The Development of Madhyamaka
Madhyamaka or Mādhyamika is first Mahāyāna Buddhist school in India. The name Mādhyamika (one who follows the middle way) is derived from the word Madhyamaka, found in the title Madhyamakakārikā (MMK), perhaps the most important work of Nāgārjun, the founder of the school.
The school is referred to as dBu-ma-pa (the school of the middle) in Tibet, San-lun-tsung (the three treatises school) in China, and Sanronshū in Japan. According to Yūichi Kajiyama, Indian Mādhyamika may historically be divided into three stages, early, middle, and late. (Kajiyama, “Mādhyamika,” The Encyclopedia of Religion, ed. Mircea Eliade, Vol. 9, New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1987: 71-77)
The Early Period.
The Middle Period.
Tradition reports that eight Indian scholars wrote commentaries on the MMK: Nāgārjuna himself (Akutobhayā, Tib.); Buddhapālita (c. 470-540; Buddhapālita-Mūlamadhyamakavrtti, Tib.); Candrakīrti (c. 600-650; Prasannapadā, Skt., Tib.); Devaśarman (fifth to six centuries; Dkar-po 'char-ba, Tib. fragment); Gunamati (fifth to sixth centuries, Tib. fragment); Sthiramati (c. 510-570; Ta-sheng chung-kuan shih-lun, Chin.); and Bhavya (Bhāvaviveka; c. 500-570; Prajñāpradīpa, Tib. Ch.); Pingala (Zhong-lun, Chin.)
The Last Period.
Philosophers of the middle period of Indian Mādhyamikas can be characterized as follows: they wrote their own commentaries on the MMK; they were divided into the Prāsangika and the Svātantrika, according to whether they adopted either prasanga (reductio ad absurdum) or svatantra-anumāna (independent syllogism) as a means for establishing the truth of the Madhyamaka philosophy; and they regarded the Yogācāra school as their opponent and criticized its philosophy.
In contrast, philosophers of the last period were influenced by Dharmakīrti, almost all of them belonged to the lineage of the Svātantrika by Tibetans. In contrast, the later Tibetan scholars called Bhāvaviveka a Saurāntika-Mādhamika-Svātantrika, as he adopted the Sautrāntika theory of the imperceptible but real external world from the standpoint of truth on the conventional level (samvrti).
China and Japan. It was Kumārajiva (350-409) who introduced Nāgārjuna’s philosophy into China by translating the MMK, Twelve Gates Treatise and Hundred Treadise, and Da-zhi-du-lun. Chi-tsang (549-623) of the Sui dynasty, regarding the thoughts of Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva as the core of Buddhist doctrine, founded the San-lun tradition. Chi-tsang wrote the San-lun-hsuan-i (Profound Meaning of the Three Treatises). He propagated the Middle Way and the eight kinds of negation that appear in the solution verse of the MMK.
The tradition flourished during the early T’ang period but began to decline after Hsuan-tsang’s transmission of the works of the Yogacara school to China. Ekan, a Korean monk, introduced the San-lun doctrine to Japan, where, as the Sanronshū, it enjoyed a brief efflorescence as one of the six schools of the Nara period (seventh century). In China as well as in Japan, the school was short-lived and was overtaken by popular Buddhism as propagated by such traditions as Pure Land, Zen and others.