Madhyamaka Buddhism

Madhyamaka ("middle way", "middle path" or "centrism", in traditional Chinese, 中觀見; pinyin, Zhōngguān Jìan, Tibetan: dbu ma pa) refers to a tradition of Buddhist philosophy and practice founded by the Indian philosopher Nāgārjuna (c. 150-250 CE).

It is also known as śūnya-vāda (doctrine of emptiness) and niḥsvabhāva-vāda (the doctrine that denies svabhāva). The foundational text of the mādhyamaka tradition is Nāgārjuna's Mūla-madhyamaka-kārikā (Madhyamaka root verses). More broadly, "madhyamaka" also refers to the ultimate nature of phenomena and the realization of this in meditation.

Madhyamaka thought had a great influence on the later development of the mahāyāna Buddhist tradition. It is the dominant interpretation of Buddhist philosophy in Tibetan Buddhism and has also influenced East Asian Buddhist thought.

According to the Madhyamikas (followers of the Madhyamaka) and according to the doctrine of the two truths, all phenomena (dharmas) are empty (śūnya) of "inherent nature" or "essence" (svabhāva), meaning that they lack intrinsic and independent reality apart from the cause-and-effect relationships (pratītyasamutpāda) from which they arise.

But this "emptiness" itself is also "empty," that is, it has no existence in itself, nor does it refer to a transcendental reality beyond or above phenomenal reality. Madhyamaka philosophy then holds that only dependent phenomena exist. Whatever exists does so interdependently.

The Mādhyamaka sees himself as rejecting two extreme philosophies, representing the middle way between eternalism, according to which something is eternal and permanent, and nihilism, according to which everything has been intrinsically destroyed or does not exist.

This is nihilism in the sense used in Indian philosophy, which differs somewhat from the philosophical definition of nihilism in the West.


Madhya is a Sanskrit word meaning "middle" and is cognate to the Latin med-iu-s. In the Buddhist context it refers to the "middle path" (madhyama pratipada), which refers to the right view (samyagdṛṣṭi) that moves away from the metaphysical extremes of annihilationism (ucchedavāda) and eternalism (śassatavāda).

For example, the Sanskrit Kātyāyanaḥsūtra states that although the world "rests on a duality of existence and nonexistence," the Buddha teaches a correct view that understands that:

Arising in the world, Kātyayana, rightly seen and understood as it is, shows that there is no nonexistence in the world. Cessation in the world, Kātyayana, seen and rightly understood as it is, shows that there is no permanent existence in the world.

Thus, avoiding both extremes, the Tathāgata teaches a dharma by the middle way (Skt. madhyamayā pratipadā). That is: being this, that comes to be; with the arising of this, that arises. With ignorance as a condition there is volition ... [to be expanded with the standard formula of the 12 links of dependent origination]. "

Although all Buddhist schools considered themselves advocates of a middle path, the name madhyamaka refers to a school of Mahayana philosophy associated with Nāgārjuna and his commentators. The term madhyamika refers to followers of the madhyamaka school.

Philosophical summary

Svabhāva, what the madhyamaka denies.

Central to Madhyamaka philosophy is śūnyatā, "emptiness," and this refers to the central idea that dharmas (phenomena, events) are empty of "svabhāva. " This Sanskrit term has been variously translated as essence, intrinsic nature, inherent existence, selfhood, and substance.

According to Richard P. Hayes, svabhāva can be interpreted as "identity" or as "causal independence. " Likewise, Jan Westerhoff points out that svabhāva is a complex concept that has ontological and cognitive aspects.

The ontological aspects include svabhāva as essence, as a property that makes an object what it is, as well as svabhāva as substance, meaning something that "does not depend on anything else" (as defined by the philosopher madhyamika Chandrakirti).

It is substance-svabhāva, the objective existence independent of any object or concept, that Madhyamaka arguments primarily focus on refuting.

A common structure that the Madhyamaka uses to negate svabhāva is the catuṣkoṭi ("four corners" or tetralemma), which consists roughly of four alternatives: a proposition is true; a proposition is false; a proposition is both true and false; a proposition is neither true nor false.

Some of the main topics dealt with by the classical madhyamaka are causality, change, and personal identity (which are considered empty of substance).

The madhyamaka's denial of svabhāva does not mean a nihilistic denial of all things, for in a conventional everyday sense, madhyamaka does accept that one can speak of "things." Ultimately, however, these things are empty of inherent existence.

Moreover, "emptiness" itself is also "empty." That is, it has no existence of its own, nor does it refer to a transcendental reality beyond or above everyday experience.

The cognitive aspect of svabhāva is merely a superimposition (samāropa) that beings make when they perceive and conceive of things. In this sense, then, emptiness does not exist as a kind of primordial reality, but is merely a corrective to a misconception of how things exist.

This madhyamaka-denying idea of svabhāva is thus not just a conceptual philosophical theory, but is a cognitive distortion that beings automatically impose on the world, as when we consider the five aggregates (a Buddhist schema of the psychophysical processes that make up a person) as constituting a single self.

Candrakirti compares it to someone who suffers from flying flies that cause the illusion that hairs appear in his field of vision.

This cognitive dimension of svabhāva means that merely understanding and assenting to madhyamaka reasoning is not enough to end the suffering caused by our reification of the world, just as understanding how an optical illusion works does not make it stop working.

What is required is some kind of cognitive change (called realization) in the way the world appears and, therefore, some kind of practice that leads to this change. As Candrakirti puts it:

For one who is on the path of cyclic existence and pursues an inverted view due to ignorance, an erroneous object such as the superimposition [of a self] on the aggregates appears as real, but it does not appear for one who is close to the view of the real nature of things.

An important element of the madhyamaka refutation is that the classical Buddhist doctrine of dependent arising (the idea that all phenomena depend on other phenomena) cannot be reconciled with "a conception of intrinsic nature or substance" and that, therefore, theories of essence are contrary not only to the Buddhist scriptures but to the very ideas of causation and change.

Any enduring essential nature would preclude any causal interaction, or any kind of arising. For if this were true, things would simply always have been, and would always continue to be, without any change. As Nāgārjuna writes in the Mūlamadhyamakakakārikā (hereafter "MMK"):

We assert that conditioned arising is emptiness. It is a mere designation that depends on something, and it is the middle way.(24.18) Since nothing has arisen without depending on something, there is nothing that is not empty.(24.19) 

Much of Madhyamaka philosophy focuses on deconstructing various essentialist ideas (on numerous topics such as time, motion, karma, and mental processes) by means of reductio ad absurdum arguments (known as prasanga). According to Peter Harvey, Nagarjuna's various arguments purport to show that whatever arises according to conditions cannot have an inherent or independent nature.

Moreover, if there is nothing with self-nature, there can be nothing with "other nature" (para-bhava), i.e., something that depends for its existence on something else having self-nature.

Furthermore, if there is neither self-nature nor other-nature, there can be nothing with a true and substantial existent nature (bhava). If there is no true existent, neither can there be anything that is truly nonexistent (abhava). As such, the madhyamaka regards itself as an ontological middle way.

The two truths

Madhyamaka philosophy discerns two levels of truth, conventional truth (the everyday reality of common sense) and ultimate truth (emptiness). Ultimately, madhyamaka holds that all phenomena are empty of substance and exist only in dependence on other causes, conditions, and concepts.

Conventionally, madhyamaka holds that beings perceive concrete objects of which they are empirically aware. This phenomenal world is the limited truth saṃvṛti satya, which means "to cover," "to conceal," or "to obscure." (and thus is a type of ignorance).

Saṃvṛti is also said to mean "conventional," as in a customary, rule-based truth (such as linguistic conventions) and is also glossed as vyavahahāra-satya (transactional truth). Finally, Chandrakirti also has a third explanation of saṃvṛti, which is "mutual dependence" (parasparasaṃbhavana).

Apparent or conventional reality does not really exist as the highest truth realized by spiritual wisdom, which is paramārtha-satya (parama is literally "supreme or ultimate," and artha means "object, purpose, or actuality").

However, the conventional has a limited and contingent kind of reality that has its uses in attaining liberation. Conventional truth includes everything that is not emptiness, including the Buddha himself, the teachings (dharma), liberation, and even Nāgārjuna's own arguments.

This two-truth scheme that did not deny the importance of convention allowed Nāgārjuna to defend himself against accusations of nihilism. To understand both truths correctly means to see the middle way, as Nāgārjuna puts it:

Without relying on convention, one does not teach the ultimate fruit. Without understanding the ultimate, one does not attain nirvana.

Conventional or limited reality is an experiential reality or a nominal reality that beings impute to ultimate reality. It is not an ontological reality with substantial or independent existence.

Therefore, the two truths are not two metaphysical realities, but rather, according to Karl Brunnholzl, "the two realities refer precisely to what is experienced by two different types of beings with different types and scopes of perception. " As Candrakirti puts it:

It is through the perfect and false vision of all entities

that the entities thus encountered bear two natures.

The object of perfect vision is true reality,

and the false vision is the apparent reality.

This means that the distinction between the two truths is primarily epistemological and depends on the cognition of the observer. As Shantideva says, there are "two kinds of world," "that of yogis and that of ordinary people. "

The apparent reality is the world of samsara because conceiving of concrete, unchanging objects leads to clinging and suffering. As Buddhapalita states, "inexperienced people whose eyes of intelligence are obscured by delusion conceive an essence of things and then generate attachment and hostility towards them. "

According to Hayes, the two truths can also refer to two different goals in life: the higher goal of nirvana, and the lower goal of "commercial good." The higher goal is liberation from attachment, both material and intellectual.

