The Maadhyamika attack on essentialism: A critical appraisal

The Maadhyamika attack on essentialism: A critical appraisal

G. C. Nayak

Philosophy East and West 29, no. 4, October 1979.

(c) by The University Press of Hawaii.

p. 477-490

P.477 Maadhyamika thought presents to us the essence of Buddhist philosophy; however, Madhyamika is as difficult to comprehend as the teachings of Buddha himself as they are revealed to us in various early Buddhist literatures. Maadhyamika philosophy has also been misunderstood throughout the ages because of its critical attitude, which is unparalleled in the history of philosophy, Indian as well as Western. It has often been mistaken as monism, absolutism, nihilism or even as mere, vita.n.daa or wrangling. It is a deplorable but perhaps a natural and inevitable fate of all great thinkers that their thought is misinterpreted and misunderstood both by their opponents and their professed followers. I will venture to put forward my own understanding of what Maadhyamika philosophy really stands for, and although I cannot claim perfection for my understanding I will submit for consideration an approach to this unique philosophy. After much consideration I have found that the present approach alone makes Buddhist philosophy in general and Maadhyamika in particular intelligible and consistent vis-a-vis its misdirected followers as well as opponents at whose hands it has very often been misrepresented. I. THE CENTRAL THEME OF 'SUUNYATAA First, I will take for examination the general contention of the Hindu orthodox thinkers that Maadhyamika philosophy is out and out nihilistic. This contention seems to find some justification in the term 'Suunya, (literally meaning "void") used by the Maadhyamikas, as well as in the negative dialectic of Naagaarjuna. In the latter there appears to be a deliberate effort to eradicate the entire conceptual scheme which we employ for communication with each other or for the evaluation of human conduct and the ideals for which we strive. 'Void' seems to be the last word in Maadhyamika philosophy; everything including pratiityasamutpaada (doctrine of dependent origination) and madhyamaa pratipat (middle path)is identified with 'Suunya or void as it is popularly understood. It is thus quite in keeping with the situation that 'Sa^nkara, the arch opponent of Buddhism, feels no scruple whatsoever in rejecting Maadhyamika philosophy outright by declaring that such a doctrine which is invalidated by all means of valid knowledge is not even worthy of refutation.(1) Madhva, another AAcaarya of the Hindu tradition and a great opponent of 'Sa^nkara, takes 'Sa^nkara to task on the ground that 'Sa^nkara's "Brahman" is as good as the 'suunya of the 'Suunyavaadins, (2) meaning thereby that 'Sa^nkara's Advaita philosophy is, as a matter of fact, indistinguishable from the void-doctrine or nihilism of Naagaarjuna. All these AAcaaryas, howsoever opposed they may be toward each other, have at least one point in p.478 common and it is that Maadhyamika philosophy is nothing but nihilism. And this conception of Maadhyamika has come to prevail inspite of repeated warnings by Naagaarjuna and his illustrious commentator Candrakiirti not to take 'suunva in its literal sense of "void." Naagaarjuna, for example, explicitly points out that one should neither call Reality 'suunya (void) nor should one call it a'suunya (nonvoid), it is also incorrect to call Reality both 'suunya and a'suunya or neither 'suunya or a'suunya; it is called 'suunya only for the purposes of communication.(3) Aryadeva in his Catu.hsataka points out that his philosophy cannot be refuted even if one tries hard to refute it inasmuch as it has no thesis of its own, neither affirmative nor negative nor both. Similarly Naagaarjuna in his Vigrahavyaavartanii explains his stand thus: "If I have a thesis of my own to prove then I may commit mistakes. But I have none, therefore, I cannot be accused." Candrakiirti in the course of his commentary on Muulamadhyamakakaarikaas states that "the only result of our deduction is to repudiate the theory of our opponent. Our acceptance of the converse theory is not at all therewith implied. Our master, Naagaarjuna, when combating opposed opinions, has very often had recourse just to a deduction and absurdum, without ever admitting positive counterpart." Shortly before making this statement, he clearly points out "We have no theory of our own." Candrakiirti declares this in the context of defending Buddhapaalita's stand as against the stricture made by Bhaavaviveka that the repudiation of a metaphysical (namely, Saa.mkhya) theory necessarily involves the acceptance of an opposite theory. This should make it clear that Maadhyamika, having no thesis of its own, cannot be regarded as a doctrine of the void either. Maadhyamika philosophy is out and out antimetaphysical and antispeculative in its character and whosoever converts 'Suunyataa itself into a metaphysical doctrine of nihilism or absolutism or anything of the sort is declared by Buddha to be incurable, says Naagaarjuna in his Kaarikaas (XIII, 8). Candrakiirti while commenting on this kaarikaa refers to Buddha's instructions to Kaasyapa as follows: O kaasyapa, it would be better to entertain the substance view 1), of the magnitude of mount Sumeru than to hug the 'suunyataa view of the nihilist (abhaavaabhinive'sin) . I call him incurable who clings to 'suunyataa itself as a theory. If a drug administered to a patient were to remove all his disorders