Buddhism and Logic

In the Buddhist tradition also, logic is subordinated to ‘revelation’: the Buddha’s teachings. Like Islam, Buddhism originally lacked a formal system of logic.

Islam borrowed Greek Aristotelian logic, creating Islamic philosophy whose famous exponents include Avicenna (Ibn Sina) and Averroes (Ibn Rushd). Islamic philosophy was the conveyor of Arisotelian logic into Christendom via Thomas Aquinas. Buddhism, on the other hand, borrowed the Indian Nyaya logical system and, as with other religions, found the fusion of logic and faith challenging.

In the 2nd century CE the protector Nagarjuna had restored the integrity of Buddha’s teaching by showing how all ‘dharmas’ are ultimately empty. ‘Dharmas’ are the categories of thought introduced by Buddha, but in the centuries after Buddha’s death they had been reified by the Abhidharmists.

Nagarjuna deconstructed the dharmas, showing that they were not ultimate realities, using the logical consequences of the Abhidharmists own arguments, but without establishing a formal logical system of his own. For this reason Nagarjuna’s Middle Way (Madhyamika) method was called ‘Prasangika’ meaning Consequentalist.

One group of Nagarjuna’s followers including Bhaviviveka attempted to fuse Madhyamika with the Nyaya logical system which had been brought into the Buddhist fold by Dignaga. Their method was known as Madhyamika-Svatantrika because it didn’t just use the consequences of other people’s arguments to prove the Middle Way, rather they sought to establish the Middle Way view through reasons proposed from their own side (‘Svatantrika’).

Je Tsongkhapa in Tibet was the inheritor of all these systems because the monasteries he established taught logic, but his own direct realisation of the Middle Way arrived following a dream vision of Nagarjuna’s Prasangika disciple Buddhapalita.

Tsongkhapa’s Middle Way shows that the ultimate emptiness of all phenomena is not a thing in itself that can be established positively through reasoning, but we shouldn’t dispense with logic in our meditative enquiries.


Posted on November 12, 2015, in Buddhism, Islam, Metaphysics, Religion and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Matt – I’d want to disagree, but not necessarily to argue. For me logic does its job, as Nagarjuna shows, and can prove a result that is sometimes phrased as ‘Nothing really exists’. To say that logic cannot do this seems a great injustice to Nagarjuna. They teach the dialectic in Buddhist universities for a sound reason.

    I would say that Nagarjuna’s logical system is the same as Aristotle’s, but it’s a subtle issue.

    Just giving another view.

  2. Hi Matthew… I’m glad you have brought this up as it is an ongoing issue for me.

    Sometimes I wish I could just dispense with logic altogether but it is kind of good I guess ;-/ I just wonder why SO much logic is necessary (reams and reams of scripture) …considering our conceptual understandings are just surface anyway..why do we have to get caught up in all that? Perhaps they are not surface after all? I’ve never quite got to grips with this thing of meditating on a conceptual realisation. But ultimately I know we are using reasoning to evoke a feeling (aren’t we? or is there another reason?) but why does it have to be quite so thinky to get there…..??

    Any ideas?

    Yours sincerely
    A confused woman (sal)

  3. Hi Matthew, You mention Je Tsongkhapa’s own realisation of the middle way. Are you saying it is a complete path? Could it be equated to Fana al Fana? X Steve

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