Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika Distinction - Introduction

What Difference Does a Difference Make?

INTRODUCTION

An Unusual Doxographical Distinction
One of the contributing factors to the recent growth of Madhyamaka studies has been the discovery by modern scholars of the rich Tibetan tradition. Contact with contemporary Tibetan scholars and their enormous learning, clarity, and sophistication has provided an invaluable resource in many areas of Buddhist studies, particularly in the study of Madhyamaka philosophy. Such a development is certainly most welcome. It is only fitting that this great scholarly tradition receive due recognition. The appreciation of Tibetan sources and their use in the elucidation of Madhyamaka is not, however, without complication, for it introduces in the study of classical Buddhist texts terms and distinctions not used by the original Indian thinkers.

The Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction (thal rang gyi khyad par) provides one of the clearest examples of such a difficulty. This distinction has become widespread in the secondary literature on Madhyamaka, and on Indian philosophy more generally. It is current nowadays to find references to Prāsaṅgika philosophy and Svātantrika philosophy, as if these were self-evident and unproblematic categories on a par with other doxographical distinctions. Likewise, one frequently encounters statements to the effect that Candrakīrti (7th c.) and Bhāvaviveka (6th c.) are the respective founders of the Prāsaṅgika and the Svātantrika schools. The present volume, an outgrowth of a panel on the topic at a meeting of the International Association of Buddhist Studies in Lausanne in 1999, is an attempt to scrutinize more critically this doxographical distinction, clarifying and highlighting its problematic nature as well as suggesting arguments that may stand in support of it.

At the start of this project, it is important to recognize the clear limitations of doxographical distinctions in general. Labels such as Madhyamaka and Yogācāra need to be understood as hermeneutical devices intended to bring order to a wide variety of individual texts and ideas. As such, they cannot be taken as providing anything more than useful but limited guidelines in the interpretation of discrete works. Consider, for example, that it is not possible to infer the contents of a particular text based on its accepted membership in a given doxographical category. Nevertheless, despite their inherent lack of precision, doxographical categories may be helpful when used with caution. Certainly, they have the support of a long lineage of traditional commentators, with roots going back early in the history of the traditions they describe. In the case of Madhyamaka, for example, the main Mādhyamikas, at least after Bhāvaviveka, knew themselves as such, and the term has since been used by a lengthy succession of thinkers, who understood it, for the most part, in relatively similar ways.

As we believe this volume amply attests, the distinction between Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika is quite different, being much more problematic than other doxographical distinctions used in the study of the classical Indian Buddhist tradition. Put otherwise, the terms Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika are not on a par with terms such as Madhyamaka or Yogācāra. In part, this is simply because, as Tibetan scholars themselves recognize, the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction is a Tibetan creation that was retroactively applied in an attempt to bring clarity and order to the study of competing Indian Madhyamaka interpretations. Granted, in creating new doxographical distinctions, Tibetan interpreters were not doing anything particularly unusual. Indeed, they were following a venerable Buddhist tradition going back at least to Bhāvaviveka, who seems to have been the first to use doxographical categories in his systematic presentation of Buddhist philosophy. His successors continued this task, creating further distinctions to capture the differences among Mādhyamikas and other Buddhists.

In India, however, it appears that the most basic division in the study of Madhyamaka interpretations was not a distinction between the views of Bhāvaviveka and those of Candrakīrti. Rather, the basic division was between those—such as Bhāvaviveka and Candrakīrti—who accepted external objects conventionally and those—such as Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla (8th c.)—who argued for an interpretation of conventional reality similar to the Yogācāra in which external objects do not exist. This distinction, which unlike the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction places Bhāvaviveka and Candrakīrti in the same camp, may have its root in the famous debate between Dharmapāla and Bhāvaviveka alleged to have taken place at Nālandā, In any case, it was well established in the later Indian Madhyamaka tradition. Even as late an author as Atiśa (11th c.) uses it, classifying on its basis both Candrakīrti and Bhāvaviveka as authoritative interpreters of Nāgārjuna. Other late Indian doxographical divisions of Madhyamaka, such as the distinction between the Māyopamādvayavādins (sgyu ma lta bur gnyis su med par smra ba, lit., those who hold the nondual to be like an illusion) and the Sarvadharmāprati˝˛hānavādins (chos thams cad rab tu mi gnas par smra ba, lit., those who hold that all things are unestablished), are connected variously to different thinkers, but there seems to be no conspicuous parallel to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction as it was later applied in Tibet.

As Tibetans like Tsong kha pa (1357–1419) were fully aware, it was only later, during the eleventh or twelfth century, that Tibetan scholars coined the terms Rang rgyud pa and Thal ’gyur ba on the basis of passages in Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā (PPMV) that seem to indicate significant divergences in Madhyamaka interpretations. These terms, which were eventually Sanskritized by modern scholars as Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika, may well have been invented by the Tibetan translator Pa tshab nyi ma grags (1055–1145?) in the course of his work as a translator of Candrakīrti’s texts. But whoever invented them, we know that it is around this time that the terms first became important categories in Madhyamaka exegesis and that Candrakīrti’s interpretation, described with increasing frequency as the Prāsaṅgika view, became established as preeminent in Tibet over what was understood to be Bhāvaviveka’s inferior Svātantrika view. It is perhaps surprising that Pa tshab and others chose to single out Candrakīrti as Nāgārjuna’s most important interpreter, for available evidence suggests that Candrakīrti’s place in the history of Indian Buddhism had been rather limited up to that point. As far as we know, his works have rarely been quoted by other Indian scholars, and it is only in the eleventh century that Jayānanda wrote the first known commentary (apart from Candrakīrti’s own) on his Madhyamakāvatāra (MAv). It may be that the later period of Indian Buddhism saw an increase in Candrakīrti’s popularity among scholars in India. Atiśa seems to have valued him highly, although, as we noted, he did not separate his view from that of Bhāvaviveka. Alternatively, Pa tshab’s choice may simply have reflected the historical accident of his association with Jayānanda, one of Candrakīrti’s few Indian partisans.

The late and retrospective nature of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, as well as its apparent non-Indian provenance, together signal its unusual status as a doxographical category that should render us cautious about its use in the interpretation of Indian material. By themselves, however, these qualities do not warrant rejection of the distinction. The mere fact that the Indian authors themselves were not cognizant of being Svātantrika or Prāsaṅgika and that it is only later Tibetan exegetes who thought of them as such is not enough to disqualify these descriptions. There is no problem in principle in retrospectively applying a description to an author even if he or she never conceived of it. For is this not what interpretation is largely about? As Gadamer puts it, “we understand in a different way if we understand at all.”

In our case, the fact that Candrakīrti might not have understood himself to be establishing a new school does not preclude describing his view as Prāsaṅgika, though it does place a heavier burden of proof upon the interpreter who embraces that description. It requires that the use of the term (and its counterpart, Svātantrika) be well grounded in an analysis of the original texts. Such analysis, however, is not easy. As is revealed in this volume, Tibetan scholars, far from being unanimous in their understanding of the distinction, have been and continue to be bitterly divided over the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction. If at least there were some degree of unity in their understanding of the terms, it might be possible to examine this understanding, consider the reasons behind the use of the terms, and then decide whether or not they apply to the original Indian sources. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complex. Whereas Tsong kha pa, the founder of what later became known as the dGe lugs pa school and the most ardent proponent of the distinction, argues that the two subschools are separated by crucial philosophical differences, including a different understanding of emptiness and of conventional reality, many other Tibetan commentators have tended to downplay the significance of any differences. Bu ston rin chen grub (1290–1364), for example, goes as far as to claim that this distinction is an artificial Tibetan conceptual creation (bod kyi rtog bzo) without much merit. For him, no substantive issue divides the two sides; instead, the difference can be reduced to two particular styles of exegesis in relation to Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (MMK), with no implications for philosophical differences whatsoever. Indeed, the Tibetan tradition is so deeply divided over the meaning of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction that there is even dispute about whether the distinction has legitimacy at all.

The highly contested nature of this distinction, like its status as late and retroactively applied, also does not in itself disqualify its use. Many important terms are used despite being contested, and such use is frequently quite legitimate. At the same time, however, the contentious nature of the distinction does require anyone choosing to employ these terms to make a strong effort at clarifying how he or she understands them. One temptation to be resisted at all costs is the use of the terms Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika as if they referred to well-established and self-evident Indian subschools (avoiding this use is not as easy to achieve as it sounds). In fact, most of the time what are really indicated by these terms are not Indian subschools per se but rather particular Tibetan interpretations of Indian Madhyamaka, interpretations that are often interesting and well-informed but not necessarily accurate and nearly always a matter of great dispute. Thus, far from having any degree of transparency, immediacy, or even clarity, the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction is highly problematic and in great need of clarification.

