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Peter Della Santina

The Madhyamaka and modernWesternphilosophy

INTRODUCTION

The task of comparativephilosophypresupposesa more or less intimateacquaintancewiththe philosophiesor philosophicaltraditionsto be compared.


Whilethewriterof thisarticlemayperhapspretendto a reasonablefamiliarity
withthe Madhyamakaphilosophy,he cannot pretendto a similarfamiliarity
withtheWesternphilosophicaltradition.This is said not as an excuse,but as a
justificationfor the approach that is proposed for adoption in this article.
Moreover,in the case in hand, it is proposed not simplyto compare one
philosophywithanotherphilosophy,butrathera philosophywitha philosophical traditionwhichis by no means homogeneous.Since it is in any case not
practicableto attemptto considermodernWesternphilosophyin its entirety,
certainsignificant
movements
withinthetraditionwillbe dealtwithinstead,and
reference
willbe made to specificsystemsonlyinsofaras theyserveto illustrate
thesemovementsor philosophicalattitudes.In thiscontext,it mustbe said that
thetaskof selectionhas been made easierby thefactthatin thiscentury,
there
have been a numberof attemptsto identify
Westerncounterparts
of theMadwhenthequestionofcritique
hyamakaphilosophy.This is ofparticularinterest
is to be approached,because it will be of greatervalue if the Madhyamakais
evaluatedin relationto philosophieswhichat least on the surfacehave some
claimto sharethesameuniverseofdiscourse.The examinationofwhatmightbe
the Madhyamaka critiqueof the thoughtof Kant and Wittgenstein
is more
because
these
do
bear
some
resemblance
to
the
Madpromising,
philosophies
and
have
beenrecognizedas suchbymodernscholars.Nonetheless,if
hyamaka,
comparisonand critiqueare to be somethingmore than merelyan arid intellectualexercise,itwillbe necessaryto look notonlyat thetenetsofthesystems
to be so treated,but also at theirantecedentsand theirpurpose. Finally,in
concludingthispreamble,letit be said thatphilosophicalcomparisonshave all
too oftenin the past been undertakenwith the idea of securingenhanced
forone ofthetwosystemsinvolved.That thishardly
philosophicalrespectability
does justice to the intrinsicvalue, such as it is, of the systemwhose statusis
soughtto be enhancedneedscarcelybe said. Alternatively,
comparisonsmaybe
undertaken
witha viewto facilitating
theunderstanding
ofa givenphilosophyin
an alien universeof discourse.Whilethisobjectiveis undoubtedlyworthy,one
mustguardagainstfacileand superficial
equationswhichmaydo moreto foster
than
to
misunderstanding
promotecomprehension.It is therefore
imperative
that genuinedifferences
not be glossed over in the excitementof discovering
apparentparallels.

PeterDella SantinareceivedhisPh.D. inBuddhistStudiesfromtheUniversity


ofDelhi,and is a parttimeLecturerat theNationalUniversity
of Singapore.
of Hawaii Press.All rightsreserved.
PhilosophyEast and West36, no. 1 (January,1986). byThe University

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42 Della Santina

PHILOSOPHY:

EAST AND WEST

which
Beforeproceedinganyfurther,
itmaybe usefulformeto restatesomething
seem
obvious
to
those
who
are
to
used
these
but
which
is yet
may
investigations,
so important
thatitmayprofitably
ifonlybecauseitinforms
be reiterated
much
ofwhatwillbe said later:namely,thatthenatureand history
ofthephilosophical
intheEast,specifically
inIndia,has beenverydifferent
fromthatinthe
enterprise
West.It maybe said withoutfearofarousingmuchcontroversy
thatphilosophy
in India has alwayspartakenofwhathas cometo be calledin theWestreligion,
thatreligionin India has alwayspartakenofwhathas cometo
and, conversely,
be calledin theWestphilosophy.To putitanotherway,thedistinction
between
in
and
which
until
rather
been
drawn
has
so
recently
philosophy religion,
sharply
Indianphilosophy,
theWest,does notbyand largeapplyto theIndiantradition.
has alwayscontainedand oftenbeencharacterized
therefore,
bya soteriological
preoccupation.This is not,however,to say thatit therebyceases to be philoit may be arguedthatit is philosophypar excellence,
sophy.On thecontrary,
relevancewhichphilosophyin theWesthas not
with
an
existential
philosophy
untilveryrecentlyand even now not fullysecured.Moreover,thisexistential
relevanceof Indian philosophyhas notbeen purchased,as some would liketo
think,at thecost of intellectual
rigor.
clarityor evenscientific
In the West, the storyof philosophyhas been somethingquite different.
witnesseda promisingstartin Greece,it
Althoughthephilosophicalenterprise
soon fellintodisreputelargelyas theresultofthegrowthofChristianorthodoxy.
Philosophydid not accord well eitherwithSemiticmonotheismor withthe
withNeoflirtations
Christianemphasison faith.Despiteoccasionaland furtive
steadremained
in
Christian
orthodoxy
Platonism,as forinstance Augustine,
whichhad inherited
fastlywaryofreasonand gnosis.Smallwonderina tradition
of God and
theJudaicconvictionof theabsoluteothernessand inaccessibility
whichwas anxiousto preservetheuniquenessof Christand offaithin Christas
the sole means of bridgingthe gulfbetweenthe absoluteand man. Although
Neo-Platonismdid to someextentsubvertChristianorthodoxyin theshape of
tradition
theaccommodationbetweentheJudeo-Christian
mysticalexperience,
thanksperhaps
was alwaysan uneasyone. Mysticism,
and a gnosticsoteriology
but
to itsesotericquality,managedto surviveinthehostileclimateoforthodoxy,
the
fell
wayside.
philosophy by
It was notuntiltheadventofmodernscienceand theEuropeanenlightenment
thatWesternphilosophyagaindaredto raiseitshead,and whenitdidso,itfound
itselfin the unenviablepositionof beingneitherherenor there,in a sort of
halfwayhousebetweenreligionand science.It couldnotaspireto thesoteriological contentand existentialrelevanceof religion,but neithercould it pretend,
to theintellectual
efforts,
rigorof science.As a result,
despitesometimesfervent
philosophyin theWest remaineduntilveryrecentlyan academicdiversion,a

