find any more substantial  reality  behind  it than he does at the ultimate level.  That way of thinking is normally associated  in Buddhist philosophy  with schools like the  Vaibhaa.sikas   or  logicians  who  attempted  in varying degrees to  give  a  realistic account of  language,  but Bhaavaviveka  evidently  slipped into this pattern as well when he distinguished so sharply between the two levels of truth. On the ultimate level, he maintained the emptiness  of all  things although, as we have seen, he still  permitted  himself  some  freedom  in making ultimate   assertions but  on the conventional level he allowed language  to function  in the manner accepted by the other schools.  Tso^n-kha-pa explains how widespread he thought this pattern to be.

What   way of thinking  assumes  that  things  are established by intrinsic nature (svalak.sana)? First, let us speak of the method of the philosophers. In an expression   like, "Ths person performed an action and experienced the result," they investigate the meaning of the term "person" (pudgala) by asking whether this person  is the same  as his aggregates   (skandhas) or different.  In either case, whether he is the same or different, they   can  establish  the  person  as  the accumulator  of karma, and so forth.  If he cannot be established  as either one, then they are not content with "person"  as a mere  term.  In ths way, when the person is established  by an investigation  into that to which  the term refers, the person  is established by intrinsic identity. All Buddhist philosophers from Vaibhaa.sikas to Svaatantrikas hold this view.[27]

The issue between Candrakiirti  and Bhaavaviveka, then, as  Tso^n-kha-pa   sees  it, is  whether  it  is necessary   to  reintroduce  an  element  of  semantic realism into the conventional realm to anchor the use of  language.  Candrakiirti   contends  that  this  is impossible.

The   argument   between   Candrakiirti    and  the semantic  realists, among whom Tso^n-kha-pa  includes Bhaavaviveka, hinges on whether  it is acceptable   in conventional  usage  to make statements   involving  a svalak.sa.na  or "intrinsic   identity" underlying the ordinary   use  of language.  Candrakiirti   starts  by having the opponent  cite examples   in an attempt  to claim conventional  justification   for statements  of this sort.  The opponent says that a statement of the form, "Hardness  is the intrinsic identity of earth,"

is acceptable, even though the intrinsic  identity is identical with the earth, because similar expressions are part of conventional usage.  For example, one can say, "the body of a statue"   or "the  head of Raahu," when  the body is no different  from  the statue, and  Raahu, a demon who has no body, is no different  from his head.  Candrakiirti   puts the opponent's argument this way:

Even   so,  even  though  there  is  no  qualifier (vi`se.sa.na) apart from the body and head [which are qualified]  in the cases, "body of a statue" or "head of Raahu," there is still a relationship of qualifier and  qualified.  Similarly,  we  can  say  "intrinsic identity  of earth"   even  though  there  is no earth apart from its intrinsic identity.

Candrakiirti replies:

This   is  not  so,  because  the  cases  are  not similar.  When the words "body"  and "head"  normally occur   in  grammatical   connection    with  companion entities   like "hand" or "mind," the thought produced on the basis of the words "body" and  "head"  alone  carries  an  expectation  of  the companion  entities  in the  form, "Whose  body?" and "Whose head?" Then it is reasonable for someone else, who wants to rule out a connection  with a qualifier, to deny such an expectation  by using  the qualifiers "statue" and "Raahu" in a conventional way.  But when earth    is   impossible   apart    from   hardness,  a relationship    of    qualifier   and   qualified    is impossible....  Furthermore, the terms  "statue"  and "Raahu," which are the qualifiers, actually  exist as part of conventional  usage, and are accepted without analysis,  as in the    conventional   designation "person." Therefore your example is incorrect.[28]

There   are actually  two  arguments  here, one of which   is  somewhat    stronger   than   the    other. Candrakiirti  says  first  that  it is acceptable   to qualify  one word with a word that refers to the same thing  only when there  is some possibility  of doubt about the fact that they are identical.  There can be no doubt, however, that the intrinsic identity is the same as the earth;  they are the same  by definition. To  say  "intrinsic  identity  of earth," then, is to violate conventional  usage by using the two terms in a grammatical  connection that is appropriate only if there is the possibility that they refer to different things.  The  second  argument  is stronger.  In this Candrakiirti  says simply  that "intrinsic  identity" itself  is an unacceptable   term.  It is  a technical term masquerading as an ordinary word, and it is thus unacceptable  as part  of conventional   usage  in any grammatical connection at all.

