Madhyamika Shunyavadin – School of Buddhism

Shunayavada is the logical culmination of Buddhist Philosophy of Pratitya Samutpada. Nagarjuna is considered the first propounder of Shunyavada.

Literally, Shunya can be translated as “void” or “nothingness”. Based on this, critics have labelled it as either skepticism or nihilism, but Shunyavada is neither skeptic nor nihilist.

According to Shunyavada, Shunya means non-describeable beyond four categories of reason, i.e

  • Sat
  • Asat
  • Both
  • Neither

It means that reality transcends the faculties of reason. This notion is similar to Shanakara. Nagarjuna says that Buddha’s teachings relates to two aspect of Truth : The empirical truth and the absolute. The first one is called Samvriti-Satya, while the second is Paramartha-Satya. One pertaining to the phenomenol world, the world as grasped through names and forms, and the other to reality as it is in itself, beyond all names and forms.

Empirically it means relativity of phenomenon. Shunyavada can be looked at from two point of views :

a) In view of Phenomenon or Empirical Reality : This world is SvabhavaShunya, i.e devoid of any independent or unconditional or permanent or absolute existence. This way, Pratitya Samutpada results in relative and dependent existence of everything. The world of names and forms is governed by Doctrine of Dependent Organization. In the realm of phenomena, there can be no absolute truth. Nagarjuna says this is for the ordinary person. For this, Nagarjuna calls phenomenal truths as “conventional”, “relative”, “mundane” and “lower truths”.


Are of two types :

  • Loka Samvriti : Phenomena which is born out of some cause and through which all activities of the worldly beings are conducted.
  • Mithya Samvriti : This is the phenomenon which is born due to some cause but is not admitted to be true by all. It helps all in their behavior.

The empirical truth is the only means by which the transcendental truth can be attained. Nagarjuna maintains that the transcendental truth cannot be realized without the help of empirical truth and without realizing the transcendental truth, Nirvana cannot be attained.

b) In view of the Absolute : It is Prapancha-shunya or simply, indescribeable. It is absolute, unconditional, higher truth, beyond percepts and concepts. It Pramartha-Satya. Devoid of any verbalization or thought construction. This is the transcendental truth, which cannot be grasped by any form of intelligent reason or empiricism. It is possible only by direct intuitive insight into reality itself (called Prajna). And only by this Prajna, can Nirvana be attained.

Buddha maintained silence with respect to such non-empirical questions as whether the world is eternal or non-eternal, finite or infinite, whether the soul is same as or different from the body, whether or not one who attains Nirvana exists after death, and what Nirvana itself is. Buddha is silent because such questions transcends reason and sense experience and that consequently any attempt to answer them through names and forms is futile.

Why is SHUNYAVADA school called MADHYAMIKA ?

Buddhism itself is ascribed to be a middle path as it follows a path that is between extreme affirmation, extreme negation(Nihilism) and self mortification, self indulgence(Aghori)

Madhyamika is the logical culmination of Buddhist Philosophy. In this context, Madhyamika can be seen as true followers of middle path.

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