Bhāviveka and Indian Buddhism
The book includes a lengthy introduction (94 pages), copiously annotated translations of chapter 4 (110 pages) and chapter 5 (86 pages) of Bhāviveka’s Madhyamakahṛdayakārikā (MHK) and its autocommentary, and an edition of the available Sanskrit text and the Tibetan translation of those chapters (143 pages).
It also has a very useful 30-page bibliography, a list of texts named or quoted in chapters 4 and 5 of the autocommentary, and an index to the Sanskrit verses of those two chapters.
In his Prajñāpradīpa, a commentary on Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, Bhāviveka strongly criticized an earlier commentator, Buddhapālita, for failing to give syllogistic arguments and for failing to refute possible objections by opponents.
Thus, Eckel’s choice of “Bhāviveka” seems to be supported by the preponderance of evidence currently available, though the question cannot be regarded as definitively settled. One hopes that future manuscript discoveries will shed more light on the matter.
Bhāviveka’s major independent work is the MHK, together with its autocommentary, the Tarkajvālā (TJ). (The authorship of TJ will be discussed below.) MHK consists of some 928 verses in the surviving Sanskrit manuscript and 1,024 verses in the Tibetan version; it is not available in Chinese.
It is divided into eleven chapters. The first two deal with the bodhisattva path, while the third and longest chapter discusses the bodhisattva’s practice of prajñā and the nature of Buddhahood. In the context of prajñā, Bhāviveka expounds Madhyamaka at length.
The remaining chapters of MHK are mainly concerned with examining and refuting the doctrines of other schools.
“the question is whether there is any need to suppose that The Flame of Reason was written by someone other than the sixth-century Bhāviveka ... the answer seems to be no, at least with regard to the work as a whole.
There is no need to be quite so parsimonious, however, when it comes to the authorship of individual passages....
This places him in the second camp, though without necessarily positing a second Bhāviveka.
Methodologically, however, he tends toward the first camp.
After discussing a passage that may well have been an interpolation, he says, “Rather than multiply authors unnecessarily, it seems best to begin with the assumption that this portion of the text belongs to the author of The Heart of the Middle Way, unless there is strong textual and historical evidence to prove otherwise” (p. 23).
Eckel’s edition of chapters 4 and 5 of the Sanskrit text of MHK is based on Christian Lindtner’s edition of the entire text, along with Robert A. F. Thurman’s unpublished edition of chapter 4 and Paul Hoornaert’s edition of chapter 5.
Thus, it is based on other editions rather than directly on the manuscript or the published photographs of it.
He explains, “My procedure has been to follow the wording and text-divisions of the sDe-dge version and adopt the readings of the Peking or Golden bsTan-’gyur only when they offer a clear improvement on the text of the sDe-dge” (p. 302).
My goal has simply been to make Bhāviveka’s work ‘intelligible’ so that a thoughtful and attentive reader can understand” (p. 99).
While one may not always agree with his choices for translation terms, one can be sure that those choices have been made with careful consideration.
Another way in which Eckel has sought to make his translation intelligible is through the use of annotation.
As he explains, “The notes are more extensive than usual and deserve some explanation.
They are meant to do three things.
A vast amount of the cultural lore that lies behind this text is now lost.
But I have tried to draw on the resources of every aspect of Buddhist (and non-Buddhist) scholarship to construct a picture of Bhāviveka’s sources.... The third.... function of the notes is to explain why I have interpreted certain technical terms in the way I did” (p. 101).
He goes on to say, however, “From the few places where Bhāviveka quotes texts that have survived in Sanskrit, and from the Sanskrit original of his own verses, we can see many places where the Tibetan translation needs correction....
He points out the importance of this culture of debate as the context in which Indian philosophical texts were written, especially a text like MHK, in which opponents’ views are first stated in some detail and then refuted in even greater detail.
He notes that MHK is the earliest extant Indian doxographical treatise, a genre in which the views of various schools are either simply described or else, as in MHK, described and then refuted or affirmed according to the author’s own religious/philosophical allegiance.
Eckel goes on to discuss the ways in which Bhāviveka categorized philosophical views and the ways in which he used “seeing” and “motion” as metaphors to describe the spiritual and philosophical quest of a Buddhist scholar.
There follows a helpful and detailed discussion of Bhāviveka’s dialectical method, including a survey of some of the logical faults with which Bhāviveka might charge his opponent or that the opponent might charge in turn.
In connection with the Śrāvakas, he points out that for Bhāviveka, the distinctive feature of the Mahāyāna, which makes it superior to the Śrāvakayāna, is its “approach of no-apprehension” (anupalambhanaya).
Moreover, it includes the text of the Nikāyabhedavibhaṅgavyākhyāna, which also exists as a separate work in thebsTan-’gyur and which Eckel describes as “one of the most important sources for the history of sectarian movements in Indian Buddhism” (p. 63).
Regarding one of these differences, he later notes that three major nondualistic Indian traditions--Madhyamaka, Yogācāra, and Advaita Vedānta--“take radically different approaches to the epistemology of awakening.
Bhāviveka describes a two-step process in verses 5.105-5.106: “Buddhas use faultless inference in a way that is consistent with tradition to completely reject many different concepts of imagined things.
(Note that when Eckel translates 5.105-5.107 on page 75, he misidentifies the verses as “5.104-5.106.”)
How, then, do Buddhas “see without seeing” (paśyanty adarśanāt)? Eckel translates TJ on MHK 5.106 (misidentified as “5.06”): The Buddhas’ awareness “is a single moment of non-conceptual, perceptual knowledge.
Eckel concludes his introduction by making a point that one must always bear in mind when reading Buddhist philosophy: that reasoning and debate are ultimately in the service of a Buddhist path of spiritual development.
As he says, “In the rich and intricate details of these chapters, there is an invitation to enter a world ... where theory is a form of practice and where thinkers struggle not only to define and adjudicate their differences but to remove the barriers that prevent them from reaching their highest goal” (p. 87).
. For more details, see George B. J. Dreyfus and Sara L. McClintock, eds., The Svātantrika-Prāsaṅgika Distinction (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2003); and Kevin A. Vose, Resurrecting Candrakīrti (Boston: Wisdom Publications, 2009).
William Ames. Review of Eckel, Malcolm David, Bhāviveka and His Buddhist Opponents: Chapters 4 and 5 of the Verses on the Heart of the Middle Way (Madhyamakahrdayakarikah) with the Commentary Entitled the Flame of Reason (Tarkajvala).H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews.September, 2009.