Dialogue  October-December, 2012, Volume 14 No. 2

1.      The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism

Tashi Tsering                                                                                                             


1) The Religious History of the Sakya School

In order to prove the authenticity of all the four Tibetan Buddhist Schools, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Gelug, as different branches of Buddhism, two things may be said on it. Firstly, Tibetan scholars and saints came to India and learnt from their Indian counterparts and brought the teachings to Tibet along with them. Secondly, Indian scholars and saints went to Tibet and blessed the Tibetans with their teachings and thereafter, the schools flourished. Hence, if any or both of these qualities is or are there, we may say that a particular school is an authentic Buddhist school of thought. Particularly, the Sakyapa school is endowed with both these qualities because Drogme Lotsawa Shakya Yeshe (0992-1072 ) came to India and learnt for eighteen years under various scholars such as Shantipa, Bhikshu Vir Vajra and others, and the Indian saint Gayadhara went to Tibet and blessed Drogme with his teachings on Lamdre (The Path and The Result/Marg Fal). Not only this, in the early thirteenth century, the Indian Kashmir Pandit Shakya Shri Bhadra, the then Vikramashila Abbot, along with some scholars went to Tibet and especially in the Sakya place blessed Sakya Pandit Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251) with many Sutra and Tantra teachings. So, the Sakya school had many direct links with Indian Buddhist scholarship and hence, the teachings of the Sakyapa school are authentic beyond any doubt.

* Dr Tashi Tsering, Associate Professor-in-Buddhist Philosophy & Dean, Faculty of Buddhist Philosophy, Central University of Tibetan Studies, Sarnath, Varanasi, (U.P.)

The characteristic features of this school have the following unique qualities: the teachings must be given by the Buddha, compiled by the councillors, practised and meditated by the saints, explained by the scholars, translated by translators and well-known among the scholars.

The Four Tibetan Buddhist Schools are not classified on the basis of the difference in lineage in relation to the Sutras, but on the basis of Tantra that flourished in Tibet. According to the Tantra tradition, among a multiple of existent teachings, the Sakyapas emphasize mainly on the idea of Lamdre (The Path and The Result/Marg and Fal), in which He-Vajra is considered as the main deity. In the manner in which all teachings must be related to the Buddha Shakyamuni in the Sutra tradition, who is in the form of a Bhikshu, all Tantra teachings must be related to Vajradhara and his consort in the Tantra tradition. The Lamdre Tantra teaching lineage of the Sakyapa school commenced from Vajradhara and Vajra Nairatma (the consort of Vajradhara and the great Indian Siddhas, (1)1 Virupa/Birwapa, (2) Krishnapa, (3) Damarupa, (4) Avadhutipa and, (5) Gayadhara. It was Gayadhara who went to Tibet and blessed Drogme Lotsawa with the Lamdre teachings. So, these teachings were brought to Tibet through the five afore-mentioned Indian Siddhas.

Birwapa was a prince and after abandoning his kingdom, he became a monk under the abbot Dharma Mitra and came to be known as Shri Dharma Pala. He later became a great scholar, especially in Chittamatram (the Mind only) school, which he learned under the abbot, Vasubhandhu, and wrote a commentary on Chatu Shatak. He was empowered by the abbot with Chakrasamvara after which he himself became the abbot in Nalanda after Vasubhandhu. His usual routine consisted of giving teachings to the Nalanda monks during the daytime and meditating on the Tantra deity at night. He did this for twelve years, yet he did not experience any auspicious sign and, on the contrary, he had some inappropriate visions, such as, the sun and the moon falling down, the river going upward and so on and so forth. So, he made a resolution that from that day onwards, he would give up his meditation of the Tantra deity, and would rather impart teachings to the monks. He threw his rosary away and adopted a different way of living. Once it so happened that in the night, he had a vision of a woman advising him to carry on with his meditation on the deity.

