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Making and remaking the ultimate in

early Tibetan readings of Santideva


Kevin Vose

Santideva's Bodhicaryavatara has long been celebrated, alongside


Candraklrti's Madhyamakavatara, for its explication of emptiness from the PrasaIigika-Madhyamaka viewpoint, set within a
broader presentation of the Mahayana path structure. While the
features that these two texts share - and, indeed, the features of
PrasaIigika itself - have been oft-debated in the history of Tibetan
Madhyamaka, we have good textual and doctrinal evidence for
associating them. One compelling reason is Santideva's declaration that "the ultimate is not a referent of awareness,"l a claim
that echoes CandrakIrti's statement that the ultimate "is ineffable
and just not a referent of consciousness."2 Further, in explication
of Santideva's assertion, Prajfiakaramati's (c. 950-1030) commentary on the Bodhicaryavatara quotes the Madhyamakavatara four
times, linking these two texts' views on this central Madhyamaka
doctrine. 3
The kind of ultimate suggested in these passages, an ultimate
that transcends thought and language, would prove to be a stumbling block for those early Tibetan Madhyamikas with strong com1 Stanza IX.2c; La Vallee Poussin, Prajfziikaramati's Commentary
(1905), 352: buddher agocaras tattvaf!!.
2 La Vallee Poussin, Madhyamakiivatiira, 109,2-3: don dam pa'i bden
pa bstan par 'dod pas de ni brjod du med pa'i phyir dan ses pa'i yul ma
yin pa fzid kyi phyir dnos su bstan par mi nus pas.
3 Prajfiakaramati cites Madhyamakiivatiira V1.23, 25, 28, and 29 in
his comments to Bodhicaryiivatiira IX.2; La Vallee Poussin, Prajfziikaramati's Commentary (1905), 353, 361, and 366.

Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies


Volume 32 Number 1-2 2009 (2010) pp. 285-318

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mitments to the Buddhist epistemological tradition. Logic-minded


Madhyamikas, particularly those connected with gSan phu Ne'u
thog Monastery, tended to reject Candraklrti's philosophy following its spread in Central Tibet around the year 1100, in large part
because of its perceived difficulties in explaining how one realizes an ultimate that transcends human intellect. 4 In contrast, the
Bodhicaryiivatiira, having long since been translated, retranslated, and commented upon, was universally acclaimed, making an
accounting of its views incumbent upon any author. Rather than
accept or reject Santideva's seemingly transcendent ultimate and
the host of problems attendant on this view, early bKa' gdams pa
scholars found a variety of ways to interpret it. How one interpreted Santideva's ultimate, whether aligning with Candraklrti's transcendent portrayal or with gSan phu's logic-based model, in turn
became a dividing line for a series of categories of Madhyamaka,
including the well-known Svatantrika-Prasangika divide.
The authority of the Bodhicaryiivatiira was forged at gSan phu
by the monastery's intellectual founder, rNog BIo ldan ses rab
(1059-1109), who is credited with establishing the final version of
the Tibetan translation of the text. The colophon of the Tibetan
translation states that the text was first translated from a Kashmiri
exemplar by Ka ba dpal brtsegs (prior to 840), then was revised
in accordance with a central Indian exemplar and its (unnamed)
commentary by Rin chen bzan po (958-1055) and Shiikya blo gros
(eleventh century). Finally, rNog - apparently on the basis of no
new manuscripts or commentaries, but under the guidance of his
Kashmiri teacher Sumatiklrti - corrected and finalized the text. 5
Despite the credit given to rNog, early Tibetan commentaries reveal a variety of readings of the root text, suggesting that it circulated in many forms during this period and not just in rNog's
"finalized" version. 6

4 Candraldrti's twelfth-century ascension and the debates it touched


off in Tibet are treated in Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti.
5 This information is drawn from the colophon to the Tibetan translation found in the bsTan 'gyur; sDe dge edition, vol. ya, 40a5-7.
6 Just what constitutes rNog's finalized translation of the Bodhicarya-

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rNog is known to have written both a commentary and a topical


outline on the Bodhicaryavatara? The text likewise figured prominently at gSan phu in the generations following rNog, as a series of
scholars in teacher-to-student relationship composed commentaries on it: rNog's student rGya dmar pa Byan chub grags; rGya: dmar
pa's student Phya pa Chos kyi sen ge; and Phya pa's student gTsaIi
nag pa brTson 'grus sen ge. 8 To these we may add the commentary of the second Sa skya pa hierarch, bSod nams rtse mo (1142-

va tara is difficult to pinpoint. Akira Saito has analyzed Bu ston's suspicion that the version of the Bodhicaryavatara available to him (which he
included in his bsTan 'gyur collection) contains unwarranted "emendations" made by gTsan nag pa; see Saito, "Bu ston on the sPyod 'jug,"
79-85. In one example, which he takes to be representative, Saito (p. 84)
suggests that "the alteration [of rNog's translation] appears to have been
made with rather careless consultation of the old translation(s)." A thorough evaluation of this textual conundrum will require an examination
of the Bodhicaryavatara stanzas embedded in the various Indian and
Tibetan commentaries, as compared to the stanzas preserved in the bsTan
'gyur editions and in the Dunhuang manuscript (Stein 628) edited in Saito,
A Study of the Dun-huang Recension. My initial investigation shows that
gTsan nag pa's commentary offers readings of the Bodhicaryavatara
stanzas that accord with the stanzas preserved in the bsTan 'gyur but not
with those found in the Dunhuang version (in cases where the bsTan 'gyur
edition and Dunhuang version disagree). If gTsan nag pa was indeed Bu
ston's culprit, he does not seem to have been utilizing a translation of the
Bodhicaryavatara related to the Dunhuang version.
7 For an overview of rNog's compositions, see Kano, rNgog Bloldan-shes-rab's Summary, 125-128 and Kramer, The Great Translator.
Fragments of rNog's commentary are cited in bSod nams rtse mo's commentary (discussed below); the whereabouts of the complete commentary
remain unknown. I thank Kazuo Kano for alerting me to his discovery in
Lhasa of rNog's sPyod 'jug gi bsdus don, a "topical outline" of Santideva's
text, which he is now preparing for publication.
8 The available texts are rGya dmar pa Byan chub grags's Bymi chub
sems dpa'i spyod pa la 'jug pa'i tshig don gsal bar Mad pa; Phya pa's
sPyod 'jug bsdus don, a topical outline (Phya pa's full commentary is not
presently known); and gTsan nag pa brTson 'grus sen ge's sPyod 'jug gi
rnambsad.

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1182), which according to its colophon relates the comments of his


teacher Phya pa and also occasionally cites rNog's commentary.9
These four generations of commentaries allow us to see the evolution of gSan phu exegesis, revealing a variety of ways to accommodate and even champion the transcendent ultimate found in the
Bodhicaryavatara, while at the same time holding to gSan phu's
emphasis on inferential logic. These early commentators' solutions
to the problems attendant upon Santideva's ultimate took the shape
of two interrelated discussions of the nature of ultimate truth and
of the cognitive processes involved with realizing it. These in turn
gave rise to distinct Madhyamaka categories to classify views on
each.
The ultimate: "like an illusion" or "not abiding at all?"
bKa' gdams pa discussions of ultimate truth, and the Madhyamaka
classifications these discussions engendered, center round Santideva's famous proclamation, "The ultimate is not a referent of
awareness; awareness is said to be conventional,"lo as well as the
9 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa. In the colophon
(515.2,4-6), we read: "Indeed, the Commentary composed by the lord
(btsun pa) is exceedingly clear. However, ... I write this for the ease of
realization of myself and those like me. For the sake of easy realization
even of the wisdom chapter, the spiritual friend bSod nams rtse mo clearly
arranged (fie bar sbyar) this from the concise (tshig bsdus, "a summary")
and difficult to understand (go dka' ba) Explanation of Engaging in the
Bodhisattva's Practices composed by the monk ehos kyi Sen ge." In including bSod nams rtse mo's commentary in this discussion of early bKa'
gdams pa commentaries, I do not intend to portray him as a bKa' gdams
pa, but rather take his attribution of "arranging" his teacher's comments
on the' Bodhicaryavatara as rendering his comments germane to this investigation. As will be seen, his comments would prove to be more faithful to Phya pa's views than those of another of Phya pa's students, gTsan
nag pa. Even still, the subtle criticism implicit in calling Phya pa's summary "difficult to understand" may suggest a certain distance between
teacher and student that we would be unlikely to see in later master-todisciple relationships within the established orders of Tibet.
10 La Vallee Poussin, Prajfiakaramati's Commentary (1905), 352:

