Madhyamika mädyŭˈmĭkə [key] [Skt.,=of the middle], philosophical school of Mahayana Buddhism, based on the teaching of “emptiness” (see sunyata) and named for its adherence to the “middle path” between the views of existence or eternalism and nonexistence or nihilism. The school was founded by Nagarjuna (2d cent. a.d.) who came from S India to the Buddhist university of Nalanda and entered into debate with other schools including the Hindu logic school, or Nyaya, and the Buddhist Abhidharma. About 25 works are attributed to Nagarjuna, the most important being the Middle Stanzas (Madhyamika Karika). Nagarjuna took key ideas from early Mahayana scriptures and expounded them using a rigorous dialectic. He attacked the concept of essence or “self-nature” (svabhava) as self-contradictory, holding that nothing self-existent can be subject to change. He then refuted all possible answers to philosophical problems such as causality, identity, and change by showing their logical inconsistency, with the aim of freeing the mind from all speculative views, which are the source of attachment that prevents enlightenment. He claimed to have no view of his own and to be attempting only to refute the views of his opponents. Nagarjuna's ultimate principle of emptiness was equated by him with “dependent co-arising,” the causally conditioned, relative nature of all phenomena. He declared that there is no distinction between nirvana and samsara (bondage in birth-and-death) when the latter is seen without delusory concepts. He recognized two levels of truth, the absolute and the conventional. Thus his system does not deny the validity of empirical experience in its own sphere, although it does not accept the possibility of statements about absolute reality, which is beyond conceptualization. Nagarjuna's immediate disciple Aryadeva carried on his teaching. About a.d. 500 Bhavaviveka, heading the Svatantrika school of the Madhyamika, held that the Buddhist position can be put forward by positive argument. The Prasanga school, championed by Candrakirti, opposed him and reaffirmed the simple refutation of opponents by reductio ad absurdum as the true Madhyamika position. Santideva (691–743) wrote the philosophical and inspirational classic Bodhicaryavatara (tr. by M. L. Matics, Entering the Path of Enlightenment, 1970). Santaraksita and Kamalasila were the chief representatives of the Madhyamika's last phase, a syncretism with the Yogacara school that was transmitted to Tibet. Madhyamika was also transmitted to China as the San-lun, or Three Treatises, school, introduced by Kumarajiva.

See T. R. V. Murti, The Central Philosophy of Buddhism (2d ed. 1960, repr. 1970); D. T. Suzuki, Outlines of Mahayana Buddhism (1963); R. H. Robinson, Early Madhyamika in India and China (1967); F. Streng, Emptiness: A Study in Religious Meaning (1967).

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