shUnyavAda and KShaNikatva (momentariness)

Anand Hudli anandhudli at HOTMAIL.COM
Wed Jun 21 21:54:40 CDT 2000

>Even in your posting from Advaita Siddhi, where it is said that
>ShUnyavAdins endorse momentariness, it is a plain misreading of the
>MAdhyamaka position. Nowhere does NAgArjuna even endorse momentariness,
>infact he specifically refutes the theory.

 *This*, I claim, is a misreading of the mAdhyamika position, based on
 some quotes from a Tibetan monk who is a true representative of the
 mAdhyamika tradition of nAgArjuna as opposed to one who has apparently
 not followed it likewise.

 By now, everyone knows about nAgArjuna who wrote the mUlamAdhyamika-
 kArikA (MMK), the central work from which all work in mAdhyamika buddhism
 is derived. ChandrakIrti, a Buddhist who lived in the seventh century,
 greatly elaborated on the MMK in several works, one among which is
 the famous madhyamakAvatAra (Tibetan: dbu ma la 'jug pa). This work of
 ChandrakIrti was commented upon by the fourteenth century Tibetan monk,
 Tsong Kha-pa in a work called Illumination of Thought (Tibetan: dbu ma
 dgongs pa rab gsal, don't ask for it at the bookstore by this title!).
 Professor Anne Klein of Rice University says in her book,
 "Path to the Middle" about the work: "... it takes its place in a lineage
 of textual commentary considered to link the turn-of-the-millenium
 Nagarjuna and the seventh century ChandrakIrti with the fourteenth
 century Tsong kha-pa." The Illumination is said to be an extremely
 length work, about ten times the length of ChandrakIrti's work.

 Prof. Klein's book is a collection of oral comments by the 20th century
 Tibetan monk called Kensur Yeshey Tupden who taught at the Drebung
 Monastic University, Karnataka, India. When Kensur Yeshey Tupden speaks
 we have to  understand that he is coming down the lineage from Nagarjuna
 and  thus presents the views of mAdhyamika clearly, faithfully, and
 with authenticity. So let us listen.

 On page 52 of the book, the monk talks about the Four Truths. The first
 truth itself has four aspects: 1) impermanent, 2) miserable, 3) empty,
 and 4) self-less. Regarding the first aspect, impermanent, he says that
 again there is coarse impermanence, and there is subtle impermanence.
 "Coarse impermanence here refers to the fact that a chair, for example,
 cannot remain stable for a second moment after the time of its own
 establishment. The entity disintegrates in the very next moment."
 Therefore he says that impermanant means momentary (Sanskrit: xaNika,
 Tibetan: skad cig ma). However, he also says that there is something
 called subtle impermance which is really a lack of inherent existence
 (Sanskrit: svabhAva, Tibetan: rang bzhin). Regarding selfless-ness
 (Sanskrit: nairAtmya, Tibetan: bdag med), and emptiness (Sanskrit:
 shUnyatA, Tibetan: stong pa nyid),
 he says "... selflessness signifies the lack of a self of persons, and
 emptiness, the selfless-ness of objects..."

 Anyway, it is clear that xaNikatva has to be a logical outcome of the
 mAdhyamika theory of pratItya-samutpAda and nairAtmya. A thing can
 be momentary or not. If it is not momentary, then it must be
 constant and enduring in some way. But if it is constant and enduring,
 then it becomes independent of the conditions on which it depends
 because their change does not imply a change in this thing. And, finally,
 if it is independent of others in some way then it is in contradiction
 to the theory of pratItya-samutpAda which requires that every thing be
 dependent on others. Therefore, the thing has to be momentary, or
 impermanent. It's identity or, shall we dare say, existence ceases the
 very next moment.

 The other clarification is this. BrahmAnanda and other Indian philosophers
 who came much later than nAgArjuna always dealt with the views of
 MAdhyamika system as it had developed at their time. Even if nAgArjuna
 did not mention momentariness, it was already implied in his teachings.
 So when Indian writers at a later stage refer to the arthakriyAkAritva
 and xaNikatva of the shUnyavAdins, they were correctly characterizing
 the system. Now, one can be silly and argue that these later
 shUnyavAdins were not truly representing nAgArjuna. To this I have
 no reply, or I should say, silence is the best answer!

 Side note 1: The state of Karnataka, India, which is also my place of
 birth, is host to a sizeable Tibetan population-in-exile. They have
 peacefully co-existed with  all the diverse religions in the state.
 Centuries earlier, this state had provided centers for Adi Shankara,
 at Sringeri, RAmAnuja at Melkote, Madhva at Udipi, and various other
 schools including vIra-shaivism. Now, the same state is host to
 the Drebung University in Tibetan Buddhism. I must say, however, that
 Tibetans in Karnataka do not inspire the same amount of awe and wonder
 as they seem to do here in Hollywood stars led by Richard Gere. Diversity
 in India tends to be taken in stride rather than studied curiously.

 Side note 2: I have no knowledge of the Tibetan language. The Tibetan
 equivalents of the Sanskrit words are from a glossary in Prof. Klein's


bhava shankara deshikame sharaNam

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