The nature of ultimate reality

According to Paul Williams, Nāgārjuna associates emptiness with ultimate truth, but his conception of emptiness is not a kind of absolute, rather it is the very absence of true existence with respect to the conventional reality of worldly things.

Since the ultimate is itself empty, it is also explained as a "transcendence of delusion" and is thus a kind of apophatic truth that experiences the lack of substance.

Because the nature of ultimate reality is said to be empty, even of "emptiness" itself, the very framework of the two truths are also conventional realities, and are not part of the ultimate.

This is often called "the emptiness of emptiness" and refers to the fact that although the madhyamikas speak of emptiness as the unconditioned ultimate nature of things, this emptiness is itself empty of any real existence.

According to Susan Kahn, "the emptiness of emptiness" is another argument against essentialism that points to any notion of an essential emptiness. Kahn points out that to realize emptiness is not to find a transcendental realm or ground, but simply to understand the nature of conventional reality.

Thus, it is to be free of deception, like a magician who understands how a magic trick works and is not fooled. As Kahn states, "when one is no longer fooled by false appearances, phenomena are neither reified nor denied. They are understood interdependently, as ultimately empty and thus as only conventionally real. This is the middle way. "

Thus, the two truths themselves are only a practical strategy for teaching others, but they do not exist within the true meditative balance that realizes the ultimate. As Candrakirti says, "the noble ones who have realized what is to be realized see nothing that is illusory or non-illusory. "

From within the experience of the enlightened there is only one reality that appears non-conceptually, as Nāgārjuna says in the Sixty Stanzas on Reasoning: "that nirvana is the only reality, is what the Overcomers have declared. " Bhāvaviveka's Madhyamakahrdayakārikā describes the ultimate truth through a negation of the four possibilities of catuskoti:

His character is neither existent, nor nonexistent, Neither both existent and nonexistent, nor neither. Madhyamikas must know the true reality that is free from these four possibilities.

Atisha describes the ultimate as "here, there is no vision and no observer, no beginning and no end, just peace.... It is non-conceptual and non-referential... it is inexpressible, unobservable, immutable and unconditioned. " Because of the non-conceptual nature of the ultimate, the two truths are ultimately inexpressible as "one" or "different. "

The Middle Way

Non-Buddhist and Buddhist writers, ancient and modern, have argued that madhyamaka philosophy is nihilistic, and this view has been challenged by others who hold that it is a middle way (madhyamāpratipad) between nihilism and essentialism.

The madhyamaka philosophers themselves explicitly rejected the nihilistic interpretation, as Nāgārjuna writes: "through the explanation of the true reality as it is, the apparent samvrti is not disrupted. " Candrakirti also responds to the charge of nihilism in his Lucid Words:

Therefore, emptiness is taught to completely pacify all discursivity without exception. Therefore, if the purpose of vacuity is the complete peace of all discursivity and you only increase the web of discursivity by thinking that the meaning of vacuity is nonexistence, you do not realize the purpose of vacuity.

Some scholars (Murti) interpret emptiness as described by Nāgārjuna as a transcendental absolute, while other scholars, such as David Kalupahana, consider this to be a mistake, as this is not a middle way.

Madhyamika thinkers also argue that since things have the nature of lacking substantial existence (niḥsvabhāva), all things are mere conceptual constructs (prajñaptimatra) because they are just impermanent collections of causes and conditions. This also applies to the principle of causality itself, since everything is dependently originated.

Thus, in the madhyamaka, phenomena appear to arise and cease, but in an ultimate sense they neither arise nor remain as inherently existent phenomena. Madhyamika philosophers believe that this demonstrates that both absolute or eternalist existence views (such as Hindu ideas of Brahman or purusha) and nihilism are untenable.

The following are the two main classes of erroneous views that are considered to be the two extremes that the madhyamaka avoids:

essentialism or eternalism (sastavadava): belief that things exist inherently or substantially and are therefore effective objects of craving and clinging. Nagarjuna argues that we innately perceive things as substantial, and it is this predisposition that is the root delusion at the basis of all suffering.

Nihilism or annihilationism (ucchedavada): views that lead one to believe that there is no need to be responsible for one's actions, such as the idea that one is annihilated at death or that nothing has causal effects, but also the idea that absolutely nothing exists.


In the madhyamaka, reason and debate are understood as a means to an end (liberation), so they must be grounded in the desire to help oneself and others to end suffering. However, reason and logical arguments are also considered empty of any validity or true reality.

They serve only as conventional remedies for our delusions. Nāgārjuna attacked the notion that valid cognition or epistemic proof (pramana) could be established in his Vigrahavyāvartanī (Refutation of Objections):

If your objects are well established through valid cognitions [pramanas], tell us how you establish these valid cognitions. If you think they are established through other valid cognitions, there is infinite regression.

Then the first one is not established, nor the middle ones, nor the last one. If these [valid cognitions] are established even without a valid cognition, what you say is ruined. In that case, there is an inconsistency, AND you must provide an argument for this distinction.

Candrakirti claims that the madhyamaka does not completely deny the use of epistemic proofs conventionally, and yet ultimately they have no foundation:

Therefore, we claim that worldly objects are known through the four types of epistemic proof. They are mutually dependent: When there is epistemic proof, there are objects of knowledge; when there are objects of knowledge, there are epistemic proofs. But neither epistemic proof nor objects of knowledge inherently exist.

To the charge that if Nāgārjuna's arguments and words are also empty, they therefore lack the power to refute anything, Nāgārjuna replies that:

My words are without nature. Therefore, my thesis is not ruined. Since there is no inconsistency, I do not have to put forward an argument for a distinction.

Further Nāgārjuna states:

Just as a magical creation can be annihilated by another magical creation, and an illusory person by another person produced by an illusionist, This negation is the same.

Shantideva similarly states that "thus, when one's son dies in a dream, the conception 'does not exist' eliminates the thought that he does exist, but it is also delusive. " Because of this, the madhyamaka accepts that his arguments are ultimately invalid in some foundational sense, as all things are.

Conventionally, however, one is still able to use the opponent's own reasoning apparatus to refute his theories and help him see his errors. This deconstruction does not replace false theories of existence with others, but simply dissolves all views, including the very fictitious system of epistemic guarantees (pramanas) used to establish them.

The goal of madhyamaka reasoning is not to establish any abstract validity or universal truth; it is simply a pragmatic project aimed at ending delusion and suffering.

Nāgārjuna also argues that the madhyamaka only denies things conventionally, since ultimately there is nothing to deny. That is why he says "I deny nothing and there is nothing to deny either. " Therefore, it is only from the perspective of those who cling to existence that it seems that something is denied. But madhyamaka is not annihilating something, merely elucidating that "true existence" never existed in the first place.

Thus, the madhyamaka uses language to bring out the limits of our concepts. Ultimately, reality cannot be represented by concepts. According to Jay Garfield, this creates a kind of tension in madhyamaka literature, as it has to use some concepts to convey its teachings.


For the madhyamaka, the realization of emptiness is not just a satisfying theory, but a key spiritual understanding that enables one to attain liberation or nirvana. Nāgārjuna states in the MMK:

With the cessation of ignorance, formations will not arise. Moreover, the cessation of ignorance comes about through right understanding. Through the cessation of this and that [link of dependent origination] this and that [other link] will not arise. In this way, the whole mass of suffering ceases completely.

Dependent origination is the fundamental Buddhist analysis of the arising of suffering and, therefore, according to Nāgārjuna, the cognitive change that sees the nonexistence of svabhāva leads to the cessation of the first link in this chain of suffering, which then leads to the end of the entire chain of causes and, therefore, of all suffering. Nāgārjuna also states:

Liberation (moksha) results from the cessation of actions (karman) and impurities (klesha). Actions and impurities are the result of conceptualizations (vikalpa). These come from conceptual proliferation (prapañca). Conceptual proliferation stops at emptiness (sunyata). (18.5) 

Therefore, the ultimate goal of understanding emptiness is not philosophical understanding as such, but to gain a liberated mind that does not cling to anything. To realize this, meditation on emptiness can proceed in stages, beginning with the emptiness of both self and objects and mental states, culminating in a "natural state of nonreferential freedom."

Furthermore, the path to understanding ultimate truth is not one that denies or invalidates relative truths (especially truths about the path to awakening). On the contrary, it is only through the proper understanding and use of relative truth that the ultimate can be attained, as Bhāvaviveka says:

To guide beginners a method is taught comparable to the rungs of a ladder leading to perfect buddhahood. One can only enter the ultimate reality once one has grasped the apparent reality.

Does madhyamaka have a position?

Nāgārjuna is famous for arguing that his philosophy was not a standpoint, and that he was not adopting any position (paksa) or thesis (pratijña), as this would just be another way of clinging to some form of existence. In his Vigrahavyavartani, Nāgārjuna states:

If I had any position, I would be guilty. Since I have no position, I have no guilt. If there were something to observe through direct perception and the other instances [of valid cognition - pramana], it would be something to be established or rejected. However, since there is no such thing, I cannot be criticized.

Likewise, in his Sixty Verses on Reasoning, Nāgārjuna says, "By adopting any viewpoint, you will be caught by the cunning serpents of afflictions. Those whose minds have no viewpoint will not be caught. "Some scholars argue that in these statements Nagarjuna is criticizing those whose minds cling to any position and belief, including the view of emptiness or the madhyamaka philosophy itself.

