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The Fourfold Negation & the Perfection of Wisdom

From Chinese Buddhist Encyclopedia
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The chatuskoti, or the Fourfold Negation (NOT THIS: NOT THAT: NOT BOTH: NOT NEITHER) is a principal tool in Buddhist contemplation and analytic meditation. Repeatedly enunciated by the Master Nagarjuna, it is the systematic application of analysis for the deconstruction of fixed views.

The Fourfold Negation refutes, in sequence: external appearances, internal appearances, consciousness, and the absolutization of emptiness. Properly understood, it is the negation of all that is compounded, dependent, and impermanent. It is not, however, a ‘pure’, or non-affirming negation.

The Superior Nagarjuna warns in the Mulamadhyamakakarika, Chapter 13, “Examination of Mental Conformation”:

The Buddhas have proclaimed that the view of emptiness corrects all views, but those obsessed with the view of emptiness are incorrigible.

The Master Chandrakirti explains:

The Spiritual Conquerors have proclaimed the absence of self in things to be the exhaustion of all views. Those for whom the absence of self is in itself a view are declared to be incurable.

The Heart Sutra, condensed in the mantra of the Perfection of Wisdom, asserts the same truth. tadyatha om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. OM It is thus: Gone, gone, gone beyond, gone perfectly beyond, I surrender to enlightenment!

The Fourfold Negation and the Perfection of Wisdom instruct us to go beyond external fabricated natures, internal dependent natures, consciousness, and self-emptiness. Enlightenment is only realized by purifying and abandoning these wrong, limited views, until the ground of all, the Buddha Essence, spontaneously arises as the separated result, the Primordial Buddha: true purity, true self, true bliss, and true permanence.

The process of deconstruction of false appearances cuts through the materialism of the Great Exposition (vaibhashika) school, the atomism of the Sutra (sautrantika) school, the idealism of the Yoga Practice (yogacharin) school, and the self-emptiness of the ordinary Middle Way (madhyamika) school. Once these partial views of reality are sequentially purified, we attain to the direct, spontaneous, non-dual, self-arisen pristine wisdom, the other-emptiness, of the Great Middle Way (maha madhyamika) school.

The Fourfold Negation and the Perfection of Wisdom constitute, jointly and separately, the clarion call to go beyond these four partial, limited views. For only when we go ‘perfectly beyond’ them, can we encounter the peace and clarity of the fully established nature, our ultimate reality, the Buddha Essence.

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