University of Hawai'i Press
  • Ippolito Desideri and Madhyamaka:On the Interpretation of Giuseppe Toscano

The Xaverian priest Giuseppe Toscano (1911–2003) translated Desideri's Tibetan corpus almost in its entirety, wrote critical introductions to each of the Jesuit's works, and identified hundreds of quotations in his Tibetan manuscripts. He also remains the only scholar to have attempted a synthetic account of Ippolito Desideri's Thomism. Toscano identified seven principal loci in the Jesuit's Thomistic-Aristotelian interpretation of Madhyamaka, addressing Desideri's treatment of: 1) Madhyamaka denials of a First Cause; 2) the compatibility of emptiness with a First Cause; 3) the sense in which Christian philosophers may accept emptiness; 4) Tibetan descriptions of intrinsic being; 5) the principle of non-contradiction; 6) the analogy of being; and 7) the necessity of a refuge. The present article outlines Toscano's understanding (and misunderstanding) of these seven loci. It demonstrates that the Tibetan term dgag bya is not—as Toscano interprets it—merely something "opposed to the truth," but the object to be negated by Madhyamaka dialectic. Consequently, it argues that scholars of Desideri will be in a far better position to understand the way in which he thought emptiness acceptable when we restore the proper meaning of dgag bya to Desideri's texts. Indeed, Desideri's attempt to develop a Thomist logic of analogy in response to Tsongkhapa's Madhyamaka depends upon his understanding of the object to be negated and whether it can rightly apply to God.


Ippolito Desideri, Giuseppe Toscano, Thomas Aquinas, Tsongkhapa, Thomism, Madhyamaka, God, emptiness, being, analogy

When recounting his 1948 expedition to Tibet, Giuseppe Tucci had occasion to reflect on the Italian contribution to Tibetan Studies:

Italians have contributed to our knowledge of Tibet in fine fashion. Oderic of Pordenone and Marco Polo, though they never penetrated Tibet, were among [End Page 109] the first to give notice of the country. Later, the Capuchins and the Jesuits were able to stay in that closed country for several decades in the eighteenth century. They left a lasting record of their travels in their relationes, especially in the book the Jesuit Ippolito Desideri wrote on his experiences in Tibet and on the Tibetan religion. Desideri even translated the summa theologiae of a great Tibetan thinker for the first time and confuted it in an immense polemical work that he wrote in Tibetan, thus bringing about an astounding encounter on the Roof of the World between Buddhist dogmatics and St. Thomas Aquinas.1

Almost seventy years have passed since Tucci gave notice of this astounding encounter between Buddhism and the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas. Few have investigated it in depth.2 Carlo Puini, Henry Hosten, Cornelius Wessels, and Filippo de Filippi, the scholars who pioneered research on Ippolito Desideri, could not read the Jesuit's Tibetan writings. Tucci, while celebrating Desideri's immense polemical works, never studied them. Luciano Petech, Richard Sherburne, and Robert Goss noted their broader contours, but did not identify specific arguments as particularly Thomist.3 Recent works by Elaine Robson and Donald Lopez and Thupten Jinpa identify the importance of essentially ordered causes in demonstrations of God's existence and the possibility of creation ab aeterno, but neither offers a synthetic account of Desideri's Thomism.4 At present, the only such attempt is a small article by the Xaverian priest Giuseppe Toscano (1911–2003).5 Truth be told, Toscano's translations must be used with extreme caution. He makes no attempt to put or retain the pages of Desideri's Tibetan works in their proper order and often re-arranges them to suit his own idiosyncratic theological agenda. Still, the Xaverian father translated Desideri's Tibetan corpus almost in its entirety, wrote critical introductions to each of the Jesuit's works, and identified hundreds of quotations in his Tibetan manuscripts. He also undertook this Herculean task without many of the translations we now enjoy. What is more important, Toscano remains the only scholar to have studied Desideri's principal writing on Madhyamaka.6

