Classic and Contemporary Buddhist Works

The Buddhist Philosophy of the Middle - Foreword

Essays on Indian and Tibetan Madhyamaka

Foreword

With the present volume, Wisdom Publications and the Studies in Indian and Tibetan Buddhism series have the honor of making available some of the finest scholarship in Buddhist Studies, fifteen key essays by David Seyfort Ruegg. The subject of the book is Madhyamaka, the “philosophy of the middle,” a school of thought founded by Nāgārjuna and Āryadeva in about the second century C.E. and going on to Candrakīrti and Bhā(va)viveka in the sixth century, Kamalaśīla and Śāntarakṣita in the eighth, and a host of illustrious Tibetan exponents. numerous are the Western writers who have been fascinated by its promise, notably the critique of realism, the wide-ranging dialectical method, and the philosophical quietism it produces. David Seyfort Ruegg is one of the most outstanding of these scholars, and he has consecrated much of his life to the study of Madhyamaka thought.

Seyfort Ruegg was born in 1931 in New York. His university education was primarily in Paris, where he studied Indology under Jean Filliozat and Louis Renou and Tibetology under Marcelle Lalou and Rolf Stein. He has a strong connection with the French tradition of scholarship on Madhyamaka, a tradition that includes figures such as Louis de la Vallée Poussin, Étienne Lamotte, J. W. de Jong, and Jacques May. Another strong connection he has maintained throughout his career is with Tibetans. He has collaborated with high-level Tibetan scholars, in Europe, the United States, and also in India. Among others these include the Buryat/Mongolian Dge bshes Ngag dbang nyi ma, an abbot of Sgo mang college who taught in Leiden in the 1960s when Seyfort Ruegg was there, as well as Dge bshes Dge ’dun blo gros, whom Seyfort Ruegg knew in Kalimpong and who later became a professor at the university of Hamburg. Indeed, early on in his career Seyfort Ruegg adopted the perspective that the great scholars of Tibet were themselves scholars of Indian Buddhism. They were, as he once put it, Indologists avant la lettre.

Seyfort Ruegg’s work—as the list of publications appended to the present book amply shows—has ranged over most aspects of Indian and Tibetan Studies. However two interests come back repeatedly: the philosophy of the buddha-nature (tathāgatagarbha) and the philosophy of the middle. The first was the subject of his 1969 doctoral thesis, La théorie du tathāgatagarbha et du gotra. In 1973 he published a translation of Bu ston Rin chen grub’s treatise on the tathāgatagarbha, and in 1989 Buddha-Nature, Mind and the Problem of Gradualism in a Comparative Perspective. as for the Madhyamaka, besides the articles in the present book and recent publications in Vienna, we should especially mention Seyfort Ruegg’s Literature of the Madhyamaka School in India (Wiesbaden, 1981). As the present book attests, buddha-nature and the Madhyamaka are in one way or another closely linked in later Indian Buddhism, and very much so in Tibetan philosophies.

David Seyfort Ruegg has held professorial positions in several major universities—Leiden, Seattle, Hamburg, and now the School of Oriental and African Studies of the university of London. He is a Sanskritist and a Tibetologist and at one time or another has held chairs in Indian Philosophy, Buddhist Studies, and Tibetan. Indeed virtually all his publications are proof that Buddhist Studies profits greatly from the double perspective that knowing both Tibetan and Sanskrit brings.

I first met David Seyfort Ruegg in the early 1980s and have been his admirer ever since. What has always impressed me is how he combines philological precision, extraordinary erudition in Western philosophy, hermeneutics, linguistics, and other subjects, and an ability to distill and illuminate broad trends within the field. The fifteen articles presented here show the richness of Indian and Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and the impressive scope of a remarkable career. We are reprinting them here that they may be readily accessible and continue to serve as a model for Buddhist Studies.

This book would not have seen the light of day without the invaluable help of several people. Above all, special thanks are due to David Seyfort Ruegg for his willingness to undertake this project and his patience throughout. We are greatly indebted to Burkhard Quessel of the British Library, who contributed to the book at every stage—he computerized the articles, corrected the scans, checked proofs, and so on. David Kittelstrom was the indefatigable editor at Wisdom Publications. Other Wisdom resources from whose help we benefitted are Laura Cunningham, Lea Groth-Wilson, Megan Anderson, and Tony Lulek. Finally, thanks are due to Professor David Jackson, who provided much useful biographical information.

The articles were reprinted with the kind permission of the original publishers. Full references are given in the initial note to each chapter. The Elisabet de Boer Fund of the university of Lausanne, Switzerland, helped in defraying the costs of this publication. All that remains is to offer the traditional dedication: dge legs ’phel.

 

Tom J. F. Tillemans

 

How to cite this document:
© David Seyfort Ruegg, The Buddhist Philosophy of the Middle (Wisdom Publications, 2010)

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