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43

parlorgamefortheeducatedfewwhoneitherwerecalledto thechurchnorchose
to followtheutilitarian
ofthelimitationofthewider
way of science.The effects
and, one mightwell argue,legitimaterole of philosophyare stillverymuch
evidentin thethoughtofKant and in thatofhiscontemporaries
and immediate
successors.Indeed, it was not untilthiscenturythatphilosophyin the West
beganto showsignsofrecoveryfromthecripplingexperienceoforthodoxyand
an inclinationto resumeitsclassicalroleas a wholescience(of becoming)witha
relevance.
soteriologicalconcernand an existential
RATIONALISM AND EMPIRICISM

The history
ofmodernWesternphilosophybeganwiththeconflict
betweenrationalismand empiricism.
It is an acceptedfactthateventhephilosophyof Kant
was an attemptto resolvethis
(whichwillbe dealtwithat somelengthpresently)
and
early
apparentlyinsolubleproblemof Westernphilosophy.Briefly,the
conflictrevolvesaroundthequestionof whethercertaingeneralpropositionsthatA is A and not non-A,and thateveryeventmusthave a cause, and so
forth-are a priorifactsabout realityor merelya posterioriconventions.In the
firstalternative,
suchpropositionsare assumedto be innate,theresultof direct
rationalinsightand so universally
necessary.In thesecondalternative,
theyare
derivedfromexperienceand therefore
merelycontingent.l
The Madhyamaka,and indeedBuddhistsin general,haveno difficulty
dealing
withtheproblemofgeneralpropositionswhichappearto be innateor a priorithatis,nottheproductsofimmediateexperience.Theyare able to do so because
of the conceptionof rebirth.In the Buddhistview,thislifeis the effectof a
countlessseriesofearlierlives.The totalityof experienceaccumulatedthroughout theseexistencesresultsin whatare termedmentalformationsor predispositions(samskdra).For Buddhists,suchpredispositions
containnotonlya static
elementbut also a dynamicone, forwhichreasonthetermis sometimestranslatedas volitions.In otherwords,thetotalityofaccumulatedexperience
notonly
the
of
but
also
inclinesone to act in a particularway
supplies pattern experience,
accordingto habitualtendencies.However,hereit is the staticmore than the
volitionalaspectof mentalformations
thatis of interest,
and Buddhistshave a
It is vdsana,mentalimspecificword for this staticaspect of intentionality.
Mentalimpressions
are thehabitualpatternscreatedin
pressionor propensities.
themindbyrepeatedexperience.Nagarjunais quitespecificabout ascribingthe
So whatofa prioripropositions?
appearanceoftheworldto mentalimpressions.2
For Buddhists,theyare a prioriin thesensethattheyare not derivedfromthe
experienceofthislifealone; in otherwords,theyare withone at birth.Nonetheless,theyare nota prioriin thesensethattheyare nottheresultofwhathas been
called rationalinsight,but are ratherultimatelythe outcomeof accumulated
experienceoverinnumerableexistences.Nor are theynecessary.This last does
not concernBuddhistsbecause theyhave neverbeen exercisedoverhow things

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44 Della Santina

mustbe in all possibleworlds,but on thecontrary,theirconcernis withhow


thingsare hereand now.
IDEALISM AND REALISM

If thehistoryofWesternphilosophyhas beencoloredfromthebeginning
bythe
thereis also anotherconflict
conflict
betweenrationalismand empiricism,
which
has been perhaps of even greaterimportance.That is the conflictbetween
the
idealismand realism.Like theconflictbetweenrationalismand empiricism,
conflictbetweenidealismand realismmay be tracedto an ambivalencein the
thatbetweenidealattitudeofDescartes,butunlikethefirst-mentioned
conflict,
ism and realismdid have a similarhistoryin the Buddhistphilosophicaltradition.Descarteswas able to hold thatrationalinsightsuppliesnecessarytruth
about reality(despitethedevil,who inducedhimto doubttheveryexistenceof
inthegoodnessofGod.3 While
theexternalworld)onlybecauseofhisconfidence
a satisfactory
solutionforDescartes,thedoubt
thelattermayhave constituted
articulatedwas to dog philosophyfora verylong
whichhe so unambiguously
timein theWest.
Naive realismis contentto acceptthingsforwhattheyappear to be; it is the
attitudeofthemanin thestreet.Butphilosophersare oftennotcontentto leave
thingsalone. If theywere,theywould not be philosophers,but tradesmenor
In addition,certainobviousexamplesofillusion,suchas themoon
agriculturists.
to the
appearinglargerat thehorizonthatat thezenith,mayhave contributed
the
external
world.
of
the
with
the
of
reality
question
growingpreoccupation
or criticalrealism,a notoriously
This led to theemergenceof representative
thatalthoughtheexternal
it affirmed
unstablephilosophicalposition.Briefly,
worldexists,perceptiondoes notprovidedirectaccess to it.All thatperception
oftheexternalworld.
oreffects
providesis acquaintancewiththerepresentations
The problemis thatifone is neverdirectlyacquaintedwiththeexternalworld,
howis one to knowforcertainthatit
or effects,
butonlywithitsrepresentations
of thisquestiononce again broughtphilosophy
existsat all. The inescapability
face to face withDescartes' devil.The onlyobvious solutionwas idealismof
of thisprocessis
eitherthedogmaticor thepragmaticvariety.The inevitability
and
Locke
in
the
West
illustrated
Berkeley.
by
clearly
The historyof theevolutionof Buddhistschoolsin India is also notwithout
realismto
examples of the movementfromnaive realismto representative
idealism.The firstis nicelyillustrated
bytheVaibhasikaschool,perhapsthefirst
of
the
formulation
philosophyof theBuddha.The Vaibhasikaintersystematic
could
not, however,remainunchallengedfor long in the critical
pretation
the
Buddhisttradition,and soon it was supplantedby the
of
environment
or criticalrealismwhichhad a
Sautrantikaschool,a speciesof representative
muchgreaterroleto playintheevolutionofBuddhistthoughtinIndia.Nonetheof theSautrantikapositionwas notlong to endure
less,theinherent
instability
unnoticed.The Yogacara or Vijiinnavadarespondedto theSautrantikaviewof