but were to foul the stomach itself by remaining in it, would you call the patient cured? Even so, 'suuyataa is an antidote to all dogmatic views, but if a man were to cling to it forever as a view in itself, he is doomed. If one understands the significance of this passage and the earlier kaarikaa, how can he commit the mistake of taking Maadhyamika as a doctrine of the void, or 'Suunyavaada in the sense of nihilism? On the other hand, it is equally dangerous, and perhaps even more so, to regard Maadhyamika philosophy as a form of monism or absolutism. Reacting against the nihilist interpretation of 'suunyataa some modern thinkers have fallen p.479 into the opposite error of taking it as an Absolute Reality whose characteristics are beyond the grasp of human intellect: for them 'suunyataa is an Absolute which is transcendent to thought, the implication being that such a transcendent reality does exist, according to Naagaarjuna, but we should desist from talking or theorizing about it. T. R. V. Murti. for example. in his Central Philosophy of Buddhism says that Maadhyamika philosophy is actually a noview-about-reality doctrine whereas it has been mistaken as a no-reality doctrine. 'Suunyata says Murti, "is negative only for thought, but in itself it is the non-relational knowledge of the absolute".(4) C.D.Sharma similarly points out that according to the 'Suunyavaadin "Reality is the Non-dual Absolute, Blissful and beyond intellect, where all plurality is merged." Here it should be borne in mind that if Candrakiirti vehemently protests against the Maadhyamikas being regarded as nihilists, he is no less opposed to the idea of taking their philosophy as a doctrine of the affirmation of some Absolute. He clearly says that the Maadhyamika position transcends both affirmation and negation. If Naagaarjuna's critical philosophy is taken as affirming the existence of a transcendent Reality which is to be apprehended through a nonrelational intuition, then his philosophy itself will fall into one of the four Ko.tis or positions, namely, "Is," "Is not," "both," and "neither" (asti, naasti, ubhaya, and anubhaya), which it so carefully and consistently tries to avoid. It would be, therefore, a gross error to treat Naagaarjuna as an absolutist, a transcendentalist, a monist or as a propounder of any such "ism." Naagaarjuna's critical insight consists in a consistent denial of all "isms" in philosophy, and this is what is known as praj~naapaaramitaa or wisdom par excellence in Mahaayaana literature. It is the same as the bodhi or the enlightenment of Buddha. To accept it is to reject all sorts of assumptions about the existence of a transcendental Reality, not merely to reject all thought-constructions about it. An acceptance of the Maadhyamika position, therefore, does not leave any scope for letting in a doctrine of absolutism, monism, or some form of transcendental mysticism by the back door. Otherwise, the whole point of Maadhyamika philosophy will be lost. As in the case of the nihilistic interpretation examined earlier so also in this case of an absolutist or a transcendentalist approach to 'suunyataa, one is reminded of the following warning of Naagaarjuna which has been so conveniently overlooked and even forgotten. "Just as a snake caught in a wrong manner by a dullwitted fellow only causes death to him or as a magic wrongly employed destroys the magician, so also 'Suunyataa wrongly seen and understood only ruins the person concerned." (5) Those philosophers who are obsessed with the idea of a positive entity or a reality on the ground or basis of which everything is declared to be 'suunya are to be compared, according to Candrakiirti, with those persons who, when told that they will get nothing, expect that "nothing" will actually be given to them.(6) Naagaarjuna also does p.480 not subscribe to the view that the void is the absolute truth or reality. We are. therefore, to steer clear of these two extremes in order to have a firm grasp on the Maadhyamika philosophy. The Maadhyamika thinker. it Should he borne in mind, has no metaphysical axe to grind. In that case why not regard NaagaarJuna as a Vaita.n.dika or wrangler having no thesis of his own and interested only in the refutation of the opponent's thesis? Vitandaa is a technical term used in the Indian philosophical literature which is defined in the Nyaaya Suutras Of Gautama as, sa [jalpa.h] pratipaksasthaapanaahiino vita.n.daa" (Vita.n.daa is that jalpa which delights in criticism for its own sake without propounding any thesis of one's own); and jalpa in its turn is defined as vijagisu kathaa jalpa.h (Jalpa is that discussion which aims at mere victory) or yathokto-papanna chhalajaati nigrahasthaana saadhanopaalambho jalpa.h (in jalpa one takes resort to verbal quibbling and fallacies such as jaati and nigrahasthaana only with a view to obtain victory over the opponent at any cost). When two parties engage in discussion only for the purpose of victory and take resort to all sorts of unfair and logically fallacious means to achieve victory, it is called jalpa; and if one is engaged in jalpa solely for the purpose of refuting the opponent's view without establishing any conclusion of one's own, it is called vitan.daa. One who engages in vita.n.daa is called a vaita.n.dika. Now while examining the Maadhyamika way of philosophizing we must first see whether they are only interested in victory over their opponents or whether they have some other ulterior motive. If they have some other