In the night of 23rd of the sixth month of the lunar calendar, he attained the first Bodhisattva Bhumi and became a real Siddha. The status of the first Bhumi is considered to be the minimum qualification to become a real Siddha. He continued the meditation and attained the position of the sixth Bhumi on the 29th of the same month. After attaining Siddhahood, he went to Varanasi where he again meditated for one year. Due to the scorching heat in summer and intense cold in winter, the colour of his body changed completely. So, people named him ‘Virupa’ which means an ugly form/shape. As it is known that in Sanskrit, ‘Rupa’ means body/form and when the ‘Upsarg’ ‘Vi’ is prefixed, it becomes ‘Virup’, which is contrary to ‘Rupa’, thereby meaning an ugly form/shape. Such is the case with ‘Vimal’.  Sometimes, this ‘Upsarg’ ‘Vi’ becomes supportive instead of becoming a contrast, such as, when the ‘Upsarg’ ‘Vi’ is applied to ‘Jay’, it becomes ‘Vijay’, which means ‘Complete Victory’. There is a stanza in Sanskrit grammar which says:  "Through the power of Upsarg, the Dhatu changes. Though the water of the Ganga is sweet, it becomes mixed with ocean water". He manifested many signs of the attainment of Siddhahood in various places in Varanasi as well as in other places in South India. Thereafter, he reported all the activities he had done, commencing from becoming a monk, to Kasarpani Avalokiteshwara. Avalokiteshwara said: ‘Kul Putra, though you have the power to transform Mount Sumeru into ashes, sentient beings have various forms of propensity of Karma. So, do not demonstrate so much power’. He said: ‘I will go to Somnath and after that will act in accordance with your advice’.  When we look at the biography of this Acharya as well as the eighty Indian Siddhas, we find many miracles performed by them. But, in the twenty first century a very limited number of people will be eager to trust them. Therefore, it seems wise to keep all those facts unmentioned here.  Virupa had two main disciples, namely, Krishnacharin and Dombi Heruka, to whom he gave two different teachings of Lamdre, in accordance with their different mental propensities. Krishnacharin was considered as a Less Fortunate Disciple on whom the Acharya bestowed the Gradual Path of Lamdre, according to the tradition of Instruction, whereas Dombi Heruka was considered as a More Fortunate Disciple on whom the Acharya bestowed the Sudden Path of Lamdre, in accordance with the tradition of the Commentary. So, in India it is well known that Acharya Virupa preserved the Buddha Dharma through his Siddha power, Acharya Dharma Kirti preserved the Buddha Dharma through his power of debating and King Ashoka preserved the Buddha Dharma through his Kingship.

After successively passing the Lamdre teachings to the five Indian masters, Gayadhara went to Tibet and came under the direct discipleship of the first Tibetan scholar Drogme Lotsawa Shakya Yeshe (6). That was the time when Buddhism was destroyed by the Tibetan king, Langdharma, and most of the people were trying to proceed to India in order to take the teachings back to Tibet. The King of Ngari also selected some young and intelligent Tibetans, so that they could learn in India, among whom Drogme was one. They went to Nepal and learnt some Sutras and Tantras under the Nepalese master Shanti Bhadra, the eldest among the four Phamthingpa brothers. Drogme eventually learnt how to take teachings in the Sanskrit language. They asked Shanti Bhadra how to proceed for India and according to his instruction they first went to Bodhgaya and then to Vikramshila, where they learnt mainly under Acharya Shantipa, along with the Six Door Keepers. They also received teachings from other masters. Drogme went to South India to see Kasarpani Avalokiteshwara, who predicted for him that in the way a master, who held the tradition of Acharya Virupa, would bless him. He also said that, another master would come to deliver the teachings at his door. According to the prediction that Avalokiteshwara made, he saw a beautiful Bhikshu holding an alm bowl and receiving alms near a tree. He witnessed this when he was in South India.  He requested him to bestow him with instructions. The Bhikshu said: ‘In order to receive instruction you need empowerment’. Drogme said: ‘I have got empowerment from a Nepalese master and Shantipa’. The Bhikshu said: ‘For my instruction you need my empowerment’. After bestowing the He-Vajra empowerment, he received some instructions. When Drogme requested to bestow more teachings on him, the Bhikshu said: ‘Though I don’t need any wealth, the preparation of an auspicious condition is very important in the Vajrayana tradition. So, if you need more teachings, go to your place and bring wealth’. The Bhikshu was Virvajra alias Prajna Inder Ruchi, the disciple of Acharya Durjay Chandra. Drogme went to Tibet and collected a lot of gold and, again, went to meet Acharya Virvajra in the court of King Chanakya and received many teachings.