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45

realismbyjettisoningthe externalworld.This was easy forthe


representative
because
Yogacarins,
they,deeply influencedas theywere by the model of
meditativeexperience,
had no particularlove or use forextra-mental
reality.
The foregoingdiscussionpresentsa tidypictureof a scholasticphilosophical
evolutionwhichfitsverynicelyintothepatternof naiverealism,representative
realism,and idealismmentionedearlier,butis thisall thatBuddhistphilosophy
offers
in replyto theWest?What of theBuddha's own attitudeand whatof the
thesystematic
Madhyamaka,which,it willbe argued,represents
expressionof
theformer?
The Buddha was preeminently
concernedwithexperience.His rejectionof
is
and has been acknowledgedby
well-documented
metaphysicalspeculation
scholars.4So was the Buddha an empiricist?
Not so faras the termhas been
acceptedwithinthe Westernphilosophicaltradition.Why?Because he recognizedall experienceto be essentially
and finallymental.The senseorgansdo not
and
so
divorced
from
consciousness.So theBuddhawas notan
see,hear,
forth,
in theWesternsenseof theterm,althoughit maybe arguedthathis
empiricist
attitudeis moregenuinelyempiricalthanthatoftheWesternempiricist,
because
the assumptionof an extra-mental
referent
is hardlyjustifiedby experience;
ratherit is moreof thenatureof dogmatism.But whatof thenatureof reality?
Quite simply,the Buddha was not interestedin questionsabout the ultimate
natureof reality.He was not interestedin describingit. He rejectedeven the
as ultimately
categoriesof existenceand nonexistence
predicableof reality.5
So what is one to make of a philosophywhichdoes not concernitselfwith
describingtheultimatenatureof reality?A numberof answersto thisquestion
havebeenproposed.One common,althoughnowsomewhatoutdated,answeris
thatthe Buddha was not a philosopherat all. Accordingto thisview,he was
in ethics.Anothermoremodernviewholds thattheBuddha did not
interested
teach philosophy,but psychology.Althoughmore satisfying
thanthe former,
thisanswer,likethefirst,
begsthequestion.The realpointat issueis thedefinition
of terms.How is one to deal withan intellectualtraditionwhichdoes not fit
intothecategoryofeitherphilosophyor religionas theyhave been
comfortably
understoodin theWest?Like theproblemof theconflictbetweenrationalism
and empiricism,
and likeso manyotherproblemsthatstemfromthatattemptto
applyalien conceptualmodelsto a traditionwhichis not constrainedby them,
theconflict
betweenphilosophyand psychologydoes notoccurforBuddhists.If
all experienceis essentially
and finally
which
mental,thena systemofsoteriology
for
the
realization
of
an
desirable
mode
of
provides
existentially
experiencemust
also resolvetheproblemofreality.The pragmatism
oftheBuddhadid notallow
himto concernhimselfwiththequestionof thenatureof a realitywhichin fact
was not experienced,beingextra-mental.
This is the point of the rejectionof
as exemplified
in the
metaphysicalspeculationas not conduciveto edification,
of
the
wounded
man.6
The
fact
to
remember
is
as
parable
important
that, the
this
attitudedoes not for practicalpurposesalter one's
Yogacarins realized,

