Madhyamika Buddhism, literally meaning the middle path, was founded in the second century, during the early stages of development of Mahayana Buddhism
. It was developed by the great Indian scholar and philosopher Nagarjuna
. It is believed by the Madhyamikas that all phenomena are devoid of intrinsic nature, and exist only due to the conditions created by other phenomena. It is referred to as the middle path because it rejects the two extreme philosophies of eternalism and nihilism. It is a dialectic school which, according to Nagarjuna, was founded by Lord Buddha
Origin of Madhyamika Buddhism
Madhyamika philosophy was originallt and essentially founded by Nagarjuna, a patriarch of the Mahayana school of Buddhism. Not much is known about this great scholar, and his existing biography seems to be full of myth. He is well known for his `Wisdom Sutras` written in around the 1st century. These are a total of about 40 texts which have been collected under the title of Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom). Madhyamika developed out of the Prajnaparamita literature. There are other important scholars, who, along with Nagarjuna, contributed immensely to the development of Madhyamika. They include Aryaveda, the disciple of Nagarjuna, and Buddhapalita, who wrote influential commentaries on the work of Nagarjuna. It is believed that the Madhyamikas divided into different schools later. In the 11th century writings, Madhyamika was divided into three distinct schools. These are- Prasangika, Svatantrika and the synthesis of later Yogacara and Madhyamika, referred to as Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika.
Philosophy of Madhyamika Buddhism
The philosophy of Madhyamika rests on the concept of Shunyata developed by Nagarjuna. Shunyata basically means emptiness. It has been developed from the earlier Buddhist concept of anatman. According to the latter, there is no sense of a permanent and autonomous self. These are merely temporary creations of the skandhas. Shunyata delves even deeper into this concept and develops it further. In explaining this Shunyata, Nagarjuna has laid the basis of the Madhyamika School. It is believed that a phenomenon has no intrinsic existence in itself. All phenomena come into existence due to the conditions that have been created by other phenomena. They are empty of a permanenet self. This Shunyata is sometimes called the absolute as it includes all things and beings. It relates to the dharmakaya body of the Triyaka. Thus there is neither reality nor non-reality, only Shunyata, relativity and Enlightenment. This is not to say that all phenomena either exist or do not exist. True, are devoid of self existence but it is appearance and form which creates a world of myriad things, and these only hold and identity in relation to one another.
Related to the shunyata are the teachings of another of the great Mahayana Sutras
, the Avatamsaka or Flower Garland Sutra. The Flower Garland is a collection of smaller sutras that emphasize the interpenetration of all things. That is, all things and all beings not only reflect all other things and beings but also all existence in its totality.
Another doctrine related to the Madhyamika School is the concept of the two truths- relative and absolute. Relative truth is the standard, conventional way in which we perceive reality. On the other hand, absolute truth is the shunyata. From the relative point of view, phenomena and appearances are real. From the perspective of the absolute, they are not real. It is held that both these perspectives are true.
Madhyamika is mainly the path taken to for attaining perfect wisdom or prajnaparamita. It is the sixth of the six perfections of the Bodhisattva
path. One who is following the bodhisattva path must cultivate the six perfections of giving or generosity, morality or good conduct, patience, vigour, meditation and wisdom. The term is used as a collective title of key Mahayana Sutras. Madhyamika has been categorised as the second turning of the wheel of Dharma
Significance of Madhyamika Buddhism
Madhyamika has had a great impact on the different schools of Mahayana. Though not all forms of Mahayana adhere to the Madhyamika view, the Tibetan Buddhist and Zen traditions are strong followers of the same. The present day schools of Tendai, Sanron and the Maha Madhyamika are also the followers of the Madhyamika tradition.