The Reliance on Scripture and Vicissitudes of Textual Practices in Madhyamaka Thought

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Shenghai Li



What texts did Buddhists of South Asia and beyond read? How did they read, interpret, and use these texts? This essay focuses primarily on the first of the two questions and examines in this connection instances of citation found in the early Mūlamadhyamakakārikā commentaries and in a related Tibetan work as evidence of the uses of Buddhist texts. The collected samples indicate two major shifts in Indian and Tibetan Buddhist textual practices. The first transition occurred in the sixth and seventh centuries when Indian commentaries on the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā began to cite scriptural passages with greater frequency, especially from the Mahāyāna sūtras. The example of Tsong kha pa’s Madhyamaka work represents a later trend in which Tibetan writers repeated sūtra passages previously cited in the Indian texts that were the main objects of their study and attention. What emerges here is the pivotal role played by the middle-period Indian Mādhyamikas. Writers such as Bhāviveka and Candrakīrti contributed very substantially to the collection of core scriptural citations that were deployed in the Madhyamaka texts. While some of the sūtra passages these Indian Madhyamaka authors used were circulated outside the circle of their own philosophical tradition, others appear to have been newly collected through their private reading experience.

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