As Nāgārjuna says: "The Victorious Ones have announced that emptiness is the abandonment of all views. Those who possess the view of emptiness are said to be incorrigible. " Aryadeva states in his Four Hundred Verses:

"In the first place, one puts an end to that which is not meritorious. In the middle, one puts an end to identity. Next, one puts an end to all views. Those who understand this are skillful. "

Other texts, however, mention a specific thesis or viewpoint of Madhyamaka philosophy. Shantideva, for example, says that "no fault can be sustained in the thesis of emptiness" and Bhaviveka's The Fire of Reasoning is said: "as for our thesis, it is the emptiness of nature, for this is the nature of phenomena. " Jay Garfield points out that both Nagarjuna and Candrakirti present positive arguments.

He cites the MMK which states, "There is nothing that has not dependently arisen. Therefore, there is nothing that is not empty," as well as Candrakirti's commentary on this, which clearly states, "We affirm the statement 'emptiness itself is a designation.'"

However, these positions are not a contradiction, since the madhyamaka can be said to hold the "thesis of emptiness" only conventionally, in the context of discussing or explaining it.

According to Brunnholzl, although madhyamaka thinkers may express a thesis pedagogically, what they deny is that they "have any thesis that implies real existence or reference points or any thesis that must be defended from their own point of view. "

Karl Brunnholzl states that madhyamaka analysis applies to all systems of thought, ideas and concepts, including the madhyamaka itself. This is because the nature of the madhyamaka is "the deconstruction of any system and conceptualization, including itself. " In the MMK, Nagarjuna illustrates this point:

By the defect of having views on emptiness, those of little understanding are ruined, just as when one incorrectly grasps a snake or wrongly practices a mantra.

Origins and sources

The Madhyamaka school is often considered to have been founded by Nāgārjuna, although it may have existed earlier. Several scholars have pointed out that some of the themes of Nāgārjuna's works can also be found in earlier Buddhist sources.

Ancient Buddhist texts.

The only sutra that Nāgārjuna explicitly quotes in his Mūlamadhyamakakakārikā (chapter 15.7) is Instructions to Katyayana, stating that "according to the Instructions to Katyayana, both existence and non-existence are criticized by the Blessed One who opposed being and non-being. "This seems to have been a Sanskrit version of the Kaccānagotta Sutta (Saṃyutta Nikāya 12.15, with parallel in the Chinese Saṃyuktāgama 301).The Kaccānagotta Sutta itself states:

This world, Kaccana, depends for the most part on a duality: on the notion of existence and non-existence. But for one who sees the origin of the world as it really is with right wisdom, there is no notion of non-existence with respect to the world. And for him who sees the cessation of the world as it really is with right wisdom, there is no notion of existence with respect to the world.

Joseph Walser also notes that verse six of chapter 15 contains an allusion to "Mahahatthipadopama sutta," another sutta in the Nidanavagga, the collection that also contains the Kaccānagotta, and which contains several suttas that focus on the avoidance of extreme views, which are all considered to be associated with the extreme of eternity (sasvata) or the extreme of interruption (uccheda). Another allusion to an early Buddhist text noted by Walser is found in Chapter 1 of Nāgārjuna's Ratnavali, where he refers to a statement of the Kevaṭṭasutta (DN 11).

The Aṭṭṭhakavagga (Pali, "chapter of the octet") and the Pārāyanavagga ("chapter of the way to the far shore") are two small collections of suttas within the Pāli canon of Theravada Buddhism (chapters 4 and 5 of the Khuddaka Nikaya).

They are among the oldest extant Buddhist literature, and place considerable emphasis on the rejection of or non-attachment to all views. Gomez has compared these texts to the later Madhyamaka philosophy, which, in its prasangika form, makes a method of rejecting the views of others rather than propounding one's own.

Abhidharma and the Buddhist Schools

The madhyamaka school has been seen as a reaction against the development of abhidharma. However, according to Joseph Walser, this is problematic. In abhidharma, dharmas (phenomena) are characterized as defining traits (lakṣaṇa) or existence itself (svabhāva).

The Abhidharmakośabhāṣya states, "dharma means 'sustaining,' sustaining the intrinsic nature (svabhāva)," while the Mahāvibhāṣā states "the intrinsic nature is capable of sustaining its own identity and not losing it."

However, this does not mean that all abhidharma systems hold that dharmas exist independently in an ontological sense, since all Buddhist schools hold that (most) dharmas originate dependently, this doctrine being a central view of Buddhism. Thus, in abhidharma, svabhāva is typically something that arises dependent on other conditions and qualities.

Thus, in most early abhidharma systems, svabhāva is not a kind of ontological essentialism, but rather a way of categorizing dharmas according to their distinctive characteristics.

According to Noa Ronkin, the idea of svabhāva evolved into the ontological dimension in the interpretation of the Sarvāstivāda-Vaibhasika school, which began to also use the term dravya meaning "real existence. " This then, may have been the shift that Nagarjuna tried to attack when he addresses certain Sarvastivada principles.

However, the relationship between madhyamaka and abhidharma is complex. As Joseph Walser points out, "Nagarjuna's position vis-à-vis abhidharma is neither a denial nor a generalized acceptance. Nagarjuna's arguments admit certain abhidharmic views while refuting others. "

An example can be seen in Nagarjuna's Ratnavali, which supports the study of a list of 57 moral faults that he takes from an abhidharma text called Ksudravastuka. Abhidharmic analysis figures prominently in the Madhyamaka treatises, and commentators such as Candrakīrti emphasize that abhidharmic categories function as a viable (and favored) system of conventional truths: they are more refined than ordinary categories, and do not depend on either the extreme of eternalism or the extreme view of the discontinuity of karma, as did the non-Buddhist categories of the time.

Walser also points out that Nagarjuna's theories have much in common with the view of a sect of the Mahasamgikas called prajñaptivada, who held that suffering was prajñapti (designation by provisional name), which was "based on conditioned entities that are themselves reciprocally designated" (anyonya prajñapti).

David Burton argues that for Nagarjuna, "dependently arisen entities have a merely conceptually constructed existence (prajñaptisat). " Commenting on this, Walser writes that "Nagarjuna is arguing for a thesis that the prajñaptivádins already held, using a concept of prajñapti that they were already using. "

The Mahāyāna sūtras

According to David Seyfort Ruegg, the main canonical mahāyāna sources of the Madhyamaka school are the Prajñāpāramitā, Ratnakūṭa, and Avataṃsaka literature. Other sutras that were widely quoted by the madhamikas are the Vimalakīrtinirdeṣa, the Śuraṃgamasamādhi, the Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, the Daśabhūmika, the Akṣayamatinirdeśa, the Tathāgataguhyaka, and the Kāśyapapaparivarta.

Ruegg notes that in the Prasannapadā and the Madhyamakāvatāra of Candrakīrti, in addition to the Prajñāpāramitā, "we find the Akṣayamatinirdeśa, Anavataptahradāpasaṃkramaṇa, Upāliparipṛcchā, Kāśyapaparivarta, Gaganagañja, Tathāgataguhya, Daśabhūmika, Dṛḍhādhyāśaya, Dhāraṇīśvararāja, Pitāputrasamāgama, Mañjuśrīparipṛcchā, Ratnakūṭa, Ratnacūḍaparipṛcchā, Ratnamegha, Ratnākara, Laṅkāvatāra, Lalitavistara, Vimalakirtinirdesa, Śālistamba, Satyadvayāvatāra, Saddharmapuṇḍarīka, Samādhirāja (Candrapradīpa) and Hastikakṣya. "


Madhyamaka thought is also closely related to the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras and madhyamaka is understood, at least in part, as an exegetical complement to those sūtras. Traditional accounts also represent Nāgārjuna as retrieving some of the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras from the world of the Nāgas (explaining in part the etymology of his name).

Prajñā or 'higher cognition' is a recurring term in Buddhist texts, explained as synonymous with abhidharma, 'insight' (vipaśyanā) and 'analysis of the dharmas' (dharmapravicaya). Within a specifically Mahāyāna context, prajñā figures most prominently in a list of six pāramitās (spiritual perfections) that a bodhisattva needs to cultivate to ultimately attain Buddhahood.

Madhyamaka offers a conceptual scheme for analyzing all possible elements of existence, allowing the practitioner to elicit through reasoning and contemplation the kind of insight that the sūtras express more authoritatively (by being considered the word of the Buddha) but less explicitly (by not offering corroborative arguments).

The vast Prajñāpāramitā literature emphasizes the development of higher cognition (of emptiness) in the context of the bodhisattva path, Allusions to the Prajñaparamita sutras can be found in Nagarjuna's works. One example is in the opening stanza of the MMK, which seems to allude to the following statement found in two Prajñaparamita sutras:

And how wisely knows conditioned co-production? Wisely knows it as neither producing, nor stopping, neither cut off nor eternal, neither single nor multiple, neither coming nor going, as the appeasement of all futile speeches, and as bliss.

In comparison, the first stanza of Nagarjuna's MMK reads:

I pay homage to the Fully Enlightened One, whose true and venerable words teach that dependent origination is the blissful pacification of all mental proliferation, neither producing, nor stopping, neither cutting nor eternal, neither single nor manifold, neither coming, nor going.

Madhyamaka in India


As Jan Westerhoff points out, although Nāgārjuna is "one of the greatest thinkers in the history of Asian philosophy...contemporary scholars hardly agree on the details concerning him."