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stanzas that follow this, which discuss how more advanced yogis'
views "harm," or invalidate, those of less advanced yogis.u This
latter consideration allows commentators to flesh out just who
harms whom, a doxographical project that in some treatments includes higher and lower types of Madhyamikas,12 Unfortunately,
the continued absence of rNog Blo ldan ses rab's Bodhicaryiivatiira
commentary prevents us from exploring his views on these stanzas. However, in his extant works, rNog touches upon Santideva's
proclamation on the ultimate, albeit in a quite different context,
his commentary on the Ratnagotravibhiiga. There, rNog relates
"The ultimate is not a referent of speech and ... is not a referent of
conceptuality, since conceptuality is conventional."13 This clearly
buddher agocaras tattvaf!2 buddhil;. saf!2vrtir ucyate II The Tibetan (vol.
ya, 31al) reads: don dam blo yi spyod yul min I blo ni kun rdzob yin par
brjod II Saito ("Santideva in the History of Madhyamika," 261, n. 3) reports that the Dunhuang version for pada dreads: blo dan sgra ni kun
rdzob yin II = buddhiJ:! sabdas ca saf!2vrtiJ:! ("awareness and speech are
conventional"), which would seem to associate "awareness" and "speech"
in the way rNog (just below) associates "conceptuality" and "speech."
11 Stanza4ab states this concisely (La Vallee Poussin, Prajiiakaramati's
Commentary [1905], 370): biidhyante dhfvise!felJa yogino 'py uttarottaraiJ:! I "Through refinements of yogis' awareness, the progressively higher
harm [the lower]."
12 Stanza 4c, which notes how higher yogis "harm" lower yogis, would
seem to be germane to this discussion of Madhyamaka classification. It
reads (La Vallee Poussin, Prajfiiikaramati's Commentary [1905], 371):
dr!ftiintenobhaye!ftena; "through examples accepted by both [parties]."
This could well be an allusion to Candraklrti's Prasannapadii critique
of Bhaviveka's logical procedures, a discussion that led Tson kha pa to
distinguish between CandrakIrti's "Prasangika" Madhyamaka and Bhaviveka's "Svatantrika" view (on Candraklrti's critique and Tson kha pa's
distinction, see Ruegg, Two Prolegomena to Madhyamaka Philosophy).
However, none of the bKa' gdams pa or Sa skya pa scholars whose commentaries I examine here make this association.
13 Kano's edition of the Tibetan reads (Kano, rNgog Blo-ldan-shesrab's Summary, 286): rdo rje gnas 'di bdun dmigs pa med pa'i ye ses kyis
rtogs par bya ba tsam yin gyi I brjod du med pa yan don dam pa'i ran biin
yin pa'i phyir ro II don dam pa ni nag gi yul ma yin pa'i phyir te I rnam par

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parallels Santideva's statement, substituting "conceptuality" for


"awareness," and suggests that, in rNog's estimation, the ultimate
is only beyond the ken of conceptuality but can be accessed by
non-conceptual, yogic awareness. This would delimit the ultimate's
transcendence, returning it to the realm of (highly refined) human
intellect, an approach characteristic of later gSaIi phu authors, such
as Phya pa.
In the generation following rNog, available sources reveal further discomfort with a literal reading of Santideva's proclamation.
Discussing how the two truths are divided, rGya dmar pa first
notes that "the basis of division" (dbye ba'i gii) into two truths is
"mere object of knowledge, taken as a referent by awareness."14
This would entail that the ultimate, like the conventional, can be
brought within the scope of human awareness: it is knowable.
Awareness itself is of two types: "All awarenesses that engage objects of knowledge are counted as only two: mistaken consciousnesses that engage erroneously and reasoning consciousnesses that
engage non-erroneously."ls As rGya dmar pa explains, a "reasoning consciousness" (rigs pa'i ses pa) is the type of consciousness
(which is here used synonymously with "awareness") that knows
ultimate truth, through a logical process of investigating the final
nature of phenomena. 16 The ultimate would seem then to be a referent of awareness, directly contradicting Santideva.
rtog pa ni kun rdzob yin pas don dam pa rtog pa'i yul ma yin pa'i phyir
ro II "The seven vajra topics are only to be realized by the wisdom that
lacks an intentional object; they are ineffable due to being the nature of
the ultimate. This is because the ultimate is not a referent of speech and
because the ultimate is not a referent of conceptuality, since conceptuality is conventional." Kano's translation is on p. 383.
14 rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 125,3 (59a3): bios yul du
bya pa'i ses bya' tsam. An interlinear note on ses bya' tsam explains the
phrase as ses bya ma yin pa las log pa.
lS rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 127,1 (60a1): ses bya la
'jug pa'i blo' mtha' dag ni nor bar 'jug pa 'khrul ses dan I ma nor bar 'jug
pa rigs pa'i ses pa gfiis kho nar grans nes pas na II
16 Ultimate truth is "true in the perspective of a reasoning [consciousness]." rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 127,1 (60a1): rigs pa'i

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However, when commenting on Santideva's proclamation, rOya


dmar pa seems to contradict himself:
[The ultimate] is passed beyond all referents of awareness, conceptual
and non-conceptual. It also has no proliferations (spros pa) because it
is not a determined referent of speech or conceptuality.... The ultimate is not to be characterized by any quality and has no characteristic; thus [Santideva] said, "not a referent of awareness." ... Since all
awarenesses are mistaken and conventional, all referents of awarenesses are conventional truths. Thus it is established that the opposite
of conventional truth, ultimate truth, is not a referent of awarenessY

Whereas rOya dmar pa's previous discussion divided awareness


into "mistake" and "reason," here awareness is uniformly mistaken, functioning only in the conventional, dualistic world of characteristics and the characterized. How are we to reconcile rOya dmar
pa's conflicting positions? We might read "not a determined referent of speech or conceptuality" as delimiting the scope of awareness, the same move that rNog made, thereby allowing for a nonconceptual form of awareness that accesses the ultimate. However,
the first sentence of the quote, implicating both conceptual and
non-conceptual awareness, would seem to preclude this interpretation. To make sense of rOya dmar pa's earlier statement, that the
two truths divide "objects of knowledge" (ses bya), we would have
to tease out some kind of consciousness (ses pa) that is not included
in "all awarenesses." The ultimate would be accessible to (some
nor bden pa.
17 We can note in this passage that rGya dmar pa uses spyod yul (found
in Santideva's text) and yul (in rGya dmar pa's comments) interchangeably. Both are used to translate the Sanskrit vi~aya, but typically only
the former is used to translate gocara, which is the reading found in the
Sanskrit of Santideva's text. rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar bSad pa,
127,2-4 (60a2-4): rtog pa dan mi rtog pa'i blo'i yul thams cad las 'das
pa'o II spros pa med pa yan yin te I sgra dan rnam par rtog pa'i zen pa'i
yul ma yin pa'i phyir ro II ... chos gan gis kyan mtshon par byar myed pa
mtshan fiid med pa fiid don dam pa yin pas I blo'i spyod yul min zes bya'
ba'o I ... blo thams cad 'khrul pa kun rdzob pa yin pa'i phyir blo'i yul
mtha' dag kun rdzob kyi bden pa yin pas I kun rdzob kyi bden pa las bzlog
pa don dam pa'i bden pa blo'i yul ma yin par grub po I

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kind of) consciousness but would be beyond the scope of conceptual and non-conceptual awareness. rGya dmar pa, unfortunately,
leaves the discussion unresolved.
For his part, rGya dmar pa introduces a further distinction when
explaining the relationship between the two truths (in technical terminology, the "meaning of the division into two truths" [bden pa
gfiis kyi dbye ba'i don]). He relates, "[The two truths] are inexpressible as the same or other due to not being one and not being
different," a position that he identifies as the view of the "utterly
non-abiding system (rab du mi gnas pa'i lugS)."18 He provides an
alternative view, that of the "illusionists" (sgyu ma lta bu) who hold
that "the two truths are two qualitative divisions in a single entity, just like product and impermanence;" however, he notes that
Santideva's position is the former. 19 This discussion does not answer the previous conundrum of how the ultimate is an object of
knowledge but not a referent of awareness. However, we can detect
some amount of harmony between these two stances and the two
Madhyamaka viewpoints rGya dmar pa here mentions: The "illusionist" position holds that the two truths are "qualitative divisions" (chos kyi dbye' ba) of an entity (dflOS po), with "entity" being
(in some presentations) equated with "object of knowledge." This
suggests a stronger status for ultimate truth, making it a knowable
phenomenon, accessible to analysis. In contrast, the "non-abiding"
position states that the relationship between the two truths is simply ineffable, transcending speech in the same way that Santideva
declared that ultimate truth transcends awareness. 20

18 rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 126,3-4 (59b3-4): gcig
pa yan ma yin tha dad pa yan ma yin pas de iiid dan gian du brjod du med
pa .. , dbye' ba'i don 'di ni rab du mi gnas pa'i lugs la ltos ste rnam par
biag pa'o /
19 rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 126,4-5 (59b4-5): sgyu'
ma Ita bu' ni byas pa dan mi rtag pa biin du bden pa gfiis dnos po cig la
chos kyi dbye' ba gfiis su 'dod mod kyi / slob dpon 'di'i lugs ma yin pas Ina
{read: sna} ma ltar yin no /
20 Unless, ala rNgog, we pair "ineffable" with "beyond conceptuality,"
rather than "beyond awareness."