Drogme established a Dharma Centre in Tibet where the Indian master Gayadhara came and bestowed the Lamdre teachings in their complete form. Drogme offered 500 gold coins to Gayadhara. Drogme was very strict in his teachings and gave teachings only to one person. Hence, there was a saying: ‘Four ears lack teaching.’ Even Marpa Lotsawa, the founding master of the Kagyu School in Tibetan Buddhism, stayed three years under Drogme hoping to get the Tantra teachings, but got an opportunity to learn only the very basic things. Later, Marpa said in his Dharma song: ‘I stayed three years in the mental condition of a hungry ghost in the monastery of Pal Muguling, where a rich tradition of Tantra teachings existed at that time’. The teaching successively passed from Drogme to (7) Seton Kunrig (1025 – 1130), (8) Shangton Choebar (1053-1136) and five founding Sakyapa masters who are, (9) Sachin Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158), (10) Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182), (11) Dragpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216), (12) Sakya Pandit Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251), and (13) Choegyal Phakpa (1235-1380).

Khon Kunchok Gyalpo, the father of Sachen Kunga, was born in 1034, and at the age of 40 in 1073, he built a Dharma Centre at Grey Ground ( Grey = Kya; Ground = Sa) and since then this school has been called Sakya. When the Indian master Atisha Dipankar Shri Jñana came to this particular place in Tibet, it was said that he had visions of one Hri, the seven Dhi and one Hum, and he predicted that in the future initially, there would be one incarnation of Avalokiteshwara, seven incarnations of Manjushri and one incarnation of Vajrapani. Later, there would be many incarnations of these three deities. Though this school got a new name for building the Sakya Dharma Centre, it does not mean that a new kind of teaching instantaneously sprang up without any reliance on the previous masters. The teachings pertained to the same Lamdre of Drogme. It can hence be inferred that, at the time of development of the Sakya teachings, it might have been initiated from Drogme, as there was an authentic proof. Though Khon Kunchok Gyalpo received the Lamdre teachings from Drogme, he could not pass it to his son Sachen Kunga Nyinpo. That is why, in the Lamdre lineage we cannot find the name of Kunchok Gyalpo. He was the first Sakya Throne Holder (Sakya Trizin) and at present His Holiness Sakya Trizin who resides at Rajpur, Dehra Dun, is 41st in number. 

Sachen Kunga Nyingpo (1092-1158) was born when his father Khon Kunchok Gyalpo was 59 years old. He was 11 years old when his father passed away. So, Sachen gave a Sakya seat to Bari Lotsawa. In accordance with the advice of Bari Lotsawa, Sachen performed a six-month retreat on Manjushri and had direct vision. Manjushri pronounced a stanza summarizing all the pithy instructions of Buddhist practices, which are as follows:

"If you have attachment to this life, you are not a religious person. If you have attachment to the cyclic existence, you do not have renunciation. If you have attachment to your own purpose, you are not a Bodhisattava. If grasping arises, you do not have the view."