To meet this challenge, we have solicited contributions to this volume along two distinct avenues of inquiry. The first proceeds through an examination of the basic Indian texts that are supposed to be relevant to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, seeking clues as to whether and in what ways the distinction can be said to apply. This avenue is explored in the first part of the book, where the reader will find articles examining the works of some of the great Indian Madhyamaka commentators such as Bhāvaviveka, Candrakīrti, Śāntarakṣita, Kamalaśīla, and Jñānagarbha in light of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction and some of the issues that it raises. The second avenue of inquiry attempts to clarify a variety of Tibetan views concerning the distinction, seeking to sort out the role that the distinction plays in the thought of various figures in Tibetan Madhyamaka. This avenue is explored in the second part of the book, in which the contributors examine the ideas of such pivotal Tibetan philosophers as Phya pa chos kyi seng ge (1109–1169), Go rams pa bsod nams seng ge (1429–1489), and Tsong kha pa. This second part of the book concludes with a consideration of the views of a recent eclectic Tibetan thinker, ’Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846–1912), whose efforts to reconcile the conflicting Tibetan interpretations help to bring out their complexities.

Although these two endeavors—the analysis of Indian sources and the exploration of Tibetan interpretations—may be conceived as discrete, they are not and cannot be entirely separate. That is, because the SvātantrikaPrāsaṅgika distinction is a Tibetan creation, any investigation of it in relation to the Indian materials necessarily proceeds through questions raised by Tibetan concerns. Hence all of the contributions dealing with Indian sources, to greater or lesser extent, analyze their texts in the light of concepts provided by later Tibetan intellectuals. Likewise, because the distinction was created vis-à-vis Indian sources and as a means to classify Indian thought, any investigation of the distinction in the Tibetan context necessarily requires a degree of direct consideration of the Indian texts. Thus all of the articles on Tibetan thinkers refer to the Indian sources, even when the focus is not on the Indian sources per se but rather on the Tibetan interpretations of those sources. Ultimately the question of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction cannot be adequately addressed without both angles of inquiry, and it is for this reason that a collected volume, with contributions from specialists of the Buddhism on both sides of the Himalayan divide, was conceived as offering the greatest potential for making some headway in understanding this unusual and difficult doxographical distinction.

Part 1: Examining the Distinction in the Indian Tradition
In pursuing the first avenue of inquiry and considering the views of some of the central Indian Mādhyamikas, the first five contributors to this volume lay out the basis for a critical examination of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction and raise the fundamental questions of this work. Does the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction apply to the Indian Madhyamaka tradition? Does it help us to understand its complexities? And if it does, how should the distinction be drawn? Is the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction based on deep substantive and philosophical issues as Tsong kha pa and others assert, or is it based merely on methodological and pragmatic considerations as asserted by Go rams pa, Shākya mchog ldan, and others? The first contributions examine these questions in relation to the works of Bhāvaviveka, Candrakīrti, Śāntarakṣita, Kamalaśīla, and Jñānagarbha. Although all these essays deal with the same questions, they often come to rather startlingly different conclusions. This disagreement reflects the individual perspectives of the authors, but also signals the highly contested nature of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction itself.

The volume begins with a contribution by William Ames, who turns his attention to the genesis of the controversy in which the differences that later Tibetan scholars consider crucial to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction initially emerge. The controversy gets under way when Bhāvaviveka in his commentary on Nāgārjuna’s MMK, the Prajñāpradīpa (PrP), criticizes his predecessor Buddhapālita (5th c.) for failing to present formal probative arguments (prayoga, sbyor ba) encapsulating Nāgārjuna’s arguments. Responding to this critique, Candrakīrti comes to Buddhapālita’s defense and strongly rebukes Bhāvaviveka for his insistence on the use of formal probative arguments, known also as autonomous arguments (svatantraprayoga, rang rgyud kyi sbyor ba). On Candrakīrti’s view, for Mādhyamikas debating about the ultimate with non-Mādhyamikas such arguments are improper, as they require a commitment to natures (svabhāva, rang bzhin) that contradicts the core insights of Madhyamaka thought. Instead of formal probative proof statements, Mādhyamikas should restrict themselves to arguments that proceed from the opponent’s own premises, either through a consequence (prasaṅga, thal ’gyur) or through an inference whose elements are accepted by the opponent alone (gzhan grags kyi rjes dpag, paraprasiddhānumāna). According to later tradition, Bhāvaviveka can thus be seen as the founder of the Svātantrika stream of Madhyamaka, while Candrakīrti should be recognized as the father of the Prāsaṅgika school.

Ames’ contribution focuses exclusively on the first element of this debate, namely, Bhāvaviveka’s critique of Buddhapālita. In his article, Ames seeks primarily to answer a single question: what is Bhāvaviveka’s own view of his criticism of Buddhapālita? As we have seen, some later interpreters have held that the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction is not simply a matter of a different mode of presenting Madhyamaka thought but implies a difference in philosophical outlook that is not easily reconciled. Ames seeks to discover whether Bhāvaviveka’s criticism of Buddhapālita was intended also to convey a critique of Buddhapālita’s understanding of Madhyamaka doctrine, or whether the critique is in fact concerned only with philosophical method. After providing a useful historical and philosophical introduction to Madhyamaka, Ames proceeds through a close examination of a number of passages in which Bhāvaviveka cites and attacks Buddhapālita’s commentary. The most significant and recurrent criticism in these passages concerns Buddhapālita’s failure to employ Indian syllogisms or formal probative arguments in the exegesis of Nāgārjuna’s root text. As Ames amply demonstrates, Bhāvaviveka holds that it is imperative for Mādhyamika commentators to keep up with the new developments in Indian logic and to use the tools of formal probative arguments that had been recently developed by Dignāga, the founder of the Buddhist logico-epistemological tradition.

Although it is not entirely clear what motivates Bhāvaviveka’s insistence on the use of autonomous arguments, we discover in Ames’ contribution that it may have something to do with Bhāvaviveka’s understanding of the role of a commentator in explicating the highly condensed, aphoristic statements of the master Nāgārjuna. That is, Bhāvaviveka appears to hold that, while the master may legitimately avoid expressing his views through autonomous arguments, his pithy statements and prasaṅga-style presentations nevertheless do imply such arguments, and it is the job of the commentator to draw these out and make them explicit. On this reading, every prasaṅga argument implies a formal probative autonomous argument through a process of “reversing the consequence,” (prasaṅgaviparyaya, thal bzlog pa) and by neglecting to present these autonomous arguments explicitly, Buddhapālita fails to elucidate the master’s intention. Since, apart from the exceptionally intelligent, most persons cannot be expected to understand the master’s intention through the aphorisms alone, a commentator who fails to draw out the implied autonomous arguments from the prasaṅgas in the root verses thereby fails in his duties as a commentator as well, at least on Bhāvaviveka’s view.

In his analysis of Bhāvaviveka’s criticism of Buddhapālita, Ames observes that the former has probably treated the latter somewhat unfairly. That is, in considering Nāgārjuna’s prasaṅga arguments, Bhāvaviveka tends to portray them as implying autonomous arguments that demonstrate pure or nonimplicative negations (prasajyapratiṣedha), whereas he invariably casts the prasaṅga arguments of Buddhapālita as implying autonomous arguments that demonstrate a so-called implicative negation (paryudāsa), in which the opposite of the original prasaṅga argument is affirmed. Ames finds no grounds on which to support this hermeneutical shift in the interpretation of prasaṅga, and remarks as well on the apparent arbitrariness of Bhāvaviveka’s stance that commentators must employ autonomous inferences, whereas authors of aphoristic verse treatises need not. After all, as Candrakīrti later points out, Nāgārjuna does not present autonomous arguments when he comments on his own work, the Vigrahavyāvartanī (VV).

However inequitable he judges Bhāvaviveka’s critique, Ames nonetheless finds no evidence that it contains any attack on Buddhapālita’s understanding of specifically Madhyamaka doctrine. Although he does find one doctrinal point for which Buddhapālita draws fire from Bhāvaviveka (on the question of whether śrāvakas realize the selflessness of dharmas or not), Ames sees no connection between this and the critique concerning autonomous inferences. Thus, for Ames, the issue between Bhāvaviveka and Buddhapālita is rather limited. It concerns only the methodology that Mādhyamikas should follow in establishing and defending their views, not the content of those views or any other deep philosophical issue. Most likely, the attack can be explained by Bhāvaviveka’s desire to “modernize” the expression of Madhyamaka thought by casting it in Dignāga’s new language of Buddhist epistemology, thus lending it an aura of respectability in a wider intellectual sphere. In this regard, Bhāvaviveka should probably be seen as quite successful: apart from Candrakīrti and Jayānanda, nearly all other Indian Mādhyamikas were to follow in his footsteps and to embrace autonomous arguments as important tools in their endeavors to establish the supremacy of the Madhyamaka view.