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Looking beyond rGya dmar pa's work, we see that this division of Madhyamaka is widely referred to - and widely rejected
- in early bKa' gdams pa literature. 21 rNog, his student Gro luIi pa
Blo gros 'byun gnas (c. 1040-1120),22 and Phya pa all refer to this
as a potential bifurcation of Madhyamaka according to positions
on ultimate truth. They all argue against it, but for different reasons. Jose Cabez6n points out that rNog and Gro lun pa see both
of these potential divisions of Madhyamaka as, instead, deviations
from the middle way.23 "Illusionists" assert (in this portrayal) that
the illusory appearance of phenomena is ultimate truth, which in
rNog's and Gro lun pa's estimation amounts to an extreme of realism, as this illusory nature would stand through reasoned analysis.
Additionally, Gro lun pa is keen to point out that the "illusionist"
view is not that of Santarak~ita, although he does not say who held
it. 24 The "non-abiding" position carries several possible valences in
rNog's and Gro lun pa's work: rNog seems to equate the position
both with the meditational practice of "no [thing] abiding" in the
mind (yid la mi gnas pa) and with the ontological claim that no
phenomenon abides (chos kun mi gnas); these would be extremes
of quietism (from a practice standpoint) and nihilism (from an on-

21 This bifurcation of Madhyamaka is also rejected by Tson kha pa and


his dGe lugs pa followers; see Napper, Dependent-Arising and Emptiness,
403-440 (Appendix I: "The Division of Madhyamikas Into ReasonEstablished lllusionists and Proponents of Thorough Non-Abiding") and
Ruegg, Three Studies, 96-1Ol.
22 Jose Cabez6n discusses the problems attendant upon Gro lun pa's
dates, as well as this provisional estimate, in "The Madhyamaka in Gro
lung pa's Bstan Rim chen mo."
23 My discussion here is based on that in Cabez6n, "The Madhyamaka
in Gro lung pa's Bstan Rim chen mo," which relies on rNog Blo ldan ses
rab, sPrift yig bdud rtsi thig le and Gro lun pa Blo gros 'byun gnas, bsTan
rim chen mo.
24 Gro lun pa criticizes the view that "Siintarak~ita and others posit illusion as the ultimate;" Gro lun pa, bsTan rim chen mo, 805: slob dpon ii
ba 'tsho la sogs pa ni sgyu ma don dam pa bied pa ste / While he does not
tell us who the "others" are, they likely include Kamalaslla.

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tological perspective).25 Gro lun pa, instead, states that the "nonabiding" view holds that the non-abiding of phenomena is itself
established by a "reasoning consciousness," which, similar to allowing that an illusory nature withstands reasoning, suggests that
something stands out of emptiness - albeit, in this case, that something would be non-existence. 26 This perspective would then represent an overly reified ultimate. In all interpretations, rNog and Gro
lun pa reject both the "illusionist" and "non-abiding" positions and
so discount their use for dividing Madhyamaka.
In his recently published doxography, Phya pa takes a quite different approach to this division, claiming that since all Madhyamikas
assert both the utter non-abiding and the illusory appearance of all
phenomena (not neither), there can be no division of Madhyamaka
along these lines. The important issue, instead, is just what "withstands analysis" (dpyad bzod pa). If one holds that appearances
withstand analysis - that they are not utterly non-abiding - one
would not claim that they are like illusions; this, then, would make
one a realist. If one does not hold that appearances are "mere affirming negatives" (ma yin dgag pa tsam), one deprecates the conventional and becomes a nihilistY For Phya pa, then, to say that
phenomena are "utterly non-abiding" and to say that they are "like
illusions" come back to the same point: appearances do not withstand analysis and so exist only illusorily.
Further, Phya pa states, ''All Madhyamikas, due to not asserting
that illusory [phenomena] withstand analysis, assert that only utter
non-establishment withstands analysis; there is [thus] no difference

25 rNog's summary criticism reads (sPrin yig bdud rtsi thig Ie, 708):
sgyu ma gfiis med chos kun mi gnas dbu ma yi lugs gfiis rnam 'byed de yan
rmons pa mtshar bskyed yin; "Distinguishing two Madhyamaka systems
[according to those who hold that] illusion is non-duality and [those who
hold that] all phenomena do not abide amazes [only] fools."
26 This position would also make emptiness an "affirming negative"
(ma yin dgag), as the existence of "non-abiding" would be affirmed. This
view is unacceptable to Gro lun pa and to all the bKa' gdams pa authors
treated here.
27 Phya pa, bDe bar gsegs pa, 65,6ff.

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[among Madhyamikas] at all."2B "Utter non-establishment" (cir ywi


rna grub pa) appears to be synonymous with "utterly non-abiding"
in Phya pa's usage, an equation not reflected in rNog's orGro lun
pa's discussions. Holding that "utter non-establishment withstands
analysis" saves this portrayal of the ultimate from the extremes
of quietism and nihilism that rNog argued against, as Phya pa's
ultimate would be reached by a "reasoning consciousness" - it
would "withstand" the analysis of that consciousness - and would
be counted as an existent "object of knowledge." Where Gro lun pa
criticized the "non-abiding" ultimate for affirming the existence of
"non-abiding," Phya pa draws a fine line: the ultimate withstands
analysis but is not established by reasoning; it is still "utterly not
established."29
While Phya pa's portrayal might seem to solve some of the
problems in the "illusionist" and "non-abiding" positions adduced
by rNog and Gro lun pa (by redefining those positions) and, further, might seem to ameliorate divisions within Madhyamaka, two
points bear consideration. First, he introduced this discussion by
noting "someone claims there are two systems of assertions on ultimate truth."30 However, Phya pa's discussion of the "illusory" status
of phenomena centers on the conventional world. The real problem
would not arise from claiming that conventional phenomena are
illusory but would arise from the claim that an "illusory" nature
is ultimate truth, which is the position rNog and Gro lun pa both
rejected. Elsewhere, Phya pa too argues against this position at
length, which he characterizes as the view that the union of appearances and emptiness (snan stan giiis tshags) is the ultimate; to this
claim, he points out that each of the components would per force be

2B Phya pa, bDe bar gsegs pa, 67,2: dbu ma ba thams cad kyis sgyu ma
lta bu iiid ni spyad par [dpyad bzod par?} mi 'dod pas I cir ymi ma grub
pa kho na dpyad bzod par 'dod pa la tha dad gtan med pa yin no II
29 For a more complete discussion of Phya pa's views on the ultimate,
see Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 92-99.
30 Phya pa, bDe bar gsegs pa, 65,6-7: don dam pa'i bden pa la yan kha
cig bden pas stan pa'i snan pa sgyu ma lta bur smra ba dan I ma yin dgag
du bden pa gan du yan rab tu mi gnas par smra ba'i lugs giiis yod zer ba.

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the ultimate, making ordinary appearances ultimately true. 31 Phya


pa, then, follows his gSan phu forebears in rejecting the ultimate
validity of the "illusionist" view. 32 The frequency and vehemence
of this refutation in early bKa' gdams pa literature suggests that it
was a powerful current outside ofbKa' gdams pa circles in twelfthcentury Tibet. 33
The second point to consider is that, as Phya pa was well aware,
not all those who call themselves Madhyamikas assert that the ultimate bears analysis. Such a position would be labeled "realist"
by other Tibetan Madhyamikas, and constituted one of the chief
points of contention between Phya pa and twelfth-century support-

31 Phya pa emphasizes the distinction between the absolute negative,


emptiness, that a reasoning consciousness realizes and the affirming
negative, the collection of appearance and emptiness (the illusion-like
nature), that inference comprehends. The inference that proves "entities
are empty of a true nature" must realize an affirming negative, because
it associates the inferential subject, "entity," with the predicate, "emptiness." However, a reasoning consciousness realizes only the absolute
negative, "empty of a true nature," based on this inference. Phya pa, dBu
ma sar gsum, 93,14-97,14; especially 94,14-18.
32 Phya pa adopts a position very close to the "illusionist" view on "the
meaning of the division into two truths." Above, we saw rGya dmar pa
report the "illusionist" position to hold that "the two truths are two qualitative divisions (chos kyi dbye' ba) in a single entity." Phya pa held that
"the two truths are only different isolates in a single entity;" Phya pa, dBu
ma sar gsum, 10,12: bden pa gfiis no bog cig la ldog pa tha dad pa kho
na'o II
33 The distinction between "illusionist" Madhyamaka and "utterly
non-abiding" Madhyamaka may have arisen in proto-bKa' brgyud pa
sources. The two terms are used to denote types of Madhyamaka in
Maitripada/Advayavajra's Tattvaratniivalf, where the terms are given as
miiyopamiidvayaviidin and sarvadharmiiprati~thiinaviidin. On MaitrIpada's views, see Mathes, "Blending the Slitras with the Tantras," 201227. Ruegg reports that the distinction is also found in sGam po pa bSod
nams rin chen's work, Tshogs chos legs mdzes ma, in volume one of his
gSun 'bum (Delhi: Khasdub Gyatsho Shashin, 1975), ca, folio 85a; see
Ruegg, Three Studies, 32-35.