Toscano characterizes the encounter between Desideri and Buddhism as an encounter between Thomism and Madhyamaka, in which Desideri used both Indian and Aristotelian logic to persuade his Tibetan interlocutors.7 True to twentieth-century trends in Thomism, Toscano frames Desideri's encounter with Madhyamaka as a question of the concept of "being" (esse).8 Not unlike Desideri's own professors of philosophy, he treats the history of philosophy as a search for a universal principle beginning with Thales and concluding with Aristotle as interpreted by Thomas Aquinas.9 Conversely, Toscano presents Buddhism as a philosophy of universal phenomenalism to which Desideri must respond in toto.10 According to Toscano, however, Desideri did not believe Madhyamaka to be nihilistic, but rather saw the possibility of a "constructive conversation" between Thomism and the philosophy of the Middle Way, precisely because he interpreted emptiness (Skt. śūnyatā, Tibetan stong pa nyid) positively.11

Toscano summarizes Desideri's positive understanding of emptiness in seven points: [End Page 110]

  1. 1. Desideri first asks how it is possible that universal contingency has led to the denial of the First Cause and finds that [the First Cause] has been misinterpreted as one of the two things opposed to truth.

  2. 2. The dependent, and thus emptiness, demands the First Cause, that is, the "Independent."

  3. 3. The concept of emptiness is accurate and acceptable in the sense that nothing phenomenal has in itself the reason of its own existence.

  4. 4. A desire for the Independent is expressed in the works of the Tibetan sages because it is described with philosophical precision.

  5. 5. It is necessary to review the principle of non-contradiction, because its denial makes any reasoning impossible.

  6. 6. It is necessary to introduce and develop the logic of analogy.

  7. 7. The First Cause is the only true and worthy place of refuge, and Tibetan authors have described it well because they felt a need for it.12

Let us address these point by point. We should note immediately Toscano's characterization of Buddhism as a philosophy of universal phenomenalism or universal contingency. Such categories are difficult to assess without further definition. As Toscano provides none, I shall not bother with them except to note their vagueness. More important, Toscano appears to have been the first to recognize the importance of dgag bya for Desideri's engagement with Madhyamaka. As will become clearer, however, the Tibetan term dgag bya is not—as Toscano interprets it—merely an obstacle or something opposed to the truth, but the "object to be negated" by the Madhyamaka dialectic. Once we restore the proper meaning of dgag bya to Desideri's texts, we will be in a far better position to understand the way in which he thought śūnyatā acceptable, and only then will we be able to assess his attempt to develop a Thomist logic of analogy in response to Tsongkhapa's Madhyamaka.

Although Toscano's imprecise account of the object of negation prevents him from developing deeper insight into Desideri's own metaphysics, he is right that Desideri argues that a genuine understanding of emptiness requires the existence of one who is not empty. Indeed, much of Desideri's attempt to refute Buddhist denials of God's existence will concern a single, simple three-point enthymeme: "all things are empty, because they arise in dependence upon another, like the reflection of the moon on a lake." Desideri consistently deploys this simple enthymeme to argue that things cannot be truly empty unless God exists. There is much of philosophical interest in these arguments, including discussions of the possibility of annular causality, whether motion can cover an infinite distance, whether essentially ordered causes can succeed one another indefinitely, and other similar topics. Although Toscano (and many following him) present Desideri's arguments in terms of the five proofs for the existence of God found in Aquinas's Summa theologiae, his actual arguments appear to owe more to the Summa contra gentiles.

Christian philosophers have little reason to argue against the emptiness of all things. The protological nothingness of all finite entities is one of the chief doctrines [End Page 111] of Christian scholasticism. Thomists like Desideri agree that among all things without exception, not one can be found whose essence is to exist. There is in fact a real distinction between the essence and the existence of any finite thing. For this reason, Thomists will happily concede that one cannot predicate "existence" to things strictly speaking (simpliciter), but merely conventionally (secundum quid). This, indeed, is the foundation of the Thomistic metaphysics of analogy to which Toscano alludes. As a result, Thomists are happy to deny the intrinsic existence of the Demiurge (Īśvara), a fundamental self (ātman), an idealistic mind-basis-for-all (ālayavijñāna), the absolute (brahman) considered as a material cause of the universe, and prime matter (prakṛti) considered as a substratum.13 Each of these would have, for the Thomist, not even an atom of intrinsic existence. For these reasons—and many more besides—Desideri affirms the programmatic statement of Madhyamaka: "all things are empty of svabhāva, because they arise in dependence upon another." In point of fact, he will repeatedly claim that his view is "compatible with" (btang bar) and even "in supreme accord" (rab tu mthun) with the view of emptiness as presented in the writings of Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), the great Tibetan thinker to whom Giuseppe Tucci alluded in the quotation that began this essay.

