Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy

Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy

Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy

Moonshadows: Conventional Truth in Buddhist Philosophy

Synopsis

The doctrine of the two truths--a conventional truth and an ultimate truth--is central to Buddhist metaphysics and epistemology. The two truths (or two realities), the distinction between them, and the relation between them is understood variously in different Buddhist schools and is of special importance to the Madhyamaka school. The fundamental ideas are articulated with particular force by Nagarjuna (2nd--3rd century CE) who famously claims that the two truths are identical to one another, and yet distinct. One of the most influential interpretations of Nagarjuna's difficult doctrine derives from the commentary of Candrakirti (6th century CE). While much attention has been devoted to explaining the nature of the ultimate truth in view of its special soteriological role, less has been paid to understanding the nature of conventional truth, which is often described as "deceptive," "illusion," or "truth for fools." But conventional truth is nonetheless truth. This book therefore asks, "what is true about conventional truth?" and "What are the implications of an understanding of conventional truth for our lives?"

Excerpt

This is an unusual volume. It is neither an anthology nor a monograph. We prefer to think of it as a polygraph—a collectively written volume reflecting the varying views of a large collection of authors. Many chapters are written by single authors. Some are written by teams. But every chapter is informed by extensive discussion among us, both of general philosophical and exegetical issues and of the chapters themselves. So, in an important sense, no matter whose name appears at the head of each chapter, the chapter is the fruit of extensive collaboration. This is so despite the fact that we recognize substantial differences among us regarding interpretation and philosophy. We believe that those differences, as much as the agreements that have emerged from our collective effort, as well as the connections between these essays, which have been forged in argument, add to the richness of this treatment.

The volume is written by the Cowherds. First a comment is in order about the name. Those familiar with Madhyamaka literature will recognize the reference to Candrakīrti’s phrase, “what even people like cowherds and women recognize” (gopālāṅganājanaprasiddha). We are bothered by the sexism of the reference to women, an attitude taken for granted in Candrakīrti’s cultural milieu but no

1. See Candrakīrti (1970b), 260, line 14. See also the use of the phrase gnag rdzi yan chad la grags pa (“acknowledged/recognized by everyone from cowherds on up”) in Kamalāśīla’s Sarvadharmaniḥsvabhāvasiddhi (chapter 9, n5).

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