These include the exact date he lived (one can narrow it down to sometime in the first three centuries of the Christian era), where he lived (Joseph Walser suggests Amarāvatī in the eastern Deccan), and what exactly constitutes his written corpus.

Numerous texts are attributed to him, but at least some scholars agree that what is called the "yukti" (analytical) corpus is the core of his philosophical work. These texts are the Root Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakārikā, MMK), the Sixty Stanzas on Reasoning (Yuktiṣāṣṭika), the Dispeller of Objections (Vigrahavyāvartanī), the Treatise on Pulverization (Vaidalyaprakaraṇa), and the Precious Garland (Ratnāvalī).

However, even the attribution of each of these has been questioned by some modern scholars, except for the MMK which is considered by definition to be his major work.

Scholars usually consider Nāgārjuna's main aim to be to refute the essentialism of certain Buddhist schools of abhidharma (mainly Vaibhasika) that postulated theories of svabhava (essential nature) and also the Hindu Nyāya and Vaiśeṣika schools that postulated a theory of ontological substances (dravyatas).

In the MMK he used reductio ad absurdum arguments (Sct. prasanga) to show that any theory of substance or essence was untenable and therefore phenomena (dharmas) such as change, causation, and sense perception were empty (shunya) of any essential existence. Nāgārjuna is also famous for equating the emptiness of the dharmas with their dependent origination.

Classical authors of the madhyamaka

Rāhulabhadra was an early madhyamika, sometimes said to have been Nagarjuna's teacher or his contemporary and follower. He is most famous for his Verses in Praise of the Prajñāpāramitā (Skt. Prajñāpāramitāstotra) and Chinese sources maintain that he also composed a commentary on the MMK that was translated by Paramartha.

Nāgārjuna's pupil, Āryadeva (3rd century CE), wrote several works on the madhyamaka, the best known of which are his 400 verses. His works are considered a supplement to those of Nāgārjuna, on which he commented. Āryadeva also wrote refutations of the theories of the non-Buddhist Indian philosophical schools.

There are also two commentaries on the MMK that may be by Āryadeva, the Akutobhaya (which has also been considered a self-commentary by Nagarjuna), as well as a commentary that survives only in Chinese (as part of the Chung-Lun, "Middle Treatise," Taisho # 1564) attributed to one "Ch'ing-mu" (aka Pin-lo-chieh, who some scholars have also identified as possibly Aryadeva).

  However, Brian C. Bocking, translator of the Chung-Lung, also states that it is likely that the author of this commentary was one Vimalāksa, who was Kumarajiva's former teacher.

An influential commentator on Nāgārjuna was Buddhapālita (470-550), who has been interpreted to have developed the apophatic approach to Nāgārjuna's works in his Madhyamakavṛtti (now extant only in Tibetan), which follows the orthodox madhyamaka method by criticizing essentialism primarily through arguments of reductio ad absurdum.

Like Nāgārjuna, Buddhapālita's main philosophical method is to show how all philosophical positions are ultimately untenable and self-contradictory, a style of argumentation called prāsaṅga.

Bhāvaviveka and Candrakīrti

Buddhapālita's method is often contrasted with that of Bhāvaviveka (c. 500 - c. 578), who argued in his Prajñāpadīpa (Lamp of Wisdom) for the use of logical arguments using Dignāga epistemology. In what would become a source of much future debate, Bhāvaviveka criticized Buddhapālita for not putting madhyamaka arguments in "self-contained syllogisms" (svatantra).

Bhāvaviveka argued that the mādhyamikas should always expound syllogistic arguments to demonstrate the truth of the madhyamaka thesis. Bhāvaviveka held that madhyamikas should positively prove their position by using sources of knowledge (pramana) rather than merely criticizing the arguments of others, a tactic called vitaṇḍā (attack) that was looked down upon in Indian philosophical circles.

He argued that the position of a madhyamika was simply that phenomena lack an inherent nature. This approach has been labeled as the svātantrika style of madhyamaka by Tibetan philosophers and commentators.

Another influential commentator, Candrakīrti (c. 600-650), tried to defend Buddhapālita and criticize Bhāvaviveka's position. Candrakīrti argued that Bhāvaviveka's philosophy contains a subtle essentialist compromise.

Candrakīrti argued that madhyamikas need not argue by autonomous syllogisms, but can merely show the consequences (prasaṅga) of all the philosophical positions expounded by their opponent.

Moreover, for Candrakīrti, there is a problem in assuming that the madhyamika and the essentialist adversary can begin with the same shared premises that are required for this kind of syllogistic reasoning, because the essentialist and the madhyamika do not share a basic understanding of what it means for things to exist in the first place.

Candrakīrti also criticized the Buddhist yogācāra school, which he considered to postulate a form of subjective idealism because of its doctrine of "appearance only" (vijñaptimatra). Candrakīrti faults the yogācāra school for not realizing that the nature of consciousness is also a conditioned phenomenon, and for ontologically privileging consciousness over its objects, instead of seeing that everything is empty.

Candrakīrti wrote the Prasannapadā (Clear Words), a highly influential commentary on the Mūlamadhyamakakakārikā, as well as the Madhyamakāvatāra, an introduction to the madhyamaka. His works are fundamental to the understanding of the madhyamaka in Tibetan Buddhism.

Later commentators

A later svātantrika figure is Avalokitavrata (7th century), who composed a tika (subcommentary) on Bhāvaviveka's Prajñāpadīpa and mentions important figures of the time such as Dharmakirti and Candrakīrti.

Another commentator on Nagarjuna is Bhikshu Vaśitva (Chinese: Zizai) who composed a commentary on Nagarjuna's Bodhisaṃbhāra that survives in a translation by Dharmagupta in the Chinese canon.

Śāntideva (late vii century - first half of the viii century) is well known for his philosophical poem in which he discusses the bodhisattva path and the six paramitas, the Bodhicaryāvatāra.

Later, in the tenth century, there were commentators on the works of the prasangika authors, such as Prajñakaramati, who wrote a commentary on the Bodhicaryāvatāra, and Jayananda, who commented on Candrakīrti's Madhyamakāvatāra.

A lesser-known treatise on the six paramitas associated with the madhyamaka school is the Pāramitāsamāsa of Ārya Śūra (2nd century).

Other lesser-known madhyamikas are Devasarman (5th to 6th centuries) and Gunamati (5th to 6th centuries). They wrote commentaries on the MMK that exist only in Tibetan fragments.

The synthesis of yogācāra and madhyamaka.

According to Ruegg, possibly the first figure to work with the two schools was Vimuktisena (early sixth century), a commentator on the Abhisamayalamkara. He is also said to have been a pupil of Bhāvaviveka as well as Vasubandhu.

The seventh and eighth centuries saw a synthesis of the yogācāra Buddhist tradition with the madhyamaka, beginning with the work of Śrigupta, Jñānagarbha (a disciple of Śrigupta) and his pupil Śāntarakṣita (eighth century). They adopted some of the terminology of the pramana Buddhist tradition, represented by Dharmakīrti.

Like the classical madhyamaka, the yogācāra-madhyamaka approaches ultimate truth by the prasaṅga method of showing absurd consequences. However, in speaking of conventional reality they also make positive assertions and autonomous syllogisms using the pramanas as Dharmakīrti.

Śāntarakṣita also subsumed the yogācāra system in his presentation by accepting idealism at the conventional level as preparation for the ultimate truth of the madhyamaka.

In his Madhyamakālaṃkāra (Ornament of the Middle Way, verses 92-93), Śāntarakṣita outlines the ontological model of his system:

Relying on the system of "single-mindedness" (cittamatra), he knows that external entities do not exist. And relying on this system [madhyamaka], he knows that no self exists even in that [mind]. By holding the reins of logic one rides the chariots of the two systems. Thus one attains the path of the true mahayanist.

Śāntarakṣita and his pupil Kamalaśīla (known for his text on self-development and meditation, the Bhavanakrama) were influential in the initial spread of Madhyamaka Buddhism in Tibet. Haribhadra, another important figure of this school, wrote an influential commentary on the Abhisamayalamkara.

Vajrayana and Madhyamaka

Madhyamaka philosophy continued to be of great importance during the Tantric era (c. 6th-14th centuries), when Vajrayana (along with Shaiva tantra) came to prominence in India.

One of the major madhyamaka philosophers of Vajrayana was Arya Nagarjuna (also known as the "tantric Nagarjuna," of the 7th-8th centuries), who may be the author of the Bodhicittavivarana, as well as a commentator on the Guhyasamāja Tantra. Other figures in his lineage (the "arya lineage") include Nagabodhi, Vajrabodhi, Aryadeva-pada, and Candrakirti-pada.

Later figures include Bodhibhadra (c. 1000), a university teacher from Nalanda who wrote on philosophy and yoga and was a teacher of Atiśa Dīpaṃkara Śrījñāna (982 - 1054 CE). Atiśa was an influential figure in the transmission of Buddhism to Tibet and wrote the influential Bodhipathapradīpa (Lamp for the Path of Awakening), the basis of Tibetan Lamrim literature.

Madhyamaka in Tibet

Madhyamaka philosophy gained a central position in all the major Tibetan Buddhist schools, all of which are considered Madhyamikas. Madhyamaka thought has been variously classified in India and Tibet.

Early transmission

The most influential figures in the early transmission of the Madhyamaka to Tibet are the Madhyamika yogacara-madhyamika Śāntarakṣita (725-788), and his pupils Haribhadra and Kamalashila (740-795).

During the later spread of Buddhism, the kadam figures of Atisha (982-1054) and his pupil Dromtön (1005-1064) taught the madhyamaka using the works of Bhāviveka and Candrakīrti.

