the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

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Leo Rivers
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the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Leo Rivers »

I think with a discussion of the Heart Sutra it would help refresh me and maybe some others too to rehearse the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka as to view, practice, key terms and the 2 truths... and as Buddhist Movements as well. I believe that Nagarjuna's use of reductum critique is not all there is to the Madhyamaka either.

I think I have the general idea but I would be on thin ice explaining it to anyone else. :roll:
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Aemilius »

That is a gnawed bone. (Is that the right idiom?)
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by ThreeVows »

Leo Rivers wrote: Sun Jan 15, 2023 9:25 pm I think with a discussion of the Heart Sutra it would help refresh me and maybe some others too to rehearse the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka as to view, practice, key terms and the 2 truths... and as Buddhist Movements as well. I believe that Nagarjuna's use of reductum critique is not all there is to the Madhyamaka either.

I think I have the general idea but I would be on thin ice explaining it to anyone else. :roll:
I think, personally, that basically put, Prajnaparamita has two aspects. There is the profound aspect that relates to the emptiness of all phenomena, or dharmata, or emptiness, and then there is the vast aspect that relates to the fullness of 'form', ranging from the appearances of sentient beings up through the highest bhumis.

Generally speaking, Nagarjuna for the most part focuses on the profound aspect which relates to emptiness, the singular nature of dharmata of all dharmas, etc, and Asanga/Maitreya primarily focus on the vast aspect, although these are not hard and fast rules.

Madhyamaka in general, then, in terms of dialectics tends to clearly establish that the nature of all phenomena is dharmata, or that all phenomena without exception are empty of self-nature. This for the most part primarily relates to the profound aspect of Prajnaparamita. But I think you could say that both Nagarjuna and Asanga are the main historical commentators on the intention of the Prajnaparamita Sutras.

Anyway, others may think otherwise. Just some thoughts. :anjali:
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Malcolm »

ThreeVows wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 5:31 pm
Generally speaking, Nagarjuna for the most part focuses on the profound aspect which relates to emptiness, the singular nature of dharmata of all dharmas, etc, and Asanga/Maitreya primarily focus on the vast aspect, although these are not hard and fast rules.
Nāgārjuna focuses in Prajñāpāramitā as the basis; Maitreyanatha focuses on Prajñāpāramitā as the path and result.
Vases, canvas, bucklers, armies, forests, garlands, trees
houses, chariots, hostelries, and all such things
that common people designate dependent on their parts,
accept as such. For Buddha did not quarrel with the world!

—— Candrakīrti. MAV 6:166
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by ThreeVows »

Malcolm wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 9:36 pm
ThreeVows wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 5:31 pm
Generally speaking, Nagarjuna for the most part focuses on the profound aspect which relates to emptiness, the singular nature of dharmata of all dharmas, etc, and Asanga/Maitreya primarily focus on the vast aspect, although these are not hard and fast rules.
Nāgārjuna focuses in Prajñāpāramitā as the basis; Maitreyanatha focuses on Prajñāpāramitā as the path and result.
That's interesting, can you say any more about that?
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Malcolm »

ThreeVows wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 9:59 pm
Malcolm wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 9:36 pm
ThreeVows wrote: Wed Jan 18, 2023 5:31 pm
Generally speaking, Nagarjuna for the most part focuses on the profound aspect which relates to emptiness, the singular nature of dharmata of all dharmas, etc, and Asanga/Maitreya primarily focus on the vast aspect, although these are not hard and fast rules.
Nāgārjuna focuses in Prajñāpāramitā as the basis; Maitreyanatha focuses on Prajñāpāramitā as the path and result.
That's interesting, can you say any more about that?
Nāgārjuna focuses on suchness, which is the basis, and eliminating reification concerning it through properly understanding dependent origination. Maitreyanātha is mainly concerned with the structure of the path concealed in the PP sutras.
Vases, canvas, bucklers, armies, forests, garlands, trees
houses, chariots, hostelries, and all such things
that common people designate dependent on their parts,
accept as such. For Buddha did not quarrel with the world!

—— Candrakīrti. MAV 6:166
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by akuppa »

I haven't read too deeply, but as I gather Matthew Orsborn reads the negative language of the prajñāpāramita sūtras as pointing to a meditative state devoid of cognitive objects (nonapprehension) perhaps not unlike one of the formless jhānas. This is in contrast with madhyamaka philosophy which is concerned with ontological categories such as existence, rather than the epistemic.

