This book makes an important contribution to exploring the question of how knowledge of Buddhist India is appropriated and negotiated on the Tibetan plateau. It investigates the series of debates between the Rnying ma master ’Ju Mi pham (1846–1912) and his contemporary opponents from the Dge lugs school – in particular Dpa’ ris Rab gsal (1840–1912) – that flared up in Eastern Tibet in the late nineteenth century and involved the major centres of Tibetan scholasticism in the almost thirty years of its development. The point of departure of these controversies was Mi pham’s Nor bu ke ta ka, an innovative commentary on the ninth chapter of Śāntideva’s (approx. eighth century) Bodhi(sattva)caryāvatāra (BCA), a work that the tradition regards as an authoritative presentation of Indian Madhyamaka thought. After the Buddhist religion spread to Tibet, it was this tradition that established itself as the pivotal philosophical system. Not only does its content form the ontological foundation of the Buddhist world view in Tibet, but a correct understanding of it is also commonly accepted as the prerequisite for any soteriological progress. Madhyamaka philosophy was therefore subject to considerable debate among Tibetan scholastics, of which the controversies around Mi pham’s Nor bu ke ta ka are one of the most important testimonies.
The study engages with these controversies in three parts: Part I (“Context of the controversies”) explores the larger context of the debates, both in terms of literary genre, but also in its socio-historical dimension. In so doing, it helps to nuance our understanding of the intellectual history of the nineteenth century, a crucial period in which a tension between Dge lugs and non-Dge lugs scholastic traditions (the “ris med movement”) has been – often simplistically – seen as an important background for the debates.
The second part (“Main part: the debate between Mi pham and Rab gsal”) focuses on the critical treatises that were exchanged between Mi pham and Rab gsal. Based on this material, the study outlines the key issues of the controversy, which are related to four different passages of the BCA: Topic I concerns the interpretation of BCA IX.1, Topic II that of BCA IX.78. Both of these topics pertain mostly to personal differences in the literal interpretation of the respective passages, and are thus treated rather briefly. In contrast, Topic III, connected to BCA IX.41-49, and Topic IV, connected to BCA IX.2, are both related to fundamental differences in the respective scholastic traditions concerning the understanding of core concepts of Madhyamaka philosophy, which are discussed at great length. For each topic, its respective background is outlined and followed up by an investigation into the dynamic development of the debate, which proceeds by tracing the exchange of arguments across the confines of individual texts.
The last section (“Supplementary material”) is intended as a complement for the specialist working on this material. It provides a detailed and comprehensive structural analysis of the analysed texts down to the level of individual arguments and makes these structures and the connections between arguments in different textual layers explicit in various overview charts.