The Adornment of the Middle Way ed. by Padmakara Translation Group

The Adornment of the Middle Way: Shantarakshita’s Madhyamakalankara with Commentary by Jamgön Mipham. Translated by the Padmakara Translation Group. Boston, Mass.: Shambhala, 2005. Hardcover, x + 445 pages.

The Indian Buddhist master Shantarakshita, the eighth-century abbot of Nalanda, was a major proponent of Madhyamaka and produced a number of important works, including the magnificent Madhyamakālankarawhose 97 stanzas are translated here along with the nineteenth-century Jamgön Ju Mipham’s detailed commentary. The translators—Helena Blankleder and Wulstan Fletcher of the Padmakara Translation Group—prepared their rendering under the expert guidance of Khenchen Pema Sherab Rinpoche.

For those who delight in studying Buddhist logic and epistemology in the context of spiritual practice, this volume will be a thrill, both because of the subtleties of Shantarakshita’s foundational work and Lama Mipham’s superb elucidations.

Shantarakshita’s work represents an attempt to synthesize the teachings of Madhyamaka ( Middle-Path School) and Cittamātra (Mind-Only School), as well as the logical-epistemological tradition of Dignaga and Dharmakīrti. Despite the many challenges of the subject matter, the translation is lucid and readable, and the painstaking work on this hefty volume was clearly a labor of love.

Lama Mipham, a master of the nonsectarian (rimé) movement of Tibet, complained that in his days hardly anyone was interested in Shantarakshita’s Madhyamakālankara and that it was the duty of intelligent people to rescue this work from oblivion. One can only hope that the present rendering will do just this for our own times.

In Buddhism, logic and epistemology have from the beginning been viewed as having a very practical purpose: to attain correct view, without which all the other practices are liable to lead one astray. In studying the present volume, we must bear this in mind in order to avoid the trap of mere intellectualism, which can never bear the fruit of liberation. The reader who patiently studies this text and masters it properly is said to be like a “two-headed lion”—one head symbolizing Madhyamaka, the other representing valid reasoning.

The Middle Path promoted in this work avoids extremism and thus can be said to be the union of ultimate truth and relative truth. The unconventional truth of meditative experience must be integrated with the conventional truth of post-meditative life. From the perspective of Shantarakshita and Mipham, the two great interpretations of Prasangika (put forward by Nagarjuna) and Svatantrika (argued by Asanga) are not contradictory but rather complementary.

Anyone persisting in plowing through this challenging work will be struck by these two masters’ knowledge and wisdom.

Copyright ©2006 by Georg Feuerstein. All rights reserved.
Reproduction in any form requires prior permission from Traditional Yoga Studies.

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