Echoes of Empty Luminosity: Reevaluation and Unique Interpretation of Yogãcãra and Nihsvabhãvavãda Madhyamaka by the Fifteenth Century Tibetan Thinker Sãkya mchog Idan

Komarovski, Yaroslav Lvovich, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Germano, David, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hopkins, Jeffrey, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Groner, Paul, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Lang, Karen, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hueckstedt, Robert, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia

One of the most complicated areas of Buddhist thought explored by Śākya mchog ldan in minute detail is the nature and relationship of the Mahāyāna doctrinal systems. In Tibet, Yogācāra and Madhyamaka are nearly universally viewed as the two most important Buddhist philosophical traditions, with a clear orthodoxy in place by the 15th century that subordinated the former to the latter. Śākya mchog ldan’s innovative approach to the categories of Buddhist systems can be summarized in terms of his explanation of Yogācāra as involving a Satyākāra (rnam bden pa, “True Aspectarians”) subdivision which he identifies with Cittamātra (sems tsam, “Mind Only”) and an Alīkākāra (rnam rdzun pa, “False Aspectarians”) subdivision which he identifies as a subdivision of Madhyamaka on an equal footing with Niḥsvabhāvavāda (ngo bo nyid med par smra ba, “Proponents of Entitylessness”).

While seemingly simple, this basic formula in fact consists of an intricate web of ideas—the structure and meaning of the Mahāyāna tenets, continuities and discontinuities between tantric and non-tantric forms of Madhyamaka, reality of self-cognition, transition from conceptual to non-conceptual understanding of emptiness, and disparate approaches to abandoning obscurations, to mention just a few.

In this study, I argue that by placing the Alīkākāra system on the level of Madhyamaka, and showing its important differences, compatibility, and interdependence with Niḥsvabhāvavāda, Śākya mchog ldan attempts nothing less than a thorough reconsideration and reconfiguration of the fundamental Buddhist doctrinal categories. The key innovation, within the context of the general Tibetan philosophical orthodoxy according Madhyamaka the sole spot at the pinnacle of doxographical hierarchies, is to elevate Yogācāra thinkers and their works to a comparable, and often superior, position.  

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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