motive behind all that they do and if they are not simply wrangling with their opponents with a view to achieve an easy victory, then they cannot be regarded as a vaita.n.dikas even if they do not have a metaphysical thesis of their own. Praj~naapaaramitaa or the highest wisdom, which consists in a critical insight into the exact nature of concepts as they really are, is the summum bonum kept in view by the Maadhyamikas throughout their philosophy. This highest wisdom is possible only in, and cannot be attained unless the paramaartha satya or the ultimate truth as distinguished from the satya or the truth that hides the ultimate truth is realized. But what is this ultimate truth or paramaartha satya? It is the exact significance of concepts as they are without any distortion which is nothing but 'suunyataa, that is, ni.hsvabhaavata or essencelessness. It is said to be the highest or the ultimate (parama) truth also in the sense that it is the best (uttama) to be realized. The proper understanding or comprehension of 'suunyataa as the highest good or is the message conveyed by Buddha to the suffering multitude, according to Naagaarjuna. It is described as a state in which there is quiescence on account of the inapplicability of thought constructions; it puts an end to multiplicity created by speculative mind, and is therefore a state of highest good.(8) The realization of 'suuyataa results in the cessation of all essentialist thought-constructions and the conseque nt speech activity. Being a state of the inapplicability of the varieties of thought-constructions, it is quiessence; it is p.481 'siva or the highest good, says Candrakiirti, as it consists in the cessation of the speculative mind and the prolific linguistic habits thereof, and because it puts an end to all kle'sas, that is, defiling forces and all vaasanaas or essentialist impulses. All these descriptions show that Maadhyamika philosophy does point to a summum bonum which consists in the realization of what it regards to be paramaarthasatya as distinguished from It can, therefore, by no stretch of imagination, be construed as mere vita.n.daa. Nor is it proper to take Maadhyamikas to task, as some critics have done, for rejecting the rival theory or theories without giving any counter theory of their own. Referring to the criticism of the Vaibhaa.sika theory. Fukuhara, for example, says that "though this theory of Vaibhaa.sikas contains many defects as pointed out by Vasubandhu, we should acknowledge that it was such a purposeful, religious theory. If the theory can be replaced with another faultless theory which fulfills the above necessities, as done by Vasubandhu, it is better. But simple rejection of the theory without giving any counter theory, as done by Maadhyamikas, is not proper, "(9) This, in my considered opinion, is due to a gross misunderstanding of the Maadhyamika program. The Maadhyamikas were interested in pointing to, which is devoid of all prapa~nca (multiple thought-constructions) caused by the seeing of svabhaava where there is, in fact, absolute ni.hsvabhaavata or 'suunyataa, that is, essencelessness. They were not interested in propounding any theory whatsoever about a Reality, much less "a purposeful, religious theory" in place of the Vaibhaa.sika, but by generating a critical insight into ni.hsvabhaavataa or essencelessness through a criticism of all theories, their intention was to point to a summum bonum free from thought constructions. This summum bonum is, according to them, which arises when the dogmatic clinging to the effect that "this is the very truth" completely ceases. In that case how can there be a religious theory to be upheld by the Maadhyamikas? Moreover, it should be borne in mind that according to the Maadhyamikas the summum bonum does not consist in the realization of a transcendent Reality through a mystic trance or any other method for that matter. Philosophical wisdom or illumination consists in the understanding of the exact implications of the critical philosophy of 'suunyataa which is devoid of all metaphysical speculations, and it would be a grave error indeed to suppose that this en lightenment consists in the realization of a metaphysical Absolute. The only truth to which Naagaarjuna points is that there is no metaphysical entity or reality hidden behind or above this world of ordinary discourse which is 'suunya or ni.hsvabhaava. 11. MAADHYAMIKA DIALECTIC---ITS SIGNIFICANCE Naagaajuna's intention in examining and denouncing one concept after another was to carry on a systematic criticism of human thought which would p.482 demonstrate the impossibility of metaphysical speculations. Language as a form of expression is alright for practical purposes, but when it is extended beyond its legitimate limit it simply breaks down; it can no longer accomplish its normal function. Naagaarjuna, for example, goes on examining various metaphysical theories of causation one after the other and finds each one of them to be untenable. Also he examines various concepts such as "motion," "substance, " "attribute, " "individual self, " "origination," "existence" and "destruction," the five skandhas or sheaths, and so on, pointing out the internal inconsistency in these concepts when they are taken in their exclusive metaphysical significance. The categories of thought, taken in an absolute sense, cannot stand up to the scrutiny of philosophical analysis, although they may be practically applicable. Moreover, if we want to pinpoint an exclusive or a