During the later transmission of Buddhism to Tibet, these two main streams of philosophical views debated with each other. First, there were those who defended the Yogacara-Madhyamaka (i.e. svatantrika) interpretation centered on the works of the scholars of the Sangphu monastery, founded by Ngog Loden Sherab (1059-1109) and also including Chapa Chokyi Senge (1109-1169).

The second group championed Candrakirti's work over the Yogacara-Madhyamaka interpretation, and included the Sangphu monk Patsab Nyima Drag (born 1055) and the Indian Jayananda (c. 12th century). Over time, Candrakirti's Madhyamaka eventually prevailed as the most influential interpretation of Nagarjuna.

Another very influential figure of this early period is Mabja Jangchub Tsöndrü (d. 1185), who wrote an important commentary on Nagarjuna's Mūlamadhyamakakakārikā.

Mabja was a student of both Chapa and Patsab, and his work shows an attempt to steer a middle path between their views. Mabja affirms the conventional usefulness of Buddhist pramāṇa, but also accepts the prasangika views of Candrakirti.

Mabja's scholarship on the Madhyamaka was very influential on later Tibetan Madhyamikas such as Longchenpa, Tsongkhapa, Gorampa, and Mikyö Dorje.

Interpretations of prāsaṅgika and svātantrika.

In Tibetan Buddhist scholarship, a distinction began to be made between the autonomist (svātantrika, Tib. rang rgyud pa) and consequentialist (prāsaṅgika, thal 'gyur pa) approaches to madhyamaka reasoning. The distinction was invented by Tibetans, and not by Indian madhyamikas.

Tibetans mainly use the terms to refer to the logical procedures used by Bhavavaviveka (who advocated the use of svātantra-anumana or autonomous syllogisms) and Buddhapalita (who argued that only prāsaṅga, or reductio ad absurdum, should be used).

Tibetan Buddhism further divides svātantrika into sautrantika-svātantrika-madhyamaka (applied to Bhāviveka and Chandrakirti), and yogācāra-svātantrika-madhyamaka (Shāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla).

According to Tibetans, the svātantrika system is based primarily on making positive or "autonomous" statements using syllogistic logic. It is considered to be based on the conventional existence of epistemic proofs (pramanas) that have a kind of conventional essence or reality. Thus, they rely much more on Dharmakirti's pramana epistemology.

In svātantrika, conventional phenomena are understood to exist conventionally, but not to exist ultimately. Thus, we can make positive or "autonomous" assertions using the syllogisms of logic. Their name comes from this quality.

In contrast, the central technique in the prasaṅgika is the reductio ad absurdum or "consequence" argument (prasaṅga), which is used to show that any positive assertion regarding phenomena must be regarded as merely conventional (lokavyavahāra).

No position therefore constitutes the ultimate truth (paramārtha), including the views and what is established by the Prāsangikas themselves, which are held for the sole purpose of thwarting all views.

Prāsaṅgika holds that it is not necessary for the proponent and opponent to use the same type of valid cognition (pramana) to establish a common theme. In fact, it is possible to change an opponent's point of view through a reductio argument.

Although presented as a division in doctrine, the main difference between svātantrika and prasangika may be between two styles of reasoning, whereas the division itself is uniquely Tibetan. There is no conclusive evidence for an Indian antecedent, and it is uncertain to what extent individual writers held each of these views and whether they did so generally or only in particular cases.

The Tibetan scholar Longchen Rabjam mentioned in the 14th century that Chandrakirti favored the prasanga approach when he specifically discussed the analysis of the latter, but in other cases he made positive assertions.

His central text, Madhyamakavatara, structured as a description of the paths and results of practice, is built on positive assertions. Thus, even those most ascribed to the Prāsaṅgika made positive assertions when discussing a path or practice, but used prasaṅga specifically when analyzing ultimate truth.

Jonang and shentong

The works of Dölpopa Shérap Gyeltsen (1292-1361) gave rise to two clearly opposing Tibetan views on the nature of ultimate reality. Dolpopa, the founder of the Jonang school, considered the Buddha and Buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha) not intrinsically empty, but truly real, unconditioned, and replete with eternal and immutable virtues.

In the Jonang school, ultimate reality is buddha nature, which is only empty of what is impermanent and conditioned (i.e. conventional reality). However, ultimate reality is not empty of its own being, which is ultimate buddhahood and the luminous nature of mind.

In Jonang, this ultimate reality is a "ground or substratum" that is "uncreated and indestructible, uncompounded and beyond the chain of dependent origination. " An important treatise on emptiness and buddha-nature is Dolpopa's voluminous Mountain Doctrine.

Drawing on the sūtras of the tathāgatagarbha as primary sources, Dolpopa described buddha nature as:

Non-material emptiness, emptiness that is far from annihilating emptiness, the great emptiness that is the ultimate pristine wisdom of the superiors ... a Buddha prior to all Buddhas, ... an original causeless Buddha.

Dolpopa says that this ''great emptiness,'' i.e., the ''tathāgatagarbha,'' is full of eternal powers and virtues:

Permanent, stable, eternal, everlasting, imperishable. Not being composed of causes and conditions, the Tathagatha matrix is intrinsically endowed with the ultimate Buddha qualities of body, speech and mind, as the ten powers. It is not something that did not exist before and will come into being again and is self-determined.

Jonang's position came to be known as "emptiness of the other" or shentong (Wylie: gzhan stong), because he held that ultimate truth was positive reality that was not empty of its own nature, only empty of what was other than itself. Dolpopa considered his view a form of madhyamaka, and called his system "Great Madhyamaka. "

Dolpopa opposed what he called rangtong (emptiness of self), the view that ultimate reality is that which is empty of self-nature in a relative and absolute sense, that is, empty of everything, including itself.

Therefore, it is not a transcendental basis or a metaphysical absolute that includes all the Buddha's eternal qualities. This distinction between rangtong and shentong became a central topic of dispute among Tibetan Buddhist philosophers.

Alternative interpretations of the shentong view are also taught outside of Jonang. Some Kagyu figures, such as Jamgon Kongtrul (1813-1899), as well as the unorthodox Sakya philosopher Sakya Chokden (1428-1507), supported their own forms of shentong.

Tsongkhapa and prāsaṅgika.

The Gelug school was founded in the early 15th century by Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419). Tsongkhapa's conception of the madhyamaka was based primarily on the works of Indian "prāsaṅgika" thinkers such as Buddhapalita, Candrakirti and Shantideva, and he held that only his interpretation of Nagarjuna was ultimately correct.

According to José I. Cabezón, Tsongkhapa also held that ultimate truth or emptiness was "an absolute negation (med dgag)-the negation of inherent existence-and that nothing was exempt from being empty, including emptiness itself. "

Tsongkhapa also held that ultimate truth could be understood conceptually, an understanding that could then be transformed into non-conceptual. This conceptual understanding required the use of madhyamika reasoning and Indian pramana theory. Because of Tsongkhapa's view of emptiness as an absolute negation, he strongly attacked Dolpopa's views.

According to Thupten Jinpa, Tsongkhapa's "doctrine of the object of negation" is one of his most innovative but also controversial ideas. Tsongkhapa pointed out that if one wants to maintain a middle course between the extremes of "over-denial" (veering towards nihilism) and "under-denial" (and thus reification), it is important to have a clear concept of exactly what is denied in Madhyamaka analysis (called the "object of negation").

Tsongkhapa's understanding of the object of negation (Tib. dgag bya) is subtle, and he describes one aspect of it as an "innate apprehension of self-existence. " Thupten Jinpa glosses this as a belief we have that leads us to "perceive things and events as possessing some kind of intrinsic existence and identity." 

Tsongkhapa's madhyamaka, therefore, does not deny the conventional existence of things, but merely rejects our way of experiencing things as existing in an essentialist way, which are false projections or imputations. This is the root of ignorance, which for Tsongkhapa is an "active contaminating agency" (Sk. kleśāvaraṇa) that projects a false sense of reality onto objects.

As Garfield and Thakchoe point out, Tsongkhapa's view allows him to "retain a solid sense of the reality of the conventional world in the context of emptiness and to provide an analysis of the relationship between emptiness and conventional reality that gives a clear sense of the identity of the two truths. "

Since conventional existence (or "mere appearance") as an empty, interdependent phenomenon is neither denied (khegs pa) nor "rationally undermined" in his analysis, Tsongkhapa's approach was criticized by other Tibetan madhyamikas who preferred an anti-realist interpretation of madhyamaka.

Following Candrakirti, Tsongkhapa also rejected the idealistic view of yogacara and instead defended the conventional existence of external objects, even though they are ultimately mere "thought-constructions" (Tib. rtog pas btags tsam) of a deluded mind.

Tsongkhapa also followed Candrakirti in rejecting svātantra ("autonomous") reasoning, arguing that it was sufficient to show the unintended consequences (prasaṅga) of essentialist positions.

Gelug scholarship has generally maintained and defended Tsongkhapa's positions to the present day, although there are lively debates on questions of interpretation. Jamyang Sheba, Changkya Rölpé Dorjé and the 14th Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso are some of the most influential modern figures in the Gelug madhyamaka.

Sakya madhyamaka

The sakya school has generally maintained a prāsaṅgika position closely following Candrakirti, although with significant differences from the Gelug school. Sakya scholars such as Rendawa Shyönnu Lodrö (1349-1412) and Rongtön Sheja Kunrig (1367-1450) were early critics of Dolpopa's shentong view.

