By the twelfth century, a broad consensus had developed among Tibetan Buddhists: The Middle Way School (Madhyamaka) of Nāgārjuna (c. 2nd century), as interpreted by Candrakīrti (c. 600–650), would be normative in Tibet. However, Tibetans had inherited various trajectories of commentary on Madhyamaka, and schools of thought developed, each with a particular reading. This article will examine some of the major competing philosophical stances, focusing on three figures who represent particularly compelling interpretations, but whose understandings of Madhyamaka are profoundly divergent: Daktsang Sherap Rinchen (1405–1477), Wangchuk Dorjé, the 9th Karmapa (1556–1603), and Purchok Ngawang Jampa (1682–1762). The former two contend that Nāgārjuna’s statement “I have no thesis” (nāsti ca mama pratijñā
) means exactly what it says, while the latter advocates what could be termed an “anthropological” approach: Mādhyamikas, when speaking as Mādhyamikas, only report what “the world” says, without taking any stance of their own; but their understanding of Buddhism is based on insight gained through intensive meditation training. This article will focus on how these three philosophers figure in the history of Tibetan Madhyamaka exegesis and how their respective readings of Indic texts incorporate elements of previous work while moving interpretation in new directions.
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