definite meaning of these ideas we will fail to do so. We simply use them indiscriminately in our language; we cannot find any essence or svabhaava in them which we can catch hold of. That is why they are called satya. Candrakiirti, in his Prasannapadaa, subscribes to the same view; means that which is conventionally true or is of practical use (loka vyavahaara.h). All this is conventionally accepted by people, and that is all. Another meaning of is also given by Candrakiirti as follows: "Aj~naana.m hi samantaat sarvapadaarthatattvaa-vachhaadanaat ity ucyate." This passage may be translated as "Ignorance is called as it covers on all sides the tattva or the true significance of our categories of understanding." (Tattva, it may be noted here, does not refer to any transcendental Reality; it simply means the true or the real nature of our ordinary discourse) Tattva is hidden by the conventional use of language. Language misleads us and creates a false picture in our minds of there being a fixed svabhaava or essence of everything to which the concept is applied. Svabhaava according to Candrakiirti, is what is unchangeable, uncreated, and permanent and the assumption of such a svabhava or essence in the dharmas or the elements of existence is what is vehemently criticized by the Maadhyamikas. When ignorance vanishes along with its consequent misleading picture of the essence of things, one realizes the tattva, which is nothing other than 'suunyataa or essencelessness. Naagaarjuna does not spare a single well-known concept; even the tathaagata does not escape his onslaught. Both tathaagata and the world are devoid of svabhaava or essence, that is, a fixed nature of their own. (10) Nothing has a fixed nature of its own, not even tathaagata or, to put the same idea in the contemporary philosophical terminology, concepts or words of our ordinary discourse do not have a fixed meaning or use, an immutable significance. Such a thoroughgoing attack on essentialism can only find a parallel in Wittgenstein's criticism of essentialism in contemporary Western philosophy, although it will be well to remember that both the problem at hand and the procedure adopted by these two masters were far from being the same.(11) p.483 III. PRATIITYASAMUTPAADA, MADHYAMAA PRATIPAT AND 'SUUNYATAA Naagaarjuna bows down to Buddha for having taught pratiityasamutpaada (dependent origination) which, according to him, is the same as 'suunyataa (essencelessness) and madhyamaa pratipat (middle course).(12) pratiityasamutpaada is a central concept of Buddhism which has been subjected to various interpretations at the hands of various Buddhist scholars. Whereas according to the Hiinayaanist version, it implies the causal law according to which the evancescent momentary things appear, Maadhyamika philosophy gives an entirely different interpretation of this concept. Candrakiirti thus rejects the Hiinayaanist interpretation of pratiityasamutpaada as pratipratirityaanaa.m vinaasinaam samutpaada.h or "appearance of evanescent momentary things" and puts forth his own version as follows which he considers to be the most appropriate-- " bhaavaanaamutpaada.h pratiityasamutpaadaartha.h, " that is, 'pratiityasamutpaada' does not imply a temporal sequence of the entities between which there is a causal relation: it points to the dependence of one concept on another. This interdependence of concepts is, according to Naagaarjuna, the same as the 'suunyataa or ni.hsvabhaavataa, that is, essencelessness of all these concepts. If every concept is dependent on another for its intelligibility it cannot be said to have a fixed essence of its own. One who understands pratiityasamutpaada, the mutual dependence or parasparaapek.saa of concepts, therefore understands that they are all 'suunya or ni.hsvabhaava, that is, they do not have an independent and permanent essence of their own. This also is what Buddha means by madhyamaa pratipat (middle course) in as much as the realization of 'suunyataa steers clear between the extremes of metaphysical speculations about the svabhaava or fixed nature of things and makes one adopt a middle course from the contending metaphysical doctrines. And once this is realized there is no further scope for talking about the existence of a transcendent Absolute in 'suunyavaada, which strictly speaking is not a vaada or "ism" at all, but is simply a model of philosophical activity leading to the critical insight into the nature and function of concepts which in its turn gives us nirvaana or freedom from all sorts of kalpana or thought-constructions. IV. TATTVA AND PARAMAARTHA IN MAADHYAMIKA PHILOSOPHY It should have been clear from the preceding discussion that pratiityasamutpaada taught by the Buddha is itself the tattva, that is, the exact or the real nature of the case for the Maadhyamikas. Pratiityasamutpaada itself is described in negative terminology by Naagaarjuna as "anirodham anupaadam anuccedam a'saa'svatam, anekaartham ananaartham anaagamam anirgamam."