Significantly different in both approach and conclusions is the next contribution, that of C. W. Huntington, who examines the subsequent step in the controversy, Candrakīrti’s defense of Buddhapālita and attack on Bhāvaviveka in the PPMV. Huntington argues that the difference separating Candrakīrti and Bhāvaviveka runs deep, is substantive, and concerns the very nature of Madhyamaka philosophy. The reason is that, for Huntington, any attempt to apply doxographical categories to Buddhist thought and to organize it according to tenets (siddhānta, grub mtha’) and views (darśana, lta ba) is utterly antithetical to Nāgārjuna’s original nondogmatic insight. As the progenitor of the Buddhist doxographical tradition, Bhāvaviveka stands guilty of appropriating the term madhyamaka as the name of a particular view and a particular school, aligned with particular theses (pratijñā, dam bca’) and positions (pakṣa, phyogs) that can—and, indeed, should—be defended through the autonomous arguments of Buddhist epistemology. In Huntington’s estimation, while Bhāvaviveka’s misguided feat served to organize the “welter of ideas that were circulating freely about in the Buddhist world of his day,” it was done at a cost, and “so far as we know only one individual seems to have had any idea just how steep the price may have been.” That individual is Candrakīrti.

Drawing on passages from Candrakīrti’s PPMV, Huntington’s first argument is that this author is opposed to the transformation of Madhyamaka into a philosophy or view as a betrayal of the skeptical and nondogmatic spirit of Nāgārjuna’s original message. Candrakīrti seeks instead to reassert Nāgārjuna’s “attitude of non-clinging based on the understanding that there is nothing (no form of ontological reality or epistemological truth) that should be held onto and defended, either conventionally speaking or in any deeper (ultimate) level.” Against Bhāvaviveka’s high philosophical program, Candrakīrti opposes what Huntington describes as a strict soteriological pragmatism, castigating Bhāvaviveka as having fallen out of the Madhyamaka through his addiction to logic. But, ironically, Candrakīrti’s efforts take place in a context already transformed by Bhāvaviveka and others, and hence remain inhabited by a tension. Thus, rather than simply rejecting the whole doxographical approach, Candrakīrti, despite his better instincts, gives in to the temptation to establish a school himself, albeit one based on the idea of shunning any position or doctrinal tenet whatsoever. This is a highly paradoxical stance, as Candrakīrti himself seems to recognize. But it is a paradoxical stance that is weakened by later doxographical traditions when they unreservedly reduce Candrakīrti’s attempt to return to a Nāgārjunian perspective to a set of definable and categorizable doctrinal positions.

This error in the interpretation of Candrakīrti is particularly widespread among later Tibetan doxographers, according to Huntington, who claims that “Candrakīrti would have had very specific and trenchant objections to his being referred to as a ‘Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamika.’” Why is that? In large part, Huntington contends that Candrakīrti would have abhorred the classification because it attempts to fix Madhyamaka as a school, with tenets and subschools. But even more importantly, perhaps, Candrakīrti would have rejected the label Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamika because of its inherent implication that there is or can be another kind of Madhyamaka, namely, that espoused by the Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas and exemplified by Bhāvaviveka and his followers. Such a notion would strike Candrakīrti as impossible, since, as Huntington emphasizes, for Candrakīrti “Bhāvaviveka is not a Mādhyamika at all, he is merely a Logician taking the side of the Madhyamaka school out of a desire to show off his mastery of the canons of logic.” Autonomous arguments (and the corresponding theses, tenets, and views) are suspect because they imply an addiction to certainty that is rooted in ignorance and is totally antithetical to Madhyamaka.

Huntington’s conclusion poses a serious challenge to the premise of this book, in that it questions the appropriateness of the very doxographical project in which the Prāsaṅgika-Svātantrika distinction is rooted. At the same time, however, much of Huntington’s analysis could also be used to support the claim that there is indeed a radical division in Indian Madhyamaka between the followers of Bhāvaviveka, on the one hand, and those who oppose his innovations, on the other. While choosing to describe that division in terms of the doxographical categories Svātantrika-Madhyamaka and Prāsaṅgika-Madhyamaka arguably may not be the best way to capture this difference, it may not always have been avoidable. For just as Candrakīrti, as a product of his time, could not refrain from speaking of Madhyamaka as a system or view (darśana), later Buddhists (and modern scholars of Buddhism) have been conditioned by a variety of discourses that lead them to employ concepts that may simultaneously clarify and occlude aspects of the ideas of earlier thinkers. The trick is to become aware of where our conceptual schemes are serving us well, and where they may be inadvertently leading us astray.

The author of the next contribution, Tom J. F. Tillemans, shares with Huntington a profound appreciation of Candrakīrti as a unique and perhaps even “genuinely extraordinary figure in Indian philosophy.” In contrast to Huntington, however, Tillemans offers a far more favorable assessment of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, especially as it is elaborated in the works of Tsong kha pa. This does not mean that Tillemans holds Tsong kha pa to be justified in all his opinions. For example, Tsong kha pa’s attempt to harmonize Candrakīrti’s view on the means of valid cognition (pramāṇa, tshad ma) with that of the logicians is seen to be thoroughly suspect. But there are other, valuable elements in Tsong kha pa’s analysis, which are encapsulated in particular in his “superb insight” that while Svātantrikas accept a degree of “realism” on the conventional level, as is evinced by their endorsement of a nonerroneous perception of unique particulars (svalakṣaṇa, rang mtshan) as providing the foundations for empirical knowledge, Prāsaṅgikas (by whom Tillemans means primarily Candrakīrti), in contrast, do away with the need to underpin conventional truth with objective facts, thereby abolishing speculative metaphysics once and for all.

Tillemans begins his argument by sketching out Tsong kha pa’s controversial view that the Svātantrikas, while accepting that ultimately all things are devoid of intrinsic nature or true existence, conventionally hold that things retain some kind of intrinsic or objective existence (i.e., they are tha snyad du rang ngos nas grub pa, lit., existent from their own side conventionally). As Tillemans explains, this amounts to saying that Svātantrikas accept that there is, on the conventional level, “something that is as it is, independently of, or unaffected by, what we believe, feel, think and say about it.” And, since the Svātantrikas, like their logician counterparts, accept that it is this independently real thing that grounds ordinary knowledge and practices (albeit only conventionally), whereas Prāsaṅgikas deny that such a real thing is needed to ground ordinary knowledge and practices, it is reasonable to assert that the two camps differ significantly in their metaphysical, hence ontological, commitments. In short, the Svātantrika school allows room for a degree of realism, though only conventionally, in the sense that it endorses “deference to the independent and objective facts that make true beliefs true and the self-assurance that we can know these facts,” while the Prāsaṅgika school rejects such deference and selfassurance and is thus thoroughly anti-realist.

Of course, as both Tillemans and Tsong kha pa recognize, this description of the Svātantrika is never clearly stated or endorsed by Bhāvaviveka or any other subsequent Mādhyamika. Nonetheless, Tillemans stresses that it is reasonable to emulate Tsong kha pa in teasing out the unacknowledged presuppositions of the Svātantrika authors. While Tsong kha pa does so through the lens of Candrakīrti’s attack on Bhāvaviveka’s commitment to autonomous arguments, Tillemans turns to an Anglo-American philosophical notion, Wilfrid Sellars’ myth of the given, to help evaluate the Indian sources. For Sellars, the given is a kind of impossible entity postulated by some empiricists as the primary ontological support for their foundationalism. It is that fact that, if it were to exist, could be known immediately (i.e., noninferentially) without presupposing any other knowledge, in such a way that knowledge of it would provide an ultimate epistemological court of appeal. But facts that can be known in this fashion do not (and cannot) exist, argues Sellars, and hence they are nothing but a myth. We do not have immediate knowledge of any facts; rather we always come to know all facts through a mixture of sensing and interpretation that allows us to understand them.

In appropriating this analysis in the present context, Tillemans chooses to focus on Richard Rorty’s definition of the given as “the sort of entity naturally suited to be immediately present to consciousness.” He then argues forcefully that both the Buddhist logicians and the Svātantrikas, particularly Śāntarakṣita and his disciple Kamalaśīla, Indian Mādhyamikas with a “massive and clear debt to the logicians Dignāga and Dharmakīrti,” subscribe to the myth of the given. For, without exception, these philosophers all accept that there is an entity that is naturally suited to be immediately present to consciousness, namely the particular (svalakṣaṇa). Although Tillemans acknowledges a difference between the logicians and the Svātantrikas, he says that the only significant difference is that for the logicians particulars are fully real, while for the Svātantrikas they are real only conventionally. But putting aside the question of the level of reality, for both schools the direct and nonconceptual perception of particulars is what provides the ultimate check on what is and what is not to be accepted as knowledge. Tillemans sees this as evidence in support of Tsong kha pa’s claim that Svātantrikas accept a degree of objective existence on the conventional level, with the result that such authors, unwittingly perhaps, embrace a degree of residual realism.

This residual realism comes to the fore in the question of autonomous arguments, in which the terms of the argument must be established similarly by both parties (mthun snang du grub pa). For Tsong kha pa, such a requirement cannot be satisfied in the case of an argument between a Mādhyamika and a non-Mādhyamika concerning the ultimate. This is so because there is no subject that can be established similarly by both parties: the Mādhyamika holds the subject to be unreal whereas the adversary holds it to be real. A possible Svātantrika rejoinder to this conundrum is that there is a subject that is available to both sides, the thing as it appears to ordinary perception. It is precisely this answer that Tsong kha pa finds indicative of a residual Svātantrika realism, for it shows that the Svātantrikas accept that the referents of the argument’s terms are “established by their own character” (rang gi mtshan nyid kyis grub pa), a phrase that for Tsong kha pa indicates the very form of objective existence that the Prāsaṅgikas understand to be negated by emptiness.

