Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version



Yaroslav Komarovski, “Where “Philosophy” and “Literature” Converge: Exploring Tibetan Buddhist Writings about Reality,” chapter 10 in Buddhist Literature as Philosophy, Buddhist Philosophy as Literature, ed. Rafal Stepien (Albany: SUNY Press, 2020), pp. 285–308.


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It is well known that the Buddha presented his teachings not just as a philosophical system, but as a raft to cross the ocean of saṃsāra and reach the other shore of nirvāṇa; that he did not answer certain philosophical questions because they were not essential for achieving that goal; and that he likened musings about some philosophical issues to inquiries about the origins and nature of the poison by a person shot with a poisonous arrow. On the other hand, we also know that all such statements about what the Buddha said or said not and why are liable to — and have received — various interpretations. We furthermore know that over time. Buddhists developed an impressive amount of philosophical positions on what the nature and origin of the universe are, how our mind works, how it perceives the world, and much more. Whether or not one suspects some contradictions here, when we turn to specific Buddhist cultures — such as the one developed in Tibet — we observe that, overall, Buddhists do not see philosophical inquiry as contradictory to the nature and objectives of the Buddha's teachings. Even more: philosophical analysis, in one or another form, is often seen as helping — and at times as absolutely necessary — to achieve those very objectives. That said — or better still, because of that — one can argue that Buddhist philosophy can be adequately understood only as a part of the overall Buddhist project, which includes both the final objective of nirvāṇa and such means of achieving that and other, subsidiary objectives as Buddhist contemplative practices.