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ers of CandrakIrti. 34 His claim, then, that there is no division within


Madhyamaka is not a claim that there is no dispute within Madhyamaka. Instead, "his is the highly polemical claim that those who
disagree with him are not even Miidhyamikas.
Phya pa's reconfiguration of the "illusionist" and "non-abiding"
positions allows him to accept his teacher rGya dmar pa's claim
that Siintideva held the "non-abiding" view, without subscribing to
the transcendent ultimate that such a position may have entailed.
Additionally, like his gSaIi phu predecessors, Phya pa can reject the
notion that Siintarak~ita and KamalaSUa hold an "illusionist" ultimate, while at the same time accepting the conventional validity
of "illusion-like" phenomena. 35 These steps are important for preserving the gSail phu interpretation of Madhyamaka, which championed the works of all of these authors: Siintideva, Siintarak~ita,
and KamalaSUa. With the rise of CandrakIrti's importance in Tibet
during Phya pa's lifetime, preserving Siintideva's affiliation with
views that now came to be labeled "Sviitantrika" - and thereby
dissociating Siintideva from the new Priisailgika - required interpretive finesse. 36 Furthermore, in Phya pa's treatment, the "nonabiding" view comes to represent a well-acceptable Madhyamaka
stance; in Phya pa's view, all Miidhyamikas espouse it. This interpretation would make it possible for Phya pa's students to stand behind the "non-abiding" label and, as we will see in the next section,
to subdivide the position further.
34 Twelfth-century Prasaitgika views on ultimate truth are treated in
Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 88-92.
35 As noted above (n. 32), Phya pa's position on "the meaning of the
division into two truths" is nearly identical with the "illusionist" position
that rGya dmar pa reports.
36 The Indian commentaries on the Bodhicaryavatara that treated
the text from a Yogacara-Madhyamaka standpoint, discussed by Saito
("Siintideva in the History of Madhyamika," 259), are important precedents for the early gSait phu interpretation. Santarak~ita's citation of the
Bodhicaryavatara in the Tattvasiddhi may also be taken as indicating a
compatibility between Santarak~ita's and Siintideva's views, although it
seems doubtful that the Tattvasiddhi's author is the same Siintarak~ita
who wrote the Madhyamakiilarp,kara.

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One of those students who did not take up the "non-abiding"


label and who would reject his teacher's Madhyamaka views in favor of the new Prasangika was gTsan nag pa brTson 'grus sen ge.
gTsan nag pa'sdiscussion of Santideva's ultimate evinces some of
the same tensions we saw in rGya dmar pa's explication. gTsan nag
pa holds that ultimate truth is an "object of knowledge" but, "an
instance of the ultimate is passed beyond referents of awareness."37
A significant difference from rGya dmar pa's presentation is that
gTsan nag pa credits his position to Candraklrti, noting that ultimate truth is "found in the perspective of a final reasoning consciousness, ... just as the Master Candraklrti said."38 Unlike his
gSan phu forebears, gTsan nag pa takes Prajfiakaramati's lead in
drawing Candraklrti's exposition of the two truths into his own
explanation of Santideva's stanza. While gTsan nag pa's position
on the ultimate may appear identical to rGya dmar pa's stance two
generations prior, Candraklrti's presence is crucial, as an examination of gTsan nag pa's division of Madhyamaka reveals.
gTsan nag pa interprets Santideva's statement that higher yogis
harm lower yogis as implying three successively higher levels of
Madhyamaka. 39 The first type holds that "an affirming negation,
a composite of appearance and emptiness" is the ultimate. This,
37 gTsan nag pa, sPyod 'jug gi rnam Mad, 557,2-3 (36a2-3): ses bya'i
lus bden gfiis su rnam par giag pa and 557,7-8 (36a7-8): don dam pa'i
mtshan gii' ni blo'i yullas 'das pa.
38 gTsan nag pa, sPyod 'jug gi rnam Mad, 557,5 (36a5): mthar thug rigs
pa'i ses nor rfied pa.
39 gTsan nag pa initially speaks of two types of Madhyamikas, but then
points out a third Madhyamaka view that invalidates these two (sPyod
'jug gi rnam Mad, 561,2-3 [38a2-3]): dbu' ma'i rnal 'byor fiid la ston pa
mtshan mar lta ba gfiis yod de I bden pa'i dnos pos ston pa'i ses bya ma
yin dgag don dam par smra ba dan I ston fiid med dgag don dam par smra
ba'o II de dag la yan dbu' ma chen po'i rigs pas gnod te I "Madhyamika
yogis have two views on the mark of emptiness: (1) those who hold that an
affirming negative, an object of knowledge that is empty of true entity, is
the ultimate; and (2) those who hold that an absolute negative, emptiness,
is the ultimate. (3) The reasoning of Great Madhyamaka harms those
also."

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of course, is the "illusionist" position already critiqued by rNog,


Gro lun pa, and Phya pa. This position is invalidated (or "harmed")
by the second type of Madhyamika, "those who hold that an absolute negative (rned dgag), emptiness, is the ultimate." As noted,
this view appears to have been a very common position among
early bKa' gdams pa authors, as it continued to be in the development of Tibetan Madhyamaka. This position, then, would seem to
be unassailable; yet gTsan nag pa states, "The reasoning of Great
Madhyamaka (dbu rna chen po) harms those, also." What is wrong
with holding emptiness to be the ultimate? And, what does "Great
Madhyamaka" signify? gTsan nag pa tells us
Since the entity to be negated is not established, the negation too is
not established, like the death of a barren woman's child. In that way,
it is realized that ultimately phenomena - entites, non-entities, and so
forth - do not exist at all. ... [This] also dispels the idea that the ultimate is established as an analytical referent of awareness. 40

These points suggest that "Great Madhyamaka" upholds a strong


interpretation of Santideva's transcendent ultimate: the reasoning
process that negates "true entity" (bden pa'i dftos po) itself has no
standing and "ultimately phenomena do not exist at all." In this interpretation, the seemingly unproblematic position that "emptiness
is the ultimate," while invalidating the "illusionist" position, still
assigns too strong a status to negation. 41 Something still stands out
of emptiness. The position is further criticized for a perceived waffling from the ultimate's transcendence; only "Great Madhyamaka"
understands that the ultimate passes beyond the scope of human
intellect.
40 gTsaIi nag pa, sPyod jug gi rnam biad, 561,3-4 (38a3-4): dgag bya'i
dflOS po ma grub pas de bkag pa ymi mi 'grub ste I mo sam gyi bu si ba
biin ies bya'o I de ltar na don dam par dnos po dan dnos med lasogs pa'i
chos 'ga' yan med par rtogs par 'gyur ro II ... don dam blo'i spyod yul du
grub par 'gyur sfiam pa'i rtog pa 'an bsal ba yin no II
41 Pa tshab, too, points out that since the object of negation is not established, the negation of it lacks status (dBu' ma rtsa ba'i ses rab kyi
ti ka, 49: dgag bya'i ran biin ma grub pas na bkag pa yan mi 'thad de);
see Georges Dreyfus and Drongbu Tsering, "Pa tshab and the origin of
PriisaIigika," in this volume.

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gTsaIi nag pa's invocation of CandrakIrti (to make essentially


the same point that rGya dmar pa made) can be understood in the
context of his Madhyamaka rankings. "Great Madhyamaka" aligns
Santideva's ultimate with CandrakIrti's and gives both a transcendent reading. In showing how Great Madhyamaka trumps those who
hold emptiness to be the ultimate, gTsaIi nag pa attacks a position
very much like the one Phya pa argued for and attempts to answer
Phya pa's critique of CandrakIrti and his newfound followers. Phya
pa holds that an absolute negation, emptiness, is the ultimate and
that emptiness withstands analysis, a position that gTsaIi nag pa
understands as an overly reified view. Where Phya pa held that the
ultimate is an object of knowledge, gTsaIi nag pa criticizes those
who "think that the ultimate is established as an analytical referent of awareness." We can recall that Phya pa emphasizes that
the ultimate is "utterly non-established." gTsaIi nag pa may here
misrepresent his former teacher's position in order to draw a clear
separation from his own view, which itself offers a significant softening from both CandrakIrti's and Santideva's proclamations.
Jayananda, for one, took CandrakIrti very literally and claimed
that the ultimate was not even an object of knowledge. Phya pa
pointed out a number of problems with this position, the most significant being that the ultimate - realization of which is soteriologically necessary - could not be known.42 Here, we see gTsaIi nag
pa arguing that the ultimate is an "object of knowledge" but is not
"established as an analytical referent of awareness," a position he
arrives at in response to Phya pa's critique. Among gTsaIi nag pa's
chief concerns are defending and championing CandrakIrti's interpretation of Madhyamaka, here reading that interpretation (rightly
or wrongly) into Santideva's text. "Great Madhayamaka," then, is
gTsaIi nag pa's term for what others in this time period began to
call "PrasaIigika.''43

42 For the debates between Jayiinanda and Phya pa over the status of the
ultimate, see Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 88-99.
43 In his contribution to the present volume, Thomas Doctor shows that
rMa bya, likewise, calls Candraklrti's views "Great Madhyamaka."

