In the philosophy of
Mahayana Buddhism, specifically in the Madhyamakaview, IAST|Prasaṅgika is a category of Madhyamakaviewpoints 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 absurdumargument to establish ultimate truth within the two truthsdoctrine then featured prominently in Buddhapalita and Candrakirti's works.
No historic evidence exists that Indian philosophers referred to themselves with the IAST|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 Prajnaparamitasutras. Buddhapalitawas an early adopter of syllogistic methods in his teachings, although of a particularly limited form. He commented upon Nagarjuna using logical consequences. Bhavavivekalater commented upon and critiqued Buddhapalita. Then Candrakirtilater responded to these criticism of Bhavaviveka and that response of Candrakirti's became identified as exemplary of the Prasangika approach and view.
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 Tsongkhapare-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 IAST|Prasaṅgika views but there is disagreement concerning which approach is the most expeditious for students on a path.
Bhavaviveka was later categorized as presenting a
Svatantrikaview, 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 "IAST|Prasaṅgika school" and the "Svatantrika school", even though no schools with those names existed.
The IAST|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
existenceof 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.
One distinction in the IAST|Prasaṅgika approach is the use of affirming and non-affirming negations. The IAST|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 IAST|Prasaṅgika however do not imply any phenomenon in place of what is negated. [Khenpo Gawang (May 11-14, 2006) Teachings on the "Adornment of the Middle Way", Karme Choling, Vermont]
Tsongkhapa added a distinction to the IAST|Prasaṅgika approach with respect to what is negated in a
syllogism. In his presentation of IAST|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. [Shantarakshita and Ju Mipham (2005) pp.22-23]
* 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
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