Transcript: 47. Jan Westerhoff on Nāgārjuna

A discussion with Jan Westerhoff, an expert on the great Buddhist thinker Nāgārjuna, dealing with the notion of emptiness, the tetralemma, and Nāgārjuna's reception in India and Tibet.
Podcast series

Note: this transcription was produced by automatic voice recognition software. It has been corrected by hand, but may still contain errors. We are very grateful to Tim Wittenborg for his production of the automated transcripts and for the efforts of a team of volunteer listeners who corrected the texts.

PA: We've already done several episodes on Nāgārjuna, but just in case the listener needs a reminder or missed those episodes, can you just give us a reminder of who he was when he lived? 

JW: Sure. Nāgārjuna probably lived during the 2nd to 3rd century CE, even though there are various traditional biographies that attribute to him much longer lifespans of several hundred years, but that seems to be a historically plausible dating. He probably was active somewhere in southern India, even though we're not entirely sure where. He was most likely a Buddhist monk, but that's about as far as the clearly supportable data go. His most famous work, the ‘Fundamental Stanzas on the Middle Way’, the Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, which is a work of 450 verses, and most, I think, of the material we are going to talk about today is drawn from that work. The Fundamental Wisdom on the Middle Way is a philosophical text that is closely aligned with the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, or the Prajñāpāramitā texts, to the extent that it provides a systematic way of spelling out certain statements made in these sutras. Interestingly, the texts in Nāgārjuna are connected, at least in the mythological accounts of his life, because the traditional story of the Perfection of Wisdom texts is that they were taught by the historical Buddha, then entrusted to a group of underground, underwater serpent spirit called Nagas, who looked after them until the time was right for them to come into the public again.

PA: A rather untraditional way of transmitting philosophical learning. 

JW: Right, right. And Nāgārjuna, he bested the Nagas in his name, is the one who brought these texts back from the Nagas, back to the human world, and then explicated them in his philosophy. In fact, there is an interesting link between the text we are talking about, the Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way, and the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras, insofar as the praise of the Buddha at the very beginning of the text, is a very close paraphrase of a passage in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra in 25,000 lines. So there is a direct link here between these kinds of texts and Nāgārjuna's main work. 

PA: And does that mean that we should think about him really as a commentator, so that everything that he says can be traced back to a source text on which he is reflecting, or is it more like his philosophical ideas have a fairly loose relationship with the texts on which he is commenting, so to speak? 

JW: Well, the Karakas are not a commentary, so they don't refer to an earlier root text as explicit commentaries do. What they, in fact, they only refer to one sutra by name in the whole text, so it's not a commentary work of that nature. However, I think the best way of conceiving it is as a philosophical explication of specific claims made in the Perfection of Wisdom Sutras. And these sutras are different from philosophical texts as we are usually familiar with, because they make a lot of philosophical claims, but they don't necessarily supply the arguments. So you can interpret Nāgārjuna as supplying the arguments for the claims, particular claims about emptiness, that the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtra make. 

PA: Right. And actually, could we even think of him as making more explicit what we might think of as the underlying philosophy of the earlier sūtras? 

JW: Yes. Insofar as you would want to say that he spells out or brings out the arguments that you would need in order to support these claims, I don't think we should think of Nāgārjuna as a philosopher who just goes and does his own thing, right? What he wants to do is explicate the Buddha's message. And he says that very clearly in the text at the very beginning. And explicated in the way in which it is stated in the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras. So to that extent, you can say it's a commentary on that. But it's a commentary only insofar as it's explicated something that is present in a lot of other texts. 

PA: Moving on then to some of his actual philosophical positions, I guess the most prominent one is probably this doctrine of emptiness. And I think it's maybe easier to think about emptiness in terms of what he's rejecting. And what he's rejecting goes under the name svabhava, which means something like stable reality, or it means something like that, but maybe you can tell us what it really means. 