(13) This passage may be translated as follows: "It is without impediment, without origination, without destruction, neither having an end nor eternal, neither one nor many, neither does it come in nor does it go out." Being the tattva or the true p. 484 significance of the concepts, pratiityasamutpaada cannot cannot meaningfully be analyzed with respect to its origination, destruction, and so forth. When this is realized there is an absolute freedom from essentialist thought-constructions and the cravings of the mind, and that is why the tattva is said to be the "aparapratyayam 'saanta.m prapa~ncair prapa~ncitam,"(14) that is, it is to be realized within ourself as quiescence, being free from multiple thought-constructions. My argument here is that these descriptions are not applied in Maadhyamika philosophy to an Absolute transcending thought; they are only the descriptions of the state of affairs when one realizes the 'suunyataa or ni.hsvabhaavataa, the essencelessness of all our ideas or concepts. It is said to be bhuutapratyavek.saa or "perception of the real nature of the fact." ni.hsvabhaavataa or essencelessness; there is no indication of the perception of a transcendent Reality. It is called tathataa suchness or thusness, because it is the true state-of- affairs, or bhuutatathataa, that is, the real nature of the case as it obtains. It is also called yathaabhuuta, "the fact as it is," dharmaa.naa.m dharmataa or "the inherent character of the elements of existence." This is said to be the tattva which does not lie in an Absolute outside or immanent in the phenomena. C. D. Sharma comes near the truth when he says that "if rightly understood 'suunyataa itself is," but when he refers to a "nondual Absolute in which all plurality is merged" or speaks of "a reality which is to be directly realised through spiritual experience,"(15) he seems to have deviated from the right track. Moreover, it should be borne in mind that if the world is regarded as svabhaavasuunya or ni.hsvabhaava (devoid of essence), prapa~nca'suunya (devoid of' thought-construction) is not an epithet ascribed to a reality over and above this world. Prapan~nca'suunya simply means devoid of metaphysical thoughtconstructions. Tattva is said to be prapa~nca'suunya and nirvikalpa, that is, devoid of all speculations in the Maadhyamika literature. And what is but a state-of-affairs where there is absolute cessation of metaphysical thought-construction because of the realization of svabhaava-'suunyataa or essencelessness of all concepts? It is therefore evident that tattva, which is said to be prapa~nca'suunya (devoid of thought-construction) , does not refer to a transcendent reality over and above the realization of the svabhaava-'suunyaataa (essencelessness) of all concepts. Once nai.hsvaabhaavya or essencelessness of all concepts is crystal clear to us, the tattva is not farther away, for prapa~nca'suunyataa or cessation of thought-constructions immediately and inevitably follows from the realization of svabhaava'suunyataa or essencelessness. And that is why pratiityasamutpaada itself is said to be prapan~copa'sama (a state in which all thought-constructions cease) and 'siva (the highest good) by Naagaarjuna. Candrakiirti's remarks in this connection are quite illuminating: " Yathaavasthitapratiityasamutpaadadar'sane sati aaryaa.naam prapa~ncasya sarvathoparamaat prapa~ncopa'sama itycyate."(16) P.485 Pratiityasamutpaada (dependent origination) is it self said to be devoid of thought-constructions inasmuch as by seeing or understanding this the aarvas or the enlightened abstain altogether from all thought-constructions. Stcherbatsky very rightly sees that in the preceding passage Candrakiirti identifies the realization of pratiityasamutpaada with His translation runs as follows. "it is also called Nirvaana, the Quiescence or equalisation of all plurality, because when it is critically realised there is for the philosopher absolutely no differentiation of existence to which our words and concepts could be applied."(17) The tattva, that is, the exact or the true nature of the case in question, therefore, lies in pratityasamutpaada (dependent origination) which is the same as 'suunyataa in the sense of svabhaava'suunyataa (essencelessness) the realisation of which alone gives rise to prapa~nca'suunyataa or freedom from thought-constructions. As long as we are unable to realize the ni.h svabhaavataa (essencelessness) and as long as we are under the wrong impression because of entertaining an essentialist picture of concepts in our mind that things have a permanent and independent nature of their own, prapa~nca or conceptual construction continues to be there. The truth or tattva, however, is that neither is there any independent nature or svabhaava of things as conceived by the unenlightened nor is there any scope for conceptual construction, that is, prapa~nca. The realization of this truth is praj~naapaaramitaa or wisdom par excellence. There is no implication in the Maadyamika philosophy of Naagaarjuna of praj~naa (wisdom) as consisting in the knowledge of an Absolute Reality; when one realizes the 'suunyataa or nai.hsvaabhaavya (essencelessness) of all concepts and desists from indulging in all sorts of thought-constructions, that is the state of praj~naa or wisdom. This praj~naa (wisdom), in the sense of realization of 'suunyataa (essencelessness), alone is considered to be the highest end or paramaartha according to the Maadhyamikas. T. R. V. Murti seems to come near the realization of this truth about the Maadhyamikas when he says that "in the Maadhyamika it is truer to speak of the Intuition (praj~naa) itself as the Absolute," but his profuse reference to "an Absolute as incommensurable or the Real as nondual, transcendent to thought, inexpressible, etc." are highly misleading. There is no Absolute which, as Murti suggests, "is the reality of the apparent (dharmaa.naa.m dharmataa) or their real nature (vaastavika.m ruupam)." Nor is it a fact that "phenomena are the veiled form or false appearance of the Absolute ( ruupam)."