Buddhist Studies Forum
James Apple, University of Calgary

Khu lo tsā ba’s Treatise on the Svātantrika/*Prāsaṅgika Distinction in Early 12th Century Tibet


The teachings of Madhyamaka (“middle way philosophy”) have been the basis of Tibetan Buddhist thought and practice since the eighth century. After the twelfth century, Tibetan scholars distinguished two branches of Madhyamaka: Autonomist (rang rgyud pa) and Consequentialist (thal ’gyur ba, *prāsaṅgika). What distinctions in Madhyamaka thought and practice did twelfth century Tibetan scholars make to differentiate these two branches? This presentation focuses upon a newly identified twelfth century Tibetan manuscript on Madhyamaka from the Collected Works of the Kadampas: Khu lo tsā ba’s Treatise on the Svātantrika/Prāsaṅgika Distinction. The first part of the presentation discusses the significance of the Collected Works of the Kadampas (bka’ gdams gsung ’bum) to the study of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist intellectual history. The Collected Works of the Kadampas are comprised of recently published sets of Tibetan manuscript facsimiles with authors ranging from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries. The second part of the presentation focuses on Khu lo tsā ba’s Treatise on the Svātantrika/Prāsaṅgika Distinction as a case in point for the collection’s importance. Khu lo tsā ba, also known as Khu ston mdo sde ’bar, was a contemporary of Jayānanda and Pa tshab nyi ma grags and instrumental for the revitalized reception of Madhyamaka in twelfth century Tibet. Khu lo tsā ba’s Treatise outlines a multifaceted understanding of Madhyamaka (“middle way philosophy”) as the work solely focuses upon the distinctions between Autonomist and Consequentialist Mādhyamikas. The presentation outlines the structure and content of the commentary and identifies six topics that the author emphasizes to distinguish Autonomist and Consequentialist branches of Madhyamaka. Based on an overview of these topics, the presentation concludes that the Autonomist/Consequentialist distinction of Madhyamaka was already well developed in 12th century Tibet and involved a differential of systems that encompassed much more than distinct styles of logical proof.

Cosponsored by the Asia Center, Fairbank Center, Reischauer Institute, Committee on the Study of Religion, Department of South Asian Studies, and Divinity School.