Empty Logic: Madhyamike Buddhism from Chinese Soruces

By Hsueh-li Cheng's

Alan Fox
Journal of Chinese Philosophy
Vol. 13
Copyright(c) 1986 by Dialogue Publishing Company,
Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S.A.

. P.361 The publication of Hsueh-li Cheng's Empty Logic represents the attempt to address the need for a general introduction to the 'topic of Madhyamika Buddhism, and particularly of Chinese Madhyamika. The text covers the basic philosophy and arguments of Madhyamika, as well as discussing its possible influence on other forms of Buddhist thought, including Zen. It is difficult to find a comprehensive text on Madhyamika which on the one hand takes into consideration the recent developments in scholarship and on the other hand does not confuse the issue with misunderstandings and mistranslations of the basic terms of Madhyamika. The most popular text available up until now was T.K.V. Murti's the Central Philosophy of Buddhism. This text fell into the common trap of treating Madhyamika as a "nihilistic" from of Buddhist thought, a misconception that modern scholarship has managed to correct. One lesser known but more effective text was Richard Robinson's Early Madhyamika in India and China. Although covering much of the same territory as Cheng's book, Robinson's work is much more technical and probably better suited to the scholar with more experience in handling the intricacies of Madhyamika thought. Beside these studies, the student of Madhyamika also has recourse to several of the original texts. Nagarjuna's Doctrine of the Middle Way, for example has been translated numerous times, including Mervyn Sprung's version of Candrakirti's Prasannapada and Kenneth Inada's translation of the Mulamadhyamikakarikas. Others, including Frederick Streng, have also provided translations of Nagarjuna's central work. All of these, however, face the same problem of preserving the texture of Madhyamika logic without resorting to nihilistic terminology. This is also a problem in Cheng's previous translation of Nagarjuna's Twelve Gate Treatise (Shi Er Men Lun). As I will point out, the danger of fixing the Madhyamika position without failing into misuse of language is difficult to overcome. P.362 Professor Cheng goes about his task by first providing a general introduction to Buddhist thougth, followed by a discussion of the Indian roots of Madhyamika. The rest of the introductory material centers around the subsequent development of the philosophy in India and China. The second chapter deals with principle Madhyamika doctrines, such as the notion of the Middle Way, the Twofold Truth, Chi Tsang's notion of "The Refutation of Erroneous Views as the Illumination of Right Views," and finally he discusses the meaning of Emptiness or Sunyata (Kung) . Chapter Three examines the connections and continuity between Madhyamika and Zen, particulary in terms of the ideas presented in Chapter two. Chapter Four presents the Madhyamika treatment of various philosophical issues, such as the problems of God, Reality, and Knowledge, while Chapter Five compares Nagarjuna with Wittgenstein and Kant. In addition to the material presented in the text, there are also some useful additions for the scholar. Included are a listing of Chinese terms, a glossary of various Buddhist terms, and indices of names and subjects. Finally, a selected bibliography is also provided. These are welcome items, as is Cheng's custom of providing the Chinese and Sanskrit terminology for terms that resist adequate translation. There are problems,however,with the presentation. A minor criticism is that, although the book purports to be a discussion of "Madhyamika Buddhism, from Chinese Sources," the table of contents does not list anything even vaguely Chinese. Cheng does, however, discuss the works of the important San Lun masters such as Chi Tsang, Kumarajiva, Seng Chao, and others, but the casual reader would be apt to get the wrong impression if he were to scan the table of contents for a clue as to what the book were about. More significant problems arise during the philosophical discussion, however. In his discussion of the "Twofold Truth," Cheng uses this common translation for the Chinese term "Er Di Yi." The Chinese term more accurately indicates what is meant, since even Cheng agrees that this" ....two fold truth refers neither to two fixed sets of truth nor stands for two realities." "Er Di Yi" is more effectively translated as "levels of understanding" or, as Soothill's Chinese Buddhist Dictionary puts it, "two forms of statement" or "two meanings." If Cheng agrees, as