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Resurrecting Candrakirti

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Item Code: NAP487
Publisher: Wisdom Publications
Language: English
Edition: 2009
ISBN: 9780861715206
Pages: 303
Other Details 9.00 X 6.00 inch
Weight 400 gm
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Book Description
About The book

The Seventh-Century Indian master Candrakirti lived a life of relative obscurity, only to have his thoughts and writings rejuvenated during the Tibetan transmission of Buddhism. Since then, Candrakirti has been celebrated as offering the most thorough and accurate vision of Nagarjuna's view of emptiness which, in turn, most fully represents the final truth of the Buddha's teaching. Candrakirti's emptiness denies the existence of any "nature:' or substantial, enduring essence in ourselves or in the phenomenal world while avoiding the extreme view of nihilism. In this view, our false belief in nature is at the root of our ignorance and is the basis for all mental and emotional pain and disturbance. For many Tibetan scholars, only Candrakirti's Middle Way entirely overcomes our false belief in inherent identity and, consequently, alone overcomes ignorance, delivering freedom from the cycle of uncontrolled death and rebirth known as samsara.

Candrakirti's writings have formed the basis for Madhyamaka study in all major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. In Resurrecting Candrakirti, Kevin Vose presents the reader with a thorough presentation of Candrakirti's rise to prominence and the further elaborations the Tibetans have made on his presentation of emptiness. By splitting Madhyamaka into two sub-schools, namely the Svatantrika and Prasangika, the Tibetans became pioneers in understanding reality, and created a new way to define dif-ferences in interpretation. Resurrecting Candrakirti provides the historical and philosophical context necessary to understand both Madhyamaka and its importance to Tibetan Buddhist thought.

About The Author

KEVIN VOSE is a professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. He received his Ph.D. in Buddhist Studies from the University of Virginia, where he received an American Institute of Indian Studies fellowship to study with Tibetan scholars in India. His research examines the interplay of late-Indian and early-Tibetan Madhyamaka and the formation of Tibetan scholasticism.


Among The Most commonly held tenets of the Buddhist religion s the view that human suffering, indeed, the suffering of all sentient beings, arises due to delusion. A great deal of Buddhist training, then, is aimed at refining one's mind to overcome the fundamental misconceptions concerning ourselves, others, and the world around us that, in this view, characterize existence in samsara. The centrality of human intellect in both suffering and liberation poses several crucial questions that many Buddhists across time and place have attempted to resolve: If fundamentally flawed, what value can the mind have in freeing us from suffering? Can the mind, imbued with delusion, have any knowledge of that state beyond suffering, nirvana? Does enlightened mind bear any resemblance to our present delusional mind? How does nirvana relate to the world of suffering in which we now live?

While competing camps of Buddhist philosophies have construed these issues variously, two Indian schools of thought came to dominate Tibetan Buddhist presentations of knowledge, transformation, and enlightenment. The Epistemological tradition stemming from Dignaga and Dharmakirti provided Tibetans with a system of distinguishing falsehood from "valid cognition" (pramana, thsad ma), a system that privileged direct experience over conceptual thought as the pre-eminent means to know reality. Various types of perception (pratyaksa, mngon sum) and inference (anumana, rjes dpag) produced valid knowledge of both the mundane world and its final nature. While Tibetans utilized Dharmakirti's work to differentiate knowledge from delusion, the ultimate object of transformative knowledge came from a very different source. From the early introduction of Buddhism to Tibet, Nagarjuna's Middle Way School championed emptiness (sunyata, stong pa nyid) as the final nature of reality, knowledge of which alone over-comes our ignorant belief in an existing self and yields liberation from suffering. While for many English readers, "emptiness" would seem to connote a vacuous eradication of all that exists, many Tibetan scholars understood Nagarjuna's emptiness to be fully compatible with Dharmakirti's "founda-tionalist" epistemology.' Wedding these two approaches became the formula for transformation, as one rode "the yoked necks of the lions of the Middle Way and Epistemology"' in order to make the passage out of ignorance and suffering to wisdom and nirvana.

Of foremost importance in Tibetan presentations of emptiness is the seventh-century Indian Candrakirti, whose writings form the basis for studying the Middle Way in many Tibetan monasteries. Candrakirti is celebrated as offering the most thorough and accurate vision of Nagarjuna's emptiness, which, in turn, most fully represents the final truth of the Buddha's teaching. Candrakirti's idea of emptiness denies any existence to "nature" (svabhava, rang bzhin), rejecting any enduring essence in ourselves or anywhere in the phenomenal world. In this view, our false belief in natures is at the root of our ignorance and the basis for all manner of emotional turbulence. For many Tibetan scholars, only Candrakirti's Middle Way entirely overcomes our false belief in natures and, consequently, alone overcomes ignorance and proffers freedom from cyclic existence.

Candrakirti frequently appears in Tibetan presentations of the Mid-dle Way alongside Bhavaviveka (c. 500-570), whose own version of emptiness followed Nagarjuna's insights on the whole but, some maintain, failed to overcome all traces of belief in natures. Bhavaviveka, according to some interpretations, held that no nature could be found anywhere, ultimately, but that conventionally the notion of natures proved quite useful in explaining the everyday world. Candrakirti argued in his Clear Words (Prasannapada) against Bhavaviveka, despite their many commonalities as followers of Nagarjuna. Candrakirti's argument served as proof for many in Tibet that Candrakirti's emptiness was the final explanation of reality, uniquely complete, and singularly capable of yielding liberation.