For Tillemans, all of this is in marked contrast to Candrakīrti, whose distinctive contribution to Madhyamaka thought is probably best understood as his rejection of the generally foundationalist tendencies that inevitably accompany the myth of the given. It is not only that Candrakīrti is free from the realist affinities that the given entails, but he is also free from the entire apparatus of the Buddhist “metaphysico-epistemology” that requires conventional truths to be underpinned by objective “facts.” This analysis, if it is correct, paints Candrakīrti as a kind of quietist in the Wittgensteinian sense of advocating a “lucid avoidance of substantive philosophy,” or else perhaps as a kind of minimalist for whom “the justificatory undergirdings of our practices do not represent the real conditions of the justification of those practices.” With conclusions like these, we are reminded again of the powerful role an interpreter’s historical horizons play in shaping the outcome of any investigation—whether that interpreter be situated in the fifteenth or the twenty-first century.

The next contribution, by Sara McClintock, again picks up the theme of the given, and uses the concept to evaluate the classification of Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla as Svātantrikas according to the views of mKhas grub dge legs dpal bzang (1385–1438), one of Tsong kha pa’s most influential disciples. McClintock casts mKhas grub’s objection to the Svātantrika position as an objection to the use of the given, where the given is understood to be whatever provides a noninferential foundation for empirical knowledge. Acceptance of the given is then seen to imply an ontological commitment, which is revealed by the attendant use of autonomous arguments. As with Tsong kha pa, autonomous arguments are problematic for mKhas grub since they require that the subject and other elements of an inference be established as appearing similarly for both participants in a debate. While so much is standard in Indian Buddhist epistemological and debate theory, McClintock points out that mKhas grub appears to expand the requirement to include the criterion that the elements of the inference be established in precisely the same way in the philosophical systems of both parties to the debate. Although mKhas grub allows that there are conventional means of valid awareness (pramā˚a, tshad ma) that establish the conventional existence of entities, he rejects that such means gain their validity through reliance on any form of the given, since doing so would imply an acceptance of an objective or unassailable reality that oversteps the Mādhyamika’s radical critique of natures on both the ultimate and the conventional levels. Thus, autonomous arguments between Mādhyamikas and non-Mādhyamikas (or those who accept that valid cognitions are justified by the given) are not possible, and the Svātantrika use of them is inappropriate.

Having sketched out mKhas grub’s understanding of and objections to the Svātantrika use of autonomous arguments, McClintock then attempts to determine whether his analysis applies to Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla. In this part of her paper, she argues that while it is fair to describe these Indian intellectuals as embracing the given, their use of the given must be seen within the context of their larger philosophical method, wherein conflicting Buddhist views are arranged in a “sliding scale of analysis.” At the lowest level of analysis, the authors follow the Sautrāntika model in which causally efficacious external particulars give rise to images (ākāra) in awareness; these images then play the role of the given and serve as the foundation for empirical knowledge. At the next level of analysis, that of the Yogācāra, although external particulars are denied, images are still given to awareness; these images also serve as a foundation of knowledge for what is objectively real, which now is understood to be the mind alone. At the highest level of analysis, that of the Madhyamaka, appearances are no longer the given in the technical sense employed by McClintock but are instead mere appearances; as such, these images no longer play the role of the given in that they do not yield empirical knowledge of any kind of objective reality.

The question then becomes how these philosophers, as committed Mādhyamikas, can employ inferential reasoning that relies on what seems to be given to awareness without (implicitly or explicitly) endorsing the objective reality that mKhas grub asserts is thereby implied. McClintock’s analysis here turns on the idea that from the perspective of the Madhyamaka level of analysis, it is possible to see all of the apparently autonomous arguments in Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla’s works as just provisional. As such, these inferences correspond in important ways to the type of inference that mKhas grub and the dGe lugs pa tradition in general classify as “otheracknowledged inference” (gzhan grags kyi rjes dpag, paraprasiddhānumāna) and which they allow as appropriate even for Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamikas.

On this reading, Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla differ from those mKhas grub classifies as Prāsaṅgikas not because they accept some inappropriate degree of objective reality on the conventional level, but rather because they insist that even for Mādhyamikas images can arise in awareness in a manner similar to how they arise for non-Mādhyamikas. But for Śāntarakṣita and KamalaŸila this is not the grave philosophical problem that it is for mKhas grub. That is, although images arise similarly, this is not due to acceptance or rejection of epistemological categories like the given, but rather to the fact that both parties participate in a shared form of ignorance that cannot be eliminated through philosophy alone. The fact that Mādhyamikas and non-Mādhyamikas have a different intellectual understanding of the ontological status of these images is irrelevant to the debate; this is why these authors assert that inferential demonstrations on the part of Mādhyamikas must proceed without reference to philosophical positions. If Śāntatakṣita and Kamalaśīla are to be seen as asserting something which “remains” on all levels, it is not the given, but rather reason (nyāya), that, when applied relentlessly to appearances, leads ineluctably to the conclusion that nothing is established objectively at all. Like the Prāsaṅgikas of mKhas grub’s system, these thinkers rely on conventional realities to lead to an insight into the ultimate. What else is Madhyamaka about?

Taken together, the articles in the first part of this volume have so far amply demonstrated not only the highly contested nature of the SvātantrikaPrāsaṅgika distinction, but also the hermeneutical complexity that necessarily accompanies any attempt to analyze the distinction in relation to the Indian texts. The next contribution, that of Malcolm David Eckel, pushes this hermeneutical complexity still further, so much so that it becomes difficult to decide into which of the two main avenues of inquiry his piece should fall. Although primarily centering on Tsong kha pa’s view in the Legs bshad snying po, Eckel’s article also examines in some depth a number of the key ideas of two of the most important Indian thinkers usually described as Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas, Bhāvaviveka and Jñānagarbha (7th c.). For this reason, we have placed his article at the end of part 1 of the book, where it may serve as a kind of a bridge between the two avenues of inquiry, and where it may also serve to remind us of the artificiality of any strict separation we may be tempted to see between approaches that focus on Indian sources and those centered on the Tibetan tradition.

 Following the insights of Tsong kha pa’s masterwork, Eckel describes what is at stake in the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction as being less a question of logical method and having more to do with “the elusive and problematic category of conventional truth.” In general, while Mādhyamikas agree on the ultimate nature of phenomena, i.e., their emptiness, they seem to diverge more significantly when explaining what it means for phenomena to exist conventionally. For Tsong kha pa, Svātantrikas appear to be just a touch too willing to subject the conventional to analysis and to provide what they claim to be objectively valid arguments to justify their views. This attitude betrays the fact that they are not satisfied with mere ordinary conventional usages and that they seek grounds on which conventional distinctions can be established. Their search for something more objective than mere denominations indicates their assumption that things need some degree of objective reality in order to be conventionally real, that they must exist, to cast the issue in Tsong kha pa’s terms, through their own characteristics or through their own intrinsic identity (rang gi mtshan nyid kyis grub pa).

But how does this assessment measure up in light of the Indian sources? To get a handle on this, Eckel first examines Tsong kha pa’s treatment of Bhāvaviveka. As the Tibetan master himself recognizes, it is far from clear on the basis of Bhāvaviveka’s own words that the latter in fact holds that things must exist through their own intrinsic identity. Still, Tsong kha pa is convinced that such is an accurate representation of Bhāvaviveka’s position. To find some textual support for his claim, Tsong kha pa resorts to a relatively obscure passage in the twenty-fifth chapter of the Prajñāpradīpa, a passage in which Bhāvaviveka is engaged in a critique of the Yogācāra doctrine of the three natures (trisvabhāva, mtshan nyid gsum). There Bhāvaviveka takes the Yogācāra to task for denying the reality of the imagined nature (parikalpita, kun brtags) and for contrasting that lack of reality to the reality of the other two natures. As Bhāvaviveka argues, why go to this trouble? All three natures are equally unreal from an ultimate standpoint and conventionally all three bear their own characteristics. To deny these characteristics is to fall into the extreme of nihilism. Tsong kha pa reasons that this argument shows that for Bhāvaviveka the imagined nature must have some degree of intrinsic reality if it is to exist at all.

But is this really what Bhāvaviveka meant to say in the passage? After examining Bhāvaviveka’s own view, Eckel concludes that there can be no straightforward answer to this question. That is, Tsong kha pa clearly goes beyond the textual evidence and obliges Bhāvaviveka to hold positions that in all likelihood he would have resisted and would not have endorsed. In this respect, Tsong kha pa is like a sculptor, who, following the fault lines of the raw material, fashions that material according to his own vision. But at the same time, Tsong kha pa does not simply impose his own ideas. He may equally be seen as unearthing unacknowledged assumptions in the works of Bhāvaviveka, Jñānagarbha, and others—assumptions that may have been unimportant for these authors or have meant something else, but which are in tension with some of the ideas that these authors were pursuing. In this regard, Tsong kha pa is like a supreme court justice, who makes decisions that go well beyond a literal interpretation of the Constitution but which nonetheless rely on constitutional principles.