(18) For Maadhyamikas the fact appears in its true light when we realize essencelessness (nai.hsvaabhaavya) of concepts which lead to the cessation of thought-constructions (prapa~nca'suunyata) while, if we take concepts as possessing an essence of their own to which we can cling, we only see their veiled form ( ruupam), as it were. It is not that a Reality of an altogether different order hidden behind the appearance is grasped in wisdom (praj~naa), but it is like something getting revealed in our understanding which was all the while there unnoticed in front of us. It is our understanding which P. 486 makes all the difference. And that is why Naagaarjuna points out in very clear terms that there is not even the slightest difference between the worldly state (sa^msaara) and the state of liberation ( .(19) The world does not change in, there is only a change in our understanding and the manipulation of the concepts.(20) It is, therefore, misleading to say, as does Murti that "the Absolute is that intrinsic form in which things would appear to the clear vision of an AArya (realised saint) free from ignorance."(21) The intrinsic form in which the fact would appear to the clear vision of an aarya is nai.hsvaabhaavya or essencelessness of concepts, and this is the only truth which is not dependent on anything else. But to call it an Absolute would be hypostatizing a truth about the concepts to an ontological being which does not find any justification in the writings of Naagaarjuna and Candrakiirti. Maadhyamika does make a distinction between the highest truth (paramaarthasatya) and the conventional truth ( and lays utmost emphasis on the knowledge of their difference.(22) "Those who do not know the distinction between these two truths," says Naagaarjuna "cannot understand the deep significance of the teachings of Buddha."(23) But this, it should be borne in mind, is not a distinction between a transcendental Reality and the world. Paramaartha may mean the highest or the ultimate truth, the highest good, the final goal to be realized or whatever else one may want to speak of it, but to describe it as an Absolute will be subscribing to an ontology of the absolutistic type which would never be acceptable to Naagaarjuna. It will be committing a mistake against which Naagaarjuna has given a thoroughgoing critique throughout his work. The ultimate truth is that every concept is 'suunya in the sense of being essenceless, and when one is firmly entrenched in this truth he is said to have realized the highest truth (paramaarthasatya) as distinguished from the conventional truth (, and that is all. That is why it is said to be tathataa, that is, thusness or suchness. If anything beyond 'suunyataa is adhered to it will itself amount to an incurable "ism" which Buddha had taken much pain to overthrow. As all "isms" are out of place here and as all thought-constructions are to be carefully avoided if one wants to be a true adherent to the Buddhist ideal, the highest good or the highest end for the enlightened one trained in philosophical wisdom lies in silence in face of contending metaphysical theories, says Candrakirti. (paramaartho tuus.nim bhaava.h) Here again silence itself has been described as paramaartha or the highest good and therefore let not anyone think that here Candraki irti refers to a reality about which one can at best be silent. This mistake has been committed, however, by the most learned scholars of Buddhism. Stcherbatsky, for example, translates the statement of Candrakiirti as follows: "About the Absolute the saints remain silent."(24) But it is really astonishing why and how Stcherbatsky smuggles in the concept of an Absolute in a context where it is entirely out of place. The question that is raised by the oponent in this context is: "Ki.m P. 487 khalu aaryaa.naa.m upapattir naasti; that is, "is there no argumentation for the enlightened"? The Maadhyamikas insist that they do not have any assertion of their own, but how is it that, the opponent asks, they seem to make a definite assertion, namely, that entities arise neither out of themselves, nor out of something different, not out of both nor at random and so on ? To this the Maadhyamika replies as follows. This appears to be a definite assertion to the simple folks who try to understand it according to the arguments familiar to them, but not to the AAryas or the enlightened, that is, the philosopher. To this the opponent again raises the objection just mentioned. Is there no argumentation for the enlightened?, Do they not believe in argumentation? To this question the final answer given by Candrakiirti is: Who can say, whether they have arguments or not? For them the highest good lies in silence in face of unending metaphysical controversies. Here the question was about argument, definite assertion, and so on, the point at issue being the argument advanced by Naagaarjuna regarding the untenability of a number of contending essen- tialist conceptions of casuality and the statement by Candrakiirti that it does not amount to a definite assertion. Hence, it is quite evident that the Absolute is not at issue nor does it come into the picture here until and unless one smuggles it in. Candrakiirti's answer is simply meant to point out that silence is the highest end for a philosophically enlightened person. It has absolutely no implication that there is a reality over and above this world which is to be realized through silence. One