Understanding MAdhyamaka - 3

nanda chandran vpcnk at HOTMAIL.COM
Mon Jun 26 10:29:17 CDT 2000

>The invalidation of pramANas that the shUnyvAdin talks about is
>precisely the logical equivalent of digging his own grave! Agreed,
>a pramANa cannot be established by another pramANa, a prameya, accident,
>etc. But what the shUnyvAdin *fails* to recognize is this: in order to
>*invalidate* a pramANa, what is needed is another pramANa (eg. shruti)
>that provides a "bAdhaka jnAna", sublating knowledge to invalidate
>the pramANas.

>Every pramANa is powerful in its own sphere ( svavishhayashuuraaNi hi
>pramaaNaani shrotraadivat.h | Shankara's sUtra bhAShya) like hearing,
>for example. Suppose we hear drum-beats in a dark forest, we think it
>is some person beating the drum. Upon shining a torch light in the
>vicinity, we  see that the "drum-beats" are being caused by the wind's
>causing a tree branch to strike the drum. But until the knowledge
>provided by the eye was not available to us, we could not negate the
>notion that the drum-beating was by a person, *even if* a companion
>of ours kept saying "no, it is not a person, it is not a person."
>There has to be a "bAdhaka-jnAna" (sublating knowledge) provided by
>some other pramANa to invalidate a pramANa. A man with failing
>eyesight, for example, trusts what he hears more than what he sees,
>precisely because he knows that what he hears is capable of negating
>what he sees.

>What the shUnyavAdin does is to declare all pramANas invalid (and this
>is important as per Shankara and VAchaspati) *without* first establishing
>a higher pramANa in the sense the higher pramANa declares a higher
>reality that makes all pramANas invalid.

>Even though the advaitin says the pramANas are not valid, one important
>difference, among others, is that the advaitin declares the pramANas
>to be invalid on the strength of the shruti-pramANa which provides
>us the bAdhaka-jnAna.

>What happens in the case of the shUnyavAdin is that he accepts only
>the laukika-pramANas (conventional pramANas) and then proceeds to
>"prove" them invalid. This is the equivalent of a wood-cutter who
>sits on the branch of a tree and cuts off the very branch he is sitting
>on. If he has to do that, he must first grab on to a different branch
>of the tree, to prevent himself from falling down!

>That is why Shankara says, regarding this, "sikatAkUpavadvidIryate",
>"it crumbles like a well dug in sand."

Very good argument. Yes, as Vidhya pointed out, knowledge grows with

According to the MAdhyamaka dialectic one pramAna cannot validate another
because it itself needs to be validated. If you say that shruti pramAna is
the base on which the rest are validated, then the Bauddha's question would
be what validates the shruti pramAna?

If it is faith which validates it, then it is meaningless to the Bauddha
for the shruti is not scripture to him. It also pushes the argument
beyond the sphere of reason and hence philosophy and there would be no
point in the argument in the first place.

NAgArjuna's negation of the pramAnas is not a mere dogmatic assertion.
REASON is the base on which the pramAnas are negated. So is reason itself
the pramAna then? But the problem is anything which is expressed using
reason is found to be self-contradictory and hence shUnya. But still it is
what invalidates all conceptions including pramAnas.

So it is not *speculative* reason which is the negating base, but
*dialectical* reason - a higher level of critical philosophical
consciousness - neti, neti - which negates conceptions (including
pramAnas). But the moment you try to *express* it, it runs into
contradictions. So *silence* or maunam is the best way to express it.
Its ontological implication is bodhi chitta or prAjnA pAramitA or
the deconceptualized pure mind, which shines bright in awareness of
the unreality of the conditioned phenomenal world.

But it has to be recognized that in Advaita the shruti being the pramAna on
which the other pramAnas are invalidated, is only at the vyavahAra or
phenomenal level and as explained above it is not a valid argument when
arguing with non-Vedic opponents. But again even in Advaita, the shruti is
only lower knowledge and it is not applicable to the realized being. At the
paramArtha level, jnAna itself is the pramAna which invalidates all

Another argument which can be made is that if the shruti is the expression
of spiritual experiences of realized beings and if it is the base on which
pramAnas are invalidated, then it indirectly means that it is only the
higher knowledge of the seers (which is nothing by the Advaitic jnAna),
which invalidate the pramAnas.

And as we should immediately realize, this is not very different from the
MAdhyamaka position explained above. Advaitic JnAna or the MAdhyamaka PrAjna
is the base on which the pramAnas are negated.
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