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In the philosophy of Mahayana Buddhism, specifically in the Madhyamaka view, Prasaṅgika is a category of Madhyamaka viewpoints attributed primarily to Indian scholar Candrakirti, but based also on Buddhapalita's commentaries on Nagarjuna. Nagarjuna used the method of logical consequence (prasanga in Sanskrit) to refute flawed views. This type of reductio ad absurdum argument to establish ultimate truth within the two truths doctrine then featured prominently in Buddhapalita and Candrakirti's works.

No historic evidence exists that Indian philosophers referred to themselves with the Prasaṅgika term or categorized themselves in this way. It is more likely the work of Tibetan translator Patsap Nyima Drak in the 11th century who organized the different Madhyamaka viewpoints into specific categories.


The Madhyamaka views generally were expounded as commentaries upon the work of Nagarjuna, who wrote about the Prajnaparamita sutras. Buddhapalita was an early adopter of syllogistic methods in his teachings, although of a particularly limited form. He commented upon Nagarjuna using logical consequences. Bhavaviveka later commented upon and critiqued Buddhapalita. Then Candrakirti later responded to these criticism of Bhavaviveka and that response of Candrakirti's became identified as exemplary of the Prasangika approach and view.[1]

When Buddhism was established in Tibet, however, the primary philosophic viewpoint established there was that of Shantarakshita – a synthesis of Yogacara and Madhyamaka – in the 9th century. Much later Je Tsongkhapa established Candrakirti's work as primary and it continues as the main approach to Madhyamaka in the Gelug school. Other lineages of Tibetan Buddhism also contemplate Prasaṅgika views but there is disagreement concerning which approach is the most expeditious for students on a path.

Svatantrika Debate

Bhavaviveka was later categorized as presenting a Svatantrika view, in opposition to Candrakirti's. While this was a later Tibetan distinction, it was useful for students to study the viewpoints as a set of tenets that could be debated and discussed. This usage is sometimes referred to as the "Prasaṅgika school" and the "Svatantrika school", even though no schools with those names existed.

The Prasaṅgika-Svatantrika distinction included both a technical component and a set of metaphysical implications. On one level, the disagreement centered around the role of prasanga in formal debate. While the Prasangika view holds it to be the only valid method of demonstrating the two truths, the Svatantrika felt that assertions about the nature of the ultimate were also necessary as opposed to just negating mistaken views.

Je Tsongkhapa's critique of the Svatantrika position was based on the belief that any Buddhist making positive assertions about the conventional world was committed to the existence of an illusion. The Svatantrika response was that there are different levels of existence, and that a conventional thing could self-exist, exist from its own side, and have inherent existence, but that it still would not exist absolutely, ultimately, or really.

The Padmakara Translation Group (2005: p. 23) convey a critique of the Prasangika view of the Gelugpa (the critique holds that Gelugpa Prasangika is not an independent dharma but in effect is interpenetrated by the Svatantrika, its oppositional complement) in relation to the Two Truths and convey the view of these critics who perceive a concordance with aspects of the Gelugpa Prasangika with the view expounded by Bhavya:

The Gelugpa interpretation of Prasangika has often been described by its critics as a form of Svatantrika in disguise, since its presentation of "conventional," as distinct from "true," existence seems very close to the "existence according to characteristics" that Bhavya had ascribed to phenomena on the relative level.[2]


One distinction in the Prasaṅgika approach is the use of affirming and non-affirming negations. The Prasaṅgika approach limits oneself to the use of non-affirming negations. That means that the predicate of a syllogism is negated but its opposite is not affirmed as a result. For example, the syllogism "It follows that the subject, all things, are not produced because they are dependently arisen" negates without making a claim about production of conventional appearances.

The Svatantrika, however, may use affirming negations when discussing the ultimate. They might instead say, "It follows that the subject, all things, are not ultimately produced because they are dependently arisen" which negates ultimate production but also implies that they may be produced in a conventional sense or view. The non-affirming negations used in Prasaṅgika however do not imply any phenomenon in place of what is negated.[3]

Tsongkhapa added a distinction to the Prasaṅgika approach with respect to what is negated in a syllogism. In his presentation of Prasaṅgika one takes care to choose an object of negation which does not imply that it is an established entity, instead one refutes the imputation of establishment itself. Ju Mipham critiqued that distinction as introducing side effects, therefore there are different interpretations of the approach depending upon which interpretation one uses.[4]

See also


  1. Ocean of Nectar, Tharpa Publications (1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-23-4
  2. Shantarakshita (author); Ju Mipham (commentator); Padmakara Translation Group (translators)(2005). The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita's Madhyamakalankara with commentary by Jamgön Mipham. Boston, Massachusetts, USA: Shambhala Publications, Inc. ISBN 1-59030-241-9 (alk. paper), p.23
  3. Khenpo Gawang (May 11-14, 2006) Teachings on the Adornment of the Middle Way, Karme Choling, Vermont
  4. Shantarakshita and Ju Mipham (2005) pp.22-23


  • Gyatso, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Ocean of Nectar: The True Nature of All Things, Tharpa Publications (1995) ISBN 978-0-948006-23-4
  • Lopez, Donald. A Study of Svatantrika. Snow Lion Publications. Ithaca, New York. (1987)
  • della Santina, Peter. Madhyamaka Schools in India. Motilal Banarsidass. Delhi. (1986)
  • Shantarakshita and Ju Mipham (2005) The Adornment of the Middle Way Padmakara Translation ISBN 1-59030-241-9

External links

[clarification needed][clarification needed]ru:Прасангака

zh:随应破派 zh:具缘派

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