is again reminded here of the warning of Candrakiirti that if someone says that he has nothing to sell, let it not be understood that this very 'nothing' or the absence of everything is going to be sold. Pears' observation in connection with Wittgenstein's Tractatus, concerning the impossibility of transgressing the boundary of factual discourse with the illusion created in the mind of the transgressor that perhaps there is some reality outside the discourse, seems quite relevant here and may profitably serve as a reminder as well as a check to all those who would venture to posit a world of reality over and above this world of ordinary discourse. Pears writes: The logical space of actual discourse is curved, and outside it there is a supervoid, which is not even a matrix of possibilities. But the transgressor is a man who is never satisfied with this explanation. He always imagines that if he cannot cross the outer boundary, that must be because there is something on the other side which stops him. His idea is that this necessity that he should stay within the boundary if he is going to produce factual sense, must have some sort of factual backing outside the boundary. He thinks that what creates the necessity must be something on the otherside of the boundary which the philosopher ought to be able to describe to him. But the philosopher's point is that he can not describe any such thing, because description belongs to factual discourse, and beyond its own outer boundary factual discourse must cease. So he can only tell the transgressor that the explanation of the necessity is to be found in what lies within the boundary.(25) P. 488 Similarly one may say that the justification for silence on the part of the philosophically enlightened person lies not in the inscrutable nature of some absolute outside the world of our ordinary discourse; the explanation lies in the essencelessness or 'suunyataa of the concepts which are only conventionally useful or satya. A philosopher with the critical insight of 'suunyataa is noncommittal with regard to contending metaphysical thought-constructions; this constitutes his tuu.s.nimbhaava or silence. As a matter of fact here also there is nothing but a super void beyond the world of ordinary discourse. That is why, as pointed out earlier, Naagaarjuna emphatically declares that there is not even the slightest difference between the world and the In one is not transmitted from one world to another transcendental order of reality, one does not cross the boundary of our concepts to have a vision of some nonconceptual absolute. There is simply a dead stop to the essentialist thought-constructions which cause endless misery. One realizes the conventional to be conventional or and no longer clings to it as having a fixed nature of its own, and that is the end of it. This is praj~napaaramitaa or wisdom par excellence and this is also or liberation, But to arrive at this understanding one must take the help of what is conventionally true, that is, One cannot teach paramaartha or the highest truth, says Naagaarjuna, without taking recourse to the pragmatic truth.(26) It is only through one's deepest acquaintance with and the comprehension of the ordinary discourse that one is able to understand the logic of such concepts as 'suunya. And again it is only when we understand perfectly the logic of the 'suunyataa or essencelessness of the concepts and how concepts do not have fixed essence of their own that we come to realize, or the state of liberation which is devoid of all thought-constructions. That is why Naagaarjuna says, '"paramaartha.m anaagamya naadhigamyate,"(27) or liberation cannot be attained without the knowledge of the highest truth, that is, 'suunyataa. Being firmly entrenched in 'suunyataa and realizing that language has only a conventional use, an aarya or a philosopher regards silence or noncommittment as the highest good or paramaartha. And the attainment of paramaartha in this sense, not in the sense of a transcendental reality, constitutes an essential feature of or liberation. V. THE MAADHYAMIKA NIRVAA.NA--ITS IMPLICATION What then are the various implications of this which is freedom from all thought-constructions? Freedom from all sorts of metaphysical vagaries is the ideal for the Maadhyamikas. One concept leads to another, one idea leads to the other, and this is alright in its sphere. But metaphysicians make an illegitimate use of these concepts, thereby falling into the trap of absolute confusion and inconsistencies. Philosophical insight consists in avoiding these extreme metaphysical positions by a perfect u nderstanding of these concepts as being 'suunya or ni.hsvabhaava, that is, as devoid of essence. That all sorts of P. 489 metaphysical speculations are to be consistently avoided is clear from the following statement of Buddha "Asiiti naastiiti ca kalpanaavataam eva.m carantaana na duhkha 'saamyati,"(28) that is, those who speculate about existence and nonexistence will never realize the cessation of suffering. Commenting on this, Candrakiirti enumerates all sorts of contending metaphysical theories available in his time, those of Jaimini, Ka.naada, Kapila, the Vaibhaa.sikas, the Sautraantikas, the Yogaacaara and so forth, which, according to him, are not conducive to the cessation of misery. This shows that freedom from these contending metaphysical theories is one of the essential features of or liberation which is nothing but philosophical enlightenment, according to the