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The Svatantrika-Prasangika Distinction: What Difference Does a Difference Make? edited by Sara McClintock, Georges Dreyfus (Wisdom Publications) One of the contributing factors to the recent growth of Madhya­maka studies has been the discovery by modern scholars of the rich Tibetan tradition. Contact with contemporary Tibetan schol­ars and their enormous learning, clarity, and sophistication has provided an invaluable resource in many areas of Buddhist studies, particularly in the study of Madhyamaka philosophy. Such a development is certainly most welcome. It is only fitting that this great scholarly tradition receive due recognition. The appreciation of Tibetan sources and their use in the elu­cidation of Madhyamaka is not, however, without complication, for it introduces in the study of classical Buddhist texts terms and distinctions not used by the original Indian thinkers.

The Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction (thal rang gyi khyad par) provides one of the clearest examples of such a difficulty. This distinction has become widespread in the secondary literature on Madhyamaka, and on Indian phi­losophy more generally. It is current nowadays to find references to Prasanigika philosophy and Svatantrika philosophy, as if these were self-evident and unproblematic categories on a par with other doxographical distinctions. Likewise, one frequently encounters statements to the effect that Candrakirti (7th c.) and Bhavaviveka (6th c.) are the respective founders of the Prasangika and the Svatantrika schools.' The present volume, an outgrowth of a panel on the topic at a meeting of the International Association of Buddhist Stud­ies in Lausanne in 1999, is an attempt to scrutinize more critically this doxographical distinction, clarifying and highlighting its problematic nature as well as suggesting arguments that may stand in support of it.

At the start of this project, it is important to recognize the clear limita­tions of doxographical distinctions in general. Labels such as Madhyamaka and Yogacara need to be understood as hermeneutical devices intended to

bring order to a wide variety of individual texts and ideas. As such, they can­ not be taken as providing anything more than useful but limited guide­ lines in the interpretation of discrete works. Consider, for example, that it is not possible to infer the contents of a particular text based on its accepted membership in a given doxographical category.' Nevertheless, despite their inherent lack of precision, doxographical categories may be helpful when used with caution. Certainly, they have the support of a long lineage of traditional commentators, with roots going back early in the history of the traditions they describe. In the case of Madhyamaka, for example, the main Madhyamikas, at least after Bhavaviveka, knew themselves as such, and the term has since been used by a lengthy succession of thinkers, who under­stood it, for the most part, in relatively similar ways.

This volume amply attests, the distinction between Prasangika and Svatantrika is quite different, being much more problem­atic than other doxographical distinctions used in the study of the classical Indian Buddhist tradition. Put otherwise, the terms Prasangika and Svatan­trika are not on a par with terms such as Madhyamaka or Yogacara. In part, this is simply because, as Tibetan scholars themselves recognize, the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction is a Tibetan creation that was retroac­tively applied in an attempt to bring clarity and order to the study of com­peting Indian Madhyamaka interpretations. Granted, in creating new doxographical distinctions, Tibetan interpreters were not doing anything particularly unusual. Indeed, they were following a venerable Buddhist tra­dition going back at least to Bhavaviveka, who seems to have been the first to use doxographical categories in his systematic presentation of Buddhist philosophy.' His successors continued this task, creating further distinc­tions to capture the differences among Madhyamikas and other Buddhists.

In India, however, it appears that the most basic division in the study of Madhyamaka interpretations was not a distinction between the views of Bhavaviveka and those of Candrakirti. Rather, the basic division was between those-such as Bhavaviveka and Candrakirti-who accepted exter­nal objects conventionally and those-such as Santaraksita and Kamalasila (8th c.)-who argued for an interpretation of conventional reality similar to the Yogacara in which external objects do not exist. This distinction, which unlike the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction places Bhavaviveka and Can­drakirti in the same camp, may have its root in the famous debate between Dharmapala and Bhavaviveka alleged to have taken place at Nalanda,5 In any case, it was well established in the later Indian Madhyamaka tradition., Even as late an author as Atisa (11th  c.) uses it, classifying on its basis both Candrakirti and Bhavaviveka as authoritative interpreters of Nagarjuna.' Other late Indian doxographical divisions of Madhyamaka, such as the distinction between the Mayopamadvayavadins (sgyu ma lta bur gnyis su med par smra ba, lit., those who hold the nondual to be like an illusion) and the Sarva­dharmapratisthanavadins (chos thams cad rab to mi gnas par smra ba, lit., those who hold that all things are unestablished), are connected variously to different thinkers, but there seems to be no conspicuous parallel to the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction as it was later applied in Tibet.'

