The madhyamaka concept of svabhāva: Ontological and cognitive aspects

Asian Philosophy 17 (1):17 – 45 (2007)
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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.


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Jan Westerhoff
University of Oxford

Citations of this work

The logic of the catuskoti.Graham Priest - 2010 - Comparative Philosophy 1 (2):24-54.
The Principle of Sufficient Reason in Asian Thought: Three Case Studies.Ricki Bliss - forthcoming - In Michael Della Rocca & Fatema Amijee (eds.), The Principle of Sufficient Reason: A History. Oxford University Press.
The meaning of existence ( bhava) in the Pāli discourses of the Buddha.Andrea Sangiacomo - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (6):931-952.
The negation of svabhāva in Madhyamaka School. 하현목 - 2014 - The Journal of Indian Philosophy 42 (42):411-434.

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