Toscano's fourth statement to this effect probably strikes us as the strangest. Recall, however, that Madhyamaka texts routinely describe the characteristics of the being that is established by its own nature. What Mādhyamikas present as per impossibile arguments, Desideri takes as proper philosophical descriptions of God. Thus, as the Jesuit acknowledges that all things are empty of intrinsic existence like the reflection of the moon on a still lake, he still argues that God is the "origin" or "wellspring" ('byung khungs) of all things and sentient beings, who "wholly depend" (yongs su rag las bar) upon Him. To do so, he attempts to demonstrate that God is free from causes and conditions (rgyu rkyen) and all beings' highest and future end (thog ma'i mtha' dang phyi ma'i mtha'). Desideri spends a great deal of time attempting to describe God's essential nature or defining characteristics (mtshan nyid), such as his uniqueness and peerlessness (dpe zla med bar gcig kho na) and His triune being (gsum yin lugs).14 Desideri argues that God is not empty, is not arisen according to the four modes of birth, and exists outside and beyond any cycle of karma or causality.15

Toscano's fifth point may be dismissed. Desideri certainly did not believe Tibetans to have denied the principle of non-contradiction. Nowhere does he feel the need to teach Tibetans how to philosophize, nor does he appear to think that Europeans are the sole possessors and practitioners of philosophy. In fact, he does not hesitate to identify Tibetan philosophy as a type of scholasticism, and even suggests that Westerners learned philosophy from the East. Desideri is familiar with the most famous Madhyamaka arguments—Nāgārjuna's "four-cornered argument" (Skt. catuṣkoṭi, Tibetan mu bzhi), the "diamond splinters" (rdo rje gzegs ma), the "seven-point reasoning" (rnam bdun gyi rigs pa)—and he takes them seriously. Take, for example, Nāgārjuna's famous four-cornered argument, which denies that things 1) exist, 2) do not exist, 3) both "exist and do not exist," and 4) neither "exist and do not exist." Many Mādhyamikas before Tsongkhapa—and non-Geluk Mādhyamikas after him—interpreted the four-cornered argument literally, and so might be accused of practicing [End Page 112] a deviant or self-consuming logic, but the great Geluk tradition after Tsongkhapa insisted that the argument violates neither the principle of non-contradiction nor the law of the excluded middle. These Geluks insisted, in other words, that the denial of existence and non-existence entailed the denial of intrinsic existence and conventional non-existence. In this respect, Tsongkhapa and his followers recognized that none of the objects of our ordinary worldly conventions could be "found" after the rigorous application of the seven-point reasoning, but they departed from the previous tradition by distinguishing between what can be found under analysis and what was negated by it. For Tsongkhapa, the "object to be negated" (Skt. pratiṣedhya, Tibetan dgag bya) was the "intrinsically real referent" (don rang bzhin), that which has "true existence" (bden par yod pa), or that which is "established by way of its own nature" (rang bzhin gyis grub pa).16 For the great Gelukpa philosopher—and this is a fact of great importance—the "mere existence" (yod tsam) of phenomena was not negated. As one might expect, Desideri argues that the mere inability to "find" God with neither-one-nor-many arguments such as the diamond splinters gives us no reason to reject His existence.17