Gorampa Sonam Senge (1429-1489) was an important sakya philosopher who defended the madhyamika position of sakya, criticizing the interpretations of Dolpopa and Tsongkhapa. He is widely studied, not only in sakya, but also in nyingma and kagyu institutions.

According to Cabezón, Gorampa called his version of the madhyamaka "the middle way of the freedom of extremes" (mtha' bral dbu ma) or "middle way of the freedom of proliferations" (spros bral kyi dbu ma) and claimed that the ultimate truth was ineffable, beyond preaching or concepts.

For Gorampa, emptiness is not just the absence of inherent existence (svabhava), but is the absence of the four extremes in all phenomena, i.e., existence, nonexistence, both and neither (i.e., catuskoti), without any further qualification.

For Gorampa, conventional truths are also the object of negation, because "they are not found at all when subjected to ultimate rational analysis. "Thus, Gorampa's madhyamaka negates existence per se or existence without qualification, whereas for Tsongkhapa, the object of negation is "inherent existence," "intrinsic existence," or "intrinsic nature. "

In his Elimination of Wrong Views (Lta ba ngan sel), Gorampa argues that the madhyamaka ultimately negates "all false appearances," that is, everything that appears to our mind (all conventional phenomena).

Since all appearances are conceptually produced illusions, they must cease when conceptual reification is brought to an end by understanding. This is the "ultimate freedom from conceptual fabrication" (don dam spros bral). To attain it, madhyamikas must deny "the reality of appearances. "

That is, all conventional realities are fabrications, and since nirvana requires transcending all fabrication (spros bral), conventional reality must be denied. For Gorampa, all conventional knowledge is dualistic, since it is based on a false distinction between subject and object.

Therefore, for Gorampa, the madhyamaka analyzes all supposedly real phenomena and concludes through that analysis "that these things do not exist and, therefore, the so-called conventional reality is totally nonexistent. "

As for the ultimate truth, Gorampa considered it to be divided into two parts:

The emptiness arrived at through rational analysis (in reality this is only an analogue, and not the real thing).
The emptiness that yogis realize through their own gnosis (prajña). This is the true ultimate truth, arrived at by denying the previous rational understanding of emptiness.
Unlike most orthodox sakyas, the philosopher Sakya Chokden, a contemporary of Gorampa, also promoted a form of shentong as a complement to rangtong. He considered shentong to be useful for meditation practice, while rangtong was useful for cutting off opinions.

Comparison of Tsongkhapa and Gorampa

As Garfield and Thakchoe point out, for Tsongkhapa, conventional truth is "a kind of truth," "a way of being real," and "a kind of existence," while for Gorampa, conventional is "totally false," "unreal," "a kind of nonexistence," and "truth only from the perspective of fools. "

Jay L. Garfield and Sonam Thakchoe outline the different competing models of Gorampa and Tsongkhapa as follows:

For Gorampa - The object of negation is the conventional phenomenon itself. The ultimate truth (emptiness) is an external negation, and this external negation eliminates its object leaving nothing. Thus, all objects, persons, or statements are eliminated by the ultimate analysis that sees emptiness.

The mādhyamikas agree with ordinary people that things exist conventionally despite not ultimately existing. However, from the point of view of emptiness, conventional existence is a complete illusion. As such "the ultimate emptiness of the person shows that the person simply does not exist. He is no more real than Santa Claus. "

For Tsongkhapa - The object of negation is not the conventional phenomenon, but is the essence or intrinsic existence (svabhava) of the conventional phenomenon. Therefore, when we say that the person does not ultimately exist, what is eliminated is his intrinsic existence or any innate projection of svabhava.

This negation does not deny the person as an interdependent phenomenon. This view sees conventional existence as a merely existent interdependent phenomenon that is empty of intrinsic nature. On this view, conventional reality is not wholly illusory; it is the contingent mode of existence of all phenomena.

According to Garfield and Thakchoe each of these "radically different views" on the nature of the two truths "has scriptural support, and indeed each view can be supported by quotations from different passages of the same text or even different contextual interpretations of the same passage. "


In the Kagyu tradition, there is a wide field of opinion on the nature of emptiness, with some holding the "emptiness of another" (shentong) view, while others hold more classical madhyamaka positions. An influential Kagyu thinker was Rangjung Dorje, the third Karmapa. His view synthesized the madhyamaka and yogacara perspectives.

According to Karl Brunnholzl, the third Karmapa's works combine yogacara and madhyamaka, as well as some positive statements that have been interpreted as shentong by later figures. However, Rangjung Dorje never uses the term "shentong" in any of his works, and therefore any claim that he is a promoter of shentong is a later interpretation.

Several important Kagyu authors disagree with the view that shentong is a form of madhyamaka. According to Brunnholzl, Mikyö Dorje, the 8th Karmapa Lama (1507-1554) and the second Pawo Rinpoche Tsugla Trengwa consider the term "shentong madhyamaka" to be a misnomer, as for them the yogacara of Asanga and Vasubandhu and the system of Nagarjuna are "two clearly distinct systems." They also refute the idea that there is "a permanent and intrinsic Buddha nature. "

Mikyö Dorje also argues that the language of shentong does not appear in any of the sutras or in the treatises of the Indian masters. He attacks Dolpopa's view as being against the sutras of ultimate meaning which assert that all phenomena are empty, as well as being against the treatises of the Indian masters.

Mikyö Dorje rejects both the rangtong and shentong perspectives as true descriptions of ultimate reality, which he sees as "the total peace of all discursivity regarding being empty and not being empty. "

One of the most influential Kagyu philosophers of recent times was Jamgön Kongtrul Lodrö Taye (1813-1899), who advocated a system of shentong madhyamaka and argued that primordial wisdom "is never empty of its own nature and is there all the time. "

The modern kagyu master Khenpo Tsultrim (1934-) also advocates the shentong idea that the ultimate reality is the "Buddha's gnosis" (buddhajñana) that can be described as "truly existent" and above all concepts. This approach is said to help overcome the subtle concept of clinging to negation, alerting the meditator "to the presence of a dynamic and positive reality. "


In the Nyingma school there are a variety of views on the madhyamaka. Some Nyingma thinkers promoted shentong, such as Katok Tsewang Norbu, but the most influential Nyingma thinkers, such as Longchenpa and Ju Mipham, maintained a more classical prāsaṅgika interpretation, while trying to harmonize it with the dzogchen view found in the dzgochen tantras, which are traditionally considered the pinnacle of the Nyingma view.

According to Sonam Thakchoe, the ultimate truth in the Nyingma tradition, following Longchenpa, is that "reality that transcends all modes of thinking and speaking, that which appears unmistakably to the non-erroneous cognitive processes of exalted and awakened beings" and is said to be "inexpressible beyond words and thoughts," as well as the reality that is the "transcendence of all elaborations. "

The most influential modern Nyingma scholar is Jamgon Ju Mipham Gyatso (1846-1912). He developed a unique theory of the madhyamaka, with two models of the two truths.

While he adopts the traditional two-truth madhyamaka model, in which the ultimate truth is emptiness, he also developed a second model, in which the ultimate truth is "reality as it is" (de bzhin nyid) that is "established as ultimately real" (bden par grub pa).

This ultimate truth is associated with the dzogchen concept of rigpa (Skt. vidya, knowledge). Although it might seem that this system conflicts with the traditional madhyamaka interpretation, for Mipham it does not.

For whereas the traditional model that sees ultimate truth as a negation refers to the analysis of experience, the second model influenced by dzogchen refers to the experience of oneness in meditation.

Douglas Duckworth sees Mipham's work as an attempt to bring together the two major Mahayana philosophical systems (yogacara and madhyamaka, as well as shentong and rangtong), into a coherent system in which both are seen as having definitive significance.

Regarding the discussion of svatantrika prasangika, Mipham explained that using positive assertions in a logical debate can serve a useful purpose in either debating with non-Buddhist schools, or in leading students toward a more subtle point of view.

Similarly, discussing an approach to ultimate truth helps students who have difficulty when using only prasanga methods to come closer to understanding ultimate truth. Ju Mipham felt that the non-enumerated ultimate truth of the svatantrika was no different from the ultimate truth of the prāsangika.

He felt that the only difference between the two was with respect to how conventional truth was discussed and its approach to showing a path. Nevertheless, some teachers.

Madhyamaka in East Asia

Kumārajīva and his students.

The Chinese madhyamaka (known as sānlùn, "the school of the three treatises") began with the work of Kumārajīva (344-413 CE), who led the Chinese translation of some key works of Nāgārjuna (Chinese: Longshu, 龍樹), including the MMK. This school is also known as the "school of emptiness" (k'ung tsung).

Kumārajīva's version of the MMK was translated along with a commentary. This work is known in China as the Zhong lun (Skt. Madhyamakaśāstra, Middle Treatise, Taishō Tripitaka # 1564).

The three main Madhyamaka texts translated by Kumārajīva are the Treatise of the Middle, the Treatise of the Twelve Gates (Shiermen lun) and the Treatise of the Hundred (Bai lun). These became the central works of the "school of the three treatises. "

Another influential text of Nāgārjuna that is said to have been translated by Kumārajīva was the Dazhidulun (Teaching on Prajñāpāramita, Skt. *Mahāprajñāpāramitopadeśa). According to Dan Arnold, this text exists only in Kumārajīva's translation and has material that differs from Nāgārjuna's works.

