PHI 252: Buddhist Philosophy: Madhyamaka and Yogācāra
Spring 2013, T Th, 9-10:20am, Hillyer L19
Constance Kassor,, 404-997-8304, @constancekassor
Dewey Hall, Front Parlor (Jay Garfield’s office)
Office hours: T Th 10:30-11:30am, and by appointment


Buddhist Philosophy: Essential Readings, Jay L. Garfield and William Edelglass, eds.
Mahayana Buddhism: Doctrinal Foundations, Paul Williams
Additional readings will be posted on our class website.

Course Description

This course examines the relationship between the two principal schools of Mahāyāna Buddhism: Madhyamaka and Yogācāra. The Madhyamaka school is characterized by its view of emptiness, that is, that all things are devoid of independent, inherently existing essences. The Yogācāra school reinterprets the concept of emptiness, emphasizing the idea that nothing is ultimately separate from the mind.
The first half of this course will begin with an introduction to the Madhyamaka and Yogācāra traditions in India, examining a number of fundamental texts in each of these traditions. We will then explore a number of philosophical topics about which both Madhyamaka and Yogācāra thinkers have a great deal to say.
The second half of this course will explore some later interpretations of Madhyamaka and Yogācāra, as seen in Tibet and East Asia. Through reading these philosophical developments and debates, we will also discuss ideas of interpretation, innovation, and textual authority.

Course Requirements:

Participation (15%):
Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the readings. These readings are dense and thought-provoking, and everyone is expected to come to class with questions or insights about the assigned reading.

Course Blog (35%):
Students are required to write six reflections (at least 500 words each) and post them on our course blog over the course of the semester. You can choose when you would like to post to our blog, but you must write three posts before spring break, and three posts after, and you may not write more than one post in a week

All students are expected to read and comment on their fellow classmates’ blog posts. If you do not write your own post in any given week, you are required to comment on two other posts. Comments do not have to be extensive, but should be at least 2-3 sentences, and should raise a question or offer a critical insight into the content of the post. In other words, comments should contribute to the discussion in a constructive way; they should say something more than simply, “This is an interesting idea!”

Mid-semester paper (20%):
The mid-semester paper should be a substantial revision of one of your previous blog posts, or an expansion of your comments on another’s post. This longer essay (1500-2000 words) should draw on comments (either from the blog or from class discussion), and should show evidence of a significant re-thinking of an initial idea.

Final paper (30%):
The final paper (2000-2500 words) can be written on any topic of your choosing. You may expand on previous blog posts or write on a new topic entirely, provided that it is relevant to the course.


What you can expect from me in this course: You can expect me to be accessible and available to help you out. I am always happy to talk with students outside of class, either via email or in person. I’ll even respond to short, quick questions on Twitter (@constancekassor). I am also always happy to read drafts of your blog posts or papers, and if you email them to me, I will return them to you with comments within 72 hours.

What I expect from you in this course: I expect students to put effort into this class. That means coming to class on time, with questions and insights about the readings. I also expect assignments to be submitted on time, as there are only two firm due-dates during the entire semester.


Technology Policy
Laptops, tablets, and smartphones are welcome in class, provided that you are using them for class-related activities. In other words, you are welcome to use these devices to refer to class readings, type notes, or follow our course blog. You should not, however, use these tools to read your email, check Facebook, send text messages, etc. Misuse of such technology in class will likely result in a snide comment from me, and embarrassment for you.

This course relies on technology. Readings will be posted online, and all assignments and essays will be submitted electronically. Sometimes when you’re working with computers, things can go wrong. Computers crash, servers go down, and files get lost. These will not be acceptable excuses for late work or missed assignments. Please be sure to regularly back up your work and complete your assignments well enough in advance that you can avoid these problems.

Also, please remember to silence your mobile phones before class.


Jan 24 – introductions

Jan 29: Buddhist Philosophy?

  • Encyclopedia of Religion: “Buddhist Philosophy” (pp. 1295-1303)
  • Hayes, “Why is there Philosophy In Buddhism?”
  • Kapstein, “What Is Buddhist Philosophy?” (pp. 3-20)

Jan 31: Introduction to Mahāyāna

  • Williams pp. 1-62

Feb 5: Introduction to Madhyamaka

  • Williams pp. 63-83

Feb 7: Introduction to Yogācāra

  • Williams pp. 84-102

Feb 12: Madhyamaka Metaphysics: Nāgārjuna’s Mūlamadhyamakakārikā

        • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 2
        • Mūlamadhyamakakārikā (selections)

Chapter 1: On Causation
Chapter 2: On Motion
Chapter 18: On the Self

Feb 14: Yogācāra Metaphysics: The Three Natures

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 3
                  • D’Amato, “Three Natures, Three Stages”

Feb 19: Śāntarakṣita and the “Neither-One-Nor-Many” argument

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 4
                  • McClintock, “The Role of the Given”

Feb 21 – Rally Day – No Class

Feb 26: Valid Cognition: Perception

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 16
                  • Dreyfus, Recognizing Reality pp. 345-364

Feb 28: Valid Cognition: Inference

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 17
                  • Dunne, Foundations of Dharmakīrti’s Philosophy [selections]

Mar 5: Epistemology in Yogācāra

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 18
                  • Thompson, “Self-No-Self? Memory and Reflexive Awareness”

Mar 7: Development of the Buddhist theory of Selflessness

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapters 24, 25, 26

Mar 12: Candrakīrti’s refutation of the self

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 27
                  • Duerlinger, “Candrakīrti’s Denial of the Self”

Mar 14: Śāntarakṣita on Selflessness

                  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 28
                  • Additional reading TBA

Spring Break

Mar 25 – Mid-semester Paper Due



March 26: Depictions of Tibetan Buddhism in film

  • The Cup

March 28: The Cup (contd.)


April 2: Tibetan debates around the two truths

April 4: Mipham’s Synthesis

  • Duckworth 2010


April 9: Field Trip to Mind and Life House in Amherst



April 11: Tathagagarbha

  • Mahayana Buddhism, Chapter 5 (103-128)


April 16: Dogen’s Reinterpretation of Tathagagarbha

  • Kim, 125-143

April 18: Zen

  • Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind (selections)




April 23: Thich Nhat Hanh, Interbeing and Engaged Buddhism

April 25: Tibetan Buddhism in the West

  • Please watch the film When The Iron Bird Flies before coming to class. We will have a discussion with one of the director/producers of this film in class.


April 30: Buddhism and the Environment

  • Buddhist Philosophy, Chapter 37
  • Other reading TBA

May 2: Discussion of final papers, catch-up, wrap-up


5/10 – Final paper due


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