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Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Part 2

A Wisdom Academy Online Course with Jay Garfield

Buddhist Philosophy in Depth, Part 2

In this groundbreaking course, immerse yourself in the treasury of Buddhist wisdom with Professor Jay Garfield, renowned philosopher, translator, and expert on Buddhist philosophy.

What You’ll Learn

  • The famed teachings on emptiness or Madhyamaka, the philosophy of the Middle Way
  • The influential Mind Only school of philosophy, or Yogācāra
  • How Ancient Buddhist philosophers conceived of the mind and the phenomenal world, and how they debated their views
  • How the influence and richness of Indian Buddhist philosophy helped spread the Buddha’s message throughout Asia

About this Course

The rich philosophical fabric of Buddhist thought has evolved over two millennia, within a variety of cultures, epochs, and geographies. Professor Jay Garfield takes us on an exciting in-depth journey throughout these Buddhist worlds, their texts, and the essential thinkers that have shaped Buddhist philosophy from the time of the historical Buddha.

In this second-installment of a three-part course series on the history of Buddhist philosophy we delve into the rich renaissance of Indian Buddhist thought through essential Mahayana texts such as Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā and Śāntideva’s Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra, as well as explore Śāntarakṣita’s synthesis of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra philosophy.

The course progresses historically from Part 1 to Part 2 and Part 3, but all courses are open for enrollment without having to take a prior course.



Lesson 1: The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way

In this lesson, Jay Garfield leads us through the opening verses of Arya Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, introducing us to the intent and profundity of one of the most essential texts in Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. His lucid commentary helps us understand Nāgārjuna’s discussion of the two truths, causality, dependent origination, the emptiness of emptiness, and motion.


Lesson 2: Nonduality, Emptiness, and Dependent Origination

In this lesson, Jay guides us through essential chapters and verses of Arya Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā, illuminating the relationships between ultimate and conventional truth, emptiness, and dependent origination. Here we encounter the heart of nonduality as it is discussed in Nāgārjuna’s masterpiece of Buddhist philosophy.


Lesson 3: Chandrakīrti, Tsongkhapa, and the Prasangika-Svatantrika Distinction

In this lesson, Jay helps deepen our understanding of Nagarjuna’s Philosophy of the Middle Way (Mūlamadhyamakakārikā), the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness, by illuminating the primary streams of thought developed in its spread from India to Tibet. Jay also offers a commentary on Tsongkhapa’s profound understanding of the Prasangika-Svatantrika distinction. This introduction to Tsongkhapa, one of Tibet’s most renowned philosophers and scholars, both reveals and guides us through the vast tradition of Buddhist commentary.


Lesson 4: Yogachara and Vasubandhu’s Treatise on the Three Natures

In this lesson, Jay introduces us to the the yogachara school of Buddhist philosophy, often labeled as the “Mind Only” school. Through Jay’s illuminating and nuanced commentary, we learn how Yogachara developed a profoundly influential Buddhist psychology and phenomenology. Jay also guides us through the Trisvabhavanirdesha or Treatise on the Three Natures by Vasubandhu, one of the Yogachara school’s most renowned thinkers, which offers us a thorough understanding of how Buddhism describes the complexity of human consciousness.


Lesson 5: Yogachara, Asanga, and the Stages of the Bodhisattva Path

In this lesson, Jay deepens our understanding of the yogachara school, illuminating how yogachara understands the path of awakening on the bodhisattva path. Jay introduces us to the influential philosophy of Asanga, one of the most important figures in the history of Buddhist philosophy. Jay skillfully guides us through Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi, or The Stages of the Bodhisattva Path, illuminating the yogachara understanding of the Buddhist path, as well as highlighting essential distinctions between the madhyamaka and yogachara as understood by one of its foremost philosophers.


Lesson 6: Dignaga, Dharmakīrti, and the Pramanavada Tradition

In this lesson, Jay introduces us to the pramanavada tradition of Buddhist philosophy as an important development within the yogachara school. We learn about how the pramanavada tradition was central in the development of logic in Buddhist philosophy, and how it helped lay the foundation of debate in the Buddhism. Jay also illuminates how the pramanavada tradition inspired debate with Chandrakirti and the madhyamaka school.

Lesson 6 will be available August 2, 2019. Stay tuned!


Lesson 7: A Buddhist Phenomenology: Dignaga and his Commentators

In this lesson, Jay guides us through Dignaga’s Alambana-parīkṣā, a widely influential text underscoring Buddhist phenomenology and epistemology, from the vantage point of the yogachara school. In exploring Dignaga’s masterwork, learn how one of Buddhism’s most important philosophers understood the nature of perception, and how this understanding influenced the Buddhist world.


Lesson 8: The Madhyamaka Response to Yogachara

In this lesson, Jay illuminates how the madhayamaka school developed and flourished through the writings of Chandrakirti. In particular, we learn how the madhayamaka school grew to distinguish itself from the yogachara school. Through Jay’s expert commentary on selections form Chandrakirti’s Madhyamakāvatāra, we gain a clear understanding of how one of the of the foremost Indian madhyamika philosopher’s understands the nature of awareness, emptiness, and the two truths.


Lesson 9: Shantideva, Buddhist Ethics, and The Bodhisattva’s Way of Life

In this lesson, Jay guides us through one of the most central of ethical texts in the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist tradition, the Bodhicaryāvatāra or Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. Written by the famed eighth-century adept and scholar Shantideva, we learn how essential the Bodhicaryāvatāra is for understanding Buddhist ethics and moral phenomenology, and why it is revered by Tibetans and the current Dalai Lama, in particular. Jay reveals how Shantideva articulated an ethics rooted in the madhyamaka tradition of philosophy, and how it reveals what Buddhism means by moral cultivation.


Lessons 10: Śāntarakṣita and the Synthesis of Madhyamaka and Yogachara

In this final lesson, Jay offers us an illuminating synthesis of the madhyamaka and yogachara philosophical traditions through a commentary on Śāntarakṣita’s Madhyamakālaṃkāra, or Ornament of the Middle Way. Śāntarakṣita, the famed eight-century scholar adept and abbot of Nalanda University, offers a complimentary way of understanding the two most influential schools of Buddhist philosophy arising in India and spreading to Tibet, and beyond. We learn how the Madhyamaka tradition of Nagarjuna and the Yogachara tradition of Asanga, can be used to describe and understand the nature of reality from multiple perspectives, giving us an integrated vision Buddhist Philosophy as it developed in India.

About the Teacher

Jay Garfield is Doris Silbert Professor in the Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of the Logic Program and of the Five College Tibetan Studies in India Program at Smith College; Visiting Professor of Buddhist Philosophy at Harvard Divinity School; Professor in the graduate faculty of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts; Professor of Philosophy at Melbourne University; and Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies. He teaches and pursues research in the philosophy of mind, foundations of cognitive science, logic, philosophy of language, Buddhist philosophy, cross-cultural hermeneutics, theoretical and applied ethics, and epistemology. He is the author, editor, and translator of several books on these subjects, most recently The Essential Jewel of Holy Practice, a co-translation of verses written by Patrul Rinpoche (Wisdom 2017).