Eckel organizes his article around the theme of the “satisfaction of noanalysis,” which he maintains is a principle that Tsong kha pa both endorses and finds lacking among the Indian Svātantrikas. But, as Eckel also points out, a problem arises when one takes a close look at some of the Indian sources. Take, for example, the case of Jñānagarbha, who is usually considered one of the foremost Svātantrikas. Jñānagarbha is famous for being one of a number of authors to offer a threefold definition of conventional truth: something is conventional if it can satisfy only when it is not subject to analysis, if it arises dependently, and if it is capable of effective action. Put otherwise, this means that conventional realities exist “as they are seen” (yathādarśana), but that they do not withstand logical analysis. All this seems to suggest an attempt to adduce criteria for conventional truth by relying on the ideas of the logicians, specifically on their insistence on the foundational role of causality and on the centrality of perception as providing the privileged means to gain access to reality. But by examining Jñānagarbha’s texts, Eckel shows that this interpretation is misguided. While there may be foundationalist elements lurking in Jñānagarbha’s texts, many of his ideas lead in a quite different direction. On reflection, it seems that Jñānagarbha is perhaps more similar to Candrakīrti than he is to the logicians, as both Jñānagarbha and Candrakīrti appear to offer a theory that does not limit perception to the nonconceptual and nonerroneous cognitions claimed for perception by the Buddhist logicians. Likewise, both insist that conventional realities are characterized by the fact that they cannot be analyzed, another reason to suspect any easy opposition between these two supposed paragons of Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika.

Eckel’s conclusion supports the idea that while there are certainly significant and revealing disagreements among Candrakīrti, Bhāvaviveka, Śāntarakṣita, Kamalaśīla, Jñānagarbha, and others, these disagreements are probably best not seen as the kinds of sharp distinctions that usually distinguish strict schools of thought and that are characteristic of traditional doxographies. Rather, the disagreements among these authors appear more like fluid and intersecting streams emerging from a common commentarial project of exploration and explication of the foundational texts of the Indian Madhyamaka tradition. Eckel wraps up his investigation of Tsong kha pa’s approach to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction with a nuanced analysis. He says,

It is not necessary to take Tsong kha pa’s argument as a distortion of the Indian sources. We also can read it as a plausible and careful study of their implications. But no matter how we read the argument, it is still an interpretation. Tsong kha pa does not reproduce the Indian sources verbatim; he works with them to serve the needs of his own system of classification.

Such might equally well be said of all of the interpretations filling this volume. Each author reveals important and sometimes previously neglected aspects of the Indian and Tibetan sources under investigation, while at the same time also revealing, often through the questions that he or she raises, his or her biases and assumptions in the areas of methodology, philosophical propensities, and Madhyamaka studies. When such is the case, it is no surprise that the collected articles in this volume do not lead to any single resolution of the question of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction.

Part 2: Examining the Distinction in the Tibetan Tradition
As is now abundantly clear, analysis of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in relation to Indian texts cannot proceed without reference to Tibetan interpretations, since the relevant questions have all been formulated by Tibetans in a Tibetan context. Similarly, as is also perhaps obvious, it is not possible to investigate the Tibetan understanding of the distinction without reference to the Indian texts. Thus, no matter which avenue of inquiry one chooses to take in approaching the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, any absolute separation between original Indian sources and later Tibetan interpretations must remain artificial. The preceding contributions attest to this, as can be seen by the fact that although they deal primarily with Indian sources, they also refer, often extensively, to Tibetan interpretations.

For reasons too various and complex to detail here, but which probably include a tendency in modern scholarship on Tibetan Buddhism until recently to emphasize dGe lugs pa sources, the previous contributors have generally assessed the relevance of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in light of the views of Tsong kha pa and his dGe lugs pa disciples. This situation has the potential drawback of misleading readers into absolutizing Tsong kha pa’s interpretations and assuming that they, or the dGe lugs pa interpretations they inspired, must be representative of the overall Tibetan tradition. The reality, however, is quite different, for Tibetans have been and continue to be profoundly divided on the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, and there is a rich literature on the topic extending well outside the dGe lugs pa fold. While Tsong kha pa has certainly been a pivotal voice in the Tibetan debates on the distinction since the fifteenth century, the power, sophistication, and influence of his arguments should not be allowed to blind us to the underlying historical reality in which Tsong kha pa’s perspective is just one within a highly diverse and divided Madhyamaka tradition. Our hope is that the contributions in the second part of the book will go some distance toward dispelling the general impression that the dGe lugs pa perspective on this topic represents, or has ever represented, a single hegemonic Tibetan view.

As stated earlier, the emergence of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in Tibet is most frequently traced to the twelfth-century translator Pa tshab nyi ma grags and his disciples. Prior to that time in Tibet, the basic doxographical distinction applied to Madhyamaka was that promulgated by the eighth-century author Ye shes sde in his lTa ba’i khyad par, namely, the distinction between the Sautrāntika-Madhyamaka of Bhāvaviveka and the Yogācāra-Madhyamaka of Śāntarakṣita and Kamalaśīla. As David Seyfort Ruegg has stated in his recent book on the history of Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka, the history of Tibetan Madhyamaka from the time of Ye shes sde until the time of Tsong kha pa “is only imperfectly known because few of the relevant sources are accessible to us and several are indeed likely to have been lost.” This lack of extant works has been a major obstacle for those who wish to understand the nature of the emergence and the development of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in Tibet. For example, despite all claims about Pa tshab nyi ma grags being the probable inventor of the distinction, none of his compositions is known to survive.

But the paucity of original sources is not the only difficulty one encounters in investigating early Tibetan philosophical materials. Whereas later texts usually present clear and well-argued standpoints, surviving early texts often appear to contain a bewildering proliferation of views whose relevance is at times far from obvious. This is due in part to our lack of knowledge of this period of the Tibetan tradition, but it may also be attributable in some degree to the fact that the texts themselves are in the process of exploring ideas that only gradually and over time settled into a series of fixed positions. Hence, rather than formulating the often highly insightful and clearly articulated views that we find in the works of later thinkers, the early authors seem more inclined to offer a wide range of opinions, with the result that one is quite often left wondering how to interpret some of their statements.

Such is the case, certainly, for the ideas of one famous twelfth-century author, Phya pa chos kyi seng ge (1109–1169). His views on the issues relevant to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction as preserved in his dBu ma shar gsum gyi stong thun are treated by Helmut Tauscher in the first contribution of part 2 of this book. Recognizing the difficulty of analyzing Phya pa’s position on the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction when Phya pa himself does not explicitly use the terms or invoke the distinction, Tauscher begins with a concise summary of some of the earliest uses of the distinction by a number of Phya pa’s near-contemporaries. He starts with the eleventh-century rNying ma pa scholar Rong zom chos kyi bzang po, an author who does not mention the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction but who, in addition to invoking the earlier distinction between SautrāntikaMadhyamaka and Yogācāra-Madhyamaka, divides Madhyamaka into the sGyu ma lta bur ’dod pa (those who maintain that things exist in the manner of an illusion) and the Rab tu mi gnas par ’dod pa (those who maintain that things do not exist in the way that they are designated by words and concepts). Although later discussions in Tibet linked these categories with the Svātantrika and the Prāsaṅgika respectively, Rong zom does not use the terminology.

A Sa skya pa contemporary of Phya pa, Grags pa rgyal mtshan (1147–1216), invokes the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction only in a tantric context, while seeming to ignore it when discussing Madhyamaka. Tauscher gives a brief, though fascinating, summation of Grags pa rgyal mtshan’s understanding of the terms Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika in the tantric framework, where the primary distinguishing feature of the two schools is said to be their rejection or acceptance of a “corresponding” or “conceptual” ultimate reality (paryāyaparamārtha) in addition to a (seemingly unique) “corresponding” conventional reality (paryāyasaṃvṛti). In the context of Madhyamaka, Grags pa rgyal mtshan invokes a fivefold typology based on the manner of understanding conventional reality: Yogācāra-Madhyamaka, Sautrāntika-Madhyamaka, sGyu ma pa (proponents of illusoriness), Bye brag smra ba dang tshul mtshungs pa (those who proceed in a manner similar to the Vaibhāṣika), and ’Jig rten grags sde pa (the school [that relies on] what is known in the world). The later Sa skya pa commentator Go rams pa bsod nams seng ge (1429–1489) aligns these divisions with various Indian authors, but introduces the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction only at the level of ultimate reality, insisting, however, that the two schools do not differ in their understanding of the ultimate.

The nephew of Grags pa rgyal mtshan, the renowned Sa skya paṇḍita kun dga’ rgyal mtshan (1182–1251), or Sa pa˚ for short, “divides the Madhyamaka with regard to the interpretation of paramārtha into sGyu ma lta bu and Rab tu mi gnas pa, and divides the latter into Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika exclusively on grounds of the methodological difference of accepting or not accepting the triple characterization (trairūpya) of a valid reason for proving the ultimate.” As Tauscher points out, these few examples attest not only to the fact that the general contours of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction were still very much in the process of formation during the period in which Phya pa chos kyi seng ge lived and wrote, but also that its importance for the classification of Indian Madhyamaka had not yet reached the proportions that it was to take on in later centuries in Tibet. Thus, in evaluating the question of whether Phya pa should be considered a Svātantrika (as he often was in later times), Tauscher is faced with the vexing problem of what meaning to assign the term. His solution is to introduce the notion of an “old” distinction, one based primarily on the question of whether a Mādhyamika may legitimately be said to maintain a thesis (pratijñā, dam bca’) or not, and which in many ways bears little resemblance to what Tauscher terms the new dGe lugs pa distinction of later years.