JW: Right. Okay, well, so etymologically, the word is a compound of two parts, sva and bhava. Sva means own and bhava means existence or being. So if you translate it very literally, it means own being, which of course doesn't tell you a lot yet. The way this term has generally been translated in the Western literature is by some term from the set substance, essence, intrinsic nature. None of those gets the whole complexities of the term, but they all get fairly close in various, various respects. The term svabhava is fairly complex because it incorporates a multiplicity of different meanings. I think we can differentiate at least three different dimensions of meaning. One is a clearly ontological one. To that extent, svabhava refers to some kind of ground of being. So that gets closest perhaps to the Western notion of substance. And in the Indian commentary literature, you find that kind of grounding spelled out in a variety of different ways in terms of marialogical grounding, so the most fundamental parts, the atoms, in terms of causal grounding, in terms of a first course, and in terms of grounding of our conceptualization of reality to show some non-conceptual stuff our conceptions about. So svabhava is rejected. All of this is rejected. So that's the ontological dimension as the first dimension. Secondly, it also has a semantic dimension. When these philosophers talk about the svabhava in linguistic terms, it generally refers to a specific conception of language where there is a ready-made and structured world out there, and there is a language here, and the two are related in some way perhaps by structural similarity. So that would be the svabhava view of language.

PA: Svabhava would be the referent of the linguistic term, is that right?

JW: The fact that language works with svabhava would be that it structurally matches onto an objectively structured reality. So how the semantic works would be the stuff that exists with svabhava. 

PA: For example, if you analyze sentences into agents and their actions and the objects the way that the grammarians do, then the thought would be, well, if language works with svabhava, which is structured like that, then reality must be structured like that too. 

JW: Precisely. You have a theory in Sanskrit grammar, so calledkārikātheory, which gives you an idea of the different components or agents within a sentence, and then if you say, okay, there's a one-to-one match between the grammatical structure and the ontological structure of the fact it describes. So that would be a kind of view that reads language or semantics as working with svabhava. So that's the second, the third component, and in a way the most important component is what I sometimes call the cognitive component of svabhava. That means that svabhava is a kind of cognitive default that we project onto the world automatically when we perceive anything. The aim of the Buddhist practice that Nāgārjuna's philosophy is supposed to support is to try to train us out of that and to remove this kind of intuitive and default superimposition of seeing the world in terms of svabhava.

PA: Nāgārjuna then is one of the philosophers who thinks of philosophy as a kind of therapy. 

JW: There will be one dimension of that point, yes. 

PA: Now that sounds like it could be a very skeptical position because if Nāgārjuna comes and says, well everything is empty and by empty I mean nothing has essence or substance or own being in an ontological sense and also language doesn't mirror reality and also our thought doesn't necessarily latch onto reality, then all of that sounds extremely skeptical. But then on the other hand it seems like a lot of the debates, because of the opponents he's arguing against, focus on some rather ambitious metaphysical postulations anyway, like the self, the unchanging self that you get held up in the classical Vedic tradition. So one thing I'm not sure about with Nāgārjuna is whether he's telling me to abandon common sense or whether he's just telling me that I shouldn't be a Hindu philosopher. So how skeptical do you read him as being? 

JW: Right, okay a couple of points. First I think it's a little bit difficult to use the term skepticism here because the claims he's making are not exclusively claims about how we know the world and our inability to know it. So even though he has a lot to say about epistemology, the enterprise is at least as ontological as it is epistemological, right? That's the one point. The other point, because how does Nāgārjuna or Madhyamaka want you to give up common sense? Well that's a very good question, I think we might come back to that when we talk a little bit about the later ramifications of this. But I think the immediately important point is that what Madhyamaka is trying to do is, or at least how it interprets itself, is by taking further the development of the Buddha's idea of selflessness insofar as it doesn't just apply to the selflessness of persons, but to the selflessness of phenomena, to the selflessness of all dharmas, which are the fundamental phenomena that the early Buddhist philosophy has identified. So this is not just a rejection of the Hindu concept of Atman, that is that's one dimension of the theory of emptiness. But it is at the same time also a rejection of the entire Abhidharma metaphysics, which can be plausibly interpreted as a kind of trope theory, where you've got a fundamental level of reality that consists of these momentary tropes, which then conglomerate into the medium sized dry goods we see in the world around us. 

PA: And a trope is just a particular instance of a universal eventually, like this red or this sweet taste. 

JW: Yeah, a particularized property, yes. 

PA: I guess then there would be a connection to Buddhist ethical teaching or liberation, because if I come to accept not only that I have no enduring self, but that chocolate cake has no enduring reality, then it may help me to lose my attachment to eating chocolate cake. Is that the idea? 

