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Reviewed by:
  • Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals? eds. by Jay L. Garfield and Jan Westerhoff
  • Oren Hanner (bio)
Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals? Edited by Jay L. Garfield and Jan Wester-hoff. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. Pp. xi + 280. Hardcover $105.00, isbn 978-0-1902-3128-6. Paper $36.95, isbn 978-0-1902-3129-31.

Recent decades have witnessed a number of scholarly attempts to illuminate the philosophical affinity between the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, the two main systems of thought in the Mahāyāna stream of Buddhism. Both schools originated in India in the first centuries of the common era, and had a significant impact on the doctrines of Asian Buddhism in such countries as China, Korea, Tibet, and Japan. Consequently, their views concerning reality have been documented in various textual sources, ranging from early philosophical treatises by their chief founders, Nāgārjuna (Madhyamaka) and Vasubandhu and Asaṅga (Yogācāra), to sūtras and later commentaries. These sources indicate that the two schools shared certain core ideas concerning the nature of reality, first and foremost the principle of emptiness (Sanskrit: śūnyatā), according to which phenomena (dharma) do not exist in the real, objective way that they are normally thought to exist. At the same time, however, these sources show that the epistemological and metaphysical views of the two schools evolved in different directions through mutual critique. In light of this tension, the question arises whether their philosophical positions are opposed to each other or perhaps complementary in some ways. Madhyamaka and Yogācāra: Allies or Rivals? edited by Jay Garfield and Jan Westerhoff gathers an impressive group of experts in Buddhist philosophy who consider this problem from different angles.

The title of the book raises a dichotomous question. Nevertheless, most of the essays in this collection afford observations that lie along a spectrum and display considerable sensitivity to the different tones and degrees of the philosophical interplay. Thus, for example, the very doxographical distinction between the Madhyamaka and the Yogācāra as two uniform and mutually exclusive schools is repeatedly called into question: their doctrinal diversity is aptly stressed in the contributions by [End Page 629] Mattia Salvini, Dan Lusthaus, and Eviatar Shulman. In like manner, some of the authors raise the important methodological question of what constitutes philosophical consistency in the context of Mahāyāna Buddhism. Thus, Mark Siderits and Jan Westerhoff consider the approach of "Indian inclusivism" (to use Siderits' term), or "gradualism" (as Westerhoff dubs it). This is the common Indian strategy that seeks to reconcile competing views by presenting the thought of one school as a useful step toward the realization of the more accurate view of another. Siderits and Westerhoff are, then, divided on whether or not this approach should be seen as a form of philosophical continuity.

The heterogeneity of replies also finds expression in the diversity of textual sources that were chosen for addressing the root question. Some of the authors rely primarily on the seminal works of Nāgārjuna, Vasubandhu, and Asaṅga (e.g., Jonathan Gold and Sonam Thakchöe); others rely primarily on the schools' constitutive sūtras (e.g., Chaisit Suwanvarangkul); and still others examine works by later commentators (e.g., Malcolm David Eckel, James Blumenthal, and Dan Lusthaus). For reasons of space, this review will cover six out of the eleven essays collected in the book, which illustrate well, in my opinion, the various aspects covered by the volume.

The essay by James Blumenthal examines the works of Śāntarakṣita (eighth century c.e.), who aimed at a syncretism of the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra philosophies. It raises the question of whether, and in what sense, the two systems complement each other in these works. The author focuses in particular on two central Yogācāra principles that are rejected by the Madhyamaka, but are incorporated into Śāntarakṣita's integrative view. The first is the rejection of mind-independent objects: in his Madhyamakālaṃkāra (Ornament of the Madhyamaka), Śāntarakṣita explains that conventional truths, namely the objects we know by conceptual thought, are causal...