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Buddha perception: PrasaIigika v. Svatantrika


A second set of divisions of Madhyamaka found in these early
commentaries takes as its chief criterion the status of those transformed by their realization of the ultimate: Buddhas. These divisions are found in exegeses of Santideva's answer to the objection
that the Madhyamaka understanding of emptiness renders the passage from saJ?1siira to nirvaI).a pointless. Paul Williams noted that
where the received Sanskrit of Santideva's text here offers precision, the Tibetan translation of it offers ample room for interpretation.44 Translating from the Sanskrit, we can read the objection as
"If what is ceased ultimately is cycling in saJ?1siira conventionally,
then the Buddha, too, would be cycling in saJ?1siira; thus, what use
would the practices of enlightenment be?,'45 In the Tibetan translation, "what is ceased" (nirvrtal.z) is rendered mya nan 'das, allowing
the possibility that "nirvaI).a" is at issue. Additionally, the verbal
sense of saJ?1siira is lost, as are the adverbial usages of "ultimate"
and "conventional." The Tibetan, then, offers several possibilities,
including the very straightforward rendering, "If the ultimate is
nirvaI).a and saJ?1siira is the conventional, the Buddha too would
be saJ?1siira; thus, what use would the practices of enlightenment
be?''46
The ambiguity of the Tibetan translation allows for a number of
interpretations, not all of which would seem coherent when reading
the received Sanskrit. Williams pointed out that many Indian and
44 Williams, "On PrakrtinirviiIJ-alPrakrtinirvrta in the Bodhicaryiivatiira," 522-523.
45 The Sanskrit of stanzas IX.l3cd and 14ab reads (La Vallee Poussin,
Prajfiiikaramati's Commentary [1907], 385): nirvrtaJ:t paramiirthena
sa-/!lvrtyii yadi saf!!saret II buddho 'pi saf!!sared evaf!! tataJ:t kif!! bodhicaryayii I While redundant, my "cycling in saf!!siira" conveys the Sanskrit
verbal use of the word.
46 The Tibetan, edited from the canonical versions, is found in
Oldmeadow, A Study of the Wisdom Chapter, vol. 2, 34: gal te don dam
mya nan 'das II 'khor ba kun rdzob de ita na II sans rgyas kyan ni 'khor
'gyur bas II byan chub spyod pas ci zig bya II The Dunhuang version does
not differ substantially (Saito, A Study of the Dun-huang Recension, 50).

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Tibetan commentators read this objection as embodying a misunderstanding of the difference between "natural nirvaI).a" (or "natural cessation;" prakrtinirvtilJa/prakrtinirvrta) and the attainment of
nirvaI).aY Prajiiakaramati reads the passage in just this way, having
the objector state that "a Buddha, who has cessation due to abandoning all defilements, also would be cycling in saf[lstira."48 The
identity between natural nirvaI).a and saf[lstira that Madhyamikas
accept leads the objector to contend (mistakenly) that the attainment of nirvaI).a would leave one still in saf[lstira. Prajiiakaramati's
reading of the objection makes for an easy Madhyamaka answer:
despite the "natural cessation" of all phenomena, the attainment of nirvaI).a depends on attaining the cessation of ignorance
(avidytinirodha), at the root of the twelve links of dependent arising, as explained in a lengthy quote from the Stilistambasiitra. 49
Upon the cessation of ignorance and the remaining links, "there
would be no cycling in saf[lstira."50
rNog BIo ldan ses rab, bSod nams rtse mo tells us, took a similar approach to explicating Santideva's question and answer. On
rNog's reading, the objector claims that since all things are naturally nirvaI).a, which is in the end no different from saf[lstira, those
47 Williams, "On PrakrtinirviiT}a/Prakrtinirvrta in the Bodhicaryiivatiira," 522ff., especially 525-526 where Williams notes, "The distinction between innate 'enlightenment' and that attained through following
the path means that the prakrtinirviiT}a is almost universally employed
in Tibet to explain the opponent's objection and its solution." As will be
seen, the early bKa' gdams pa materials present an important counter to
this claim.
48 La Vallee Poussin, Prajfiiikaramati's Commentary (1907), 385,1718: buddho 'pi sarviivaraT}aprahiiT}ato nirvrto 'pi sal!lsiiret / The Tibetan
translation here renders nirvrta as mya nan las 'das pa, consistent with
the handling of Santideva's stanza. However, in Prajfiakaramati's introduction to this passage, his usage of prakrtinirvrta (385,7) is rendered
ran biin gyis ldog pa. For the edited Tibetan of the complete passage, see
Oldmeadow, A Study o/the Wisdom Chapter, vol. 2, 34-35.
49 La Vallee Poussin, Prajfiiikaramati's Commentary (1907), 386,12ff.
50 La Vallee Poussin, Prajfiiikaramati's Commentary (1907), 389,12:
sal!lsiiraT}al!l na syiit /

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who attain nirvax;ta are in actuality still in sa1flSara; so, the objector
wonders, what is the point of the practices of enlightenment? rNog
explains (according to bSod nams rtse mo) that while all things are
ultimately naturally nirvax;ta, conventionally there is a difference
between the attainment of nirvax;ta and sa1flsara according to "the
extinction or non-extinction of the adventitious causes that generate affiictions."51 rNog's explanation, then, may have relied on that
of Prajfiakaramati, or at minimum was drawn from consultation of
a Sanskrit version of Santideva's text related to that preserved in
Prajfiakaramati's commentary, a version that facilitates a "natural
nirva1'}a versus attained nirva1'}a" reading of the objection and answer.
Surprisingly, Prajfiakaramati's and rNog's explication of this
passage was not adopted by other early bKa' gdams pa authors.
One reason for this departure is the above-noted ambiguity of the
Tibetan translation of Santideva's question. A second reason is
Santideva's somewhat cryptic answer: "If the causes do not have
their continuum cut, illusion also is not stopped; upon the causes
having their continuum cut, it does not arise even conventionally."52
Following Prajfiakaramati, "the causes" would be ignorance, desire, and hatred - the causes of sa1flSara; the cutting of their continuum would refer to the reversal of the twelve links of dependent
arising. The parallel construction of this passage implies that what
"does not arise even conventionally" is "illusion." However, the variety of interpretations left open by the objector's question allows
Tibetan authors to develop various readings of just what has its
"continuum cut" and just what Santideva claims "does not arise,"
readings that give rise to distinct classifications of Madhyamaka.
51 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 495.3,4 (295b4):
non mons pa skyed pa'i rgyu glo bur ba zad ma zad kyis 'byed do.
52 La Vallee Poussin, Prajniikaramati's Commentary (1907), 386,67: pratyayiiniim anucchede miiyiipy ucchidyate na hi I pratyayiiniirrz
tu vicchediit sarrzvrtyiipi na sarrzbhavaJ:z II Oldmeadow, A Study of the
Wisdom Chapter, vol. 2, 35: rkyen nams rgyun ni ma chad na II sgyu
ma'ang ldog par mi 'gyur gyi II rkyen nams rgyun ni chad pas na II kun
rdzob tu yan mi 'byun no II While the original has no pronoun in the final
piida, I insert "it" as a placeholder for the interpretations discussed below.

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The clearest statement of this alternate interpretation is found


in bSod nams rtse mo's commentary, our source for the previous
presentation of rNog's reading. Having given rNog's position, bSod
nams rtse mo notes, "That explanation is not very good. Regarding
this, the great commentator explains in this way."53 Following this
unnamed "great commentator" (likely to be Phya pa), he claims
that rNog has misunderstood the objection, for in Sautrantika, "the
intentional objects of nirvii1}a are ultimate and thoroughly afflicted
intentional objects are conventionaL" Given this, the Sautrantika
opponent here asks
Would the Buddha also have awareness of appearances or would he
not? If not, it follows that the Buddha is a non-entity or is matter. If
Buddha has awareness of appearances, is that conventional or ultimate? If ultimate, [your] thesis stating that awareness is conventional
deteriorates. If conventional, it follows that [the Buddha] is sal'(tsiira
due to having conventional, thoroughly afflicted proliferations. If you
accept that, what is the point of the bodhisattva practices?54

Rather than charging Madhyamaka with a suffering Buddha through the confiation of natural nirvii1}a and the attainment of
nirvii1}a - in this interpretation the objector is concerned about
what a Buddha can perceive. The equations that the Tibetan translation allows between nirvii1}a and the ultimate, on one hand, and
53 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 495.3,5 (295b5):
Mad pa de ha cali legs pa ma yin no II 'di la 'grel chen byed pas 'di ltar
'chad de I
54 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 495.3,5-495.4,2
(295b5-296a2): spyir mdo sde pa rali gi grub mtha' mya lian las 'das pa'i
dmigs pa ni don dam pa yin la I kun nas non mons pa'i dmigs pa ni kun
rdzob ces bsams nas rgol ba ni I gal te don dam mya nan 'das II 'khor ba
kun rdzob de Ita na II sans rgyas kyan ni 'khor 'gyur bas II byali chub
spyod pas ci zig bya II zes smos te I gal te don dam pa ni mya lian las 'das
pa yin na 'khor ba ni kun rdzob kyi spros pa yin na sans rgyas la'ali snan
bcas kyi blo yod dam med I med na salis rgyas dlios med dam bems por
thalIa I yod na de kun rdzob yin nam don dam yin I don dam yin na blo
ni kun rdzob yin par brjod kyi dam bca' nams la I kun rdzob yin na kun
rdzob kun nas non molis spros pa yod pas 'khor bar thallo I de 'dod na
byali chub spyod pas ci Zig bya zes rgol ba na I

