In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Candrakīrti

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews

Buddhism Candrakīrti
Karen C. Lang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 February 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393521-0061


Candrakīrti (b. c. 570–d. c. 650) is an important commentator and author whose works influenced the development of Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy in India and in Tibet. He wrote major commentaries on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikāḥ (Middle way stanzas), Yuktiṣaṣṭikā (Sixty stanzas on logical reasoning), and Śūnyatāsaptati (Seventy stanzas on emptiness) and on Āryadeva’s Catuḥśataka (Four hundred verses). His most important independent work, Madhyamakāvatāra (Introduction to the middle way), and its extensive autocommentary introduce the Madhyamaka school’s ideas on the ten stages of the bodhisattva path, which correlate with ten “perfect virtues” (pāramitā) to be mastered before reaching the goal of buddhahood. Candrakīrti’s works were translated into Tibetan in the 11th century and are preserved in the Tibetan Buddhist canon. According to medieval Tibetan historians’ accounts, Candrakīrti was born in South India, entered a monastery where he studied the works of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva with students of the two rival interpreters of Madhyamaka thought, Bhāviveka (b. c. 500–d. c. 570) and Buddhapālita (b. c. 470–d. c. 540), and eventually became abbot of Nalanda, the great Buddhist university. In his commentaries, Candrakīrti criticizes the views of Bhāviveka as well as the views of the Buddhist epistemologists and the Vijñānavādins. Jayānanda’s twelfth commentary on the Madhyamakāvatāra indicates revived interest in his work in India, which spread to Tibet through the efforts of Jayānanda, who worked extensively in Tibet, and Patshab Nyima grags, who translated many of Candrakīrti’s works into Tibetan. Candrakīrti’s works remain important not only as sources for the history and development of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy but also because they still form part of the curriculum of present-day Tibetan Buddhist monasteries.

General Overviews

The encyclopedia articles “Madhymaka Buddhism” (Arnold 2005) and “Madhyamaka” (Hayes 2010) and the chapter “Mādhyamika” in Williams 2008 provide concise and philosophically interesting treatments of Madhyamaka concepts that Candrakīrti’s works address. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India (Ruegg 1981), an extensive and authoritative source on the history and texts of Indian Madhyamaka, provides valuable summaries of Candrakīrti’s works. Garfield 1999 is a succinct introduction to the philosophical ideas expressed in Candrakīrti’s major works. Rizzi 1988 contains a brief overview of Madhyamaka thought and detailed examination of the first chapter of the Prasannapadā (Clear words). Della Santina 1986 explores the origins of Madhyamaka in India, the debate between Candrakīrti and Bhāviveka over the interpretation of Nāgārjuna’s ideas, and the controversy over Svātantrika (autonomous) and Prāsaṅgika (consequentalist) interpretations of Madhyamaka in Tibet. Svātantrika interpretations advocate the restatement of Nāgārjuna’s ideas in form of autonomous inferences (svatantrānumāna) with affirmative conclusions; Prāsaṅgika interpretations reject the necessity of logically defending Madhyamaka positions in favor of reducing the opponents’ claims to absurd consequences (prasaṅga).

  • Arnold, Dan. “Madhyamaka Buddhism.” In The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden, 2005.

    A philosophically sophisticated treatment that explains how Madhyamaka arguments about the two truths, dependently originated existents, and emptiness work. It offers the best concise explanation of the historical development and epistemological concerns of Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika interpretations of Madhyamaka. Includes a brief discussion of Madhyamaka in East Asia and Tibet.

  • Della Santina, Peter. Madhyamaka Schools in India: A Study of the Madhyamaka Philosophy and of the Division of the System into the Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika Schools. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1986.

    Della Santina discusses the development of the Madhyamaka school in India and Tibet. He draws on Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā and Tibetan sources to argue that the main difference between Prāsaṅgika and Svātantrika systems is the method used to advance the philosophy of emptiness. The Prāsaṅgika partisans expose inconsistencies in opponents’ arguments, while Svātantrika partisans use formal logic to draw affirmative conclusions.

  • Garfield, Jay. “Candrakīrti.” In A Companion to the Philosophers. Edited by Robert L. Arrington, 574–577. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999.

    A very useful summary and exploration of Candrakīrti’s philosophy.

  • Hayes, Richard. “Madhyamaka.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2010.

    A thorough overview of Indian Madhyamaka intellectual history that examines how major thinkers from Buddhapālita to Śāntarakśita (b. 725–d. 788) interpret the works of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva. Includes a short bibliography of relevant articles.

  • Rizzi, Cesare. Candrakīrti. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 1988.

    A brief introduction to Madhyamaka and summary of the first chapter of the Prasannapadā.

  • Ruegg, David Seyfort. The Literature of the Madhyamaka School of Philosophy in India. Wiesbaden, Germany: Harrasowitz, 1981.

    This scholarly work on Indian Madhyamaka provides an in-depth look at Candrakīrti’s Prasannapadā and the sixth chapter of Madhyamakāvatāra, and valuable summaries of his other major works. It is a reliable source of historical information on editions, translations, and chronology but does not contain much in the way of interpretive exposition.

  • Williams, Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations. 2d ed. London and New York: Routledge, 2008.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203428474

    Chapters 2 and 3 of Williams’s book, “The Perfection of Wisdom” and “Mādhyamika,” respectively, provide useful background on the development of Madhyamaka thought. Williams’s analysis of Madhyamaka methodology and views of causality, the self, and conventional and ultimate truths are indebted to Candrakīrti’s commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikāḥ and the Madhyamakāvatāra.

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