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Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation Paperback – December 6, 2001

ISBN-13: 978-0195146721 ISBN-10: 0195146727

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Empty Words: Buddhist Philosophy and Cross-Cultural Interpretation + The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (December 6, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195146727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195146721
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 0.8 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,409,249 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"It represents useful constructive philosophical engagement with Buddhist texts and offers much-needed theoretical and practical reflection on the project of cross-cultural philosophy itself."-- The Journal of Religion

"Empty Words represents a serious engagement with Buddhist philosophy and contributes to the exegesis of Madhyamaka and Yogacara thought. More importantly, however, I think that it contributes to the further development of Buddhist philosophy as a continuing project"-Mario D'Amato, Hampshire College, Philosophy East & West

About the Author

Jay L. Garfield is at University of Massachusetts.

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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By commandhand on May 10, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Garfield's Empty Words is an insightful and helful commentary to the Mulamadhyamakakarika, which he has also has a translation of in print. I was particularly impressed with his skillful application of Nagarjuna's theory of causation concerning the cultivation of the bodhicitta and the requisite belief in the rebirth as established in the Geluk School. His rejection of such a notion is explicated in clear terms that shows how their tradition runs contrary to the philosophy of Madhymaka.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Brian C. Holly on August 18, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
No one excels Prof. Garfield in the treatment of Buddhist thought from a Western philosphical perspective. His treatment of Indian and Tibetan sources is sensitive and insightful, and his philosophical chops are masterful-- he was a student of Wilfred Sellars, after all. These essays explore mostly issues arising from the Madhyamkan tradition, and by bringing western philsophical tools to bear on these themes results in a series of brilliant insights. There is also a wonderful essay putting to rest the odd idea that Yogacara was not an idealist philosphy. The material can be difficult, but Garfield writes with great clarity and much good humor.
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19 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Hakuyu on February 5, 2006
Format: Paperback
Despite the praise heaped on this book in other reviews, a degree of caution seems advisable.It is by no means certain that the 'Scepticism' of Sextus Empiricus functions akin to the Madhyamika and it takes some faulty analyses to come up with the sort of correspondences Jay Garfield likes to find.

To be concise, unlike Nagarjuna, Sextus Empiricus wouldn't accord any relevance to smvrtti-satya. Nagarjuna made the distinction between samvrtti/paramartha-satya to save the value accorded to relative knowledge. True, there are points where Nagarjuna even appears to be questioning the relative (i.e. purely empirical) claims of samvrtti, the validity of causality etc. - detrimental to his spiritual purpose. This left the way open for criticism and the developed Vijnanavada system came about to account for the things left unaccounted for in the Madhyamika. It may well be that in the ultimate sense, no modification of consciousness transpires. Nevertheless, this is most certainly the case in the relative sense. Hence, it seems rather pointless trying to explain away the Vijnanavada as a kind of eccentricity, let alone one confined to adherents of the Gelug-pa, as one reviewer would have it. In truth, there has never been a 'pure' Madhyamika school as Jay Garfield writes about it. In Tibetan Buddhism, as in Northern Buddhism generally (e.g. in India, China, Korea,Japan etc.), it will be found that the Madhyamika and Vijnanavada have exerted equal influence and are often found side-by-side.

So far as the interface between Western philosophy and Buddhism goes, it strikes me that Jay Garfield has overlooked the real parallels - viz. Heraclitean flux versus the 'One' of Parmenides, equvalent to the tension between the 'flux' philosophy of the Sarvastivadins and the adherents of the
old Atmavada. The resolution of this in the Western tradition is to be found in Plato (cf. the Theatatus and Sophist) - rather than Sextus Empiricus.
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