he seems to, that "Truth" is not the issue here, then why use the term in the first place? Surely it can only be P.363 a source of confusion, perpetuating the traditional misunderstanding of this distinction. Another misuse of the term " Truth " occurs when he uses it, repeatedly, as a translation for the term "Dharma" (fa)(b). Surely by now most Buddhist scholars agree that Buddha was not concerned with the "Truth" per se, but rather with presenting a set of techniques designed to encourage individuals to become liberated. The notion that one thing is "true" and something else is not, can only serve as a limitation in this project. In general, Cheng seems to be prone to the indiscriminate use of terms such as "Absolute Truth." His discussion of Yogacara reveals a confusion between "mind" and "ideas", as he accepts the popular misunderstnading of Yogacara as "Idealism." He claims (page 26) that "The Yogacara maintained that behind the phenomenal world there is a noumenal, ultimate reality; this is mind or consciousness. It is not the ordinary psychological mind but Suchness … " We are just starting to understand that Yogacara was not presenting a system of ontology, but rather a system of closure. Rather than claiming the Mind is the only Reality, they would seem to be saying that the nature of the reality is determinable solely through consciousness or experience of reality, that the nature of reality is consciousness. We need not read ontology into the Yogacara project, since that assumes a basic contradiction of the fundamental Buddhist notion of "Wu Wo, Wu Fa," or "absence of reality in self and in dharmas (in this sense read 'things)." Cheng also betrays his carelessness in the use of language when he refers to the "Madhyamika view of God." I don't think that a true Madhyamaka would claim to have any particular "view" of God. Besides this carelessness, Cheng also gives too little attention to some very important considerations. For instance, he does not seem to be aware of the existence of the Svatantrike school of Madhyamika thought when he claims that "According to the teaching of emptiness as the middle way, it is even erroneous to hold a contextual view of meaning." Surely this is true if we consider only Candrakirti;s Prasangika school of thought, but the Svatantrika school of Bhavaviveka thought that the only possible view of meaning is provisional and contextual. Perhaps the most troubling phlosophical point in the text is the apparent contradiction between statements made by Nagarjuna in two P.364 different contexts. Cheng paraphrases Nagarjuna's agrument against Sunyata as nihilism from the Twelve Gate Treatise: "....if the essence of all things were fixed and determinate [as would be the case if one were not to accept the notion of Sunyata], there would be no such phenomena as change, origination, and destruction, and hence there would be no suffering. Since there would be no noble truth of suffering, there could be no noble truth of the origin of suffering, the cessation of suffering, and the way leading to the cessation of suffering. If there were no Four Noble Truths, there would be no four fruits of 'sramana.' Without the four fruits, there would be no goal for religious life and realization of the Sangha would not be possible." He goes on to quote Nagarjuna: "Without the noble truths the true Dharma would not exist. Without the Dharma and Sangha, how could there be the Buddha?" This seems to contradict Nagarjuna's comprehensive dismissal of causal efficacy in the Doctrine of the Middle Way, especially the chapter on Nirvana, and elsewhere. The only way to reconcile these two types of statements is to bear in mind that Nagarjuna is making statements in a corrective manner, not a propositional one. In each instance, he is arguing primarily against Buddhist philosophers who on the one hand claim causal efficacy with its implications of positive existence, and on the other hand denounce the nihilistic implications of Sunyata, or emptiness. Nagarjuna is trying to show that both positions lead to logical contradictions. This is not made clear in Cheng's treatment of the issue. In general, the text must be considered an im- portant work for its usefulness as an introductory text in an area where no such introductory texts axist, but the reader should be aware that Professor Cheng sometimes displays some carelessness in his use of terminology. Certainly the decision as to what to include and what not to include in a text is a personal one, but sometimes the lack of context obscures the issues involved. P.365 A 虛 B 法 C 無我 D 無法