We encountered the question of whether a Mādhyamika should maintain a thesis earlier in the volume in Huntington’s contribution, where we saw that the issue stems mainly from the interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s famous rejection of a thesis in VV 29. In eleventh-century Tibet, the translator Khu mdo sde ’bar, a student and collaborator of Jayānanda, appears to have interpreted this rejection as meaning that Mādhyamikas should have no thesis at all. Pa tshab is said to have understood Nāgārjuna’s statement to rule out only positive theses but not to exclude the use of negative ones. One of Pa tshab’s disciples, rMa bya byang chub brtson ’grus (?–1185?), apparently disagreed, arguing that Nāgārjuna’s rejection should be understood to apply only to the ultimate; there, no thesis, whether positive or negative, can be entertained, whereas in the conventional domain, both negative and positive theses have legitimate roles. Another of Pa tshab’s followers, gTsang nag pa brtson ’grus, who is reported to have first been Phya pa’s pupil but then later to have changed sides, similarly argued that the ultimate is beyond any description whatsoever.37

It is amid this enormous variety of views that Phya pa should be seen as developing his ideas on the question of the appropriate use of autonomous or svatantra reasoning for establishing the ultimate. As Tauscher’s article reveals, although Phya pa does not make use of the terms Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika, he does strongly critique the position (interpreted by later scholars as a reference to Candrakīrti and his followers) that Mādhyamikas should not provide autonomous arguments to establish the ultimate but should limit themselves to consequences (prasaṅga). Entering into the sometimes ambiguous arguments of Phya pa’s Shar gsum stong thun, Tauscher lays bare the various ways in which this early Tibetan Mādhyamika argues for the position that consequences are insufficient to induce the certainty (niścaya, nges pa) necessary to eliminate discursive thoughts (prapañca, spros pa). Autonomous arguments, which are based on the ascertainment of the triple characteristic (trairūpya, tshul gsum) of a valid reason and hence can bring certainty, are required. More important, for Phya pa, a consequence necessarily either contains an implied probative argument (prasaṅgaviparyaya, thal bzlog pa) such that its use is then tantamount to that of an autonomous argument, or it is based on mere opinion and is thus inconclusive. In other words, to be effective, even arguments that proceed by consequences must be translatable into autonomous arguments. Otherwise, prasaṅgas can establish nothing and hence cannot refute inherent existence.

As Tauscher emphasizes, all this presents a relevant contrast for understanding Tsong kha pa’s approach. That is, whereas Tsong kha pa’s analysis of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction is based on an interpretation of autonomous arguments as implying ontological commitments (i.e., the objective existence of the phenomena to which the terms of the arguments refer), Phya pa instead draws a distinction grounded more fundamentally on a methodological insight into the nature of consequences as necessarily implying autonomous arguments. Hence, in many ways, Phya pa’s view of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction—if his arguments can be legitimately cast in such terms—differs significantly from the dGe lugs pa understanding. At the same time, there exist numerous important similarities, which Tauscher takes pains to point out. For example, Phya pa can be seen to be like Tsong kha pa in holding that Mādhyamikas cannot escape asserting theses and should hence engage with the full panoply of Buddhist logic. He also makes a strong separation between the two truths, arguing that Madhyamaka negations should be strictly limited to the ultimate and should not affect the validity of the conventional.

The similarities between Phya pa and Tsong kha pa described by Tauscher highlight another fundamental difficulty in our project, namely, that the meaning of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction tends to subtly shift according to the precise understanding of autonomous reasoning that is embraced. For Tsong kha pa, the Svātantrika and the Prāsaṅgika are rent by an enormous gulf, differing even in their understanding of ultimate reality or emptiness, and this difference comes to the fore in the understanding of autonomous arguments, which are seen to imply an ontological commitment such that an argument is autonomous if, and only if, its terms refer to objectively or intrinsically existent phenomena. For Tsong kha pa, Svātantrikas use and promote such arguments and hence must be committed to the objective existence of phenomena, whereas Prāsaṅgikas reject them and hence are able to hold that phenomena exist merely on the basis of consensual agreement. As many scholars have noticed, Tsong kha pa’s view is remarkable not just for the acuity of its insights; it is also both highly original and at times almost paradoxical. That is, while Tsong kha pa sharply marks the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction and strongly emphasizes the preeminence of the latter, he also accepts many of the ideas that historically have been the hallmark of those who embrace autonomous arguments, such as the emphasis on the importance of Buddhist logic for Madhyamaka, the existence of only two types of valid cognition, the sharp separation between the two truths, and the insistence on using logical operators to mark this distinction. This paradox has been remarked by many authors, modern and traditional, but few have attempted to further explore its sources.

In stressing the similarities between Phya pa and Tsong kha pa, Tauscher contributes to this task and suggests an intriguing filiation between the two. This filiation is already well known as far as the transmission of Buddhist logic in Tibet is concerned, but has not yet been explored in the realm of Madhyamaka. This is certainly not to say that Tsong kha pa is Phya pa’s disciple. If anything, Tsong kha pa should probably be more closely connected to the school that Phya pa appears to oppose, that of Pa tshab and his students. Following his teacher Red mda’ ba gzhon nu blo gros (1349–1412), Tsong kha pa loudly proclaims the superiority of the Prāsaṅgika and is thus at odds with Phya pa’s apparent emphatic endorsement of the Svātantrika (or, more accurately, of svatantra reasoning), and especially with Phya pa’s understanding of consequences as implying autonomous arguments. And yet it seems clear that there is a relation between the two, as Tauscher recognizes. On closer examination, Tsong kha pa appears as a follower of Pa tshab who has strong sympathies with Phya pa’s views, particularly the latter’s insistence on the importance of Buddhist logic in understanding emptiness.

Tsong kha pa’s emphasis on the compatibility of Buddhist logic within a Prāsaṅgika system again provides the focus in the next contribution, that of Chizuko Yoshimizu. In her article, Yoshimizu maintains that it is not so helpful to consider Tsong kha pa’s presentation of the SvātantrikaPrāsaṅgika distinction as primarily a criticism of Bhāvaviveka’s (or “Bhāviveka” in Yoshimizu’s article) use of autonomous arguments, as is frequently done; instead, she argues, it is more fruitful to consider the issue from a slightly different perspective, wherein Tsong kha pa’s writings on the topic are seen as providing the reasons why Candrakīrti and other Prāsaṅgikas do not employ autonomous arguments. This shift in approach to the distinction is subtle, and has the advantage of redirecting the inquiry to the internal dynamics of Tsong kha pa’s Madhyamaka system and away from the more overt controversies that his system sometimes provokes. Yoshimizu pursues this line of inquiry to demonstrate that Tsong kha pa has reinterpreted Candrakīrti’s arguments in such a manner as to allow him to maintain a place for probative inferential statements while still excluding so-called autonomous inferences.

To accomplish her demonstration, Yoshimizu first revisits a point of interpretation raised by scholars such as Shirß Matsumoto and Kßdß Yotsuya according to which Tsong kha pa, in commenting on certain passages from the PPMV, understands Candrakīrti as taking Bhāvaviveka “not only as the proponent of the inferential proof of nonorigination, but also as the opponent who is destined to be refuted by the Prāsaṅgika-Mādhyamika.” In other words, on Tsong kha pa’s reading, Candrakīrti criticizes Bhāvaviveka not because he offers inferential proof statements per se, but rather more precisely because he does so in a manner similar to a “substantialist” or “realist” (dngos por smra ba), whereby the components of the inference possess natures that are conventionally established as their own real or true characteristics (rang gi mtshan nyid). As Yoshimizu argues, Tsong kha pa’s interpretation involves a shift in which the logical form of svatantrānumāna comes to imply an ontological commitment that seems not to have been a factor in Candrakīrti’s critique of the form in the PPMV.

 On Yoshimizu’s reading, this ontological shift in the values of autonomous reasoning is Tsong kha pa’s most significant innovation. Nearly as important, however, is another crucial shift that Tsong kha pa makes in the values of the Buddhist logical tradition, namely, his reframing of the socalled “rule of common establishment” (ubhayasiddhatva), which states that the subject of an inferential statement must be established for both the proponent and the opponent in a debate. The shift that Tsong kha pa makes with regard to this rule is to specify that being established for both parties in the debate necessarily entails that the subject be established by a valid means of cognition (pramāṇa, tshad ma) of the same kind for both parties in the debate. Unlike Candrakīrti, Bhāvaviveka and other Svātantrikas are said to hold that the subject of a debate appears similarly to the nonconceptual direct perception of all persons, whether they be Mādhyamikas or not. This direct perception is further held to be “nonerroneous” (abhrānta), since it reveals that which is established as a real self-characteristic (rang gi mtshad nyid kyis grub pa) conventionally. Thus, even though Bhāvaviveka rejects that the subject of any given debate is established ultimately, this does not prevent him from offering autonomous arguments (with the ontological commitment to self-characteristics that this entails), “for he shares the same appearance of the subject with his substantialist opponent.” Candrakīrti, in contrast, maintains that there is no such nonerroneous direct perception in relation to the conventional, and hence an inference in which the subject and so on are established to appear commonly is not possible for a Mādhyamika in a debate with a substantialist.

