Bhāviveka or Bhāvaviveka (also known as Bhavya) was an influential 6th-century Indian Buddhist philosopher. He is best known as a commentator on Root Verses on the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā) by Nāgārjuna and as the author of The Flame of Reason (Tarkajvālā), an encyclopedic compendium of the schools of Indian philosophy. Bhāviveka’s compendium provides a unique historical source for the study of Indian philosophy at a time of great intellectual ferment and change. It also provided a model for the genre of the philosophical compendium or “doxography” that has guided students and debaters through the intricacies of Indian philosophical disputes from Bhāviveka’s time to the present not only in India but also in Tibet. There is little reliable information about his life. A few surviving legends associate him with what is now Andhra Pradesh, the region in South India that also was the legendary home of Nāgārjuna. These legends also depict him as a determined debater who was willing to travel long distances to confront his philosophical opponents. Bhāviveka’s interest in debate was accompanied by a heightened concern for logical procedure. This concern gave rise to the deepest and longest-lasting division in the Madhyamaka tradition. Bhāviveka was recognized by his successors as a svātantrika-mādhyamika (one who uses independent inferences and makes independent assertions) as opposed to a prāsaṅgika-mādhyamika (one who simply reduces opponents’ assertions to consequences that are unacceptable to the opponents themselves). The distinction between a svātantrika-mādhyamika and a prāsaṅgika-mādhyamika was elaborated in great detail by Tibetan philosophers. For contemporary scholars of Mahayana thought, especially the concept of Emptiness, the svātantrika-prāsaṅgika distinction is an important point of entry into the deeper philosophical issues of Madhyamaka thought.
Several excellent reference works help define Bhāviveka’s intellectual and religious context not only in the history of Madhyamaka but also in the context of the Mahayana tradition more generally. Williams 2009 gives a widely respected and thoughtful account of the Mahayana intellectual tradition. Edelglass and Garfield 2009 provides a thorough and up-to-date anthology of readings in Indian and Tibetan philosophical traditions. A concise and authoritative survey of Indian Madhyamaka is in Ruegg 1981. More detailed studies of particular issues in the development of Madhyamaka are in Ruegg 2010. Potter 2002 provides summaries and in many cases translations of the works in the early, formative phase of the tradition. For contemporary perspectives on the intellectual issues that lie behind Bhāviveka’s distinctive approach to Madhyamaka interpretation, it is helpful to consult the chapters on Madhyamaka in Garfield 2002 and Siderits 2007.
Edelglass, William, and Jay L. Garfield. Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
A sophisticated, up-to-date anthology of key texts from the Buddhist philosophical tradition, ranging from India to China, Tibet, and Japan. The texts are arranged by subject area, such as metaphysics, language, and ethics, to allow study of particular dimensions of Buddhist thought.
Garfield, Jay L. Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
A study of the limits of language in Buddhist thought with special emphasis on Madhyamaka.
Potter, Karl, ed. The Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies. Vol. 8, Buddhist Philosophy from 100 to 350. New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2002.
A helpful source of summaries and translations of the foundational texts of the Madhyamaka tradition particularly helpful for access to lesser works that otherwise are difficult to find in the scholarly literature.
Ruegg, David Seyfort. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India. Wiesbaden, West Germany: Harrassowitz, 1981.
An authoritative survey of the philosophers and the texts that make up the Indian Madhyamaka tradition. This book identifies the key issues that separate different thinkers and comments on many of the later figures who are absent in the more popular introductions to this school.
Ruegg, David Seyfort. The Buddhist Philosophy of the Middle: Essays on Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka. Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010.
A useful collection of Ruegg’s more specialized studies on Madhyamaka and related traditions.
Siderits, Mark. Buddhism as Philosophy. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2007.
A creative and original interpretation of Buddhist thought by a contemporary analytic philosopher.
Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2d ed. London: Routledge, 2009.
An inclusive book-length treatment of Mahayana Buddhist thought. Chapter 3 discusses Nāgārjuna and the later Madhyamaka tradition.
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