Perhaps there is some reason to accept this, but from what I know there is discussion of svabhāva in the prajñāpāramita literature.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by PeterC »

akuppa wrote: Sun Jan 22, 2023 6:36 pm perhaps not unlike one of the formless jhānas
That would be a very strange conclusion to reach
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by akuppa »

PeterC wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 1:42 am
akuppa wrote: Sun Jan 22, 2023 6:36 pm perhaps not unlike one of the formless jhānas
That would be a very strange conclusion to reach
My interpretation. Perhaps I'm wrong, but that's what it reminds me of. Besides, when talking about ultimate wisdom, can the ontological and epistemological be separated?

Im attaching a relevant page from one of his essays.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Malcolm »

akuppa wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 2:00 pm
PeterC wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 1:42 am
akuppa wrote: Sun Jan 22, 2023 6:36 pm perhaps not unlike one of the formless jhānas
That would be a very strange conclusion to reach
My interpretation. Perhaps I'm wrong
Quite unlike the formless dhyānas, which have objects, i.e. the concepts which form their substance.
Vases, canvas, bucklers, armies, forests, garlands, trees
houses, chariots, hostelries, and all such things
that common people designate dependent on their parts,
accept as such. For Buddha did not quarrel with the world!

—— Candrakīrti. MAV 6:166
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by ThreeVows »

akuppa wrote: Sun Jan 22, 2023 6:36 pm I haven't read too deeply, but as I gather Matthew Orsborn reads the negative language of the prajñāpāramita sūtras as pointing to a meditative state devoid of cognitive objects (nonapprehension) perhaps not unlike one of the formless jhānas. This is in contrast with madhyamaka philosophy which is concerned with ontological categories such as existence, rather than the epistemic.

Perhaps there is some reason to accept this, but from what I know there is discussion of svabhāva in the prajñāpāramita literature.
FWIW, which may be nothing at all, I think it is reasonable to consider that the actual heart intent of all of the teachings of a Buddha are of one taste. However, there may be levels of understanding the teachings, and basically certain teachings may be taught in such a way that they can be understood at a sort of partial level or at a complete level.

When it comes to a partial understanding of the Prajnaparamita Sutras, I think it is not necessarily entirely unreasonable to say that they can be understood in a sort of space-like manner.

Longchenpa says, for instance,
Now as a means to escaping the fetters of clinging to these remedies, the middle turning of the Dharma wheel expounds space-like emptiness and the eight similes that illustrate the illusory nature of all things. These teachings were given for the sake of beings of moderate capacity and for those who have trained in the earlier teachings.
This is contrasted with the Third Turning, where he says,
The final turning of the Dharma wheel was intended for those who have perfected the previous teachings and for those of great capacity: it expounds the nature of phenomena just as it is. The buddha essence [as taught in the third turning] is not the same as the self of the non-Buddhists who, destitute of true knowledge, impute real existence to the self. This self of theirs has no existence at all. The non-Buddhists quantify it as great or small, and they do not affirm that it possesses the kāyas and wisdoms.
Again, for clarity, I think that you could basically say that one who completely understands the intent of the Prajnaparamita Sutras understands the intent of the third turning. But there can be, again, a sort of 'partial' or 'incomplete' or perhaps 'immature' understanding that is still useful at its level but is not the full realization of the intent.

Similarly, one could basically say that all of the turnings are found within a full understanding of the ye dharma hetu phrases on dependent origination.

As Khenpo Pema Vajra says,
It is because the approach of secret mantra also falls within the approach of the four truths that the ‘essence of dependent origination’ dhāraṇī, which sets out the meaning of the four truths, is universally praised as supreme and is found throughout all the sūtras, tantras and pith instructions.
In my opinion, one of high merit and fortune may discern the heart essence very quickly from just a short pointing out, whether via a short teaching, or even a gesture, or whatever. However, for those of us that cannot do that, there are the sequential clarifying teachings which step-by-step overcome coarse conceptualization.

Here, again, there is the 'level' of the 2nd turning in general which leads to a sort of space-like understanding of emptiness where there is a focus on understanding that the nature of all dharmas is dharmata and overcoming conceptualization. The third sort of 'adds' to this in some sense and affirms that realization, basically, is endowed with the kayas and wisdoms, and this serves as the basis for the Vajrayana in which Buddhahood is fully unveiled.

As Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche says,
In the first turning, the Buddha taught the sixteen divisions of the four truths of the noble beings. In the early part of his life, Buddha gave many teachings on karma and renunciation, taught the monastic rules of the Vinaya, and so on.

The teachings of the second turning of the wheel of dharma are related to emptiness, the shunyata nature of all phenomena, and specifically to the truth of how all things lack characteristics and attributes.

The third turning of the wheel of dharma is related to the teachings on sugatagarbha, the buddha nature. The sutra teachings are part of the teachings given from the perspective of the outer buddha nature.

These teachings don’t completely reveal the buddha nature, but they certainly indicate that all beings do have this nature. In the many sutras explaining the buddha nature, Buddha teaches the general qualities of the buddha nature in a more external way, but without the inner method of how to accomplish it or realize it for oneself.

Within the sutra teachings of the third turning, there is little in the way of methods or oral instructions given openly. There are no detailed, step-by-step methods or oral instructions (men ngak; man ngag) for practice given. There is no inner methodology taught that actually enables one to swiftly accomplish the buddha nature and realize it for oneself.

If we want to go into this subtle aspect of how to practice and accomplish buddha nature, then we come to the Secret Mantrayana or Vajrayana, the “Diamond Vehicle,” the teachings of the Buddhist tantras.

The sutra teachings of the third turning of the wheel of dharma are the basis for the Vajrayana, since the teachings on buddha nature are the basis on which the outer tantras are taught. The manner of practicing and accomplishing the buddha nature is explained in the Vajrayana teachings of the outer tantras that were transmitted by Buddha Shakyamuni in the later part of his life, as the fulfillment of the teachings of the third turning.

Within the tantric teachings, there are the more coarse methods of the outer tantras and the more subtle approach of the inner tantras. Starting from the outer tantras, we can proceed to the higher or inner tantras, as the practice becomes increasingly profound and subtle. If we want to go into the subtle aspects of how to really practice in order to realize buddha nature for ourselves, we need to rely on the Vajrayana teachings of Secret Mantra.
Anyway, FWIW. I don't know if this is clear or not. :anjali:
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by akuppa »

Malcolm wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 3:00 pm
akuppa wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 2:00 pm
PeterC wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 1:42 am

That would be a very strange conclusion to reach
My interpretation. Perhaps I'm wrong
Quite unlike the formless dhyānas, which have objects, i.e. the concepts which form their substance.
Alike in the sense of being temporary meditative perceptions rather than insight into the nature of things.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Zhen Li »

The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by akuppa »

Zhen Li wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:35 pm The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
In the article above he refers to it as a meditative state. But perhaps his other work is more nuanced.

Perhaps I don't understand what nonapprehension is and what distinguishes it from nonperception.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by akuppa »

ThreeVows wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 3:48 pm
Anyway, FWIW. I don't know if this is clear or not. :anjali:
Lots to think about. Mipham refers to the approximate ultimate which is understood to be mere non-existence. So perhaps you could read the second turning in that manner. But I think that would be different from this reading I.e ontological
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by ThreeVows »

akuppa wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 6:27 pm
ThreeVows wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 3:48 pm
Anyway, FWIW. I don't know if this is clear or not. :anjali:
Lots to think about. Mipham refers to the approximate ultimate which is understood to be mere non-existence. So perhaps you could read the second turning in that manner. But I think that would be different from this reading I.e ontological
Dilgo Khyentse says that the 2nd turning is sort of partly definitive, partly relative.

I think basically there is the conceptual orientation related to the didactical approach of the 2nd turning, which is relative. This would, I think, perhaps be the 'approximate ultimate'.

The true ultimate or whatever would be direct realization of sunyata, tathata, whatever terms you want to use. This is the ultimate aspect of the 2nd turning and the pure aspect of the third turning properly discerned.

Dilgo Khyentse says,
In the first Turning of the Wheel of Dharma, he taught relative truth; in the second, a blend of relative and absolute truth; and in the third, the ultimate, irrevocable truth.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Leo Rivers »

akuppa wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 6:23 pm
Zhen Li wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:35 pm The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
In the article above he refers to it as a meditative state. But perhaps his other work is more nuanced.