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46 Della Santina

pictureof theeverydayworld.One can verywell go on actingas if therewere


externalobjects,because thatis thewayit all appearsto one,withoutassuming
theirextra-mental
reality.
The Madhyamaka,it is argued,embodiesthatpragmaticand antimetaphysical attitudewhichwas the real heartof the Buddha's teaching.As such, it
specuacknowledgesthefactthatall experienceis mentaland thatmetaphysical
lation is soteriologically
This is evidentin the works of
counterproductive.
Nagarjuna. He has said, "This worldof illusion,a delusionof consciousness,
comesnotfromanywhere,
goes notnorreallystays."7 "The wheelofbecoming
is producedthroughthe propensity(vasana) forerroneousconceptualisation
thatverysameobjectone is desirous,and regard(vikalpa)."8 "Since regarding
thatverysameobject
and regarding
ingthatverysameobjectone is malevolent,
and
are produced
one is deluded;therefore
malevolence,
delusion)
they(desire,
in
not
also
Conceptualization is, reality, existent."9
throughconceptualization.
"The afflictions
(klesa) and action (karman)arise fromconceptualizationand
thisfromconceptualconstructions
(prapanca)."10 "As thepainterpaintinga
with
terriblemonsteris himselffrightened
thereby,so is the fool frightened
11
as
shown
"All
are
originated
transmigration."
phenomena interdependently
throughthe examplesof magical spells,drugs,and illusion.Therefore,they
12
are ultimately
beyondexistenceand non-existence."
provedto be perfectly
the Buddha
"Ultimately,thisworldis beyondtruthand falsehood,therefore,
one
does notassertthatitreallyexistsor does not.... How could theomniscient
terms
in
"Those
who
think
13
or
neither?"
sayithas limitsorno limitsorhas both
do notgraspthetruthoftheBuddha'steaching."
ofexistenceand non-existence
existsand thatsome"The Buddharepudiatedboththethoughtthatsomething
14 "Know thattheambrosiaoftheBuddha'steaching
is thepronot."
does
thing
non-existence."
15
and
existence
far
doctrine
foundand uncommon
going beyond
Here attentionshouldbe drawnto threekeyterms:propensities,
conceptualization, and conceptual constructions.The firstof these has already been
beentransThe second,conceptualization
encountered.
(vikalpa),has sometimes
Even
in the
or
as
lated imagination (as Sprung'6does) "hypostatizing
thought."
so
and
the
the
of
notions
for
the
Sautrantikaview,itwas responsible
self, whole,
on, but in the Madhyamaka,it is responsibleforthe totalityof theobjectsof
(prapanca) has been a sourceof
experience.Finally,conceptualconstructions
the
of
and
for
translators
philosophy.Thisis
Madhyamaka
interpreters
difficulty
it
has
an
in
Brahmanical
the
because
in
tradition,
ontologicalflavor.
perhaps part
of
named
manifold
as
"the
it
translates
Even Sprung
things,"whichis at best
ambiguousbecauseone is notsurewhethertheemphasisshouldbe on namedor
on things.The Tibetan exegeticaltraditionholds that the termought to be
of
theobjectively
understoodin thesenseof expressing
counterpart
experienced
and
the
other
words,
objectified
crystalized
conceptualization(vikalpa)-in
to notethatCheng,basinghimself
It is interesting
aspectof conceptualization.
It
on an earlyChineseMadhyamakatradition,
agreeswiththisinterpretations.17

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47

ofthetermwerenotcorrect,giventhe
wouldbe remarkableifthisinterpretation
and venerableBuddhisttraditionsagree
factthattwo recognized,independent,
avoids goingbeyondthe exclusively
thisinterpretation
upon it. Significantly,
mentalnatureofexperienceand does notontologizetheobject.At thesametime,
however,it can deal withtheobjectas ifit werereal forpracticalpurposes.
So is theMadhyamakaphilosophyreducibleto idealism;and whatthenis the
betweentheMadhyamakaand theYogacara, therecognizedschool
distinction
ofBuddhistidealism?Indeed,itis arguedon thebasis ofthepassagesjustquoted
that the fundamentalattitudeof the Yogacara was already implicitin the
Madhyamaka and even more in the Buddha's own utterances.This much is
school
of Santaraksita,founderof thesynthetic
supportedbytheinterpretation
of the Yogacara-Madhyamaka,who, it is contended,only made explicitand
thetendenciesalreadyevidentin theworksofMadhyamakaauthors.
systematic
or ontological
Nonetheless,theMadhyamakais notidealisminthemetaphysical
sense.This is in factthepointupon whichtheMadhyamakaand theYogacara
split.The Yogacara, accordingto the Madhyamaka view,errinsofaras they
make consciousnessintoa real,an existing,thing,an ontologicalor metaphysical entity.Theystray,too, fromtheBuddha's wayin thatratherthanavoiding
thealternatives
of existenceand nonexistence,
theyassertboth theexistenceof
consciousnessand the nonexistenceof the object. The Madhyamaka, while
thefactthatall experienceis mental,can yetavoid thepitfallsof
acknowledging
assertion
metaphysical
dogmatism,becausethisfactleads itnotto metaphysical
and negation,butratherto soteriologicalfreedom.The Madhyamakaindeed,as
in employingtheattitudesof realism,
Candrakirtipointsout, has no difficulty
idealism,and so forth,because all these formulationsare just pedagogical
devices,soteriologicaltools,not ontologicalassertions.18
TRANSCENDENTAL

IDEALISM AND EMPIRICAL REALISM

In theWest,ImmanuelKant attemptedto resolvetheconflictbetweenrationalismand empiricism,


and themorefundamental
one betweenrealismand idealhis
of
It
ism, by means of
critique pure reason. has been suggestedthat his
solutionraisesmoreproblemsthanitsolves,and ithas sometimesbeenregarded
as skepticism.19
It is ironicthatthe Madhyamaka has been comparedto this
It
be
in philosophicalattitudeand a
system. may venturedthata certainaffinity
coincidence
with
to
a
set
of
striking
regard
philosophicalproblemspromptedthis
Like
the
Kant's
characteristic
comparison.
Madhyamaka,
philosophicalmethod
is criticaland dialectic,and, liketheMadhyamaka,hisphilosophyis ostensively
opposedto metaphysical
speculation.The antinomiesofKant correspondexactlyto thesetsof metaphysical
problemsrejectedas not tendingto edification
by
the Buddha.20 Notwithstanding
these similarities,
it will be argued that the
analogybetweenthe viewsof Madhyamaka and Kant is more apparentthan
real. Kant arrivedat his characteristic
philosophicalstandpointthroughan
examinationof themindor reason.For this,he has been creditedby T. R. V.