At bottom, Yoshimizu is arguing that whereas Candrakīrti critiqued Bhāvaviveka as a Mādhyamika who is misguided in his use of probative arguments, Tsong kha pa takes Candrakīrti to be saying that because Bhāvaviveka accepts autonomous arguments, he is closer to the realists (dngos por smra ba) than he is to the true Mādhyamikas (i.e., the Prāsaṅgikas). This subtle shift in the understanding of Candrakīrti’s arguments supports Tsong kha pa’s creation of a gap between Candrakīrti’s and Bhāvaviveka’s views of Madhyamaka arguments, and reserves Tsong kha pa the space he needs to maintain another kind of probative inferential statement for use within the Prāsaṅgika system, namely, an inference whose elements are established solely for others (paraprasiddha). As Yoshimizu eloquently shows, this preservation of the tools and apparatus of the Buddhist logical tradition allows Tsong kha pa to reject two key positions widely ascribed to PrāsaṅgikaMadhyamaka in his day in Tibet: 1) the position that autonomous inference is a positive proof that is designed to establish one’s own doctrinal thesis and that is wholly opposed to reasoning designed to negate an opponent’s position; and 2) the position that a Mādhyamika has no thesis of his own and no valid cognition by which to establish it. Instead, by introducing the issue of the ontological commitment, Tsong kha pa argues that the Prāsaṅgika avoids autonomous inferences because he can find no subject in common with his substantialist proponent, not because he lacks a thesis or means of valid cognition of his own.

By now, we cannot fail to recognize Tsong kha pa’s distinctiveness. He offers insightful interpretations, ingenious readings, and a masterful synthesis of two trends of thought that prior to him had tended always to pull apart: the view of emptiness as utterly beyond description (brjod bral), which entails the nominalist rejection of conceptuality as unable to even approach this reality, on the one hand, and the more realist trust that thought is able at least partly to understand reality, and hence that the tools of logic can provisionally be used to realize the ultimate, on the other hand. We have seen that Phya pa argues forcefully for the latter approach and logically endorses, at least implicitly, something akin to what most Tibetans would consider the Svātantrika view. Tsong kha pa argues for a similar perspective but presents it as the Prāsaṅgika approach, which had previously been thought to entail the opposing view.

Of course, the extent to which Tsong kha pa’s innovations are truly original remains difficult to assess, given that we do not have an adequate understanding of the ideas of some his important predecessors such as Bla ma dam pa bsod nams rgyal mtshan and his student Red mda’ ba. Nevertheless, the intensity of the reactions that his theories provoked suggests that Tsong kha pa must have stepped well beyond the orbit of accepted ideas for his time. Starting from Rong ston shākya rgyal mtshan (1367–1449) and the translator sTag tshang (1405–?), and continuing with Go rams pa bsod nams seng ge (1429–1489), gSer mdog paṇ chen shākya mchog ldan (1428–1509), and the Eighth Kar ma pa Mi bskyod rdo rje (1504–1557), a stream of commentators raise strong and vociferous objections against what they consider a fanciful reinterpretation of the true Prāsaṅgika insight. While disagreeing on numerous issues, they uniformly argue, often with considerable vigor, that Tsong kha pa’s synthesis of Prāsaṅgika and Buddhist logic is incoherent. sTag tshang, for example, is known for having pointed to eighteen major contradictions within Tsong kha pa’s writings. In their critiques, these figures attempt to reassert what they perceive to be the true Prāsaṅgika insight as expressed by Pa tshab and his followers: ultimate reality is utterly beyond conceptuality and hence cannot be reached through the tools of Buddhist logic; it is not by arguing for emptiness but by radically deconstructing logical thinking that one can hope to reach the true Madhyamaka insight. It is this line of attack in response to Tsong kha pa that in one way or the other makes up the subject of the final two presentations.

José Cabezón begins his contribution with some insightful observations concerning the limited but real usefulness of doxographical categorization in general, raising the important issue of the role of socio-political motivations in shaping doxographical commitments. At the same time, Cabezón emphasizes the important point that while “the history of thought cannot be reduced to the history of power,” neither can either domain be adequately studied in complete isolation from the other. In the context of the present volume, Cabezón’s argument is particularly significant, since, as he also remarks, our attempts to study Tibetan doxographical traditions are of necessity influenced by “our own penchant to classify the world in distinct ways.” Cabezón’s contribution focuses upon a distinction that he sees between a “hard” and a “soft” approach to the doxographical categories of Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika in fourteenthand fifteenth-century Tibet.

The “hard” doxographical distinction is represented by Tsong kha pa, the later dGe lugs pa tradition that sees him as its founder, and by Tsong kha pa’s teacher, Red mda’ ba. Such hard doxographers “see what distinguishes one school from another as real, substantive, and irreconcilable differences.” Whatever else divides these thinkers, they are united in their commitment to the idea that “Candrakīrti’s Prāsaṅgika is the only unequivocally correct interpretation of Nāgārjuna, making the Prāsaṅgika school, and this school alone, the Buddha’s true intention.” Part of the reason for this emphasis on the irreconcilable differences between the Svātantrika and the Prāsaṅgika, Cabezón argues, has to do with Tsong kha pa’s desire to align himself strongly with the Prāsaṅgika position. But another, less overtly political reason can be discerned in his desire to maintain a role for the tools provided by the Buddhist epistemological tradition in his Prāsaṅgika interpretation.

Echoing the arguments in Yoshimizu’s article, Cabezón contends that in order for Tsong kha pa’s approach to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction to work, he is obliged to reinterpret the meaning of svatantra arguments as not only probative but also as entailing a lingering crypto-realism in the form of “the assumption of independent existence.” In making this move, Tsong kha pa preserves a place for positive probative arguments such that he can hold that these arguments may play a role even in the context of a discussion of the ultimate. Thus, the Prāsaṅgika interpretation, the only fully correct one, does not exclude probative arguments per se, but only the truly autonomous ones that entail unacceptable ontological commitments.

In contrast to this, Cabezón finds a “soft” doxographical approach to the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in the views of two of the most important critics of Tsong kha pa’s Madhyamaka, Rong ston shes bya kun rig and his student Go rams pa bsod nams seng ge. On Cabezón’s reading, the first of these figures maintains that there is no substantial difference between the two branches of the Madhyamaka regarding either the object of refutation (dgag bya) or the role of formal reasoning in analyzing the conventional. Rong ston pa does see a difference between the two schools in terms of whether they accept or reject the appropriateness of using svatantra reasoning when analyzing the ultimate, with the Prāsaṅgika objecting that in such contexts it is not possible to offer a formal reasoning that satisfies the trimodal criteria (tshul gsum, trairūpya), since there can be no common subject on which such a reason could be established. But one should not take this to imply that Prāsaṅgikas are opposed to svatantra arguments. The reason is that, for Rong ston pa, arguments in the form of svatantra arguments, when they are advanced in the context of Madhyamaka, are in fact not ascertained through valid cognitions, but rather should be seen as illusory devices that seek to refute the opponent on his own ground or argue in function of what is commonly accepted. Thus, Cabezón sees a difference between Tsong kha pa and Rong ston pa on the question of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction in that the former asserts that the divergence between the two schools turns on an ontological commitment, whereas the latter understands the divergence to be purely epistemological.

Cabezón next reveals a similar interpretation in Go rams pa, who promotes his own view as standing in contrast with (and in between the extremes of) the views of Dol po pa shes rab rgyal mtshan (1292–1361) on the one hand, and Tsong kha pa on the other. Whereas Tsong kha pa asserts a strong Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, Dol po pa rejects the distinction entirely, seeing it as an aberrant invention of later commentators. Such a distinction is entirely without basis in the Indian tradition, argues Dol po pa in a more metaphysical than exegetical mode, since it detracts from the essential oneness of the absolute. In contrast, Go rams pa presents his own opinion as a kind of middle way, arguing that although the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction is not without basis in the Indian tradition, it does not amount to an ontological disagreement. Cabezón illustrates the problem that such a soft view must confront, namely, the delicate act of balancing two contradictory imperatives: such a view must provide some account of the differences between thinkers such as Candrakīrti and Bhāvaviveka, but it must be careful that in doing so it does not exaggerate these differences and thereby wrongly suggest a hard distinction à la Tsong kha pa.

