Etymologies of What Can(not) be Said: Candrakīrti on Conventions and Elaborations

  • Mattia SalviniEmail author


Madhyamaka philosophers, like most Buddhist authors writing in Sanskrit and Pāli, often express their philosophical positions through the etymological expansion and interpretation of specific key terms. Their format and style reflect an attitude towards language that, while being largely shared by the entire Sanskrit tradition, is also attuned to uniquely Buddhist concerns. I shall here reconstruct and discuss some Sanskrit and Pāli etymologies, offering a possible context for the understanding of Madhyamaka thought in India. As it would be unfeasible to analyze a large amount of terms, I focus on a few expressions that bear upon the question of how Mādhyamikas understand language, both as actual linguistic expression and, more broadly/figuratively, as the activity of conceptualization. I will propose a specific reading of the Sanskrit sources in terms of linguistic, lexical, and philosophical analysis. In particular, I interpret Candrakīrti as advocating a layered view of conventional truths. He restricts the perceptions and thoughts that may qualify as conventionally valid, so as to exclude impaired perception or distorting philosophical stances. These restrictions are embedded in his etymological explanation of key philosophical terms. In brief, when Candrakīrti discusses ‘worldly conventions’ (lokasaṁvr̥ti) or refers to ‘what is established in the world’ (lokaprasiddhi), not everyone fits in his ‘world’. (In my footnotes, I leave untranslated those passages meant simply to offer textual support to my claims about specific terms, whenever they do not affect the main line of argumentation.)


Madhyamaka Buddhist philosophy Etymology 


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Mahidol UniversityNakhon PathomThailand

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