Shakya Chokden’s History of Madhyamaka Thought in Tibet

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Shakya Chokden’s History of Madhyamaka Thought in Tibet
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Citation: Komarovski, Yaroslav. "Shakya Chokden’s History of Madhyamaka Thought in Tibet." In Sources of Tibetan Tradition, edited by Kurtis R. Schaeffer, Matthew T. Kapstein, and Gray Tuttle, 373–80. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013.
Translated texts:

Article Summary

Serdok Paṇchen Shakya Chokden (1428-1507) stands out as one of the most remarkable thinkers of Tibet. The enormous body of his collected works is notable for the diversity and originality of the writings it contains, and for their exceptional rigor. One of the few Tibetan intellectuals affiliated with both the Sakyapa and Kagyüpa orders, which were often doctrinal and political rivals (see chapters 7 and 11), he was also among the sharpest critics of Jé Tsongkhapa (chapter 16), the founder of the Gelukpa order that would come to dominate Tibet under the Dalai Lamas. For this reason Shakya Chok- dens works were eventually banned by the Central Tibetan government. They are known to us today primarily thanks to a beautifully produced eighteenth-century man- uscript from Bhutan, where the Central Tibetan ban did not extend and the religious leadership was congenial to the blend of Sakyapa and Kagyüpa perspectives that lent Shakya Chokden s texts much of their unique flavor.
      Among the distinctive aspects of Shakya Chokden s oeuvre are his several contributions to the history of Buddhist thought. Historical writing in Tibet (chapter 11) was interested above all in important political or religious events, and the lives of the major actors. Doctrinal or intellectual history was generally ignored, no doubt in part be- cause the outlook fostered in the monastic colleges was one of perennialism: the truths revealed in the Buddha s teaching were eternal, and thus exempt from the process of historical change. Knowledgeable scholars were, of course, aware that commentarial and interpretive traditions did have a history of sorts, but this awareness tended to be expressed in their own commentarial notes, not in dedicated doctrinal histories. In Shakya Chokden's writings, however, we find sustained historical essays on Indian and Tibetan traditions of logic and epistemology, and of the Madhyamaka philosophy inspired by Nāgārjuna. The selections given here are drawn from his work on the latter, and may serve as an introductory guide to the philosophical writings included in the remainder of this chapter.
      Shakya Chokden's discussion turns on the distinction made by Tibetan thinkers between two types of argument, termed in the present translation "autonomous reason” and "consequence.” The first refers to the method of using positive proof to demonstrate the truth or falsehood of a given proposition. The second, by contrast, only seeks to undermine the propositions advanced by a (real or presumed) opponent by drawing out their untenable consequences, and so is similar to reductio ad absurdum, or “indirect Proof,” in Western systems of logic. This distinction was often considered by Tibetans to he the basis for designating two distinct schools of Madhyamaka philosophy, Svātantrika (Autonomous Reasoning) and Prāsańgika (Consequentialist). MTK (Komarovski, Sources of Tibetan Tradition, 373)