Like Rong ston pa, Go rams pa’s critique of the Svātantrika tradition does not assume that tradition to embrace an inappropriate ontological commitment or to accept independent existence or identity. But unlike Rong ston pa, Cabezón argues, Go rams pa is less perturbed by the supposed consequences of utilizing svatantra reasoning in an analysis of the ultimate than he is by the tendency he sees in Svātantrika thought to remain blinded to the reality that “there are contexts in which formal syllogistic reasoning is (a) unnecessary, and (b) actually inappropriate.” In other words, the mistake of the Svātantrikas is to believe that logic or syllogistic reasoning is universally applicable in all situations, particularly with respect to the ultimate. It is not that syllogistic reasoning is flawed per se, but rather that the truly skillful Mādhyamika—the Prāsaṅgika—knows when and where to leave it aside as an obstacle to the realization of ultimate reality.

In the concluding essay, Georges Dreyfus presents a similar view in a more recent figure, the rNying ma scholar ’Ju Mi pham rgya mtsho (1846–1912). Although Mi pham shares much with other Tibetans who are critical of Tsong kha pa, in many ways it is inadequate to present him simply as a critic of Tsong kha pa, as Dreyfus reveals. Instead, as a member of the nonsectarian movement (ris med), Mi pham provides a synthesis between Tsong kha pa and his critics. At the same time, it is clear that Mi pham is closer to the latter than to the former and that he assents to most of the criticisms raised against the Madhyamaka interpretations of the founder of the dGe lugs pa tradition. For example, Mi pham rejects Tsong kha pa’s strong Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, arguing in particular that there is no distinction in the view of emptiness between such thinkers as Candrakīrti and Bhāvaviveka. Instead, they are divided only on methodological or epistemological issues, especially concerning the most appropriate way to argue for Madhyamaka and lead others to an insight into emptiness. Dreyfus demonstrates how this disagreement centers on a rejection of Tsong kha pa’s claim that Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas do not fully negate the “object of negation” (dgag bya) in the manner of the Prāsaṅgikas, with the result that their conception and realization of emptiness remains partial.

Similarly, Mi pham joins the critics of Tsong kha pa in rejecting Tsong kha pa’s innovative notion that there are “eight difficult points” (dka’ gnas brgyad) that distinguish the Prāsaṅgika from other interpretations. After briefly describing these eight points, which for Tsong kha pa show the superiority of the Prāsaṅgika view, Dreyfus explores Mi pham’s take on some of them, focusing particularly on his arguments in favor of self-cognition (rang rig, svasaṇvitti). The conventional acceptance of this doctrine, which is widely supported by Buddhist logicians, is important for Mi pham, for it allows him to put forth an interpretation that brings traditional Madhyamaka close to the Yogācāra and hence also to the view of the Great Perfection (rdzogs chen). This agenda helps to explain Mi pham’s strong interest in Śāntarakṣita’s philosophy, despite the fact that it is usually classified as Svātantrika and hence is considered as inferior by most of Mi pham’s contemporaries, who have been deeply conditioned by a post–Tsong kha pa rhetorical field in which the superiority of the Prāsaṅgika seems to be self-evident. Mi pham minimizes this intuition by devaluing the overall importance of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, which he restricts to the methodological domain. With the attendant emphasis on self-cognition and the luminosity of the mind that this brings about, Mi pham is then in a position to provide a Madhyamaka synthesis that may be readily integrated into the tantric context of the Great Perfection.

Dreyfus then poses the difficult question of whether and how we should understand Mi pham’s own claim to be a Prāsaṅgika when so much of his Madhyamaka thought appears to favor philosophers and ideas that are more frequently associated with Svātantrika-Madhyamaka. This is a truly thorny question, and Dreyfus shows that there is no easy answer. One way to approach the question, however, is to focus on an issue that Mi pham himself makes central to his own interpretation of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction, namely, the question of the role of the figurative (paryāya) and the actual (aparyāya) ultimate. In brief, as Dreyfus puts it, the figurative ultimate “is the ultimate as it is understood at the conceptual level.” Mi pham then defines a Svātantrika as a Mādhyamika who emphasizes (rtsal du bton) the role of the figurative ultimate in the larger search for the actual ultimate. The Prāsaṅgika is then one who more readily dispenses with conceptual understandings of the ultimate. This way of drawing the distinction allows Mi pham to maintain the superiority of the Prāsaṅgika without having to concede any philosophical or theoretical defects in the Svātantrika view. As Dreyfus explains, because Mi pham does not see a radical difference between Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika, he feels free to employ what he understands as Svātantrika techniques of approaching emptiness as long as such techniques are useful. Once a person has a clear grasp of the figurative ultimate, however, it is time to move on to the Prāsaṅgika approach, and to what is perhaps even more effective, the tantric approach of the Great Perfection. Thus, Mi pham’s claim to be a Prāsaṅgika can be seen as legitimate, as long as we bear in mind that his version of Prāsaṅgika represents a “tantric Madhyamaka view, based on the combination of an extensive investigation of the figurative ultimate with a vision of the luminosity of the mind.”

Dreyfus ends his essay with a plea for scholars to reflect on the complexity and fragility of the highly contested Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction. In exhorting us not to be too hasty to embrace Tibetan formulations of the distinction, Dreyfus reminds us that, much as they differ in their portrayals of Svātantrika and Prāsaṅgika, traditional Tibetan scholars nonetheless share a tendency to “overemphasize the unity of the Indian tradition, presenting it as the recipient of timeless truths rather than as the vehicle for historically situated and hence contingent interpretations.” This corresponds to Huntington’s point made earlier in the volume, and speaks to a general and pervasive difference in the hermeneutical stance of the scholars writing here as compared to the bygone scholars of Tibet. Thus, even when Tsong kha pa outlines the “eight difficult points” that differentiate Prāsaṅgika from Svātantrika, he does so in a manner that presupposes a far greater unity of thought among the supposed proponents of these two subschools than does the analysis of most, if not all, of the contributors to this collection. For Huntington, the discrepancy between the methods and assumptions of traditional Tibetan doxography and those of modern scholarship stands as a warning to those who wish to penetrate the historical realities of Indian Madhyamaka not to rely on the Tibetan tradition. For Dreyfus, in contrast, the discrepancy suggests only that modern scholars must be scrupulous in attending not only to the historical particularities of the Indian tradition, but also to the (often not immediately apparent) complexities and nuances of the Tibetan doxographical tradition. Thus Dreyfus concludes that while there is nothing self-evident in the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction as it is delineated by the variety of traditional scholars in Tibet, this is by no means sufficient to disqualify it; it is, however, enough to oblige the careful interpreter to a greater vigilance in his or her use of the concepts pertaining to this distinction.

In summing up the contributions of this volume, one might point first of all to the presentation of a number of broad historical and descriptive topics important for the larger understanding of Buddhism, including, for instance, aspects of the evolution of Madhyamaka thought and interpretation in India and Tibet. Other benefits are more overtly textual, pertaining to the ways in which particular passages have been interpreted by great Indian and Tibetan Mādhyamikas. But perhaps the most important substantive issues raised by this volume can be said to be normative, insofar as they bear on the philosophical value of the sometimes sizeable claims made by Mādhyamikas concerning such questions as the limits of philosophical arguments, the implications of logic and inference, and the possibility of truth and objectivity. These topics concern not only Buddhist philosophy but have broader implications in philosophy more generally, as illustrated, for example, by the discussions in this volume on the myth of the given. From its incipience, the Madhyamaka tradition has been defined by, and criticized for, its radical undermining of classical philosophical notions such as truth and objectivity. These notions, however, are not just simple mistakes, but in many ways are foundational to our thinking. Hence, they cannot be dismissed through brute rejection but must rather be dismantled, so to speak, from the inside. This means that in the process of subverting such notions, the Mādhyamika will also be constrained to use them while simultaneously exposing their contradictions. This self-subverting means of proceeding raises an obvious question: how can one use and at the same time undermine philosophical notions? This is one of the fundamental conundrums at the heart of the debates concerning the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction; the reader will find that it is explored in a variety of ways and from diverse perspectives in the pages that follow.

The subtitle of this collection of essays takes the form of the question “what difference does a difference make?” The question is inspired by the anthropologist Gregory Bateson’s definition of information (and, hence, knowledge) as consisting of “differences that make a difference.” A difference that makes no difference becomes irrelevant, if it is noticed at all. But what counts as making a difference? In the case of the SvātantrikaPrāsaṅgika distinction, everyone agrees that it is possible to find differences in the ideas of the various Indian Mādhyamika protagonists. But the question remains whether such differences are important or meaningful, or whether they are superficial or perhaps even irrelevant. As the articles in this volume show, differences become more or less meaningful insofar as individuals choose to highlight or downplay them; and the process of highlighting or downplaying differences is always in part directed by an individual’s particular interests and goals. Since no two individuals have precisely the same interests and goals, we can expect diverse evaluations of the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction inevitably to exhibit divergent contours even when numerous descriptive elements in the evaluations remain the same. In this regard, the differences between traditional and modern scholars—and between those who highlight and those who downplay the Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika distinction—seem insignificant in light of the greater similarity of our general hermeneutical condition.

 

How to cite this document:
© Georges B.J. Dreyfus and Sara L. McClintock, The Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika Distinction (Wisdom Publications, 2003)

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