Pyrrhonism and the mādhyamaka

Philosophy East and West 57 (4):482-511 (2007)
Abstract
: The question of possible Indian influence on Pyrrhonist skepticism was raised long ago by Diogenes Laertius in his biography of Pyrrho. Diogenes tells us that Pyrrho adopted his "most noble philosophy" as a result of his contacts with Indian sages when he accompanied Alexander the Great on his expedition in the fourth century B.C.E. Most modern Western scholars have downplayed Diogenes’ claim as unsubstantiated, but the striking parallels to be found in subsequent ancient Pyrrhonist and Mādhyamaka texts suggest its continued plausibility. In both the Pyrrhonist texts of Sextus Empiricus and the Mādhyamaka texts of Nāgārjuna and Candrakīrti, we are repeatedly counseled above all to suspend our various non-evident beliefs, that is, our judgments about or attachments to evident things, if we wish to be liberated from the anxiety that such beliefs create and gain some kind of tranquillity, bliss, or enlightenment. A comparative analysis of these Pyrrhonist and Mādhyamaka texts finds that what differences exist are entirely compatible with, and equally in the service of, this common, and indeed virtually identical, therapeutic purpose. It is perhaps not too much to say that Pyrrhonism and the Mādhyamaka are nearly indistinguishable from one another, an intriguing conclusion to contemplate.
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