Despite this, the Dazhidulun became a central text for Chinese interpretations of the madhyamaka. Another key text translated by Kumārajīva and his team is the Satyasiddhiśāstra (Ch'eng-shih lun, The treatise that realizes reality). Although not a proper madhyamaka text, this work was influential in the study of Chinese madhyamaka, as it also taught the emptiness of the dharmas.

Sengrui was one of Kumārajīva's leading disciples. He assisted in the translation project of numerous texts, among them the Middle Treatise and the Pañcaviṃśatisāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra. He also translated a meditation manual that he called the Chanyao and is now understood as the Zuochan sanmei jing (Sutra of the seated dhyāna samādhi, Taisho 15 no. 614).

Sānlùn figures such as Sengzhao (384-414) a student of Kumārajīva and the later Jizang (549-623) were influential in restoring a more orthodox, nonessentialist interpretation of emptiness in Chinese Buddhism.

Sengzhao is often considered the founder of the sānlùn school proper. He was influenced not only by Madhyamaka texts and Mahayana sutras (such as the Vimalakirti sutra), but also by Taoist works.

He is known for quoting extensively from the Lao-tzu and the Chuang-tzu and for using the terminology of the neo-Daoist tradition of "learning the mysteries" (xuanxue 玄学), while maintaining an exclusively Buddhist philosophical outlook.

In his essay The Emptiness of the Non-Absolute (Buzhenkong, 不眞空), Sengzhao points out that the nature of phenomena cannot be understood as either existent or nonexistent.

Sengzhao considered the central problem of understanding emptiness to be the discriminative activity of prapañca (conceptual proliferation). According to Sengzhao, illusion arises through a dependent relationship between phenomena, naming, thinking, and reification. Correct understanding lies outside of words and concepts.

Thus, although emptiness is the lack of intrinsic existence in all things, this emptiness is not itself an absolute and cannot be grasped by the conceptual mind. Instead, emptiness can only be realized through nonconceptual wisdom (prajña).


Jízàng (549-623) was another central figure of the Chinese madhyamaka, who wrote numerous commentaries on Nagarjuna and Aryadeva and is considered the leading representative of the school. Jízàng called his method "deconstructing what is misleading and revealing what is corrective." He insisted that one must never settle for any particular viewpoint or perspective.

Therefore, one must constantly reexamine one's formulations to avoid reifications of thought and behavior. In his commentary on the MMK, Jízàng explains

Jízàng explains how different Buddhist schools hold different principles or phenomena as being ultimately true. But, according to Jízàng, "if there is a single true principle, it is an eternal view, which is false. If there is no principle at all, it is an evil view, which is also false.

Being both existent and non-existent consists of the eternal and nihilistic views altogether. Being neither existent nor nonexistent is a foolish view." Therefore, Jízàng's madhyamaka rejects these four extremes as a way to prepare the mind to attain wisdom of "thatness" or "suchness," i.e. ultimate truth.

In one of his early treatises called The Meaning of the Two Truths (Erdiyi), Jízàng lays out the steps to realize the nature of the ultimate truth of emptiness as follows:

In the first step, one recognizes the reality of phenomena on the conventional level, but assumes their non-reality on the ultimate level. In the second step, one becomes aware of being or non-being at the conventional level and denies both at the ultimate level. In the third step, one affirms or denies being and non-being on the conventional level, neither confirming nor rejecting them on the ultimate level. Thus, ultimately there is no more affirmation or negation, and at the conventional level, one becomes free to accept or reject anything.

After Jízàng, the school declined considerably, although its texts remained influential for other traditions such as Tiantai and Chan Buddhism. The Tiantai patriarch, Zhiyi, drew extensively on Sānlùn's madhyamaka to establish his own unique system of "the three truths" (which are: emptiness, existence, and the medium; 空假中 - kong, jia, zhong).

In chan (Zen), Nagarjuna is considered one of the patriarchs of the school and, therefore, key chan figures, such as Huineng, were required to know the four treatises. According to Hsueh-li Cheng, "Zen masters such as Niu-t'ou fa-yung (594-657) and Nan-ch'uan P'u-yuan (748- 834) were Sān-lùn Buddhists before they became Zen masters. "

Furthermore, the main tenets of Sānlùn, such as the negation of conceptualization, the rejection of all views, and dual truth, were adopted by Zen. Hsueh-li Cheng concludes that "in many respects Zen seems to be a practical application of madhyamika thought. "

Modern Chinese Madhyamaka

In the early 20th century, the laymen Yang Wenhui and Ouyang Jian (Ch. 歐陽漸) (1871-1943) promoted Buddhist learning in China, and the general trend was an increase in the study of Buddhist traditions such as yogācāra, madhyamaka, and the Huayan school.

In the modern era, there has been a mādhyamaka revival in Chinese Buddhism. A very influential figure in modern Chinese study of the Madhyamaka is Yìnshùn (印順導師, 1906-2005). Yìnshùn applied his study of the Chinese Agamas to the madhyamaka, and argued that Nagarjuna's works were "the inheritance of the concept of dependent arising as propounded in the Agamas." 

Yìnshùn also regarded Nagarjuna's writings as the correct form of Buddhism, while he considered the texts of the sānlùn school as corrupt, due to their synthesis of tathagata-garbha doctrine with madhyamaka. Many modern Chinese mādhyamaka scholars, such as Li Zhifu, Yang Huinan, and Lan Jifu, have been students of Yin Shun.

Japanese Madhyamaka

The madhyamaka school was known in Japan as sanron (三論宗) and was introduced around 625 by the Korean monk of Goguryeo Hyegwan (Jp. Ekan 慧灌) who resided at Gangō-ji temple.

Prince Shōtoku is known to have had two Buddhist mentors from the Sanron school. Ekan is also known to have introduced the jōjitsu (satyasiddhi) school to Japan and the Satyasiddhi-shastra system was taught in the Japanese Sanron as a complement to the madhyamaka.

During the Heian period, a major Sanron figure was Master Chiko (709-781), whose commentary on the Heart Sutra became a classic work of Heian Buddhist scholarship and the most authoritative commentary on the Heart Sutra.

This commentary criticized the hosso (yogacara) school's interpretation of the Heart Sutra, promoted the Heart Sutra as a text of definitive meaning (nītārtha) while drawing on the work of Jízàng.

This school was later eclipsed by other Japanese schools such as tendai and Zen.

Influences and criticisms


The yogācāra school was the other major philosophical (darshana) school of mahayana in India, and its complex relationship with the madhyamaka school changed over time. The Saṃdhinirmocana sūtra, perhaps the oldest yogācāra text, is self-proclaimed above the doctrine of emptiness taught in other sutras.

According to Paul Williams, the Saṃdhinirmocana asserts that other sutras teaching emptiness, as well as the Madhyamika teachings on emptiness, are merely skillful means (upaya) and therefore not definitive (unlike the final yogācāra teachings of the Saṃdhinirmocana).

As Mark Siderits points out, yogācāra authors such as Asanga argued that the doctrine of emptiness required an interpretation rather than the yogācāra theory of the "three natures" that posits an ultimate inexpressible reality that is the object of a Buddha's cognition.

Asanga also argued that all things cannot be said to be empty unless there are things that are seen to be empty or non-empty in the first place. Asanga also attacks the view that "the truth is that all things are conceptual fictions" by asserting:

As for his view, because of the absence of the thing itself that serves as the basis for the concept, conceptual fictions must not exist altogether. How then is it to be true that everything is only a conceptual fiction? Through this conception, reality, conceptual fiction and the two things together are denied. For denying both conceptual fiction and reality, they are to be considered the foremost nihilists.

Asanga also criticized the madhyamaka because he argued that it could lead to laxity in following ethical precepts, as well as for being an "imaginatively constructed view that is arrived at only through reasoning. " He further states:

How, again, is emptiness misconceptualized? Some ascetics and brahmins do not recognize that [i.e., the intrinsic nature] of what something is empty. Nor do they recognize that which is empty [i.e., things and dharmas]. This is how it is said that emptiness is wrongly conceived.

For what reason? Because that of which things are empty is nonexistent, but that which is empty is existent. Thus emptiness is possible. If everything is unreal, what will be empty of what? If this is so, it is not possible for anything to be empty. Therefore, emptiness is wrongly conceptualized in this case.

Asanga also wrote that:

if nothing is real, there can be no ideas (prajñapti). One who holds this view is a nihilist, with whom one should neither talk nor share one's dwelling place. Such a person falls into bad rebirth and takes others with him.

Vasubandhu also asserts that emptiness does not mean that things have no intrinsic nature, but that this nature is "inexpressible and can only be apprehended by a kind of cognition that transcends subject-object duality. "

Thus, the early yogācāras were engaged in a project to reinterpret the radical madhyamaka view of emptiness. Later yogācāra figures such as Sthiramati and Dharmapala debated with the madhyamika philosophers. However, yogācāra authors also commented on madhyamaka texts.

As Garfield notes, "Asaṅga, Sthiramati, and Guṇamati composed commentaries on the foundational madhyamaka text, the Mūlamadhyamakakakārikā of Nāgārjuna. "

The madhyamaka philosopher Bhavaviveka criticizes the views of the yogācāras in his Madhyamakahṛdayakārikāḥ (Verses on the Heart of the Middle Way). According to Xuanzang, Bhavavaviveka was disturbed by the views of the yogācāra thinkers and their attacks on madhyamaka.

He traveled to Nalanda to debate with Dharmapala face to face, but the latter refused. Bhavavaviveka's texts cite the yogācāras' attacks on madhyamaka, who claimed that their approach to prajñaparamita is the "means to attain omniscience," whereas the madhyamaka's approach that "concentrates on the negation of arising and cessation" is not.