JW: That is one way of reading it. Of course, the connection between Madhyamaka ontology and Madhyamaka ethics is fairly complicated. But we'll talk probably a little bit more about the Madhyamaka conception of conventional reality, but if you not just reject and ultimately exist in Atman, but also conventionally real Atman, of course, you've got the obvious questions with karmic causality and karmic responsibility and who gets reborn and so on. And all of those questions are very much tied up with ethics. So that is an important issue that needs to be sorted out by Madhyamaka thinkers. 

PA: But certainly it would be fair to say that at some level this is an attempt to combat attachment. 

JW: Right, yes. 

PA: Okay, now that's the negative side of Nāgārjuna's ontology, the critique of not just Atman, but the critique of svabhava in general, the insistence of a doctrine of emptiness. Is there also a positive ontology that comes along with that? Can he offer us any sort of positive description of the world? Or is he really just there when other positively minded philosophers come along to say, no, no, I won't let you say that? 

JW: Right. There is a some, within the theory of emptiness, you'll find the rather intriguing claim that the theory of emptiness also applies to itself. So emptiness is itself empty. So to that extent, the Madhyamaka doesn't think it's possible to give any objective account of what the world is ultimately like. So you can't just turn around and say, okay, a materialist might want to say that ultimately everything is material, the Madhyamaka wants to say in the same way ultimately everything is empty. That's not what they want to say. The way the Madhyamaka philosophizing works, and you can see that strategy at work in the Nāgārjuna's kārikā, is by a kind of piecemeal approach, looking at specific concepts that are particularly prone to being conceptualized in terms to svabhava and trying to take those apart. Of course, that approach is pretty much open-ended because you don't know what kind of other svabhava-like notion your opponent is going to come up with. That is also a reason why there is nothing like a master argument for Madhyamika, so an argument that solves the matter once and for all, and for all comers. 

PA: Because you piecemeal shoot down each positive ontological claim made by the opponent. 

JW: Yes, that's correct. However, I think it is worthwhile to note that the Madhyamaka project is very interesting and I think unique in the respect that it applies the dissolving analysis of, it applies to everything with svabhava, to its own theory. You end up with a theory that says that there is no ultimately true theory, or no ultimately true account of the world. To that extent, we might wonder, is that still an ontological theory or philosophical theory given that we often think that these theories are precisely meant to do that, to tell us what the world is ultimately like. That is a peculiar feature of Madhyamaka thinking.

PA: He is really forced into that because there is pressure from potential or real opponents of Nāgārjuna who can say, well, you are refuting yourself because you say that everything is empty but on the other hand your claim that everything is empty can't be empty because otherwise it couldn't be true. Then he responds to that by saying, no, my claim that everything is empty is also empty. 

JW: Yes, that is a dilemma that is proposed by the opponent of the Madhyamaka. The way Nāgārjuna responds to that is by saying, look, of course the theory of emptiness is empty too, but that doesn't mean that it can't fulfill any philosophical purpose. For example, in refuting other theories. In the same way as the emptiness of, say, a chariot doesn't mean that it can't carry wood in the same way an empty philosophical theory can still do lots of things even though it's not an ultimate account of reality.

PA: That takes us back to the idea that it's a kind of therapeutic philosophy. 

JW: Yes, that would be one way of reading this. 

PA: What happens then, as you mentioned before, that they have to say something about conventional reality, is the idea that conventional reality is more or less left standing then and we just are being taught to abandon the idea that there's a svabhava behind conventional reality or does conventional reality also get put into question? 

JW: Right. What the precise status of conventional reality within Madhyamaka is becomes a huge issue in the commentary tradition after Nāgārjuna. Two main possibilities explored by various thinkers is that on the one hand we have the idea that conventional reality is false because it has all these superimpositions of svabhava and we can interact with that in our everyday life because it has various practical purposes but it obviously can't tell us anything about what the world is really like. On the other hand you get the approach that says that even though there is no ultimate true theory, that doesn't mean that every conventionally true theory is as bad as every other. Right? So there is a stratification of conventional theories in terms of philosophical quality even though there is none that is ultimately true. So you can rate them in terms of better or worse even though there's no best. 

PA: And isn't there a threat there that the Brahmanic opponents of the Buddhist could come in and say well fine if you're willing to concede that our theory is about Atman and the gods and so on is the best conventional reality then we'd be willing to settle for that? 

