Autonomy vs. Consequence

As stated earlier, the issue of existence by way of own character is strongly linked to logical methodology. When there is a debate involving the use of syllogisms, the Svatantrikas claim that the subject of a syllogism (as defined above in the syllogism of the lack of one or many) must be established as appearing commonly to both parties by a valid cognizer which is non-mistaken with respect to the subject's being established by way of it's own character. If two opponents are going to debate, they must agree as to the nature of the subject, predicate and sign, as well as the three modes. Svatantrikas, by asserting establishment by way of own character, believe that the appearance of the subject's own character to a consciousness or consciousnesses results in valid cognition. In this system, both sides agree as to the appearance of the subject.

Having arrived at this understanding, the definition of Svatantrika/Autonomous Syllogism by Jang-gya can be plainly understood: Autonomous means that an inferential consciousness realizing the thesis is generated without taking the lead merely from the opponents assertions, but by his having ascertained the establishment of the modes of the sign with respect to a subject that is established as appearing commonly to non-mistaken valid cognizers of both parties in the debate through the force of an objective mode of subsistence from the side of the basis of designation. Madhyamikas who assert the correctness of the necessity for such are Svatantrika-Madhyamikas. (18)

The Prasangikas, for their part, reject the use of autonomous syllogisms because of the necessary use of a commonly appearing subject, which implies the existence of phenomena by way of own character. This is a difficult position for one who is trying to teach Prasangika doctrine, since without a commonly appearing subject for debate it is impossible to prove anything positively. The solution is to use reasons that are known to the opponent in a way that generates valid understanding. Since only another Prasangika would hold that the modes of a sign do not inherently exist, a non-Prasangika opponent would hold that the three modes may be ascertained and validly established. The task, then, is to take the lead from the opponent's assertions and demonstrate the absurd Consequences of his position. By generating the three modes in terms of his own incorrect assertions, the opponent sees the logical errors. This way the Prasangika is free from asserting the subject and three modes herself.

One thing that Prasangika and Svatantrika do have in common with each other, and all other Mahayana schools, is the pursuit of realization of selflessness of phenomena. The 'lower' schools practices are aimed at realization of selflessness of persons. The path systems of the lower schools, the Sravaka (Hearer) and Pratyekabuddha (Lone Buddha) vehicles, are designed to root out the afflictive obstructions (desire,hatred,etc.) which prevent liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The Mahayana Boddhisattva path is designed to root out the knowledge obstructions that prevent achievement of a Buddha's omniscient consciousness. To attain this end, a Prasangika or Svatantrika aspirant must come to grips with sunyata of phenomena, and also sunyata of sunyata - for ultimate truth itself does not exist ultimately.

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Copyright © 2005 Dan Haig