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305

sa1!lsiira and the conventional, on the other, leaves the Buddha perceiving only an ultimate emptiness, without the ability to perceive
conventional appearances. If a Buddha perceives conventional appearances, the objector reasons, that Buddha must have "conventional, thoroughly afflicted proliferations," which the bodhisattva
path was to have removed.
bSod nams rtse mo's interpretation of the issue is not unique to
him but is first found in rGya dmar pa's commentary. rGya dmar pa
further reads the objector to equate "mistake" (,khrul pa, bhriinta)
and awareness (bla, buddhi); a Buddha's perception of appearances
would entail a mistaken Buddha. 55 rGya dmar pa and bSod nams
rtse mo thus see a debate on just what connection a Buddha has
with the conventional world. Specifically, if nirviilJa is the ultimate,
do those who reach nirviilJa perceive the conventional, which has
(in this interpretation) been declared to be sa1!lsiira? And if they
do, do these perceptions entail on the part of Buddhas ignorance,
the root of sa1!lsiira?
rGya dmar pa notes that Madhyamikas have two possible answers to this objection, which divides them into two camps: "those
who assert that wisdom has its continuum cut" and "those [who
assert] that wisdom does not have its continuum cut." rGya dmar
pa clearly reads Santideva's answer ("upon the causes having their
continuum cut, it does not arise even conventionally") in a new
way: here, the issue is whether awareness continues through the
transformation to buddhahood or, alternatively, whether it is a
Buddha's wisdom that "does not arise." On the first group's answer,
rGya dmar pa tells us
Some Madhyamikas assert that since all awareness is mistaken, when
mistake is extinguished awareness itself does not exist and thus wisdom has its continuum cut; "even conventionally" wisdom does not
exist. These assertions are not reasonable. . .. Even though mistake is
extinguished, wisdom is not stopped .... Since [Buddhas] see (gzigs
pa) illusory dependent arising as just illusion without the capacity to
apprehend it as true, they are not mistaken. 56

55
56

rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 133,3-4 (63a3-4).
rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar bsad pa, 134,6-135,1 (63b6-64a1):

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Accepting a strong correlation between nirvii1Ja and perceiving the


ultimate, emptiness, the first camp holds that the transformation to
a Buddha eradicates all awareness, which is necessarily mistaken.
Without awareneSs - the instrument that perceives conventional
appearances - wisdom (which is here understood to be a type of
awareness) cannot arise. With mistaken awareness extinguished,
Buddhas are left in emptiness.
This notion is unacceptable to rGya dmar pa, a partisan of
the second camp, who instead holds that mistake and awareness
are separable. Rather than read Santideva's answer as entailing a
wisdom-less Buddha, rGya dmar pa nuances his response, writing
"When, at buddhahood, 'the causes' that are collected in sa1'(tsiira
'have their continuum cut,' that [awareness] collected in sa1'(tsiira
'even conventionally does not arise."'57 Whereas the first group
understands Santideva to claim that "even conventionally, wisdom
does not arise" due to all awareness being extirpated along with
ignorance, this interpretation limits the negation to those states
of mind "collected in sa1'(tsiira." While "mistake" characterizes
awareness in sa1'(tsiira, it is not a necessary quality of awareness.
Wisdom is a Buddha's awareness, stripped of mistake by way of
a Buddha's overcoming the conception that ordinary appearances
are true. rGya dmar pa notes a further significant difficulty in the
first interpretation: "If wisdom did not exist, the Buddha would not
exist; thus, the Buddha's teachings themselves would not exist and
the sangha who realize them would not exist."58

'on kyan blo thams cad 'khrul pa yin pas 'khrul pa zad pa'i tshe blo iiid
med pas ye ses rgyun chad do ies kun rdzob du yan ye ses med do ies dbu'
ma pa kha cig 'dod pa ni mi rigs ste / ... 'khrul pa zad kyan ye ses de mi
ldog go / ... rten 'brei sgyu' ma la bden par 'dzin pa mi mna' bar sgyu' ma
iiid du gzigs pas ma 'khrul ies bya'o /
57 rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 133,7-8 (63a7-8): sans
rgyas pa'i tshe' 'khor bas bsdus pa'i rkyen rnams rgyun ni chad pas na /
'khor bas bsdus pa kun rdzob du yan mi 'byun no /
58 rGya dmar pa, Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 134,3 (63b3): ye ses myed
na sans rgyas iiid med pas / de'i bstan pa ilid med cin de la bsgrub pa'i
dge 'dun med pas /

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307

rGya dmar pa's portrayal of these two Madhyamika explanations


appears in similar form in bSod nams rtse mo's explication. Having
already declared that the "natural nirviilJa v. attained nirviilJa" interpretation of rNog misses the point and reoriented the problem
around the issue of what a Buddha perceives, bSod nams rtse mo
gives two possible answers to this problem, which he further identifies as the PrasaIigika and Svatantrika positions. He begins with
the PrasaIigika answer, which reads Santideva's "causes" as "the
causes of awareness of appearances:"
'Upon the causes having their continuum cut:' The diamond-like
meditative equipoise cuts the continuum of all signs and conceptuality, thereby cutting the continuum of afflictions. Cutting that [further]
cuts the continuum of actions. Cutting the continuum of that [further]
cuts the continuum of awareness of appearances, whereby sarrzsiira,
'even conventionally, does not arise.'59

This equation of samsiira and perceiving conventionalities works


well with the Tibet~n translation of Santideva's stanza. However,
bSod nams rtse mo cannot accept this equation, as it either leaves
Buddhas in the dark or, as the objector has claimed, leaves all manner of realized beings in saY[tsiira.
Instead, bSod nams rtse mo states "We do not assert that all conventionalities are saY[tsiira, nor do we assert that all nirviilJas are
ultimate; we posit [them] as ultimate or conventional through bearing or not bearing analysis."60 He endorses the Svatantrika reading of Santideva's answer, that "'Upon causes,' that is, actions and
afflictions, 'having their continua cut, even conventionally' that is,

59 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 495.4,4-495.4,5
(296a4-296a5): rkyen rnams rgyun ni chad pa na* ste rdo rje ita bu'i tin
ne 'dzin gyis mtshan ma dan rnam par rtog pa thams cad rgyun bead pas
non mons pa rgyun bead / de bead pas las rgyun bead / de rgyun bead
pas snan bcas kyi blo rgyun bead pas 'khor ba kun rdzob tu'an no i.es bya
ba'o / * The text incorrectly reads ma chad pa for chad pa na.
60 bSod nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 496.1,1 (296b1):
kho bo cag kun rdzob thams cad 'khor bar khas mi len / mya nan 'das pa
thams cad don dam du khas mi len te / dpyad bzod mi bzod kyis don dam
kun rdzob tu 'jog go /

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even to Buddhas' conventional wisdom, [illusion] 'does not arise'


as saY(lsara."61 Appearances themselves are not cut off by the transformation to buddhahood, afflictions are. As with rGya dmar pa,
appearances have a somewhat neutral status: illusory appearances
can "arise as saY(lsara" to the afflicted or they can be perceived by a
Buddha's conventional wisdom without these appearances serving
as a cause of suffering. As for rGya dmar pa, afflictions and awareness are separable. There is a point to the practices of enlightenment, after all.
Before considering what we can glean from these divisions of
Madhyamaka, we must ask a more basic question: was this alternate
interpretation of Santideva's objection and answer simply a misunderstanding of the original passage? The issue of a Buddha's ability
to perceive ordinary appearances would be nearly impossible to
derive from the Sanskrit versions that we have of Santideva's text.
Prajfiakaramati's lengthy commentary takes a straightforward approach to this passage, explaining the distinction between saY(lsara
and nirvalJa with recourse to the twelve links of dependent arising.
While my investigation of Indian commentaries is far from complete, we can note that Vibhuticandra's interpretation of this passage suggests a concern with the relation between "mistake" and
"appearances," and whether a Buddha's ability to perceive the latter
entails possession of the former. He writes, "Ultimately, saY(lsara
just does not exist; the appearances of saY(lsara due to mistake
[lasts] for as long as ignorance exists. Having dispelled ignorance
through the arya path, those [appearances of saY(lsara] also do not
exist."62 Vibhuticandra's reading echoes the Prasailgika interpreta61 bSad nams rtse mo, sPyod pa la 'jug pa'i 'grel pa, 496.1,2-3 (296b23): rkyen las dan non mons pa rgyun chad na kun rdzob tu'an ste sans
rgyas la ye ses kun rdzob yod kyan 'khor bar mi 'byun ies bya ba dbu ma
ran rgyud pa rnams Mad pa byed do / In reading "even conventionally"
as "even to Buddhas' conventional wisdom," bSod nams rtse mo must
read Santideva as assuming that Buddhas' meditative absorption (mnam
biag ye ses) contains no appearances at all; the point here, as bSod nams
rtse mo sees it, is that appearances, while occurring in Buddhas' conventional wisdom, are not the affiicted appearances of sal!lsara.
62 Bodhicaryavataratatparyapanjika Vise,yadyotanf, 260b7-261al: don

