The madhyamaka concept of svabhāva: Ontological and cognitive aspects

Asian Philosophy 17 (1):17 – 45 (2007)
Abstract
This paper considers the philosophical interpretation of the concept of svabhāva, sometimes translated as 'inherent existence' or 'own-being', in the Madyamaka school of Buddhist philosophy. It is argued that svabhāva must be understood as having two different conceptual dimensions, an ontological and a cognitive one. The ontological dimension of svabhāva shows it to play a particular part in theories investigating the most fundamental constituents of the world. Three different understandings of svabhāva are discussed under this heading: svabhāva understood as essence, as substance, and as the true nature of phenomena (absolute svabhāva). The cognitive dimension shows svabhāva as playing an important rôle in our everyday conceptualization of phenomena. Svabhāva is here seen as a superimposition (samāropa) which the mind projects onto the world.
Keywords Nagarjuna  Madhyamaka  svabhava  Candrakirti  substance  essence
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