Home Institution

Tufts University

Publication Date

Spring 2009

Program Name

Tibet/Bhutan: Tibetan and Himalayan Studies


The history of Buddhist philosophy is rich with debate and disagreement, but this paper will focus on the particular school of thought known as the Madhyamaka, or Middle Way view. This perspective, widely regarded as the apex of Buddhist metaphysics, charts a centrist path between the extremes of material realism and nihilism. The work of Nagarjuna, the Madhyamaka’s original architect, will be our primary source for understanding the concept of emptiness, though a small amount of Chandrakirti’s later commentary will provide additional support. Further research was conducted through interviews at various monasteries in Boudhanath, Nepal.

Finally, this paper orients the Madhyamaka in terms of contemporary thinking in Western physics and cognitive psychology. The answers it provides require a considerable paradigm shift away from the reductionism that characterizes scientific inquiry, though the holistic alternative they present has been gaining support in a number of fields. I believe it is a perspective from which the West has much to learn. Likewise, it will be interesting to see how Buddhist doctrine holds up as the cognitive sciences advance in their understanding of the mind and its relation to the brain. I anticipate a long and fruitful continuation of this dialogue that is now well under way.


History of Religions of Eastern Origins | Religious Thought, Theology and Philosophy of Religion


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