Perhaps I don't understand what nonapprehension is and what distinguishes it from nonperception.
I see a connection to the Signless Samadhi as described by Osborne.
One, in the emptiness samādhi they contemplate that each of the aggregates “is impermanent and subject to cessation” and “not solid or stable, but subject to change”, they then “become detached from desire”. This is actually more of a contemplation of impermanence than not self, which is the more common gloss for emptiness.

Two, in the signless samādhi they forsake the signs of the six sensory objects, form, sound, etc.. This is exactly the same as the earliest idea of “non-attention to all signs”,
as found in the exegetical sūtra­MĀ 211.25 This conforms to the position of SĀ 80 here, as it does not reify the signless into an object to which one can direct attention, unlike parallel text MN 43 Mahāvedalla. 26

Three, in the nothingness samādhi they forsake the signs of the three root defilements of desire, aversion and delusion. Again, the early explanation of the defilements as “somethings”, causes for existence in saṃsāra. Thus, up to this point in SĀ 80, the signless and nothingness basically match SN 41:7 and SĀ 567, which were the precursors to the exegeses in MN 43 and MĀ 211.
"Dependent Origination = Emptiness” —Nāgārjuna’s Innovation? An Examination of the Early and Mainstream Sectarian Textual Sources" Shì hùifēng
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by PeterC »

Zhen Li wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:35 pm The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
This is why we need to rely on commentaries. Otherwise we end up taking a few characters (以无所得故) and speculating into existence entire approaches to meditation for which we have minimal evidence. Jayarava would have us throw out centuries of writing because he has a different theory about the meaning of five characters, and the main proof of his theory is the absence of a verifiable Sanskrit original. That seems like a poor trade.
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Re: the difference between Prajñāparāmita and Madhyamaka

Post by Zhen Li »

akuppa wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 6:23 pm
Zhen Li wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:35 pm The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
In the article above he refers to it as a meditative state. But perhaps his other work is more nuanced.

Perhaps I don't understand what nonapprehension is and what distinguishes it from nonperception.
Oh thanks. It has been a while since I read it.

Well, that changes things. Honestly, the Prajñāpāramitā sūtras almost never mention meditation as a practice other than to repeat formulae of the Āgamas (e.g. dhyāna, samapatti, etc.) and to use the word samādhi. It is of course interesting to speculate about how they conceived of us attaining those samādhis and understandings of tathatā, but it is really more descriptive about the state on the other side of the practice. If anything, the method is to realise that you have already been on the bodhisattva path for multiple lives and not to be afraid when you hear about emptiness.

Non-apprehension or non-appropriation, anupalambha, is not attaching to designations of things (at least that's how Aṣṭa Ch. 1 put it). They do not approach conceptions or settle down in ideas of things as existing or not existing. Non-perception (asaṃjñā) would indeed be part of the arūpadhyānas, and that is not the non-appropriation of dharmas, but simply the non-seeing of dharmas.

If one is not seeing any dharmas in meditation, that is lovely, but if one cannot take that into one's life where one is actively liberating sentient beings, while seeing that there is no sentient being to be liberated in any Prajñāpāramitā, then one is not applying the Prajñāpāramitā. I think that early Mahāyānists cultivating according to the PP sūtras very likely did practice dhyāna and arūpadhyāna, but the terminology used to refer to those practices was known to them (and they use it in the PP elsewhere). So, I don't think that anupalambha is referring to these states because it is clearly something that is carried through into liberative practice for others.
PeterC wrote: Tue Jan 24, 2023 12:57 am
Zhen Li wrote: Mon Jan 23, 2023 5:35 pm The question is whether "non-apprehension" is a meditative state. This is what Jayarava has been claiming but I don't think that's supported by the texts. I also am not sure Orsborn suggests that.
This is why we need to rely on commentaries. Otherwise we end up taking a few characters (以无所得故) and speculating into existence entire approaches to meditation for which we have minimal evidence. Jayarava would have us throw out centuries of writing because he has a different theory about the meaning of five characters, and the main proof of his theory is the absence of a verifiable Sanskrit original. That seems like a poor trade.
Hm, the best I can think of is Haribhadra, and he is too far removed really to give us insight on the early Mahāyāna view of the idea. There is an argument to be made that translation itself is an act of commentary, so perhaps we can look at Lokakṣema's translation.
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