Candrakiirti's   argument   is  most  interesting, perhaps, when  he gives  his own account  of the  way language   functions  on the  conventional   level.  He insists, as Naagaarjuna did, that he does not attempt to destroy the structure  of ordinary  language, as a semantic   realist    might   suppose,  but  only   to reestablish   language on the proper grounds, that is, on pure convention. Candrakiirti outlines this theory in  a reply  to the  further  objection  that, if his argument   is correct, the expression  "head of Raahu" can actually  be no more  acceptable  than "intrinsic identity  of earth," since, in both  cases, when  the objects   referred  are analyzed, they are found to be identical.   His  reply   is  that   the  matter    of "analysis" (vicaara) is precisely what distinguishes ultimate from conventional truth.  Conventional truth is only established unanalytically. When conventional terms are examined to find their true reference, they are no longer used conventionally.  He explains  this in the following passage:

[Objection:] The examples  are correct, because  only the body [of the statue]  and the head [of Raahu] are actually  cognized, since   no  other  entities  exist apart from them.

[Reply:] This is not the case; for such analysis  is not  carried  out in conventional  usage, and without such analysis, conventional entities exist.  When the aatman is analyzed as to whether it is different from [or the same  as]  matter, etc., it is not  possible. But it does exist  conventionally   (loka-sa.mv.rtyaa) with reference  to the skandhas.  The same is true of Raahu  and  the  statue:  Thus  the  example  is  not established.  Likewise, in the  case  of earth, etc.,  after analysis, there is nothing to be qualified that is  different  from  hardness, etc.  [which   are  the qualifiers], and a qualifier  without something to be qualified  is groundless.   Even so, the masters  have maintained that they exist in mutual dependence(parasparaapek.saa  siddhi.h) as purely conventional. This must be accepted  in just  this way.  Otherwise, the   conventional    could     not   reasonably    be distinguished.   It  would  become    ultimate   truth (tattva), not conventional.[29] The last few lines of this passage  show what, in Tso^n-kha-pa's  view, was the real   point  of dispute between Candrakiirti and Bhaavaviveka.  On one level, it is a dispute  over language, but one does not have to go far beneath the surface to find the troublesome issue   of two levels  of truth.  Candrakiirti   argues here  that  the attempt  to establish  an independent conventional  realm, in which it is possible to carry out constructive philosophical  reasoning, involves a misunderstanding  of the distinction   between the two levels.   To  give   substantial   reality    to   the conventional  level, even with the laudable intention of promoting  philosophical  debate, was to transform it  into   a  false   ultimate.   It  was   also    to misunderstand  the  point  of  the  discussion  about language.   To Candrakiirti it was unnecessary to find some substantial  reality  to which words could refer to acquire their meaning.  It was necessary only that they be used the way they are.   Whatever meaning they had was acquired   by a process  of mutual  dependence (parasparaapek.saa  siddhi), with one word  depending for its meaning  on the network   of those  that  were used before it. In Candrakiirti's view, the move that Bhaavaviveka  made on the conventional  level was the one that led other Indian philosophers  into trouble.

It was an attempt  to make  the  technical  terms  of philosophy into more than conceptual constructions. The   development  of the  different  accounts  of language  in  early  Maadhyamika   philosophy    is  a complicated   process,   involving  steps  over  which individual  philosophers  often  strongly  disagreed. Rather   than be deterred  by this diversity, however, we should accept it as a challenge to greater efforts of understanding. There are still formidable problems to be solved  by both historians   and comparativists. The peculiar  methods  of Bhaavaviveka, for instance, need  much  more  thorough    study   before   we  can accurately  assess his relation  to Candrakiirti   and the Praasa^ngika school that has so dominated Western interpretations of Maadhyamika.     Maadhyamika philosophy  was not monolithic. A greater historical       sophistication   in  understanding   the  differences between  philosophers  is  an essential  element, not only  in understanding   the philosophers  themselves, but in developing  true conceptual   precision  in the act of comparison.



1. This article  is the revised   version  of a paper first presented  at a workshop  of the Society for Asian and Comparative  Philosophy  of the American Philosophical  Association,   Boston, December  28,1976.