Desideri thus argues that Madhyamaka rightly negates the intrinsic existence of all things and sentient beings, who possess mere existence on account of being caused. All things and sentient beings, in other words, lack existence simpliciter. Nota bene: the Christian philosopher has four broad options in engaging the claim that all things are empty: S/he can 1) deny that God and creatures are empty; 2) accept that God and creatures are empty in a univocal sense; 3) accept that both God and creatures are empty in an analogical or equivocal sense; or 4) accept that creatures are empty, but deny that God is empty. The first option would strongly distinguish substance and accident, but still maintain the relative importance of substance vis-à-vis accidents, or in Christian philosophical terms, "being" (esse) from "being-in" (inesse). Such a view, however, would still maintain the absolute dependence of all caused entities upon God and further distinguish primary and secondary causality. At times, Toscano's emphasis on esse makes him appear to favor this view, and such a view is accepted by most Aristotelians. Desideri, however, rarely takes this track; even if he would likely agree, it would confuse his interlocutors. Besides, this view, if accepted, would still require one to address the nature of the "being" predicated to God and creatures. The second option, favored by certain Neo-Platonists and postmodern philosophers, denies that God has being altogether. On such a view, "being" is reduced to that which admits epistemological or historical circumscription. Few if any Thomists take this path. Some Thomistic theologians working in a broadly Hegelian framework have suggested something not unlike the third option, which usually requires a temporal, if not historical, dialectic wherein the greater dissimilarity within any possible analogical similarity is grounded in the temporal realities of creation and revelation, such that one affirms God's being while simultaneously affirming the emptiness of any "being" predicated of God noetically. Such modern apophatic arguments are probably best seen as dialectical and phenomenological syntheses of the first and second sorts of arguments. Any of these would be legitimate Christian responses to Madhyamaka. Desideri, however, chooses the final approach as the most consistent with Thomism. [End Page 113] He agrees with the statement "all things are empty of svabhāva, because they arise in dependence upon another" on the horizontal level marked out by secondary causality, but at the same time he argues that all things are empty of svabhāva, because they arise in dependence upon God on the vertical dimension marked by the difference between primary and secondary causality. In short, the "being" we predicate of God and creatures is merely analogous. Tsongkhapa's Madhyamaka properly negates the "being" of all things and sentient beings considered simpliciter, but saves their mere "being" considered secundum quid. All things and sentient beings, while possessing not even an atom of being simpliciter, exist secundum quid because they arise in dependence upon God. And God's being simpliciter remains wholly untouched by the Madhyamaka dialectic, as God is not a thing, such as a chariot or the ātman, capable of analysis.

It is this very "logic of analogy"—which Toscano fails to explain—that allows Desideri not only to affirm the possibility of Tibetans' salvation, but also to assert that they possess a properly philosophical "name" for God. All Christian philosophers—even the dreaded John Duns Scotus—maintain that we take the terms and concepts that we predicate of God from things and sentient beings. Transcendental terms and concepts like "being," "one," "good," "true," and "beautiful," however, which are predicated of all finite entities secundum quid, can be predicated of God only when we remove the imperfections attendant upon their finitude. As a result, Catholic scholastics believe that one can only describe God imperfectly by recourse to what are technically called "confused" concepts, that is, combinations of two concepts, one of which is a transcendental or pure perfection capable of being predicated of both God and creatures (such as being, one, true, good, beautiful, wise) and the other of which is a negation of the finite object (such as pure, first, prime, highest, all, infinite) from which we abstract the first concept. God, then, is properly named only by indirect, confused concepts such as "pure act," "first cause," "prime mover," "highest being," "infinite being," and so forth.