JW: Well I don't think a Brahminical opponent would be happy with that because that means that precisely Brahman and so on is not a theory that is ultimately true, it's just something that's convenient. It's a convenient fiction to believe. But you basically pull the metaphysical rug from under that. 

PA: And so they wouldn't be willing to settle for mere pragmatic utility or something? 

JW: No certainly not. 

PA: Okay so there's no way of bringing the two schools together in this fashion? 

JW: Certainly not in that way, no. 

PA: Let's focus on one particular thing that it seems like Buddhists should want to say that sounds very positively ontological which is that one and the same person in some sense is reincarnated because we're told that if we don't achieve liberation we will be reincarnated. Sometimes we're told that certain actions will result in certain fruits in the next life if not in this one. And it's always been a problem in Buddhism that if you really take the doctrine of no self seriously it's hard to see how I or anyone could be reincarnated. How can Nāgārjuna account for this possibility of reincarnation and maybe more generally how can he account for the possibility of personal identity over time so that you and I are the same people in some sense as the people who started having this conversation fifteen minutes ago? 

JW: Right. Okay well to a certain extent of course this is a problem that has been with Buddhist philosophy since the very beginning because the theory of no self goes back all the way to the historical Buddha. So and the way this is usually tackled in Abhidharma accounts is by treating the person as a causal complex of momentary phenomena both physical phenomena and mental phenomena that constitute this kind of stream and the stream is unified by one moment causing the next moment. And this is for the Abhidharmas not for the Madhyamikas this is for the underlying reality on which the notion of a person is superimposed. And so that is then used to do all the work for all of the notions that you just mentioned explain memory, explain karmic responsibility, explain what is reborn and so you've got a similar like you know if you light one candle by another candle is it the same flame or not it's impossible to say but what you can say is that there's causal chain going from the first candle to the other candle and so that is a way in which you can differentiate persons between each other. So that is an issue that was already addressed in the early Abhidharma treatises. But of course now in the Madhyamaka concept you have to say that all of this underlying ontological theory, the causal theory of the moments and so on all of that is only conventionally real because they don't allow anything that is ultimately real. So is that still sufficient to phrase all these foolish notions like karmic responsibility and rebirth and so on? Well what Nāgārjuna and the Madhyamaka also say is that you shouldn't think that saying that something is conventional either means we're making it all up or we can just decide what conventional reality is going to be like. And a metaphor that comes up frequently in Madhyamaka texts and also in Nāgārjuna is the metaphor of the world being either like a magical illusion or like a dream. So if you take the dream example even though the actors in the dream are not real you can't just first of all decide what you want to dream about and once you're in the dream you can't just manipulate reality in any way you want. It's rather the case that once you are within that particular illusion it has certain ways in which it works and it follows certain laws and in the Buddhist context we say those laws in our waking world are the karmic laws that influence us in certain directions. But that doesn't mean that any of that is ultimately real. 

PA: That seems to go a lot better with the second version of the Madhyamaka understanding of conventional reality that you just mentioned. It seems to imply that there's a better way and a worse way of understanding conventional reality. Or do you mean something more like the obvious way that things present themselves? So if there's a chair in front of me then I don't have the option of whether or not I believe that there's a chair in front of me. 

JW: I think the main issue in the discussion of different forms of conventional reality is if you want to have within the Madhyamaka context anything like a scientific picture of the world with a kind of reductive relation between different theories. You can either say the world is just the way it appears, that's conventional reality, that's it. Or you might want to say the theory of the world as it's presented to us in physics is in certain ways more useful than the way it appears to us in the manifest image. Depending on how you see conventional reality in the Madhyamaka context you are able or you are not able to make that distinction. 

PA: I see. So the second theory would be one which sees levels of conventional reality, one of which might be better than the other, whereas the first version just says well conventional reality is the way it seems and it's empty. 