Candrakirti's critique of Bhavaviveka also formed the locus classicus for dividing the Middle Way into two camps, based on allegiance to or the-matic similarity with the views of Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka. From an early period of the transmission of Buddhism, Tibetan scholars developed the genre of doxography (grub mtha; siddhanta) that, similar to Latinate compilations of Greek philosophers, organized important figures into perceived systems of thought. While Indian Buddhist authors composed similar texts, Tibetan doxographies uniquely divided the Middle Way into subschools centered round Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka.; In Tibetan estimations, Candrakirti's subschool, Prasangika, consistently ranks ahead of Bhavaviveka's Svatantrika subschool at the pinnacle of all Buddhist view-points. Candrakirti's unique view of emptiness accounts, in some interpretations, for his top ranking.

Additionally, Candrakirti is lauded for his method of proving or ascertaining emptiness. Indeed, Prasagika takes its name from a logical method employed by Candrakirti, that of prasanga, "consequence," in which one points out absurd and unwanted consequences of an opposing view in order to demonstrate that the view is untenable. While the precise rationale for the compatibility of prasanga reasoning with the ontology of emptiness has frequently been debated, Tibetan scholars nearly unanimously agreed that the Prasangika ("Consequentialist") method was ideally suited to a world that was, in the end, empty.

In contradistinction, Bhavaviveka favored proving the validity of his own Middle Way position by means of formal inferences accepted in "one's own [mental] continuum" (svatantra), a position indebted to the logic of Dignaga and that warranted his brand of the Middle Way the appellation Svatantrika ("one who uses svatantra inference," or "Own Continuumist"). Despite Bhavaviveka's overt courting of the Buddhist Epistemological tradition, many Tibetans believed that Candrakirti and his Prasangika followers offered a more refined presentation of the processes by which one gains a reasoned understanding of emptiness than Svatantrika. Bhavaviveka's reliance on formal inference reveals, at best, an "addiction to logic" (as Candrakirti put it) or, at worst, a false belief in essences. Candrakirti's superiority lies, in some presentations, in both his understanding of emptiness and in his method of moving beyond ignorance to realize it.

Implicit in Tibetan doxography, and in a wealth of Tibetan doctrinal literature, is the generative and authoritative position of Buddhist India. For Tibetans, India remains the hallmark of authenticity for both literature and doctrine. Inclusion of a text in the Tibetan Buddhist canon, for example, was allowed only for Tibetan translations for which an Indian original could be accounted. The reach of Buddhist India's authority extends to presentations of the Middle Way such that Tibetan scholars maintain that Candrakirti's superiority was affected in his own lifetime, in India, where he vanquished all competing Buddhist schools. Tibetan estimates of Candrakirti's supremacy could be seen as a simple reflection of Indian Buddhists' own preferences.

However, the Indian textual record complicates Tibetan presentations of the Middle Way. The very notion that Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka formed separate schools of the Middle Way is dubious. While it is beyond doubt that Candrakirti took exception with Bhavaviveka's insistence on formal inference, the superiority of Candrakirti's views was not at all apparent to Buddhists of his day. As I argue in chapter I, Indians took little notice of Candrakirti's texts during his lifetime and in the three centuries following his death. Meanwhile, the mainstream of Middle Way thinking grew even closer to the logical program of Dignaga and Dharmakirti than Bhavaviveka's thought had been. The most successful Middle Way scholars of the eighth century were Santaraksita and Kamalasila, whose blend of the Epistemological and Middle Way traditions strongly diverge from Candrakirti's work. The discrepancy between Indian evidence and later Tibetan presentations becomes more pronounced when we recognize that Santaraksita and Kamalaila were instrumental in establishing Middle Wav scholarship in Tibet during the first promulgation of Buddhism across the Himalayas in the eighth century. Their brand of the Middle Way held pride of place in Tibetan doxographies of the eighth through eleventh centuries.

The question, then, is how did Candrakirti come to be the Buddhist paragon of Tibet? And how did his views on emptiness come to be "yoked" with the Buddhist Epistemological tradition in order to form the dominant soteriological model for Tibetan monasticism? This book examines the rise and trans-figuration of Candrakirti, centuries after his death, from a marginally known, conservative commentator on Nagarjuna to the darling of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. Chapters 1 and 2. trace the historical ascent of Candrakirti first in eleventh-century India and then in twelfth-century Tibet, showing that the shifting currents of late Indian Buddhism offered him his first glimpse of renown while the fractious and competitive world of the Tibetan "renaissance" provided him for the first time with a school of thought. The remaining chapters explore the philosophical issues that Candrakirti's writings illuminated in this formative period of Tibetan Buddhism. By examining Candrakirti's rise—over three hundred years after his death—this book takes strides toward explaining how and why Indian and Tibetan Buddhists revived Candrakirti's major texts and reworked them over the centuries into Tibet's doctrine of choice. In short, this is an investigation into how Tibetan Buddhist doctrine took the shape that we recognize today.

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