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48 Della Santina

in philosophy.21
In
Murtiwithwhathas beentermedtheCopernicanrevolution
otherwords,he focusedtheattentionofphilosophyuponthesubjectratherthan
the object.But Kant was unable to dispensewiththeassumptionof an extramentalreality.Indeed, he soughtto explain knowledgeas the resultof the
combinationof thedata givenin experiencewiththeformsof intuitionand of
understanding:
space,time,substance,and causality.Thisbeingthecase,all that
is known,all thatcan everbe known,is phenomenal-thatis,whatis presented
ofthemind.The absolute,thingsin
to theknowingsubjectthroughthestructures
never
be
known
butcan be assumedbecausesense
the
can
themselves, noumenal,
of
data,accordingto Kant,musthavea causewhichis notthesubject.The effects
whichinfluencesensibilityare representathe unknownthings-in-themselves
tions.The purposeof Kant's critiquewas to limitthedomainof knowledgeto
ofmetaphysicians
theempirical.In thisway,he hopedto exposethepretensions
noumenal.
the
unknowable
about
who vainlyseekto say something
Therebyhe
intendedto makeroomforfaiththroughdisallowingreasonin thesphereofthe
absolute,essentiallythe same concernthat had animatedthe doctorsof the
earlier.
Churchat Nicaea morethana millennium
Kantian
From the Madhyamakapoint of view,
philosophyis riddledwith
difficulties.
Despite beingdialectical,it is dualisticand ontological,evenmetaas
physical, Chengpointsout.22Synthesisis not a solution,as is clearfromthe
Madhyamaka critiqueof the Jaina philosophy.In ascribingknowledgeto a
combinationof objectivesensedata and thesubjectiveformsof themind,Kant
betraysan ontologicalcommitmentto both the object and the subject. In
addition,theassumptionofan extramental
realityrequiresthatthegap between
a
be
and
theoryof perception,the
bridgedby representative
subject
object
out.
been
has
ofwhich already
Moreover,theradicalpolarity
pointed
instability
betweenthe ontologicalcharacterof Kant's notionof the noumenaland the
theend
phenomenalare foreignto theMadhyamaka.Finallyand significantly,
of Kant's critiqueis trivialfromtheMadhyamakapointof view.
Kant's system,as it has been said, grewout of the attemptto resolvethe
whichdid notexistfor
conflictbetweenrationalismand empiricism-a conflict
theMadhyamakanorindeedforany systemof Indian thought,forthereasons
betweenidealexplainedearlier.Again,Kant soughtto resolvethecontroversy
to thesubjectiveand objective
ismand realismbyascribingparticularfunctions
ofknowledge.In theprocess,Kant had to resortto
componentsin theformation
of
a representative
theory perception.AlthoughthehistoryofBuddhistthought
inIndia didincludea phaseofcriticalrealismin thecourseofwhicha representatheMadhyamakaneverhad to face
tivetheoryof perceptionwas entertained,
of expereferent
because it neverassumedan extra-mental
thispredicament,
have
in
themselves,
rience.Theseconsiderations,
however,thoughtellingenough
find
to
like
who
those
considered
been
author's
by
knowledge,
never,to the
parallelsbetweenthe Madhyamakaand Kantian philosophy.Here, too, they
shall not be treatedat length,because it is when the real heart of Kant's

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49

philosophy,thedoctrineof thenoumenaland thephenomenal,is reachedthat


thereis a greatertemptation
to see apparentcoincidencesand yetan evengreater
of actuallydiversephilosophieswillengender
dangerthata facileidentification
ratherthanappreciation.
misunderstanding
The Kantian noumenaland phenomenalhave been termedtheabsoluteand
therelative,and thesetermshavebeenimposedas itwereupon theMadhyamaka
and conventionalor appaconceptionsof ultimatetruth(paramdrtha-satya)
ritionaltruth(vyavahdraor samvrti-satya).
The Madhyamaka'sadvocacyofthe
ultimatetruthhas led T. R. V. Murtito call itabsolutism.Althoughinall fairness
itmustbe said thathe does so in orderto save theMadhyamakafromthecharge
of nihilism,does he do itjusticein clothingit withanotherthreadbaregarment
fromthewardrobeof philosophicallabels whichis, to say theleast,ill-fitting?
SurelyMurtiknowsthatthe translationof paramdrtha(literally,highestend,
purpose,or meaning)as "absolute" can scarcelybe justifiedetymologically.
thetranslationoftheterms"vyavahdraor samvrti"(literally,
convenSimilarly,
tion,usage, languageor obscured,covered,veiled)by "relative"standson no
firmer
ground.What,then,otherthana fascinationwitha conceptualanalogy,
could induce a competentscholarto adopt thesetermsforthe Madhyamaka
conceptionsoftheultimateand conventionaltruths;and yet,a wholegeneration
oftranslators,
influenced
witha conceptualanalogy,have
bythissamefascination
theMadhyamakaas absolutism.
adoptedthesetermsand have characterized
On theevidenceof theMadhyamaka'sown texts,too, theultimatetruthhas
nothingto do withKant's things-in-themselves.
Indeed,thedivisionbetweenthe
ultimateand conventionaltruths,fortheMadhyamaka,is nothingmorethana
pedagogicaldevice.23Emptiness(sunyatd)is said to be theultimatetruth,but
emptinessis not an ontologicalcategory,buta soteriologicaltherapy.24
Emptiof all things,is itselfrelative.The ultimatetruth,like the
ness, the relativity
is devoidofindependent
conventional,
being.Thismuchhas beenindicatedalso
Kant's absolute,his nouby Cheng.25What thenof the things-in-themselves,
menal?Theycould perhapsbe likenedto theuniqueparticularsoftheSautrantbuthardly
ikas,theconceptionso elaboratelyexplainedby Th. Stcherbatsky,26
to theMadhyamakaconceptionof emptinessor theultimatetruth.
Now what of Kant's notionof thephenomenal,theabsolutelyunknowable
knownthroughthe formsof time,space, substance,and
things-in-themselves
Kant
believed
theseformsto be necessaryand unalterable,and so
causality?
fromthe Madhyamaka point of view inescapablyontological.27For Kant,
because here,reason was
empiricalknowledgewas true,unlikemetaphysics,
limitedto its propersphere.This was naturalenoughforone who wishedto
guaranteethephilosophicalfoundationsof science,but forthe Madhyamaka,
theconventionalor apparitionaltruthis neithernecessaryand unalterable,noris
has importantramiempiricalknowledgetrue.The firstof theseconsiderations
ficationsfor the resultsof the Kantian and the Madhyamaka philosophical
and thesecond,appliedto themorerecentattemptto see
exercises,respectively,