Bhaviveka also criticizes several views of the yogācāras in his Tarkajvālā (The Radiance of Reason), including the view that there are no external objects (idealism), the view that there is no use for logical argumentation (tarka), and the view that dependent nature (paratantra-svabhāva) exists in an absolute sense.

Advaita Vedanta

Several modern scholars have argued that the first thinker of Advaita Vedanta, Gaudapada (c. 6th century CE), was influenced by Madhyamaka thought. They argue that he borrowed the concept of ajāta (unborn) from the madhyamaka. Madhyamaka also uses the term anutpāda (not arisen, not originated, not produced).

The Buddhist tradition often uses the term anutpāda for the absence of any essential arising and thus signifies the emptiness of causality. According to Gaudapada's ajātivāda doctrine, the absolute (brahman) is not subject to birth, change, and death.

Echoing Nagarjuna's use of catuskoti, Gaudapada writes that "nothing that is originates either from itself or from something else; nothing that is existent, nonexistent, or both existent and nonexistent originates. "

However, Gaudapada's philosophical outlook is quite different from that of Nagarjuna, as Gaudapada postulates a metaphysical absolute (which is aja, the unborn, eternal and immutable) based on the Mandukya Upanishad and thus remains primarily a follower of Vedanta. Gaudapada also shares the doctrine of the two truths with the Madhyamaka, but for Gaudapada, the latter is the immutable existence of Brahman and the empirical world of appearances is considered unreal, illusory (maya) and nonexistent.

Richard King also points out that the fourth chapter of the Gaudapadiyakarika promotes several ideas of Mahayana Buddhism, such as a middle path free of extremes, non-attachment to dharmas, as well as the existence of "buddhas." King notes that this could be an attempt to get closer to Buddhists or to attract Buddhists to Vedanta.

However, King adds that "from a madhyamaka perspective, the acceptance of an immutable absolute that upholds the world of appearances by the Gaudapadiyakarika is an erroneous form of eternalism... "

Adi Shankara (early eighth century), a later Advaita Vedanta scholar, rejected the Madhyamaka view as irrational and nihilistic. Shankara argued that it was a type of nihilism that held that "absolutely nothing exists" and that this view "is contradicted by all means of correct knowledge. "

This criticism against madhyamaka as nihilism was held by most advaita scholars after Shankara. However, this did not prevent later Vedanta thinkers, such as Bhaskara, from accusing Shankara of being a "crypto-Buddhist" for his view that everyday reality is maya (illusion) and that brahman has no qualities and is undifferentiated.

Another Vedantin philosopher, Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137), directly compared Shankara's "mayavada" views with the madhyamaka, arguing that if maya and avidya are unreal, "that would imply acceptance of the madhyamika doctrine, that is, of a general vacuity. "

Later philosophers, such as Madhva and Vijñanabhiksu (fifteenth or sixteenth century), echo this criticism against Shankara, going so far as to label Shankara as a nastika (unorthodox). Later advaitins also recognized the similarity of his doctrine to the madhyamaka.

The scholar Vimuktatma states that if by asat (non-being), the madhyamaka means maya and not mere negation, then it is close to Vedanta. Sadananda also states that if by sunya, what is meant in madhyamaka is the reality beyond the intellect, then the madhyamaka accepts Vedanta.

Sri Harsha points out that the two schools are similar, but differ in that advaita holds that consciousness is pure, real and eternal, while madhyamaka denies this.

Jain philosophy

Modern scholars such as Jeffery Long have also pointed out that the influential Jain philosopher Kundakunda (2nd century CE or later) also adopted a theory of the two truths, possibly under the influence of Nagarjuna.

According to W. J. Johnson, Kundakunda also adopts other Buddhist terms such as prajña under the influence of Nagarjuna, although he applies the term to knowledge of the self (jiva), which is also the ultimate perspective (niścayanaya), as distinguished from the worldly perspective (vyavahāranaya).

The Jain philosopher Haribhadra also mentions the madhyamaka. In both the Yogabindu and the Yogadrstisamuccaya, Haribhadra points to Nagarjuna's assertion that samsara and nirvana are no different to criticize it, dismissing the view as a "fantasy. "


Medieval Chinese Taoism was influenced by Mahayana Buddhism. A Taoist school called chongxuan (重玄, "double mystery") founded by Cheng Xuanying (fl. 632-650), was especially devoted to adapting madhyamaka concepts such as emptiness, the two truths, and catuskoti to its Taoist philosophical system.

Madhyamaka in modernity

Thích Nhất Hạnh

The influential Vietnamese Zen master Thích Nhất Hạnh explains the Madhyamaka concept of emptiness through the Chinese Buddhist concept of interdependence, also known as "perfect fusion" (yuanrong, 圓融) Hạnh also coined a new term for this idea, "interbeing." In this teaching, there is no first or ultimate cause for any thing that happens.

Instead, all things are dependent on innumerable causes and effects that are themselves dependent on innumerable causes and effects. The interdependence of all phenomena, including the 'I', is a useful way to eliminate erroneous views about inherence, that is, about our great error of regarding the 'I' as possessing inherent existence.

It is also a useful way to discuss the Mahayana teachings on motivation, compassion and ethics. The comparison of interdependence has produced recent discussions comparing Mahayana ethics with ethics relating to the environment.

Thích Nhất Hạnh writes that "you cannot be alone by yourself. You have to inter-estar with everything else." Hạnh uses the example of a sheet of paper that can only exist because of every other cause and condition (the sun, rain, trees, people, mind, etc.). According to Hanh, "this sheet of paper is, because everything else is. "

In modern Western scholarship

As David Seyfort Ruegg notes, Western scholars have given a wide variety of interpretations of the madhyamaka, including "nihilism, monism, irrationalism, missology, agnosticism, skepticism, criticism, dialectics, mysticism, acosmism, absolutism, relativism, nominalism, and linguistic analysis with therapeutic value. "

Jay L. Garfield also notes that modern interpreters differ widely in their interpretations of the madhyamaka and that "Nagarjuna has been read as an idealist (Murti 1960), a nihilist (Wood 1994), a skeptic (Garfield 1995), a pragmatist (Kalupahana 1986), and as a mystic (Streng 1967).

He has been considered a critic of logic (Inada 1970), a defender of classical logic (Hayes 1994), and a pioneer of paraconsistent logic (Garfield and Priest 2003). "

According to Andrew Tuck, the Western study of Nagarjuna's madhyamaka can be divided into three phases:

The Kantian phase, exemplified by Theodore Stcherbatsky's The Conception of Buddhist Nirvāna 1927, who argued that Nagarjuna divides the world into appearance (samsara) and an absolute noumenal reality (nirvana). This is also seen in T. R. V. Murti's The Central Philosophy of Buddhism 1955.

The analytic phase, exemplified by Richard Robinson's 1957 article Some Logical Aspects of Nāgārjuna's System, attempted to explain the madhyamaka using the logical apparatus of analytic philosophy.

The post-Wittgensteinian phase, exemplified by Frederick Streng's Emptiness and Chris Gudmunsen's Wittgenstein and Buddhism. These figures "set out to highlight the similarities between Nāgārjuna and, in particular, the later Wittgenstein and his critique of analytic philosophy.

For his part, the Sri Lankan philosopher David Kalupahana regarded the madhyamaka as a response to certain essentialist philosophical tendencies that had emerged after the time of the Buddha and sees it as a restoration of the pragmatic position of the primitive Buddhist middle way.

Among the critical voices, Richard P. Hayes (influenced by Richard Robinson's view that Nagarjuna's logic fails modern tests of validity) interprets Nagarjuna's works as "primitive" and guilty of "errors of reasoning" such as equivocation.

Hayes claims that Nagarjuna relied on the different meanings of the word svabhava to make claims that were not logical and that his work relies on various "fallacies and tricks. "

William Magee strongly disagrees with Hayes, referring to Tsonghkhapa's interpretation of Nagarjuna to argue that Hayes misidentifies Nagarjuna's understanding of the different meanings of the term svabhava.

Many recent Western scholars (such as Jay L. Garfield, Elizabeth Napper, and Jeffrey Hopkins) have tended to adopt a prāsaṅgika gelug-influenced interpretation of the madhyamaka. However, the American philosopher Mark Siderits is an exception, who has attempted to defend the svātantrika position as a coherent and rational interpretation of the madhyamaka.

For his part, C.W. Huntington has been especially critical of the modern Western attempt to read Nagarjuna "through the lens of modern symbolic logic" and to see him as compatible with the logical system of analytic philosophy.

He argues that by reading Nagarjuna, a thinker he sees as "deeply suspicious of logic," in an overly logical way, "we damage our understanding of Nagarjuna's insistence that he has no propositions (pratijña). "

He posits a more literary interpretation that focuses on the effect that Nagarjuna was trying to "conjure" in his readers (i.e., an experience of having no views) rather than asking how it works (or does not work) logically.

In response to this, Jay Garfield defends the interpretation of Nagarjuna's logic through the use of Anglo-American analytic philosophy, further arguing that Nagarjuna and Candrakirti make use of logical arguments and see themselves as making use of logic.

Another recent interpreter, Jan Westerhoff, argues that madhyamaka is a kind of anti-fundamentalism, "which not only denies the objective, intrinsic, mind-independent existence of some class of objects, but rejects such existence for any class of objects that we might regard as the most fundamental building blocks of the world. "