Madhyamaka (T. dbu ma pa; C. san lun zong/zhongguan; J. sanronshū/chūgan 中觀) is one of the two main philosophical schools of Mahayana Buddhism; the other school is Yogacara. Both of these schools developed in India beginning around 200 CE, and both had a significant impact on the development of Buddhism in China and Tibet.
The Madhyamaka school is based on the writings of the Indian scholar Nagarjuna (150 CE to 250 CE), as well as commentaries on of Nagarjuna's works that were written over the next several centuries. The Sanskrit term madhyamaka translates as "middle way." In the context of the Madhyamaka school, it refers to the middle way between the extremes of eternalism and nihilism.
Main tenet of Madhyamaka
The main tenet of this school is that because all phenomena are dependently co-arisen, they are empty of "inherent existence." A classic expression of this view was provided by Nagarjuna in the twenty-fourth chapter of his Treatise on the Middle Way; Nagarjuna stated:
Whatever arises dependently
Is explained as empty.
Thus dependent attribution
Is the middle way.
Since there is nothing whatever
That is not dependently existent,
For that reason there is nothing
Whatsoever that is not empty.
Geshe Sonam Rinchen explains the above quote as follows: "Here Nagarjuna states the Madhyamika or middle way position. Everything that exists does so dependently and everything that is dependently existent necessarily lacks independent objective existence."
This view is also often expressed within the Mahayana tradition as the 'freedom from extremes'. For example, 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.
Transmission to East Asia
From Encyclopeia Britannica:
- The basic Mādhyamika texts were translated into Chinese by Kumārajīva in the 5th century, and the teachings were further systematized (as the San-lun, or Three Treatises, school) in the 6th–7th century by Chi-tsang. The school spread to Korea and was first transmitted to Japan, as Sanron, in 625 by the Korean monk Ekwan.
- Geshe Sonam Rinchen (2006), How Karma Works: The Twelve Links of Dependent Arising, Snow Lion