Madhyamakalamkara Vritti

Shantarakshita’s Commentary
on his Ornament of the Middle Way

ISBN: 978-1-887276-91-7 24.95

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Translation Committee:

Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche, Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche, Marie Friquegnon, Arthur Mandelbaum, Pema Dondrub, In collaboration with Geshe Lozang Jamspal

“Scripture, without a logic that is based on
the evidence of things, will not satisfy even
faithful followers.”


Shantarakshita follows in the footsteps of Buddha Shakyamuni who stated that no one should accept his view without testing it as a goldsmith tests gold. In this seminal 8th century text he deconstructs, illucidates and defends Madhayamaka as the essence and central philosophical bases of Mahayana, as elaborated by Nagurjuna—which work preceded the advent of a Buddhist age over much of Asia for a 1000 years. It’s tenets still remains relevant today with discoveries and inventions based on science investigating the ‘nature’ of nature.

     In the Madhyamakalamkaravritti, his commentary on his root text The Adornment of the Middle Way, Shantarakshita aims to completely clarify the position that, while ultimately reality eludes our comprehension, conventional knowledge is useful as a tool for navigating appearances all of which are no more real than the reflection of the moon in water.

    His method of establishing this relies almost exclusively on one tool: To be real an entity must be one or many. If he can show that all the candidates for the real, such as atoms, matter, space, time, God, the soul, subject, object and causal relations fail this test, that if they cannot be said to be one, because the one is not substantial, then it cannot function to produce many.

    Shantarakshita’s motivation for this radical destruction of our basic and cherished beliefs, is to liberate us from anything that can cause us suffering. If we cling to our illusory world, it will fail us, because it is impermanent.

    In sloka 16, Shantarakshita does make one positive assertion about reality, when he asserts self-awareness. But he is careful not to become trapped in the classic Buddhist model of subject, object and activity. Self-awareness, he argues, cannot be understood in this way. Subject and object are not distinct nor identical, not one, not many. Self-awareness has no substantial existence.

Samyé Monastery photographed in 1904. US Library of Congress