Reconsidering the Soteriological Significance of Śūnyavāda

Contemporary Buddhism (2):1-15 (2014)
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Abstract

The doctrine of emptiness (śūnyavāda) is of significant soteriological importance for the Madhyamaka Buddhism. Therefore it is a reasonable prima facie demand that interpretations of emptiness must accord with this fact. This hermeneutic consideration has been taken to present particular problems for Mark Siderits' semantic interpretation of śūnyavāda. This paper examines Siderits' attempted reconciliation of his semantic interpretation of śūnyavāda with its purported soteriological aspects. I question whether Siderits can successfully respond to these problems in order to adequately incorporate the hermeneutic requirement. I argue that the semantic view is not immune to the problems that it was formulated to avoid. It too can be asserted. What is more, the semantic view can generate its own particular forms of attachment which can obscure soteriological goals. These conclusions lead me to question the general project of trying to develop a soteriologically efficacious interpretation of śūnyavāda in the first place.

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Luke Brunning
University of Oxford