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50 Della Santina

similaritiesbetweenthe Madhyamaka and the school of language analysis,


of theMadhyamakaphilosophy.
disallowsanotherpopularmisconception
Kant's philosophyyieldsfewexistential
becausein consonancewith
benefits,
theWesternphilosophicaltraditionit is concernedwithdescription
ratherthan
withchange.As Hume was pleased to go back to playingbackgammonafter
havingindulgedhimselfin philosophicaldiversions,so Kant was resignedto
continuingto live in a worldof illusion,finallyand unalterablycondemnedto
faith.Thushe
exceptperhapsthrough
ignoranceoftheabsolute,thehighertruth,
damnedman throughphilosophyin orderto save himthroughreligion,butno
suchmaneuversare necessaryfortheMadhyamaka.The onlypositiveresultof
is thatit
whichdoes notdependupon revelation,
Kant's critiqueofmetaphysics
ofmetaphysicians
and limitsknowledgeto the
curbsthepretensions
ostensively
empirical.As a consequence,philosophersare warnedto avoid the forbidden
speculativecosmology,and naturaltheologyand
groundofrationalpsychology,
theirdescriptive
are encouragedto concentrate
talents,suchas theymaybe, on
thesphereof theempirical.
For theMadhyamaka,theformsof experience-space,time,substance,and
true
causality-are neithernecessaryand unalterable,norare theyintrinsically
evenon thelevelofconventionaltruth.Bythesametoken,theultimatetruth,or
is notin principleunknowable.The formsofthemind,space,and so
emptiness,
on are for the Madhyamaka the resultof conceptualizationconditionedby
to conceptualconstructions;
and corresponding
mentalimpressions
theyare,in
rise
to these
that
The
tendencies
habitual
otherwords,objectified
give
concepts.
formsofexperiencecan be self-consciously
altered,and thisindeedis theaim of
the Madhyamaka philosophy.The ultimatetruth,unlike Kant's things-inis knowablenotonlybynondualperceptionvouchsafedbymeditathemselves,
the
for"By thereasonthatsundersconceptualisation,
also
but
tion,
byinference,
of
the
ultimate
of
ultimateis knownmediately."28The result thisknowledge
ofexperiencefrom
transformation
is theprogressive
mediatelyand immediately
theundesirableto thedesirable.This is possible,fortheMadhyamaka,because
neitherthe conventionalnor the ultimateis set up as an ontologicalentity
existingas it wereobjectivelyand in its own right.Both are rathermodes of
and soteriologically
experience,the latterpreferablebecause psychologically
desirable.In otherwords,thatwhichmakesone freeis thetruth.
It is of course not suggestedthat Murtiis obliviousto all or any of these
considerations.What is suggestedis that,persuadedby the fascinationof a
oftheMadhyamakaphilosophyin relationto
conceptualanalogy,histreatment
of Kantianterminology
his
use
liberal
Kantianconceptsand
inexorablylead to
theemergenceofa somewhatdistortedpictureoftheMadhyamaka.This is not
characterof muchof whatMurtihas to say about the
to denytheilluminating
of alien
It
to
warn
of thedangerof acceptingtheapplicability
is
Madhyamaka.
in its
different
so
of
a
to
and
system thought patently
terminology
concepts
concern.
fundamental
and
orientation