Sachen learnt under many scholars such as Dharma Nyingpo, Kyung Rinchen Drak, Melang Tserma, Dharma Gyaltsen, Gyichuwa Dalhabar, Purang Lochung, Lama Namkhaupa and so forth. Lama Gyichuwa instructed him to become a monk and, thereafter, Lama passed away. When Sachen was collecting the appropriate robes, Lama Namkhaupa asked him why Sachen was doing so. Sachen replied that, in accordance with the instruction of Lama Gyichuwa, he was going to become a monk. Lama Namkhaupa said: ‘Both of us are your Lama, and one has passed away, whereas I am still alive. So, it is reasonable to listen to the advice of a Lama who is still alive rather than to the advice of the one who has expired. Not becoming a monk is much more beneficial for both the Buddha Dharma and sentient beings.’ Then he thought of receiving the Lamdre teachings of the Sakya lineage, but found Lama Shangton Choebar to have already received the teachings. After various investigations, he found Lama Shangton Choebar to be dwelling in some village. When he requested the Lama to bestow on him the Lamdre teachings, the Lama initially denied the existence of the Lamdre teachings by saying: ‘These teachings seem to belong to the New Tantra Tradition, and I have never heard even the name of this teaching. Hence, knowing and receiving the teachings are very far away. I am practising the Nyingma Tantra now’. It is very evident that the Lama refused in this way. When he requested the Lama several times, he said: ‘If that is the case, then I have the teaching which has a potential to make any man attain Buddhahood in this very life of his. So, don’t be late because I am going to die in the near future’.  At that time, the Lama was 68 years old and gave the full Lamdre teachings for four years. When the teachings were complete, the Lama said: ‘Don’t give this teaching to others for 18 years and, also, don’t pronounce even the name of the teaching. After 18 years, whatever you do with the teachings, you become its owner’. Sachen was 28 years old and kept the teachings secret till he was 50 years old. In that very year, a person called Aseng came to know about the existence of these teachings and requested to bestow them on him. Sachen gave the teachings for the first time to Aseng and that text came to be called the ‘Lamdre Asengma’.

Sonam Tsemo (1142-1182)

Sachen had three sons, namely, Sonam Tsemo, Drakpa Gyaltsen and Palchen Odpo. Sonam Tsemo was born when his father was 51 years old. He learnt under his father as well as under Chapa Choekyi Senge, and later became an excellent scholar in the Sutra and the Tantra traditions. He was considered as a reincarnation of the Indian scholar and saint, Durjay Chandra. He wrote many scriptures, such as, ‘Entry into the Dharma’, and so forth.

Drakpa Gyaltsen (1147-1216)

At the age of eight, he took the Brahmacarya Upasak vow from Bodhisattava Dawa Gyalsten and remained very strict on the vow. He received many Tantra teachings from Gnyen Tsuktor Gyalpo, Shang Tsultrim Drag and so forth and usually had visions of 70 different deities in a day. Kashmir Maha Pandit Shakyasri Bhadra along with his disciples came to visit him suddenly without prior notice. With hesitation, Jestun Drakpa instantly stood up keeping hanging the Vajra and the bell in the air. The Maha Pandit said: ‘This much is not an amazing thing’.  Jestun Drakpa said: ‘I have not done this hoping to have an amazing experience.’  When the Maha Pandit responded to the prostration of Jetsun, the disciples said: ‘It is inappropriate to respond to a lay person’. The Maha Pandit said: ‘I saw him as the Guhya Samaj Mandala’.  In a later period, he was invited to visit China, which was under the Mongolian rule at that time. He refused it but promised to send his nephew, Sakya Pandit Kunga Gyaltsen, later.

Sakya Pandit Kunga Gyaltsen (1182-1251)

Sakya Pandit Kunga Gyaltsen was an outstanding scholar among the Tibetans, no matter in what school they belong to. He was called ‘Sapan’ by the Tibetan people.  His works are also acceptable to all. He learnt under many scholars and saints such as, Jetsun Drakpa, Shuton Dorjee Kyab, Maja Jangchup Tsundue, Tsurton Senge, Tsegpa Wangchug Senge and so forth. When he was 23, he met a Kashmir Pandit named, Shakyasri Bhadra, along with his disciples, and learnt many Sutra and Tantra teachings. Sapan used Tibetan texts, while Shakyasri taught in the Sanskrit language. For this Shakyasri’s disciples said: ‘Tibetans are ignorant since they focus on Tibetan texts, while the teacher reads and explains in Sanskrit.’  When Shakyasri told Sapan to explain the text, Sapan explained in Sanskrit language for which Shakyasri became very happy and conferred on him the title of ‘Pandit’. Since then Sapan became famously known in Tibet as the ‘Sakya Pandit’. So, that was the first time in Tibetan history that a Tibetan master was conferred the title of ‘Pandit’ by an Indian scholar. He received the vow of ordination, that is, the status of a Bhikshu, from Shakyasri when he was 27. Usually, when Sapan gave his teachings in logic (Praman), he frequently criticized the old Tibetan tradition to be discordant with the Indian view, and this was disliked by many Tibetan scholars, especially, Marsham Jamphel Dorjee, who sent his main disciple Oyugpa Rigpai Senge, who pretended as Sapan’s disciple, to debate with Sapan, thinking that if there was any incorrect explanation during the teachings, he would debate instantly. But after waiting for a long period of time, he found no fault and himself became one of the disciples of Sapan. Sapan wrote the Praman Yukti Nidhi in Tibetan and later translated it into Sanskrit. This was also something that happened for the first time in Tibet. Though there are hundreds of volumes of Kagyur and Tengyur that have been translated so far from Sanskrit into Tibetan, it is only Sapan’s Praman Yukti Nidhi, and no other text, that was translated from Tibetan to Sanskrit. In the portion of homage of the text, Sapan wrote: ‘Prostration to the Manjushri, who has vast wisdom and exalted eyes to see all the phenomena ….’