When Toscano points out that Desideri acknowledges that Tibetan authors describe the "First Cause" as the only true and worthy place of refuge, he correctly notes Desideri's position, but he fails to see how it relates to the "logic of analogy" he believes Desideri to have advanced. Toscano is right to see that Desideri consistently points to the necessary qualities of any true refuge as they are described in Buddhist texts, most notably of course, Tsongkhapa's Great Stages of the Path, but Desideri's argument is more subtle. For Desideri, when Buddhists identify "infinite compassion" or "all good" as objects of worship and refuge, they identify God using the confused, but proper, philosophical language of Aristotelian scholasticism. They have, in short, rightly named the end of their striving and the object of their faith; what remains, however, is to address the crucial role that these peculiar transcendental quantifiers play in both traditions. Desideri argues that Tibetan Mādhyamikas cannot truly understand the radical contingency of things unless they accept the existence of God. He urges upon his interlocutors a series of Madhyamaka texts that maintain that anything that "remains" after the Madhyamaka critique must in fact exist by way of its own nature. For Desideri, the mere fact that all beings are caused by an infinite [End Page 114] series of essentially ordered causes is not sufficient to establish that their existence is merely secundum quid. Without the existence of one whose existence exists simpliciter, Mādhyamikas fall into the error of "eternalism" with regard to time and space and—perhaps more surprisingly—the ātman. The mistaken identification of God as an object to be negated, in short, guarantees that Mādhyamikas will have a "wrong view" of emptiness.

Of course, Desideri's arguments depend on a number of assumptions that the great majority of his Buddhist interlocutors would have denied. He believes it is meaningful, for example, to talk about beginnings in a notional, but not temporal sense. He believes that one can distinguish creation from generation. He thinks that transcendental terms and pure perfections can be predicated analogously of God and creatures. Buddhism, for its part, rejects every one of these principles. If one asserts that causes precede their effects temporally, that they are univocal, that we predicate transcendental terms and pure perfections of creatures simpliciter, then one has effectively destroyed the principles from which the existence of God can be demonstrated. Be that as it may, a "god" who precedes its effects temporally, who "creates" a world by way of univocal causality, or who "is" in the exact same sense that creatures "are" is merely a deva or a lha. It is not at all what Jews, Christians, or Muslims mean by the word "God." The philosophers of these traditions will gladly applaud the denial of such a being, for it is an idol and unworthy of adoration. They will also find several Buddhist axioms to be circular or question-begging. This point alone is instructive. Whereas the Christian philosopher following Desideri might well argue that Buddhist refutations of "God" depend upon assumptions about univocal causality and momentariness that are not at all self-evident, he must in turn acknowledge that the Mādhyamika will find Christian demonstrations of the existence of God to beg a number of similarly important philosophical questions. In this respect, Desideri's chief value is found less in the arguments by which he tried to prove the existence of God to his Tibetan interlocutors and more in the fact that their astounding encounter demonstrates the degree to which both Christians and Buddhists are adept at providing not refutations of each other's arguments, but philosophical warrant for already existing religious beliefs.

Trent Pomplun
Loyola University Maryland


1. Giuseppe Tucci, A Lhasa e oltre: diario della spedizione nel Tibet MCMXLVIII (Rome: La Libreria dello Stato, 1952), 5: "Alla conoscenza del Tibet gli italiani hanno contribuito in maniera notevole. Odorico da Pordenone e Marco Polo, sebbene non vi siano mai penetrati, sono stati fra i primi a darne notizie. Poi nel XVIII secolo i cappuccini e i gesuiti poterono dimorare nel paese proibito per vari decenni. Durevole ricordo essi hanno di sè lasciato nelle relazioni di viaggio e specialmente nel libro che il gesuita Ippolito Desideri scrisse sulle sue esperienze tibetane e sulla religione tibetana. Egli poi tradusse per la prima volta la summa theologica di un grande pensatore tibetano e quindi la confutò in una vasta opera polemica scritta in tibetano: incontro mirabile avvenuto sul Tetto del mondo della dommatica buddhistica e di S. Tommaso d'Aquino." Compare Tucci, "Prefazio," in Opere tibetane di Ippolito Desideri, S.J. [=OT], trans. Giuseppe Toscano, SX, 4 vols. (Rome: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1988), 1:7: "Il Desideri soprattutto cercò di intendere la dommatica tibetana così contesta di filosofia da renderne qualche volta difficile la comprensione. In tal modo accadde sul Tetto del mondo un fatto mai più rinnovatosi: l'incontro fra San Tommaso e Tsoṅg k'a pa che scrissero, entrambi, una Summa delle basi teologiche della propria fede. Infatti il Desideri subito comprese che per svolgere con successo un'opera di valido apostolato del cattolicesimo, occorreva anzitutto che egli studiasse i principi essenziali della dommatica lamaista che non poteva non essere quella della 'setta gialla' al potere in Lhasa." Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

