Sunday, December 18, 2011


Scott Bradley

Madhyamika is Sanskrit, but you needn't burn incense to it; once upon a time, people told dirty jokes in Sanskrit. It is not a holy language.

Madhyamika means Middle Way, and is a central concept in Mahayana Buddhism. Its chief architect was Nagarjuna who also brought us sunyata (emptiness). I hope I got that right. In any case, it will be my only attempt at fact; the rest will be non-factual, un-authoritative, and possibly erroneous reflection.

The Middle Way is the transcendent way. It is not the golden mean between extremes. It is the negation of extremes, or rather, the non-negation of extremes; we do not negate what we do not recognize. It is a form of dialectic, a neti, neti, a "not this, not this", which arrives at no synthesis, but rather demonstrates the emptiness of every thesis, antithesis and synthesis.

Nagarjuna is famous for his exhaustive and well-reasoned deconstructions of all concepts, including those of space and time. These largely leave me scratching my head and feeling empty, which is, I guess, in the case of the latter, what he intended, though perhaps not exactly.

T.R.V. Murti (The Central Philosophy of Buddhism, quoted by Thomas Merton in The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton) renders it more easily digestible:
  • "Reflective consciousness is necessarily consciousness of the false." (Reflect on that, Grasshopper!)
  • "The essence of the Madhyamika attitude...consists in not allowing oneself to be entangled in views and theories, but just to observe the nature of things without standpoints."
  • "The Madhyamika method is to deconceptualize the mind and to disburden it of all notions, empirical as well as a priori. The dialectic is not an avenue for the acquisition of information, but a catharsis; it is primarily a path of purification of the intellect....It is not nihilism, which is itself a standpoint asserting that nothing is. The dialectic is rejection of all views including the nihilistic."
  • "...the Madhyamika does not deny the real; [it] only denies doctrines about the real....[Its] denial of the views of the real is not denial of the real, and [it] makes the denial of views — the dialectic itself — the means for realizing the real."
Well, let's not get carried away! Might it not be enough to realize the unreal? In any case, not-knowing is the gate.

Finally I once again share this quote: "Sunyata is the antidote for all dogmatic views, but him I call the incurable who takes sunyata itself as a theory."

Maybe we are all "incurable", but there is value in realizing we are sick. Approximate!

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

1 comment:

  1. It is my favourite part of my favourite culture this colourful philosophy.


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