When this was written at the gate of the Nalanda University in India, Harinanda, one of Hindu scholars saw it and said:  ‘There is contradiction in the stanza because, on the one hand, Buddhists say that phenomena are limitless and, on the other hand, they speak about the one who ‘sees all of the phenomena’.  He, along with some disciples, came to debate with Sapan when Sapan was 59 and resided in the border of Tibet. The Sakya Pandit won in the debate and became more famous because he made history in the sense that it was only Sapan, the only Tibetan, who defeated an Indian Hindu master, in Sanskrit. The Chinese King Godhan Khan, after making thorough investigations, found Sapan to be an excellent scholar, who was adept enough to cause Buddhism to flourish in their country. So, at the age of 63, Sapan, along with Choegyal Phakpa, went to China and spread Buddhism till he was 70. Hence, it was only the Buddha Sakyamuni, then Acharya Nagarjuna, and, at the end, the Sakya Pandit, who had Ushnish (Protuberance) on the head, Urnakesh (long hair on forehead) and wheels on the feet and hands.

Choegyal Phakpa (1235-1380)

At a very early age, Choegyal Phakpa taught Tantra, to which everybody became amazed and said: ‘He must be a noble person (Phakpa)’.  Since then, he got the title of ‘Phakpa’.  He gained ordination under Sapan at the age of ten, and followed Sapan to China. Later on, he became the head priest of King Godhan Khan. King Godhan Khan offered all the three provinces of Tibet to Choegyal Phakpa as a token of gratitude, for the fact that the latter bestowed on the King the He-vajra empowerment. At that time, there was no sovereign King in Tibet, except that there were some regional kings. This was because those were the times that followed the destruction of Buddhism by King Langdharma. Hence, it was only Choegyal Phakpa who brought about freedom for the Tibetans through pure religion, without killing or harming a single sentient being. Since then, he became the first ordained Tibetan King who made history in Tibet. King Godhan Khan told Choegyal Phakpa to convert all the other Tibetan Buddhist religions into the Sakya religion, but Choegyal Phakpa refused and granted freedom to all religions. 

