Four extremes of elaboration

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The four extremes of elaboration (Skt. *catṣkoṭi-prapañca; T. mtha' bzhi'i spros pa),[1] a.k.a. the four extremes (T. mtha' bzhi མཐའ་བཞི་) are a set of four possibilities (catuṣkoṭi ) used in the Madhyamaka school to avoid conceptual elaboration (prapañca) in the understanding of the nature of ultimate reality.

The four extremes are:[2]

  1. the extreme of existence (ཡོད་མཐའ།)
  2. the extreme of non-existence (མེད་མཐའ།)
  3. the extreme of being both (གཉིས་ཀའི་མཐའ།)
  4. the extreme of being neither (གཉིས་མིན་གྱི་མཐའ།)

In the Madhyamaka view, none of the above statements is true with regards to the ultimate nature of dharmas. In other words, all of the following assertions with respect to dharmas ("phenomena," "things," etc.) are not valid on the ultimate level:

  • things exist
  • things do not exist
  • things both exist and do not exist
  • things neither exist nor do not exist

In other words, according to this view:

Ultimately the true nature of things cannot be conceptualized as either existent, non-existent, both or neither.[3]

Hence, ultimate reality is said to be beyond the "four extremes."

The term "four extremes" is also used to refer to other sets of four possibilities. See:


  1. Pettit, John Whitney (1999), Mipham's Beacon of Certainty: Illuminating the View of Dzogchen, the Great Perfection, Wisdom Publications, p. 16 
  2. Internet-icon.svg mtha' bzhi, Christian-Steinert Dictionary
  3. Book icoline.svg Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche (2016), Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, Shrimala Trust , p. 68