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tion that bSod nams rtse mo sketched and rejected. Vibhuticandra's


commentary, however, was composed later than all of the Tibetan
commentaries discussed herein and so could not serve as bSod
nams rtse mo's referent. 63 Vibhuticandra may be repeating an interpretation from an earlier Indian commentary on Santideva's text
(which would likely require an alternate version of the Sanskrit that
would allow for this interpretation), suggesting that Tibetan commentators may have had some Indian precedent for reading this
passage as concerning a Buddha's perceptive abilities. At the very
least, we cannot dismiss this Tibetan interpretation on the grounds
of poor philology.
Returning to the issue of Madhyamaka classifications drawn
from this passage, it is clear that rGya dmar pa and bSod nams
rtse mo refer to the same debate, portraying the two Madhyamaka
positions in very similar terms and themselves taking the same side
in the dispute. What are we to make of bSod nams rtse mo's addition of labeling the two positions "Prasangika" and "Svatantrika?"
In the generation between rGya dmar pa and bSod nams rtse mo,
Candraklrti's philosophy began to attract a strong following. Among
the issues that Phya pa, who was bSod nams rtse mo's teacher of the
Bodhicaryiivatiira, found the most distressing about this development were the "Prasangika" (although he did not use the term) portrayals of the ultimate and of buddhahood. We see Jayananda, the
twelfth-century commentator on the Madhyamakiivatiira, interpret
CandrakIrti's claims that the ultimate "is ineffable and just not a
dam par 'khor ba med pa fiid 'khrul pas 'khor ba'i man ba ni gti mug yod
pa ji srid du'o II 'phags pa'i lam gyis gti mug spans nas de 'an med par
'gyur ro /
63 In his colophon (Bodhicaryiivatiiratiitparyapafijikii, 28Sa7), VibhUticandra states that he translated his text into Tibetan himself at 'BriIi
mtshams, making it highly unlikely that it would have been known to
bSod nams rtse mo, as Vibhuticandra made the first of his three trips to
Tibet in 1204, in the company of SiikyasrThhadra, twenty-two years after
bSod nams rtse mo died. On Vibhuticandra's travels, see Stearns, "The
Life and Tibetan Legacy," 127-146. It remains possible that VibhUticandra
wrote his commentary in Tibet and in this passage offered something of
a response to bSod nams rtse mo.

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referent of consciousness" and that Buddhas have no mind very literally.64 Since the ultimate is beyond awareness, Jayananda tells us,
realization of the ultimate must entail the cessation of awareness
and with it the ability to perceive appearances. 65 Phya pa argued
at length against these positions, for reasons quite like bSod nams
rtse mo's: Buddhas must have wisdom, wisdom is a type of awareness, and so awareness must continue in a purified form through
the transformation to buddhahood; to hold otherwise, Phya pa says,
one's position would resemble the nihilism of the Carvakas. 66 Phya
pa, in turn, was criticized for his "reified ultimate," an ultimate that
bears analysis and is accessible to awareness (although, as noted

64 La Vallee Poussin, Madhyamakiivatiira, 108,9-11: sans rgyas rnams


la ni chos thams cad rnam pa thams cad du mnon par rdzogs par byan
chub pa'i phyir I sems dan sems las byun ba'i rgyu ba gtan log par 'dod
pa yin no I "We assert that for Buddhas, due to being manifestly and
completely enlightened to all phenomena in all aspects, the movement of
mind and mental factors has entirely ceased." Candraklrti makes similar
statements in his discussion of buddhahood, particularly in his autocommentary to stanzas XII.8-9.
65 Jayananda, Madhyamakiivatiiratfkii, 146a7-146b1: ci yan thugs su
chud pa med pa'i sgo nas byan chub pa'i phyir sems dan sems las byun
ba'i rgyu ba gtan log par 'dod pa yin te Iiams su myon ba'i mtshan liid
can gyi sems dan tshor ba la sogs pa sems las byun ba rnams kyi kun
du spyod pa ste 'jug pa log par 'dod pa yin te I sems dan sems las byun
ba rnams Jug pa ma yin no ies pa'o II des na ci yan snan ba med pa yin
no ies pa'i tha tshig ste I rnam par rtog pa thams cad 'gag pa'i phyir
ro I "Since enlightenment is by way of not knowing at all, we assert that
the activities of mind and mental factors - feeling and so forth - having the character of experiencing, have ceased their engagement; there
is no engagement of mind and mental factors. Therefore, there is no appearance at all, because all conceptuality has been blocked." Jayananda's
views on ultimate truth and buddhahood are discussed in detail in Vose,
Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 88-92 and 112-122.
66 Phya pa chos kyi sen ge, dBu ma sar gsum, 72,16-76,5. This passage
is translated in Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 159-164 and analyzed at
122-131.

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311

above, Phya pa holds the ultimate to be "utterly not established"), a


position that Jayananda rejects as "Svatantrika."67
bSod nams rtse mo remains the earliest known author to pair the
terms "Prasangika" and "Svatantrika," here using them to distinguish alternative visions of ultimate truth and buddhahood. His usage - and the absence of these terms in rGya dmar pa's discussionholds two significant consequences for our understanding of how
Tibetans read Santideva. Prior to the widespread dissemination of
Candraklrti's texts in the early twelfth century, Santideva was not
a Prasangika. While rGya dmar pa refers to variant interpretations
of Santideva (without calling these interpretations "Prasangika" or
"Svatantrika"), he reads Santideva's views as consistent with those
of Srlgupta and Jiianagarbha; and he seems to have had Indian
precedent for doing SO.68 Further, even as Candraklrti's fame grew,
Prasangika became only one option for reading Santideva; as
bSod nams rtse mo's work evinces, Santideva could be read as a
Svatantrika. Santideva became a Prasangika only after generations
of Tibetan debate.
We can recall that gTsan nag pa, writing in the same generation
as bSod nams rtse mo, invoked Candraklrti's transcendent ultimate to explain Santideva's presentation; his "Great Madhyamaka"
unites Candraklrti and Santideva around a transcendent reading of
ultimate truth. Intriguingly, gTsan nag pa says nothing about the
Prasangika-Svatantrika divide over a Buddha's ability to perceive
appearances. Rather, his explanation of this passage in Santideva
returns to a portrayal similar to Prajiiakaramati's: at issue is a misunderstanding on the part of the objector between natural nirviilJa
and the attainment of nirviilJa. He has the objector ask,

67 Jayananda, Madhyamakilvatiiratfkii, 120a.


68 rGya dmar pa reads Santideva's portrayal of the two truths as consistent with that of Jiianagarbha (Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 127 [60aJ) and
refers to SrIgupta to explain a Buddha's perception of ordinary appearances (Tshig don gsal bar Mad pa, 135 [64aJ). Saito notes the YogacaraMadhyamaka interpretation of the Bodhicaryiivatiira in two early Indian
commentaries ("Santideva in the History of Madhyamika," 259).

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If it is suitable that even natural nirviilJa is sa,!!siira conventionally,


it is not contradictory that the attainment of buddhahood through
making effort on the path also is sa'!!siira conventionally; thus, what
would be the point of attaining a buddhahood that does not cast off the
sufferings of sa'!!siira?69

gTsaJi nag pa quickly answers that Santideva's discussion teaches


that upon the attainment of buddhahood, the causes of sarrtsiira
are cut off.7 This brief answer and the failure to discuss the issue of a Buddha's perception - following three generations (if we
include Phya pa) of commentaries that discuss the issue - suggests
that gTsaJi nag pa's portrayal of a transcendent ultimate does not
provide him with a good answer to rGya dmar pa's and bSod nams
rtse mo's criticisms. An ultimate beyond the ken of the intellect,
realization of which entails the cessation of awareness, provides no
nuanced way of presenting how a Buddha's "conventional wisdom"
arises. Rather than answering bSod nams rtse mo's critique of the
PrasaJigika "blind Buddha," gTsaJi nag pa changes the subject. One
senses that the early Tibetan tradition following Candrak'irti had to
set aside the thorny issue of where an utterly transcendent ultimate
left a Buddha's perception of ordinary appearances.
The early evolution of Madhyamaka categories
We have seen how Santideva's statements on ultimate truth and
the distinction between sarrtsiira and nirviilJa gave rise to competing interpretations, which in turn served as criteria for classifying Madhyamikas. Santideva's ultimate could be "like an illusion"
or "utterly non-abiding;" his buddhahood could be PrasaJigika or
Svatantrika. One further discussion suggests how we might trace
an evolution among these twelfth-century Madhyamaka categories. Rather than a division between "illusionists" and "utterly
non-abiding-ists," Grags pa rgyal mtshan, bSod nams rtse mo's
69 gTsan nag pa, sPyod jug gi rnam Mad, 562,7-8 (38b7-8): ran biin
gyis mya nan las 'das !ryan kun rdzob du 'khor bar run na lam la 'bad pas
sans rgyas thob !ryan kun rdzob du 'khor ba mi 'gal bas 'khor ba'i sdug
bsnal mi 'dar ba'i sans rgyas 'thob pas ci bya ies pa la I
70 gTsan nag pa, sPyod jug gi rnam Mad, 562,8 (38b8).

