Chandrakīrti: Introduction to the Middle Way, Madhyamakāvatāra
The Text Itself
The text we are explaining here is the Introduction to the Middle Way, and to do so we will use its auto-commentary.
There are four main parts to the explanation:
1. The Meaning of the Title
2. The Translators’ Homage
3. The Main Part of the Text
4. The Conclusion
The Meaning of the Title
The Sanskrit title of the auto-commentary is Madhyamakavatarabhashya-nama. In Tibetan, it is dbu ma la ‘jug pa’i bshad pa zhes bya ba, or A Commentary to the Introduction to the Middle Way.
Madhyamaka (Middle Way) here refers to the treatises of the Middle Way. This is indicated in the text of the auto-commentary itself when it says:
In order to supplement the treatises of the Madhyamaka, I wish to compose an introduction to the Middle Way,
Generally speaking, Madhyamaka refers to the freedom from all extremes. As it is said in the Samadhiraja Sutra:
Existence and non-existence are extremes,
Purity and impurity are extremes as well,
Thus, having relinquished both extremes,
The wise do not dwell even in the middle.
The meaning expressed by the term Madhyamaka is, we could say, the sphere of reality (dharmadhatu), beyond all extremes. This can then be further divided into the Ground Madhyamaka, the unity of the two truths; the Path Madhyamaka, the unity of skilful means and wisdom; and the Fruition Madhyamaka, the unity of the two kayas.
The Ground Madhyamaka, the unity of the two truths, is beyond all extremes because it is beyond the extremes of eternalism and nihilism. The Path Madhyamaka, the unity of skilful means and wisdom, is beyond the extremes of exaggeration and denial. The Fruition Madhyamaka, the unity of the two kayas, is beyond the extremes of samsaric existence and the peace of nirvana.
In terms of the literature expressing Madhyamaka, there are Madhyamaka texts that are the actual words of the Buddha and Madhyamaka treatises. The first of these, the Madhyamika teachings of the Buddha, are found in the Prajñaparamita sutras of the ‘intermediate turning’ on the absence of characteristics. The Root Verses of the Middle Wayis primarily a commentary on the Prajñaparamita sutras, as is the Ornament of Realization (Abhisamayalankara)of Maitreya. The Introduction to the Middle Way, however, is usually said to be a commentary on the Sutra of the Ten Bhumis (Dasabhumikasutra), and not the Prajñaparamita sutras. Only its explanation of the twenty types of emptiness could be said to be a commentary on the Prajñaparamita, whilst its explanation of the three dharmas of ordinary beings [i]and the ten trainings of the noble ones [ii]are given according to the Sutra of the Ten Bhumis.
Regarding the treatises of the Madhyamaka, mention has already been made of Nagarjuna’s Root Verses of the Middle Wayand the rest of his Collection of Reasoning.
So, the text we are presently concerned with— Introduction to the Middle Way—belongs to the category of ‘expressing literature’ of the Madhyamaka, and, in particular, to the category of Madhyamaka treatises. The main body-like treatise is the Root Verses of the Middle Way, and this Introduction to the Middle Wayis a commentary on its meaning. So, the ‘Middle Way’ of the title mainly refers to the actual text of the Root Verses.
‘Introduction’ or ‘Entrance’ here signifies that this is a clarification of the Root Verses, particularly of its more difficult points. For example, the Introduction to the Way of a Bodhisattva (Bodhicaryavatara), clarifies the activity of a bodhisattva—the six paramitas, the four means of attracting disciples, the four immeasurables and so on. In the same way, the Introduction to the Middle Wayclarifies the points from the Root Verses of the Middle Waythat are in need of clarification.
So, what is the method of introduction? The various commentaries explain this slightly differently. Gorampa says there is ‘introduction’ to both the vast and profound. As for the profound means of introduction, the Root Verses of the Middle Wayemploys numerous types of reasoning in order to establish emptiness, much more extensively than the Introduction to the Middle Way. When explaining these various types of reasoning, the great scholars of the Svatantrika School use the principles of autonomous syllogism, whereas those of the Prasangika School, to which Chandrakirti belongs, use the principles of absurd consequence. Thus, in the Introduction to the Middle Way, the profound means of introduction is the explanation of the logical arguments from the Root Versesaccording to the principles of consequence.
As for the vast means of introduction, ‘vast’ here refers to the presentation of the paths and bhumis, which are only referred to indirectly in the Root Versesitself. In Arya Nagarjuna’s Precious Garland, there is brief mention of the three dharmas of ordinary beings and ten trainings of the noble ones, where it says:
Its root is bodhichitta,
That is stable like Sumeru, king of mountains,
Compassion that extends throughout space,
And wisdom that is non-dual. [iii]
Just as in the shravaka vehicle,
Eight shravaka stages are explained,
In the Mahayana there are
The ten bhumis of the bodhisattvas. [iv]
This is all that is said in the Precious Garland; it is not treated extensively. And in the Root Versesthe paths and stages are only mentioned indirectly.
In the Introduction to the Middle Waythe three dharmas of ordinary beings and ten trainings of the noble ones are discussed in great detail, based on the Sutra of the Ten Bhumis. This is the vast means of introduction.
The root text of the Introduction to the Middle Waysays: [v]
Those skilled in the ways of the profound and vast,
Will gradually attain the ground of Perfect Joy.
Gorampa describes the means of introduction in terms of scripture and instructions, for as it is said in the root text: [vi]
This way of explanation I, the bhikshu Chandrakirti,
Have drawn from the Madhyamaka treatise,
And here set down correctly according to scripture,
And in accordance with instructions.
I think there is something slightly odd about this explanation. The Madhyamaka treatise, or the scripture that is referred to here is the Root Verses, and, as we have already seen, this is precisely what is to be introduced. So to say that it is also the method of introduction creates some problems. It would be fine to say that the instructions, passing from Nagarjuna to Aryadeva and so on down through the lineage of masters, constitute a means or method that is used in the Introduction to the Middle Way, but to say that the scripture to be introduced is also the method of introduction is perhaps a little confusing.
2. The Translators’ Homage
The text says:
Homage to the youthful Arya Mañjushri!
This accords with the general guidelines laid down for the translators’ homage.
The text continues:
In order to supplement the treatises of the Madhyamaka, I wish to compose an introduction to the Middle Way,…
This has already been explained above.
[i]so so skye bo’i chos gsum. Bodhichitta, compassion and wisdom.
[ii]‘phags pa bslab pa’i chos bcu po. The trainings of the ten bhumis.
[iii]Verse 2, verse 75, de yi rtsa ba byang chub sems// ri dbang rgyal po ltar brtan dang// phyogs mtha’ gtugs pa’i snying rje dang// gnyis la mi brten ye shes lags//
[iv]Chapter 5, Verse 40, ji ltar nyan thos theg pa la// nyan thos sa ni brgyad bshad pa// de bzhin theg pa chen po la// byang chub sems dpa’i sa bcu’o//
[v]Chapter 6, Verse 7bc, zab cing rgya che’i tsul la mkhas pa’i skye bos ni// rim gyis rab tu dga’ ba’i sa ni ‘thob ‘gyur bas//
[vi]Chapter 11, Verse 52, lugs ‘di dge slong zla grags kyis// dbu ma’i bstan bcos las btus nas// lung ji bzhin dang man ngag ni// ji lta ba bzhin brjod pa yin//