As Tibetans like Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) were fully aware, it was only later, during the eleventh or twelfth century, that Tibetan scholars coined the terms Rang rgyud pa and Thal gyur ba on the basis of passages in Candrakirti's Prasannapada (PPMV) that seem to indicate significant divergences in Madhyamaka interpretations. These terms, which were eventu­ally Sanskritized by modern scholars as Svatantrika and Prasangika, may well have been invented by the Tibetan translator Pa tshab nyi ma grags (1055-1145?) in the course of his work as a translator of Candrakirti's texts. 10 But whoever invented them, we know that it is around this time that the terms first became important categories in Madhyamaka exegesis and that Candrakirti's interpretation, described with increasing frequency as the Prasangika view, became established as preeminent in Tibet over what was understood to be Bhavaviveka's inferior Svatantrika view." It is perhaps surprising that Pa tshab and others chose to single out Candrakirti as Nagarjuna's most important interpreter, for available evidence suggests that Candrakirti's place in the history of Indian Buddhism had been rather lim­ited up to that point. As far as we know, his works have rarely been quoted by other Indian scholars, and it is only in the eleventh century that Jayananda wrote the first known commentary (apart from Candrakirti's own) on his Madhyamakavatara (MAv). It may be that the later period of Indian Buddhism saw an increase in Candrakirti's popularity among schol­ars in India. Atisa seems to have valued him highly, although, as we noted, he did not separate his view from that of Bhavaviveka. Alternatively, Pa tshab's choice may simply have reflected the historical accident of his asso­ciation with Jayananda, one of Candrakirti's few Indian partisans.

The late and retrospective nature of the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction, as well as its apparent non-Indian provenance, together signal its unusual status as a doxographical category that should render us cautious about its use in the interpretation of Indian material. By themselves, however, these qualities do not warrant rejection of the distinction. The mere fact that the Indian authors themselves were not cognizant of being Svatantrika or Prasangika and that it is only later Tibetan exegetes who thought of them as such is not enough to disqualify these descriptions. There is no problem in principle in retrospectively applying a description to an author even if he or she never conceived of it. For is this not what interpretation is largely about? As Gadamer puts it, "we understand in a different way if we under­stand at all.""

In our case, the fact that Candrakirti might not have understood him­self to be establishing a new school does not preclude describing his view as Prasangika, though it does place a heavier burden of proof upon the interpreter who embraces that description. It requires that the use of the term (and its counterpart, Svatantrika) be well grounded in an analysis of the original texts. Such analysis, however, is not easy. As is revealed in this volume, Tibetan scholars, far from being unanimous in their understand­ing of the distinction, have been and continue to be bitterly divided over the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction. If at least there were some degree of unity in their understanding of the terms, it might be possible to examine this understanding, consider the reasons behind the use of the terms, and then decide whether or not they apply to the original Indian sources. Unfor­tunately, the reality is much more complex. Whereas Tsongkhapa, the founder of what later became known as the Gelugs-pa school and the most ardent proponent of the distinction, argues that the two subschools are separated by crucial philosophical differences, including a different understanding of emptiness and of conventional reality, many other Tibetan commentators have tended to downplay the significance of any differences. Bu ston rin chen grub (1290-1364), for example, goes as far as to claim that this distinction is an artificial Tibetan conceptual creation (bod kyi rtog bzo) without much merit." For him, no substantive issue divides the two sides; instead, the difference can be reduced to two partic­ular styles of exegesis in relation to Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakdrika (MMK), with no implications for philosophical differences whatsoever. Indeed, the Tibetan tradition is so deeply divided over the meaning of the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction that there is even dispute about whether the distinction has legitimacy at all.

