Beyond Conventional Existence and Fundamental Emptiness: Kuiji’s Logical Analysis of Bhāviveka’s Two Inferences for the Emptiness of All Dharmas

Ernest Brewster


During the sixth century CE, Bhāviveka (c. 500–560 CE), the South Asian Buddhist philosopher, enlisted the ‘three-part inference’ (Sanskrit, hereafter, Skt.: trairūpya; Chinese, hereafter, Chi.: sanzhi zuofa 三支作法), a form of logical reasoning based in the ‘science of reasons’ (Skt.: hetuvidyā; Chi.: yinming 因明) to expound the Madhyamaka doctrine of the ‘emptiness’ (Skt.: śūnyatā; Chi.: kongxing 空性) of all dharmas, the fundamental constituents making up the entirety of reality. In the Jewel in the Palm of the Hand (Skt.: *Hastaratna; Chi.: Zhangzhen lun 掌珍論), a seminal Madhyamaka treatise preserved only in the seventh-century CE Chinese translation by Xuanzang (602?– 664), Bhāviveka formulated two inferences intending to prove that all ‘conditioned dharmas’ (Skt.: saṃskṛtadharmāḥ; Chi.: youwei fa 有爲 法) and ‘unconditioned dharmas’ (Skt.: asaṃskṛtadharmāḥ; Chi.: wuwei fa 無爲法) are universally empty, in terms of ‘ultimate truth’ (Skt.: paramārthasatya; Chi.: shengyi di 勝義諦). This paper examines how Kuiji 窺基 (632–682), an eminent Sinitic scholar-monk, puts pressure on Bhāviveka’s inferences by contending that they erroneously attribute the property of omnipresent emptiness to all conditioned and all unconditioned dharmas. In his rejoinder to Bhāviveka’s two inferences, Kuiji hews closely to the doctrinal sources of Yogācāra Buddhism in which ‘reality as it really is’ (Skt.: *tattva; Chi.: zhenshi 真 實) is characterised by an ‘ultimately real nature’ (Skt.: *dravyatva; Chi.: zhenshi 實性) that is unconditioned, neither arising, nor ceasing, and neither conventionally existent, nor fundamentally empty.

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