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313

younger brother, writes of a division within the "utterly non-abiding" Madhyamaka position between "Continuum Cutting Utterly
Non-Abiding [Madhyamikas]" and "Union Utterly Non-Abiding
[Madhyamikas]."71 In his discussion of these two groups, instead
of these unwieldy names Grags pa rgyal mtshan calls the former
"PrasaiLgika" and the latter "Svatantrika." His explanation of the
two categories maps very closely onto the divisions we have seen
rGya dmar pa and bSod nams rtse mo make: Prasangikas hold
that "Since Buddhas are always in meditative absorption, they
only [have] ultimate [awareness];"72 ordinary awareness perceiving appearances has had its continuum cut. The Svatantrika position, which Grags pa rgyal mtshan endorses, instead holds that
"Buddhas' non-conceptual minds are ultimate; as [their] pure
worldly wisdom is supported by [non-conceptual] wisdom, it accords with the conventional."73 Grags pa rgyal mtshan's notion of
71 Grags pa rgyal mtshan, Rin po che'i !jon sin, 21.4,1 (42b1): rgyun
chad rab tu mi gnas pa'i 'dod tshul dan / zun 'jug rab tu mi gnas pa'i 'dod
tshul.
72 Grags pa rgyal mtshan, Rin po che'i !jon shin, 21.4,5-6 (42b5-6):
dbu ma thaI 'gyur pa dag ni ... sans rgyas ni dus rtag tu mfiam par gtag
pa yin pas don dam pa 'ba' zig go tes zer ro / This passage is set within
a discussion of what kinds of awareness ordinary and enlightened beings
possess (21.3,6-21.4,1 [42a6-42b1]: blo thams cad bsdu na blo kun rdzob
pa dan / blo don dam pa tes bya ba gfiis yin pas na / blo gfiis po de gan
zag gan gi rgyud la ldan ze na / "When encompassing all awareness, there
are two: conventional awareness and ultimate awareness. Thus, one might
ask, 'Which persons have these two awarenesses in their continua?"').
Grags pa rgyal mtshan goes on to list four positions (the "Hearer" position, the Yogiiciira position, the PriisaIigika position, and the Sviitantrika
position), detailing where each school stands on the mental states of "ordinary beings" (so so skye bo), iiryas, and Buddhas.
73 Grags pa rgyal mtshan, Rin po che'i !jon sin, 22.1,1-3 (43a1-3): dbu
ma ran rgyud pa dag ... sans rgyas kyi thugs rnam par mi rtog pa ni
don dam pa yin la / dag pa 'jig rten pa'i ye ses ni ye ses la dmigs nas
rnam grans kyi kun rdzob yin no / For a more substantial discussion of
this passage that discusses Grags pa rgyal mtshan's views on "concordant
ultimates" and "concordant conventionals," see Vose, Resurrecting Candrakfrti, 104-107.

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"pure worldly wisdom" mirrors his brother's "conventional wisdom;" both show how Buddhas can continue to perceive conventional appearances along with their realization of emptiness. Grags
pa rgyal mtshan further notes that both kinds of wisdom are necessary to explain non-abiding nirviilJa (aprati~rhitanirviilJa, mi gnas
pa'i mya nan las 'das pa), in which Buddhas are both fully realized
and fully able to aid sentient beings. 74
Grags pa rgyal mtshan's discussion suggests that, at least in one
reckoning, Prasailgika and Svatantrika evolved out of the "utterly
non-abiding position" and that neither could be mapped onto the
"illusionist" position, which was widely rejected in bKa' gdams pa
circles. Having cast aside the "illusionist" view, early bKa' gdams
pa authors (and their Sa skya pa students) found significant enough
philosophical differences to split further the Madhyamaka view.
Despite a mutual adherence to the "non-abiding" of all phenomena,
disputes over buddhahood produced, at least in part, the PrasailgikaSvatantrika divide.75 The only outlier category is gTsail nag pa's
"Great Madhyamaka," interestingly posited by the one Candraklrti
supporter in this group of commentators. Above, we saw that gTsail
nag pa's "Great Madhyamaka" refers to Candraklrti's revivalists,
whom others in this time period would call "Prasailgikas." The
similarities between gTsail nag pa's views and those of Jayananda,
as well as the positions that bSod nams rtse mo and Grags pa rgyal
mtshan criticize (and label "Prasailgika"), strengthens this identi-

74 After stating the Prasailgika position, Grags pa rgyal mtshan notes,


"That is not correct; it incurs the fault that it would absurdly follow that
Buddhas would not enter non-abiding nirva;(ta" (Rin po che'i ljon sin,
21.4,6 [42b6]: de'an yan dag pa ma yin te / sans rgyas rnams ni mi gnas
pa'i mya nan las 'das pa labiugs pa ma yin par thai 'gyur ba'i skyon
yod do I). Following his statement of the Svatantrika position, he notes,
"Thus, there is non-abiding nirvii(ta" (Rin po che'i ljon sin, 22.1,3-4
[43a3-4]: des na mi gnas pa'i mya nan las 'das pa'an yin la I).
75 This, of course, discounts those like rNog and Gro lUIi pa who rejected the "non-abiding" position out of hand. However, as noted above,
both understood the "non-abiding" view quite differently from how it is
portrayed by rGya dmar pa and Phya pa.

Making andremaking the ultimate

315

fication. Why then doesn't gTsaIi nag pa take up the "PrasaIigika"


moniker?
To sketch a tentative answer, we can note that bSod nams rtse
mo's discussion of PrasaIigika and Svatantrika, when explicating
Santideva's distinction between saJ?'lsara and nirva1'}a, skews the
playing field against the former, equating it with the clearly problematic stance that awarenesS is cut off upon buddhahood. Rather
than take up the "PrasaIigika" side of the debate on this issue and thereby attempt to defend a blind Buddha - gTsali nag pa ignored the dispute altogether. At least on this issue, the Svatantrika
position had a clear advantage over Prasaligika in twelfth century
Tibet?6 In contrast, "Great Madhyamaka" would represent gTsali
nag pa's attempt to divide up Madhyamaka with Candraklrti on
top. Rather than make a case for CandrakIrti's superiority on the
issue of a Buddha's perception, gTsali nag pa uses CandrakIrti's
portrayal of a transcendent ultimate, utterly distinct from mundane
objects of knowledge, to valorize the "Great Madhyamaka" view.
In the context of early Tibetan Bodhicaryavatara commentaries,
these evolving Madhyamaka categories attempt to give the author's
system top billing and to claim Santideva as their own. gTsali nag
pa aligns Santideva's ultimate with CandrakIrti's, adopting him
into Great Madhyamaka. The host of Svatantrika-Ieaning commentators instead nuanced Santideva's stanzas on ultimate truth
and the saJ?'lsara-nirva1'}a distinction in order to forge a more coherent model of ultimate truth and those transformed by realization
of it. rGya dmar pa and bSod nams rtse mo would have us believe
that Santideva's "true thought" aligns with what would come to be
called "Svatantrika."
Santideva, then, was called many things by early Tibetan commentators. Fidelity to Santideva is difficult to judge given the poetic
nature of his work. It may well be easier to square Santideva's statement that "the ultimate is not a referent of awareness" with a tran-

76 This is not to say that no Candraldrti partisans adopted the label


"Priisaligika" in this period. Georges Dreyfus and Drongbu Tsering's article in this present volume shows that Pa tshab Ni ma grags indeed used
the term "PriisaIigika" for his CandrakIrti-inspired Madhyamaka.

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scendent reading, consistent with how Candraklrti's twelfth century revivalists portrayed his views. However, reading Santideva
as advancing views similar to those of Srlgupta, Jfianagarbha,
Santarak~ita, or KamalaSIla held historical credibility and remained a viable option for early Tibetan commentators. We see
in these commentaries a variety of ways to reconcile Santideva's
seemingly transcendent ultimate with his broader project of mapping the practices of enlightenment. Harmonizing the ultimate
with the path leading to its realization is an issue at the very core of
Mahayana Buddhism; harmonizing realization of the ultimate with
the kind of epistemological program that gSari. phu Ne'u thog was
known for would remain a defining feature of Tibetan Buddhist
scholasticism. Early Tibetan Bodhicaryiivatiira commentaries provide a glimpse of how these processes played out in the making and
remaking of one of the preeminent figures of Buddhist India.

References
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- sPyod jug bsdus don. In bKa' gdams gsun 'bum, volume 7, 131-145.
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