So, mentioned above are the brief biographies of the five founding Sakyapa masters. All of them are equally important, if one has to know about Sakyapa. After Choegyal Phakpa, the msters of the Lamdre lineage are: (14) Shang Kunchok Pal (1240-1308), (15) Nasa Drakphukpa (1277-1350), (16) Lama Dhampa Sonam Gyaltsen (1312-1375), (17) Lama Palden Tsultrim (1333-1399), (18) Buddha Sri (1339-1419), (19) Ngorchen Kunga Sangpo (1382-1456), (20) Muchen Sempa Chenpo (1383-1461), (21) Gyaltsab Kunga Wangchuk (1418-1462), (22) Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429-1481), (23) Kunchok Phel (1445-1514), (24) Sangye Rinchen (1453-1524), (25) Salo Jamphel Dorjee (1485-1553), (26) Kunchok Lhundup (1497-1557), (27) Ngawang Kunga Rinchen (1517-1558), (28) Kunchok Gyatso (1510-1586), (29) Jamyang Sonam Wangpo (1559-1621), (30) Drakpa Lodoe (1563-1617), (31) Muchen Sangye Gyaltsen (1573-1618), (32) Amed Shab Kunga Sonam (1597-1659), (33) Sonam Wangchuk (1638-1685), (34) Kunga Tashi (1656-1711), (35) Sonam Rinchen (1705-1741), (36) Ngawang Kunga Lodoe (1729-1783), (37) Ngari Kunga Tashi (1745-1817), (38) Pema Dhudul Wangchuk (1792-1853), (39) Ngawang Kunga Gyaltsen (1803-1841), (40) Tashi Rinchen (1823-1865), (41) Kunnying Samphel Norbu (1850-1899), (42) Dakshul Trinley Rinchen (1871-1936), (43) Khenchen Jamphel Sangpo (1901-1961), (44) (Present Sakya Trizin) Ngawang Kunga (1945-). If we can prove that the Lamdre teachings subsequently came from the Indian masters to the present Tibetan Sakya masters, without any interruption, we can have real faith and confidence in that particular school and the teachings associated with it. Above-mentioned are the subjects related with the Tantric and the Sutra texts. Though, as described previously, there are no differences in the lineage of their flourishing from India. The slight differences that are evident lie in the fact as to which school emphasizes on which Sutra text. According to the Sakya tradition, 18 texts are emphasized and spoken of, among which 16 are Indian works and two are the works of the Sakya Pandit. There are two stanzas in Tibetan whose English translations are as follows:

"Pratimoksh Sutra (1) and Vinaya Sutra (2) are on Vinaya; Abhidharmsamucchaya (3) and Abhidharmkosha (4) are on Abhidharm; Prajñamulak (5), Madhyamakavatara (6) and Chatuh Shatak (7) are on Profound Madhyamika; Five (8-12) Scriptures of Maitriya and Bodhicharyavatara (13) are on Prajñaparamita, Pramanyuktinidhi (14) are interpreting the meaning of seven treatises along with Sutra, Pramansamucchaya (15), Pramanvartika (16) and Prama]nvinishchaya (17) are on Prama]n, and the general presentation on Sutra and Tantra is Trisamvar (18). All these are the famous eighteen scriptures accepted by the Sakyapas."

Therefore, any person who has learnt these 18 scriptures is accepted as a scholar in the Sutra texts. We may summarize the above-mentioned 18 scriptures into 6 categories of texts which are as follows: 1. Vinaya (Monastic Discipline), 2. Abhidharm (Manifestation of Knowledge), 3. Madhyamika (Middle Way), 4. Prajñaparamita (Perfection on Wisdom), 5. Prama]n (Buddhist Logic) and, 6. Trisamvar (The Three Vows).

2) The Madhyamika Philosophy of the Sakya School

All the four Tibetan Buddhist Schools adhere to the Madhyamika School of Acharya Nagarjuna, Arya Deva and Chandrakirti, and consider their statements and the related scriptures as authentic. They quote the statements of the Indian masters in their texts in order to prove that their views are truly Indian. This is applicable also in the Sakya tradition. In the Madhyamika tradition, all the phenomena can be described to have two kinds of truths in them, viz., the Conventional and the Ultimate. Here, I would like to elaborate on the concept of the Ultimate Truth. The Ulimate Truth is related with the question of how to attain liberation from the cyclic existence or, as a matter of fact, how to achieve Buddhahood, the complete form of Enlightenment. In accordance with the views of Buddhism, there is no other way to attain liberation or Buddhahood than to meditate on the non-self.  We frequently find that people grasp the meaning of the expression, ‘non-self’, in an inappropriate way. Non-self does not mean that Buddhism or the idea of the Madhyamika does not accept the ‘Self’ in its conventional sense. They do accept the Self in its conventional sense, as there are many quotations in the Sutras and the Shastras, such as, ‘Oneself is a Lord of the Self. How can others become our Lord? When we ourselves are perfectly calm, the Wise can attain a higher realm’. The Buddha said: ‘At that time I was a King called Maandhatri’. Therefore, in Buddhism, the Self in designated with the help of five aggregates and without these, there is no existence of an independent Self. This logic is equally applicable with the rest of all the phenomena. So, in the Madhyamika tradition, there is no difference between the ideas of existence and non-existence, for instance, between a vase and the Self, from the point of view of the two truths. Having a realization of Selflessness is the minimum need to attain liberation for the Sravakas and the Prateyeka Buddhas. On the other hand, in the Mahayana tradition attaining liberation for oneself is not sufficient, since realizing the emptiness of all phenomena is also essential in order to attain complete Buddhahood. Therefore, there is a great difference of view between that realized by the Sravakas and that conceptualized by the Mahayanas. The Vaibhashika (Particularist),  the Sautrantrika (Adherence to Discourses) and the Cittamatram (Mind Only) Schools, being Realist schools, accept either one or more inherently existing phenomenon/phenomena, which is why they are labelled as ‘Realists’. Chittamatram does not accept any indivisible and inherently existing atom in the external phenomenon. They clearly refute the existence of indivisible atoms by citing Vasubandhu’s  verse from Vimshati Karika:

"If an indivisible atom is touched simultaneously by the same kind of six indivisible atoms, then that indivisible atom would be divided into six parts. If six indivisible atoms are in the same space, then even a gross (thing) would become indivisible’.

After having refuted the idea of the indivisible atom, Chittamatram says that nobody can apply this very logic to refute the existence of the indivisible mind:

‘When six indivisible atoms touched simultaneously (the central atom) the central atom would become divisible. But, since there cannot be such three simultaneous times, the present moment of the mind is indivisible’.  

The Middle-Way School refutes this view and states: "The present indivisible moment of the mind may either depend on the rest of the two times or may not. If not, the present would not become present. If yes, all the three times would become a moment." Therefore, as long as any school accepts any kind of inherently existing phenomenon, there is no opportunity for the Middle-Way School to exist. We may classify the Middle-Way School into two: the Prasanghika (Consequentialist) Middle Way derived from Buddhapalita, Chandrakirti, Shantideva and so forth and the Svatantrika (Autonomous) Middle Way derived from Bhava Viveka, Shanta Rakshita and so forth. Nagarjuna and Arya Deva were considered as General Middle-Way scholars. There is no difference in the view of the ‘Ultimate’ between the two, because both of them accept freedom from all of the four extremes, in accordance with the Ultimate-Middle-Way view, as described by Nagarjuna.  Had there been any difference in the view of the Ultimate, then it would not have been possible for one to become a real Middle-Way follower. So, the real difference between them occurs when one has to prove the existence of the concept of emptiness to the opponents, that is, the Realists. We may classify such difference, when proving emptiness to an opponent, into six points which are as follows: 1. Logical Subject, 2. Predicate, 3. Probandum/Thesis, 4. Reason, 5.Analogy and 6. Syllogism. A brief explanation of each of these six subjects is given below:

1. Logical Subject: According to the Svatantrika tradition, a specific phenomenon is taken as the Logical Subject, such as, ‘The Eye is not produced from itself’, but the Prasanghika tradition refutes this by stating that, when we say ‘The Eye is not produced from itself’, it means some other phenomenon rather than the ‘eye’ is produced from itself. Producing from the self of anything does not any form of existence at all. Therefore, the Logical Subject, according to Prasanghika must be, ‘The Eye, along with all the other phenomena, is not produced from themselves.’

2. Predicate: According to the Svatantrika, a special expression is added to the Predicate that, ‘The Eye is not produced from itself in the Ulimate.’  Because according the Svatantrika, cause and effect are different in from the point of view of their Conventional Truths, and they accept the fact of arising from difference in such Conventional Truths.  In order not to refute these Conventional Truths, a special expression, ‘in the Ultimate’, is added to all the four extremes, whereas according to the Prasanghika, a case of arising from any of the four extremes is unacceptable from the point of view of both of the Truths. Therefore, there is no definite reason to add the expression, ‘in the Ultimate to the Predicate. Here, the Svatantrika has to respond when they add the expression, ‘in the Ultimate’, to the predicate in order to save producing something from difference in the Conventional level. The question that arises here is, why then do they add this to all the four extremes, without accepting the fact that something can be produced only from such difference. Another question that still remains is, do they accept the fact of arising from all the four extremes even on the Conventional level?