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51

LANGUAGE ANALYSIS

The Madhyamaka,as it has been suggested,is a systemof soteriology.The


systemworksby the applicationof progressivenegationsof (perhapsbetter)
correctives.
Thus theultimatetruthnegatesor correctstheconventional,while
theultimatetruthis itselfnegatedor correctedbyenforcing
therecognition
ofits
functionto theexclusionof anyontologicalclaimon itsbehalf.It is
therapeutic
suggestedthattheKantian interpretation,
by makingtheMadhyamakainto a
kindoftranscendental
absolutism,emphasizesthenegationoftheconventional,
whiletheinterpretation
along thelinessuggestedbymodernlanguageanalysis,
bymakingtheMadhyamakaintoa kindofpositivism,
emphasizesthenegation
of thenegationof theconventionaltruth,thatis, the negationof theultimate
truth.However,thenegationofa negationfortheMadhyamakadoes notmean
thereinstatement
oftheoriginalhypothesis.
Whenitis said thatthetherapyis no
longerneededoncethedisorderhas beencured,thisis notto acceptthedisorder
as it was beforethetherapywas applied.
the
Strengand Gudmunsenliketo emphasizethefactthat,likeWittgenstein,
the
notion
of
an
referent
of
words.
This is
Madhyamakarejects
extralinguistic
indeedto say verylittlethatis new or revealingabout the Madhyamaka.The
advocatedbytheNaiyayikas
theorythatwordsmustreferto objectswas chiefly
in ancientIndia, and, like the whole of theirphilosophyof naive realism,it
was a favoriteobject of refutationforthe Madhyamaka. However,does the
referent
of words
Madhyamaka's rejectionof the notionof an extralinguistic
mean thatit endorsestheeverydayuse of languageas somehowvaluable in its
own right?Does it mean,as Gudmunsensuggests,thattheresultof the Madmoreor less as it is?29 The latterin fact
hyamakacritiqueis to leave everything
refersto theZen storywhichruns,"Beforeyouhave studiedZen, mountainsare
mountainsand riversare rivers;whileyou are studyingit, mountainsare no
longermountainsand riversareno longerrivers;butonceyouhavehad Enlightenment,mountainsare once again mountainsand riversare rivers."30 Waldo
are paradigmsofwhat
goes so faras to claimthatordinarylanguagestatements
1 so is itthentheend oftheMadhyamakaphilosophy
we call trueand coherent,3
simplyto leteveryonego back to playingbackgammonor theordinarylanguage
gamewiththeassurancethatherelies truth?
likeKant,was interested
in securinglegitimacy
Wittgenstein,
throughdelimitation.Kant wantedto rescuephilosophyfromdisreputethroughlimiting
reason
to theempirical.This enabledhimto disallowmetaphysics
and so open theway
forreligion.Wittgenstein
wantedto rescuephilosophyfromconflict
and perplexto thedescriptionof language
itythroughlimitingthephilosophicalenterprise
and languageitselfto itseverydayratherthanitsmetaphysical
use. In thisway,
he believedhe could dissolvephilosophicalproblems.Whileboththesephilosofunctionof philophersare concernedwithsavingsomethingof thedescriptive
sophy,theMadhyamakahas nothingto save,neitherthemetaphysicalnor the

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52 Della Santina

ordinaryuse of conceptsand language. The Madhyamaka is not interested


in description,but in freedom,whichinterestis afterall a reflection
of their
traditions.
respective
IfWittgenstein
differs
fromKant inhisattitudetowardstheroleofphilosophy
inpersonallife,itis inthatheno longerfeelstotallyboundto leavereligionalone,
the progressive
to divorceit as it werefromphilosophy.This perhapsreflects
in theWesternphilosophicaltradition
whichoccurredbetweenthe
liberalization
the
thediscerniblesoteriologand
twentieth
centuries.
Nonetheless,
eighteenth
utterancescan hardlyjustifythecomplete
ical flavorof some of Wittgenstein's
redefinition
of philosophywithinthe Westerntradition.It may be true,as
withhis religiousconcernfitsrather
Gudmunsensuggests,that Wittgenstein
intoa philosophicaltraditionnotableforits lack of existential
uncomfortably
but Nagarjuna's positionas a so-calledphilosophicalwriterin a
relevance,32
is somethingof an
is by no means similar.Wittgenstein
tradition
religious
butNagarjuna'sphilosophyoccupiesa central
anomalyintheWesterntradition,
place in whatcan easilybe termedthe predominantBuddhistreligioustradias it is in the
tilttowardsoteriology,
tion.Moreover,Wittgenstein's
refreshing
a
shallow
and timid
contextoftheWesternphilosophicaltradition,
suppliesonly
suggestionof freedomcomparedwiththedramaticand radicaltransformation
of experienceoffered
by theMadhyamaka.
claimmadeon behalfoftheMadhyamakathat
So whatoftheWittgensteinian
as it is? Nagarjuna
is to leave everything
exercise
the
theend of
philosophical
neverdenied the relevanceof the whole gamut of ethicaland psychological
means of alteringthe
practicesofferedby the Buddhisttraditionas effective
undesirablecharacterof experienceconditionedby negativeand dualisticpromode of experienceknownas
pensitiesand so of realizingthe transformed
If theend oftheprocessis thediscardingoftheapparatusas inenlightenment.
itis analogousto thediscarddicatedinworksliketheMulamadhyamakakdrikd,
to remaining
It
nottantamount
is
been
crossed.33
the
river
has
raft
once
the
of
ing
crediblethat,
to it.Is ittherefore
on thenearsideoftheriveror,worse,returning
fortheMadhyamaka,theend of soteriologyshouldbe a returnto themode of
an acceptanceoftheordinaryuse oflanguage
ofthemanin thestreet,
experience
as a paradigmof truth?If thereis a returnfortheMadhyamaka,it is a return
notbya positiveevaluation
ofaltruistic
dictatedbytherequirements
soteriology,
of theordinaryuse of languageand theordinarymode of experience.
For theMadhyamaka,languageand ordinaryexperienceare neithertruenor
false.34If theMadhyamakaresortsto ordinarymodesof expressionin orderto
mode of experiencewhichis thegoal of thesoteriologsuggestthetransformed
ical process,it is merelya concessionto a conventionalusage sustainedby a
prevalentillusion.The Madhyamakasare veryexplicitabout theircondemnationof ordinarylinguisticconvention.All theseconventionsare determined
error,thenatureofwhichis likenedto a mirage,a dream,and
bya fundamental
a magicalillusion.35