Maadhyamikas. But this is possible through a realization that there is no essence to hang upon or to cling to in our ordinary discourse, which is merely conventionally useful. Once this dawns upon the philosopher he desists from committing those errors which an essentialist or svabhaavavaadin is likely to commit. He, for example, would not side with any of the opposing theories of 'saa'svatavaada (eternalism, the doctrine of eternal soul) . ucchedavaada (annihilationist theory, materialism) and the like. An essentialist becomes an easy prey to such metaphysical vagaries. Considering that things of the world have a fixed svabhaava or nature of their own, they are misled by metaphysical pictures of reality. Rival pictures then hold sway on their minds which keep them in bondage. "A picture held us captive,"(29) we may say with Wittgenstein; however, remembering all the time that Naagaarjuna's approach to this problem is not the same as that of Wittgenstein. Wisdom or praj~naa consists in freedom from this captivity or bondage of essentialist picturethinking and that is all. There can be no question here of applying concepts like "is" or "is not" to itself inasmuch as that would again be committing an essentialist mistake. In this very sense there is no nirvana, says Candrakiirti. If someone thinks that is an entity or a positive state which can be obtained as one would obtain oil out of oil seeds or butter out of milk he is absolutely mistaken, according to Candrakiirti.(30) is thus nondifferent from critical insight par excellence which is free from all essentialist picture-thinking. This I consider to be the unique contribution of the Buddhist thought in general and of the Maadhyamika philosophy in particular to world philosophy, The practical implication of subscribing to this antiessentialist 'suunyataa view is not strictly within the scope of such a philosophical writing as this. The implication, however, is evident; there is little scope for indulging in a rigidly self-centered existence arising out of a desperate clinging to immutable essences on the part of one, be it an individual or a nation as a whole, who simply takes 'suunyataa seriously, not to speak of one who has realized the truth of 'suunyataa in, that is, has been firmly entrenched in this truth. Theoretically speaking, Maadhyamika thought will remain as a towering specimen of critical philosophy devoid of all essentialist picture-thinking and metaphysical commitments, being a standing P. 490 challenge to all those who sneer at Indian philosophy as mystical. dogmatic, metaphysical, theologically biased, or even as obscuranist, and whatever. Practical implications apart, freedom from an all-pervasive essentialist illusion is itself an achievement of the highest order of which the human mind is capable and which is worth having for its own sake. NOTES 1. See his Brahmasuutrabhaa.sva 2.2.31. 2. Confer "Yat 'suunyavaadina.h 'suunya.m tad eva Brahma-maayinah," as quoted in C. D. Sharma, A Critical Survey of Indian Philosophy (London: Rider & Company), p. 372n. 3. Confer '''Suunyam iti na vaktavyam a'suunyam iti va bhavet, ubhaya.m nobhayam ceti praj~naaptyartha.m tu kathyate" In Maadhyamika 'sastra, Chapter XXII, Kaariika, 11. 4. The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (London, 1955). p. 160. See also p. 234: "The Maadhyamika rejects every view as falsification of the real. The rejection is. however. a means, the only means open to absolutism." 5. Muulamadhyamakakaarikas, 24. 11 6. Confer "Yo ki~ncid api pa.nya.m daasyaamiityukta.h, sa ced dehibhostadeva mahya.m na ki~ncin naama pa.nyam iti bruuyaat, sa kenopaayena 'sakya.h pa.nyaabhaava.m graahayitum" In Prasannapadaa. A student of contemporary Western philosophy would be reminded here of Wittgenstein's remarks in Blue and Brown Books about an imaginary expression. "I found Mr. No body in the room" instead of the usual expression "I found no body in the room." 7. Confer Bodhicaryaavataarapa~njikaa by Praj~nnnkaramati: "Parama uttamaartha.hparamaartha.h, ak.rtrima.m vasturuupam, sarvadharmaa.naam ni.hsvabhaavataa". 8. Maadhyamika'saastra, 25.24. 9. R. Fukuahara, "On Svabhaavavaada," in Buddhist Studies in India, edited by R. C. Pandeya (Delhi, 1975), p. 90. 10. Confer Maadhyamika'saastra, "Tathaagato ni.hsvabhaavo, ni.hsvabhaavam idam jagat." 11. Confer for example, Wittgenstein's remarks on a statement about Moses: Has the name "Moses" got a fixed and unequivocal use for me in all possible cases?--Is it not the case that I have, so to speak, a whole series of props in readings, and am ready to lean on one if another should be taken from under me and vice-versa? Philosophical Investigations,, sect. 79. 12. Confer "Ya.h pratiityasamutpaadah 'suunyataa.m taa.m pracak.smahe, saa praj~naaptirupaadaaya pratipat saiva madhyamaa," Maadhyamika 'Saastra, Chapter 24, Kaarikaa 18. 13. Confer Maadhyamika'saastra, 1.1. 14. Muulamadhyamakakaarikas, 18,0. 15. Sharma, op. cit., p. 87. 16. Prasannapadaa, Chapter I, Kaarikaa 2. 17. Stcherbatsky, The Conception of Buddhist, p. 134. 18. Murti, op. cit., p. 232. 19. Muulamadhyamakakaarikaa, 25, 19, 20. Ibid., 25.9. 21. Murti op. cit., p. 22. Confer Maadhyamika'saastru, 24.8. 23. Maadhyamika'saastra, 24.9. 24. Stcherbatsky, op. cit. 25. David Pears, Wittgenstein (Fontana/Collins, 1971), pp. 101-102. 26. Muulamadhyamakakaarikaas, 24. 10. 27. Ibid. 28. Samaadhiraajasutra, 9.26. as quoted in Prasannapada of Candrakiirti. 29. Philosophical Investigations, Sect. 115. 30. Prasannapadaa, 25.24.