Four tenet systems

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Four tenet systems (Tib. གྲུབ་མཐའ་བཞི་, drubta shyi, Wyl. grub mtha' bzhi) — in the Indian Mahayana Buddhist monasteries, such as Nalanda, monks studied four systems of Buddhist tenets. These systems are:

  1. Vaibhashika
  2. Sautrantika
  3. Chittamatra
  4. Madhyamika

The Tibetans have followed this custom, but have made further subdivisions within these four systems. For example, within Madhyamaka, they have differentiated Svatantrika Madhyamaka from Prasangika Madhyamaka. Within Svatantrika Madhyamaka, the Gelug school has further classified Indian authors as Yogachara Svatantrika or Sautrantika Svatantrika. The various non-Gelug schools have subdivided Madhyamaka in yet other ways.

Major Authors and Texts



Chittamatra (or Yogachara)


Two Divisions of Madhyamaka

Svatantrika-Madhyamaka is studied in general in the context of far-reaching discriminating awareness (Wyl. phar-phyin, Skt. prajnaparamita, perfection of wisdom), as formulated by Maitreya.

Prasangika-Madhyamaka is studied primarily through the works of Chandrakirti (Zla-ba grags-pa), Aryadeva (‘Phags-pa lha), Shantideva (Zhi-ba lha), and Buddhapalita (Sang-rgyas bskyangs).

  • Madhyamakavatara – A supplement to Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamaka-karika
  • Prasannapada – A detailed commentary on Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamaka-karika
  • Mulamadhyamaka-vrtti-buddhapalita – a commentary to Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamaka-karika

Other proponents of this tenet system are:

  • Patsab Nyima Drak (1055-1145) – translated Chandrakirti into Tibetan
  • Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) – wrote a commentary on the Madhyamakavatara

The Two Divisions of Svatantrika-Madhyamaka

Yogachara-Svatantrika is studied through the works of Shantarakshita and his disciples, Kamalashila and Haribhadra.

  • Sphutartha – a commentary to Maitreya’s “Ornament of Realizations”

Other proponents of this tenet system are:


Teachings Given to the Rigpa Sangha

Further Reading

  • Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, translated and arranged by Shenpen Hookham (Ithaca NY: Snow Lion Publications 2000).
  • Andy Karr, Contemplating Reality: A Practitioner's Guide to the View in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism (Boston: Shambhala, 2007).
  • For a short, easy-to-understand explanation of the views of the four schools see: Appendix 11. The Four Schools of Buddhist Philosophy, pp.197-200 in The Light of Wisdom Volume 1. Root text by Padmasambhava and commentary by Jamgön Kongtrül the Great. Published by Shambhala Publications ISBN 0-87773-566-2

External Links