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53

CONCLUSION

The Madhyamakateachesthemiddleway,a philosophicalattitudeenshrinedin


theverynameofthesystem.The middlewayis soteriologically
desirablebecause
itpreventsentanglement
in extremes-thatis,in limitedpositionswhichimpede
freedom.No doubt the Madhyamaka makes use of positionsand even of
The literature
ofthesystemis
propositionsin theworkingout ofitssoteriology.
repletewith such formulations:realism,idealism,self,not-self,and so on.
Nonetheless,to interpretthe systemby choosingto emphasizeany of these
formulations-thenegationof theordinarymode,thenegationof thenegation
itas absolutism,nihilism,
is to
oftheordinarymode-to interpret
or positivism,
betweenphilosophy
misstherealpointofthesystemand to ignorethedifference
It is forthisreasonthattheinterpretation
and soteriology.
of theMadhyamaka
in termsof Kantian or Wittgensteinian
thoughtis hardlysatisfactory.
Thereis no doubt thatphilosophyin theWestis beginningto show signsof
theconstraints
whichthehistoryof its originsand earlydeveloptranscending
mentimposedupon it. A numberofindicationswhichmaybe gleanedfromthe
and
approachesadopted by languageanalysis,existentialism,
phenomenology,
are
all
evidence
the
dawn
in
of
of
a
new
attitude
Western
post-structuralism
philosophy.Despite all this,in the opinionof theauthor,Westernphilosophy
has yet to produce a systemof thoughtthat successfully
unitesthe rigorof
with
the
relevance
of
in
an
philosophy
religion
integrated
systemof soteriology
in
of
access
to
freedom
its
fullest
and
most
capable providing
completesense.
Such a systemis availablein theMadhyamaka.36

NOTES
1. JohnHospers,AnIntroduction
toPhilosophical
Analysis(London: Routledgeand Kegan Paul
Limited,1956),pp. 183ff.
2. L. Jamspaland P. Della Santina,"The HeartofInterdependent
Origination,"TheJournalof
theDepartment
of Delhi, 1974),verse4 and commentary.
ofBuddhistStudies(University
3. Ibid., p. 496.
4. Majjhima NikdyaI, pp. 426-432 (Sutta 63); pp. 483-484 (Sutta 72); Samryutta
NikdyaIII,
NikayaIV, pp. 374-403 (VacchagottaSamyuttamand AvyakataSamyuttan).
pp. 257ff;Sarhyutta
5. Sarhyutta
NikayaII, p. 17.
6. MajjhimaNikdyaI, 426ff(Cila MalufikyaSutta).
7. Nagarjuna,RatndvalT
II, verse113.
8. "The Heart of Interdependent
Origination,"verse5 and commentary.
9. Nagarjuna,Sunyatdsaptati,
verse50 (author'stranslation).
10. Nagarjuna,Malamadhyamakakdrikd,
chap. 18,verse5.
11. Nagarjuna,MahdydnaViizaka, trans.by Susumu Yamaguchi,in The EasternBuddhist4,
no. 2 (Kyoto, 1927),verse10.
12. Quoted fromthe VyavahdraSiddhi of Nagarjuna in the Madhyamakalahkarapanjikd
of
KamalaSila (author'stranslation).
13. Ratndval II, verses104-106.
14. Mulamadhyamakakdrikd
XV, verses6 and 7.
15. Ibid., I, verse62.

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54 Della Santina

16. M. Sprung,LucidExpositionof theMiddle Way(Boulder,Colorado, GreatEastern,1980).


The San-Lun MadhyamikaExpo17. Cheng,Hsueh-Li,"Nagarjuna, Kant and Wittgenstein:
sitionof Emptiness,"JournalofReligiousStudies17 (1981): 79.
to Mulamadhyamakakdrikd
18. Candrakirti,
XVIII, verses5 and 8.
Prasannapadd,commentary
19. Hospers,Introduction
p. 185.
20. MajjhimaNikdyaI, pp. 426ff(Cula MalunkyaSutta).
21. Murti,T. R. V., The CentralPhilosophyof Buddhism(London: George Allen and Unwin,
1955),pp. 123-124.
22. Cheng,"Nagarjuna,Kant and Wittgenstein,"
p. 75.
23. Mulamadhyamakakdrikd,
XXIV, verse10.
24. Ibid.,XIII, verses7 and 8; XXII, verse11.
25. Cheng,"Nagarjuna,Kant and Wittgenstein,"
p. 68.
26. Th. Stcherbatsky,
BuddhistLogic,vol. 1 (New York: Dover Publications,1962).
27. Mulamadhyamakakdrikd,
XV, verse8.
28. Madhyamakdlankdrakdrikd,
verse75 (author'stranslation).
and Buddhism(London: Macmillan,1977),p. 44.
29. C. Gudmunsen,Wittgenstein
30. Ibid., p. 69.
31. I. Waldo, "Nagarjuna and AnalyticPhilosophy,"PhilosophyEast and West28, no. 3 (July
1978).
and Buddhism,
32. Gudmunsen,Wittgenstein
pp. 68-80.
33. MajjhimaNikdya,I., p. 135 (AlaguddupamaSutta).
34. RatndvalT,
II, verses104-106.
35. Muilamadhyamakakdrikd,
VII, verse34 (Sunyatdsaptati
verse).
36. Prasannapadd,XCIII, verse5; and XXII, verse16 (author'stranslation).

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