One of the extremely precious gems – for Madhyamaka scholars certainly a crown jewel – being investigated under the “General Agreement” of cooperation between the IKGA and the China Tibetology Research Center in Beijing is a palm-leaf Sanskrit manuscript containing Candrakīrti’s Madhyamakāvatāra (MA) and Madhyamakāvatārabhāṣya (MABh). The manuscript comprises ninety-seven folios, and with the exception of its missing second leaf, it provides the complete Sanskrit text for the MA and the MABh. Although both were translated into Tibetan in the late eleventh century by Pa tshab nyi ma grag, the manuscript is to date our only source, outside of a small number of scattered quotations, for the original Sanskrit.
The MA–MABh is Candrakīrti’s only independent work on Madhyamaka thought, and as such is of crucial importance for our comprehension and analysis of his interpretation of the views expressed by the school’s founder, Nāgārjuna (second/third c.), as well as for our appreciation of Candrakīrti’s seventh-century Buddhist intellectual environment, its self-understanding, and its challenges. It is primarily in the extensive and weighty sixth chapter (the abhimukhī bhūmi, “the Directly Facing”) that Candrakīrti expounds the Madhyamaka view as regards the true nature of both persons and the things of the world and takes to task Buddhist and non-Buddhist opponents for their inadequate, misleading and soteriologically deleterious ontological theories. The first half of the sixth chapter is organized within the framework of the denial of the arising of things from self, other, both, and no cause and can, in an extended sense, be viewed as a wide-ranging and detailed expository supplement to Mūlamadhyamakakārikā I.1. The latter half of the chapter, in comparison to the first half in which the possibility of the arising of truly existing phenomena is denied for the sake of establishing dependent-arising on the surface level (saṃvṛti) and non-existence on the ultimate (paramārtha), focuses on refuting a truly existing self of persons (ātman, pudgala), on demonstrating the erroneousness of the claim that Mādhyamikas are vaitaṇḍikas, in this case persons who merely refute opponent tenets without establishing their own position, and on explaining in extenso the sixteen types of emptiness (śūnyatā). Candrakīrti’s exposition on the selflessness of the person (pudgalanairātmya) in the initial part of this section is intended as the counterpart to the first half of the chapter’s exposition on the selflessness of phenomena (dharmanairātmya).
The project aims, on the basis of the newly available Sanskrit manuscript and other Sanskrit and Tibetan material, to continue the previous project’s preparation of a critical and diplomatic edition of the sixth chapter, as well as an English translation of the verses and commentary which is accompanied by detailed historical, philological and analytical annotation. With Candrakīrti’s pivotal discussions available for the first time in the language in which they were composed, and the new English translation, future research in Madhyamaka studies ‒ and beyond ‒ will have a solid and rich basis upon which to build.