2. Two particularly  useful examples   of this kind of study are: Jacques May, "La philosophie bouddhique de   la    vacuite,  "   Studia    Philosophica   18 (1958):123-137;  Jan de Jong, "The Problem  of the Absolute   in the Madhyamaka  School."  Journal  of Indian Philosophy 2 (1972): 1-6.

3.  My use of the phrase "early  Maadhyamika"  is, of course, somewhat  arbitrary.  In this  article, I will use it to refer  to the period   in which the major differences  between  competing  subschools were   first  formulated.  This covers  the period from  the  time  of  Naagaarjuna  in  the  second century A.D. to Candrakiirti in the late sixth or early seventh.

4.  The bibliography  of Western  translations   of the works  of Naagaarjuna  and  Candrakiirti  is well known and need not be recited here. The available works   of  Buddhapaalita   and  Bhaavaviveka  are perhaps less well known. A partial translation of chapter  2   of  Buddhapaalita's   commentary    on Naagaarjuna's  Madhyamakakaarikaas   is  available in,    Musashi     Tachikawa,    "A    Study     of Buddhapaalita's   Muulamaadhyamakv.rtti,  (1) ." Bulletin  of  the  Faculty  of Letters  of Nagoya University   63  (1974) : 1-19.   Chapter   1  of Bhaavaviveka's Praj~naapradiipa  is available in, Yuichi Kajiyama,          Bhaavaviveka's Praj~naapradiipa.   (1.    Kapitel)  ,  "    Wiener Zeitschrift  fur die Kunde Sud-  und Ostasiens  7 (1963):37-62 and 8 (1964): 100-130.  Portions  of Bhaavaviveka's       Maadhyamakah.rydayakaarikaas (verses) and Tarkajvaalaa  (commentary) have been translated in, V. V. Gokhale, "The Second Chapter of Bhavya's Maadhyamakah.rdaya (Taking the Vow of an  Ascetic)," Indo-Iranian  Journal  14  (1972): 40-45: V.  V. Gokhale, "Masters of Buddhism Adore the  Brahman   Through    Nonadoration'   (Bhavya, Madhyamakah.rdaya, III)," Indo-lranian  Journal 5 (1961-1962) :  271-275;  V.   V.   Gokhale,   "The Vedaanta  Philosophy  Described  by Bhavya in His Madhyamakah.rdaya, "   Indo-Iranian   Journal    2 (1958): 165-180; Andre Bareau, "Trois traites sur les  sectes  bouddhiques,  He  partie."   Journal Asiatique   244 (1950):167-199;  Shotaro  Iida, An Introduction    to    Svaatantrika    Maadhyamika, University of Wisconsin Ph.D.  dissertation  (Ann Arbor,   Mich.: University  Microfilms,  1968); hereafter cited as Iida, dissertation.

5.  See  particularly Naagaarjuna's Maadhyamakakaarikaas  24: 8-101 found in Louis de la Vallee Poussin, ed., Muulamaadhyamakakaarikaas (Madhyamaka   Suutras)  de  Naagaarjuna  avec  la Prasannapadaa    Commentaire   de    Candrakiirti, Bibliotheca  Buddhica, vol.  4   (St.  Petersburg, 1913) ,   pp.    492-494;   hereafter   cited    as Prasannapadaa.

6.  E.  H.  Johnston  and  Arnold  Kunst, eds.,   "The Vigrahavyaavartanii   of  Naagaarjuna    with  the Author's   Commentary, "  Melanges    chinois   et bouddhique 9 (1948-1952):108; hereafter cited as Vigrahavyaavartani.

7.Vigrahavyaavartanii,   p.  108  (translations   are mine unless otherwise noted).

