Buddhapālita

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Buddhapālita (470–550) was a commentator on the works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva. His works were mildly criticised by his contemporary Bhāviveka, and then he was vigorously defended by the later Candrakīrti, whose terms differentiating the two scholars led to the rise of the Prasaṅgika and Svatantrika schools of Madhyamaka. In this sense, Buddhapālita can be said to have been the founder of the Prasaṅgika Madhyamaka School.

Buddhapalita was a great master and exponent of the Prasangika system of Mahayana Buddhism. It is said that he was born in Hamsakrida, South India and from an early age took a deep interest in the teaching of the Buddha. He received novice and full ordination and entered Nalanda monastery where he studied under acharya Sangharaksita, himself a disciple of Nagamitra. Buddhapalita quickly mastered the teachings of arya Nagarjuna and later while resident at Dantapuri monastery in South India he composed many commentaries to the works of Nagarjuna and Aryadeva.

In the sixth Century CE Buddhapalita composed his famous commentary to Nagarjuna’s Fundamental Wisdom (Mulasastra) called Buddhapalitavrtti, a work of great clarity and insight. As a true Prasangika treatise it extensively employed consequences to elaborate Madhyamaka view. His younger contemporary Bhāviveka also composed a commentary to Nagarjuna’s work called Lamp of Wisdom (Prajñapradipa) in which he criticized Buddhapalita’s position.

It is the way that Bhāviveka criticizes Buddhapalita that belies Bhāviveka's belief in autonomous inference (svatantranumana; Wylie: rang rgyud rjes dpag). Bhāviveka asserted that stating consequences was insufficient. To generate a valid conception of emptiness, one must state autonomously established syllogisms. Candrakīrti (7th century CE) a great exponent of Madhyamaka and abbot of Nalanda, composed the treatise called Clear Words (Prasannpada) as a commentary to the Fundamental Wisdom based on Buddhapalita’s work. In his work Candrakīrti defends Buddhapalita’s position and refutes Bhāviveka’s assertion of autonomous syllogisms.

Since Bhāviveka was the first person to clearly distinguish the Svatantrika view from the Prasangika view he is regarded as the founder of the Svatantrika system. Similarly since Candrakīrti was the first person to clearly distinguish Prasañgika view from the Svatantrika he is regarded by Tibetan scholars as the founder or path breaker (Wylie: shing rta rsol 'byed) of the Prasangika system. But Tibetans recognize that Candrakīrti’s explanation arises within the commentarial lineage of Buddhapalita, and for that reason some assert Buddhapalita to be the founder of Prasangika. In general though Nagarjuna and Buddhapalita clearly taught the Prasangika view neither is regarded as the founder of the Prasangika system because historically they did not clearly set forth this view in contradistinction to the Svatantrika view.

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