3. Probandum/Thesis: Svatantrika says that just using a consequence or applying contradictory statements to refute the opponent’s view is not sufficient to grasp the true meaning, because, in order for the opponent to grasp the true meaning, we must state an autonomous syllogism so that the opponent may have the inference of a valid cognition. For instance, when Samkya accepts ‘something is produced from the Identical’, then just applying contradictory consequence statements, such as, ‘arising would be meaningless’ and the ‘consequence of infinite arising’ is insufficient for the opponent to grasp the meaning of ‘not producing from itself/the identical’. So, after applying a statement of contradictory consequence, one must apply autonomous syllogism as well, such as, ‘There is no phenomenon producing from itself because the thing is there.’ So, according to the Svatantrika, just refuting the opponent’s view is not sufficient. One must have his/her own thesis which can be a proof through autonomous syllogism. The Prasanghika, however, refutes the above statement by stating that when the opponent does not give up their wrong thesis after applying contradictory statements, then the opponent is less intelligent and there is no use of applying even autonomous syllogism. The Prasanghika says: ‘We do not debate with the less intelligent one.’

4. Reason: For the Svatantrika, whatever the reason they use to prove something, they have to accept the same and the reason must not be sufficient for the opponent, whereas for the Prasanghika, it is like this that, while proving emptiness they do not accept any reason for themselves, but such reason must be acceptable for the opponent.

5. Analogy: According to the Svatantrika, whatever analogy/example they use to prove something, the reason, the predicate and its pervasion/concommitance   must be there with the analogy which shall be acceptable for both the debating parties, whereas for the Prasanghika, while proving emptiness, they do not accept the reason, the predicate and its pervasion/concomitance to be there with the analogy, but such reason must be acceptable only for the opponent.

6. Syllogism: The Svatantrika School says that, whatever statement of syllogism is used during debate, it must be accepted by both of debating sides, whereas the Prasanghika denies this and says that it must be acceptable only for the opponent.

In brief, the main difference between the Svatantrika and the Prasanghika Middle-Way Schools is that the former accepts and the latter rejects the existence of a logical subject, which is established through valid cognition for both of the debating sides, while proving emptiness. The Prasanghika says that if the logical subject is established by valid cognition while proving emptiness, then that logical subject cannot become empty and would become inherently an existing phenomenon which is not possible for the Middle-Way School to accept. This is the main logic used by the Prasanghika to refute the thesis of Svatantrika.

Therefore, the real Madhyamika view is freedom from all the four extremes or fabrication. They are existence, non-existence, both and neither, as Arya Deva states in Gyansar Samucchaya:

Neither existence nor non-existence,

  Nor existence and non-existence, and neither non-both.

  Freedom from the four extremes is Madhyamika.

This is the tradition of the wise.’

For an ordinary individual, avoiding all the four extremes simultaneously is not possible initially, but he/she has to avoid it gradually by relying on the logic described in the Madhyamika scriptures. If there is anything which becomes an object of the mind, it is not considered as being able to see what is called real emptiness, as Shantideva says: ‘There is nothing abiding as being and non-being in the front of the mind. If there is no other aspect, one can achieve peace.’  Nagarjuna said: ‘In order to abandon all the views (you) bestow the nectar of emptiness. You blame those who are attached to it.’  Aryadeva said: ‘Concept prevents the understanding of emptiness. (Therefore), here, I am going to refute it’.  So, in brief, real emptiness is not an object or a concept, and that is why the Buddha is free from all concepts. But, the ordinary people initially need concept, so that they may listen, contemplate and meditate on emptiness and, thereafter, may gradually become free from such concept.

This Middle-Way view of realizing emptiness is given various names in various scriptures from the perspective of two truths, such as, the Unification of Luminosity and Emptiness, Inseparability of the Cyclic Existence and Liberation, Unification of Two Truths, Unification of Appearance and Emptiness etc. It is difficult to elaborate upon these very ideas, since each of them would require a fairly lengthy explanation.


2. The numbers in brackets show the lineage of Gurus of the Lamdre teachings.

Dialogue (A quarterly journal of Astha Bharati)                                                Astha Bharati