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Re: Buddhist Question 1: Madhyamika and Yogacara


17 May 2004
Now, I'm looking to enhance my studies. :)

I have heard from my research of Buddhism that Mahayana Buddhism is home to two important schools of thought, Madhyamika and Yogacara. Are these in turn divided into Jodo, Nichiren, Zen, etc. Or what role do they play in Japanese Buddhism?

Goodness! That is a doozy!!! There are reams of info on the Internet, but I'll take a brief shot at it. But if you really want specifics, we will have to start huge theological discussions and most of my good books are still in the US. So I would say have a look around the net (I will too).

Part of what makes Buddhism tricky, esp. across cultures, it that so many sects share and borrow ideas from others. Lines can be very hard to draw. Madhyamika and Yogacara are both Mahayana in origin and so are not as different as they may seem.

Yogachara is a 4th century outgrowth of Madhyamika. We get the practice of yoga from Yogachara. Yogacara itself is not a specific meditative practice, but is meant to be applied as a descriptive tool to understand situations of action and intention. The final goal is the complete clarification of consciousness into wisdom.

Madhyamika is an older sect that meshes more fully with Mahayana views of the dharma than does Yogachara (not to say they have got it wrong or anything). It represents more of the middle way and a balance between all things. A good thing to use to read up on Madhyamika thought is the sutra about Nagarjuna (Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika).

So back to your original question - we will need to look in depth at how Buddhism jumped from India (what we have been talking about so far), to China and then Japan before we can talk about Zen, Jodo-shu, Nichiren-shu and the like. Some people think Buddhism changed so much in each cultural context, that some scholars ask "if the Buddha od India and the Buddha of Japan met on the street, would the recognize each other?"

This is not to say Buddhism in Japan is not Buddhism, but it is a pale cousin to your original question about any relationships to Yogachara and Madhyamika. Often it is easier for us to accept Japanese Buddhism as being simply Mahayana and then talking about differences in Japanese sects rather than trying to work a specific sect ideologically all the way back to India - at any rate, it would be easier to work backwards...

I admire your question though. Hope I couldn't help more and I hope it didn't seem like I was brushing it off :sorry:
Arigatou Mandylion-sama!

You helped.

Okay, so what you are explaining is that Madhyamika and Yogacara are the Indian sects of Mahyana, not Japanese sects.

I will confirm this when I get back home and can use my scanner:
Correct sir. They share a common philosophy, but are quite far removed from each other on the family tree.
Hi Hiroshi,

I asked for (and got) a lot of information about Madhyamika vs. Yogacara. You can read it here:


(On that board I use the username Skywalker.)

Regarding the relationship between those two schools and Buddhism in Japan, there seems to be little connection.

Buddhism in Japan falls mostly into these groups:

1. Shingon and Tendai, both imports from China

2. Zen, also an import from China

3. Jodo, which was started in Japan, because there were things in Buddhism that Jodo's founder did not like

4. Nichiren, which was started in Japan, because there were things in Buddhism that Nichiren's founder also did not like

5. There were many new religions started in Japan in the 20th century. Some of them were mere cults, usually centered around one charismatic person. For example, you may have heard of Aum Shin Ri Kyo, whose members killed people on a Tokyo subway a few years back.


Buddhism in Japan has evolved into its own forms. They usually do not get into discussions about things like the difference between Madhyamika and Yogacara.
Thank you. I will check that site out, Buntaro, and I will draw a tree of what I think Buddhism is in Japan. Thanks again!
What file? Did you make a jpg of a picture of the tree that depicts your interpretation of Japanese Buddhism?
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