JW: Right. Okay so perhaps we should just put some labels actually on these theories just to not confuse people. So the first interpretative position is usually connected with a commentator called Chandrakirti and the second with a commentator called Bhāviveka and those two formed two different streams of reading the Madhyamaka enterprise and they developed a very intricate discussion amongst each other both in later India and then later also in Tibet. Do you have any particular view on who has the better of that interpretative dispute, I mean what Nāgārjuna himself was trying to say or are you going to remain neutral? I'm going to be boring and say I can see both sides of the debate. You have to see the Chandrakirti 's position, the Prāsaṅgika Madhyamaka position is usually the one that gets most of the airtime primarily because that is the one that became most dominant in Tibet and given that that is the kind of the living tradition of Madhyamaka that we still see as continuing very often text or the entire history of Madhyamaka is read backwards with that view in mind. Whereas Bhāviveka and his levels approach has lost out a little bit and I think it's worthwhile to actually bring that back into the focus a little bit more and understand what the philosophical advantages of this theory are even though the majority of Madhyamaka thinkers after Bhāviveka gave prominence to Chandrakirti's approach.

PA: I see. We've been talking so far about his ontology and his critique of other rival ontologies but something else that's very striking about Nāgārjuna is his attention to philosophical methodology. We already mentioned his anticipating the objection that the emptiness thesis is itself empty and he finds a way around that but there's another thing for which he's quite well known which is his use of the tetralemma. He's not the only Buddhist author who uses this but he's a master of the tetralemma so can you remind the listener what the tetralemma is and then talk about some of the ways that Nāgārjuna uses it and maybe in particular what you think the underlying logic of the tetralemma is because that's quite a controversial question. 

JW: Right. Well, the first thing to note is that the Tetra lemma just in Buddhist philosophical literature is a fairly complex phenomenon. First of all, not entirely clear what its form is in all cases and it's also not entirely clear what all the Buddhist authors do with it. So there are Tetra lemmas that come only with two alternatives. There are those actually with four, hence of course the tetralemma. Then generally the four alternatives are rejected but we also find a couple of cases where actually all four alternatives are affirmed. So I just want to talk about the dominant form which is the four alternatives and the dominant way of handling it, namely rejecting all the four alternatives and the dominant way of interpreting that. Okay, so you've got four alternatives within this form of the tetralemma. You've got a, not [¬a], a and not a [a  ¬a] and neither a nor not [¬(a  ¬a)]. In this form they're all rejected. So what is the a going to be? Well certainly in Nāgārjuna's text the a can be things like the existence of nirvana, the existence of persons, the assertion of emptiness or the existence of the Buddha after death. All of those for example. One way of interpreting what is going on here is that all of the four positions of the tetralemma are regarded as making an objectionable presupposition and all of those four are rejected because the presupposition itself is supposed to be rejected. I'll give you a simple example which actually goes back to the early Buddhist texts. If you ask somebody, okay you've got a fire and you blow it out and somebody asks you where did it go, north, south, east or west, you're going to deny it all because the questioner makes the faulty assumption that the fire goes to a specific place once it's gone out. So that's a way in which you want to reject all the alternatives because you want to reject a specific presupposition they make. However in specific contexts the issue is a little bit more complex. So let me just read you one version of the tetralemma we find actually in chapter 22 of the karakas where Nāgārjuna says, “empty should not be asserted, non-empty should not be asserted, both or neither should not be asserted since these are only said for the purpose of designation”. Okay, so we've got four alternatives here. So empty should not be asserted. Why is that? Well because emptiness should not be asserted as an ultimately true theory because no theory is ultimately true, not even a theory of emptiness. Nor should we say either at the conventional level or at the ultimate level that all things fail to be empty and thereby have svabhava because that's precisely what the Madhyamaka wants to point out. Nor should we say either at the conventional level or the ultimate level that some but not other objects are empty. So some have svabhava, some don't. That's also not what the Madhyamaka wants to say. And nor should we want to say that there are some objects that both have svabhava and lack it. 

PA: Because that actually seems to violate the law of non-contradiction. 

JW: Correct. 

PA: Actually, wouldn't the fourth item in the Tetralemma just always violate the law of non-contradiction? So it seems like you can get that one for free. 

JW: Ah, well that is yet another can of worms. I think this is a good objection. The way this is usually handled, and this is actually the most famous way of handling it goes back to the commentator Bhāviveka that we've already mentioned, is by distinguishing two different forms of negation that are used within the context of the tetralemma. There is one form of negation that preserves the certain presuppositions made in the negated propositions and others that don't. And once you see how those interact, you realize that you can't dispose of the fourth possibility quite so quickly. 

