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Kamalaśīla(713/740 - 763/795)

One of the most important Madhyamaka authors of late Indian Buddhism, a major representative of the Yogācāra-Madhyamaka synthesis, and a participant in the famous Bsam yas Debate. According to Tibetan doxographies, he was a proponent of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka. Although little is known about his life, according to Tibetan sources he was a monk and teacher at Nālandā. Tibetan sources also count him as one of three (together with Śāntarakṣita and Jñãnagarbha) “Eastern Svātantrikas” (rang rgyud shar gsum), suggesting that he was from Bengal. He was clearly a direct disciple of Śāntarakṣita, composing important commentaries on his teacher’s two major works, the Madhyamakālaṃkāra and the Tattvasaṃgraha. The latter commentary, which is extant in Sanskrit, is an important source for both Hindu and Buddhist philosophical positions in the eighth century. (Source: "Kamalaśīla." In The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, 411. Princeton University Press, 2014. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt46n41q.27.)

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"In another context, Kamalaśīla quotes the passage from the Laṅkāvatārasūtra cited by Candrakīrti as scriptural authority for Buddha-nature being of provisional meaning. Kamalaśīla himself, though, does not put it quite that way, stating only that, in accord with the various outlooks of sentient beings, the Buddhas taught what is a single dharmadhātu (or dharmanairātmya in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra) by means of many different expressions (including the expression “Buddha-nature”), that is, in conventional terms." Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, p.11.

In the sense that all beings have the potential to achieve Buddhahood.
"The teaching “all sentient beings have Buddha-nature” is interpreted in the sense that all sentient beings are pervaded by the dharmadhātu, which is characterized by selflessness. In other words, the tathāgatagarbha is taken to be the dharmadhātugarbha. Though the term dharmadhātugarbha appears in the RGVV, Kamalaśīla's interpretation seems to have been derived from a phrase in the Laṅkāvatārasūtra, “the embryo of the tathāgata, which is selflessness” (tathāgatanairātmyagarbha), reinforcing the notion that Buddha-nature does not refer to ātman but rather to selflessness (nairātmya)." Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, p. 10.

"In his Madhyamakāloka, Kamalaśīla presents the position of an opponent who takes the three-vehicle theory to be definitive. He refutes that position and makes the case for the single-vehicle theory being definitive by quoting a number of sutra passages." Kano, K., Buddha-Nature and Emptiness, p. 9.

Though he might be an early antecedent to the position that combines emptiness and luminosity, Brunnhölzl counts him among those that hold this position.

  • "One should add here Kamalaśīla’s (c. 740–795) Madhyamakāloka, which takes the tathāgata heart to be natural luminosity but defines the latter as the dharmadhātu characterized by twofold identitylessness: "This statement “All sentient beings possess the tathāgata heart” teaches that all are suitable to attain the state of unsurpassable completely perfect awakening since it is held that the term tathāgata expresses that the dharmadhātu, which is characterized by personal and phenomenal identitylessness, is natural luminosity." Brunnhölzl, K., When the Clouds Part, p. 56.

Affiliations & relations

  • Nalanda · religious affiliation
  • Śāntarakṣita · teacher