8.  Vigrahavyaavartanii, p. 115.

9.  Vigrahavyaavartanii, p. 122.

10.   Vigrahavyaavartanii, p. 127.

11. Vigrahavyaavartanii, pp. 145-147.

12. Iida, dissertation, p. 86.

13. Nyaaya-suutra 1.2.3: sa pratipak.sa-.sthaapanaahino vita.n.daa. The text of this suutra with commentaries  can be found in Anantalal Thakur, ed., Nyaayadar`sana of Gautama, Mithila Institute  Series, Ancient  Text No.  20, vol. 1 (Darbhanga, 1967), p.  628. There has been disagreement  over whether the Maadhyamikas  were  actually  accused  of  vita.n.daa.  In  a  recent article   ("Maadhyamika  et Vaita.n.dika," Journal Asiatique   263   [1975]:   99-102) ,   Kamaleswar Bhattacharya  argues  that Maadhyamikas   were not guilty   of  vita.n.daa  according  to the  strict definition  of  the  term  given  by  the  Nyaaya commentators.    Uddyotakaara,   for     instance, explains  that vita.n.daa  means  the absence  of proof  (sthaapanaa) of  a counterposition   rather than absence  of the counterposition  itself.  In his  replies  to the  accusation  of  vita.n.daa, however,  Bhaavaviveka   does  not  differentiate between sthaapanaa and pratipak.sa  in the subtle manner  favored  by the  later   commentators.  He thought the charge sufficiently applicable to his Maadhyamika method to require serious refutation.

14. See notes 15 and 23 herein.

15. Tibetan   text in Iida, dissertation, pp.  109-110 (translation mine unless otherwise noted).

16.   Vigrahavyaavartani, p. 127.

17. Giuseppe Tucci, "The Ratnaavalii of Naagaarjuna," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, (1934).

18. Bhaavaviveka  gives his grammatical  analysis  of the term paramaartha in both the Tarkajvaalaa and the   Praj~naapradiipa.  The  appropriate  passage from   the  Tarkajvaalaa  is  available  in  Iida, dissertation, pp.  101-102.  The  following  is a translation of a similar analysis from chapter 24 of  the  Praj~naapradiipa.   "Paramaartha  is  the 'supreme object' [karmadhaaraya compound] because it  is   both  supreme   (parama)   and  an  object (artha).   Or it is the  `object  of the  supreme' [tatpuru.sa compound] because it is the object of supreme, non-conceptual knowledge.  It is defined as `not realizable through anything  else.' Because   paramaartha  is true, it is `ultimate truth' (paramaartha-satya), and  it always, in every  way, remains  the same. Non-conceptual knowledge, which possesses that as its  object  by the  method  of having  no object (vi.sayaabhaavanayena) ,  is   also    paramaartha because  it is `that  whose   object  is ultimate' [bahuvriihi  compound]."   Tibetan text in Daisetz T.  Suzuki,  ed., The  Tibetan  Tripitaka: Peking Edition (Tokyo-Kyoto: Tibetan Tripitaka  Research Institute, 1957), vol.  95, p.  246   (folio  Tsha

286a-b); hereafter cited as Peking Tripitaka.

19. Sanskrit text in Iida, dissertation, pp. 82-83.

20. Tibetan text in Iida, dissertation, p. 84.

21. As Bhavaviveka explains in the Tarkajvaalaa, these subtleties  included: "grammar (ak.sara`saastra), palmistry  (mudraa), alchemy (?), medical science (cikitsaa) ,   arithmetic    (ga.nanaa) ,   charms (mantra) ,  spells   (vidyaa) ,    etc."   (Iida's translation, dissertation, p. 86).

22. This   is particularly  true  for  Vedaanta, where little  other  evidence  is available  from   this early  period, and for  the eighteen   schools  of Nikaaya  Buddhism.  See  V.   V.   Gokhale,   "The Vedaanta  Philosophy  Described  by Bhavya in His Madhyamakah.rdaya, "   Indo-Iranian   Journal    2 (1958): 165-180; Andre Bareau, "Trois traites sur les  sectes  bouddhiques,  IIe partie, "   Journal Asiatique 244 (1950):167-199.

23. Peking   Tripitaka, vol.  95, p.  227 (folio  Tsha 237a-b).

24. Tibetan text in Iida, dissertation, pp. 107-108.

25. Th.   Stcherbatsky,  The  Conception  of  Buddhist Nirvaa.na (Leningrad, 1927), pp. 149-156.

26. Tso^n-kha-pa,     Dra^n-^nes-legs-b`sad-s~ni^n-po (Varanasi: Gelugpa Students'  Welfare  Committee,1973). In all my observations about Tso^n-kha-pa, I am indebted to Acarya T.  T.  Doboom Tulku, who first  read this text   with  me, and to Professor Robert A.  F.   Thurman, who kindly made available his unpublished translation.

27. Legs-b`sad-s~ni^n-po, p. 143.

28. Prasannapadaa, p. 66.

29. Prasannapadaa, p. 67.

Transcribed for Buddhism Today by Bhikkhuni Lien Hoa


Updated: 15-1-2001

Return to "Buddhist Philosophy"

Top of Page