The highly contested nature of this distinction, like its status as late and retroactively applied, also does not in itself disqualify its use. Many important terms are used despite being contested, and such use is frequently quite legit­imate. At the same time, however, the contentious nature of the distinction does require anyone choosing to employ these terms to make a strong effort at clarifying how he or she understands them. One temptation to be resis­ted at all costs is the use of the terms Prasangika and Svatantrika as if they referred to well-established and self-evident Indian subschools (avoiding this use is not as easy to achieve as it sounds). In fact, most of the time what are really indicated by these terms are not Indian subschools per se but rather particular Tibetan interpretations of Indian Madhyamaka, interpre­tations that are often interesting and well-informed but not necessarily accurate and nearly always a matter of great dispute. Thus, far from having any degree of transparency, immediacy, or even clarity, the Svatantrika­Prasangika distinction is highly problematic and in great need of clarification.

To meet this challenge, the editors have solicited contributions to this volume along two distinct avenues of inquiry. The first proceeds through an exam­ination of the basic Indian texts that are supposed to be relevant to the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction, seeking clues as to whether and in what ways the distinction can be said to apply. This avenue is explored in the first part of the book, where the reader will find articles examining the works of some of the great Indian Madhyamaka commentators such as Bhavaviveka, Candrakirti, Santaraksita, Kamalasila, and Jnanagarbha in light of the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction and some of the issues that it raises. The second avenue of inquiry attempts to clarify a variety of Tibetan views con­cerning the distinction, seeking to sort out the role that the distinction plays in the thought of various figures in Tibetan Madhyamaka. This avenue is explored in the second part of the book, in which the contribu­tors examine the ideas of such pivotal Tibetan philosophers as Phya-pa-chos-kyi-seng-ge (1109-1169), Goramspa (1429-1489), and Tsong kha pa. This second part of the book concludes with a consideration of the views of a recent eclectic Tibetan thinker, 'Ju Mipham (1846-1912), whose efforts to reconcile the conflicting Tibetan interpreta­tions help to bring out their complexities.

Although these two endeavors-the analysis of Indian sources and the exploration of Tibetan interpretations-may be conceived as discrete, they are not and cannot be entirely separate. That is, because the Svatantrika­Prasangika distinction is a Tibetan creation, any investigation of it in rela­tion to the Indian materials necessarily proceeds through questions raised by Tibetan concerns. Hence all of the contributions dealing with Indian sources, to greater or lesser extent, analyze their texts in the light of concepts provided by later Tibetan intellectuals. Likewise, because the distinction was created vis-a-vis Indian sources and as a means to classify Indian thought, any investigation of the distinction in the Tibetan context necessarily requires a degree of direct consideration of the Indian texts. Thus all of the articles on Tibetan thinkers refer to the Indian sources, even when the focus is not on the Indian sources per se but rather on the Tibetan interpretations of those sources. Ultimately the question of the Svatantrika-Prasangika dis­tinction cannot be adequately addressed without both angles of inquiry, and it is for this reason that a collected volume, with contributions from specialists of the Buddhism on both sides of the Himalayan divide, was conceived as offering the greatest potential for making some headway in understanding this unusual and difficult doxographical distinction.

As the patient reader by now realizes, the Svatantrika-Prasangika distinction is far from obvious when examined closely. It is a highly involved and contested issue among Tibetan scholars, who created the distinction to bring some order to what they perceived to be different Indian Madhyamaka interpretations. This is not to say, however, that this distinction is irrelevant to or unhelpful in understanding the Indian tradition. Although the exact meaning and implications of this distinction are far from self-evident, the interpretations proposed by Tibetan thinkers such as Tsongkhapa, Goramspa, Shakya, or Mipham are valuable. Their views offer important resources for the interpreter interested in exploring central Madhyamaka issues and reaching a more fine-grained understanding. But the greatest strength of the Tibetan offerings comes less from a single author than from the tradition as a whole. Individual scholars offer philosophical discussions that may help the modern interpreter to prod further the Indian material, but it would be one-sided to rely exclusively on one tradition over the others. I believe that the preceding discussion illustrates this point quite clearly.

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