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Buddhism 13/24 Buddhist Philosophy

The Mahayana tradition developed a refined and sophisticated philosophical tradition to grapple with the difficulties of Emptiness. In India the word we translate as “philosophy” (darshana) means simply “to see.”


For all its complexity, Buddhist philosophy is meant to be a tool to help a person see reality clearly and be free from the illusions that cause suffering and drive the cycle of death and rebirth. Indian Mahayana philosophy is divided into two major schools.


The Madhyamaka School was developed in the second or third century C.E. by the philosopher Nagarjuna. The Yogacara School was founded in the fourth century by Asanga and Vasubandhu. The two schools developed very different approaches to Emptiness. For the Madhyamaka, Emptiness was ultimately unreal. For the Yogachara, it was possible to doubt the reality of all aspects of ordinary experience, but it was impossible to doubt the reality of Emptiness itself.

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