2. Desideri's Historical Notices of the Kingdoms of Tibet (Notizie istoriche de' Regni del Thibet), which recounts his life in central Tibet from 1716 and 1721, can be found in the final three volumes of Luciano Petech, ed., I missionari italiani nel Tibet e nel Nepal, 7 vols. (Rome: Libreria dello Stato, 1954–1956) [=MITN]. For a new translation with expert critical apparatus, see Michael Sweet and Leonard Zwilling, trans., Mission to Tibet: The Extraordinary Eighteenth-Century Account of Father Ippolito Desideri, S.J. (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2010). For a thorough bibliography, see Enzo Gualtiero Bargiacchi, Ippolito Desideri S.J. Opere e bibliografia. Subsidia ad Historiam Societatis Iesu 15 (Rome: Institutum Historicum Societatis Iesu, 2007).

3. Luciano Petech, MITN 5:xviii–xxviii; Richard Sherburne, SJ, "A Buddhist-Christian Dialog? Some Notes on Desideri's Tibetan Manuscripts," in Reflections on Tibetan Culture: Essays in Memory of Turrell V. Wylie, ed. Lawrence Epstein and Richard F. Sherburne (Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1990), 295–305; Robert E. Goss, "The First Meeting of Catholic Scholasticism with dGe lugs pa Scholasticism," in Scholasticism: Cross-cultural and Comparative Perspectives, ed. José Cabezon (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 65–90.

4. Elaine Robson, A Christian Catechism in Tibetan (unpublished dissertation submitted for the PhD at the University of Bristol, 2014); Donald S. Lopez and Thupten Jinpa, Dispelling the Darkness: A Jesuit's Quest for the Soul of Tibet (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017).

5. Giuseppe Toscano, "Il concetto di śūnyatā nel Desideri," in Orientale Iosephi Tucci Memoriae Dicata, ed. G. Gnoli and L. Lanciotti, 3 vols. (Rome: Istituto italiano per il Medio ed Estremo Oriente, 1988), 3:1465–1492.

6. Desideri's most important treatment of Madhyamaka is The Origin of Sentient Beings, Things, and So Forth (Sems can dang chos la sogs pa rnams gyi [sic] 'byung khungs). The Jesuit's Questions Concerning the View of Emptiness and Rebirth Offered to the Scholars of Tibet by the European Lama Ippolito (Mgo skar bla ma i po li do shes bya ba yis phul ba'i bod kyi mkhas pa rnams la skye ba snga ma dang stong pa nyid kyi lta ba'i sgo nas zhu ba) cites hundreds of Buddhist philosophical works in its discussions of karma, rebirth, and hell, but Desideri abandoned work on his magnum opus before he began the treatment of emptiness promised in its title.

7. Toscano, "Il concetto di śūnyatā," 1491: "In questa esposizione usò insieme la logica aristotelico-tomista e quella propria della mentalità tibetana, cercando così di persuadere i suoi interlocutori dei loro errori e indicare loro la via della verità cristiana."

8. Toscano, "Il concetto di śūnyatā," 1467. Cf. OT 4:28.

9. Ibid., 1468–1470. Cf. OT 3:27.

10. Ibid., 1470: "Da quanto si è detto potremmo chiamare la filosofia buddhista, filosofia del non-essere in metafisica, agnostica nella logica in quanto nega valore alla conoscenza; apsichica in psicologia perché nega l'esistenza dell'anima e dell'io; amorale in etica perché atea, senza fondamento in una legge scritta da Dio nei nostri cuori, ma solo in balia del volere e non volere liberarsi dal ciclo la nostra mentalità, e direi talora col buon senso, ma mai in contraddizione col principio del fenomenismo. Il Desideri capì ciò: capì che lui poteva fare una critica solo al principio del fenomenismo, accettato il quale o rifiutato il quale, bisognava accettare o rifiutare tutto il sistema."