PA: I see. It seems that there's another logical problem that arises here, which is that if he refuses to accept both of two propositions which are contraries, for example, everything is empty, not everything is empty, then it looks like he's violating another logical rule, which is the law of the excluded middle or the principle of by-balance or something. But just not to get too technical, the idea is, well, if I say something meaningful, it should be either true or false. And if someone comes along and says to me, well, it's neither true nor false, then it looks like they're violating the laws of logic. So how can he get around that? 

JW: Well, this is, I think, best interpreted in terms of the presupposition failure I mentioned earlier on. So if you ask me, say, is the number three yellow or not? Well, it's obviously not yellow. But if you buy not yellow, you mean, well, it has some other color. It's green or blue or red. Then I would want to negate that as well, right? Because it doesn't have any color at all because it's an abstract object, right? So to that extent, you can see that you want to negate both alternatives of a contradictory pair if you assume that the opponent that is setting up these two alternatives is making a presupposition behind each alternative that you reject. 

PA: And I suppose that given his global rejection of svabhava, it would actually be the case that there are bad presuppositions behind an awful lot of potential propositions we could consider or maybe even all propositions. 

JW: Yes. 

PA: So you apply the Tetra Lemma all over the place. 

JW: Yes. 

PA: Which is pretty much what he does. 

JW: Yeah. 

PA: Now, it's one thing that I think is interesting about Nāgārjuna is that he does seem to be a very reactive philosopher in the sense that he's spending a lot of his time criticizing rival views. And we might have an expectation that philosophers like that don't generate their own living traditions. But in this case, that's very much not true. Nāgārjuna is one of the most influential Indian thinkers. And you've already mentioned that there are two commentators who disagreed about the right way to understand him. Can you say a little bit more just in conclusion about how Nāgārjuna's thought was received in India and also in Tibet? 

JW: As we mentioned before, the most important split in the understanding of Madhyamaka, kind of Nāgārjuna's thought in India, concerns the status of conventional reality. And in particular, the question of whether some conventions can be better than others, even though there is no ultimately true, ultimately real reality. And Bhāviveka said, yes, some conventions can be better than others. Chandrakirti says, no, the conventional reality is the way it appears to us. It is deceptive, and that's where we leave the matter. So this is certainly the most important interpretative divergence we find in the Indian context. Then once the Buddhism and within the Madhyamaka schools becomes translated into Tibet, the tradition picks up from there. And in the end, Madhyamaka, and in particular Madhyamaka read according to Chandrakirti, also known as Prasaṅgika Madhyamaka, then becomes the dominant philosophical school within Tibetan Buddhism and in fact the official party line. And all other Buddhist schools, like Yogachara and Abhidamaka, are relegated as propadeutics to that. So they're all accepted, but they are all steps towards the final correct view. And I think one important diversion we find within the Tibetan discussion of Madhyamaka is the issue we mentioned at the very beginning, namely the question whether Madhyamaka asks us to reject the common sense view of the world. And that is connected closely with the question with what the Madhyamaka think the object of negation is. So if you think everything is empty, nothing has a svabhava, what precisely are you rejecting? And within the Tibetan scholastic tradition, we sometimes find the idea that there is something called the falsely existent object, that is what the Madhyamaka project, but then there's also a conventionally object that is left untouched by the Madhyamaka analysis. Now that issue becomes important because you can see really two sides of a coin here. On the one hand, this kind of procedure has a certain danger of turning the object of negation, or the svabhava, into a kind of scholastic epiphenomenon. Because why should anybody care if the false nature is rejected as long as you have some still conventionally existent true nature still flying around? 

PA: It seems like a lot of work to tell us that the things that are true are the things we pretty much thought were true in the first place. 

JW: Precisely. So if Madhyamaka analysis does not apply to shoes and ships and ceiling walks, but to kind of philosophically straw men, then it's hard to see what all the fuss is about. So the key debate is here that on the one hand, the defenders of this approach say, look, if you regard Madhyamaka as negating common sense or the way things appear to us, then you end up with a kind of nihilistic theory which says nothing exists. On the other hand, the opponents of that view claim that, well, it would be very surprising if any philosophical theory would make the world disappear. So it's not that if you believe in these arguments, nothing appears to you anymore. Rather, what's happening is that you are forced into this position of this discrepancy between the theory saying it's all an illusion, it's not there, and the appearance of it as real. And so this tradition claims that this kind of tension, this kind of discrepancy is what can generate a direct experiential awareness of what the Madhyamakas are trying to show. 


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