The Birth of Prāsaṅgika: A Buddhist Movement in India and Tibet

Vose, Kevin Alan, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Hopkins, Jeffrey, Department of Religious Studies, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the birth of a Buddhist intellectual movement in twelfth century Tibet, known by its Sanskrit name, Prasangika ("Middle Way Consequentialism"), and founded on the writings of the seventh century Indian, Candrakirti. From its inception, Prasangika philosophy - ranging from logic to soteriology - quickly came to dominate Tibetan intellectual life, and continues to do so down to the present day. This project traces the movement's inauguration in the writings of eleventh century Indian Buddhists and its twelfth century institutional birth in Central Tibet, examining the philosophical issues that were its raison d'etre and tracing the manner in which these issues and the texts embodying them were utilized to construct a religious community. Through analyzing the interplay of translation, canon formation, and doctrinal innovation and relating this analysis to the sociopolitical rivalries of this fractious and formative period of Tibetan Buddhism, this dissertation offers a new approach to interpreting Buddhist doctrinal and historical genres. The first chapter introduces the Indian Buddhists who popularized Candrakirti's writings and examines the issues around which they valorized them. These issues center on their interpretation of ultimate truth (paramarthasatya), the relationship of the ultimate to epistemological (pramana) concerns and to tantric practice, and a unique view of Buddhahood. The second chapter traces the controversies precipitated by the introduction to Central Tibet of Candrakirti's main writings just after the onset of the twelfth century. Philosophical issues and the social milieu contributed to the formation, for the first time, of Prasangika and Svatantrika schools, which can best be understood as Tibetan "textual communities." The final three chapters explore these two schools' debates, examining the writings of Prajnakaramati (950-1030), Atisa (c. 982-1054), Jayananda (c. 1100), Abhayakaragupta (c. 1025-1125), Chaba Chokyi Senge (Phya pa Chos kyi rang ge, 1109- 1169), Mabja Jangchub Tsondru (rMa bya Byamg chub brtson grus, d. 1185), Sonam Tsemo (bSod nams rtse mo, 1142-1182), and Drakpa Gyeltsen (Grags pa rgyal mtshan, 1147-1216).

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Buddhism, sanskrit, philosophy
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