11. Ibid., 1472–1473: "Questo fenomenismo universale, punto focale della filosofia buddhista sarà l'ostacolo che il Desideri dovrà affrontare, e lo affronterà per mezzo di elementi della filosofia greca filtrati attraverso la scolastica e San Tommaso d'Aquino. Questi argomenti però, anche se talora lasciano intravvedere la loro origine dalla filosofia occidentale, sono sempre quanto mai originali e in piena armonia con la mentalità tibetana. Il Desideri si rese contro che era quasi inevitabile interpretare la corrente buddhista del mādhyamika come nichilismo, però di fatto non la interpretò come nichilismo, anzi vide nel mādhyamika la possibilità di un colloquio costruttivo, proprio per l'interpretazione positiva che si poteva e si doveva dare alla śūnyatā." Toscano makes similar claims about the encounter between Thomism and Buddhism at OT 3:49, OT 4:25, and OT 4:41, but accentuates the philosophical inconsistencies of universal phenomenalism at OT 4:29–30. At OT 4:41, he will go beyond saying that Desideri's arguments were in complete harmony with Tibetans' ways of thought to say that Desideri's treatment of Madhyamaka was completamente tibetanizzato.

12. Toscano, "Il concetto di śūnyatā," 1475: "Possiamo schematizzare così il pensiero del Desideri

  1. I. Anzitutto egli si chiede come mai sia stato possibile che dalla contingenza universale si sia passati alla negazione di una Causa Prima e trova che è stato male interpretato uno dei due opposti al vero (dgag bya).

  2. II. Il dipendente e quindi la śūnyatā esigono la Causa Prima cioè l'Indipendente.

  3. III. Il concetto di śūnyatā è esatto ed accettabile nel senso che nessuna cosa fenomenica ha in sé la ragione del proprio essere.

  4. IV. Nelle opere dei saggi tibetani si sente l'esigenza dell'Indipendente perché vi è descritto con precisione filosofica.

  5. V. Bisogna rivedere il principio di non-contraddizione, perché la sua negazione rende impossibile qualsiasi ragionamento.

  6. VI. Necessità di introdurre e sviluppare la logica dell'analogia.

  7. VII. La Causa Prima è l'unico vero degno luogo di rifugio che gli autori tibetani hanno così ben descritto perché ne sentivano il bisogno."

13. Despite its adoption by later Śaiva and Vaiṣṇava theologians, the term "Lord" (Īśvara) rarely designates the highest absolute (brahman) in the ancient Hindu systems with which most Buddhist philosophers were familiar. That "Lord" is merely the being responsible for the preservation of karmic effects from one world cycle to the next. In fact, it is difficult to untangle the historical acceptance of the translation of Īśvara as "God" from certain aspects of Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan's religio-political vision. (That is the subject of another essay.) Note, too, that Christian theologians would reject monist and nondual Hindu systems that posit brahman as the material cause of the universe. (Please do not be taken aback by the term "material." In classical Western philosophical systems, "matter" designates mere negative potency, so a purely "spiritual" or "ideal" entity, such as Plotinus's Monad can still serve as the "material" cause of the universe which emanates from it.)

14. ARSI Goa 74, fol. 47.

15. ARSI Goa 74, fol. 65v. In this respect, Toscano's repeated claims that God is causa sui must be rejected out of hand. For Desideri, God cannot even be said to "arise" from no cause whatsoever.

16. Tibetan philosophers recognize a series of phrases as synonyms, including "ultimately established" (don dam par grub), "thoroughly established" (yang dag par grub), "established by its own mode [or being] (gshis lugs su grub), "independently established" or "established by its own power" (rang dbang du grub), "existing by means of self-defining characteristics" (rang gi mtshan nyid kyis yod pa), "existing in-and-of itself" (rang ngos nas yod pa), "substantially existing" (rdzas su yod), and "autonomously existing" (tshugs thub tu yod). Christian philosophers would not assume such phrases to be synonymous.

17. ARSI Goa 74, fols. 62–64v.

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